Why Cleckheaton is becoming a major festival town for the arts

PUBLISHED: 00:00 13 August 2015

Cleckheaton, West Yorkshire

Cleckheaton, West Yorkshire

Joan Russell Photography

Music and literary festivals capture the true spirit of Cleckheaton, as David Marsh reports. Photographs by Joan Russell

A hearty fish and chip menu was part of an innovative project which aims to take the popular Cleckheaton Folk Festival out to less conventional venues. A dozen concerts, each attracting hundreds of people to Cleckheaton’s town hall, form the centrepiece of the festival. And while it is common for people to go to a festival, the Small Venues Project takes the festival to the people. Supported by Kirklees District Committee for Batley and Spen, the project was launched eight years ago and is a highlight of the festival first held in 1988.Venues around the town hosting performances this year included The Battered Haddock, the Market Cafe in the Market Hall, Blend Cafe Bar, Taste Cafe Bar and Matthew’s Coffee Shop.

Dave Minich, festival director, said: ‘The Small Venues project is a great way for people to get a taste of the festival, which started out as just a series of concerts and sing-arounds in local pubs but has steadily grown and developed. Along with the town hall concerts we have another 35 events or so taking place throughout the festival weekend.

‘As the reputation of the event has grown we have attracted artists from as far away as Australia and visitors from abroad as well as around the UK come to Cleckheaton for the festival. It provides good business for the area’s hotels and bed and breakfasts and about 400 people use the festival campsite just outside the town.’

Top class artists – English folk singer and guitarist Martin Carthy was on the bill this year - a street market, craft fair, meet the artists sessions and workshops are among the many attractions that help ensure the festival, held over the first weekend of July, is a success. The organisers are already working on next year’s festival and, as it will be the 29th, are offering a 29 per cent discount to people who book tickets before the end of November. Find out more at www.cleckheatonfolkfestival.org.

Roger Hargreaves, whose series of Mr Men books have delighted generations of children, was born in the town so it is perhaps fitting that this year saw the launch of the Cleckheaton Literary Festival which attracted award-winning authors, playwrights and screen writers. Among the guests appearing were Joanne Harris, who read from and talked about her new book, The Gospel of Loki; broadcaster Any Kershaw, children’s author Gillian Rogerson and short story writer Mark Wright.

Writing workshops, meet the author sessions and children’s story workshops formed part of a varied programme that was very well received.

Coun Kath Pinnock, who lives in Cleckheaton and represents the town on Kirklees Council, said: ‘The literary festival was a great success. I attended one of the events and really enjoyed it. In many ways the literary festival and the folk festival capture the spirit of Cleckheaton. They are run by local people whose efforts make an enormous contribution to the town.’

From medieval times onward, textiles brought wealth to the Spen Valley, in which Cleckheaton sits and many people were employed in dyeing, weaving and fulling. Industry grew during the 18th and 19th centuries. Mill owners built turnpike roads to aid their businesses and the coming of the railways in the 1840s allowed the mills, ironworks and factories to flourish.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries many new buildings were erected as symbols of the valley’s wealth, not least Cleckheaton Town Hall built in 1892 and paid for by public subscription. These days its 500-seat theatre is used for a host of events with rooms for meetings and functions.

Many of the traditional industries declined but Cleckheaton continues to thrive. Coun Pinnock said: ‘Cleckheaton has a lot going for it. It is a vibrant market town with excellent motorway connections. We have a very dynamic chamber of trade. Spenborough Chamber of Trade and Commerce has over 90 members and works very hard to promote the town.’

Its attractions include a wide range of independent shops, cafes, bars, restaurants and traditional pubs. A Farmers’ Market is held on the first Saturday of every month between 9am and 1pm on St John’s car park next to the town hall. The indoor market, offering everything from bread to bags, toys to tomatoes, is open Monday to Saturday.

The town has a proud sporting heritage. Cleckheaton Cricket Club, whose former players include Yorkshire’s Andrew Gale, are the current Bradford League First Division Champions. Cleckheaton RUFC, which plays in National League Three North, can trace its roots back to 1888.

That sporting reputation was further enhanced this year when 15-year-old Lois Toulson, a pupil at the town’s Whitcliffe Mount School, won a gold medal for diving at the European Games in Baku. Coun Pinnock said: ‘She did wonderfully well and the whole town is very proud of her.

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