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Source material: Illustrations

Illustrations of local towns, street, buildings and people dating back to the mid-18th century are widely available within the Local Studies Collection, Central Library Halifax, West Yorkshire. They enable the historian to construct in some cases a very detailed picture of the physical appearance of the past environment and of the people who lived and worked in the local community, and it is by reference to these sources that the picture of the past can be made more realistic, tangible and concrete. Used in combination, they enable the local historian to see more clearly the social and topographical change that has taken place over the years.


During the 18th century the copper plate engraving was used increasingly to illustrate many books on local topography. During the 19th century a host of new processes emerged, dominated in the early years by the lithograph and culminating in the modern photograph.


Illustrations fall into 3 main categories locally:

  • Illustrations in books: A certain amount of illustrative material is to be found in local books within the Local Studies Collection, Central Library Halifax, West Yorkshire. As might be expected, many of the buildings included in the older publications tend to be the ancient seats of the local gentry, buildings the 19th century passed by.
  • Illustration files: Many of the illustrations in loose files are arranged in alphabetical order under the person or place in question. They vary in size from diminutive photographs to large lithographic prints, and include town views, views of specific streets and buildings and photographs of local worthies.
  • Photographic survey: A Photographic Survey has been in operation since the 1960s in and around Halifax. It has been a joint project carried out by the Library Service, the Planning authority and the Halifax Photographic Society. It comprises several thousand photographs of individual buildings, arranged in grid reference order, with an alphabetical place index to facilitate the retrieval of photographs of specific buildings. As much of the emphasis has been to record buildings due for demolition, it has become an important source for historians researching areas subjected to redevelopment over the past half century.


As with all other sources, illustrations need to be treated with care. Photographic and especially non-photographic illustrations should not always be taken as representations of objective reality. For a variety of reasons they may enhance or distort what they record. Nevertheless, without the many local illustrations it would be a much more difficult task to build up a picture of the local community over the last 2 centuries.

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