Hebden Township Historical Data

Harry Speight: 1900

Harry Speight (1855-1915) was a renowned local historian and genealogist from Bradford who wrote two definitive works on the Craven area - The Craven and north-west Yorkshire highlands. Being a complete account of the history, scenery, and antiquities of that romantic district, published in 1892, and Upper Wharfedale. Being a complete account of the history, antiquities and scenery of the picturesque valley of the Wharfe, from Otley to Langstrothdale, published in 1900.

Photograph of Harry Speight
Harry Speight (1855-1915)

The following is an extract from Upper Wharfedale, pages 542-548, in a chapter dedicated to Hebden. Hebden's industries had gone, and it was now developing as a tourist destination.

Photograph of cover of 'Upper Wharfedale'
The cover of "Upper Wharfedale"

Beside the little mountain torrent that sometimes sweeps with relentless fury from the high fells it traverses, stands the romantic village of Hebden. A delightfully situated little spot it is, and to those who are in need of a quiet, restful holiday, few places in our dales can vie with it in the charm of its thorough isolation and rusticity. The village however, is only some two or three miles from Linton and Burnsall, and a short two miles by a good road from Grassington. No doubt the place derives its name from the A.-S. hebban, to raise, to elevate, in consequence of the elevated situation of the little dene or valley in which it reposes. In Domesday it is written Hebedene, and although nearer to Burnsall than it is to Linton, it has from the time of the Norman Conquest always been, together with the contiguous township of Grassington, parcel of the parish of Linton.

Celt, Saxon, Dane, and Roman have all had a hand in the making of Hebden. Mention has already been made of the so-called Thor's Well, near Hebden, which may be a form of Thora (see page 388) of the old Norse sagas,f or it may be a relic of Thor worship in Wharfedale. Wells retaining their pagan dedications are however extremely rare. Stories of the old Thunder-god survive in many an English fiction, such for example as Jack the Giant Killer: while legends of Christian saints, as St. Peter, may be traced to the worship of the same Norse Thor. At Guisborough in Yorkshire, for example, the fishermen on St. Peter's Day, dressed their boats and masts and sprinkled their bows with a good liquor, a custom no doubt proceeding from the old Viking habit of smearing their war-ships with human blood before setting out on an expedition, by way of offering to the god of war and victory. By the way, I have not learnt what was the motive for the dedication of the church at Hebden to St. Peter.

Before the Conquest the manor had been held by the Saxon Dringel who was permitted to continue as mesne lord of the Arches family, to whom this manor was conveyed by the Conqueror. Shortly afterwards it became merged in the fee of Mowbray, whose possessions extended over a great part of the adjoining lands of Upper Nidderdale. Whitaker cites a charter to which he attaches the date about A.D. 1120, whereby the manor of Hebden was granted by Roger de Mowbray to Uchtred fitz Dolphin and his heirs, the bounds whereof are described as extending from Eskedensike as far as Loutandstan and Stanwath, and Brokeshougill as far as Braddenford in Gatehopbec near to the Holme-keld etcr. He says that the grantee was son of a Gospatric de Rigton in Knaresbro' Forest, but no authority is given for this statement. Air. Ellis is of opinion that this is a mistake. Uchtred was son of Dolphin son of Gospatric, whom Simeon of Durham says married a daughter of Dolphin, son of Thorfin, and the pedigree given in the Thoresby Society's publications, gives this Dolphin three sons, Torphin, Swayn and Ughtred, but Mr. Ellis thinks that Ughtred was second not third son of Dolphin, and the ancestor of the De Hebdens to whom Mowbray gave the manor of Hebden after 1166, and not about 1120.

Photograph of Hebden Suspension Bridge

These Hebdens were people of position and held the manor of Hebden for a long period, until by division of the estates already explained in the account of Burnsall, the property changed hands. Descendants of the family held lands under Fountains Abbey, one of whom John Hebden had a house with certain lands, etc., of the monks at Caldstanfald in the parish of Ripon, for which he paid at the Dissolution 26s. 8d. yearly rent. According to the King's Commissioners' Certificate of the value of the properties belonging to this monastery in 1535, their possessions in Hebden were worth yearly 8s. Anciently there was a good deal of corn grown in the neighbourhood, where now all is moor and pasture. In the 13th century the monks obtained from Simon de Hebden a grant of free passage over all his land here, except corn and meadow, as well for sheep, cattle and carriages, in going or returning from their great annual shearing at Kilnsey.

