Pulling in the visitors at Hebden Bridge using 'chicks' and other ploys

Hebden Bridge Local History Society is sixty this year, but still full of 'get up and go'. It began life in 1949 as a section of the Hebden Bridge Literary and Scientific Society, which had been founded in 1905. Before the advent of television, HBLSS had over a dozen different sections and well over 1,000 members. Today only the Astronomy and Local History sections survive, though there are other societies in the town which have their origins in HBLSS.

Local History is very popular in the Calder Valley. Until recently there were two groups, Hebden Bridge Local History Society (HBLHS) and Todmorden Antiquarians, just four miles away. For the millennium, we secured some funding for a computer and projector and part of the deal was to do a series of 'outreach' events in communities on the outskirts of Hebden Bridge. These events went down very well and in some instances were the catalyst for the formation of local history groups along the valley. For example, we provided information and images which contributed to a website created by the Charlestown History Group (

Another group which HBLHS assisted is a mile away at Mytholmroyd; it has about 100 members, many of whom also belong to our society and we hold a joint meeting annually. More recent examples of new groups that we have collaborated with are Friends of Wainsgate Chapel, Friends of Hebden Bridge Station and Cragg Vale Local History Group.

The one village which has never formed its own history group is Heptonstall, a premier local tourist venue, which boasts its own museum, run by the local authority. However, our society and nearby Blackshawhead have an active partnership with Calderdale's museum service and our society has also recorded most of the gravestones in the old churchyard, provided a history for Heptonstall Church and provided various exhibitions and events from time to time, e.g. helping to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Heptonstall Slack Chapel. All this activity is increasing local interest: since the millennium, membership of HBLHS has more than doubled, from 75 to 175 members.

HBLHS has always had an extensive archive of documents and images, not used so much by most members, but well-used by committee members . Not so long ago, we organised 'magic lantern' shows, but now, thanks to computers, we can use far more of our archive in talks often researched by members. A prehistory sub-group has helped to add to our knowledge of the area. This year a family history sub-group (35 members) is making use of our archives and adding to our knowledge. With the decline of adult education classes provided by the local authority, we recently ventured into running some courses. All courses have succeeded in attracting more members than anticipated. This year we have initiated a three year research course focusing on agriculture and the landscape, with a view to the publication of both some original source material, as well as the results of the research itself. Many of our new members have joined the Society as a result of attending these courses.

For those members who are not particularly interested in doing research or wishing to pay extra for courses, the society continues to provide a 'staple' diet of twelve lectures running from late-September, on the 2nd and 4th Wednesdays of each month, through to the end of March. The programme from April through to early-September is variable with walks, visits to places or houses, exhibitions and events for heritage open days.

In September 2008, we had an unusual first meeting, in that it was held in Hebden Bridge Picture House and we filled over 400 seats from. Visitors paid the ordinary Picture House fee and members got a discount. The subject, 'Hebden Royd At The Movies! A Celebration of 88 years of Film-making in the Upper Calder Valley', was made possible by one enthusiastic member who put in much hard work with the aim of raising money to restore a 1924 film made in our valley. Our normal venue holds 80 people and once or twice last year we got close to filling our room. Alas, Hebden Bridge does not have many places which can accommodate large groups, especially on a fortnightly basis, so we have had to warn members and visitors that they may be turned away. Last year we had to run one event twice, as we anticipated that a lot of 'visitors' would be interested in the topic of 'Thornbers' Chicks' (if would like to know more then you can read a report of the meeting at:

Finally, we must not forget to mention our website. First suggested at a committee meeting in July 2000, was established by 2001. HBLHS wanted to ensurethat it was accessible to people with poor eyesight or who may not have a high level of ICT literacy. We now have a member of the committee who can keep the site more up-to-date. A selection of images and access to our archive catalogue were features from the beginning, but we have recently ventured into an audio file of our Hebden Bridge Town Trail. We know from the e-mails received that our website is used by people all over the world, as well as locally.

Diana Monahan

For more information, contact: Hebden Bridge Local History Society Secretary, Diana Monahan, 7 New Road, Hebden Bridge HX7 8AD, email:,

16 February 2009

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