Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

October 24, 2021
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The Sunny Side of Youkshire

I was a callow, impressionable youth of 16 when I first went to Huddersfield, a small town in Yorkshire. I was a student from Kenya and it was the autumn of 1959. I stayed for only two years, but in Huddersfield I matured, grew and began my adult life. More than 40 years later, I returned on a journey into my past, accompanied by photographer Gary Crallé.

Few Canadians have heard of Huddersfield, but it is one of the most important and handsome towns in the north of England. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the textile industry made it immensely rich and its elegant public buildings are monuments to that wealth. Huddersfield has some of the finest Victorian and Georgian architecture in England and more listed buildings than anywhere else in the country except London and Bristol.

After a long period of neglect, the buildings have been cleaned and restored to their former glory. Layers of soot and grime have been removed to reveal the original warm golden colour of the ashlar stone. Two of the most striking buildings are the railway station and Town Hall. The station was built between 1847 and 1850, during the great age of steam. It looks like a Greek temple, with a Corinthian central portico and eight tall fluted pillars, ornamented at the top with acanthus leaves. It is unquestionably the most splendid station facade in England.

Town Hall was completed in 1881. This classical building is Italianate in style and inside it is a richly decorated concert hall. This was where I heard for the first time the glorious sound of the legendary Huddersfield Choral Society in a performance of Handel's Messiah. Travels with Melvyn

Returning to Huddersfield after an absence of 40 years, I was delighted to see my lifelong friend Melvyn Briggs, who had recently retired as deputy editor of the Huddersfield Daily Examiner. Together we made a nostalgic pilgrimage to the places of our youth. We revisited our old haunts in town and walked among the trees and flower beds in Greenhead Park, where long ago we had listened to a brass band playing on Sundays.

We drove out into the moors, with their wild, unchanging beauty, the farmlands where drystone walls enclose rich pastures and the beloved valleys set with sycamore, ash, oak and beech. Yorkshire is magical in fine weather and it was at its loveliest for my visit. Pink cherry and white hawthorn were in bloom and the woods were misted with bluebells.

Yorkshire is the setting for popular television series such as Heartbeat, All Creatures Great and Small and Last of the Summer Wine. But those enjoyable dramas give only brief glimpses of what the area has to offer. There is much more to Yorkshire than quaint village pubs and lovable eccentrics. Yorkshire is the emerald heart of England and Huddersfield is an ideal base from which to explore it.

We began with Bolton Abbey in the Southern Dales. Founded by Augustinian monks in 1154, it was built on land donated by Lady Alice de Romille of Skipton Castle. The Abbey has a setting of exceptional beauty on a bend of the River Wharfe. The river is dark, the colour of buckwheat honey, with a beach of small, rounded, multi-coloured pebbles: white limestone, brown millstone grit and black shale. The great landscape painter J.M.W. Turner was captivated by Bolton Abbey and immortalized it in his paintings.

The abbey ruins, standing in a lake of daffodils and narcissi, are massive and their size gives an idea of its former grandeur. During the dissolution of the monasteries in the reign of Henry Vlll, the lead was stripped from all the roofs except the nave of the church. This is now the Priory Church of St. Mary and St. Cuthbert. This was the original west front of the Abbey and the entrance, with its finely carved stonework, is a masterpiece of medieval ecclesiastical architecture.

The interior is very beautiful, with a restored medieval roof and narrow 13th-century lancet windows. The six south windows of stained glass were designed by Augustus Pugin in 1853. They depict 36 scenes from the life of Jesus in intense, jewel-like colours. Sunlight passing through these windows projects rainbows on the walls and floor of the church. The Brontës

Our next stop was the village of Haworth, where the greystone parsonage was the unlikely setting for a remarkable flowering of genius in the 19th century. This was where the Brontë children grew up and during their short lives -- they were all victims of consumption -- they wrote some of the greatest novels in the English language. Their father, the Reverend Patrick Brontë, was an Irishman who moved to Haworth with his wife and six children in 1820. Haworth was a quintessential Yorkshire village of stone houses and steep, narrow streets. It had a busy cottage weaving industry, but it was primitive and unsanitary and the crowded gravestones in the churchyard are a reminder that the average life expectancy was 25.

Mrs. Brontë died less than two years after her arrival in Haworth and two of her children died in childhood. Of the surviving children, Charlotte, Emily and Anne achieved immortality as poets and novelists, writing such classics as Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. Their only brother, Branwell, became addicted to alcohol and opium and died of consumption at 31.

The Brontë children were intelligent and imaginative and the surrounding moors were a powerful stimulus for their creativity. They revelled in the elemental, untamed beauty of the moors, the purple heather, the dark rock, the windswept grass, the space and freedom. "Seated here, we were hidden from all the world, nothing appeared in view but miles and miles of moorland, a glorious sky and brightening sun," wrote Emily.


