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Hebden 500

Year of celebrations:
500 Years of the Hebden Bridge

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Hebden’s Old Bridge was built in stone in 1510. In the centuries that followed, a town gradually grew around it, eventually becoming what it is today – a community-spirited, creative and unique place to live, work and visit.

This year, Hebden’s packhorse bridge is 500 years old. And around 30 different groups are now hard at work on a programme of events in a shared celebration called HB500.


Hebden 500

Walks, talks, food and film — the calendar for 2010 is already bursting with special happenings and regular favourites that have added a bridge theme to their own repertoire.

Gone are the days of packhorses travelling over the wooden bridge, the only way though the valley from Halifax to Burnley, linking hilltop areas such as Heptonstall, Old Town and Erringden, says Councillor Robin Dixon, soon to be town mayor. Instead, we have people walking over the now stone-built bridge, getting to work, doing their shopping, meeting friends or exploring the area as tourists. We’re inviting all these people to help celebrate the 500th anniversary of the bridge.


In 2008, three members of the community, Mike Barrett, H Gregg and Chris Ratcliffe noticed that the 500th anniversary was coming up and started having regular lunchtime meetings about how to celebrate the event. Some early projects came out of these meetings and soon the Town Council came on board. For the past year or so, Hebden Royd has been co-ordinating the celebrations with the help of community groups of all kinds, businesses and individuals are all joining in with performances and projects.

The old bridge kept me from cracking up. I got into the habit of breakfasting first on bacon butties and mugs of tea at Barker’s Restaurant, overlooking Bridge Gate. For my second course I would sit on the river wall, relax and swallow whole the bridge and all its centuries. I’d wonder how generations of brassed off, weary blokes like me coped with a three steps forward, two steps back existence. I concluded that they just got on with it, even though many of them had far worse to deal with than would ever come my way. And for an investment of about 15 minutes each morning, it did the job. It blew away all the dark stuff and fired me up for the rest of the day.

Graham Barker, from www.fivehundredwords.co.uk.

An official, civic celebration of the bridge is set for June 19, but there are many other events going on year-round. Other things to watch out for include the spectacular Handmade Parade on June 26, back in a new form and with some bridge-related surprises in store.

As part of the Arts Festival, there will be an exhibition of Calderdale photos by Magnum photographer Martin Parr, who will be visiting the town to talk about his work. Parr lived in Hebden for a few years and is now probably the UK’s most famous living photographer. Organisers have also booked leading novelists and performers, who will return to their Hebden roots for the festival.

There will be a new walk, showing how Hebden Bridge has been a focal point for communications over the centuries; Hebden Bridge Light Opera Society, whose members rehearse right next door to the bridge, have a new production at the Picture House, and there will be visits from twin towns St Pol and Warstein with ceremonies at the bridge.

Hebden Bridge Band heritage weekend will include performances at the bridge; The Big Green Weekend will take over Bridge Gate with stalls and events, and Churches Together will be celebrating the last 500 years of Christianity.

A full programme of events is to be launched soon, but there is still chance to suggest other happenings or to get involved. Contact Jason Boom, Neighbourhood Manager, at the council offices on St George’s Street, or call 842181.

Words, faces, bridges – website makes the link

Four very different projects that celebrate the creativity of Hebden Bridge will be running throughout the year.

Back in August 2008, photographer Jason Elliott took the very first photo in his mission to capture 500 faces of Hebden Bridge.

The idea behind it came from wanting to show the variety of ‘Hebden Bridgers’; something — in my opinion anyway — that gives the town a vibrancy, creativity and innovative spirit, as well as a sense of tolerance and cohesion that much larger towns, and even some cities, aspire to,” said Jason.

The project, sponsored by Green Refurb Ltd, will culminate in an exhibition later in the year. Meanwhile, those 500 faces can be viewed at www.500faces.co.uk.

Another photographic collection is also in progress — this time a series of 500 views of Hebden Bridge as it is now — 500 years on from the building of the old bridge. It will include the streets and snickets, the buildings and the open spaces — a pictorial record of the town, which raises the interesting question of what residents will make of it in another 500 years time.

The collection is slowly building at www.500views.co.uk and, thanks to a Facebook link, people can add their own photographs to the project too. Later in the year, some of the views may also appear as postcards.

A picture may paint a thousand words, but when it comes to 500 words, you can’t beat the pens and keyboards of Hebden Bridgers.

People are being invited to submit 500 words about the town – comic or emotional; recollections, anecdotes or just people’s feelings about the quirky town. The only rule is the word count. Entries can be emailed to Pennine Pens and they then appear on the www.fivehundredwords.co.uk website.

