Thursday, 14 December 2017


The People's Park, Halifax, West Yorkshire.

I don't much like parks. They are too much nature tamed. They have walks without purpose and flow with an atmosphere of worthiness, municipal community and alone-nes. They are uncomfortable places.

I don't much like flatness. I once stayed a week in Huntingdonshire in an area that was counted as 'semi-desert'; not because it was dry but because so few people lived there. To ride on a bus you needed to phone in advance and ask the driver to collect you; and you could see everything for miles and miles.There was no-where to hide. There were, I suppose, advantages to this flatness. For instance I could so easily see a storm coming in advance of its arrival there was time to get home before it began to rain. I'd rather have sheltered under a hedge though - if there had been hedges. But there were none. Just miles of visibility.

Hills are tiring to walk in but because you can't see everything at once there's more to see. Constant surprise. What's over the brow? What's around the bend?

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Statue of Venus in The People's Park, Halifax, West Yorkshire.

Scotland has a new five pound note. I heard about it by chance on 'Woman's Hour' this morning.* It has a portrait of Nan Shepherd on it. I'd not heard of her before and know little about her still - but the interviewee on Woman's Hour read a bit of something she'd written; comments on how you can see static things 'move' merely by shifting the angle of your head, your eye, your body. Turn upside down.

* * *
Last week I visited The People's Park in Halifax. I'd been there a few times before. It's growing on me - but on my first visit I decided it's exactly the kind of park I don't like; more or less flat with a fountain that's never turned on and a short, stagnant 'serpentine' stretch of water with a grassy bank in the middle so ducks have to come out on one side and up-and-over if they want to swim its full length.

According to the Wikipedia entry, Francis Crossley - the man who established this park - was so impressed by the scenery of New England he returned to Halifax eager "to arrange art and nature so that they shall be within the walk of every working man in Halifax; that he shall go to take his stroll there after he has done his hard day's toil, and be able to get home without being tired".

The idea that everyone in Halifax would be able to walk there for a stroll after a hard day's work is a bit of a far hope as it's not in the centre and it is up a hill - but it had already begun to strike me (as I softened towards it) that in a town as hilly as Halifax a flat space to walk in might have been a luxury after a day working hard for Francis Crossley and his relations.

I don't think he and I would have got along. I may well say more about his attitude towards workers in another post but even on lesser things we'd probably have irritated and puzzled each other. Why did the White Mountains of New Hampshire inspire him to provide Halifax with a large area of flat grass? (I don't want to under-rate him - there were trees and plants too - but you get the jist.)

Historic England's entry about The People's Park says it 'It provided for quiet enjoyment of the scenery and for walking, and all meetings, games and dancing were forbidden.' (Oh joy!) Lots of games in the summer now though, and a children's playground.

Statue of Telemachus in The People's Park, Halifax, West Yorkshire.
who has not put on his armour
but has propped it against his left buttock instead.

When the park was opened in 1857, a troupe of copied statues was brought in: Hercules, Venus, Diana, Telemachus and Sophocles. (Apollo arrived broken.) I don't know why visitors would want to see a load of semi-naked men on pedestals while they were walking quietly round the paths after a heavy day at Crossley's carpet mill . . . and I don't know why these giants of mythology and Greek and Roman religion never got the hang of getting dressed. And the extra surprising thing about the arrangement of these statues is that when walking along the broad path beside them one is presented with a selection of bare bottoms. 

Slowly we return to Nan Shepherd . . .

Hercules from behind with colour deepened.
Hercules looking strongish because the colours are deep in the photo.
The idea that things look different from different angles is basic to the kind of photographs I take. It's easy to say and perfectly obvious to all but not always acted upon or taken seriously or even noticed. Different lights send different messages. Different directions bring out different strengths and different weaknesses; and different colours and different lichens. Photographs of ancient and Victorian statues tend not to explore this too much except by chance. Each statue is left to say it's own thing - which is more or less 'look at me, I'm on a postcard'.

