Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Ode to ... Hebden Bridge? Academy of Urbanism Awards 2011

http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/987457  Copyright Paul Anderson and licensed for reuse under  Creative Commons Licence.

Rochdale Canal Hebden Bridge: Seen here in the centre of Hebden Bridge the Rochdale Canal winds through the town on its 32 mile journey from Manchester to Sowerby Bridge.

Built by immigrant navvies between 1799 and 1804, the canal needed ninety-two locks to lift it 600ft above sea level
Decades of dereliction and neglect ended in 2003 when the Rochdale re-opened - fully restored and reconnected to the national network at Sowerby Bridge where the deepest canal basin in the country marks its merging with with Calder and Hebble Navigation.Link

Many abandoned canal buildings around Hebden Bridge have been converted into luxury waterside apartments, small businesses and workshops, and the whole atmosphere of the canal bank has been enhanced by refurbished parks, marinas and gardens.

Hebden Bridge has featured here before in this very blog, proposals for a controversial development not wanted by local folk


and turned down following a public inquiry, link in this post


Anyhow, brief blog today to say that the Academy of Urbanism (see previous blogpost on trams, featuring AoU luminary and Twitterer @williemiller of Willie Miller Urban Design


http://nemesisrepublic.blogspot.com/2010/11/on-and-off-rails.html )

has announced the winners of its annual awards scheme, and along with that is a new poem by  resident poet Ian McMillan. So, never one to let a chance for a poetry link to pass this blog by, here is more about Hebden Bridge from the Academy of Urbanism (and again text by Willie Miller). Best read from the link as many good photographs illustrate the text


Hebden Bridge has a population of around 4,500 and is the smallest of the candidates in this category. Situated within the Metropolitan Borough of Calderdale in West Yorkshire, it forms part of the Upper Calder Valley and lies eight miles west of Halifax and 14 miles north east of Rochdale,at the confluence of the River Calder and the River Hebden (Hebden Water). A 2004 profile of the Calder Valley ward, covering Hebden Bridge, Old Town, and part of Todmorden, estimated the wider population at 11,549.

The original settlement was the hilltop village of Heptonstall. Hebden Bridge started as a settlement where the Halifax to Burnley hilltop packhorse route dropped down into the valley. The route crossed the River Hebden at the spot where the old bridge (from where Hebden Bridge gets its name) stands

The steep wet hills and access to major wool markets meant that Hebden Bridge was ideal for water powered weaving mills and the town developed during the 19th and 20th centuries; at one time Hebden was so well-known for its clothing manufacture that it was known as 'Trouser Town'. Drainage of the marshland which covered much of the Upper Calder Valley prior to the Industrial Revolution enabled construction of the road which runs through the valley. Prior to this, travel was only possible via the ancient packhorse route which ran along the hilltop, dropping into the valleys wherever necessary, as was the case with Hebden Bridge. The wool trade also brought the Rochdale and the Manchester and Leeds Railway running from Leeds to Manchester and Burnley.

Hebden Bridge was the second town that the assessment team visited and it too set a high standard. As in Stroud, the relationship between the landscape and the town is remarkably integrated and first impressions on arriving at the railway station demonstrate the often dramatic nature of the bond between town structure and landscape. Walking from the station to the town centre along main roads was a less pleasant experience - the A646 is a busy route through the town and footpaths are quite narrow. However, once in the centre of the town, the pedestrian scale, high quality finishes of the public realm, and the standard of care were excellent. Even in the centre, the impact of the surrounding landscape is strong - and there is no unsympathetic development to undermine the natural setting of the town.

The standards of maintenance of streets, footpaths and buildings was very high as was the quality and extent of landscaping, especially the floral displays and hanging baskets.

Heritage plays a major role in Hebden Bridge and there is a marked interest and pride in the historical development of the town that informs how the town reacts to 21st century aspirations and pressures. This also plays out in the range of heritage trails as well as attitudes to newbuilding. Forexample,the town is intent on building an extension to the town hall that will provide community rooms and business together with new public space along the riverside. This has been developed over a considerable period of time with community involvement (through the Friends of the Town Hall) and has resulted in a proposal for a new building which is contemporary yet contextual, that everyone seems happy with.

