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Multi-million pound projects restore Brighouse after extensive floods

PUBLISHED: 00:00 18 September 2017

Photographer Mike Bentley recorded the rebuilding of Elland Bridge, Brighouse

Photographer Mike Bentley recorded the rebuilding of Elland Bridge, Brighouse

Mike Bentley

Millions of pounds have been spent repairing flood damage which disrupted vital transport links around Brighouse, as Martin Pilkington reports.

Mike Bentley captures the lifting of one of the arches in the rebuilding of Elland Bridge Mike Bentley captures the lifting of one of the arches in the rebuilding of Elland Bridge

As its very name implies, Brighouse is a place of bridges, with the meandering River Calder spanned here since medieval days. The addition of the Calder and Hebble Navigation in the 18th century meant more crossings were required to keep traffic moving through a town where part of the centre is an island. The floods that struck Brighouse on Boxing Day 2015, sweeping away several of those transport lifelines, were enormously disruptive, but the town has coped superbly, and is working to avoid repeats of the problems.

‘After the floods we hit the ground running with everything we could to rebuild the vital Elland Bridge,’ says Steven Lee, head of highways and transportation at Calderdale Council. ‘We got that done in about 12 months, which we think is pretty quick for something that big, but we’re grateful local people showed great patience while it was happening. And in a month or so the Crowther Bridge will be completed – the two projects have cost about £7million.’ Another £4.3 million is earmarked for flood defence and resilience work to reduce the impact of any future deluges.

Having the waterways provides major benefits as well as risks of course. ‘Cycling is very big in Calderdale,’ Steven says, ‘boosted by the Tour de Yorkshire and Tour de France, and we’ve just published a cycling strategy that includes work in collaboration with the Canal and River Trust to make better use of towpaths – the flat bits in very hilly terrain – for cycling, to link different parts of the town.’ A river taxi service is being considered too.

While others in the town focussed on getting round the problems caused by the floods, local photographer Mike Bentley directed his camera at the rebuilding of Elland Bridge. ‘As they deconstructed the old bridge it was possible to see the size and the shape of the stones that had gone in, and I was amazed thinking of the effort it must have needed to manhandle them to construct the bridge back in the 1800s,’ he says. ‘I got hooked, became fascinated with how it was being done, and how it was done originally, and over a year or so was there about 100 times, taking maybe 2,500 photographs.’ Ebony Andrew of Calderdale Museums has worked with Mike to curate an exhibition of more 70 of those images at Smith Art Gallery in the town, due to run until November. ‘We’re hanging the pictures in chronological order to help convey the construction process that he recorded, and tell a story that’s important for the town,’ says Ebony. ‘It will also reflect the extended time period over which Mike took the photos.’ Ephemera provided by the Canal and River Trust will sit alongside Mike’s photos to add another dimension to the display.

Councillor Tim Swift, Calderdale Council’s leader, and Simon Bamford, director of asset delivery for the Canal & River Trust declare Elland Bridge open Councillor Tim Swift, Calderdale Council’s leader, and Simon Bamford, director of asset delivery for the Canal & River Trust declare Elland Bridge open

One local institution glad the reconstruction work is nearing its end is Wright & Co, as their Bridge End Works address would imply. But it would take much worse to divert them from what they’ve been doing for 167 years, more than 100 of them in the current building. ‘The business was started in 1850 by Clark Wright, my great-great-grandad,’ says Melody Hopkins. ‘We’ve always made the same two products, brandy snaps and ginger biscuits, since the beginning. We think it’s better specialising in two and doing it really well than doing lots of others so-so.’ It would take a strong will to leave one of their amazing ginger biscuits uneaten once a packet is opened, which explains why in a world of change quite a few shops and distributors have been coming back for more since before World War One, their brandy snaps especially something of a tradition in Yorkshire’s seaside resorts.

The town centre houses another, rather younger, food institution, Czervik’s Fine Wines and Cheeses. ‘The shop opened about 30 years ago,’ says John Murphy, who has worked there for 23 of them. ‘We attract a broad customer base, from pensioners buying half-a-pound of Wensleydale to multi-millionaires spending £3,500 on a super-special malt whisky. And Czervik’s has become a destination shop. People come from all over Yorkshire and beyond to buy things from us that they’d never find in a supermarket; where else nearby will you find 240 malts, a wall-full of craft gins, a great selection of ports and fine wines, a huge cheese range, and beers from around the world?’ he says.

Czervik and Wright & Co’s fame may be in the main limited to Yorkshire, but there’s a very big noise in the town whose name resounds across the country, and in the musical sphere, around the globe: the Brighouse and Rastrick Band, although it’s a youngster compared to the confectioner. ‘It started in 1881, as a temperance band, really just another village band up to the 1920s when they got a conductor called Fred Berry,’ says the B&R’s archivist, Sheridan Fryer, who played in the band for many years. ‘He took them to contests and improved the quality of playing, and turned them into a championship standard outfit.’

Between the wars the B&R won five British Open titles, in 1969 they were world championship winners and it remains a force to be reckoned with. ‘The band were European champions in 1998 and won British championships in 2010 and 2011,’ adds Sheridan.

Mike Bentley visited the site 100 times over a year Mike Bentley visited the site 100 times over a year

‘Even locally people think the band is professional,’ says Gordon Ratcliffe, a member of the management committee, ‘but though many have been students at the Royal Northern College of Music and we have lots of music teachers in the ranks, it’s an amateur organisation.’ To maintain the standards they rehearse twice weekly through the year, and daily before a major contest, which takes dedication given that some come from as far afield as Durham.

Funds for the band come largely from concerts and selling CDs, though they did have a major boost in 1977 when their recording of The Floral Dance reached number two in the charts, selling over one million copies to go platinum. ‘It would have been number one, but for Paul MacCartney with Mull of Kintyre,’ says Gordon. And if the former Beatle heard the tone of total disdain in which Gordon utters that song’s title he’d never dare to visit Brighouse.

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