A Religion And A Town Pt 4 – The Antecedents

Posted: September 11, 2010 by ifyoutoleratethis45 in Culture and Society, History
Tags: , , , ,

Dewsbury Market

Dewsbury Market

Read Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3

The town of Dewsbury has a population of 56,030, with the figure remaining steady over the last forty years. It sits on the trans-pennine rail link that travels between Newcastle and Manchester, a ten minute journey west takes citizens to Leeds, whilst to the East there is Huddersfield and, to the north, Bradford. Dewsbury’s prominent location on within the rail network had traditionally been acknowledged as an important tool to attract trade and commece. Those who dwelled outside the town centre in one of the town’s sub-districts would rarely have to venture more than a mile to pick up anything they needed. It’s a memory shared by many across the country who grew up during the early to mid-twentieth century.
The town was founded on its manufacture of heavy woollen materials and was very much the centre of the nation’s “shoddy” and fine “worsted” cloth industry. The hope and feeling was that this would continue to be the case and safeguard the future of Dewsbury. Forty years later, the onset of globalisation has well and truly put paid to this optimistic, yet perhaps understanable, prophecy. By 1968, a developing economy based around a number of new industrial fields would presumably steer towns like Dewsbury in the right direction. Predictably though, the international economic system within which the town, like every other in the western world, now resides uprooted the defining industries of the country’s manufacturing centres and planted the seeds where labour was cheap and workers were less unionised.

The trains which brought visitors to Dewsbury now take workers and shoppers out. One of the defining symbols of 21st century Dewsbury, and the various other satellite towns of Leeds, Huddersfield and Bradford are the mill-conversion flats dotted within a mile radius of its railway station. The premises where the men and women once toiled at the loom to cement Dewsbury’s reputation as one of the manufacturing capitals of Europe are now little more than sleeping quarters for white collar commuters.

The retail and leisure distractions of Huddersfield and Leeds would strangle the life out of the comparably meagre and humble offerings of Dewsbury. Most consider the final nail in the coffin within which Dewsbury as a retail destination now lies was hammered in by WalMart Stores, Inc. In 2002 it paid for the construction of an Asda supermarket which churns out clothes, televisions, CDs, DVDs, stationary, books, jewellry, mobile phones, home appliances and all manner of consumables at a price that the likes of Jack Senior’s sweet shop and Gerald Lee’s gent’s outfitter could not get anywhere near. The rhythm may be bleak but it’s the beat that the earners and spenders of Dewsbury all dance to.

The town is still famous for its market, with coach trips arriving from across the north of England for the second hand sellers on a Wednesday and almost 300 stalls which open on a Saturday. Major retailers like Marks & Spencer and Woolworths which were once considered part of the furniture in the town centre for decades have closed over the last couple of years along with a worrying amount of local retailers. Other household names including WH Smith and Argos do maintain a presence in the town centre against a retail backdrop which is, these days, dominated by discount stores, takeaway food outlets, cafes and the odd specialist hobby shop which fight through every month against the trend of dwindling trade.

Like many towns across the United Kingdom, much of the industrial, retail and residential regeneration has taken place on the outskirts. Matalan, JJB Sports, Next, Sainsbury’s and Halford’s occupy large units with ample car parking space whilst the aformentioned mill-conversion flats continue to sprout. Even further afield, on the border Dewsbury shares with Leeds, lies a recently built business park with over a dozen units occupied by national and international manufacturing and service corporations. Similar estates of a smaller scale have also sprung up on various plots of land dotted about the town previously occupied by the heavy woollen mills of the town’s heyday. It is these units along with Asda and the town’s biggest employer, Carlton Cards, which provide a large percentage of jobs in the town.

In the gap left by the shoddy and worsted cloth industry, there developed a new industry which today, despite not enjoying the same reputation as the woollen trade did, generates jobs and industry in the area. That field is bed manufacturing, a market spearheaded by the local Muslim population. Firms like Kozee Sleep and Highgate Beds have been established for over twenty years and are based in an area which has been aptly nicknamed “The Sleepy Valley”.

This trend of trade and commerce being pulled away from the town centre has been apparent for some years now, the latest example being the construction of a shopping park in Ravensthorpe dominated by national discount chains which target the demographic of low-income families inhabiting the surrounding community. As mentioned, this is a pattern recognisable across the UK but with Dewsbury being within striking distance of Huddersfield and Leeds, the challenges it faces as a retail destination are greater than most.

The Tetley Stadium - Home to Dewsbury Rams.