Alternative energy is also a major interest in Hebden Bridge focused on an Alternative T echnology Centre beside the canal. The Centre organises various initiatives including Big Green Week and a Power From The Landscape project, which seeks to support communities in the development of micro hydro-electric schemes using the same sources of water power that originally powered the town industries in the 19th century.

Linear greenspace plays an important part in the town through footpaths and cycleways along the canal, through the town centre along the Hebden Water and along the River Calder. These paths are well signposted and trail leaflets are available to guide the visitor through the town.

Like Stroud, Hebden Bridge seems to be the very embodiment of the current government's aspirations to the Big Society and like Stroud, Hebden Bridge was doing the Big Society many years before the term's current usage. The town's community organisations have recognised the assets of place - physical, social and economic - and have worked hard to make the most of these with the local authorities and Yorkshire Forward. Again like Stroud, it seemed to the assessment team that this was a town in which it was possible for individuals in the community to originate ideas and proposals for projects that would benefit the town and find a way to implement them. There seemed to be a genuine pride of place and a shared interest in getting things done.

There are many notable achievements in Hebden Bridge but one of the most obvious in terms of the built environment is howrelatively intact it seems. Certainly buildings have come and gone over the years but there is a sense that what is there has an integrity, completeness and appropriateness - and it is also well looked after.

At the same time, there are some issues which present the town with some difficulties. The lack of developable land due to the local topography, which in some ways can be seen as a blessing,could inhibit the future growth of the town. Even land for allotments is almost impossible to find short of terracing the slopes of the surrounding hillsides. The impact of traffic along the A646 makes for an uncomfortable pedestrian experience and it would be constructive to look at ways of ameliorating that.

The transferable lessons of excellence that can be learned by others from Hebden Bridge are:

A. the sense of ownership of the town, civic pride and community management and the willingness of local authorities to adapt to and support a wide range of small scale community projects, in this case focusing around heritage and alternative technology but also covering a wide range of local interests

B.the principle of working with smallscale ideas and the fine grain of local areas - not only in the sense of physical fabric but also the grain of the community

C. potentially, how the knowledge and experience gained in this work is passed on to others over a wider area - and how new generations can acquire this knowledge and ability so that it does not disappear when particular individuals move on.

and here is that poem. If anyone is concerned about copyright then I have no doubt the poet or the Academy will be in touch, but it seems to me a celebration in poetry such as this of a place requires the widest of audiences.


Town with a tissue that's quite unique;
Town where history's strata show
Alternative visions cheek to cheek
Different plants allowed to grow.
In a world where towns are pallid clones
Hebden Bridge stands out a mile,
As the sun lights up West Yorkshire stones
And the sky is as bright as a smile;
You walk through the street and the voices rise
Like steam from a coffee emporium
And very quickly you realise
The whole town's an auditorium!
Hebden Bridge is theatre, so let's all clap
The wizard's cloak behind the new flat cap!

                                             Ian McMillan

I have a number of photographs of Hebden Bridge (several great caffs with cakes...) but they are, alas, still in need of loading from my camera, so instead here is a link to Geograph, where numerous pictures of this extremely attractive town can be found:


The Academy of Urbanism


The Awards Scheme shortlist



The European City of the Year


Glasgow  - winner


The Great Town Award

Hebden Bridge, Yorkshire - winner

Stroud, Gloucestershire

Westport, Ireland

The Great Neighbourhood Award

Cathedral Quarter, Belfast

Northern Quarter, Manchester - winner

Pollokshields, Glasgow

The Great Street Award

Exmouth Market, London - winner

St. Patrick Street, Cork

Union Street, Aberdeen

The Great Place Award

Princesshay, Exeter

St. Andrew's Square, Edinburgh

Tobermory Harbour, Mull - winner

Good to know it's not all the  gloom I frequently  write about, congratulations to all shortlisted and winners, and let's hope that the positive lessons to be learned from  places highlighted by these awards can be disseminated widely.


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