I do not know the date the recreation ground was opened but it was before the Shelley Dreadnought corset took the empire by storm!
In 1856 Henry Fitton established his corset manufacturing business in Shelley and by the year 1894 he was a major employer, well known and much respected. In that year Shelley Urban District Council took over from Shelley Local Board with increased powers which enabled it to create a recreation ground near to what is now Westerley Way, together with an adjacent strip of land donated by Henry. He was a public figure in Shelley and became Chairman of both Shelley Board School (Shelley FS) and Shelley Urban District. But by 1906 he and his wife had emigrated to Queensland. Their son, Albert, established his own corset manufacturing business in 1891 and it was he that produced the Shelley Dreadnought corset in 1907, with advice to users not to wear it for longer than 3 years (although it is on record that many did!)
In 1937 to commemorate the Coronation of George VI a concrete shelter was erected at the top of the rec. but unfortunately it was used for inappropriate behaviour, even before it became a drugs den. By popular demand it was demolished in the early 1990’s.
On 1 April 1938, Shelley Urban District Council was taken over by the larger Kirkburton Urban District Council. Around about this time some very heavy duty play equipment made of metal and wood was installed at the top of the rec. it was all very robust and lasted many years. There were two types of swings, a roundabout, a seesaw, and a slide.
I well remember visiting my godparents on Huddersfield Road with my mum and dad, dressed in our Sunday best, which for me included a brand new pair of short trousers. After tea, my godfather asked me if I would like to go on the swings on the rec. It was an adventure for me as a little boy especially to go on the slide! It seemed enormous. There were a lot of steps with a tremendous view from the top. There were no health and safety restrictions in those days. Children had no fear. They would queue all the way up the steps and there was no bottling out when they got to the top! It was quite character building, and apparently no one ever heard of anyone falling off. The slide was smooth and gleaming with so much use! However, when we returned, my mum became very vocal in her rant at my godfather and myself. There was a one inch rip in my new trousers! Help was at hand however, as our next door neighbour was a mender in a mill. She invisibly mended the trousers, skilfully drawing the threads together. Mum’s wrath flared up again when she got the bill, seven shillings and sixpence! I realise that this is all trivia but nevertheless, it was a memorable personal snapshot of the time, 1944, 76 years ago at the time of writing. The rec. was quite isolated. There was no Westerley Way. Westerley Lane was accessed via Water Lane from Far Bank and was just a farm track to fields. The Co-op abattoir was next to the rec where the bungalows are now at the bottom of Westerley Close. Between the top of the rec. and Huddersfield Road was Sam Coe’s yard where he kept his haulage vehicles, some of which served as floats in the 1953 Coronation parade in Shelley.
During World War II, the iron gates at the entrance to the rec. were removed and in common with other such gates and railings were used for the war effort. During the second decade of this millennium, some decorative gates were discovered by Kirkburton Parish Councillors in a Kirklees builders yard. They thought they were the long lost Coronation gates. They fitted the gate posts perfectly and were painted up in black and gold. Local people say that these were not the original gates which were taller but nevertheless, they are an enhancement to the rec.
During the first two decades of this millennium, the rec. and it’s equipment have been under threat but through the action of the Community Association, local residents and Councillors, money has been raised for new equipment in the toddlers’ play area, picnic tables, seats, a 5 a side pitch and basketball pod and the footpath through the rec, from Westerley Lane to Westerley Close has been tarmac’d.
Further exciting improvements are in the pipeline which are already funded, and meet with the approval of Kirklees Council which is also planning to plant decorative trees at strategic positions at the top.
We can look forward to the future with optimism. Shelley may soon have its park!
Written by Malcolm MacDonald