Wednesday, 21 February 2018


Looking from Shroggs park in Halifax through a mist of silver birches to tall flats on the other side of a 'ravine'.
View from Shrogg's Park across a 'ravine'.
Until I looked at this scene I didn't properly appreciate the light and airiness
of silver birches.
Halifax is full of Victorians. All in a rush they filled the area with houses and mills. Then they went away again. In other words, they died. Or more particularly, Queen Victoria did. There's a statue of her husband Albert, and a promenade which keeps his name. But it's the ghosts of the local wealthy who hang around the place. Not with white sheets over their heads going 'ooooh' but in the landscape.

A short while back I posted about The People's Park in Halifax. (A Parade of Bare Bottoms.) Today we are crossing a wooded ravine (I expect there's a proper name for the steep, deep gullies which go right into the heart of town but 'ravine' will do) to another park - Shroggs.

Until I began this post, I'd assumed there had been a 'Mr Shroggs' and that he'd given the land for the benefit of 'the people' just as Mr Crossley gave land for The People's Park. But no. It turns out that 'shroggs' means 'scrubland' or 'brushwood' or 'area of stunted trees'.

Woodland path in Shroggs Park Halifax with rocks and overhanging trees.
Woodland walk in Shroggs Park, Halifax.
To the right there is an almost sheer drop to a busy main road.
Victorians liked shrubberies and stumperries and rockscapes. I've always assumed it was just one of those things. A fashion that came and went. But perhaps it was more to do with Victorian practicality. Presented with an area of stunted trees and rocky outcrops, one might as well take advantage of what's already there and enjoy the drama. Sling in some formal beds and wide walks and a drinking fountain, perhaps a band. Et voila! An enjoyable mish-mash of the contrived and the wild! Victorian furniture sometimes has mirrors in odd places. This wasn't so people had to crouch down to pluck their eyebrows. It was a way to brighten the atmosphere. Victorians liked tinkering. Sometimes they over-did it. Never mind the age of a church, bung down a regular pattern of tiles in the nave. But they weren't frightened of big projects. Find an area of unproductive ground, plant 60,000 trees and shrubs to give shelter and make it pleasant, put up some impressive gates to give access and open it to the public every day of the year!  Take what is, pitch in and make it 'better'. They were truly 'hands on'.

One of the wide walks in Shroggs Park, Halifax.
There are also formal flower beds and a mass of cocuses in some areas of grass.
(February 20th 2018)
Yesterday, someone compared Halifax to Luxembourg. 'It's a similar topography with ravines splitting the town. But in Luxembourg they've kept the rivers above ground and made it all beautiful.' Having looked at some pictures of Luxembourg, I can see what he means. Some day I'll have to check up on why the rivers in Halifax have largely been channelled into narrow spaces, out of the way places and underground. In the meantime I'll guess it was to prevent flooding, to reduce the amount of soggy ground and maybe (perhaps even primarily) to use the water for power. (I should probably have found out before embarking on this post but if I waited to know everything I'd never say anything - which would not be good.)

Twisted trees on the steep bank at the side of one of the paths in Shroggs park, Halifax, West Yorkshire
Twisted trees on the steep bank at the side of one of the paths.
But in 1872 one Colonel Ackroyd decided to give the people of Halifax a park. What's fun about this is that whereas The People's Park was a place to contemplate ancient statues and walk around quietly, Colonel Ackroyd decreed that in 'his' park people were to play games and music as well as walk along its broad paths, drink at its water fountain, admire its formal beds and sit between its trees. If you take a look at Historic England's site you'll see his intention right from the beginning was that there should be provision for 'cricket, bowls, archery and other games'. (You can now add football and a children's play area. I don't know about archery!)

In making this comparison, there's an awkward gap. The People's Park was designed in 1857 and Shroggs in 1872. But if I were a fiction writer I'd make Crossley and Ackroyd proper contemporaries so I could write a block busting novel about their contrasting approaches. One (Crossley) going for the working man's quiet contemplation and education (the classical statues) and the other (Ackroyd) consciously providing space for games and flirtation (what other use for a shrubbery?). It would be followed by a television drama which, spread over several episodes, would be as successful as Downton Abbey and make my fortune.