One of the more postive aspects of the town’s reputation comes in the form of its Rugby League tradition. In 1973, Dewsbury was the home of the best rugby league team in the country and, whilst the Rams, as they are now known, have yet to recapture this glory, the area remains a hotbed for the sport and a conveyer belt of talent churning out elite athletes and national stars. There are five well established clubs in the town, four of which have teams at almost every age group from seven years old upwards.

The town is divided into several regions. To the north there is Dewsbury Moor, Crackenedge and Staincliffe. To the east there is Eastborough, Chickenley, Shaw Cross and Hanging Heaton. South is Thornhill, Thornhill Lees, Savile Town and Whitley and west, Ravensthorpe, Dewsbury Moor, Westtown and Scout Hill. Most of the residents of Ravensthorpe and Savile Town live in the Victorian terraced houses built around the mills of industrial Dewsbury whereas the population of the other suburban districts live in a combination of those terraces, c1960s semi-detached homes and the council estates built in the post-WWII years.

There are four high schools in Dewsbury: Earlsheaton, St. John Fisher, Thornhill, Westborough and Birkdale. All of which, are non-selective, and attract a cross section of students from across the town. The latter two, by virtue their location, are attended by a high percentage of students of Asian origin. The percentage of students achieveing at least 5 A*-C GCSEs (including English and Maths) at each respective school is 42%, 39%, 34%, 28% and 20%e. These figures compare less than favourably with the national average of 47.6%.

Dewsbury is divided into three constituency regions: Dewsbury West, Dewsbury South and Dewsbury East. Dewsbury South and Dewsbury West are home to the majority of town’s Muslim population whilst Dewsbury East, somewhat isolated from the other residential districts is almost exclusively populated by the mostly religiously apathetic white Europeans.

Voter turnout at the last council elections in Dewsbury East was 40% (14th out of the 23 wards in Kirklees council area), In Dewsbury West it was 48% and 51% in Dewsbury East (The 2nd and highest voter turnout percentages overall). Dewsbury West is in Kirklees’ highest population density category (31.6 – 41.2 persons per hectare) whilst East and South are placed in the 2nd and 3rd categories, out of four, with 21.9 to 31.6 and 12.2 to 21.9 persons per hectare respectively.

Whilst unemployment figures are difficult to calculate, the percentage of citizens claiming job seekers allowance (based on the median figures of each designated category) for Dewsbury East, South and West are 2.25%, 3.2% and 4.1% respectively. Just over a third of citizens in Dewsbury West and South receive council tax benefit while just over a quarter do in Dewsbury East. This compares starkly with nearby Mirfield where the figure is just 13.9%.

Dewsbury’s infant mortality rate is more than double the national average, a statistic attributed to smoking and alcohol consumption whilst pregnant and the general ill health of the women carrying the baby. There are also links to this statistic with the conception of a child between first cousins. A child brought up in Dewsbury is also twice as likely, on average, to have rotten teeth as any other child in the country.

Politically, Dewsbury is hard to define. I have only ever lived to see a Labour MP representing the constituency of “Dewsbury and Mirfield”. Ann Taylor was in parliament from from 1987 to 2005 before Burnley born Shahid Malik won enough votes to become the area’s first Muslim MP. Dewsbury East, West and South are all represented by Labour councillors as well but the area is also recognised as a key region for the British National Party with Colin Auty elected councillor of Dewsbury East in 2006 before leaving the party two years later.

Revellers at the famed Dewsbury riot - started by the far right.

The ethnic and cultural make-up of the town has changed dramatically over the last few hundred years. In the early part of the nineteenth century, Dewsbury welcomed migrants from Ireland who came looking for work. They initially settled in the north west of the town before dispersing into the rest of the community over the next half century.

Later, during the 1950s, 60s and 70s, migrants from Southern Asia would arrive in the former industrial towns of England also looking for work. Like the Catholic Irish migrants who sought to create a microcosm of their homeland, the Pakistani, Indian and Bangladeshi Muslims, finding residence in the terraced houses of Ravensthorpe and Savile Town, would also bring aspects of their “old” life with them. Initially this took the humble form of a prayer mat in over crowded bedrooms but, as the Muslim community grew, it would lead to the foundation of mosques and madrassas, many of which exist in their original form today.

Tom Coates

  1. redrider37_uk@yahoo.co.uk says:

    Dewsbury is the pits, We go to batley now and again and we drive through Dewsbury, I can’t wait to get out of the place, batley is the same, how can you be proud of such a depressing place, be honest its more like Pakistan.

  2. kevin says:

    I totally agree I worked there and all I saw was Pakistanis and polish and to think this is OUR BRITAIN !! Where did we go so WRONG ?

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