13 May 2023

In Hebden Bridge,
the ‘Happy Valley’ of
television drama, poets
and spin doctors

The bridge in Hebden Bridge was built ca 1510, replacing a mediaeval timber-built bridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

During our few days in York this week, we took the train through Leeds to the ‘Happy Valley’ locations and spent some time in Hebden Bridge, a market town in the Upper Calder Valley in West Yorkshire, about 65 km west of York.

Hebden Bridge takes its name from a bridge near the confluence of the River Calder and the Hebden Water. Hebden Old Bridge was built ca 1510, replacing a mediaeval timber-built bridge. The bridge was repaired in 1602 and again in 1657, and the parapet was repaired in 1845, and raised in 1890. The eastern arch of the bridge spans the tail-goit of bridge mill, originally the manorial corn-mill of Wadsworth.

The town of Hebden Bridge itself has a small population of about 4,500, although the wider urban are has a population of more than 12,000.

The original settlement was the hilltop village of Heptonstall, where we visited the grave of Sylvia Plath and the twin churches of Saint Thomas the Apostle and Saint Thomas Becket.

Down the hill, Hebden Bridge began as a settlement where the old trading route between Halifax and Burnley dropped into the valley and crossed the River Hebden where the old bridge stands.

The steep valleys and lack of flat land has led to the ‘upstairs-downstairs’ houses known as ‘over and under dwellings’ in Hebden Bridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Hebden Bridge is close to the Pennine Way and Hardcastle Crags and it is a popular base for walking, climbing and cycling. The Rochdale Canal is a route across the Pennines, and the town is on the Calderdale Way, which connects with the Pennine Way.

The town grew and expanded in the 19th and 20th centuries when steep hills with fast-flowing streams and access to major wool markets made Hebden Bridge an ideal place for water-powered weaving mills. Because of the mills and the clothing factories, Hebden was known at one time as ‘Trouser Town.’

Because of its proximity to cities such as Manchester, Bradford and Leeds, Hebden Bridge became a dormitory town. The town also saw an influx of artists, writers, photographers, musicians, teachers, and ‘typical Guardian readers in the 1970s.

Hebden Bridge Arts Centre and Antique Market on Market Street is in the former Ebenezer Particular Baptist Chapel (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Hebden Bridge also has a reputation for its small independent shops, outdoor markets. caf├ęs and tea rooms, pubs, micro pubs and restaurants. Hebden Bridge Arts Centre and Antique Market on Market Street is in a former Baptist chapel.

Ebenezer Particular Baptist Chapel or Meeting House was opened by John Fawcett in 1777. It became the Sunday School for Hope Baptist Chapel in 1858 and when a larger Sunday School was opened there in 1873 it was first leased and later became the offices of the Hebden Bridge Times. The Latin inscription on the sundial reads Quod Petis Umbra Est (‘What thou seekest is a shadow’).

The British Airways flight magazine High Life once named Hebden Bridge as the fourth quirkiest place in the world and it has been described as ‘modern and stylish in an unconventional and stylish way’. One report has even described it as ‘the lesbian capital of the UK.’

The singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran spent his early childhood in Hebden Bridge. This is also the home town of Bernard Ingham, Margaret Thatcher’s press secretary, who attended Hebden Bridge Grammar School and who began his career as a journalist with the Hebden Bridge Times. He died earlier this year (23 February 2023).

Hebden Bridge has become a popular place to live, but the steep valleys and a lack of flat land means space is limited. In the past, this led to ‘upstairs-downstairs’ houses known as ‘over and under dwellings.’ These houses were built in terraces with 4-5 storeys. The upper storeys face uphill while the lower ones face downhill with their back wall against the hillside. The lower two storeys would be one house while the upper 2-3 storeys would be another.

The rivers and canals made Hebden Bridge an ideal place for water-powered weaving mills (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The poet laureate Ted Hughes, who was married to Sylvia Plath, was born in neighbouring Mytholmroyd, and his former home at Lumb Bank on the outskirts of Hebden Bridge is run as a creative writing centre by the Arvon Trust. Hughes set his poem ‘Stubbing Wharfe’ in the Stubbing Wharf, an 18th-century inn by the Rochdale Canal.

Hebden Bridge was documented in the film Shed Your Tears And Walk Away (2009), which made controversial claims about the levels of drug and alcohol abuse in the town and the death rate among young people.

The BBC One crime drama series Happy Valley, written by Sally Wainwright and starring Sarah Lancashire and Siobhan Finneran, was filmed and set in and around the town. The first series was broadcast in 2014, and the last series this year concluded three months ago (5 February 2023).

The title refers to drug use and drug dealers in the area, and local landmarks, such as the graveyard, the canal and the landscapes, provided many of the settings.

The main character in Happy Valley, Catherine Cawood (Sarah Lancashire), has her home in Hebden Bridge, where she also has her local pub. She frequently visits the grave of her daughter Becky in Saint Thomas churchyard in Heptonstall, in the next row to the grave of Sylvia Plath.

Hebden Bridge provided many of the locations for ‘Happy Valley’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Morning prayers in Easter
with USPG: (35) 13 May 2023

The Prophet Nehemiah and the old man Simeon in a window at the entrance to the Chapter House in Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

We are at the end of the Fifth Week of Easter. Two of us have been staying in York for much of this week, and we got back to Stony Stratford and Milton Keynes late yesterday.

