From Cavaliers and Roundheads to grit and chimneys.
Hebden Bridge grew as a river crossing for pack horses laden with cloth, salt and food. First a wooden bridge was built, then the stone one you can see today, dated 1510. The town’s name comes from ‘hep dene’ or ‘rose valley’.
Hebden Bridge was put on the map in 1643 when an important battle in the Civil War took place over the very bridge from which the town derives its name.
Having travelled the main road from Halifax the royalist army, the Halifax Cavaliers, gathered at the river’s edge in Hebden Bridge. On the other side of the old humpbacked bridge was the Butress, the steep medieval packhorse trail which climbs the hill towards Heptonstall. Colonel Bradshaw and the roundheads knew the local terrain. He instructed his men to take up their positions. As the soldiers began to climb the 500ft climb to Heptonstall they were met with a cascade of falling rocks shortly followed by the roundheads.
The royalist cavalry soon realised that the terrain was not suitable for their attack. Many were trampled underfoot by their own panic stricken horses running back down the Butress. The army beat their retreat over the narrow bridge and those who could not get over the bridge plunged into the river to escape only to be swept away by the raging torrent following heavy rain.
The royal army was fiercely pursued as far as Luddenden. Following the battle the Halifax Cavaliers no longer held undisputed sway over the district while Colonel Bradshaw’s army could continue its hostile tactics with greater resolution.
To those traveling through the valley of Calderdale, which seems such an obvious route through the Pennines west of Halifax, it may seem strange that until about two hundred years ago most habitation and transport in this area happened on the uplands rather than the valleys.
Until the early 19th century the community was based at Heptonstall, high on the hillside, where there were farmers and handloom weavers. Hebden Bridge consisted only of - unsurprisingly - the bridge over the Hebden Water and the White Lion Hotel. Heptonstall is the oldest settlement in the immediate area; the original church (ruined by a storm in 1847) was founded in the 12th century.
The centre of activity came down into the valley during the Industrial Revolution. The river was harnessed to power the cotton mills of the Calder and its tributaries.
The steep gradients had restricted transport to the pack horse prior to the 1800s, but in the early part of that century, several new routes were opened up:-
- The new valley road from Halifax - Burnley (today's A646)
- An improved, less steep turnpike from Hebden Bridge - Keighley (today’s A6033)
- The Rochdale Canal
- Finally, in 1839, the Manchester and Leeds railway.
With these improvements came innovations in the textile industry which transformed it from a home- into a factory-based activity. Spinning and weaving machinery was introduced, and the steep, wet valley walls provided ample opportunity to use water power to fuel the new mills.
A local entrepreneur, William Barker, then realised in the 1850s that there was a market for Hebden Bridge to produce its own clothes, rather than simply make the material to be transported out of the area. By the end of the century the town was a major centre for the manufacture of workers' clothing. The town underwent a population explosion, with nearly all of what makes up today's central Hebden Bridge being built in the 1880s and 1890s.
This included many examples of the town's most distinctive feature, the "top and bottom house", an architectural curiosity virtually unique to the town.
These are not grand four-storey town houses. The front door at the bottom of each gives access only to the lower of two houses, which occupies the lower two floors. The top two floors and the attic are another separate house, accessed round the back of each terrace visible here, where the ground has risen enough to make access possible on the ground floor.