The Reverend Brontë was cold and remote. His lonely children turned to each other for support and to their living room for inspiration, where they exchanged ideas and filled tiny notebooks with microscopic handwriting. There can rarely have been such a concentration of literary genius in one room, which has been preserved exactly as it was in their day. All the furniture is original, including the sofa on which Emily died on December 19, 1848, at the age of 30.

The Brontë family (with the exception of Anne) is buried in a vault beneath Haworth Church. Anne, who died in 1849 at the age of 29, is buried in St. Mary's churchyard in Scarborough, where she had gone in search of a sea-cure for her consumption. The Reverend Brontë outlived all his children and died an octogenarian in 1861.

Regrettably, Haworth has become a tourist trap and it's best to avoid visiting on weekends. But in spite of the commercialization of the village, my visit to the Brontë Parsonage Museum left me deeply moved. From Wuthering Heights to Chicken Run

Melvyn thought I ought to see some of Yorkshire's newer attractions and we moved from literature to photography. The National Museum of Photography, Film and Television in Bradford is the most visited British museum outside London and received more than one million visitors last year. This is not surprising, for it is one of the most exciting and fascinating museums I have ever visited.

Its five floors of interactive displays cover every aspect of the visual media, from the world's first photograph to computer-generated images using the latest digital technology. Its items range in size from a 25-metre-high IMAX screen to the tiny, detailed models used in the hit movie Chicken Run. The galleries celebrate animation, the history of television, the making of commercials and television news reporting.

In the section on movie makeup, I saw the canines used by Christopher Lee in his role as Dracula and the cloudy glass eye he wore as the monster in Frankenstein. In the Hands-On TV section, visitors can indulge their fantasies of media stardom by reading the news, or learning to use a TV camera on a studio set. Children can ride the Magic Carpet, on which they sit while watching themselves on a screen; special effects are created to make it seem like they're flying over mountains, deserts and oceans.

The Kodak Gallery records the evolution of the camera, from the simple Brownie box camera to sophisticated digital models. The museum's priceless collection of photographs ranges from Victorian pioneers such as Lewis Carroll and Julia Margaret Cameron to modern masters including Henri Cartier-Bresson, Edward Steichen and Man Ray.

Photography is an important element in the work of David Hockney, one of Britain's greatest living artists. He was born in Bradford in 1937 and it is entirely appropriate that a permanent exhibition of his work should be mounted in a local setting -- the 1853 Gallery in Saltaire. The village of Saltaire was built between 1851 and 1872 by the textile magnate Sir Titus Salt. It is located in the valley of the river Aire, less than five kilometres from the city centre of Bradford. The mill is vast, six stories high and 164 metres long, an industrial palace of sandstone the colour of champagne. At its peak, a workforce of 3000 people produced 30,000 yards of cloth a day. When the demand for textiles declined, new and creative uses were found for the building, without compromising its architectural integrity. Part of the site now houses an electronics firm; there are two art galleries, a restaurant and speciality shops. Theatre and opera performances are frequently staged at the mill. To the Tunnels and Canals

Back in Huddersfield, Gary Crallé and I combined two unusual trips -- by rail and water -- on a single day. In the morning, we went on the Kirklees Light Railway, a 15-inch gauge line, for a 50-minute round trip from Clayton West to Shelley. The little green locomotive is named Badger and Gary was invited to ride with the driver. The other passengers rode in closed or open carriages, with spacious views of the farmlands of the South Pennine foothills and the dark trees of Blacker Wood. The temperature dropped dramatically as the train entered the 464-metre-long Shelley Woodhouse Tunnel before emerging at the head of Kirkburton Valley. At the terminus in Shelley, the locomotive was turned on a turntable for the return journey to Clayton West.

In the afternoon, we parked our car at Marsden and walked along the towpath of the Huddersfield Narrow Canal to the newly opened Standedge Visitor Centre, spotting seven fox cubs on the way. The canal runs 32 kilometres through 74 locks, from Portland Basin in Ashton-under-Lyne through the Pennine hills to the centre of Huddersfield. It was opened in 1798 and before the railway it was the shortest way to transport goods and people between Yorkshire and Lancashire. The Standedge Tunnel under the Pennines was not completed until 1811. The tunnel, which divides the canal into two sections, has earned a place in the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest (5.2 kilometres) deepest (193.3 metres underground) and highest (195.4 metres above sea level) canal tunnel in Britain. A Millennium Project has now restored the Huddersfield Narrow Canal at a cost of $67.5 million and it is now fully navigable for the first time since 1944.

Entering the Standedge Tunnel in a closed boat is an eerie, claustrophobic experience and one is filled with admiration for the tough, determined men who hacked their way through the Pennine gritstone using only hand tools and dangerous charges of gunpowder. At the Standedge Visitor Centre there are interactive displays which record the history of the Huddersfield Narrow Canal and pay tribute to the iron men who built the Standedge Tunnel.

I may have left Huddersfield four decades ago, but my emotional ties to it have remained strong. Rediscovering the town on this visit renewed my affection. Huddersfield will always have a permanent place in my memory, lodged in one of those chambers of the mind that Darwin called "resting places for the imagination."


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