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A Social Club Outing By Train, 1935

In early 1985 I began preparatory research for a tourism promotion based on Victorian Calderdale. This was to follow up the successful 1984 promotion based on the eighteenth century life in the area. However, with the coming of the Calderdale Inheritance Project and my move to join its team, the idea was shelved. The time was not wasted as much good material came out of the research, including some to do with the early twentieth century. Prominent among this was a contact with a very elderly, but very lively lady named Mrs Florence Waite, who had worked in the 1930s at Crossley Carpets in Halifax.

Some time later I and a production crew from Leeds Metropolitan University visited Mrs Waite at her Halifax home and videotaped a long interview with her in which she told us her life story. This is mentioned on another page of this web site, and it also formed part of a teaching video project called "Tourism and the Industrial Community" which was produced by the University in 1997.

This page tells in brief the story of an excursion that Mrs Waite made in September, 1935 to Scotland. It uses some of her exact words and pictures from the video.

It was 'officially' a day's excursion to Scotland, the Forth Bridge, Glasgow and the Isle of Bute on 7 September 1935. How could it all be done in one day?

Image: Crossley outing to Scotland brochure - 7 Sept 35

Mrs Waite had been born near Rotherham. On leaving school one Friday aged 14 she was sent to live with her sister in West Vale near Halifax, and on the Monday started work in a textile mill. She never moved back to the South Riding.

In due course she married, her husband working as a conductor on the local tram system. She went to work at Crossley Carpets at Dean Clough in Halifax, in the Chenille Department, where the hours were long and the wages relatively low. Her sister also worked in the mill. Then in the 1930s her husband lost his job and spent some time out of work.

From the late 'twenties to the start of the second world war a 'welfare society' at Crossleys organised excursions each year to a number of destinations such as Margate, Bournemouth and the Isle of Man. In 1935 it was to be to Scotland. Money was collected each week from those who booked to go, and a special train booked. Mr Waite, out of work, could not afford it, so Mrs Waite went with her sister. Five hundred people boarded the train, each having been given a small booklet with full details of the schedule and places being visited.

The journey started close to midnight on Friday, 6 September.

Image: Crossley Carpet Mills montage

At that time, well before the Clean Air Act of 1954 which put an end to pollution by coal burning factories and houses, Halifax was a dirty, smoke-laden town. Hundreds of household chimneys and dozens of factory chimneys poured out black, polluting fumes. It was said that Bank Holidays could be seen, because the air was clearer as the mills were closed for the day and many houses left empty. Halifax, like many another industrial town, was a place to be escaped from on these days. From the middle of the nineteenth century, horse-drawn wagons and trains had taken people a few miles out into the countryside nearby, or much further to some other, more attractive city. Halifax certainly was not a tourist destination.

Margate, Bournemouth, and Edinburgh were, and so were the islands of the Clyde such as Rothesay.

Image: Florence Waite - reminiscence

The train left from Halifax North Bridge Station, which has been long gone and now is occupied by a Sainsbury's store. It took the old route through tunnels to Queensbury before making its way through the night up the east coast. Mrs Waite recalled that everyone was so excited, there was very little time for sleeping.

Image: Florence Waite reminiscence

Image: Edinburgh postcard

From Edinburgh's Waverley Station they were taken round the city, seeing the Castle, Royal Mile and Holyrood House from the coaches. Then the cavalcade set off for Queensferry and the Forth Bridge, arriving about 9 o'clock in the morning. They had 'done' Edinburgh - no time for entering buildings or buying souvenirs - and breakfast that Saturday morning had been served on the train around 4:30am. They saw the bridge and the Firth of Forth and Mrs Waite's sister took one or two photos on a box camera.

Image: Florence Waite reminiscences

Image: Wemyss Bay station and ferry terminal

For many years, Glaswegians have "gone doon the watter" from their city to the resorts along the Clyde. Many took the train to Wemyss Bay where an attractive station was linked by a curving, sloping, covered walkway to a ferry terminal (above). Boats crossed over to Rothesay on the Isle of Bute. The Victorians holidayed there so hotels and guests houses sprang up and bathing machines in which the modest visitor could change into suitable swimware were found on the beach. Postcards showed the busy pier and promenade (below). The good millworking folk of Halifax - all five hundred of them - would have been a lively, noisy invasion, but soon absorbed into shops or onto the little beach or boat trips - such as the one Mrs Waite and her sister missed.

Image: Rothesay postcard

Image: Florence Waite reminiscence

The visit to Glasgow was only for the evening meal (traditionally called 'tea' in the north, the midday 'dinner' having been taken on the train on the way to Wemyss Bay) followed by time for a drink in a pub. Glasgow wasn't considered a tourist attraction for this party, at least.

Image: Florence Waite reminiscences

Mrs Waite also said in the interview video that she hadn't known what to order in the pub, so asked for the same as the man who was standing next to her - a pint of beer.

Then they caught the train back home, travelling down the west coast this time. As it was overnight Mrs Waite had no memory of the route taken.

Image: Florence Waite Remininscences

The visit was one of Mrs Waite's strongest memories of the 1930s. It wasn't a day excursion, which might have been fifteen hours including travelling, but twice that - around thirty hours, with something happening all the time. They slept little on either of the two nights they were travelling. Only around five hours, it seems, were spent really sightseeing, plus the time spent eating and drinking in Glasgow. Between seventeen and eighteen hours appear to have been spent travelling. Most of the workers at John Crossley and Company would have made only this one trip away during the difficult times of the 'thirties, a time of economic depression. After the war, with Mr Waite working for the Post Office, times were better and more excursions were made.

What thrilled Mrs Waite was that during her late years, visitors were coming to her own town because they found it special, interesting, historic and even scenic because of the Pennine setting of the Calder Valley. She worked at Crossleys: by the late 1980s it had become a Business Park with nationally-recognised redevelopment activities, after Crossleys closed in 1982. In 1900 the carpet company had 5,000 workers: at the time of closure, a few hundred. By 1990 there were something like 2,000 people working in the former mills, in services, small-scale manufacturing, plus arts and theatre groups. A new Calderdale Industrial Museum adjacent to the Halifax Piece Hall demonstrated textile processes such as Mrs Waite had operated in the 'thirties.

She had never thought of her town special in any way except as being her home. Her life had not, perhaps, been special to many people apart from her family: now she saw that it was part of the story of the town and that hundreds, if not thousands, of visitors were interested in it. It meant that she had to revise her whole view of her town and her own part in it.

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