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When Oxford University Came to Hebden Bridge

Hebden Bridge History Society meeting report.
Speaker: Andrew Bibby

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Hebden Bridge was a star name in the world of co-operation when, in 1891, a great banquet was organised to celebrate the twenty-first birthday of the Hebden Bridge Fustian Manufacturing Co-operative Society. The 'Nutclough Pioneers' were seen as a shining example of how a producer co-operative could be established and by the end of the nineteenth century a fully integrated fustian producing business from weaving to garments was prospering.

Nutclough Mill

But co-operation was about much more than production; it had a strong commitment to education, and it was this aspect of its story that Andrew Bibby revealed to the Hebden Bridge Local History Society.

At a time when the mass of people had access to only the most basic education, the co-operators of Hebden Bridge were keen to open up an intellectual life for working people. To this end, what was described as 'an almost romantic attachment' was established between the fustian society and the University of Oxford. The Universities, which for the working man may as well have been at the north pole, as one of the co-operators put it, had woken up to a responsibility to 'bring the great boon of cultivation' to those who had for so long been excluded. Working men and women couldn't get to Oxford, but by the means of the University Extension movement, Oxford could come to them.

So the Fustian Society hosted an annual series of lectures, given by young idealistic dons who travelled the country opening up history, politics, literature and science to anyone who wished to attend. In Hebden Bridge, the talks, held in the newly extended Co-operative Hall, were hugely successful, regularly attracting between 300 and 700 people, who delighted the lecturers with their intelligent questions and animated discussions. Alongside the public lectures, there was the chance to engage in closer study through tutorials and essay writing, and some successfully took examinations. Later, there were summer schools held at Oxford and Cambridge which allowed those who could attend to get a stronger taste of the stimulation of University education.

What emerged strongly from Andrew's talk was the huge contribution made by those fired by co-operative principles to the civic life of Hebden Bridge. One of the most successful participants in the extension movement was Robert Halstead, a weaver at the Nutclough mill. He strongly believed that 'those who are poor in material goods need not succumb to the greater curse of poverty of ideas'. Eventually he helped to form the Workers' Educational Association, to bring a wealth of intellectual life within the grasp of the working class.

Another of the alumni of the Oxford University's links with Hebden Bridge was Crossley Greenwood, son of the Nutclough's founder Joseph Greenwood. He was instrumental in setting up the Hebden Bridge Literary and Scientific Society, of which the Hebden Bridge Local History Society is an off-shoot, thriving and still contributing to the intellectual life of the town.  More information about the History Society's lectures can be found in local libraries and on-line at www.hebdenbridgehistory.org.uk

Andrew Bibby's book about this nationally important Hebden Bridge co-operative 'All Our Own Work' is available now.

With thanks to Sheila Graham for this report

Previously, on the HebWeb

The dam that isn't and the great floating plug of the Colden (1 April 2015)

Gruelling Experiences - in the workhouse (16 March 2015)

Pre-History on our hill tops (9 March 2015)

Growing up in Sowerby (16 February 2015)

Patterns in the Landscape: the evolution of settlement and enclosure in the Upper Calder Valley (5 February 2015)

Wakefield Court Rolls for Family History: Sylvia Thomas (18 Jan 2015)

Happy Birthday Stoodley Pike: by Nick Wilding (16 Dec 2014)

Wills, Inventories and Economic Activity in the Parish of Halifax at the end of the 17th Century: Alan Petford (30 Nov 2014)

Local History Society Archive explored - Following the 65th AGM, members of Hebden Bridge Local History Society were treated to a sample of some of the treasures to be found in the Society's archive. (19 Nov 2014)

Views from two communities on the outbreak of war in 1914 - Mike Crawford, Wolfgang Hombach and Nick Wilding (27 Oct 2014)

The Listed Buildings of the Hebden Bridge area with Peter Thornborrow. (14 Oct 2014)

Valley of a Hundred Chapels by Amy Binns (29 Sept 2014)

History Group Study Day report: Power and Potability (11 Sept 2014)

Whose land is it anyway? How parliamentary enclosure shaped the landscape of the Calder Valley: speaker, Sheila Graham. Read more (6 April 2014)

Yorkshire Life between the Wars: speaker, Ian Dewhirst. Read more (20 March 2014)

Industrialisation and the Calder Valley: Communities in a unique landscape - Talk by Dr Stephen Caunce Read more (3 March 2014)

Quarrying in Calderdale: George Bowers gave a talk on the history of stone quarries in our local area. Read more (15 Feb)

Calder Valley Buildings of the Seventeenth Century: the craftsmen and their patrons Read more (27 Jan)See Small Ads (12 March)

Some thoughts on historic buildings and their repairs by Alan Gardner


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