Hercules from behind with insipid exposure.
Hercules looking as if he's dropped his bath robe
and is stooping to catch it  - because the colours are weaker.
(Actually he's leaning on a club over which is draped the skin of the Nemean Lion.)
Hence the range of Hercules photos here - rear view and from different angles. I'm not sure what he's holding behind his back but suspect it's apples he's stolen from the garden guarded by the Hesperides. (Briefly, I thought of explaining this but got bogged down and bored . . . perhaps they are not apples but oranges? Who cares?)

Hercules from the side.
Hercules looking looking like a teacher who has confiscated a yo-yo.
My viewpoint here perhaps influenced by having experience
of overbearing teachers but none of  apple-scrumping heroes.

Francis Crossley would not have liked me. Definitely not. Nor do I think I would have liked him. I imagine he'd be disappointed to know I don't appreciate these statues in the way he probably intended. He might even be cross. And I doubt he would have been pleased to see me hurrying up and down laughing and taking photos. (Though he might have been interested in examining a digital camera before anyone else of his age.)

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Phil Slade said...

You were in a very philosophical and slightly mischievous mood there Lucy. Those statues had quite an effect on you. But the problem with old fashioned municipal parks is that they were designed by Yorkshire grandees for the plebs who needed to be led along the path of further education and into higher planes of life - as long as they went back to the factory on a Monday morning at 0700 for their 6 day shift.

I avoid parks like the plague – slipping on the tons of soggy sliced bread left by all those plastic ducks is not my scene. Much better to find somewhere truly wild to find wild birds.

Share my Garden said...

Venus' backside is very decorously covered, but now you've got to walk round the other side and show us the fronts.
I like the fact that the park in Birkenhead was the inspiration for New York's Central Park. I'm not really a park fan, much prefer a bit of untamed nature.

Anonymous said...

An interesting post and good photos, which had me smiling at what you say. I much prefer my local ecology park to the park. I suppose that we should be thankful that we still have parks and they haven't all been built on. xx

Countryside Tales said...

I'm another one who prefers the wild to the tamed, and I found myself bridling at the 'arranging nature' quote about the park's construction. BUT, if you live in a town and don't have easy access to the countryside, a park has a real and enduring purpose, and if they are managed with wildlife and biodiversity in mind they can and do provide important habitat for declining species (I'm thinking specifically of beetles and dead wood, but birds also and small mammals). A really interesting and thought-provoking post. I have a feeling classical statues are often shown in a state of undress as examples to mere mortals - encouraging us to reach for perfection of form. I have managed to resist that (so far). CT :o)

liz said...

Oh, Lucy. How you make me laugh. You put me in a good mood for the day!
I do like parks; they are useful here in suburbia for walking dogs and I notice much used by joggers and leisure walkers alike. There's a small park (with stream) about a half mile from my home where I maintain a butterfly/pollinator garden.
As for your Halifax park, I'm not sure about Mr. Crossley's statues or why he felt a need to install them, but it made for a good story from you.

Alistair said...

Lucy, you brightened up my day. I don't know what was the funniest, your candid honesty regarding public parks or your humour on bare arses.

Stewart M said...

The Living Mountain by Nan S is well worth seeking out and reading - you'll like it - its about hills!

Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne

Anna said...

Your post made me smile Lucy. As a Fens born girl I grew up to a background of flatness and felt threatened by any sight of hills. I live in close vicinity to a park now and must confess to being quite fond of it except at certain times of year when noisy events are held. Wishing you a Happy Christmas and may 2018 treat you and your allotment kindly.

Down by the sea said...

I will look at statues in a different way now! Hope you have a lovely Christmas in your new home. Sarah x

Caro (UrbanVegPatch) said...

It must be so strange to walk in manicured parks rather than the coastal wilds of Dorset but at least you're looking at it from a different angle (and the statues!) and beginning to appreciate this little slice of greenery. I also find parks quite dull but better that than a modern industrial site!

Lyn said...

We must meet up in the Park in summer and discuss bottoms!!

catmint said...

I agree with the others, I prefer wildness, but some parks are a pleasant break from the surrounding concrete wilderness, and part of a plan here to have green corridors to support wildlife in the city. I enjoyed your musings on the statues. I don't know why they never got dressed. Maybe it was summer at the time and very hot, or maybe they were just show offs!