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David Fletcher (2)

Interviewed on 19.03.2010

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[TRACK 2]


TONY WRIGHT:Right you were talking about the aims of the Civic Trust.


DAVID FLETCHER:Yeah, well the fourth aim, just to recap: number one, clean the place up; number two, promote it through events; number three, try to capture the visitor interest and persuade to locate here and earn their income here, and we even set up an estate agents.  There wasn’t an estate agents in Hebden Bridge so we set up a volunteer estate agency and we gave all the information away for free.  We just had a sheet of properties that were on the market with a guide price against it and the contact details of the people that owned it, and you know, when you look at it today with its estate agents – there just weren’t any at that time – and then the fourth part was the big problem buildings.  What do you do with buildings like Birchcliffe Church and Sunday School, like Nutclough Mill? Like you know, these we saw as places where we might get new forms of employment in time and we – although we were trying to attract new people – didn’t want it to become a dormitory area and so that was the strategy.Now we ran head on into the Local Council.  They didn’t buy into that strategy at all. Again it’s not an unfamiliar experience….they basically said ‘well prettifying the place isn’t going to bring new jobs’ you know, they were still very much in the ‘where there’s muck there’s brass’ era, and particularly some of them, I mean I ran head on into one rather vigorous member of the Town Council called Terry Doyle.  He’s not….don’t live round here anymore, where they are, or if they’re anywhere, but Terry Doyle was a local Chamber of Commerce representative on the Council elected onto the Urban District Council, and he said, you know – ‘jobs, we want jobs’ – which was something we all agreed about. ‘We’ve got to do like Todmorden. Todmorden’s going out there and it’s fighting for new textile industries and getting it,’ and Todmorden was making a better fist of it than Hebden Bridge was. It was a bit nearer to Manchester and it was plugged into the Manchester cotton scene, and Hebden Bridge was a bit in the doldrums in the middle.  Halifax wasn’t as bad; we were definitely the bankrupt bit of the valley in those days, and you know you can’t imagine it.  Sixty per cent of the shops in Hebden Bridge were permanently closed you know, mucky shop windows with posters stuck on them and the place was a ghost town; it was terrible, but the Council had the view that we must promote industry.  ‘Well,’ I said ‘okay – get on with it, but where is it?’ and they said ‘well you have planted a few trees and cleaned a few buildings, but what good’s that going to do to anybody – just throwing money in the wind’ and so we’d a real sort of philosophical divide.  Eventually it got to the point where the Councillor, Terry Doyle, said ‘look, put up or shut up.  Fight me for my seat at the next election’.  Well I kind of find it difficult to say ‘no’ – I’ve always found it difficult to say ‘no’ – so I put up as a candidate in the 1967 election and published my own literature.  You should see it!  Got hair down my shoulders and you know, sort of neckerchief and gold ring, and a big moustache and beard, if it had been a full length – sandals.  So I stood as an independent and my literature was what a Green candidate might put out today; it was all about the environment and, well it was the strategy, and the mates in the Civic Trust helped me to deliver the leaflets and we all ran our own cars to get people to the poll and things like that, went to the poll, to the count, and absolutely flabbergasted – I got seventy-seven per cent of the vote and Mr Doyle stormed out of the Council, slammed the door behind him, and that transformed the Local Authority:  (a) because I was there to put the case, but obviously they’d got an indication of what the public feeling was.  I remember the Chairman of Planning taking me to one side, and the Chairman of Planning was…a chap called Greenwood, Ronnie Greenwood from Mytholmroyd.  He said ‘look we’ve got this redevelopment plan for the town but the Council have voted that it is secret.  I have to explain it to you because you are now a Councillor’ but clearly worried cos he thought I was going to run to the press or whatever.  I said ‘no Ronnie I’m not going to…’ he was called Ronnie Greenwood but locally he was known as Ronnie Jaunty.  There were so many Greenwoods in the area in those days that they all had to have nicknames.  I said ‘no, I’m not going to blow the gaff.  If the Council votes by a majority to keep it under wraps that is the Council’s decision.  I’m going to do everything I can within the Council to campaign for a change of view but…’ and it took me two years.  After two years they made me Chairman of Planning, 1969, and I’d not been Chairman of Planning very long and we had the said Mr Risden from the company called Chingler Risdens to present his new drawings, which as a matter of fact were for Garden Street.  It’s quite interesting how what goes around comes around.  I was at the end of the Committee Room table, still the same Committee Room, still the same table, and there’s about three councillors down each side and there’s Kenneth Kaberry the Town Clerk and there’s Harry Hirst the engineer that we and and there’s Harry Risden at the far end, piercing blue eyes, I can still feel them almost, and so we get on to Garden Street; it’s failed its Government yardstick allocation again therefore it can’t…he said ‘well we’re just going to have to cut the costs.  