Fifty years after the monasteries were dissolved there were not many who stuck to the old faith in Upper Wharfedale. In 1604 there are a few returned for Burnsall, but after the close of the Civil War Roman Catholicism, in name at least, seems to have been almost completely obliterated. Repressive measures had been taken from time to time ever since the Reformation, and in the reign of Charles II further suspicions were aroused of Romanist disloyalty which led in 1678 to a proclamation being issued commanding local Justices to order the petty constables to apprehend the bodies of all and any such recussants and to make search in such houses as were reputed to be occupied by them. They were also to bring the bodies of such recussants before the nearest J.P. to find sureties for good behaviour. But the only person I can find in Upper Wharfedale at this time who declared himself a Popish recussant was Francis Ward of Hebden, although there were a number of other Catholic families at Ingleton, Rathmell, Skipton and Broughton. In 1691 it was ordered that the houses of Popish owners above the value of £5 should be sold and that all fire-arms, dirks, swords, etc., be taken from them and used in his Majesty's service. Again the Jacobite rising in 1715 led to a searching enquiry into the location and value of all Catholic property. Yorkshire in this return heads the list in possessing a larger amount of landed property held by Roman Catholics than any other county in the kingdom. The total annual income is about £50,000, of which nearly £20,000 is returned for the West Riding. Many Craven yeomen appear in these returns.

The land about Hebden is now held by various owners, but principally by the trustees of the late Rev. Canon Chamberlain, M.A., who was vicar of Limber Magna, Lincolnshire.

Great improvements have taken place in the general aspects of the village during the past fifty years. Few can remember now the old tottering bridge in the Beck bottom, which was removed when the present county bridge was put up and the road raised.[1] Old inhabitants tell me that when Mr. Bramley ran the cotton mill some sixty years ago, the moorlands were then unenclosed, and Hebden at that time was a very primitive looking place. There was only one "Bethel," several old unplastered cottages, with thatched roofs and rough cobble walls, besides a couple of inns, while the ancient schoolhouse on the village green, looked more like a common mistal than a place of intellectual light. No one knows when the old building was erected, but the age of its mossy outer walls probably harked back to the Reformation, and before the days when chimneys were in general use. The well-seasoned oaken rafters were as black with smoke as the most remote Highland cottar's shieling at the present day. When the building was pulled down to make way for the present neat school, some rude and evidently very old fire-places were discovered. They were of such a character as to leave no doubt that they had served in the ancient manor drying-kiln for parching the grain of the whole township preparatory to its being ground. The last surviving link in fact connecting our time and people with those of the original Anglo-Saxon settlers, who lived and dwelled in common, united in food, worship, and estate.

The ancient manor-house of the Hebdens, which had stood on the site from the Norman Conquest, was pulled down early this century. The farm house called Hebden Hall has taken its place, and has been the home of Mr. and Mrs. James Metcalfe for more than half-a-century. This aged couple it may be noted celebrated their "diamond wedding" in September last year, and though they themselves boast no pride of heritage, yet Mrs. Metcalfe modestly claims that her aunt Elizabeth Hammond was housekeeper to King William and Queen Adelaide at Windsor Castle, now about eighty years ago. And some are still proud at Hebden of this local connection in the service of a former sovereign of Old England!

