Culturedale: How Calderdale was formed 50 years ago and how it plans to celebrate its big birthday

Calderdale is all set to celebrate turning 50 with a massive celebration of culture.
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The council’s Year of Culture launch on Saturday, April 13, begins 12 months of festivities spotlighting the borough’s diverse communities while also showcasing that five decades on “this is who we are – together”.

Numerous film and television companies flocking to Calderdale recently have found its different terrains and character of its communities ideal for their purposes, and this exposure is also helping give Calderdale real brand identity as a whole.

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That’s also significant in economic terms as recognition brings with it visitors – to Halifax’s Piece Hall, to listen to the world-famous Brighouse and Rastrick Brass Band or to walk the moorland surrounding Todmorden’s landmark Stoodley Pike – spending money which supports local businesses and in term the communities.

Halifax's Piece HallHalifax's Piece Hall
Halifax's Piece Hall

Calderdale Council is releasing a special film which will take viewers back to Calderdale in 1974 through archive footage from 50 years ago.

It will also feature the debut for a poem written especially for the borough’s anniversary, highlighting the changes over five decades.

If the borough is now promoting itself on a wider stage as a cultural beacon, its beginnings were wrapped up in something much drier but no less important.

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Back in 1970, Ted Health’s Conservative Party went into the general election polls – and won – with a manifesto commitment to reform local government, where a massive reduction on the number and tiers of local government was deemed necessary.

Calderdale Council's chief executive Robin TuddenhamCalderdale Council's chief executive Robin Tuddenham
Calderdale Council's chief executive Robin Tuddenham

A report on the issue was also accepted by Harold Wilson’s Labour Party, which came to power in 1974.

Ultimately the Local Government Act 1972 was the legislation which would see the changes come in on April 1, 1974, reducing the the total number of councils in England from 1,245 to 412, excluding parish councils.

It set a pattern of pattern of two-tier metropolitan and non-metropolitan county and district councils which remains in use today in large parts of England, although the metropolitan county councils were abolished in 1986, and both county and district councils have been replaced with unitary authorities in many areas since the 1990s.

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Since 1986, Calderdale Council has been responsible for most local government functions – county-level services were provided by West Yorkshire County Council until its abolition that year, when Calderdale became a unitary authority.

Todmorden town centre, with the historic Town Hall. Picture: Todmorden Town BoardTodmorden town centre, with the historic Town Hall. Picture: Todmorden Town Board
Todmorden town centre, with the historic Town Hall. Picture: Todmorden Town Board

The 1974 changes were controversial in communities nationally, and this was reflected locally as Calderdale Council replaced eight former districts and part of a ninth, which were all abolished at the same time.

Along with the county borough of Halifax, distinctive municipal boroughs at Todmorden and Brighouse went, along with urban district councils at Elland, Hebden Royd, the Shelf part of Queensbury and Shelf – the former going to Bradford – Ripponden and Sowerby Bridge, and the rural district Hepton, centred around Heptonstall.

The county borough of Halifax had provided all local government services in its area, while the other eight districts had been lower-tier authorities with West Riding County Council providing county-level services.

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Nevertheless, this meant they provided many of their own services – for example the Municipal Borough of Todmorden built its own housing, developed a swimming pool and so on.

The nearest large towns to Todmorden are actually Burnley and Rochdale, seven miles away opposed to Halifax’s 12, both in historic Lancashire.

Despite this being reflected in some local emblems – Todmorden Cricket Club’s badge features both the red rose of Lancashire and the white rose of Yorkshire – by the 20th century the town through which the county border once ran was firmly in Yorkshire, and that surely helped seal the new deal.

In place of some of the abolished councils, electors in some areas, including Todmorden, Hebden Royd, Heptonstall, the three Hebden Bridge areas of Wadsworth, Erringden and Blackshaw, and Ripponden all voted to also establish parish or town councils, reflecting a desire to keep some independence and identity, although some substantial settlements, including Brighouse and Sowerby Bridge did not.

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Quite recently, newer parish councils, such as the one at Stainland and District, continue to reflect this desire for local identity.

And while it is arguable it has taken 50 years for Calderdale – awarded borough status from its creation – communities to get their heads around the idea, and the relationship has occasionally been fractious, by 2024 it is fair to say they are knitted together more closely than they have ever been.

Accordingly, says the council’s chief executive, Robin Tuddenham, the year is hugely significant and the authority was making it one to remember.

“Not only does it mark 50 years since Calderdale and the council were formed in 1974, but also the culmination of our Vision 2024 and the start of our iconic Year of Culture,” he said.

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“Culture has played a big part in Calderdale’s history, and continues to hold a special place in so many people’s hearts.

“This year is an opportunity to reflect on all we’ve achieved as a place.

“We’ve known all along how special Calderdale’s culture, creativity, heritage, landscapes, people and community spirit are.

“And now, thanks to our growing presence on TV and film, they’ve been brought to the world’s attention.

“We can proudly shout, happy 50th birthday – it’s Calderdale’s time to shine!”

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