Yes, it’s election time – in 1959! Two-horse race in town of ‘gaunt mills, steep cobbled streets and blackened buildings’
Shortly before the general election of 1959 these words appeared in an article in The Times: “The shadowy outlines of bare moorlands at the end of the streets, gaunt mills, and steep cobbled streets are the traditional standbys of the ‘trouble at t’ mill’ school of regional novelists.
“So are the smoke-blackened buildings in flamboyant Victorian gothic and the old sages in flat caps, with names like Murgatroyd and Gaukroger, supping their ale and grunting out terse wisdom between strange oaths. All this you can see in Halifax.”
Fifty-six years ago the two candidates were the Conservative Maurice Macmillan and Labour’s Peter Shore; there was no Liberal contestant.
Maurice Macmillan, Conservative candidate
Neither man was local. Macmillan, son of Prime Minster Harold, had taken Halifax from Labour’s Dryden Brook in 1955 with a slim majority of 1,535. Halifax has long been a finely balanced parliamentary constituency, with few MPs holding a large majority.
What struck me in that 1959 Times report was the way that Halifax was then portrayed. It reported: “Halifax is a slatternly looking town but not a poor one. It has its millionaires and its Bentleys.”
It noted that the town had nearly full employment, with great diversification of industry, and mentioned the importance of machine tool manufacture as balancing the production of woollens and worsteds. Notable too, was the exceptionally high proportion of women at work.
However, there was concern about the “For sale” signs which were appearing more frequently on nonconformist chapels.
“People are clannish here,” The Times reporter was told by a Halifax landlord: “If your face does not fit in the first three months you’ll not get to know them in a lifetime.”
Halifax appeared to be an Halifax: ‘Shadowy outlines of bare moorlands at the end of the streets, gaunt mills, steep cobbled streets and smoke-blackened buildings, the traditional standbys of the ‘trouble at t’ mill’ school of regional novelists.’ “enigma between prosperity and a grubby face” and the candidates had very different views of local issues.
Labour’s Shore, a Cambridge-educated, Londonbased Fabian, emphasised the “appalling” housing situation in Halifax, declaring that four houses out of 10 had no bathroom, a scandal.
There were 1,000 people on the waiting list for council houses and no new houses had been erected between June 1958 and June 1959.
Conservative candidate Macmillan responded by pointing out that the council had built 3,500 houses since the war and could not fill those it had started to build.
He went on: “We do not say that everything is perfect. But we do claim that in the past five years… on the whole, things are rather bet-