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Who built Hebden Bridge?
Report of talk given by Michael Peel on 10 February 2021

We so often take our own neighbourhood for-granted, but Michael Peel's talk to Hebden Bridge Local History Society brought to life the history of the buildings that make up Hebden Bridge's 'Victorian Quarter' and form an important part of the character of the town. The talk focused on the area known as 'the Croft' between Commercial Street, New Road and Bridge Gate, which until the 1860s was an open field. Grand buildings such as Hope Chapel, the Co-op Hall and the Library form just part of what was built during this productive period. Drawing on documents in local archives and on reports in contemporary newspapers, Michel could go back to the plans produced for the sale of lots of building land in this roughly triangular shaped part of the emerging town.

One contemporary source was Joseph Sugden, who wrote in the Hebden Bridge newspaper as 'Josephus' and gave a vivid picture of the state of the town before the development with poor roads and a 'deposit of filth'. The Patchett family, local innkeepers, owned the land which was first put up for sale unsuccessfully in 1855, and then again in 1856. Problems of drainage and water supply had to be overcome, and the Patchetts sank a cistern holding 18000 gallons of water from the springs of Birchcliffe. A sale in 1864 of smaller plots saw more local entrepreneurs take their chances as the development expanded to include residential and business properties.

The demand for housing saw mixed development of the space, with the 'respectable middle class' Machpelah and smaller dwellings, often with a shop on the ground floor and living accommodation above. The list of various shops and the multitude of things that they sold was very evocative of a different kind of high street in Victorian times, and photographs of windows stashed with all kind of goods added to the picture. New public houses were built to meet the needs of the population and of visitors. The Railway Inn opened in 1861 with brew house and stabling, though the landlord was reputed to be 'not of good character'. The Albert was built on land bought by William Coup expressively for the purpose, with a coach house and stables. Having no licence to sell spirits, it was deemed to be 'a respectable house.'

Emerging from the talk was a roll call of local characters who gained their wealth through manufacturing and wanted to invest in property that would both enhance their town and provide a healthy profit. The Croft was an area of industrial development, with a gasometer, a timber yard, and Hartley and Crabtree's iron foundry as well as the textile mills such as Albert Mill and Croft Mill. The Albion Iron and Tinplate Works on Carlton Street produced tin trunks which must have accompanied many a voyager. Many of these entrepreneurs became leading lights in local politics and the bedrock of societies and churches.

Hope Baptist Chapel was in 1857 one of the first buildings to be constructed on the area known as the Croft. Soon there was a Sunday School extension with classrooms and meeting rooms, and an extension for infants. It was this building that was eventually sold to the County Council and converted to the Library that is still enjoyed today. Other notable buildings were the Police Station on Hope Street and the grand buildings that were constructed as banks – the Hebden Bridge Joint Stock Company enjoying a prestigious building on the corner of Albert and Hope Street – the first bank to open in Hebden Bridge, and the last one to close in recent years. The Manchester and Liverpool District Bank occupied the building on the corner of Crown Street and New Road. The Co-operative Society had a magnificent building on Carlton Street, with meeting rooms for hundreds of people at a time when there seemed to have been a real hunger to learn. On Carlton Street now Youth House stands unoccupied, but it is a monument to that spirit. Built by Josiah Wade as a memorial to his sister, the Wade Institute opened after his death. The architecture of Oxford House on Albert Street still attracts attention. This was built for James Gibson, a dentist who advertised his expertise in providing 'operations without pain' using the latest inventions.

As for who literally built Hebden Bridge, Michael knows there is more exploration to be done and is keen to share the groundwork he has covered already. One of the main builders was Lewis Crabtree whose company was behind much of the construction in the 1850s and 60s. As well as Oxford House and the Co-operative building, signs of his idiosyncratic decorative style can be seen on many of the houses in the area.

The detailed research carried out by Michael Peel was part of preparation for a Hebden Bridge History Society exhibition planned to open in Hebden Bridge Town Hall in March this year. That now seems unlikely, but the displays are ready to go, so look out for an exhibition that will give residents and visitors a chance to explore the history of the town and its buildings more fully.

The next Zoom webinar for Hebden Bridge Local History Society, on Wednesday 24th February at 7.30, will hear from Michael O'Grady about local man John Bateman, who became Britain's foremost reservoir engineer and was responsible for the building of local reservoirs.

Details of the talks programme, publications and of archive opening times are available on this website and you can also follow the Facebook page.

With thanks to Sheila Graham for this report

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