Many a story of worth and valour and of "fortunes made in business" might be recounted of bygone Hebdenites did space permit. Of old "characters," too, and past events which make up the life of a village in the olden time, much might be written. There are few now, for instance, who will remember old Henry Baines, a staunch Wesleyan or Primitive, I forget which. Poor old Henry, he had to seek relief in the end from the Parish authorities, and when they came to arrange the allowance, he wagged his tongue loud and long in support of his contention that he had kept off parish relief "till he wor ommost ready to dea!" They asked him to sign his name in the book provided for the purpose. "Nay" he says, "I nivver put my neeam o' paper in all my deeas." "Well then," came the request, "you must make a cross, Henry." "A cross," ejaculated the old man, " Aw'll noan turn Roman Catholic fur all t'brass i't wurrld. Aw'll dea furst!"[2]

Looking at the place now in its outward appearance there is not much remaining to bespeak the antiquity of the little upland village. Well-built houses and shops, a church, school, Wesleyan chapel, and good inn, have usurped the generally pre-Reformation aspect the place so lately wore. There are however, one or two tolerably ancient domiciles still standing which carry our thoughts back to the time when the Stuarts were monarchs of our realm. One of these stands to the east of the church and has a blocked doorway inscribed "R. A. R., 1674, DEVS ET MEVS;" the latter part of the inscription being an evident attempt to Latinize the Scriptural phrase, "God even my God." The house was an old home of the Rathmell family, or Ra'mell as locally pronounced, and was built by Robert Rathmell and his wife Agnes, whose names I find among the Yorkshire recussants in 1665-6. The house is now the property, by inheritance, of Dr. Bailey of Canterbury.

The church (St. Peter's) was erected sixty years ago and is a neat structure in the Early English style. It includes a nave, chancel, and west tower with one bell, and pleasant is the sound of it on bright Sabbath days, when the single peal is heard perchance a long way off among the brown moors and distant farms, calling the dalesfolk to worship their Lord, the Giver and Maker of all!

Photograph of Scala Falls

The romantic surroundings of Hebden provide unending interest, whether we climb up to the high moors for the sake of the wide views, or study the rocks and faults, or content ourselves with the placid instruction of the botanical wonders of the district, and they are not a few, or we may scramble as far as the picturesque Scala Gill waterfall, a name again that suggests old Norse homesteads in the vicinity, before the Norman William "wasted" the rich meadows of our dales. The walk along the water side as far as Hebden Mill is also very enjoyable, and here you may cross the river by the new suspension bridge, which gives quite a feature to the scenery at this point. Thence you may reach Burnsall, passing the picturesque Loup Scar and the ancient holy-wells previously described.

The Anglo-Celts were the strongest element here, doubtless even long after the Conquest. Story, tradition, and place-name help to confirm this. I may mention for example, the little mountain-beck which flows through Hebden and in one part of its course traverses a low-lying pasture called Nows Field, a curious name, and one very rarely met with, but there is little doubt that its root is to be found in the A.S. niwe, a piece of flat or low land subject to submergence. The old French form is noe, noue, and occurs in Les Noues, Neuilly, and in the Latin as Noesiacum. The German nass, wet, may be traced to it. There is a Hell Beck at Grassington, a Hell Hole near Troller's Gill (see page 384) and a Hell Field high above the eastern bank of Hebden Beck, but whether these places have any association with his Satanic Majesty, I cannot say. At Tunstall, in Norfolk, there is a pool called Hell Hole which the natives believe to be connected with the "bottomless pit." But hell in Anglo-Saxon may signify simply "a grave or tomb;" while helle according to Mr. Kemble's Glossary to the Anglo-Saxon poems on Beowulf, the first English epic, means clear high, or eminent. There is also at Hebden a Sill Field, which may be the Cymric Celtic cill, Latin cella, a cell, a burying-ground, or church; in Celtic topography, Kil or Kel, as Kilbride the cell or church of St. Bridget. No one seems to know how the name originated, and it may be merely an abbreviation of the personal name Sylvester. I may, however, add that in Bradford there was a very old bridge at one of the exits of the town, called Sillbridge, which in ancient deeds appears as Syllbrigge. Wogan is also the name of a field at High Garnshaw, and this may be a corrupt form of the old family name of Wigan. But wógan in Anglo-Saxon means to woo or marry, and the spot may possibly have been a place appointed for the celebration of marriages even in the far-off days of the Anglo-Saxons.

Transcription Notes

[1] old tottering bridge: The turnpike bridge was replaced by the current County Bridge in 1827.

[2] "Aw'll dea furst!": This is a very similar story as that told by Thomas Blackah in Oliver's Bounty.