Cleckheaton residents can now once again enjoy a local landmark in its original glory, the 80-odd-year-old fingerpost outside the Fire Station – at the junction of Westgate and Hightown Road. (We refer to it as a fingerpost, though no fingers are to be seen on it).
Hightown, in the parish of Liversedge to the south of Cleckheaton, was in the 19th century a straggling collection of small settlements along the Wakefield to Halifax Turnpike, from Hightown Heights down to Middle Gate. Its main claim to fame was as, briefly, the residence of Patrick Brontë, assistant curate at nearby Hartshead Church (since restored to its original Norman glory), prior to his move to Thornton, the birth of his famous children, and his final settlement in Haworth. It has grown since then, and now includes the Windybank Estate, built after the Second World War, with its imaginatively-named streets – First Avenue, Second Avenue, and so on up to Thirteenth Avenue. Unlike their American namesakes, however, their numbering does not reflect the layout. But I digress.
Hightown Road was built sometime between 1922 and 1934, according to the dates when it appears on Ordnance Survey maps – perhaps as a belated by-product of the creation of the Spenborough Urban District in 1915.
The signpost was probably erected at the same time, directing along the main road, Westgate, now the A643, to Birstall, Leeds and Bradford to the east, and Brighouse, Elland and Huddersfield to the west. The new road, up to Hightown, directs the motorist not to Hightown, but again to Huddersfield – same distance, 7½ miles, but a more convoluted route. When he (because it probably was a he) reached Hightown, to cross the present A649, the motorist will have been directed onwards by another signpost of similar date and design.
Both finger-posts were made by the Royal Label Factory of Stratford-on-Avon. This company, as its name implies, had been established in 1874 and made labels for the gardens of Queen Victoria’s estate at Sandringham in Norfolk. From other labels of all types for less royal customers they were making finger-posts and other signposts for local authorities from the 1930s onwards. It is said to have produced half the finger-posts in the country. As part of Leander Architectural, but now in Buxton, they still produce street furniture and signs of all kinds, and have been involved in the restoration of heritage signs.
The Spen Valley Civic Society restored the latter in 2003, and then decided in 2016 to restore the one at the bottom, on the A643. Over the years, unloved, un-noticed and uncared-for, it had lost two of its arms and become a rusty relic. Thanks to a grant from Kirklees Council’s You and Your Community funding programme, volunteers were able to work on its restoration: new metal letters were made to match the originals, brackets were manufactured using the one remaining original as a pattern, wooden finger-boards were created, and the metal post was stripped of rust and repainted with numerous coats of paint.
The restored signpost was unveiled in April 2017 by Jan Scrine, and the finished result is inspirational – even for those of us who are not inspired by finger-posts.
Sources: Milestone Society Newsletter, no 33, August 2017; Graces Guide to British Industrial History (www.gracesguide.co.uk); www.leanderarchitectural.co.uk; not forgetting Wikipedia.
RWH /Feb 2019