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What I’m reading: The Road to Huddersfield

Despite being in lockdown I have been amazed at how little time I have had to catch up on my reading.

Nonetheless, I have been able to delve into a little-known, but fascinating book by Jan Morris, who wrote under the name James Morris until 1972, which was published in 1963 for the World Bank. Entitled The Road to Huddersfield: A Journey to Five Continents, it is anything but a travelogue; rather it is a profound prophecy of our planet’s future.

The Road to Huddersfield, however, does not dwell on the undoubted beauty of the Pennine Hills, in which the town nestles.Rather, it takes its theme from the industrial revolution of two centuries earlier, and the reality that it was here in Huddersfield that a technological revolution was born.

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Engines, driven by the simple power of the moorland rivers and streams, used cogs, iron and grease to replace the efforts of men.

These transformed Huddersfield in just 50 years from a small village into an industrial town with, quite literally, many hundreds of mill chimneys belching black smoke into the clear blue sky of an unsuspecting world. 

Despite its negative impacts, however, Ms Morris highlights how this energy and entrepreneurship went on to transform the wealth and creativity of Britain.

Sixty years ago, she forecast accurately that nation after nation across the five continents would rush to emulate the same transformation Huddersfield had.

In truth, one only has to look at India and China to see how rapidly former agricultural economies have been transformed into industrial and technological power houses.

What she failed to foresee was the damage that industrialisation would do to our environment, and that climate change, driven by mankind’s pollution of the atmosphere, would have the potential to destroy much of the world’s habitat.

It also puts into perspective the comments from the newer industrialised countries when we criticise them for creating pollution; that we have enjoyed the benefits of growth, and now it’s their turn.

There are nonetheless reasons to be optimistic about the future. Not 30 miles from Huddersfield lies the River Don, which was once the most polluted river in Europe, yet it is now clean enough for salmon to return.

Equally, during this lockdown we have gone two months without generating any power from coal. This in particular is probably one of the strongest indicators yet that the road to Huddersfield is one which, if not paved with gold, is ultimately one where we can anticipate that the quality of life across the world can be improved for all its citizens.

Ken Davy is chairman of The SimplyBiz Group