We could replace the hardwood banister rails with softwood and…’ I just…I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, you know, and this is for six ugly square lumps on Garden Street.  I said ‘Mr Risden, don’t you think we’ve come to the end of the road on this and indeed everything.  We still haven’t got Bridge Lanes sorted out – we’ve got some three or four appalling blocks of flats on the land across the road from Bridge Lanes,’ which were there until recently, they’ve not gone.  I said ‘we’re really getting nowhere.  We’ve got a town centre scheme that’s secret and you are telling us that if we demolish the entire centre of Hebden Bridge so we’ve got a big cleared area, a total cleared area between Crown Street and Bridge Gate, and you are going to build single storey shops and you are going to bring Marks and Spencers and Woolworths and people like that to Hebden Bridge.’ I said ‘I am staggered:  (a) that you can say it; and (b) that anybody might believe it.  It’s just ridiculous.  You are proposing to destroy our town and you might put up some concrete shells and they’ll not be let, and we’ll be ten times worse off than we are today.  The future lies in being individual, not just copying Burnley and all the other places that are wrecking themselves,’ and we had a bit of a row and the rest of the committee sort of sat there, and I said ‘I think we should cancel the whole thing’  ‘What, you mean Garden Street?’  ‘No, the whole thing.  I think we should just cancel your contract.  I think we should now terminate the agreement.  I’ve read it and there is a clause which allows us to terminate it and I’m giving you notice that that is what we propose to do.’  Now I’d not cleared this with the committee.  The Clerk, puffing at his pipe, looking a bit…serious.  I said ‘We’re just clearly not going anywhere and we just keep paying bills for your fees.’  He said ‘well I have bill for my fee account here that remains unpaid for the Bridge Lanes site.  You are actually in arrears to twenty thousand pounds’ to me. I said ‘well Mr Risden, we’re not gonna pay it.’  The Clerk nearly bit his pipe in two!  I said ‘I’ve no intention of sanctioning that for payment.’  Well he looked at me with these eyes.  ‘I shall have to take that up with my solicitors.’  I said ‘that’s fine, fine, quite so.  You do it.  I’ve already taken it up with your professional association, the Town and Country Planning Association’ – not Association – was it Town and Country Institute, ‘your professional institute.’  Well he went down like a brick balloon.  He’d been struck off.  He wasn’t even registered to practise.  I knew this but the committee didn’t know – nobody else knew. I knew he hadn’t a cat in hell’s chance of suing us.  I said ‘I think we’ve come to the end of our…’ so we binned the Development Plan and we drew up what we called at that time a Rejuvenation Plan. That was in 1969, and we had only got a small way in to it when in 1974 the Local Government Reorganisation came along.  After 1973 we weren’t able to spend any money, but between ’69 and ’73 we demolished the half ruined mill on Bridge Gate that had been on fire and a whole load of derelict buildings on the side of the river at the back of it where there used to be a slaughterhouse and we built the riverside walk and the car park.  We had a go at pedestrianising St George’s Square.  We put temporary gardens in, sort of railway sleepers and things across Bridge Gate and things like that; that didn’t last.  The shop keepers hired a brass band and a coffin and paraded through town, to say that it would be the death of retail in the town so I lost that one but everything comes around doesn’t it, you know, Garden Street objectors, I hope you’re all listening.  Everything comes round again – it might not be me, it’ll be someone else, but…what else did we do?  Oh we put some plans together to clear a really awful second hand car garage that was on the side of the main road where the canal basin now is and you’ve probably seen pictures of it, and a builder’s yard, and to have gardens and open the canal up.  We didn’t exactly get round to doing it, we didn’t have time, but it’s happened now hasn’t it, and most of what we planned has happened apart from one scheme on Garden Street which I don’t think will happen now – sorry, rewind that – not Garden Street – Market Street.  Market Street shopping was in difficulty then as it still is to a certain extent although not as bad as it was, and we wondered what we could do to give Market Street a bit of a shot in the arm, and at that time where the Co-op supermarket is, there was a mill and then there were the two blocks that were there, and we decided that we would take out one of the blocks so that we would reduce the number of shops on Garden [Market] Street and try to re-locate people so that the shops were all full, and we’d take out the middle block so that Central Street, which is behind, would be on view and we’d have a landscaped area with car parking between Central Street School and Market Street to try and breathe a bit more life in to the shops and things.  I think if we’d done it, Market Street would be a better place today than it is, but I don’t think it’s gonna happen now, there’d be an outcry, because there are some quite fine buildings, but you sometimes have to do a little bit of weeding.  Well the Co-op did the weeding, at five o’clock one Sunday morning when they just brought bulldozers in and pushed the mill over without getting permission, but you know, so I think Market Street is where it is and it desperately does need a new look, but perhaps that’s for later, sometime in a few years’ time.So you know, I was on the Council for a while……it was good fun although I wouldn’t want to be a Councillor today – too much messing about


