Harold Wilson – Huddersfield’s famous son

The Wilson Family The Wilson Family with the statue of Harold Wilson in St George's Square, Huddersfield

Fri, 11 Mar 2016 19:04:00 GMT

‌The Wilson Family, the University and Royds Hall Community School commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Huddersfield Prime Minister

The Wilson Family THE University of Huddersfield played a central role in events to mark the centenary of the birth of Harold Wilson.  They included a history tour that took his son and grandchildren to some of the childhood haunts of the famous former Prime Minister, including the terraced house in which Harold was born on 11 March, 1916.

The commemoration also included the first performance of an ambitious musical play, staged by pupils of Harold’s old school, plus a memorial service at Huddersfield Parish Church.  Centenary Day closed with the 2016 edition of the annual Harold Wilson Lecture, given by the leading contemporary Labour politician Alan Johnson MP, a former Home Secretary who is also a critically-acclaimed author.  His lecture was entitled Harold Wilson – The Reluctant European.

Harold’s son, Professor Robin Wilson, a mathematician, made a return to Huddersfield, accompanied by his wife Joy Crispin-Wilson and their daughters Jennifer and Catherine.  The Wilson party was escorted throughout the day by the University of Huddersfield’s Professor of Politics, Brendan Evans, who has compiled a special centenary booklet about the man who, as Labour leader, won general elections in 1964, 1966 and 1974.

The tour (which can be seen in the video) began at St George’ Square, Huddersfield, where the celebrated statue of Harold Wilson was adorned for the day with a Huddersfield Town scarf – Harold was a lifelong fan of the team.

Professor Robin Wilson also met a group of the first-year University of Huddersfield students who have been selected to receive £1,000 Harold Wilson Centenary Scholarships.  One hundred of these have been bestowed on promising young people from less-well-off backgrounds.

► Robin Wilson and Joy Crispin-Wilson at the house where Harold Wilson was born in Huddersfield with the current occupants, the Harrison family.

The next stop was the terraced house on Warneford Road, Cowlersley, where Harold was born.  When present occupants Wayne and Babette Harrison – who now have two daughters – moved in nine years ago they had no idea that their home was the birthplace of a famous Prime Minister.  Now, there are moves to affix a commemorative plaque to the house, and, on Centenary Day, the Harrisons played host to Professor Wilson and family plus a large media contingent.

► In the video Alan Johnson MP talks about the lasting legacy left by the former Prime Minister Harold Wilson.

Harold Wilson’s first school, at New Street, Cowlersley, is now demolished, but a memorial garden including an ornate metal bench commemorating Harold Wilson, now occupies the site.  The Wilson party paid a visit before moving on Royds Hall Community School, which the young Harold attended after winning a scholarship.

The school – now expanding with a new primary department – has newly redesignated its main building, originally a Victorian mansion, the Harold Wilson Building, and Professor Wilson cut the tape for an opening ceremony.

A team of pupils at the school have been researching the early life of Harold Wilson and the details they unearthed are presented in a special Wilson 100 exhibition, now mounted at Royds Hall.

Alan Johnson Pupils at the school have also been working with the Colne Valley arts group, Watershed Workshops, to devise and produce the musical Wilson 100.  It was premiered before a packed audience at Royds Hall, with Robin Wilson and family in attendance.

‌The play opens with a group of youngsters surrounding the Wilson statue in St George’s Square and startled when it comes to life!  Actor Robin Simpson – clad in Wilson’s trademark Gannex mac – then impersonated the former PM as he recalls his Royds Halls schooldays and adventures that included a motorcycle trip to London with his father and a famous photo of the ten-year-old boy outside 10 Downing Street.  This is recreated in the play, together with incidents such the young Harold’s trip to Australia to visit relatives and his brush with serious illness back home.  There is also a recreation of the harshness of life in the mills of Colne Valley during Harold’s youth.

New songs are featured in the play and joining Royds Hall students for the performance were pupils of Crow Lane and Cowlersley primary schools, plus the Singin’ Slawit Community Singers and actors and musicians from Satellite Arts.  There was backing for the project from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

After applauding the premiere of the one-hour play, the Wilson family moved on to a memorial service at St Peter’s Church, Huddersfield, and then the University of Huddersfield’s Diamond Jubilee Lecture Theatre for the Harold Wilson Lecture by Alan Johnson (pictured), which was a sell-out.

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