‘TIME present and time past,’ the poet T S Eliot wrote, ‘Are both perhaps present in time future.’
Gosh, we keep saying, everything changes. Constant white water. The increasing pace of technological advancement.
If we’re thinking lazily, it can seem as though nothing altered very much in the years between the industrial revolution and the invention of the computer, but then things accelerated crazily and Apple now brings out a new iPhone every 20 minutes.
That’s nonsense, of course. There’s an empty space on the corner of Cavendish Street and North Street where the old Keighley College buildings have been demolished for redevelopment – and with them the last remnants of the Mechanics’ Institute, built in the late 19th century, partly destroyed by a famous fire a century later. The reality is towns are, and always have been, plastic, constantly renewing themselves.
The speaker at the May meeting of the Airedale Writers’ Circle was Graham Mitchell, former Mayor of Keighley, with a lecture and slide show focusing on the changes that followed the coming of the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway, of which he also used to be chairman.
Two hundred years ago, there were 1,000 hand looms and weavers in Haworth, most of them working from home. Bigger mills were water-powered.
Machine weaving, as it developed, needed steam, and steam depends on coal. So, the railway brought to the Worth Valley coal that until then had been laboriously hauled along narrow roads and steep hillsides by horse and cart.
And so the town grew and prospered: 6,000 residents in 1801; 36,000 by 1881.
There have been three railway stations (the Brontë sisters were intrepid early travellers); the first a small wooden affair, without even much of a ticket office; the second a handsome stone building, on what’s now Sainsbury’s car park.
But that meant a level crossing in Bradford Road and led to delays and congestion, which, in turn, led to complaints. So, the station moved to its present location. The railway company built a bridge over the tracks and developed a huge goods yard.
It’s all gone now, of course, and we buy our pints of milk and loaves of bread unaware that huge wagons full of coal used to stand on the same spot. As a boy, Graham watched them from his bedroom window.
We also sometimes say the Internet never forgets anything. In the same way, there are persisting clues from the past, if we know where and how to look for them. The only parts of the old goods yard still standing are the stables. These days we call them Cavendish Court, and go shopping there, too. But the clue is in the width of the unit doorways, wide enough to allow a heavy horse through. The past may be gone, but still is all about us.