The small village of Hebden Bridge is located below the hamlet of Heptonstall in the muddy bog of Calder. Surrounded on all sides by steep cliffs and crumbling mills from its industrial past, the sun only shines twice a year – at the traditional holidays of Ostara and Samhain when time-honoured rituals take place.
Despite being equidistant between Leeds and Manchester, it is barely touched by the modern world and has long been a haven for those who wish they’d been born in the middle ages. Strangers are kept out by an ancient toll system run by the women with sensible shoes.
The Romans completely bypassed the muddy bog, dismissing it as total shit hole and anyway, they couldn’t afford the toll so they took the top road via Burnley across to Manchester. Contrary to popular myth, the Romans were not kept out of Yorkshire by the fearsomeness of the Brigantes, but by the horrid smell rising from the Calder bog.
Hebden Bridge was founded in the Dark Ages by King Heb who was allegedly the gay half brother of Boudica who escaped a life of ridicule in East Angular by coming up North. He established the first known trade route in the area, allowing the indigenous farmers and weavers to sell their sheep and wool as far afield as Halifax.
Very little of historical note has happened in the town since, although there are a handful of events associated with key dates in English history. It is said that King Richard the Lionheart used Satan fields near Hebden to train archers for the crusades. The original training field can still be seen near the river walk, although most of the best archers left for France in 1498 leaving only the codgers who can’t get into the bowling club.
Another claim to fame is that King Henry VIII usurped the whole of the Calder bog including Hebden Bridge for his hunting grounds which as any schoolboy will tell you actually took up 98% of the English countryside. The original hunting lodge can still be seen amongst the industrial ruins of Hardy’s Craggs. Despite recent re-development of the Craggs into a major tourist destination, no-one has seen fit to update the hunting lodge although it was once the site of tea dances after it was given a lick of paint during the prohibition era. It is now a sad, dilapidated wreck.
During the English Civil War, the decisive Battle of the Buttress took place on the main road from Heptonstall. This event was commemorated by the annual straw bale race up the Buttress but unfortunately has now had to be suspended due to a lack of interest as participation involves coming out of the pub.
Of course no history of any town in Yorkshire would be complete without a mention of the War of the Roses. During this time, the boundary between Yorkshire and Lancashire was re-drawn a million times and still remains a matter of great controversy, and now currently slices the nearby township of Todcarty in two. Reports that Bernard Ingham, one time boyfriend of the Iron lady, was elected president in the town during this time, are unfounded.
In the 1800’s, Karl Marx visited and founded t'Trades as a place of refuge for the fusty cloth makers. During the prohibition era, it put up a good fight for the rights of the drinking classes but was eventually forced into serving Sunday lunches instead until the puritans buggered off to Rawtenstall (i.e., at teatime) at which point the beer came back out for a late-night session (well, ‘til 1.00 a.m. anyway, when the house lights abruptly came on and the bar immediately stopped serving). Over the years t’Trades got taken over by the less industrious element of the populace who to this day have never updated the interior décor which was originally designed by Keir Hardie. They have also never updated the opening hours due to a lack of competition for late night drinking and the venue’s popularity with the exponents of the special Hebden Bridge dance. It is not to be confused with the Triads Club, a benevolent society run by the local Chinese business community.
Until the Middle Ages, the indigenous farmers and weavers lived in blissful ignorance of the outside world, with a few individuals selected to trade with nearby towns. This was a thankless task as said individuals had to live as hermits in the cliffs overhanging the village for fear of contaminating the rest of the natives. Later on, the indigenous farmers and weavers were dragged into the industrial age with the compulsory making of fusty cloth and sadly the constant drudgery turned many of them to drink in one of the 10,000 hostileries. To add to their misery, the Great Depression of the 1970’s caused many of the mills and pubs to shut which were then sold off cheap to hippies.
Many hippies bought property for buttons and have now become an insufferably smug tribe of yogurt-weaving, dreadlock-wearing, soap-dodgers whose appearance belies the piles of money they have made from selling their houses and/or trust funds created for them by their rich parents so they could just get stoned and not bother working after they left Rodene.