Looking down on part of the road network in Halifax, West Yorkshire.
Looking down on part of the complex road network from a hill opposite the park.
If you click the picture it will enlarge and you will be able to see how roads are
weaving over and under each other and how cars are coming in and out at
different levels. 
There are no modern-day local-benefactors on this scale. But here's something interesting about Calderdale Council which is currently resisting the amount of new housing the government wants for this area.

According to our local paper (The Halifax Chronicle) the leader of the council (Tim Swift - Labour) says the special topography of the area has to be taken into account. (There are, after all, what I call 'ravines' as well as slopes so steep we might as well call them cliffs - that's me doing that explanation, not a quote from the article). And Councillor Dan Sutherland (also Labour) says "We need to strike the right balance between providing enough housing for the future and both maintaining and improving access to the green spaces we all enjoy."

As you can see from the picture, roads go over and under each other in order to connect the multiple layers of industry and housing in Halifax. (Shroggs Park is above the upper top left of the picture). Given that some areas of town are highly populated . . . a park here and there is no bad thing.

Victorian men like Crossley, Ackroyd and Saville (who in 1866 gave a large area of land to the council on condition it did something about smoke pollution) used some of their wealth to create parks. I used to think if I were truly rich I'd put up clocks all over the country. I've now switched to grants for repairing roofs in Halifax. (In my dreams!)

If you had oodles of money to give away for the public good, how would you spend it?


David Gascoigne said...

That parkland looks truly superb with its ancient moss-covered trees. I don't think you should have Luxembourg envy at all. As for how I would spend oodles of money I will have to think about it, but several options come to mind. A little self-indulgence might be at the top of the list!

Liz said...

Thanks for the information about Shroggs, there's a street called that near me and, like you, thought it was named after a local grandee. As for the money, I do dream of having the money and ideas to provide meaningful work and low-cost housing for people in places like Cornwall, to stop the heart being ripped out of places.

Liz said...

And talking of Victorian public works, have you been up Wainhouse Tower yet? It gives me vertigo just looking up at it.

liz said...

This is the Kentucky Liz, Lucy.
I love Shrogg’s Park in Halifax. It is more “natural” and less contrived than The People’s Park, but both serve a good purpose.
Those twisted trees are a real work of art. I’d get vertigo looking down to the spaghetti network of roadways below.
What to do with money to be beneficent to the community? That’s something I’d have to think about. . .

flightplot said...

An interesting read, and good pictures. I've never been that interested in history but always found the Victorian era to be a fascinating period.
If I had money to give away it would be on community allotments and gardens. xx

Jo said...

Such an interesting post. Though I don't live all that far away from Halifax the only places I've really visited are Eureka (when the kids were small) and the Piece Hall. Oh, and I visited Manor Heath Park, I wrote a couple of blog posts about it on my old blog:-

Hollis said...

There are shrogg-like stands on the Central Coast of California. Of course they're not called that, rather "dwarf forest" or "elfin forest" They look a lot like your 4th photo, but in this case, the stunted twisted trees are trying to minimize exposure to salty sea breezes. I like the sound of shrogg and will try it out the next time I visit, will be interesting to hear what my naturalist friends think.

Donna said...

Oh I like shrogg areas like this as they make use of natures gifts and allows us to get up close....I am glad to see they are not constantly taking land to build and there is some thought about preserving the greed has opened up our natural spaces for more digging and destroying. with lots of money, I would preserve nature areas and woods with educational programs for people to see some of it and allow nature to be wild in the rest.

Lady Fi said...

Lovely area!

Daniel LaFrance said...

Thank you for visiting my blog :)

If I had control of the purse strings I’d maintain existing green spaces and look at how well or poorly they serve their community. Blending low income housing across all communities and their parks is essential in ensuring you’re not creating low income areas. They deserve to be part of every communities fabric. Focus on society’s well being across the board.

Birgitta said...

Interesting post!

Molly said...

Love the bendy twisty trees


Soma @ said...

What a great read paired with wonderful photos. This kind of history of places fascinates me. Love the twisted trees.


NatureFootstep said...

such a gorgeous place for a walk :) Would love taking one there.

Pat Tillett said...

VERY interesting stuff! There is so much history there.
Really liked your photos also

I was recently wondering where so many of the bloggers I like have gone. There are only a few that are still here from the beginning (of my blog). Of course you immediately came to mind. It has been a long time.