Reborn: newcomers make old town trendy

Hebden Bridge aerial, November 1976. See below for a full description
Hebden Bridge aerial, November 1976. See below for a full description

By the 1960s Hebden Bridge was dying on its feet, victim, like so many other Northern towns, of the collapse of its traditional industries.

But Hebden had more going for it than most – even if many locals did not realise it. Despite recent demolition Hebden’s stunning heritage was more or less intact; here was an attractive, virtually unspoilt market town set among beautiful Pennine hills, with its ancient bridge and nearby Bridge Mill, charming streets, myriad little shops and those unique “top-and-bottom” houses climbing the steep hillsides.

On top of all that, Hardcastle Crags, one of the county’s best known beauty spots, with its evocative early Gibson Mill, was only a walk away, and beyond that were the bleak, windswept moors with the Pennine Way passing close by. There was the Rochdale Canal following its tranquil way down the Calder Valley, a wealth of attractive country and town-centre pubs, a rare 1920s Picture House and the Little Theatre...

And all this – and cheap housing too – handily placed roughly midway between Leeds and Manchester, on one of the main transpennine rail routes and not far from the M62.

A few local people, like David Fletcher, of Bridge Mill, saw the potential. He was a founder of Calder Civic Trust, which produced town trails for both Hebden Bridge and Heptonstall, pointing up the wealth of their historic and architectural heritage. As a local councillor he was also a prime mover in the rejuvenation of Hebden Bridge, removing eyesores in places like Bridge Gate and New Road, leading to the construction of the Riverside Walk and the marina and the adjoining new heritage and visitor centre.

Hebden Bridge was ready and waiting to be rediscovered. And so they came – a new breed of Hebden Bridge folk, writers, artists, actors and musicians, creative, thoughtful people with new ideas and alternative lifestyles.

They brought with them their talents and their arts and planted them in Hebden Bridge – arts projects and festivals, galleries and events, organic foods and multicultural clothes.

They also became protective of their new abode, quick to campaign against inappropriate development or to promote fashionable, sustainable living.

It was a new lease of life for Hebden Bridge – a reincarnation as a trendy, quirky place that has managed to combine the best of the old town and country with the hot breath of new people, new ideas. Controversial sometimes, but interesting, dynamic, vibrant, never dull. A new Hebden Bridge for a new millennium.

Pictured above: Bird’s eye view of Hebden Bridge in 1976. The River Hebden runs through the picture from the top, joining the Calder at the bottom. Old Bridge, which gave the town its name, is the middle one of the three main bridges over the Hebden, linking Old Gate, on the left, with Bridge Gate on the right. It carried the old packhorse trading route over the river. Above Old Bridge is St George’s Bridge, with Bridge Mill just beyond and the gabled council offices on the left hand side of the stream. West End Bridge or New Bridge was built in 1772 to replace the narrow Old Bridge. It takes traffic from Market Street, in the bottom left hand corner of the picture, to New Road, built in the 1790s, in effect as a bypass for the town.

Hope Baptist Chapel stands at the corner of New Road and Hope Street, near the right-hand edge of the photo. Opposite the chapel are the Memorial Gardens. Between Hope Street and Bridge Gate is Crown Street, with the large mass of the former Hebden Bridge Co-operative Society building at the top, now flats. At the top of the picture Commercial Street runs from the right into Keighley Road, with a right turn into Birchcliffe Road. The stonecleaned Stubbings School is just visible at the top of the picture. At the bottom right of the photo the Rochdale Canal runs over the River Calder on the Black Pit Aqueduct. Above, facing Holme Street, is Riverside School with, on the opposite side of the street Holme House, the post office and Hebden Bridge Trades Club