Heptonstall

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On Easter Saturday I decided to take advantage of the good weather and get out for another walk. I’d enjoyed my walk over Blackstone Edge the previous Saturday so thought I’d take the train back over to the South Pennines, this time to Hebden Bridge for a walk over to Stoodley Pike. I arrived in the former mill town in the bottom of the narrow Calder Valley, which has now become rather trendy and “Bohemian”. I didn’t stop long, I’d been a couple of times before, but decided to gead up to the small community of Heptonstall, just up the hill from Hebden Bridge. And what a hill it is!

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I took the VERY steep cobbled lane up from the centre of Hebden Bridge

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and then up a steep road that took me into the village.

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There’s been a settlement here as far back as at least 1253 and it was even the site of a battle during the Civil War. Historically, it was a centre for hand-loom weaving, The work was done in the worker’s own homes, usually on the top floor and the old cottages and houses have long rows of stone mullioned windows on the first-floor which were meant to allow in plenty of light for the weavers.

High up on the hill it was away from the dark and damp valley floor. However, during the early Industrial Revolution, with the advent of water power, the new factories were built by the source of their power, the river, so Heptonstall went into decline. As a consequence, it’s almost as if it’s been frozen in time. I guess that for many years the buildings would have fallen into disrepair, but with the resurgence of Hebden Bridge, Heptonstall has also become a desirable location and the old houses and other buildings have been renovated.

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The former Cloth Hall, which is now a private house,was built between 1545-58. Finished cloth produced in the town and nearby area used to be traded here.

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The Octagonal Methodist Chapel was built in 1764 and the design and construction of were overseen by John Wesley, who frequently preached here. It’s one of the oldest Methodist churches in continuous use today.

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No visit to Heptonstall would be complete without a visit to the churchyard. There’s actually two churches there, one of them a ruined shell. The original church, dedicated to St Thomas a Becket, was founded c.1260, but was damaged by a gale in 1847. The new church which replaced it, dedicated to St Thomas the Apostle, was built just across the churchyard. 

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A large proportion of visitors come up the hill to see the grave of Sylvia Plath who is buried in the new graveyard, just across a narrow lane from the church.

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There’s a lot of old graves in the old churchyard

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The most notable “resident” is David Hartley, the KIng of the Crag Vale Coiners, who was executed in York on 28 April 1770 This is his gravestone

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Some consider the coiners to be local heroes, Calderdale “Robin Hoods”. Others consider them as a bunch of vicious rogues. In either case, they are the subject of a rather excellent prize winning novel, The Gallows Pole by Ben Myers, who lives in the area

Just by the graveyard there’s a rather excellent little museum, housed in the old grammar school building that was constructed in 1642

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There are exhibits about the history of the village, its industry, the Civil War battle and, of course, the coiners.

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Partway back down, the view over Hebden Bridge

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and then down the steep, cobbled lane

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back to Hebden Bridge where I took a break by the old packhorse bridge for a bite to eat before setting off on my walk up Stoodley Pike

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19 thoughts on “Heptonstall

  1. One of my favourite places in the world but I always go up ( and usually come down again) on the bus.. I can spend hours sitting in the old church ruin. Maybe you noticed that a disproportionate number of those buried in the new part of the cemetery died young. A few, like Sylvia Plath, died by suicide. Others died of drug overdoses – a big problem in past decades.

    • Yes, her gravestone has been vandalised (depends on point of view) at least a couple of times, by some of her admirers, removing her married name as they blame Ted Hughes for her death. Controversial point but he was something of a serial adulterer and another wife commited suicide. So I guess you have to make your own mind up.

  2. I used to live up the road in Silsden near Keighley but never went to Heptonstall. HAve to admit I never really took to these moors. I always found them rather boggy and bleak so never walked them much. Looks much better on a sunny day.

    • Not so keen on boggy myself, but I like bleak! Grew up onthe edge of the West Lancashire moors and spent many hours up on them during my teenage tears, They certainly can be beautiful on a sunny day

  3. I lived in Colden, just up the hill from Heptonstall way back in the early 1990’s. Hebden bridge looks totally different nowadays., but the outlying settlements remain unchanged. It’s a beautiful area and reflects all four seasons well. I remember the deep snows and the smell of my coal fire 🙂

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