Hebden Township Historical Data

Hebden Suspension Bridge

Hebden Suspension Bridge from the southeast.
Photograph of the Hebden Suspension Bridge from the south-east taken in the 1920s.
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The Origins

It is popularly believed that Hebden Suspension Bridge was built after a man named Joseph Slack was drowned when crossing the stepping stones, but this belief seems to be the result of Chinese whispers. The origin of the story may be found in the memoirs of Thomas Francis Hammond published in 1927 where he wrote "A little before 1885 a person named Joseph Slack was crossing some stepping stones in the river, which were a public way across and led to Burnsall and Thorpe, when an extra flood of water came down - I think the result of a thunderstorm up the dales - caught him and swept him away, and he was drowned. The story was recycled in David Joy's book "Hebden. The Story of a Dales Township", and it is now recorded as a fact by the Yorkshire Dales National Park and on many other places on the web.

There is, however, no evidence to back up this story. There is no contemporaneous account of such a drowning in the local press, and the only record of a local Joseph Slack was a Hebden coal miner who actually died in 1869, fifteen years before the possibility of having a bridge was mooted. B.J. Harker records in his description of Hebden that a William Fletcher was washed away in about 1838 returning from his work in the Thorpe collieries. There is nothing in the parochial records to back this claim, although there were Fletchers living in Hebden in 1841.

It is true, however, that the safety issue was a major factor. In January 1883 floods destroyed the greater part of Burnsall Bridge, greatly disrupting communications between Hebden and Burnsall, the nearest other road bridges being in Grassington and Barden. Pedestrians could still use the stepping stones when water levels were not too high, but until a temporary wooden structure was installed in Burnsall, they had to go via Linton or Woodhouse to cross the river. There had, apparently, been a history of people slipping on the stepping stones, and it was feared that the increased traffic would increase the possibility of further accidents. The Craven Herald account of the opening of the Suspension Bridge reports that one local claims to have known of four people who had died there, but such hearsay should be taken with a pinch of salt.

In 1884 a committee was formed to consider the building of a bridge. It consisted of the Rev. Charles Henry Carlisle, Rector of Burnsall, who was the driving force behind the project, John Steel Wilkinson, grocer and draper of Burnsall, Thomas Francis Hammond, draper and grocer of Hebden, Ralph Bowdin, merchant of Hebden, John Lupton Herd, farmer of Hebden, and Thomas Stockdale of Skipton who was a Hebden landowner. The Rev. Carlisle was elected Chairman and Secretary, and Thomas Hammond Treasurer.

It was soon agreed that a suspension bridge was the best solution. Originally, the committee planned on reusing the wood from the temporary bridge in Burnsall, but the price being asked was too high. There were already two suspension bridges in the neighbourhood - Bland's Bridge at Woodhouse built by John Bland of Woodhouse Manor, and one crossing the Wharfe at Netherside Hall which had been built by Hebden's very own blacksmith William Bell. The Committee inspected the latter, approved it, and commissioned William Bell to construct and erect a similar structure adjacent to the stepping stones.

Netherside Hall Suspension Bridge.
Netherside Hall Suspension Bridge built by William Bell
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The Financing

A public subscription was raised to fund the bridge, largely organised by the Rev. Carlisle, with over £80 (equivalent to over £10,500 at today's values) being donated. Philanthropy was a characteristic of the culture of Victorian social life, and it was a common way of financing local amenities at the time, although the Skipton Union Highway Board, the local authority body responsible for the local roads, donated the sizeable sum of £15. Included in the subscribers were local worthies, such as Sir Mathew Wilson, the MP for Skipton, and absentee landowners such as the Duke Of Devonshire, and Thomas Ffoster Chamberlain. Many of the non-local contributers would have been absentee landowners, although not all such contributed. The locals appear to have subscribed according to their means and social status. A brief note is given where the subscriber has been identified.

Name Amount Notes
Skipton Union Hy Board £15 0s 0d Local authority board responsible for highways and byways
Sir M. Wilson £5 0s 0d Sir Mathew Wilson (1802-1891) of Eshton Hall, Bart., M.P of Skipton. A major Hebden land owner
Thomas Stockdale, Esq. of Skipton £5 0s 0d Thomas Stockdale (1838-1927), Grocer of Sheep street, Skipton. Owner of land in Hebden
Appletreewick Barden Burnsall Fishing Club £3 3s 0d The Appletreewick, Barden and Burnsall Angling Club was established in 1873
His Grace the Duke of Devonshire £3 3s 0d William Cavendish, 7th Duke of Devonshire (1803-1891) of Chatsworth House. Owner of land in Hebden
T. H. Hammond £3 0s 0d Thomas Francis Hammond (1845-1934) - Grocer, Draper and Preacher of Hebden
Rev. C. H. Hammond £3 0s 0d ?
Rev. H. Dawson, Torquay £2 2s 0d Rev. Henry Dawson (1791-1899), retired vicar of Bunwell, Norfolk. Owner of land in Hebden
Canon Chamberlain £2 0s 0d Thomas Ffoster Chamberlain (1819-1897), Rector of Limber Magna, Lincolnshire. Principal land owner in Hebden
J. R. Eddy £2 0s 0d James Ray Eddy (1833-1918) of Carleton. Duke of Devonshire's mining agent and owner of land in Hebden
T. E. York, Esq. £2 0s 0d ?
Canon Royd, Arncliffe £1 1s 0d Canon William Boyd (1809-1893), of Arncliffe. Ex-chaplain to Queen Victoria
Burnsall Angling £1 1s 0d -
R. Bowdin £1 0s 0d Ralph Bowdin (1833-1917), successful merchant based at Bridge House
J. L. Herd £1 0s 0d John Lupton Herd (1868-1918), farmer of Saxelby
F. Hammond, Esq. £1 0s 0d Francis Hammond (1815-1895), retired farmer of Hebden
C. Tattersall £1 0s 0d Christopher Tattersall (1850-1928), letter carrier of Hebden
Pioneer Company £1 0s 0d Probably the "Craven Pioneer" newspaper
R. Stockdale, Esq. GP £1 0s 0d ?
H. Watson, Esq. £1 0s 0d ?
Rev. T. Nowell £1 0s 0d Thomas Whittaker Nowell (1824-1902), of Linton
Messes. Lorgan £1 0s 0d ?
Rev. Sheepshank £1 0s 0d Probably John Sheepshanks (1834-1912) of West Derby, later Bishop of Norwich
J. & W. Bairstow £1 0s 0d Probably W & J Bairstow's of Victoria Mills, Skipton
Rev. J. Stockdale £1 0s 0d Jeremiah Stockdale (1829-1907), Vicar of Baslow, Derbyshire
Dr. Bailey £1 0s 0d Henry Bailey (1815-1906), Rector of West Tarring, Sussex, and Hebden landowner
W. Nowell, Linton (second sub.) £1 0s 0d William Atkinson Nowell (1829-1889), of Linton House, Linton
Mrs. Critington £0 15s 0d ?
Rev. C. H. Carlisle £0 11s 0d Charles Henry Carlisle (1829-1908), Rector of Burnsall
Jro. Wilkinson £0 10s 6d Probably John Steel Wilkinson (1855-?) of Burnsall
Craven Herald Company £0 10s 0d
Dr. Cresswell £0 10s 0d ?
Jro. Metcalfe & Sons, Pately £0 10s 0d John Metcalfe & Son Ltd, brewers of Pateley Bridge
Dr. Bates, Addingham £0 10s 0d William Richard Bates (1856-1929), surgeon and GP of Addingham
Rev. Middleton Walker £0 10s 0d ?
J. Murgatroyd, Esq. £0 10s 0d Probably Thomas Murgatroyd (1826-?), coal & iron merchant and farmer of Skipton
Mrs. Watson, Burnsall £0 10s 0d Sarah Ann Watson (1830-1902) (née Verity) of Burnsall
Mrs. Bird £0 10s 0d ?
William Bell £0 10s 0d William Bell (1849-1931), blacksmith of Hebden
E. Butler £0 10s 0d ?
C. Brown trustee £0 10s 0d Christopher Smith Brown (1821-?) of Pontesbury, Hebden landowner and born in Hebden
'Two friends' £0 10s 0d -
Rev. F. Howson £0 5s 0d Francis Howson (b.1832), Curate of Arncliffe
Mrs. Crump, Skipton £0 5s 0d Ann Elizabeth Crump (1841-?) (née Kipling), chemist and druggist of Skipton
J. Andrew Esq., Skipton £0 5s 0d ?
Miss Turner £0 5s 0d ?
Miss Emsley £0 5s 0d ?
'A friend per Rev. Carlisle' £0 5s 0d -
W. Hawley £0 2s 6d William Hawley (1839-1910) of Appletreewick, ex-Grimwith Mining Agent
W. Stockdale £0 2s 6d William Stockdale (b. circa 1827), Grocer of Sheep street, Skipton. Owner of land in Hebden
F. Manby, Skipton £0 2s 0d Frederick William Waddington Manby (1836-1899)of Skipton
J. R. Maxfield £0 2s 0d John Robert Maxfield (1861-1934), stone mason of Grassington
'A friend in the tent' £0 1s 0d -
Geo. Worsley, Keighley £0 1s 0d Probably George Worsley (1827-1890), formerly of Hebden

The Construction

The construction of the suspension bridge was simple, if a little eccentric. Masonry blocks were constructed on either side of the river to serve as the foundations. On these were raised 9' high, 9" external diameter, hollow cast iron flanged columns, two on each side to serve as the towers supporting the main cables. The cables passed through the top of the columns, and were firmly anchored into the ground at both ends. The cables were wire ropes 11/8" in diameter, and consisted of five strands of six wires round a hemp core.

The desk consisted of timber planks supported on both sides by wires anchored into the ground, and hung from the main suspension cables by metal straps. The walkway sides were protected with perforated iron sheets topped with a wooden handrail painted red. To prevent excessive movement the centre of the deck was additionally supported by two more cast iron columns, one mounted on the other, the lower of which was embedded in the river and filled with concrete. Despite this, the bridge swayed alarmingly, and soon became known by the locals as the Swing Bridge.

