Although I grew up in nearby Halifax and, as a child cycled to Huddersfield to see my Aunty Clare and Uncle Ken often enough, I have never really known the town. It was somewhere we went through. So I went to the internet yesterday to find out more. A website extravagantly billing itself ‘the world’s most powerful travel resource’ says under ‘Huddersfield Top Highlights’, ‘sorry there are no highlights for Huddersfield’, which seems a bit unkind.

Yorkshire Tourist Board’s site is similarly unhelpful. It can only see the area in terms of Last of the Summer Wine and refers one to the boring wilderness that is Kirklees Council’s website. Let me try.

Huddersfield, in the West Riding not far from the Lancashire border, is on the Colne, a tributary of the River Calder. The Colne Valley runs west to Marsden, home of the writer and poet Simon Armitage (try All Points North, Viking, 1998). There was an Iron Age fort on Castle Hill where there is now a Victorian tower which can be seen for miles from all directions. But it was the Industrial Revolution which created the Huddersfield we know today. The wealth creators and city fathers commissioned many fine buildings though, as was often the case with these old mill towns, the 1960s and ‘70s ruined the townscape. Huddersfield Civic Society now works hard to protect the town’s heritage, not least from its own Council.

Huddersfield Station

George Hotel

The station has been described as a stately home with trains in. John Betjeman, who knew about these things and was usually right, called it ‘the most splendid station façade in England’. It is faced with Corinthian columns and stands in front of St George’s Square, itself containing other Italianate buildings and a statue of Sir Robert Peel, prime minister in the 1840s and always associated with the repeal of the Corn Laws.

The parish church of St Peter records its vicars back to 1216. The present building is Victorian. As in Leeds and elsewhere, the Victorians wanted a grand new church and spared little expense in building one.

The now-restored Huddersfield Narrow Canal created the shortest trans-Pennine route. Standedge Tunnel, at three miles the longest and highest canal tunnel in the country, took hundreds of navvies seventeen years to build. It was opened in 1811 during the Napoleonic Wars.

Huddersfield Choral Society was founded in 1836 and Huddersfield Philharmonic Orchestra has been performing classical music since 1862. Huddersfield Town football club and the Giants rugby league team play at the impressive new stadium which will always to me be the McAlpine Stadium.

When machines were taking workers’ jobs during the area’s industrialisation, Luddites were active in the Colne Valley. Phyllis Bentley’s book Inheritance refers to the trial of the Luddite George Mellor for murder. The Chartists got a lot of support in these parts in their attempt to obtain a universal franchise and electoral reform. As Huddersfield rapidly expanded in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries it absorbed many nearby villages. These, like Almondbury, Bradley, Lindley and Longwood, though part of Huddersfield, retain their own identity. Honley and Holmfirth aren’t far away.

Huddersfield Technical College became Huddersfield Polytechnic and now calls itself Huddersfield University. I think it’s called grade inflation.

Let’s give the last word to Simon Armitage in All Points North. ‘From the observation suite of Emley Moor Mast, not much short of a thousand feet of fluted concrete with a hypodermic aerial on top, just south of Huddersfield, you can see both coasts. Or you could, if you were allowed up it and the weather was clear, which you aren’t, and even if you were, it wouldn’t be. From Castle Hill, the other local landmark, the next highest ground going east are the Ural Mountains in Russia, and you can’t see them either’.


Castle Hill