Home Page Jubilee is a time to remember and protect our heritage 01/06/12

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Matthew Hancock
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Hart of the Matter

Along with all the jubilation which will be taking place over the coming weekend, there has also come a considerable portion of nostalgia – looking back over the past 60 years, and even looking back to the last Diamond Jubilee of a reigning monarch in 1897.


It seems as though there are going to be quite a few street parties in progress in Haverhill on the bank holidays, which is an improvement on recent similar celebrations when regulations from the ‘Elf  an’ Safety people dissuaded many organisers. Thankfully, a lot of that mythology has been blown apart.


However, we are unlikely to see the sort of parades and colourful floats which marked out Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. Judging from the photos which have survived, an enormous amount of work went into these productions.


That one was in June as well, so I suppose people took a gamble on the weather which we, in the era of climate change, are less prepared to do. Also, of course, people had more time in those days because there was not so much personal entertainment to hand, so they got together in groups to put on a really good show.


No doubt there was a healthy degree of cynicism about, particularly as the old Queen was not that popular by then because she didn’t go out and about much and people were a bit fed up with her continual mourning. Nevertheless it was a confident Britain that celebrated in 1897 because it was the centre of the largest empire the world has ever seen, an empire which was then at its height.


Nowadays we are a lot less confident, both as a nation and as a world, since the financial crash. So even though our Queen is a lot more popular than Victoria was, the celebrations will not be as lavish.


It is interesting to compare the sort of place Haverhill might have been in 1897 with the sort of place it is now. It certainly reflected the confident and productive nature of the country, because all around residents would have been able to see grand buildings which had been erected in their lifetime.


The Town Hall was about 15 years old, the Old Independent a bit less, and some of the terraces of Victorian houses, which are a feature of Haverhill, had been built recently, probably replacing poor quality housing with something clean and modern, specifically for workers at the Gurteen factory.


Those who worked on the land must have viewed these new homes with a degree of envy and the public buildings with something akin to awe because they were nothing like the town had seen before.


Grand concerts took place in them, involving huge numbers of performers and attracting wealthy and, doubtless, finely-clothed visitors from as far afield as London because – of course, you could travel here for the evening easily from the capital by train in those days, and back afterwards. Some of the programmes end with the times of carriages from the venue up to the Colne Valley Road railway station.


I was passing a piece of this Victorian heritage the other day – not a venue for concerts, but for business – and lamenting how it has been allowed to fall into such disrepair.


With the opening of the wonderful new Roman Catholic Church on the Parkway estate in April, it is easy to overlook a building which has shared in both those heritages and now moved into a third phase in which no one seems to want it.


For those who don’t know, the Corn Exchange, more recently St Felix Social Club, is that splendid Victorian edifice next to the Rose and Crown and beside the roadway that leads up to the Crown Health Centre.


Trees are now growing out of it. If you think that is an exaggeration, go and take a look. It was built to replace the old Corn Exchange beside the factory entrance, which was where I began work in the 1970s when it housed the Echo and which is still in productive use as an insurance brokers.


This grand new Corn Exchange must have reflected good times in the agricultural world around Haverhill and one can imagine farmers and millers gathering there for some hectic haggling followed by several beers afterwards in the hotel next door.


When it was no longer needed for this purpose, the Catholic Church took it over and turned it into a social club where all sorts of happy social occasions took place, particularly among the Irish community.


For years it was home to Haverhill Darts League finals night, always a lively and well-attended occasion in the town’s sporting calendar. But that was in the days when almost every pub – and there were a lot more than there are now – had a darts team of at least ten players.


The Catholics sold the building to kick-start their fund raising for the new church. Which ownerships it has passed through since I don’t know, but it always has a For Sale Board on it. It would need a lot money spending on it now, I fear.


But I do hope no one is waiting for it to be unrecoverable so they can knock it down and build some boring flats on the site. At times like the Jubilee, it does no harm to remember and protect the links with our heritage.

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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