HEBDEN BRIDGE, West Yorkshire
Hebden Bridge is a very special place, a place of character in a modern world, a character forged through landscape and time. The terrain made sheep farming ideal and a domestic cloth industry possible. Heptonstall, above the town, became the centre for weavers and Hebden Bridge the river crossing point for pack horses laden with cloth, salt and food. First a wooden bridge was built and then the stone one you can see today built in 1510. The area was "Hep Dene" or Rose Valley, a beautiful name for a beautiful place.
Today, Hebden Bridge has lost none of that beauty. You will soon discover that once you first view the town, nestling amongst wonderful Pennine hillsides, you will be charmed and delighted. What will captivate you even more are the strange stories which abound! For instance the story of the Cragg Vale Coiners shows how eking out a hard living from farm and cloth, led to an independent, not to say, an inventiveness of spirit which gave Hebden Bridge it's unique character. Led by "King" David Hartley, the 18th century Comers made new coins from 'old' and were involved in intrigue and murder.
This independent streak was also reflected in the number of Baptist and Methodist Chapels in the area - their wonderful architecture can still he admired in many places, such as Birchcliffe Chapel, now a group accommodation centre, Hope Baptist chapel (opposite the cinema) and Ebenezer Chapel with an attractive sundial on its front. Another Methodist Chapel, the Octagonal Chapel at Heptonstall, is one of the oldest in the world still open.
Heptonstall hand-loom weavers were overtaken by water-powered (then steam-powered) mills in the valley bottom. The mills and their chimneys, which today seem like strange sandstone fingers pointing at the sky, made the town prosper. Corduroy and worsteds were the speciality. Many of these mills still survive and have found new uses. One of the most prominent ones in the town, Bridge Mill, was a manorial corn mill in the 14th century, saw action in the Battle of Heptonstall in the English Civil War, and was replaced with a stone textile mill in the early 1700s. The mill now houses a number of shops and craft outlets, as well as a working restoration of the original water-wheel. The town has many shops with beautifully restored Victorian and earlier C18 Fronts and is often a magnet for local and international artists, musicians as well as film crews.
In commerce the town showed the individualism which made it special. Nutclough Mill produced fustian cloth and was one of the most successful and probably the most famous producer co-operatives in the country. It now houses modern businesses. As for housing the workers, the unique relation of "double decker" houses to the landscape, clinging as they do to the hills, shows again the character of this wonderful Pennine mill town which sets it apart from more "run-o-th'mill" Yorkshire towns. Access to this marvellous setting is almost second-to-none, with one of the best networks of rights-of-way in the country. The area is simply great for exploring whether you are on foot, bike or horseback. Hebden Bridge people are rightly proud of protecting their heritage and today the town retains its special character.
Mills and canal-side workshops are now home to craft galleries, restaurants and shops. The unusual townscape and beautiful setting inspires many local artists, many exhibiting their work each year in the Hebden Bridge Arts Festival. The former Poet Laureate, Ted Hughes, who sadly died in 1998, was born locally, in Mytholmroyd and 'Remains of Elmet' is a tribute to the rugged and inspirational nature of the landscape in which Hebden Bridge is set. The 'Pace Egg Plays' Duck Race, Brass Band Festival, Vintage Car Weekend, Giant Bonfire with firework display add drama and colour, whilst the World Dock Pudding Championship can he savoured for its special local flavour at the beginning of Spring.
Cosy tearooms and friendly hostelries abound. Most offer real ale, many have intriguing histories, but all offer good cheer! Relaxing and taking a breather from the stresses of modern life is easy here. Take a canal trip from the marina and see the natural splendour of National Trust, Hardcastle Crags, walk the riverside walk, take to the hills, or just simply amble round the many superb speciality shops.
GETTING TO AND AROUND HEBDEN BRIDGE
There are many ways to get around Hebden Bridge. Public transport and walking, cycling and riding certainly offer a "greener" alternative to the car, and more often than not a better way to enjoy the countryside.