Hebden Township Historical Data

J.H. Dixon: 1881

This extract is from Chronicles and Stories of the Craven Dales, page 232-235 by James Henry Dixon (1803-1876), published by Edmondson's of Skipton in 1881. Dixon died five years before the book was published, but the quote from J.A. Bland's article in the Craven Pioneer indicates that it was written in about 1875. This short extract is particularly interesting for its description of the inhabitants of Hebden of some thirty years previously.

Dixon was a doctor of law, and a lawyer by profession. Born in London, he spent much of his youth in the Dales, living in Grassington and attending school in Skipton. From there he spent five or six years studying law in Durham, before moving down to London where he spent some twenty years as a solicitor. During this time, he was an active member of the Percy Society, in which role he edited a number of volumes of traditional ballads and poems collected from all round the UK.

Photograph of cover of 'Chronicles and Stories of the Craven Dales'
The cover of "Chronicles and Stories of the Craven Dales"

A short distance from Hartlington is the village of Hebden, which is in the adjoining parish of Linton. We advise a tourist who proceeds northward from Burnsall, to pass through Hebden, for by so doing he will obtain some good views of Burnsall church and village, and the surrounding scenery. Hebden or Upeden, is the high or up valley or dene, and derives its name from a deep gully, running up from the bed of Wharfe, to the summit of the lofty ridge that separates Craven from Netherdale. Hebden used' to have a very bad name, and we fear deservedly so, for it was a nest of thieves, drunkards, bone-setters and poachers. Thirty years ago, the inhabitants were little better than savages; but thanks to the labours of the Wesleyans and to the Church, which has followed up their good work, a change has been effected, and the modern Hebdeners are quite as good and virtuous and respectable, as any of their neighbours.

Hebden has long possessed a school-house; but the venerable building no longer exists, having been pulled down to make way for a handsome gothic edifice. A writer in the Craven Pioneer says:— "A most important and much needed improvement still remained undone up to the latter end of 1873, viz.: the erection of a new school, in place of the old one which had long stood on the village green, and was a forcible reminder of the primitive structures of some centuries ago. In pulling down the old school its original purpose was fully revealed to be that of the ancient township drying kiln. There were the old fire-places and flues. There was visible evidence of the building, at some time, having been on fire, as the beams in the roof were blackened and charred. In a lower story, under the eastern end of the building, was the ancient 'Kiln-horn'. In this miserable hovel one Hannah Stackhouse, a wretched and degraded relative of the great Biblical Scholar, the Rev. Thos. Stackhouse, died in the most abject poverty. The necessity for a new school had long been felt, and the old school had become an unsightly object amongst the many improvements that had been carried out. At length exertions were made, funds were raised, neat plans prepared, contracts entered into, and the graceful architecture of the new school in the decorated Gothic style is now 'a thing of beauty' on the village green."

No one passing through Hebden should omit a visit to the new church, a simply elegant structure, erected on an eminence, and whose tower forms so prominent an object from various parts of the surrounding landscape. It was built after a design of a most amiable man, the late Rev. J. F. Fearon, A.B., Curate of Linton, and it is highly creditable to the talents of the amateur architect and painter; but it is not without faults, and there is a want of harmony in some of the details. The tower is defective in design — perhaps a small spire would improve it.

Much has been said of mountain church yards — that of the new church at Hebden is in every respect entitled to the name. Within its narrow circle there is little to interest — no old grey mossy stones — no quaint inscriptions and rude verses about "afflictions sore," etc. — no village sculpture — no reverend trees! these are wanting in this modern slip of consecrated ground. But look over the wall, and wherever the eye is turned, it rests on grandeur and beauty. On one side is seen Burnsall, with its grey church tower and humble dwellings—the village lying so far beneath the eye of the spectator, as to put on the appearance of a fairy scene. Beyond it may be traced, for miles, the stream of the Wharfe, a streak of silver extending along a valley whose sides are bounded by lofty mist-clad fells, while its apparent termination—is backed by the mountain of Simon's-seat, and the waving greenwood trees of Barden and Bolton. The view in the opposite direction is equally grand, exhibiting, as it does, the long and lofty range of fells that extends from Rylstone to Thorpe and Barden.

Opposite the entrance to the churchyard is a stile that forms the commencement of a foot-path, which, by gentle ascents, leads through the fields to Grassington. It is not so much frequented as it ought to be; for it is almost the only parochial one with which pliant justices of the peace, egged on by selfish individuals, have not interfered. This path brings before us some delightful bits of wild scenery in hill and dale. The geological appearances of the country are very striking, and bear a remarkable resemblance to Auvergne in France. Beneath the upper range of fells, are several round green hills, the largest of which is Elboton, so famed in the fairy lore of the district.