Hardcastle Ways

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 Crag.  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, sees us uncovering the 20th century story of the site, now enjoyed by 200,000 people annually as a space for recreation, but during Victorian times a site of off-grid cotton mill buildings.  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 andswing boats – all set in a beautiful natural environment.

But the site 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 most of the valley 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 remain largely untold.

We are currently trawling through the archives, collecting stories and local memories to tell a fuller picture of Hardcastle Crags during the last century.