So far, the site holds around 20 entries but, by the end of the year, it’s hoped there will be 500 pieces of fascinating writing of all kinds.

The fourth project is all about bridges. Local photographer Craig Shaw, of Blu Planet Photography, is working with members of the Hebden Bridge Local History Society to create a collection of photographs featuring many of the bridges in the area that created the network of trade and community from its very early beginnings. The project will weave images of the bridges as they are now with photographs from the past and historical information. The series can be found at the website at www.hebden500bridges.co.uk and photos will be on display at various locations throughout 2010.

If you are a night person you can walk very late through the empty streets, when the town is beautiful and still, and down the wavy steps, to follow the river path. One night, there were two old (too old) people who were seen smiling and kissing on the 500-year-old bridge. One of them was me.

Lynn Breeze, from www.fivehundredwords.co.uk.

It’s a year for delving into history

In 1510, Henry VIII was King. He had been crowned and married to Catherine of Aragon the previous year at the age of 17. The printing press was the new thing, much as the Internet is today.

Historians have to be detectives, sifting through old documents for clues and links that help them build up a picture of the past.

People will be able to benefit from all that detective work this year as the Local History Society holds a series of lectures, hosts re-enactments and publishes a new booklet about the town’s past and its all-important bridge.

According to Colin Spencer’s The History of Hebden Bridge, the word ‘Hepden’ made its first appearance in a 1334 document and is a reference to the stream in the valley. Den, dene or dean means a valley – as in Colden, Erringden and so on. Hep means wild or dog rose. So, Hepden was Rose Valley.

The addition of the word ‘bridge’ was first recorded in 1399, when the name Heptenbryge appears, but a poll tax return of 20 years earlier records an Emma Brigge, which seems to imply there was already a bridge in the valley.

Hebden’s position in the Calder Valley was one of the main factors in the growth and development of the town. Never reaching a height of more than 600 feet above sea level, the Calder Valley was the most convenient route across the Pennines to link the industrial areas of Lancashire and Yorkshire.

Until the 15th century, the slowly growing population had been wholly employed in growing food. But there came a time when no further land was available and there were idle hands and empty stomachs. The new way of earning a living was in woollen textiles, probably based originally on local wool and certainly depending on the plentiful supplies of soft water.

Signs of prosperity in the early 16th centurywere the building of new churches such as Cross Stone, Luddenden, Sowerby and Sowerby Bridge, and the rebuilding of old wooden bridges in stone.

Building bridges, or helping to repair them, was seen as a form of charity, and the Old Bridge in Hebden Bridge received several mentions in wills soon after the year 1500.

The bridge would have been a convenient place for travellers to take a well-earned rest and the earliest buildings may well have been inns, placed as near to the bridge as possible and the forerunners of the two inns which now guard the entrances to the bridge.

Photo: Annette Miller

Signs of the times

It’s not meant to replace Times New Roman, but HebdenBridge is an original typeface created by Mike Barrett of local graphic design company Frogs.

The typeface is based on the weathered lettering on the three plaques on the bridge, and will be appearing around town when signs and banners marking the celebration year are installed in the spring.

The town will get new ‘welcome’ signs on the main road in and out of town and banners and pennants hanging from lamp-posts and shops will give the town centre a festive feel.

‘Lost’ film could return to its roots

Local film-maker Nick Wilding is hoping to pull off a coup that would see a long-lost film restored and on view in Hebden Bridge.

Nick is collaborating with Jonny Courtney, manager of the Picture House, on a film festival with a totally local theme. The Hebden Royd at the Movies festival will be held on five dates to represent the five centuries of the HB500 celebrations.

Films are likely to include My Summer of Love, Fanny and Elvis and A Boy, a Girl and a Bike. If all goes according to plan, there would be a great highlight with the return, after 90 years, of the film Helen of Four Gates with live orchestral accompaniment,” explains Nick.

At this stage, it’s not definite but a real hope. With the help of local people, I’ve raised £2,500 for the British Film Institute (BFI) to restore the film and am hoping that there is sufficient to fund the musical accompaniment, but they have yet to bring the film over from Canada.

If we can pull this off, we will be showing it before the BFI Film Festival in London.

The film festival could also hold events in some smaller venues, including local films from the 1960s, 1980s and 1990s.


Limited edition sets of postcards celebrating Hebden Bridge-iness will be issued throughout 2010. Look for them in local shops. Sponsored by frogs design and The Print Bureau.

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