The 20th century story of a valley saved from drowning
Hardcastle Crags is a steep sided wooded valley just outside Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire, owned by the National Trust and beloved of locals and visitors alike. Hardcastle Crags’ heritage of community resistance to plans to flood the valley, its reputation as a special landscape (‘little Switzerland’) and the transformation of Gibson Mill into an ‘entertainment emporium’ in the 20th century are are not well known or greatly documented. 509 Arts has an ongoing relationship with the National Trust at Hardcastle Crags.
In Autumn 2020 we worked together to stage Footfall, a processional dusk walk and woodland ceremony (with yodelling) commemorating the 50th anniversary of the successful campaign to resist plans for a reservoir in the valley.
Hardcastle Ways, funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, funded 509 Arts to uncover the 20th century story of the Hardcastle Crags. These days it is owned by the National Trust and enjoyed by 200,000 people annually for recreation and play, but during Victorian times it was the home of Gibson Mill and cotton manufacture. In the early 20th Century the mill closed and was reborn as an “Emporium” of Edwardian entertainment, attracting thousands to its roller skating rink, dance hall, restaurant, boating lake and swing boats – all set in a beautiful natural environment.
But the valley was seen as a valuable water resource and throughout the 20th Century local people successfully resisted three Parliamentary proposals for the construction of huge reservoirs that would submerge and destroy a valuable civic amenity. Whilst the site’s history as part of the industrial revolution is well documented, stories of Edwardian entertainment, environmental preservation and public protest were largely untold. After trawling through the archives, collecting stories and local memories we can now tell a more complete picture of Hardcastle Crags during the last century.
In July 2021 we held a special outdoor event with music, storytelling and street performance to mark the end of the project and to unveil a beautiful 6m interpretive banner in the stairwell of Gibson Mill. The banner was designed by local artist Sandra McCracken and introduces visitors to the many stories of the mill and the crags in the 20th Century.
We have also produced a series of education packs that can be used by schools, colleges, community groups and the general public. They are full of fascinating facts and stories about Gibson Mill and Hardcastle Crags, and can be downloaded by clicking the links below: