Looking Back . . . with Chris Helme

It has been many years since the ornamental drinking fountain stood in the middle - well, almost in the middle - of the Bailiff Bridge crossroads.

As the years roll by fewer people in the village will even remember what it was, let alone remember when or why it was there.

Over the years many people have telephoned me or stopped me in the street to tell me what happened to it once the decision was taken by the old Brighouse Borough Council to remove it.

For the benefit of newcomers to the village and for those who have not heard of this once prominent land mark in the village let me take you back to when it all began.

The Bailiff Bridge drinking fountain was formally handed over to the Bailiff Bridge community by Lady Janet Firth the wife of Sir Algernon Firth from the T.F.Firth's carpet mill July 31st 1911.

The fountain was just one visible contribution the Firth's gave to the local community. They were well known for giving financial assistance to their employees, particularly those who had fallen on difficult times.

At the turn of the century it was common place for younger members of the community to be sent up to the big house. This was 'Holme House', the home of Sir Algernon and Lady Janet Firth who lived at the house from the mid-1880s until just after the First World War when they retired to Scriven Park, Knaresborough

The children would go to see Lady Janet and receive a brown envelope containing some money and one errand you did and then went straight home to mum.

It was said that when they finally left the district many local people openly wept in the streets, such was the depth of feeling for this family.

Firth was the Commandant in Charge of the First World War Auxiliary Hospital at Priestley Green and for her services she was mentioned in dispatches. During the war years Holroyd House was used as the hospital and it is recorded that they dealt with almost 900 injured young men throughout the duration of the war.

The saddest part of their stay in the hospital must surely have been that once they had been put back together by Lady Firth and her team of nurses the young men were packed off again, back to the war with, I am sure, not many making the return trip again.

Lady Firth left the fountain in the care and custody of the Hipperholme Urban District Council and ensured a sum of money was left to pay for its up keep. She did not want the fountain to become a burden to the local ratepayers. Sadly as with most similar donations and presentations the money soon ran out and it was left to the council to find the on going finance for its upkeep and maintenance.

In the early 1960s questions were beginning to be asked about the fountain and hints were being made about it being moved on road safety grounds. With the fountain being left originally by Lady Firth permission was sought prior to a decision being taken.

Whilst the descendants of Lady Firth had no desire to see it become a danger they did however indicated that whilst they had no objection to it being moved they did ask that it was moved to another site in the village. Consideration was given to it being re-erected in the memorial park and looking how splendid the park is looking now it would have made an attractive feature.

Sadly, following the fountains removal from the cross roads it placed in what the council referred to back in those as a depot, on Rookes Bend near the Norwood Green turn off on the way to the Wyke Lion restaurant.

However, seeing the remains of the fountain on this site for myself many years ago and photographing them, I think you and I would have described the site more as a tip.

The two granite troughs that once offered the passing four legged friend a drink of water have long disappeared - but would it be possible to re-build it, I wonder?

I have serious doubt - if it was ever considered I believe the finance involved would be prohibitive. The granite troughs I believe are recoverable but serious financial implications will be involved.

Perhaps the inscription stone which highlighted that the drinking fountain had been given by Lady Firth in the first place could be salvaged and re-constructed into a wall, then at least they would then be on show as a lasting memory.

The photograph shows the official ceremony having just taken place outside the Punch Bowl Hotel where, no doubt, most of the male members of the gathering would have adjourned to afterwards.

This was a happy day when everyone had the opportunity of dressing up in their Sunday best for what would have been a highlight in the village calendar - a true community event and one of those occasions when all the children could say in their later adult lives, "I was there."