TW:I mentioned to you earlier about my belief that it’s the people who live in a place that sort of give it its character, and part of that plan that you talked about was basically trying to bring people in.  I mean that has worked I think.  Why do you think it’s worked and how has the character of Hebden changed do you think because of the influx of people?


DF:Well it certainly has worked.  I mean we put an enormous amount of energy in to promoting the town.  At one time you know if you went anywhere on holiday and you met people and they said ‘where do you come from?’ -  ‘Hebden Bridge’ and they’d say ‘oh where’s that?’ and you’d say ‘well it’s near Halifax’ they’d say ‘oh’ – ‘well it’s between Leeds and Manchester’.  Now you say to anybody ‘I live in Hebden Bridge’ – ‘oh Hebden Bridge’.  It has currency does the name.  We did a terrific branding job on it.  It started with the Calder Civic Trust, a pretty ad hoc sort of thing, and documents that were run off on an old Gestetner, a wax thing, and so on, but we started publishing books.  We published the Heptonstall History Trail in about 1966, and the Hebden Bridge Trail in about 1969, the Pennine walks around Hebden Bridge.  We started these festivals, we were very successful in getting them on television, the town on television a great deal, and you know I was working in Manchester at this time and the BBC building across the road, I got to know quite a lot of people.  We used to get all sorts of publicity, we did very well.  The English Tourist Board who put money into the building we’re sitting in at the moment, they funded leaflets in about ten different languages that were in Tourist Information Centres in Dover and Hull and all over the place.  We really went to town on it, and then through the Hebden Royd Town Council and the five Parish Councils we set up a joint committee for the promotion of Hebden Bridge and so we got a little bit of rate payers’ money going into scheme as well and there was a really big effort in the sixties until it was all taken over by Calderdale, but the foundation had been laid.  We’d redeveloped a number of single storey wooden shops on Crown Street and in-filled buildings like the one the Hebden Bridge Times is in now – they were just wooden shacks in the gaps – so we’d done a lot to improve the appearance and I think of it like two graphs.  You’d got a graph of declining property prices, the bottom fell out of the market here, you could buy property for nothing and we’d got a graph of increasing environmental quality and when those two intersected we began to find – well the first people to, who tumbled to it were the hippies.  In 1968, this couple called Reg and Marian arrived in Hebden Bridge and they were quite an eye-opener to most of the people of Hebden Bridge.  Marian used to drift round Hebden Bridge in…..almost a burka really, a big hood and a long cape and so on, some sort of Egyptian….I forget what it was called, and Reg used to go in and round the pubs playing his guitar and they were welcomed, and then you got the Foster Clough hippies who came after that.  They moved into a block of six cottages at Foster Clough on Heights Road.  I was a councillor at the time.  Our Public Health Inspector, Major Tintoll, very short back and sides, he had a hit list – he had a search and destroy policy for houses.  The Government had a twelve point standard of fitness and he had a very harsh interpretation of that, and when I got on the Council in 1967, his hit list of houses was more than a thousand houses in Hebden Bridge.  Every single double-decker house was on that list because the back-to-earth ones were not sanitary because they didn’t have through ventilation and the upper ones didn’t have the right arrangement or the adequate toilet arrangements or proper arrangements – there were twelve points and he could condemn a house on any one of the these twelve, and the only thing that stopped him knocking them down was…..you know, he’d done Buttress, he’d done Bridge Lanes – two hundred and fifty houses, a lot of paper work, he’d done Commercial Street, sixty or seventy houses, a lot paperwork.  He was going to take down the whole of the Birchcliffe hillside, the whole lot of it, all the back-to-back houses on Cambridge Street and places like that.  There were over a thousand houses just in Hebden Bridge. I mean they would have just been wiped of the map, and then in1968, partly through the Civic Trust which I was quite involved with by this time, there was a new law enacted and it brought in the possibility of housing grants being given to improve houses up to a satisfactory standard rather than demolish them because they hadn’t got it, and so I started working in Hebden Royd Council and I got Graham Ashworth and Tony Selby who were two architects who worked for the Civic Trust to do a pilot scheme in Hebden Bridge and the Birchcliffe hillside became the first housing improvement area in the North of England following the 1968 act, as a result of that, as a result of Graham Ashworth and Tony Selby’s work and the Clerk, Kenneth Kaberry, who came very much round to this way of thinking about regeneration and so on.  Kenneth was a terrific town Clerk and he put his life in to this town, and he certainly should be honoured, his memory…..people have forgotten, his daughters sill live round about, both of whom I taught when they were at Calder High School but it was an opportunity, and it was absolutely changing at the time –grants.  I said to these hippies, I went to see these hippies up at Foster Clough because he’d put the cottage on the list primarily because he didn’t like the people that were in them I think, and I went to see them and I said ‘look you know, your cottages have gone on the demolition list.  They didn’t own them, they were just renting them.  I said ‘but there is a way out.  If you form yourselves in to a development company and then apply for grants to bring these cottages up to the required standard, and then employ your development company to do it, you can get money to actually improve the houses while you’re living in them. So we worked it all out and Mr Tintoll was not best pleased but the Foster Clough hippies stayed and they were a great introduction to the area, a bit of new thinking coming in you know, they were kind of really, they were a bit way out, people might have said, but the were interesting people.  