Hebden Bridge is a 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 ekeing 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. The latter was established by Dr John Faween, a famous non-conformist minister who was so charmed by the area and its parishioners, that he could not bear to leave the town even when he and his family were packed! 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 marvellous working restoration of the original water-wheel. The mill is one of many fine stone buildings in St. George's Square. The square has many shops with beautifully restored Victorian fronts and is often a magnet for local and international musicians, as well as more recently for film crews on the feature film 'Fanny and Elvis'.
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 whilst at the same time exploring new ways in which to enhance the town and its environment. The new Alternative Technology Centre is set to be a wonderful new attraction, based in the 200 year old Hebble End Mill. Today the town retains its special character, but offers so much more to the visitor.
Mills and canalside 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' add drama and colour, whilst the World Dock Pudding Championship can he savoured for its special local flavour.
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 horse-drawn canal trip from the marina and be legged through Fallingroyd Tunnel, see the natural splendour of Hardcastle Crags (home of the Sculpture Trail in Summer), 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. 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. If you're travelling from anywhere in West Yorkshire or want an easy way of getting around Hebden Bridge and its surrounding villages why not use a Day Rover on the train or bus. (Ring Metro for details on 0113 245 7676 or buy one from the Hebden Bridge Tourist Information Centre).