Why we need to save Spen.

I am writing this perhaps a tad late, but as the deadline to object looms tomorrow at midnight, I felt that the best way I could raise some awareness of what I think is quite an important issue is by posting something on my blog. 

The Spen Coat of Arms located on the recently refurbished Cleckheaton Library gates.

Firstly, I do not wish to be political; I simply believe that this issue is one that must be tackled. 

The Boundary Commission unveiled new proposals nationwide last summer, which on a local level butchers the current Batley and Spen constituency into an irregular oblong of leftover areas. The proposed zombified constituency will span through two councils and cut through the heart of local communities and make no sense on a practical and historical level.

The original ”Spen Valley constituency was created after the Redistribution of Seats Act 1885 and existed with a fair few boundary changes in between, up until 1950. For that period of 65 years, not only was the constituency held by John Simon, who held all great offices of state apart from the Premiership, but it also was host to an upset Labour victory in a contested fiercely 1919 by-election, indicative of the momentum behind the rising Labour Party.

John Simon, 1st Viscount Simon – He served as Home Secretary, Foreign Secretary and Chancellor of the Exchequer throughout his long career.

The naming of the seatback in 1885 was also quite interesting as it resulted in quite a significant spat between the House of Commons and the House of Lords. The constituency was originally going to be named “Birstall” after the ancient parish that covered the area. However, this was contested by Liberal Bradford MP Alfred Illingworth, who argued the area should be called “Spen Valley”. In many ways, at the time, the term “Spen Valley” was an artificial construct, as Illingworth would later admit, but he thought that the term would prevent jealousy between the local towns and also would be a more central name.

The Earl of Feversham strongly opposed Illingworth’s amendment arguing that the local population didn’t support or identify with the term “Spen Valley” and wanted the ancient parish’s name to be used. The Earl even further commented that the new term was “only remarkable for being the receptacle of all the sewage from Birstall”. President of the Local Government Board, Sir Charles Dilke, countered with the fact that although the term was artificial, it had the support of the local boards of Cleckheaton, Heckmondwike and Liversedge, which made up the majority of the proposed constituency. Finally, after the debate, the Commons voted 65 to 46 in favour of the seat using the Spen Valley. Afterwards, the Lords gave way much to Earl Feversham’sFeversham’s disgust.

Does this look like a good idea?

On a more practical level, is it right to have a constituency that spans two local authorities? Is it practical to have a Member of Parliament, an individual meant to represent all of us, split between a narrow strip of communities that have next to nothing in common?

And finally, and the point I wish to stress the most, is it right to lose a name that has stood for 137 years? I believe not.

What can we do then? Well, there is a multitude of things we can do, but the most important is submitting comments and objections to the Boundary Commission on their website.

The next part I have stolen from our MP Kim Leadbeater’s newsletter, but I couldn’t put them better myself.

“The key objections clearly are

  • Heckmondwike has strong ties to Batley
  • Removing the bulk of Heckmondwike would cut links between the west and east of the constituency, along the A638 (Halifax Road / High Street) in particular
  • Hipperholme and Lightcliffe have no ties to the constituency
  • Batley and Spen should remain wholly in Kirklees and not take in part of Calderdale”

It is also a good idea to highlight that the name Spen Valley, Spen or Spenborough has remained part of a parliamentary constituency since 1885 or 137 years. That represents five generations of my Batley Hall family. How many generations of your family have lived under this name?

I understand there is a pandemic and countless devastating conflicts and wars across the globe, but many people will think this isn’t actually the most pressing issue. But losing our local identity would be genuinely devastating, and I worry the sense of community we underestimate could begin to slip away.

This is why I really believe we should all try our best to reinforce the common identity we share in our local area. The Spen Valley is a historic place, once home to the Industrial Revolution, which permanently changed the area and our world. We once housed mills, factories and mines that were world-renowned. There are plenty of opportunities and hope for the future if we work together, and the first step starts by preserving our area’s name.

‘Spen Valley’ on the sign at the new ‘Spen Baths’ – indicative of a bright future?

According to the late Thomas William Thompson, the Spen Valley was inhabited by “brave, fearless people” – let us not lose that identity now.

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s