Huddersfield, West Yorkshire - A promising future

PUBLISHED: 16:19 13 January 2010 | UPDATED: 15:59 20 February 2013

Huddersfield Choral Society perform Handel's Messiah at their annual  Christmas concert in the Town Hall, where they have been based since 1881

Huddersfield Choral Society perform Handel's Messiah at their annual Christmas concert in the Town Hall, where they have been based since 1881

Huddersfield's redevelopment will eventually give the old town a promising future, but there has been controversy along the way, as Paul Mackenzie reports PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOHN COCKS

There is a lot Harold Wilson would have liked about the redevelopment of St George's Square in Huddersfield town centre. As a PM of the people he would no doubt have enjoyed sitting on the benches in the newly pedestrianised square, pipe on the go, and chatting about Huddersfield Town's next game. But the man who won four General Elections for Labour wouldn't have liked any suggestion that he should shift to the right.

That was the proposal, though, as part of the 4 million plans. The eight foot statue, which was unveiled by Tony Blair in 1999, depicts the two-time Prime Minister striding off a train and into his home town. But he was to be knocked off his pedestal outside the railway station and taken round the corner to stand on a mini-roundabout near the Head of Steam pub.

After interventions from his widow Lady Wilson, who said the idea was 'absolutely dreadful', and from the Prime Minister's office, the statue has simply taken a giant stride forward. Kirklees Council's resident engineer Steve Moore said: 'I think the statue is in a better position now than it was before. It needed to be moved because its original location was to be the site of a new fountain but his widow and the Prime Minster's office had an issue with its proposed location which would have been over to his right.

'Having considered everything that was said, the plans were amended and the statue has moved about seven paces forward. The statue was quite close to the station before but it's in a more central location now.'

But having settled that problem, another one reared up.Wreckin Construction, the firm carrying out the redevelopment work in the square, went into administration. Mr Moore added: 'It is unfortunate that they became a victim of the economic climate but we will do all we can to get the work completed as soon as possible.

'I expect once contractors are back on site it will take about four or six weeks to complete the majority of the work and to give Huddersfield what it deserves, a gateway to the town that it can be proud of.'

The gateway is already pretty impressive; Poet Laureate John Betjeman described the railway station as the finest outside London, and there's a lot else to be proud of in Huddersfield.

The town - the 10th largest in the UK - has a deserved and growing reputation as a centre for the arts and has even been called the Poetry Capital of Europe (no really, it has). Poet and writer Simon Armitage gives the title some credibility - he was born in the town and still lives there. But he's just a part of Huddersfield's thriving cultural scene which also includes museums, galleries, theatres, festivals and groups and societies of every description.

But the grand-daddy of them all is Huddersfield Choral Society which was founded in 1836. The society has an impressive international reputation and prides itself on producing a 'fullbodied Huddersfield sound'. 'We have a good blend of singers, from the very experienced who sing with other choirs to younger people with less developed voices,' said Jim Cowell, who sings first bass.

'It gives us a powerful sound when we open up but we are also capable of performing very quiet numbers.'

Last month the society, which will begin its175th anniversary season next year, performed in Portugal and will be in the Orkneys next month, once it's finished recording a new CD of Stainer's Crucifixion, conducted by chorus master Joseph Cullen at Huddersfield Town Hall. And later this year they'll be part of Barry Humphries' UK tour and will perform with Australian national treasures Dame Edna Everage and Sir Les Patterson.

'We have quite a busy year this year and that will undoubtedly be one of the highlights,' Jim added. 'We will be performing an Australian cantata for his show at the Sheffield Arena. We've not seen the music yet but we understand it's a witty piece, it should be good fun.

'We have toured throughout the UK and overseas but we love singing at the town hall, it has wonderful acoustics and it's a great place to sing. It also has a terrific pipe organ which is the envy of many other concert halls. It's nice to sing in other halls, but we love to come home'.

And it's easy to see why they like to come back. The town's culture and beautiful architecture have won it many fans but there are many others who rejoice in the town centre's mix of big name stores and boutique shops and the selection of places to eat which offer food from every corner of the globe.

There's a rapidly growing student population too and links between the town and the gown are strong. The University of Huddersfield has a roll call of about 20,000 students and is vital to the town - but don't take my word for it, a professor says so.

Prof Cedric Cullingford, the president of Huddersfield Civic Society, told the local newspaper last year that the campus in the compact town centre made town and university dependent on one another. Both seem to be in safe hands - the university has a growing reputation and Huddersfield is one of those steady dependable types with a pride in its past and an optimism for the future. As St George's Square will one day prove.

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