Friday, 27 November 2015

A Psychogeography of Lofthouse – Part 1

For the ‘Ruhleben - Lofthouse Park Civilian Internment Project’

On November 25th 2015 Tim Waters and I carried out a drift around what had been, in the First World War, a prisoner of war internment camp in Lofthouse, Wakefield, West Yorkshire. The particular area that was the camp, is adjacent to a modern housing estate located opposite the golf course.

The image below is taken from Wakefield Libraries Collection and I found it on 'The Neglected Books Page' which discusses a book called Time Stood Still: My Internment in England 1914-1918, by Paul Cohen-Portheim. The book is about a German civilian who was interned at Lofthouse. The overview of the book (linked above) is worth reading as it gives you an insight into life there from one person’s perspective:
“The past was dead, the future, if there should be a future, was a blank, there was nothing left but the present, and my present was the life of a prisoner.” (Paul Cohen-Portheim).

The objective of our walk was psychogeographical to the extent that a) we were looking for material archaeology in the terrain that may lead to clues of the area’s past and b) we wanted to get as sense of the aesthetics of the space as it is today.

A good example of material archaeology are drain covers, inspection covers, manhole covers and infrastructure grills of various kinds. They can often tell you about the industrial (and social) history of an area. Sometimes you are able to date the object itself, which then indicates infrastructure work during a particular period in the area’s history. The above cover is for Yorkshire Water Authority and is on the north of the area that would have been the original camp. Yorkshire Water no longer use the ‘authority’ part of the name, so this dates it prior to the privatisation of water authorities in the UK under the Water Act of 1989. The company name is Brickhouse Dudley, and as this article in Black Country Bugle explains, the company used this name prior to 1967. So we can be sure that this part of the water system was either installed, extended or updated at some point prior to that time.

The above image is on the large set of flats on the entrance to the estate. Tim and I thought it very odd that windows on a new building had been filled in. It is reminiscent of the window tax of the 18C and 19C.

While we did walk around the new estate, we felt the periphery of it would lead us to more 'concrete' clues. This blob of concrete, with a smudge of yellow road-marking paint on it, was quite near the water and electricity infrastructure hub, which was surrounded by bollards in a most striking way, placed to prevent any temptation of the will to park!

While we were at this above spot a woman pulled out of the estate in her BMW, which indicated to me that this was probably a ‘middle-class’ housing estate, although Tim thought that the empty jar of olives was a better indication. I had to agree.

This fenced-off ‘scrubland’ to the south of the new estate probably partly covers the area that was the original camp. It would have been interesting in term of signs on the ground if we could have accessed it. Peter Duffy dominated this side of the estate. When we came across this sign we were unsure what the company did. But it later became apparent, when co-incidentally our different route back to the station took us past their HQ. They are civil engineers.

The picture below is both a random image of a psychogeographer in action, but also it is the gateway from the new estate onto a public footpath that takes you into a nearby field.

We went to the edge of this agricultural field and tried to look on the ground for any old bricks or stones that led to any clues.

I later read that the site used to be Roper’s Brickworks. From what I can tell Roper’s seems to be related to this quarry which dominated the Lofthouse Gate area at one time: Lofthouse Gate Brickworks. In the book Welcome to my World the author, Charlie Walker, says:
“I had obtained a job at a local brick yard: Roper's Brickworks at Lofthouse Gate near Wakefield. It was owned by Aberford Quarries and managed by a great bloke called Cliff Farrar. Cliff lived in a big house nearby and had become the manager after marrying the previous owner’s daughter. Yes, Cliff’s wife was old man Roper’s daughter.”

Part 2 of the blog is available here.

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