Twenty thousand descend on Hardcastle Crags:
Report of talk given by David Taylor on 22 November 2017

David Taylor, using many images from the Pennine Horizons Digital Archive, conducted a virtual walk for Hebden Bridge Local History Society, following the route taken by visitors who arrived in Hebden Bridge by rail, and then walked to and around Hardcastle Crags.


The numbers who travelled to enjoy the beauty spot grew rapidly as the opportunities for leisure travel offered by the new railways were grasped by people from nearby mill towns. Over a three-day Whitsun holiday weekend in 1897 twenty thousand people enjoyed a day out in the Crags.

Originally the leisure potential of railways was not understood and little provision was made for passengers. At first, third class travel was ‘waggon class’, where people stood up in uncovered waggons and sometimes shared the space with livestock.

Nothing could put people off however, and by the end of the century Lancashire and Yorkshire Railways were issuing postcards promoting Hebden Bridge and Hardcastle Crags as destinations for popular excursions. There were even postcards written in French, encouraging Belgian visitors get to Hebden Bridge via the Zeebrugge-Hull line – also owned by Lancashire and Yorkshire Railways.

The photographic virtual tour was fascinating glimpse into the past, with images from times up to the 1950s showing a very different Hebden Bridge, which David was able to interpret for the audience. Some of the photos showed crowds in their Sunday best making their way to the Crags – some in horse drawn charabancs but most by foot. Along the way cottages and farms took advantage of the tourist influx by putting on teas, and in Hardcastle Crags itself many tea rooms sprang up along the way. By the 1920s  some offered camping and overnight accommodation, tennis courts and swing boats. Gibson Mill itself gained a new life as an Entertainment Emporium, with dancing and skating on its upper floor, teas  in the cottages, and boating on the mill pond.

The old photographs captured the excitement of a day out in the country, made accessible by the growth of the railways, so that ordinary working people could wobble on the stepping stones, enjoy ice cream and perhaps loiter with their friends in ‘the Lovers’ walk’.

One of the most famous attractions in Hardcastle Crags was Howden Hole or Hawdon Hall, where Billy Holt opened a Holiday Camp, and in the next talk to the Hebden Bridge Local History Society Freda Kelsall will talk about the history of the place, including an infamous murder. This will be on 13th December at Hebden Bridge Methodist Church starting at 7.30. All are welcome.

The season of talks begins again on January 10th, when Julia Maybury will share her research about local women in the First World War. All welcome.

With thanks to Sheila Graham for this report

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