Take it to the Bridge
In how many other towns can you scour the Age Concern shop seeking Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and find three copies? In how many other towns can you sit in on a workshop on Afghan human rights at noon, go salsa dancing at 2pm, join a writers' group at 3pm, attend a communal street barbeque at 6pm, finishing the evening with a dose of French blues in the local?
It’s a place where children can grow up naturally, it’s a place where mothers can breastfeed in public without fear of reproach, it’s a place where people can ‘be themselves’ and sing in the library if they feel like it. It’s a free-wheeling, tree-hugging, nature-worshipping community, full of love and fertility.
But it’s not all (organically grown) roses. Many locals are starting to protest at the way they and their families are steadily being nudged out of the area. Non-home owners who work in the area are having to move to Halifax and outlying areas in order to afford to live. Many home-owning original Hebden Bridge residents have cashed in on the property boom and abandoned living there altogether, making way for a whole new generation of ‘off-cummdens’.
In fact, it’s a curious linguistic phenomenon that children under the age of eighteen in Hebden Bridge have developed a new accent based on a fusion of their parents’ standard Southern/Estuary accent and the soft Pennine lilt of the local inhabitants, producing a kind of artsy ‘mockney’.
And for a hippy, multicultural society you would be hard pushed to find a single person with a suntan, let alone ‘ethnic colour’, despite the vast amounts of multicultural foods and clothes on offer in the town, and its claims to be a cosmopolitan and egalitarian community.
It’s a place which, in its often naïve new-age piousness, leaves it open to mockery. In fact local writer John Morrison upset locals in 1998 with the publication of his books, View from the Bridge and Back to the Bridge in which he made fun of a ‘fictional’ mill town bearing alarming similarities to Hebden Bridge. His hilarious pigeonholing struck so much of a chord with many inhabitants that complaints were lodged, and a ban imposed on publicity of the book in local papers. Centering round local characters like ‘Wounded Man’ and ‘Willow Woman’ (I think I know her), the book contains glorious snippets like this:
Wounded Man is a founder member of the Holistic Plumbers Collective who, when called out, try to put plumbing problems into a more global context. Instead of just mending leaks or plumbing in washing machines they like to sit around at the customer's house, drinking coffee and consulting the I Ching. Only when they have fully explored their feelings do they make any effort to get down to work. By which point, in an unconscious homage to more conventional plumbing procedures, they usually find they've forgotten to bring any tools with them.
From a piece written for the Leeds Guide by Hazel Davis