Sunday, 3 February 2013

Huddersfield

I’ve been avoiding going to Huddersfield for a long time.  I’ve passed through in a car and a coach on the way back from the Leeds Festival but it did not instil me with enthusiasm.  Years ago I’d known a person from Huddersfield and her stories of the place weren’t enticing either.  However it was time to bite the bullet and just do it.  It’s only a 35 minute drive from Manchester: the M60, M62, get off at Junction 24 and take the A629 into the town centre.

I’d never taken the A629 into Huddersfield and I was astonished by the lovely Yorkshire Stone Victorian villas on the tree lined road into town.  I really didn’t expect that.  I can quite imagine a lot of these houses had been divided into flat for the local student population.  What I liked too was the new flat development which dotted the road kept faithful to this design heritage.  This gave a real cohesiveness to the visual look of this road.  Top marks to the architects and planners.
It’s dead easy to miss the turn off for the town centre parking and we ended up parking in the Aldi car park on the edge of the town.  This meant we had to negotiate a perilous road to get to the town centre.

You need to look up when you go through Huddersfield town centre.  There are some lovely buildings, however the signage for the cheap shops, pawnbrokers and pay-day-loan shops at ground level can distract from the fact Huddersfield used to be a wealthy town.
Around the train station a huge amount of regeneration work had been done to the square and station.  It looks fantastic and is money well spent.  The George Hotel basks in the reflected glory of this well thought-out development.  There are other attempts at gentrification throughout the town in the little arcades and also around House of Fraser.   A lot more needs to be done to reinvigorate the town though as it’s still a bit identikit high street.   There are a number of high street chains going to the wall, large amounts of retail space is going empty.  That is why having a strong independent economy is important to take up the slack with their individual aesthetic; otherwise the streets will be awash with pound shops and their gaudy shop fronts.

What struck me about Huddersfield was how multi-cultural the place is.  There is a real mix of people from white British to Asian to Afro-Caribbean to Eastern European.  There were specialist food shops for Eastern Europeans and we noticed some Polish people in the charity shops.  Although I knew Huddersfield had a large Asian community due to its industrial heritage and close proximity to Bradford.
There are plenty of charity shops in Huddersfield – some of which were local charities.  I noticed in one shop a customer was negotiating a deal with staff on a job lot of items.  What I love about these places are the people chatting away.  Huddersfield has a fantastic accent.  It’s hard to explain what is special about the Huddersfield accent, but it has a lovely lilt and is very down to earth.  I love the fact they pronounce ‘Huddersfield’ as ‘Uddersfield’. The poet Simon Armitage comes from just outside of Huddersfield and is a prime example of this accent.  Love, love, love!

On this Saturday there was quite a young, chavvy shopping contingent pin-balling their way through the cheap shops.  Whilst Huddersfield is a University town, I think a lot of the more well-to-do residents head towards the Trafford Centre, Leeds or the little Yorkshire towns like Holmfirth.  I did spot a little chain of cafes called ‘Merrie England’ which wattle and daub their walls to give their cafĂ© a ‘ye olde English’ feel.  They seemed to attract the OAPs for their Saturday afternoon teas.
What really astonished me about the place was the wrought iron market.  What I’m about to write sounds a bit nuts, but the market reminded me of the weekend flea markets in New York.  Okay we’re not talking a Chelsea or Hell’s Kitchen Flea Market – more Harlem or Brooklyn Heights.  There are people selling collectables, junk and stuff they’re clearing out of their attics.  Neil was lost to the record stalls.  I just wandered through the market observing people.  I loved the fact one bloke had literally cleared out his shed with all his bits and bobs.  My Dad would have loved that stall.  There was a very friendly lady selling home-made jewellery.  A bookish bloke was talking culture with the people who run the book stall.  This was such a random market – more car boot sale than a normal market.  There’s an independent spirit to the market with people trying to make a living.  You can get antiques, records, jewellery, laptops, toys, clothes and even Neil made some vinyl purchases.  I really thought this place is wonderful and provides a real social service.

Time was getting on and we headed back to the car via Aldi to get nice, cheap wine.  I simply couldn’t park in the car park without buying something – that’s Catholic guilt in action for you.
Don’t let the hint of chav get in the way of visiting Huddersfield.  Keep looking up – you will see the white lion proudly staring out over the Lion Building and find some lovely carvings and ironwork in surprising places.  Make sure you listen to the local accent.  Finally take a trip to the market and embrace it.  All-in-all Huddersfield is a surprising treat.