Then there was the Town:
For almost 350 years after the construction of Hebden Bridge Mill, through the Great Plague, its lengthy aftermath and up to the Civil War of 1645-51 little, if any, further building took place on the floodplain. The mill stood alone, visited by farmers from the hillsides, seeking to have their crops of oats dried and ground for the production of oatmeal and havercakes (oatcakes), staple diet of the local population at this time.
As traffic increased, the old timber bridge suffered increasing wear. A fund was set up to raise finance for a new and more substantial replacement, built in 1510 and remaining intact today, known incorrectly as the ‘Old Bridge’, a little further downstream. This required a small extension of the Wadsworth packhorse trail and a realignment of the lower part of the ‘Buttress’. It was built with three arches, two to span the river and a third apparently on dry land today, occupied by the riverside walk, but originally built to span the tail goit from Hebden Bridge Mill, now built over and obscured.
With improved drainage techniques in the 17th century, farming began to spread onto the flatter land. Kings Farm was built immediately adjacent to the mill in 1657 and, due to the potential of growing passing trade, soon also began to serve as an Inn, surviving successfully today as the White Lion Hotel. Soon after, other hostelries opened — the Shoulder of Mutton, White Swan, and Hole in the Wall.
The town now grew rapidly as a centre of the textile industry, eventually taking its name from the bridges and mill at its core. Packhorse ways were superseded by turnpikes, one of the earliest of which ran along the valley to the newly named Commercial Street and directly to the door of the White Lion, thence via the ‘Old’ Bridge to the Buttress, Heptonstall and Burnley or via Hebble End and Horsehold to Todmorden and Rochdale — until in 1776, New Road was constructed to cross the river by yet another new bridge at West End. Turnpike trusts were followed by the Canal Trusts and the Railways, respectively in 1795 and 1840, keeping the town at the forefront of new technology and communications as a major manufacturing centre for the production of fustian cloth (see the monument in St Georges Square) and ready-made clothing. Because of this, Hebden Bridge gained the nick-names of Fustionopolis or Trouser-town.
Industry in the town peaked in the early 1890’s with a slow decline, accelerating in the 1950/60’s when the local textile industry was almost wiped out. People left to seek work elsewhere. Dereliction, depopulation and despair left a ghost town in its wake, abandoned by governments of all colours. But those who prematurely wrote off this area overlooked one very important asset which remained — the tenacity, determination and energy of those local people who stayed behind and strove to reinvent the town and prepare it for a new future.