Yes, it’s elec­tion time – in 1959! Two-horse race in town of ‘gaunt mills, steep cob­bled streets and black­ened build­ings’

Halifax Courier - - Nostalgia -

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-

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