Trouser town

Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire

Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire

The steep downhill walk from Heptonstall into the Calder valley gives spectacular views of the town of Hebden Bridge which stands at the confluence of the River Calder and the Hebden Water.   Glaciers formed these valleys, so they have hanging tributaries which maximise the head of water available to mill engineers.

As the textile industry became mechanised from the late eighteenth century onwards, the old domestic industry of gave way to the first generation of water mills.  Then, from the beginning of the nineteenth century, steam-powered mills, no longer dependent on a rapid flow of water, moved out into the flatter land of the valley-floor.

Transport became industrialised too.   The packhorse system was replaced by turnpikes from 1771-2, the Rochdale Canal, built 1794-8, and the railway (1840-1).

Often known as “Trouser Town”, Hebden Bridge prospered until the post-war period, and then its economy crashed.

Between 1955 and 1965 thirty-three mills closed around Hebden Bridge, and 60% of the local shops went out of business.  The Hebden Bridge Co-operative Society went bankrupt when one of its officials defaulted with its reserves.  Cottages changed hands for as little as a penny, and the local planning authorities initially despaired of attracting new industry to the district.

Within a few years, however, the cheap housing, attractive surroundings and easy rail links to Manchester and Leeds brought a variety of incomers – dormitory commuters, home-workers such as writers and artists and a well-assimilated lesbian community [see http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-16962898].

Houses that couldn’t be given away in the early sixties traded for £300 in 1975 and twenty-five years later were worth £65,000.  Even in the current static market, you can’t find two-bedroomed accommodation in the town for much less than £120,000.

Hebden Bridge now boasts nearly two hundred retailers, including a wide range of antique-dealers, booksellers and music-stores.  It’s also a minor capital of culture.

From the early 1970s it was the one of the homes of the Poet Laureate, Ted Hughes (1930-1998), who was born down the valley at Mytholmroyd.  His house at Lumb Bank is now one of the writing centres of the Arvon Foundation [http://www.arvonfoundation.org/course.php?genre=&tutor=&month=&centre=2], founded by two of Hughes’ friends, John Fairfax and John Moat.

The Blackburn-born sculptor Edward Cronshaw (born 1959), best known for his statue ‘The Great Escape’, a popular Liverpool meeting-place often referred to as “The Horse’s Balls” [http://www.liverpoolmonuments.co.uk/equestrian/great01.html], lived in Hebden Bridge until he moved up the valley to Todmorden.

And Margaret Thatcher’s famed press secretary, Bernard Ingham, began his career on the Hebden Bridge Times.

Take a look at what’s on in Hebden Bridge – http://www.hebdenbridge.co.uk/events/index.html:  it’s a hive of activity.

The 80-page, A4 handbook for the 2012 Yorkshire Mills & Mill Towns tour, with text, photographs and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £10.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

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