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Hebden Bridge: A Sense of Belonging [Hardcover]

Paul Barker (writer)
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
RRP: 16.99
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Book Description

10 May 2012

Nestling in its narrow Pennine valley at the Brontë end of Yorkshire, Hebden Bridge is an enigma. Over the twentieth century, this small town’s industrial roots slowly dried up. But then, from the 1970s onwards, it was colonized by waves of artists, bohemians, New Age enthusiasts, media types and an increasingly affluent, left-leaning population. What makes Hebden Bridge the remarkable place it has become?

Social historian Paul Barker grew up here and has a keen sense of belonging. So he is perfectly placed to chronicle and analyse both the changes and the continuities that make Hebden Bridge special. His lively, colourful portrayal mixes personal and family memories with interviews, investigation and criticism. In his explorations, he meets, among others, a husband-and-wife puppet theatre company, the brass band, a local tattoo artist and a plain-speaking grave-digger. Each adds a unique piece to the social patchwork.

Hebden Bridge is variously lauded and decried as ‘the fourth funkiest place on the planet’, ‘Suicide Central’, ‘the little town that time forgot’ and ‘the lesbian capital of Britain’. Such descriptions irritate, even alienate, the families who’ve lived here for generations.

These contradictions are unpacked in a series of vignettes that are, by turns, amusing, moving and insightful. Through the distinctive experiences and voices of the people who have lived here, and presented with genuine affection and curiosity, Paul Barker paints a vivid portrait of this vigorous, extraordinary place.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Frances Lincoln; First Edition edition (10 May 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0711232156
  • ISBN-13: 978-0711232150
  • Product Dimensions: 2 x 15.3 x 23 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 139,401 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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Product Description


A classic in the making

(Simon Jenkins)

Barker lets the journey take him where it will, a meandering underpinned by some very incisive journalism. No assumptions: he seeks out the villagers who can help... In his story of one village - which might be any village in these times of change - he takes us to a very rich place indeed.


Paul is perfectly placed to chronicle and analyse both the changes and the continuities that make Hebden Bridge special, and his lively, colourful portrayal mixes personal and family memories with interviews, investigations, as well as criticism.

(Halifax Courier)

Provides plenty of food for thought.

(Hebden Bridge Times)

At once an invaluable social history and a 'bloody good story'.

(West End Extra)

An evocative, affectionate and realistic look at the changing face of the small Yorkshire town of Hebden Bridge.

(BBC Who Do You Think You Are)

Perceptive, enjoyable book.

(The Lady)

A vivid portrait of the place, its people and its progress...Sure to inspire others to go on a hunt of their own.

(Best of British)

Paul mixes personal memories with interviews and criticisms to work out what makes the beloved area tick.

(Yorshire Ridings magazine)

...a rich, sometimes sad, often funny book.

(Yorkshire Post)

Chapters meander through villages, eras, topics; some sections are composed purely from snippets of observations, or extracts from conversations past and present. . . The sense of place for which [Barker] is searching becomes implicitly nostalgic.

(Times Literary Supplement)

I loved this book...Lively, humorous and incisive

(The Dalesman)

About the Author

Paul Barker regularly writes and broadcasts on social, cultural and urban issues. He is a senior research fellow of the Young Foundation in East London, and the former Editor of New Society magazine. His latest book is Hebden Bridge : A Sense of Belonging, as well as The Other Britain, Living as Equals, Arts in Society and The Freedoms of Suburbia. Born in West Yorkshire, he now lives in North London.

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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
4.6 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Social history and a sense of place 26 Jun 2012
I loved this book, described by its author as 'a quest and a celebration'. In it, social history is vividly brought to life through an engaging combination of personal memory, interviews, facts from the past and contemporary observation. Paul Barker writes evocatively about the small town and its surrounding villages in the Upper Calder Valley where he grew up feeling as though he was related to about a third of the local population. As an experienced journalist he brings a convincing objectivity to his account of what the years have done to his birthplace and how changes have affected both it and its inhabitants, although his 'sense of belonging' is apparent throughout. I enjoyed the way that the short chapters move us from place to place, person to person, past to present - and back again. The verbal transcripts are lively and frequently poignant, and his detailed pictorial descriptions help to set the scene. Although it is about one particular locality, I believe that this is the kind of people's history - still ongoing, and too seldom featured in traditional history books - that is likely to strike a chord in many readers, no matter where they come from. And it makes me want to visit Hebden Bridge myself!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Spirit of place captured 11 July 2012
I think the author has done a brilliant job of capturing the peculiar charm of Hebden Bridge- that mix of solid old Yorkshire tradition and the recent overlay of creativity and innovation. Barker is interested in all aspects of the town - its landscape, its industrial history, its commerce, its architecture - but it is his journalistic feel for the lives of individual inhabitants - and his ability to draw them out in interviews - which makes the book special. His affection for the place and its people is obvious but it is never sentimental and he is not afraid to examine the darker side or ask the difficult questions. This is a clear-eyed as well as a warm-hearted book.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An enjoyable and informative read 4 July 2012
This excellent book will interest anyone who has that sense of connection to a home town or region, more particularly to people who know Hebden Bridge perhaps, either as a resident or a visitor, but not necessarily. The contrasting views of people interviewed thirty or forty years ago to the views of people who currently live in the area mixed in with the personal memories of the author give a unique perspective of how the area has evolved. The effect of the local geography on inhabitants' characters is also intriguing. A very enjoyable and informative read.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A classic in the making 26 Jun 2012
By helpla
A captivating book, in which Barker blends interviews with Hebden Bridge residents from the 1970s and the present day with historical descriptions and personal recollections. The overall effect of this approach is an accurate, fascinating and moving picture of this small town, which displays a keen sense of history and is rooted in its landscape and people. Despite the enormous social changes that have taken place over time, it becomes apparent that there is a sense of constancy to Hebden Bridge. The parallels (and differences) with other small towns in the UK and elsewhere are apparent and add a broader value to this book, as a social documentary of the time. Photographic illustrations include early works by Martin Parr. A quote from Simon Jenkins on the cover calls this book 'a classic in the making', and I absolutely agree.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fabulous book! 14 July 2012
By Greg
I bought this book as a father's day present for my Dad who was born in Hebden Bridge in 1929. He absolutely love it as it bought back so many memories from his childhood. My mum, who was also born a 'Greenwood' there loved it too! They moved away in the 1950's but this book took them straight back to there. They loved the pictures too!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
What a great book. I began by not particularly liking the writing style although the content was fascinating.

I quickly adapted to the writing style and came to love it.

I couldn't wait to get back to the book and my only regret is that it ended too quickly.

Written from an autobiographical point of view I suppose - it really is a personal journey with many interesting historical facts entwined throughout the narrative.

What a wonderful way to portray the local history in a very refreshing and unusual format.

As a relatively recent offcomer who has known the area for years I thought that there could have been some further inclusions (what about May's shop (Aladdins Cave)?) but it is understandable that it is a personal choice and space is by necessity limited.

I think this is a wonderful read - I am about to lend it to a friend who left Hebden Bridge over forty years ago and I'm sure he will love it as he will know all the places and, probably, most of the characters as well.
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