We then got a few more hippies coming in who were just fellow travellers who squatted in some property and got a rather bad reputation but.. Queens Terrace up Heptonstall Road there, the Queens Terrace crowd were…rubbish and they just threw rubbish all over the place and so on, but then we started to get younger professional people coming in who were working in Leeds and Manchester and were astonished how cheap they could buy property here and then they could get grants to renovate it and we made stone cleaning a condition of the grant, so that….again was my idea, I thought ‘well you’ll be able to see externally then the growth of people getting grants and doing houses’ and you got this patchwork quilt as more and more property was getting cleaned, and it was really a very, very optimistic time, the sixties, I rather liked the sixties as many people do who lived through them sort of gaze back wistfully you know, ‘where were you in 1969 and what were you doing?’  I’m not going in to that….it sort of began to change the character of the town and we got a lot of interesting, enterprising, get-up-and-go people moving in and that was great and that carried on through the seventies with festivals and things.  Today…I’ve got to be careful what I say…we seem to have changed, you know, the town had this very liberal image, liberal, artistic, sort of different ideas, quite a bubble to it and it was going well and to some extent it still does have that image, and of course we’ve got the alternative gay and lesbian scene in Hebden Bridge which people go on about as if it’s something new. It’s nothing new at all; it was well entrenched in this valley before the present incumbents arrived.  I think it’s a hangover from the days of early industrialisation, I mean, again if we get round to talking eventually about the plans for the Pennine Horizons Project as we now call it, the precursors of the industrial revolution actually happened here in these hills.  The precursors are money, skills and markets you know, to get the industrial revolution going.  Well the dual economy of part-time textile, textile part-time smallholding people built up quite a good economy of making textiles but some members of that group, the ones with a little bit more nouse perhaps, who became the merchant clothiers, they built fortunes.  One man who lived round here in 1700 had an annual turnover, in today’s money, of six hundred million [600.000.000] pounds a year, going out on packhorses to Sowerby Bridge and then down the river to Hull and then across the North Sea and it was on sale throughout Europe and into the Middle East, so you know, phenomenal stories there to tell, and the skills were created in the population, they kept improving the type of cloth; a real skilled population here, the market was already there and it just took off in a big way.  There was this spirit of enterprise, but when that created the industrial  revolution and they began to mechanise what previously had been hand industries…the hand manufacturer of cloth was a family enterprise you know, from the children combing to the women spinning to the men weaving, because it needed muscle for the weavers so the men did the weaving; the spinning was a more delicate task so the women did the spinning.  When it came to mechanisation the obvious thing to mechanise was the spinning because you needed six women spinning to keep one weaver in employment, and so a man whose wife had lots of unmarried sisters who could come as spinners in the house and help with the spinning, you know, was going to make money….and when spinning was mechanised, women and children went in to the mills to do the work and the handloom weavers made a packet because they were no longer short of yarn; they could earn as much money as the time they put in to it and they didn’t have to cut in to drinking time because they didn’t have to work shifts and so on. When weaving was mechanised and they were trying to recruit men to go in to the mills, that’s when there was trouble because it did cut into drinking time.  It cut into self-employment and private income; they didn’t want to go into shift works and work in factories, they wanted to be their own – all understandable and you know, that’s when there were Luddites and blood drawers and Peterloo riots and you know, and it coincided with the French Revolution and so the authorities were very alarmed by it which is why the Duke of Wellington’s home base in Halifax, not to….parade proudly but to keep the population down, so they were quite difficult times and what was the reaction of the budding capitalists building mills and so on?  Well they came out with the cry with still resounds around these hillsides – ‘who needs men?’   You know, ‘we’ve got a steam engine, the women can do the weaving’ and so they did, and so all of a sudden hand loom weavers saw their income drop by about eighty per cent, and then to nothing – they’d no work.  The people who had the work were women and they had the money and the woman with money is no longer beholden to a man; if she doesn’t want him she can give him the heave-ho and get another, and lots did, and if she’d rather have a woman instead, well, why not?  And you know, if women want to get together and form sort of joint family units…it was a bit like that even when I went to school in the early days.  There were families of kids who all had different surnames and we never thought anything about it, and there were women who were living together and I mean we knew what the word meant….it didn’t matter, but we all knew, but anyway there was that kind of enterprise, there’s always been a buzz about this place and from most times, you know, I think there’s a thousand-year history here to talk about and this is what we’re trying to do through the Horizons Project, but latterly, a lot of the people that have come to live here have kind of come in here for different reasons in a way; they’re coming to put their feet up and settle down, and they’re not part of the major enterprise….they may have some good ideas, some of them are setting up small businesses and doing things and quite a lot of economic activity that’s coming from redundancy payments and early retirement lump sums and things like that, but there again, a different sort of person moving into the area and to be quite honest and I know I’m going to get in to trouble for this, but there again I’m always in trouble, there is a sort of an air of sort of smug complacency among some sections of the population that are coming to live here now. They’ve found their nirvana and they want to put their feet up, dabble a bit, but woe betide anybody who touches a hair of its head.  By and large they’re against anything, I mean people might think I’m grinding a personal axe but it’s not just the things that I want to do; there’s a sort of inertia developing here, you know, ‘leave it alone, give up bothering’ you know, sort of ‘why do you want to keep changing things?’


