By Christine Verguson
An exciting cultural and heritage programme celebrating St George’s Square and those who have passed through it is now nearing the end of its second year.
The Huddersfield High Street Heritage Action Zone (HSHAZ) – a Government-funded scheme led by Historic England and working in partnership with Kirklees Council – has been behind the restoration work taking place at the George Hotel and Estate Buildings.
Running alongside the building work, the HSHAZ, led by a consortium which includes arts and heritage organisations, local businesses, institutions and voluntary groups, has also supported a wide variety of cultural, sporting and heritage events, celebrating the Square and those who have passed through it in the course of its history.
But each year of the three-year programme has also celebrated a particular theme with 2022 being designated the Year of Arrivals. Before the Square there was the railway station and, although people came to Huddersfield long before the railway arrived, it is clear that arrivals have not also played a big part in the history of St George’s Square but also in the history of the town itself.
It was 175 years ago, in August 1847, that the first train steamed into Huddersfield and, in conjunction with TransPennine Express, this special anniversary was commemorated inside the Station on Sunday August 21.
The highlight of the event was the unveiling of two paintings by Marsden-based artist Kevin Threlfall. Working with Kevin on the HSHAZ-commissioned project was artist Jo Blaker who led free family-friendly drawing sessions at the station, before and during the event.
The resulting sketches helped to shape a third artwork by Kevin and all three paintings, together entitled 175 Years of Arrivals, can now be seen in the waiting room next to Platform One.
And also present to celebrate the arrival of Huddersfield’s first train was local songwriter Sam Hodgson (aka Samh) who, together with members of Pedlaz Cycling Club, had made the 10.5 mile journey between Dewsbury and Huddersfield railway stations on two wheels!
A birthday cake celebrating the 175th anniversary of Huddersfield Railway Station and (right) two of the three paintings which comprise Kevin Threlfall’s 175 Years of Arrival on display at Huddersfield Railway Station. Image by Laura Mateescu, courtesy of Let’s Go Yorkshire.
Members of Huddersfield Local History Society (HLHS) were also present at the station talking to visitors about the station and about St George’s Square as part of their Memories of the Square project.
For many people, arriving at and departing from the station is just part of their everyday life and this is reflected in the winning entry in a photographic competition organised by HLHS as part of its Memories of the Square project.
Placed first was Roger Kinder’s Timeless; as the judging panel commented: “We felt that the style and composition well reflect the timeless quality of the Square. The multiple exposure technique provided a reminder of the countless many who’ve flowed through the station entrance over the decades.”
But for others, arriving at Huddersfield Railway Station was a significant moment in their lives.
At the same time as the anniversary of the arrival of Huddersfield’s first train was being celebrated inside the station, a very different event was taking place outside in the Square.
Curated by Let’s Go Yorkshire (LGY), THE WHITE LINE Celebration marked the 75th anniversary of the Partition of British India when a line was drawn across the sub-continent resulting in the largest migration in human history.
As Mandeep Samra, who curated the event for LGY, explained: “The human impact of partition was incalculable and has resonated through time and place to where we live now in Huddersfield.”
The Square was filled with music and dance and included a performance of a new play from Chol Theatre, Three Pounds in My Pocket. The afternoon also included an open-air screening of LGY’s moving film, A New Life in Huddersfield, whose participants look back at what brought them and their experiences when they arrived in the town.
A New Life in Huddersfield was also shown in September by HLHS as part of their monthly talks programme. And in November’s talk to the Society, John Lambe explored the history of Huddersfield’s Irish community.
At THE WHITE LINE Celebration (left) image by Laura Mateescu, courtesy of Let’s Go Yorkshire and (right) ‘Timeless’, the winning photo in Huddersfield Local History Society’s Capturing St George’s Square photo competition. Image by Roger Kinder, courtesy of Huddersfield Local History Society.
The story of those who came from the Caribbean to Huddersfield has also been explored in Windrush: The Years After, A Community Legacy on Film.
Produced by Kirklees Local Television (KLTV) the film was officially premiered at Brian Jackson House on September 30 in front of an audience from across Kirklees, and beyond.
An evening of celebration, guests had the opportunity to enjoy music and food before the film was shown and for the final part of the evening, an expert panel provided their own perspectives on the film and fielded questions from the audience.
As Milton Brown, CEO of KLTV, speaking at the launch event explained: “Windrush: The Years After is about some of the pioneers in our community that came here between 1948-73 and laid the foundation the African Descent Community stands on today.
“The film tells the story of the struggle for freedom, and the desire to make your home a happy place. A reference to what our parents and our grandparents went through will never be lost, and the film is a testament to that.”
Clr Cahal Burke, Deputy Mayor of Kirklees, was amongst those paying tribute to the film. He said: “I was thinking about it while watching it, how you feel about all those different people, those incredible people who tell their stories about where they’ve come from, the struggles they’ve overcome to get where they are and also all the generations thereafter who have come so far but also recognise, appreciate and respect what those before them did.”
Windrush: The Years After – A Community Legacy is now available for all to view on KLTV’s YouTube Channel.
Pedlaz cyclists arriving at Huddersfield Railway Station (left) image by David Verguson and (right) At THE WHITE LINE Celebration. Image by Laura Mateescu, courtesy of Let’s Go Yorkshire.
Craig Broadwith, from Historic England, said: “We are delighted to have helped to fund such a diverse and exciting range of cultural activities through the Huddersfield High Street Heritage Action Zone. It’s wonderful to see different aspects St George’s Square’s rich heritage explored in such innovative ways.”
Huddersfield’s HSHAZ cultural programme still has a year to run and, alongside a wider variety of activities, next year’s theme is music which also coincides with the Kirklees Year of Music taking place in 2023.
HLHS’s Memories of Our Square project will culminate in the publication of a book in September 2023 which will explore the history of St George’s Square through snippets from the archives as well as reminiscences in words and pictures that have been collected during the project.
But the events that have been staged in the Square by many different organisations though the HSHAZ project are also part of that history as the book will show.
Commenting on the Kirklees Year of Music 2023, Clr Will Simpson, Cabinet member for culture and greener Kirklees, said: “Our Year of Music is about celebrating who we are as a district, standing tall and being proud.
“Much like our WOVEN festival, this is an initiative that is being instigated by Kirklees Council. But it is not owned by the council. It is about our communities, our heritage and our future.
“The foundation of our Year of Music will be about shining a light on everything we do across the district year on year – the talent, the choirs, the bands, the festivals and the venues – and doing what we can to support them.”