By ANISAH ARIF

A poetry group have been visiting secondary schools to share a historic milestone and encourage the learners to produce memorable poetry. Batley Poets, through support from One Community, have delivered a presentation to around 500 learners across three high schools about how Batley became a borough 150 years ago this December.

Mohamed Saloo, from Batley Poets, said, “It’s a project we’ve been working on for about a year, delivering it to three school year groups was enthralling. It is exciting to see teenagers interested in something that happened 150 years ago, explaining how that has had an impact on their lives and for them to associate some of the old buildings for the use they were built for.”

The presentation was delivered across six sessions to Upper Batley High School, Batley Grammar School and Batley Girls’ High School and encouraged learners to produce poetry which will form an exhibition to be hosted in Batley Library, Bagshaw Museum and other venues over 2019.

The demographic of Batley has changed and one interesting fact, said Mohamed, is how Batley was built on migrants looking for work. “When Batley invented Shoddy which was then mass produced as the industrial revolution kicked in you see a huge spike in the rise of the population. In 1800 there were around 2500 residents in Batley, that grew to over 20,000 by 1871. People were coming looking for work just as they did when the South Asian community settled in the town in the 1950s and 1960s.

“It is a fascinating history that in reminiscing over we forget how the town drastically changed in a single lifetime. The huge mills, the houses and even the town centre took over what used to be open land. Not to mention those migrating workers from over the town or county’s border beyond.

“It is interesting to consider how and what reactions some local people would have had in what is now regarded as the town’s golden age.”

Mohamed was accompanied by his son Bilal who launched the Poets’ website in 2017. Bilal compiled the group’s first publication Bards of Batley which was launched at the Batley Festival this September and is a key driving force on several projects. Bilal delivered the poetry challenge to the learners with an aim of inspiring budding young poets.

A personal feat for Mohamed was to return to his old high school, now Upper Batley High School, and deliver the first of the sessions.

“It was surreal,” he said, “Standing at the front of a hall where I had some thirty years ago stood in assemblies and taken my ‘O’ levels. It was an amazing experience in itself.”

Another school’s project being run by Batley Poets and celebrating Batley 150 is the ‘What Batley means to me’ in local junior schools. Batley Parish CofE JI&N and Mill Lane Primary School have submitted around 150 entries which will be displayed in Bagshaw Museum during the Christmas holidays.

Batley Poets are hoping to work with more schools in the coming year. If your school would like to be involved in the project email mohamed.saloo@batleysmile.co.uk

The exhibitions are set to be launched from 22 December and will be in the Library and Museum during the school.

Letter to the editor

(A fictitious letter from 1867)

I have had enough! Now in my 60s I’ve seen my childhood town thrashed and bashed into oblivion by all these mill owners. I was barely a teen when this Shoddy lark started. I didn’t think it would take off but it did. Add to it this industrial revolution and my home town doesn’t resemble anything of my childhood anymore.

The big monstrous buildings have taken away my skyline. I used to enjoy looking over hills to the sun rising, can’t do that anymore. These noisy stony giants stand five and six storey high. They’ve ruined the landscape. How dare they build these awful structures! Who authorised them?

The stuff bellowing out of their chimneys can’t be good but worst still they’ve brought all these outsiders into my town. They’re building their homes and their kids are running riot. They don’t care about my town. Look at the rise in criminal activity because of these outsiders, the drinking and fighting.

Used to be a time when you knew everyone by their name, can’t say that anymore. Not safe to wonder beyond Wilton’s boundary any more. And the mill owners on the Local Board of Health aren’t going to do anything because they’re raking it in!

And now they want to self govern through a council?

Send them packing back to where they came from! Teardown the mills! And make Batley what it was again!

(Reply from the fictitious editor)

These new mills are good for the town, most of the people coming to work are decent people just looking for work and to settle here. This is change that in years to come will be hailed as Batley’s success. Your grandchildren will benefit from this change and will have better services, better health care, better education and better opportunities because of this change. In 150 years local folk of that time will celebrate when Batley became a borough. They will fight to keep these ‘monstrosities’, as you call them, because it signifies the towns great history. The grandchildren of these new people coming into the town will be as much ‘Batlians’ as you and I.  They may not look the same, but Batley folk they will be. It’s sad that you can’t see this is good for Batley.