TW:But don’t you think that will change in time again?


DF:I think it will; it’ll have to, otherwise it will die, you know….if you just freeze it in aspic it won’t be a nice place to live in; it will just become sort of an old-fashioned backwater and people will stop coming here, people will stop investing here and it won’t be the bubbly place that it’s got the reputation for, and I see that as the greatest danger at the moment that is; it’s gone from being absolutely down on its udders, mucky and living in the gutter, to struggling to get its life back together again, to working really hard to build something new out of the ruins of the past, to attracting…you know, buzz attracts buzz, to attracting a lot of buzzy people and a lot of new things happening and a lot of interesting things happening, to a sort of…oh well, been there, done that, lets sit on our laurels for a bit. You can’t do that.  Regeneration, rejuvenation, call it what you will, is a continuous process.  I’m not advocating a Mao-style revolution but I can see where he was coming form.  We could do with throwing a few things up in the air and stirring things up a bit again.


TW:I went to a meting this week and one of the Calderdale officers was talking about the cultural and creative industries in Calderdale and they’ve done a new survey, and those types of jobs and business really have doubled in the past five years, and a lot of those are to do with new technologies really, and a lot of people who do web designing and…not just that, but anything similar along those ilks, they tend to work kind of out of the way, out of the public eye shall we say, so an awful lot of that I think is actually going on.  There are people coming here doing an awful lot of….investing their lives and the work that they do in this area, but it’s not just seen as it used to be seen , and I hope that that continues as well.


DF:Well I mean it will and it is there, and it is healthy; there’s a lot in this building.  This building….I mean I put my money where my mouth is and try to save as many of the larger buildings in town as I can, that I think are gonna be useful, so you’ve got Hebble End, you’ve got Linden Mill, you’ve got Bridge Mill, you’ve got this building and there’s a lot of very interesting things going on, but as you say they’re not part of the mainstream of the town, and so the central ethos of the town has become a little bit bad-tempered recently, but this was put to me by…in I thought in a very apt way by a former town of councillor of Hebden Royd who gave up the Town Council because he couldn’t stand all the back-biting and in fact has now given up Hebden Bridge and gone to live elsewhere, and he said Hebden Bridge had this reputation for being a very broad-minded town and he said it was.  He said it still has a reputation for being a broad-minded town, he said but whereas it was a broad-minded town because it was full of broad-minded people.  Now it’s a broad-minded town because it’s full of lots of small factions of people so that the breadth of mind is there, but the individual factions are quite narrow-minded and they’re all fighting each other and it’s become a rather bad-tempered back-biting sort of town, and I know what he means, and it has, and it’s a shame, and hopefully it’s just a phase, but we do need to be careful, you know, it’s all very well saying ‘oh well all these tourists, they get under the feet, we don’t want them’ okay, let’s not have the tourists.  What’s the consequence of that?  Half the shops in Hebden Bridge will close.  I know – I’m a shop-keeper, not really an actual shop-keeper but I’ve got a shop in Hebden Bridge which is there to prop up one of what I think is one of the most important historic buildings in Hebden Bridge, what was the Lord of the Manor’s mill.  It’s really interesting that we’re celebrating five hundred years of the old bridge.  In four years’ time we’ll be celebrating seven hundred years of Bridge Mill, you know, so things like that are worth keeping and I just think it’s an interesting perspective that, I won’t mention his name, he’s just on the top of the town…we’ll just have to watch.  If you get rid of the tourists, well, in my shop, it just wouldn’t survive without external income and it’s most important income comes from local people, but it wouldn’t survive without that extra and there are far too many shops in Hebden Bridge for this town to run on its own so inevitably if you don’t welcome people coming in from outside they’re gonna close and then we’d be back to the 1960’s with loads of empty shops and we’d be back to demolishing them to get rid of them.


TW:But when the Civic Trust began, you had a lot, it seemed a lot of input by younger people.  Do you think perhaps if that could happen again in the way the town is now, if younger people took….it upon themselves shall we say to get involved shall we say in things that are happening in Hebden Bridge that that would help like generate a new open-mindedness shall we say?


