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.