Home Page Exhibition shows how much Haverhill has lost 15/01/10

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Hart of the Matter

If you get a chance over the next few weeks, pop in and take a look at Haverhill Local History Group’s exhibition about the lost commercial buildings of Haverhill. It’s on display in the bistro at Haverhill Arts Centre and there’s no charge to see it.

If, like me, you are a child of the 1950s, this exhibition will particularly appeal, whether you knew Haverhill in those days or not.

The reason is that many of the pictures recall what is now an almost lost world, but one which, when I was a child, I thought would always be like that.

It might look a bit dingy to the modern observer. The pictures are in black and white, but you can sense that there was not very much glitz and glamour about Haverhill town centre in those days.

The cynic is immediately responding that there isn’t much now, but a quick look at these photos will remind us just how much the world has moved on in terms of appearance.

Shop fronts were generally small, turning a slightly reserved expression to the outside world. They had the name of someone over the top, in most cases a local person or family, who was the proprietor.

Shops and garages seemed to have grown organically out of their surroundings, rather than being imposed upon them, or being part of a large block which seems to have descended from outer space.

There are pictures taken from somewhere high up looking along Haverhill High Street which demonstrate what an attractive line of buildings there were before the ugly squareness of the 1960s superseded them.

Even where these interesting roof lines remain, as in Queen Street, the vista has now been spoiled by loud signage over the shops and huge, almost frameless plate-glass windows.

Currently the town centre is full of cars most of the time, although one hopes this may change during the coming year. The old photos show a town centre with some vehicles around – quite a few in some pictures – but old fogeys like me don’t mind so much because they are such aesthetically-pleasing designs.

All cars look the same now, but in the 1950s and 60s you had a delightful mixture of the long-lived old designs with wings, running boards and long noses – many of them pre-war  and mostly black – and the newer Prefects, Anglias and intermediate Morris Minors, of a variety of shades and all very distinctive so that you can identify them from the other end of the street.

The buses and lorries are even more wonderful to see, looking like my old Dinky toys, and no doubt churning out plenty of black diesel smoke.

As for the buildings, most were in a utilitarian brick, in the old-fashioned Victorian style, and therefore fitting in very well with their surroundings. This was hardly surprising as many were built by Masons, the builders of most of Haverhill’s Victorian heritage.

Of all the losses, the corner of High Street and Camps Road is perhaps the greatest. Jarvis butchers was only a pastiche building itself, having been constructed in imitation of a previous authentic shop on the site, but its overhang, and the way it focused the attention in that streetscape is probably what most people find lacking here, when they point to other towns as being more picturesque.

The little alleys of Peas Hill, although they seemed old-fashioned and unsuited to the modern world when they were demolished in the 1960s, are now exactly what discerning shoppers look for as part of the shopping experience, in a desperate rebellion against the retail giants.

The wide open market square on that site which we now enjoy also has its benefits, but it will soon have outlived any purpose connected with markets. Market Hill in Haverhill is the area outside Chapmans where the market used to be.

The term ‘market square’ applied to the big space at the Camps Road junction has never been its correct appellation, as is witnessed by the street signs Peas Hill and Peas Market Slade.

For those who did not know Haverhill in those far off days, this exhibition will be of great interest and may go some way to explaining how the town has become what it is now.

Forward-looking the town may be, and that is doubtless an advantage, but for those of us who do remember old Haverhill, this exhibition is extremely poignant, because it conjures up sights, sounds and even smells which go far beyond the pictures, but which are forever imprinted on our memories.

David Hart
David Hart revives his personal take on the week in Haverhill, covering everything from major town developments to what we do with our rubbish.
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