DF:I think they would be very welcome, absolutely, yes.  The average age of the people in the Calder Civic Trust when it started, you know, taking the parents and the school kids and so on, the average age of the whole thing was probably about twenty-four you know.  The average age of the Civic Trust today I wouldn’t like to hazard a guess at, it’s certainly going to be more than twice that.  So you know, we went on from there.  The Civic Trust served us well for ten years or so, but you know I’ve kept referring to this thing called Local Government Reorganisation.  We moved in to a new era when Hebden Royd Urban District Council was wound up along with Todmorden and Sowerby Bridge and Ripponden and so on, and it all became Calderdale.  Elland, Brighouse…..which was an opportunity in some respects and a problem in another because the communities had not really seen themselves at all as part of Calderdale.  They were very parochial I suppose, individual communities with different sorts of philosophies and they were all run on a shoestring you know, whereas Calderdale was rather expensive to run.  But from the voluntary sector point of view, you know, we were being outgunned really and there were big problems rearing like the Nutclough Mill and the Nutclough terrace of houses behind Nutclough Mill and we were moving in to a different order of activity, and this is why Pennine Heritage came in to being, you know, you’ve got to fight a bigger gun with a bigger gun and…the Civic Trust had done quite well for local environment schemes but then we got in to this era of big buildings coming on the market.  The first one was this one that we’re sitting in – Birchcliffe Baptist Chapel – just about the last in a line of Baptist, well, non-Conformist chapels in Hebden Bridge, it’s quite late on in 1890 or something or other, built at the top of Snob Row as it used to be called, the chapel to end all chapels, built to seat a thousand you know, the great gallery and the congregation dwindled to about twelve quite suddenly, I mean quite late in the day.  It was a very vigorous chapel; this part of it, the Sunday School that we’re sitting in now, wasn’t built until 1933, and up there on what’s now the car park were the tennis courts and its own tennis club.  The post-war period saw a very rapid decline and I know when I was in the sixth form I did a survey of churches and I think at that time you’d got something like one Roman Catholic church, two C of E churches and eighty-eight non-Conformist chapels of one sort or another, many of which have sadly gone, but we’ve managed to keep a few, so I got involved with this together with another two Davids – David Ellis, an architect who I worked with in Manchester and David Shutt who at that time was on the local council here, and so the Three Ds, we gave a bit of a report, a three D report and we tried to find buyers for this building because The Yorkshire Baptist Trust had put it on the market and there was nobody coming forward and it was getting more and more derelict.  We almost got the World Wildlife Fund to come here but then it didn’t work.  We’d looked at ways of turning it in to housing but not easy.  And then we approached the Joseph Rowntree Social Service Fund as it was then called and they said ‘well what do you want to do with it?’ and we said ‘well you’ve researched what people do with the grant money that you give them and you’ve found that most of them spend most of it on rent and rates, so you’ve bought a building in London, an office block in London for voluntary organisations and instead of giving them money you give them space and you’ve got Friends of the Earth and Gingerbread and all sorts of groups in there and they all go on about decentralisation like a lot of voluntary groups do.  Why not have a decentralised base you know in this cheaper part of the country and make it a headquarters for voluntary organisations.’  There was a lot of talk about it and they said ‘well what’s the asking price for the building?’  Well when we told them what the asking price was – three thousand five hundred pounds [£3500] they said ‘let’s not argue - buy it, we’ll think about that afterwards’ and so the Joseph Rowntree Trust bought the building and there were three trustees and we sort of looked at each other and thought well, we didn’t really come to the business just to be trustees of a chapel.  The two things needed for an organisation were a bit more clout and the opportunity of a building, we formed Pennine Heritage and the Rowntree Trust gave us a five-year tapering grant, tapering in, tapering out, to a part-time administrator – sixteen thousand five hundred pounds [£16,500] – not a fortune but enough to get us started and we moved in, we raised the money, some of it from Rowntrees, some of it from the English Tourist Board, some through our own resources – producing publications, selling them, got money from the Carnegie Trust, the Countryside Commission to publish the Pennine Heritage Network, about sixteen publications, so gradually we built up the organisation Pennine Heritage as a limited company and therefore it was accountable to Companies House and a registered charity so it was accountable to Charities Commission and big enough really to attract funding, and the next thing we set about was Nutclough Mill.  Nutclough Mill was derelict. This is very interesting history as you probably know.  It was set up by five co-operators and grew in thirty years to three hundred and seventy three co-operators and running a much enlarged factory.  They bought a little square mill and extended it in all possible directions; put a steam engine in instead of a water wheel and it really grew.  The International Co-operative Congress even visited it in 1902 – it was quite famous, and Robert Halstead who was co-founder of the Workers’ Educational Association funded by Nutclough Mill – it’s got a fantastic history, and there it was.  It got in to difficulties in the twenties, became part of the CWS, got in to difficulties in the sixties and was closed and it stood there for fifteen years, longer in a way. The West Yorkshire County Council came in after ’74, bought it to demolish it to get rid of the eyesore and it might easily now just be a bank of trees and grass.  First of all we got it listed. We’d a good thing going in those days – we’d got a photographer called Martin Parr who was one of the first incomers – offcomers in Hebden Bridge who has now made quite a name for himself.  He would take pictures and write up a history, we’d send it to the Department of the Environment and they said ‘oh yes – listed building’ – just like that.  We did that for Hebden Bridge Railway Station to stop them taking it away, tarmacing the platform and things.  We did it for Nutclough Mill.  We got in touch with West Yorkshire County Council, we quoted their Structure Plan at them and the things it said about listed buildings and said ‘but you’re proposing to demolish this one.’  They said ‘we didn’t know it was listed’ and I thought  ‘ha ha!’ and in the end, because of the nature of the organisation, you know, because we already had this building, therefore we had an asset of some substance and so on, we were able to negotiate the purchase of Nutclough Mill and so Pennine Heritage bought Nutclough Mill; we didn’t even pay three thousand five hundred pounds [£3,500] we paid a pound.  Somewhere – I wish I could find it – there’s a photograph of myself and the Chairman of the County Council leaping for joy with our arms up in the air, standing outside the mill and I’d got a pound note in my hand which I’m giving her, and we bought it for a pound, and then we raised over a million to complete the renovation.  It was in an absolutely terrible state and if you want a one-off on Nutclough Mill I can keep you going for an hour on that, but you know, what have we got now?  We’ve got a very important listed building and we’ve got a company with a hundred hi-tech jobs in Hebden Bridge, the sort of company that any place would give its eye teeth for, and that sort of philosophy is being replicated and that’s what Pennine Heritage brought in to being to do, and that’s why we are now doing Pennine Horizons Project because we think this part of the world has got so much to say to the entire world.  The history of this valley from the time immediately following the Norman Conquest to the present day is the history of the world – it’s the history of industrialisation.  We’re not going out there collecting lots of old rusty machinery to put on display.  We’re very sorry that the industrial museum in Halifax is not open anymore; we just hope and hope that they keep the collection together and don’t get rid of it all because it has so much to say, but we’re trying to talk about the process of industrialisation – its social implications and its human responses, everything – even the story about lesbian activity in the valley, but you know, everything, from the dual economy to industrialisation, but not just the technical aspects but very much the social things.   The club houses that started the Building Society Movement, you know, the Penny Banks, the whole backlash to industrialisation but then the whole radical movements, the radical religious movements, you know, the non-Conformist church, the radical political movements, the Chartists, the Clarion thing, the Suffragettes – they were all very, very active in this part of the world and many of them actually focused here, and…you know, within a few square miles we’ve got the history of the world to talk about and that’s what we’re wanting to do and we’re wanting everybody else like you, although you’re already part of it, to be involved with it and to come in and contribute and to help to build the story, and we want it to be accessible to people physically, you know, go out on foot because there’s so much of it that is still there to see if only you know how to interpret it and we want them to be able to access it intellectually, so we are trying to bring all the material together through this Pennine Horizons Digital Archive.


