Monday, July 03, 2006

Art, Wine and Disaster in Holmfirth

Unless you're from Yorkshire, if you have heard of Holmfirth at all it will probably be because of the long-running television comedy series Last of the Summer Wine, which has done about 250 episodes since it began. Not my cup of tea, I'm afraid, but many people love it and it has featured lots of excellent actors.

In spite of the invasion of tourists seeking "Summer Wine Country", Holmfirth still retains plenty of character and at the moment, until July 8th, there is Holmfirth Artweek going on. I was working in Holmfirth today and went to look round the main exhibition in the Civic Hall afterwards. It's mixture of professional and amateur work, with about 400 artists taking part, and there are also many fringe venues round about. I was really impressed that a place of the size of Holmfirth was able to muster such a large exhibition: I spent a long time looking round and really enjoyed it.

I met someone who ran an art gallery who kept giving me the gallery-owner's point of view. "Poppies always sell": "Old-fashioned-looking pottery never sells". We agreed, though, that some people don't paint primarily to sell their work, and that work that is done because "this will sell" is rarely, if ever, the most interesting.

The people we met were very friendly and I felt that the whole thing put the big city of Leeds, where I live, to shame - in spite of Leeds' efforts to reinvent itself as a European city of pavement cafes, I think there's still a groundswell of resistance in Leeds to anything that can be deemed "culture".

Something that Holmfirth should be known for, but isn't generally, is the Holmfirth Flood of 1852. The link gives the whole story of the flood, as originally published in the Holmfirth Express in 1910. In short, after a period of heavy rain in February 1852, the dam at Bilberry Reservoir above Holmfirth burst, and twenty minutes later a vast amount of water crashed into Holmfirth itself, as well as doing a great deal of damage to the Holme Valley. Hundreds of people were killed and there are many fascinating eyewitness accounts on the website.

How this story has got so generally forgotten I don't know - I live only thirty miles away, I am interested in history and yet I had never heard of it until John told me about it (and incidentally you can see some of his work in the Holmfirth Artweek exhibition). Where is the great British feature film? Or the television documentary?

Perhaps it's another example of the North-South divide. I can't help thinking that if the flood had happened in the South the story would be known throughout the land - - but Holmfirth in the 1850s must have seemed very remote indeed to those in London. 1852? It was even before they started filming Last of the Summer Wine.


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