Soon after the hippies, the women with sensible shoes arrived and opened up the first night club selling foreign beer. They immediately started dancing lessons for all the other tribes so that everyone would be able to perform the special Hebden Bridge dance. The dance can still be seen performed regularly on a Saturday night in T’trades. Extreme elements of this tribe can be seen wearing dungarees and big boots, eating only that which has been taken from the ground or from out of trees and bushes, and drinking only that which is fairly traded. This group of residents are also known to keep goats in their kitchens.
The most recent influx of peoples has been the downshifters from London. Early pioneers bought luxury flats at the height of the property boom and opened art galleries and expensive boutiques in the mistaken belief that other downshifters would flock to them and make them millionaires. Hilariously, their plans backfired during the Credit Crunch and they have since had to rent out their luxury flats and move into hovels.
There is much hostility between the main tribes with the indigenous farmers and weavers (some of whom have managed to avoid the pub long enough to re-invent themselves as photographers and history writers) dismissing everyone else as Offcumgits. The hatred manifests itself in various ways, with the most hysterical being the letters pages of the local weekly rag, and the insufferably smug blog and discussion sections of the community website which originates from a hovel on Windsock Road.
Prior to 1988, a cheese was rolled around the town on holidays and festivals. However, after she ate the aforementioned cheese, the new annual tradition is rolling "The Obese Woman of Hebden Bridge" around the town.
In the olden days, the economy of Hebden Bridge relied heavily on the making of fusty cloth, which was world-famous in Yorkshire. Fusty cloth making employed the majority of the indigenous farmers and weavers in growing the cloth and turning it into pantaloons. On the basis of the fusty cloth industry, roads, railways and canals were constructed through the muddy bog, but since the decline in interest in said cloth due to availability of cheap Chinese imports, these are now only used by the hippies who live on small barges on the canal, downshifters from London to go shopping at Tesco, and day trippers from Burnley.
The greatest industrialist in the history of Hebden Bridge is Avid Fleischer who founded Irritations which was the first mill, in the Middle Ages. The mill was used for many centuries to grind peasants into a fine dust which was then brewed into a magical potion enabling Mr. Fleischer to live forever. Now aged 998, he is the world’s oldest property developer. Although considered by many to be utterly evil, he has in fact made a major contribution to the environment and campaigns tirelessly to resolve the car parking issue. Irritations is now a MUST for any tourist who manages to get a visa as it houses the oldest working quern in the world, which can be admired whilst downing a nice cup of fair trade organic tea.
Nowadays the economy is kept alive by such tea shops and by the endless array of tiny shops selling sustainable twigs from renewable wind farms, organic, fair trade Peruvian headgear and free range cruelty-free quail’s eggs. There is also a heavy drinking industry and Hebden Bridge has 10,000 pubs, arguably the highest concentration per capita in the entire world except Pattaya, Thailand. A rival claim is also made by the nearby township of Otley and there are frequent Morris dancing wars between Otley and Hebden Bridge to try and resolve this issue once and for all. However, this always ends in a massive piss up with each side declaring undying love for their rivals until they wake up the next day, can’t remember anything, and start fighting again.
Culture, rituals and pastimes
There are many cultural traditions and rituals in Hebden Bridge. The two key cultural events centre around the ancient pagan festivals of Ostara and Samhain. The ancient tradition of celebrating Beltane had to be stopped some years ago as the town ran out of virgins to burn.
During Ostara, giant rabbits can be seen wandering the streets mugging people for chocolate eggs and folk plays are performed in and around the town. The high spot of the festival is the annual duck race which attracts upwards of 20 million spectators. After the race, every one of the 10,000 pubs is full to bursting.
At Samhain a great bonfire is lit and hippies and women with sensible shoes perform an extra-special version of the Hebden Bridge dance late into the night. Everyone else goes to the pub.
By far the most popular pastime for the majority of inhabitants is drinking in the many pubs, except the hippies who eschew such mixing in favour of so-called parties which involve ten people getting stoned in someone’s living room and/or raving to the Shamen on ancient 78’s. Although more gregarious, the women with sensible shoes also hold parties and it is not unknown for day trippers from Burnley to wander aimlessly into a party and never be seen again.