TW:And how far along the road are you in that project?


DF:We’re getting quite well along the road.  We’ve got initial funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Pennine Leader Project and one or two smaller sources to do the development work, the planning.  We’ve got an agreement in principle with Calderdale that we might use Youth House at the side Hebden Bridge Library as the gateway building you know.  People say ‘well why do you need a building?  You’ve got to get people out there’ you know.  We’ve got to teach people a new language so that when they get out there they can read the landscape and see what’s happened and how it happened, and we’ve got to have a building in which there’s a sort of focus to inspire people to go out and discover some of the story, and what better place to have a building that immediately adjacent to the library in Hebden Bridge with a policy that we’re going to have – both the library and ourselves.  We’re very keen to have an open door policy so that in a sense that building will just be another arm of the library, and we shall all work together.  We have an agreement in principle from Calderdale Council that the proposal for an asset transfer goes to Cabinet and you know, fingers crossed, if they say they want fifty thousand pounds [£50,000] for it, well forget it, we’ll put the building here instead. We’ve got space here, we could convert part of this building to do it, but if we can get that on peppercorn terms, in a sense as an extension to the library, it can be a boon to the people of this area and people from much further afield.


TW:Oh I think it would be great.


DF:People are saying ‘oh you’re going to create a lot of traffic and congestion, bringing people in to the area.’  Our idea is that this will be developed – okay there is a building up there that people need to come to, but the time will be spent bringing people hopefully out there on the landscape and we’re going to start all these trails at the far end, so hopefully you know when people come they’ll go to the starting point which will be in Blackshaw, Edge Hey Green, or the top of Cragg Vale, or the Piece Hall in Halifax or Tod Town Hall or wherever, and the strings will all come back and will be knotted together to show the relevance of one trail for another trail and the relevance of the social happenings to the individuals you know, and so on.  A very, very exciting, huge project which will outlast my lifetime but I’m just happy you know, to have been part of the spark that started it.


TW:Yes.  I’d like to ask you one thing about your personal feelings, having been involved an awful lot, most of your life in fact in this area and being concerned for its welfare.  How do you personally feel to see the change from such a down-trodden so to speak, from the first depression up to like now?  I mean what are your personal feelings?


