There are many ways to experience the countryside. As an art historian and paper conservator, I often discover hidden gems through the pictures that I see. In London recently I viewed West Yorkshire through the very different lenses of Don McCullin at Tate Britain and Martin Parr at the National Portrait gallery – who put the Rhubarb Triangle right in the heart of Trafalgar Square.
What I love about art is that it can transport you to not only a place, but a time. I bought a very sad etching a little while ago for a couple of pounds, to practice my conservation skills. It was in a sorry state. Everything was wrong with it. It was stuck to a board, covered in foxing, torn and yellowed with age. It was by an artist called Fred Jones. Fred was a proud West Yorkshireman, born in Bradford. He loved the landscapes of West Yorkshire and produced both paintings and etchings. His work can be found in regional galleries around West Yorkshire – in Bradford, Huddersfield and Wakefield.
My sad little etching had a title and a date. Printed in 1928, it was of Fagley Lane, near Bradford. “Right then”, I said to myself, put on my metaphorical deerstalker, and got on the internet.
I found it first on Google Street View. It didn’t look like much. Then I found a mention of Fagley Lane in a newspaper article from the Telegraph and Argus. This article was about a Grade II listed farm house that has been demolished by the council – Cherry Tree Farm. There were pictures of the farm house from 2006 and c.1800. It had a chimney at the end, plus one in the middle. It had a distinctive lean-to on the side and two (presumably cherry) trees. It looked like the building in my picture, and it used to be a farmhouse.
Now my picture has a sense of place and history. It has a story – so what is there now? On a map, Fagley looks like a suburb, but there is some open space there and Fagley Beck. I find a reference to Fagley Beck on a West Leeds Country Park and Green Gateways map. There is a reference to medieval iron working, at the northern end of Ravenscliffe Woods, straddling Fagley Beck. Just on the other side of Fagley Lane is Hard York Quarry and the Bradford Industrial Museum.
The walking map forms part of a walking trail from Apperley Bridge to Woodhall Lake which leads up past Fagley Lodge (whatever that is), through woodlands to the River Aire and the Leeds and Liverpool Canal to the North.
Through my investigations into my picture I have built a personal connection with this landscape and it’s history through the eyes of Fred Jones. On my next trip near this area I have a walk planned to go and explore what feels like a familiar landscape to me, but that will be a brand new personal discovery.