Your Letters – Friday August 9, 2019

Letter of the Week: Dr Stephen Caunce, ex-University of Central Lancashire and University of Leeds

Thanks to Sally Wainwright the nation has been following the intrepid exploits of Anne Lister (1791-1840), who owned Shibden Hall in Halifax. 

Yet the memory of a different brave and intrepid pioneer feminist and author, Mary Taylor (1817-1893), born just five miles away and 28 years later, is simultaneously being erased by Kirklees Council. 

Shibden has seen a multi-million pound renovation, and a huge increase in visitors, but Mary’s family’s home of Red House, Gomersal, together with its outbuildings, has been closed as a museum since December 2016. 

It now lies stripped of its furnishings and exhibits, with the council who own it having failed to agree to pass it on as a community asset, and seemingly are now determined to sell to the highest bidder. 

Ironically, Kirklees Museums have recently been promoting two exhibitions which Mary would have seen both as a vindication of her own life-long attempts to understand the complex lives of women of all classes, and to gain equality. 

‘Our Fight for the Voting Right!’ explores ‘the stories of the suffragettes and suffragists, from the mill cottages of Batley to the grand houses of Honley’, and ‘A Woman’s Work is Never Done’, shows photographs of ‘the working lives of women from across West Yorkshire during the 19th and 20th centuries, from rag sorters to bomb makers’, focussing on ‘the limitations placed on women’s work’.

It seems contradictory.

Born into a successful textile family, Mary’s thoroughly independent spirit always resented the increasing restrictions on women’s independence.

A local boarding school led her to attend another in Brussels, where the family had strong trading links. 

She travelled round Europe, and then taught German boys, but decided to follow a brother to New Zealand where she felt she could live more independently, since European settlement had barely begun.

The shop she opened with her cousin Ellen became a success, but she wanted to return to England. 

There she built a new house in Gomersal, and wrote a novel, Miss Miles, about local women’s lives and problems, as well as many articles for feminist magazines. 

Her central argument was that women must do paid work if they were to achieve real equality with men.

Every year she also took groups of young women on mountaineering tours to Switzerland. 

She never married, and whereas Anne Lister wanted only to achieve personal fulfilment, Mary aimed to improve all women’s lives.

We know a lot about her thoughts because from a young age she exchanged regular letters with her best friend, Charlotte Bronte. 

They met at school, which was far enough from Haworth for Charlotte to visit Red House regularly instead. 

We know that she was fascinated by a commercial family who despised inherited privilege of all kinds. 

When her publisher asked for a new novel exploring the problems of industrialising northern England, she built her story ‘Shirley’ around a Taylor family barely disguised as the Yorkes, with Mary there as ‘Rose’.

A very recognisable Red House is called ‘Briarmains’. Yorkshire Luddism, which has been much misunderstood and was mostly concentrated within modern Kirklees, was its pivot. 

‘The Professor’ and especially ‘Villette’ both also draw heavily on her links with the Taylors, for Charlotte’s own stay in Brussels had largely been organised by them.

So why does Kirklees insist that it must close, and that community groups cannot buy and run it? 

No credible reason has emerged, but in response to my protest, the then leader of the council wrote to me that “despite my personal predilection to history, I have no hesitation in putting the living before the dead.

“When the choice is between maintaining the status quo in our Museums Service, or cutting even further our services to older people, I know what decision I will take.”

Calderdale Council, the present owners of Shibden Hall, clearly take a different view, for they have also poured millions into their magnificent Piece Hall where people like the Taylors once sold their cloth.

They see this as regeneration which will pay off.

Get it sorted before Oct 31!
From: Name and Address Supplied

Recently a friend had to take a new counter-top fridge back to the shop, because it leaked. 

There was some confusion in the shop, with one assistant saying they should have called the manufacturer and it was not the shop’s problem.

However, we have not left the EU yet and the law is clear – a shop should replace faulty goods or those not suitable for the purpose they were purchased for. It did. The Prime Minster wants to have at least 10 freeports after Brexit. The only socially useful freeport is the sort where goods bound for somewhere else are stored in transit.

They’re tax- and toll-free for the producer, because no-one wants to pay tax twice, and they’ll pay any charges at their final destination. All the other forms of freeport, either for ship or plane, are tax havens.

They can also take mobile and untraceable goods of inherently uncertain value that can be very useful indeed for money laundering. 

Society picks up the bill for the wealthy users of these freeports, in supporting low pay, having less tax revenue flow into the economy, seeing the wealth divide increase and suffering the type of ‘fly-by-night’ regulatory abuse that government should exist to stop and not encourage. 

Buyer beware. If you need anything with moving parts or uses electricity, get it now and test it out before October 31.

Put people before profit
From: Name and Address Supplied

With reference to recent letters in The Press regarding the decline of bus services in Mirfield, I would like to add a few thoughts.

At a recent library meeting, members of the public expressed concern that bus services in certain areas of Mirfield have declined, or on some days, become non existent.

This, despite Arriva and the government assuring us that bus services are improving!

Many older and disabled people who rely on buses now have to rely on taxis to get into Mirfield to join in the many activities the library has to offer, as well as visit the doctors, shops or to socialise. 

On average, disabled people take 10 times as many trips by bus as they do by rail. 

One in 12 people in the UK have some sort of disability. Surely therefore, it is essential that bus services meet the needs of everyone wishing to use them?

Since February this year the highly-populated Sunnybank Road area has been hit particularly hard. 

They now have only one bus an hour (261) and this bus doesn’t run during the evening or on a Sunday.

In the news we regularly hear that people are going to be using public transport more in the future due to climate change and for the good of the environment.

Maybe Arriva could lead the way and make West Yorkshire the first area to put people and the environment before huge profits?

Climate change is politicised
From: Alec Suchi, Bradford

It was claimed that recent temperatures, especially Thursday July 25, were the highest ever recorded in the UK. 

However temperatures have only been recorded by thermometers for the previous 250 years. Even considered over the previous thousand years, temperatures were much higher in the Medieval Warm Period (950-1250) than today.

This period was then followed by the Little Ice Age (1250-1850), and temperatures only started rising again when it drew to an end.

This particular warming is an example of natural climate change, which began before the Industrial Revolution, when carbon dioxide levels were lower than today. 

However, purveyors of doom claim that our actions are responsible for climate change, and deliberately conflate this with the pollution we are creating.

Climate science has been politicised to suit a political agenda, engendering a sense of panic and fears of an impending ecological catastrophe.

This state of continued anxiety enables the imposition of draconian measures as a means of controlling the population and enforcing compliance.

Family fun up at Mount CC
From: David A Wood, via email

What a fabulous afternoon my family and I had when we visited the family fun day hosted by Mount Cricket Club on Halifax Road in Staincliffe last Sunday. 

There was junior cricket taking place, stalls offering all sorts of goodies along with stands from various organisations and all round good company.

It was free to attend, so a very big thank you to all concerned in putting on the day. 

To cap it all the samosas were to die for, so what was meant for our tea was eaten before we got back to the car. And it gets better – a very good friend of our eldest son, thanks again Ash, kindly treated us to them. 

Days don’t get much better than that – well done Mount Cricket Club.

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