DF:Oh I’m delighted, I mean I’m really so pleased.  I’ve been campaigning for over fifty years now.  Not just campaigning – I can’t stand people who sit on their backsides and just write letters and talk about things.  You’ve got to get out there and do it, but I….I couldn’t be happier really about the direction in which the area has gone.  There’s a little squiggle or two here and there but you know, I go back to the days at school because you know, what is it that shapes you?  What made me start jumping up and down for this part of the world?  Difficult to say.  Partly I think because I was ill and penned in a lot; I spent a lot of the time just gazing out the window, but….there’s another thing…people in this area have always been great travellers and I’ve got the travel bug.  It is my one extravagance.  I just want to go places.   I could become a tramp actually and see how people, you know, see how the gentleman of the road becomes such a person, because as I keep rolling on, I can just, you know, there’s always the next hill, the next mountain to climb, and it’s absolutely fascinating and yet I’ve got this great tug to the Calder Valley as well and I know my roots are here.  Wherever I am there’s a piece of elastic from my big toe to here you know, so it’s a mix of things.When I was at Hebden Bridge Grammar School we had an amazing Head teacher there, a man called Herbert Howarth, lived in that sort of mock half-timbered thing across the road.  Amazing guy.  He was called CI; everybody in the area knew him as CI, it stood for Chief Idiot.  He was an extraordinary eccentric and I like…I mean, eccentrics were fairly thick on the ground in this district at one time, it’s had a lot of eccentric people, a lot of really well-educated people who were working in fairly mundane jobs who were self-educated and knew a lot, and Hughes did, I mean, Bill Holt from Todmorden…..one of the last ones was the sad gentleman that used to ride about on his horse, known as Captain Helliwell, who unfortunately came to grief on the railway line in sad circumstances, but they’ve been typical of many sort of lesser eccentrics in the area and Herbert Howarth was certainly an eccentric you know; he would teach Religious Instruction which was the only subject in the school which was compulsory in those days.  You didn’t have to teach Maths or English or anything, but you had to have Religious Instruction if you were running a grammar school and he would take it himself, even though he was an atheist, and he would come in and he used to have a homily you know – ‘if I hold my arm up here and I held it here and didn’t bring it down again, it would just wither and die’ and that would become the starting point for some great philosophical debate, and we all loved him you know at school, and I did especially.  I could never do sport because of my asthma.  If I ran the length of this room I would collapse, you know, I was an expert in fainting; I would just run out of blood oxygen, but he always thought that I ought to do P.E. and games and things at school, he used to…I used to go and hide in the library, he used to carry me out by hair and throw me in to the gym and then I’d make a fool of myself, everybody would laugh and then I’d go away and hide somewhere, and we had that sort of relationship, we understood each other and we got on fairly well, and he had a travel book and he’d been president of the school’s travel system or something – STS, I can’t remember what it was called – pre-war, and he was itching to get back into it after the war, and as soon as the war was over….. ‘travel, the best form of education.  You’re going to France’ and I hopped on a train and set off half way across France in 1948, on my own, in my gabardine mac, clutching my cardboard suitcase, curled up in a corner, hoping that nobody would try to talk to me because I could only speak about four words of French, to stay with a family that were very different from the sort of family that I was used to living with.  Great big chateau and seven cars, things like that.  The only person that was interested in me was a German prisoner of war that they’d managed to commandeer as their gardener, and I’d never met a German before.  My grandfather hated Germans because they’d killed his eldest son and they were bad news in our family, but this chap was really a nice guy and he took me under his wing and told me a lot about gardening, he taught me a lot.  I learnt more German by going on an exchange to France than I did French [laughing] anyway a bit of a wild time then the next year he took us all to Switzerland himself – took Form 5 to Switzerland and we went – the usual thing – down to London on the train, stayed overnight in the air raid shelters at Clapham that were then being used as sort of student accommodation and sleeping on bunk beds in the air raid shelter, then we got the train to Dover and we got on the only ship that sailed back and forth between Dover and Calais about twice a day, and then we stood in the middle of this sea of rubble with some platforms and the steam engine was coming, and we went on this steam engine to Basel, it took about a day and a half I think.  We were sitting on suitcases in the corridor, it was clapped out, it was moving about ten miles an hour.  We went round through Metz and Charleville, Strasbourg…we got to Basel six o’clock in the morning and we were the first school party, and the band came out on the platform and the Burgermeister was there to greet us, and we were all ushered in to the station buffet which was not like any station buffet I had ever seen in my life, I mean it was just full of food….. I mean there was butter, there was chocolate…bananas….then we got on an electric train and went across Switzerland, and everything was clean, and there were blossom trees in the valley and snow on the mountains.  We stayed there a fortnight, I didn’t want to come home, and I remember thinking ‘why isn’t it like that where I live?’ and I came back home and I got my spade and I got my galvanised bucket and I went out planting trees, and I mean in a sense that’s what I’ve been working for ever since.


TW:It’s an amazing story that – it’s an amazing way of looking at life.  You got something from somewhere else to here.


DF:And on one side of rostrum in the old hall at Hebden Bridge Grammar School, there was a photograph, a colour photograph, of the Matterhorn and on the other side there was a colour photograph of the Rhone Glacier, both in Switzerland, and I didn’t like morning assembly very much, it was rather boring, and I used to gaze at these pictures [whispering] ‘I’m gonna go there’ so after we’d been to Switzerland with Herbert Howarth, the following summer I said to one of my friends – I was just getting to that age when family holidays weren’t exciting, I said to my parents I’d like to go off on holiday with my friend and….they said ‘well, alright, where do you want to go?’   ‘Oh we’re gonna take our bicycles and go Youth Hostelling’ and we thought we’d go down south and stuff.’  Well it was a bit like I talked about, playing ill, parents didn’t bother as much at that time….’alright, okay.’  Well, we set off….let’s see….I was sixteen I think, just about to make up seventeen and we got our bicycles and we got our saddlebags, panniers at the back, panniers at the front, and stuffed with all sorts and the first day we got to Lincoln, stayed at the Youth Hostel in Lincoln, the next day we got to Cambridge, stayed at a Youth Hostel in Cambridge; Highgate – Highgate Youth Hostel then Dover Youth Hostel, that was quite a hard ride across Kent, I remember Kent, blooming hilly is, and it was a hot day, and so the fourth night was Dover Youth Hostel and the fifth night was Dover Youth Hostel, and the sixth night was Dover Youth Hostel, and on the seventh day we actually plucked up courage to get on the ship and go to Calais.  We cycled across France to Switzerland and we cycled around Switzerland in a big semi-circle and we went to the Rhone Glacier, to the Matterhorn, then back home.  We went to a lot of other places as well and we made lots of friends because we took seventeen pounds each for three weeks…we’d no money and we were staying at Youth Hostels, but we’d got a Union Jack on the back of the bike and people just took us home and fed us…..one guy was just trying to start a little hotel but there were no tourists in Switzerland at that time and he took us in and he gave us a big bowl of soup every day and…well I knew him, kept him touch with him until he died recently.


TW:I think we’re getting quite close to the end now.


DF:So am I.


TW:We’ll finish then.  Thank you very much


DF:Sorry I get a bit emotional about these things
[END OF TRACK 2]

About Us

Wild Rose Heritage and Arts is a community group which takes it's name from the area in which we are located - the valley ("den") of the wild rose ("Heb") -  Hebden Bridge which is in Calderdale, West Yorkshire.

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Pennine Heritage Ltd.
The Birchcliffe Centre
Hebden Bridge
HX7 8DG

Phone: 01422 844450
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