West Yorkshire's Hebden Bridge starts anniversary party

PUBLISHED: 17:24 15 December 2009 | UPDATED: 00:24 06 February 2013

The packhorse bridge, a centre of celebration. Photograph by Chris Ratcliffe

The packhorse bridge, a centre of celebration. Photograph by Chris Ratcliffe

Hebden Bridge is beginning a year-long party to mark a special anniversary. Amanda Griffiths reports

An old packhorse bridge is the centrepiece of a significant birthday being celebrated in the life of a West Yorkshire market town with a reputation for being a little bit different.

Hebden Bridge developed around what is now a landmark bridge 500 years ago to become a centre of weaving and cloth manufacture. It was originally built to smooth the progress of trade and has seen Hebden become a fair-trade town with more than its share of creativity and innovation.

And todays residents, businesses and local organisations are embracing the year-long 500th birthday celebrations known as HB500 with gusto.
You can see the bridge as the start of a whole new era for the area not just for Hebden but for the villages and towns around that became more accessible, said Robin Dixon, chair of the Hebden Bridge 500 organising committee. The bridge is now the focal point of a town known for its creativity, uniqueness, independence, environmental awareness and community spirit.

In 1510, when Henry VIII had been on the throne for a year, the original rickety wooden bridge was rebuilt in stone with money raised from local collections and benefactors. It was recognised as vital to the local economy because it allowed wool-laden packhorses to cross Hebden Water and make their journey through the valley from Halifax to Heptonstall, Burnley and Rochdale.

As a result Hebden Bridge gradually developed into a thriving textile town. These days, its renaissance has brought the accolade of fourth funkiest town in the world and a reputation as a hotbed of creative businesses.

Its an interesting time for the town, said Jason Boom, the environmental community warden at Hebden Royd Town Council, which is also helping to pull the celebrations together. The 500th anniversary of the bridge seems to be bringing everyone together.

This is a place which has a lot going for it at any time. There are numerous events, festivals and exhibitions every year and were finding that most of these events are embracing the 500 year celebration as a theme.

But events dont just focus on the bridge itself. Many have their own take on the 500 theme. Pennine Pens and Hebden Bridge have combined forces asking people to write 500 words about the town. One former resident who moved away wrote a piece on how its only since she has left the town that she has realised just what the place means to her, while another submitted a time travel piece, with someone from 1510 writing to someone in 2010.

And a local photographer is working on a project to capture 500 faces of Hebden Bridge. Its becoming almost like a badge of honour, added Jason. People keep coming up to me in the street and asking me when hell be here next because they want their picture taken.

The highlight of the celebrations for many will be the civic event in June when a packhorse will carry textile bales over the bridge at the head of a procession.

And Diana Monahan, the secretary of the local history society said the Battle of Heptonstall will be fought on the bridge in July. Because the bridge is quite narrow there will probably only be about 30 people involved in the skirmish itself but theres plenty of room for people to watch along the banks of the river and were hoping to have some real musket firing as well, she said.

We are also hoping to publish a history of the bridge and to give a number of talks and lectures on the bridge, the civil war and the other bridges in our area. We have nine bridges here and pupils from Calder High School as well as other schools are going on a sponsored bridge walk to help raise some money for our battle in July, she added.

Just because the people of Hebden Bridge are celebrating the past this year it doesnt mean they are not willing to embrace the future far from it. The town was the first to be awarded the Walkers Welcome certification and was the second town in the country to ban plastic bags.

The celebrations might be about 500 years of history but were not stuck in the past, said Diana. Hebden Bridge has a lovely sense of community. People are proud of the town and thats the reason theyre all getting on board with the celebrations. Everyone here enjoys the fantastic scenery and shops and you can walk everywhere!

At least 30 different groups are pooling their efforts in a programme of events all around the town, ranging from costumed re-enactments to musical performances and from exhibitions to food and film festivals.
Full details are yet to be announced. For more information about events in Hebden Bridge this year go to www.hebden500.co.uk.

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