Besides the parties, the only other post-pub activity is attending t’Trades which has a variety of entertainments including an endless array of Celtic Afro fusion acts and special club nights strictly for the over 50’s. There used to be special drum ‘n’ bass nights for children but these proved way too popular with teenagers and had to be stopped. Sadly, this means that the kids have nowhere to go and congregate in the park drinking alco pops and taking ketamine.
Nowadays, the most controversial local issue is car parking and many local dignitaries have spent centuries coming up with more and more elaborate schemes to tackle the problem. The most ridiculous of these was the infamous proposed ‘wonky homes’ development with integrated multi-storey car parking.
Avid Fleischer, the developer and public face of the proposed development, has had a number of fierce public battles with the main opponent of the scheme, Joseph Goebbels. Mr. Fleischer believes that the development would have been the final solution and transformed Hebden Bridge from a boggy marsh to a fantastic metropolis as big as New York. Goebbels, local curmudgeon and ex-husband of the Iron Lady, opposes the scheme not on any aesthetic or environmental grounds but because he was pissed off that he hadn’t thought of this money spinner himself.
On street parking is available throughout the town, but is indeed a conundrum. On Crowned Strasse, parking is only for meat purveyors, broadsheet editors and white van drivers with tick tock flashies switched on, (the latter must park with 2 wheels on the pavement). Herb Alpert Street has parking only for pub-goers and those wishing to obtain advice upon their citizenship. There is a lone space very near to a beautiful oasis, which was once known to be available, but this hasn't been verified. Old Peoples Gate is a very narrow lane and should not be used by any transport wider than a bicycle (it also has the nickname of TARDIS Way because even though it is too narrow for cars, there are usually many parked on its edges).
At the end of this not-so-thoroughfare, just past the newly named Hole in t'Crawl, 23,000 parking spaces disappeared overnight to make way for the building of Hebden Bridge Castle. The construction was funded by the sale of 300,000 souvenir beverage receptacles to unsuspecting local heritage supporters (hereinafter referred to as mugs). The scheme was a pioneering example of an Acid Transfer whereby a capital asset found to be corroding a hole both in council finances and the credibility of governing elders is transferred to a community group of non-governing elders of untested credibility wearing somebody else's trousers so they don't burn holes in their own pockets. Alternative names considered for this type of scheme were: Hot Potato Catch; Cold Shoulder to Managed Funding; and Million Pound Accountability Drop. Despite sceptism the knights running the castle project competently won all requisite battles including ensuring little or no acidity remained in the solution for too long. The same could only be hoped for future Acid Transfers involving The Hebden Bridge Pitcher House and Hebden Bridge's very own Ungdomshuset (Carlsberg - the only Prince of Denmark ever likely to be seen hereabouts).
There are many indegenous creatures of the area, the best known is the Dock, a small green creature that is worshiped by The Makers who hunt down and catch this member of the Stoat family, who then procede to make of them 'The Pudding'. This delicacy is eaten around the world by long lost locals who have it made and exported by the local Brass Band. There is also a yearly World 'Dock Pudding' Championship, held in the nearby village of Mytholmroyd. The judges of the championship are taken from local nerdowells, and are frequently infiltrated by ex-politicians and never heard of celebrities. It is said that a scottish Cracker once entered the competition, but this has still to be verified.
Music And Musicians
The local music scene is wide and varied, taking in such diverse combos as the Outer Hebs (Scottish island music done ska-style), Mark Chapman and the Seniles (Nick Drake covers) and Magpierabbitbeat (Moroccan basket-weaving tunes). The Hebden Bridge Silver Band, founded in 1372 by Harold Mortuary, thrives to this day, as does a reclusive colony of around 468 samba bands based in the Windsock Road area. Buskers, notably the late talented Tommie, can occasionally be spotted on the Riverside Walk (though unfortunately not near enough to the water) playing Bob Dylan dirges. Other local musicians of note include Paul Weathervane (humorous satirical songs mainly about people from Todmorden), Jamie Briggs (protest songs about child chimney sweeps, the Cragg Vale Coiners and the Corn Laws) and Mick Wart (bipolar ballads). The town's many hostileries are home to a variety of open-mic and "jam sessions". The 'Stumbling Dwarf' pub holds a regular Wednesday "Open Head Surgery" session, probably unique in its rigorously-enforced ban on all acoustic guitars and sub-Coldplay chord progressions; transgressors are made to shave their sideburns into peculiar shapes. Similarly, the Thursday evening get-togethers at the 'Hole In T'Ground" inn (owned by Justin Timberlake, who ended up here after the failure of social music-sharing site Crapster led to him being drummed out of LA) feature spot fines for any performer not called Jimmy.