Before this day gets busy, I am taking some time this morning for prayer and reflection. Following my recent visit to Lichfield Cathedral, I am reflecting each morning this week in these ways:

1, Short reflections on the windows in the Chapter House in Lichfield Cathedral;

2, the Gospel reading of the day in the Church of England lectionary;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

The window showing the Prophet Nehemiah and Simeon at the entrance to the Chapter House in Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The Nehemiah and Simeon window; two heraldic windows:

The Chapter House in Lichfield Cathedral is currently the venue for the exhibition ‘Library and Legacy,’ showcasing the collections in the cathedral library.

The chapter house was decorated with frescoes and stained glass in the late 15th century by Thomas Heywood, who was Dean of Lichfield in 1457-1492. The glass in the Chapter House once contained figures of the apostles, with other depictions above. These all predated the Cromwellian era, and were destroyed by the Puritans during the Civil War in the mid-17th century.

In the 19th century, the glazing of the chapter house displayed armorial bearings, more or less correct, in imitation of glass known to have ornamented the cathedral in the past. This armorial glass gradually gave way to glass representing scenes in the history of the cathedral. Six of the windows were glazed with these images in the late 19th and early 20th century, and the original but unfilled plan was to fill all the windows in the Chapter House.

The windows I am looking at this morning, are the window showing Nehemiah and Simeon, and the two surviving heraldic windows in the chapter house.

A two-window window at the north end of the passage leading into Chapter House shows the Prophet Nehemiah and Simeon the Old Man in the Temple.

The Prophet Nehemiah is holding a key under a scroll with the words ‘We will not neglect the house of our God’ (Nehemiah 10: 39). Simeon is depicted in the Temple holding the Infant Christ, under scroll with the words ‘Mine eyes have seen thy salvation’ (Luke 2: 30).

Nehemiah is the central figure of the Book of Nehemiah, which describes his work in rebuilding Jerusalem during the Second Temple period.

Simeon at the Temple is the ‘just and devout’ man of Jerusalem who, according to Luke 2:25–35, meets Mary, Joseph, and the Christ Child as they enter the Temple to fulfil the requirements of Jewish Law on the 40th day from the birth of Jesus in the presentation of Jesus at the Temple.

As many of the windows in the Chapter House tell stories of the building or rebuilding of Lichfield Cathedral, this window prepares the visitor appropriately for that series of windows by Burlison & Grylls and CE Kempe.

This window is by Burlison & Grylls and dates from 1879. It is in memory of William Yeend, a cathedral verger, although the memorial inscription is now largely indecipherable.

The two surviving windows with heraldic illustrations in the Chapter House show the coats-of-arms of many former cathedral clergy and families closely associated with the life of the cathedral.

These arms are not labelled or identified, although two shields in particular caught my eye during this visit. One of these shows the arms of the Fitzherbert family. Thomas Comberford (1472-1532) of Comberford married Dorothy Fitzherbert a year or two after had been admitted to membership of the Guild of Saint Mary and Saint John the Baptist in Lichfield in 1495. She was the mother of both Canon Henry Comberford (1499-1586), Precentor of Lichfield, and Richard Comberford, sometimes confusedly identified as the ancestor of the Comerfords of Ireland. Her immediate family members included Thomas Fitzherbert, Precentor of Lichfield, William Fitzherbert, Chancellor of Lichfield and William Fitzherbert, MP for Lichfield in 1553. The relics of Saint Chad eventually passed from the Jesuits around 1740 to the Fitzherbert family of Swynnerton, near Stafford.

A second shield to draw my attention was that of the Stanley family, which caused me that afternoon to return to the tomb of John Stanley in the south aisle of the cathedral. But the story of that tomb is, I think, appropriate for another day.

The Fitzherbert arms (left, middle row) in one of the surviving heraldic windows in the Chapter House in Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

John 15: 18-21 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said:] 18 ‘If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you. 19 If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world – therefore the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you, “Servants are not greater than their master.” If they persecuted me, they will persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also. 21 But they will do all these things to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me.’

One of the two surviving heraldic windows in the Chapter House in Lichfield Cathedral with the Fitzherbert arms (left, middle row) (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Today’s prayer:

The theme this week in the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) has been ‘The Work and Mission of the Laity.’ USPG’s Regional Manager for Africa, Fran Mate, reflected on Sunday on the work and mission of the laity.

The USPG Prayer invites us to pray this morning (Saturday 13 May 2023):

Let us pray for the Anglican Communion. May the Churches seek to nurture disciples who are confident of their faith and assured in their mission to love their neighbour.


Almighty God,
who through your only-begotten Son Jesus Christ
have overcome death and opened to us the gate of everlasting life:
grant that, as by your grace going before us
you put into our minds good desires,
so by your continual help
we may bring them to good effect;
through Jesus Christ our risen Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post Communion:

Eternal God,
whose Son Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life:
grant us to walk in his way,
to rejoice in his truth,
and to share his risen life;
who is alive and reigns, now and for ever.

One of the two surviving heraldic windows in the Chapter House in Lichfield Cathedral with the Stanley arms (left, bottom row) (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org