Medicine and Well-being
For those unfortunate enough to fall ill and have a job, The Group Practice is their first port of call. To gain admission, they must first ring the Gatekeepers at least thrice, repeating the chant ‘I want to see a doctor’. Only when this incantation has been uttered for half a day, will the gatekeepers stop trying to fob them off with an appointment with Nursey and give them a date to see the Practitioner sometime in the distant future. With further persistence, however, they will eventually be allowed admission through the hallowed doctor’s portal leading to the Group Practice. When they do finally gain entry to the Group Practice, they will first encounter an interminable line of indigenous farmers and weavers queuing up for repeat prescriptions for various archaic illnesses such as bubonic plague, St. Vitus’ Dance and dropsy. When they ultimately get to the front of the queue, a surly receptionist will announce their name, address and ailment in a very loud voice and then direct them to sit in the waiting room for five hours where the only diversion is a well-thumbed copy of Sheep Lover monthly.
The more adventurous or those with time on their hands can peruse the multitude of options for alternative medicine. These include several clinics ran by hippies where the treatments vary from virtual massage to the prescribing of potent elixirs. Ineffectual as these treatments are, gullible punters will con themselves into feeling better, having parted with half their annual income (or trust fund) to pay for it. The hippies have made a packet from selling these treatments to the downshifters from London, who also buy copious amounts of magic aromatherapy oils and enchanted crystals in the belief that it will bring them eternal life.
Of course, it is not necessary to be ill to partake of these remedies and elixirs. Indeed, there are regular opportunities for those with more money than sense to part with their not-so-hard-earned cash, with several of the tiny shops pandering to their everyday needs for magical fairy dust and joss sticks. There is also the regular Sunday Market which is invariably infested with tourists eager to purchase the most unique souvenirs north of Glastonbury. Healing Fairs are also popular and even the women with sensible shoes have been known to peruse these special events in the hope that they will happen across the miraculous potion that will delay a visit to the hairdressers for another ten years.
Politics in Hebden Bridge is dominated by a small number of nosey parker do-gooders who elected themselves to a special Council of Elders in a vain attempt to control the different tribes. Laws imposed by this Council of Elders include making it mandatory for all shops to sell totally useless stuff and for small businesses to install and maintain flower baskets, which are the subject of annual inspections. The council levies a special tax on all inhabitants which typically increases by 1000% each year, the monies raised going towards maintaining the hanging baskets and paying for their annual holidays to the twin town of Warhammer.
A typical council meeting starts with a review of the national press to check how many times the town is mentioned as ‘best for’ or ‘most something’ (previous accolades have included Best Place for Useless Shops and Most Likely Place to find a Gay Sperm Donor). If the town is not mentioned at least three times, the Council immediately calls a State of Emergency and re-instigates ancient laws and customs such as the archaic Silly Hat Parade known to cause irreversible mental illness in small children forced not only to spend six months night and day making their own costumes, but then to march up and down the high street for three days solid before the prize giving ceremony which is sponsored by the Guardianista Book Shop and invariably entails such worthy prizes as books with no pictures in and pass the parcels containing worthy sayings rather than toys.
Some would say this amounts to child cruelty, but it’s nothing compared to the treatment meted out to the younger generation at the Righton crèche where they are forced to learn the words ‘playing is a waste of time and won’t enhance my cognitive skills’ in three minority ethnic languages and partake in crafts such as willow weaving and cup cake baking to prepare them to take over the tiny shops when their parents decide to take a gap year and go travelling to Machu Picchu, before becoming the next generation of Elders.
Another important function of the Council of Elders is to object to any plans, however sensible, that would resolve the car parking situation. To this end, they have invented an elaborate and convoluted system to ensure that no one can ever get planning approval for anything, much to the chagrin of Avid Fleischer. Instead, they have imposed an extra tax on disabled people parking in the town centre in a bid to make them stay at home.