The wire rope was purchased from the Hebden Moor Mining Company which had used such material extensively in their Bolton Gill Mines. These, however, had closed down and the company's one remaining venture at the time was driving the Hebden Horse Level in the village. Four pounds were paid for 262 yards. Other items of expenditure included cement and bolts for the foundations for securing the columns (£22 14s 8d), and four 'large knobs' (£1 5s 0d) which topped the main columns, probably ornamental.

William Bell outside his smithy in the 1910s. Note the chimney.
William Bell outside his smithy in the 1910s. Note the chimneys
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What is not known for sure is the source of the cast iron columns, probably the most expensive element of the construction, which are not specifically itemised in the accounts. Six were used - four to support the cables, and two to stabilise the deck. At one stage it was thought they might have originally supported the power cables across Bolton Haw Side, but Peter Hodge determined that the bolts in the foundations of the power cable didn't match the holes in the pillar flanges. Moreover, the Hebden Moor Mining Company, to whom they would have belonged, was still going at the time, and it is likely that they would have charged for the pillars as they did for the wire rope.

Three clues point to the possibility that they were part of of redundant mining infrastructure from one of the Duke of Devonshire's mining interests, possibly Grassington Moor, where they could have served as water pipes or columns. Firstly, Thomas Hammond thanked James Ray Eddy, the Duke's mineral agent, during the opening ceremony for providing "iron" at a "cheap rate". Although James Eddy lived in Gargrave, he also owned a lot of land around Hole Bottom at the time. Secondly, the construction costs include an item of six guineas being paid to the Duke of Devonshire - this may have been a nominal guinea per column, hence the "cheap rate". Thirdly, Edward Waddilove was paid over six pounds for cartage during the build. This was a relatively large amount, but could be accounted for by the cost of transporting the columns some distance. On the other hand, the chimneys on William Bell's smithy look very similar to the columns...

Payee Amount Item
William Bell £18 12s 8d Work done
William Bell £24 0s 8d Paid to workmen
William Bell £22 14s 8d Paid for cement and iron bolts
William Bell £1 5s 0d Paid for 4 large knobs
William Bell £6 6s 4d For E. Waddilove for carting
William Bell £1 1s 9d Paid to Ralph Bowdin
William Bell £1 10s 0d Last Bill
Hebden Moor Mining Company £4 0s 0d 262 yards of steel rope
E(dward?) Waddilove £0 14s 0d Board and lodging for painters
Thomas Francis Hammond £0 9s 0d 18 paints
Duke of Devonshire £6 6s 0d

The total cost of the construction was £86 0s 1d, although a further £2 9s 8d was paid out for repainting in 1887-1888 and "wire ropes fixing".

The Opening Ceremony

The suspension bridge was officially opened on 26th September 1885 by William Atkinson Nowell of Linton House, Linton amidst great pomp and ceremony. A large marquee borrowed from Sir Mathew Wilson was erected on the Hebden side of the river, and tea was provided for up to 500 people. A brass band from Busk was hired to entertain at a cost of £2 10s, and a concert was laid on in the evening. Entry was 1s for the tea and entertainment, and 6d to the concert, with children half-price.

The stability of the bridge was such that it was soon known as the "Swing Bridge" locally. At the opening ceremony Thomas Hammond said in his speech that after crossing the bridge a few days earlier 90-year old Thomas Stockdale had composed the following lines which he thought would forestall the objections raised by those who complained that the bridge was not as stable as it might be: "Here's health to William Bell / Who built this bridge so well / That a man of 90 years / Could get across right well."

The Craven Herald's account of the opening ceremony may be found here

Plaque commemorating the centenary of the opening of the bridge.
Plaque commemorating the centenary of the opening of the bridge below the south-east column
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The Handing over to the Highways District Board

At this time, the local roads were maintained and repaired by a Highway District based in Skipton, which was managed by a Highway Board consisting of representatives from the constituent parishes. The Highway Boards were established in 1863, and abolished when the Local Government Act 1894 transferred their powers to the local rural district council, and the county council. The Skipton Union Highways Board had actually contributed £15 towards the cost of the bridge.

Once the bridge had been completed, the Rev. C. H. Carlisle wrote to the Highways Board requesting that they take over the bridge. On the 5th November 1887 the Clerk of the Board wrote a letter saying that the Board had agreed to the request, and it was formally handed over later that month to their representative Mr. Watson, the District Surveyor, in the presence of the Rev. Carlisle, Chairman of the bridge committee, Thomas Hammond, the Treasurer of the committee and Hebden waywarden, George Emsley, Burnsall waywarden, and William Bell.

The bridge was repainted in the month prior to the handover.

One would expect responsibility for the bridge to have been transferred to the Skipton Rural District Council on enactment of the Local Government Act 1894, but in 1930 it appears to have been the responsibility of the West Riding Council, when they carried out repairs.

The Floods of 1936 and the Rebuilding of the Bridge

The bridge was damaged in 1930 when one of the supporting cables gave way. Crossing it looked an interesting experience! It was the West Riding that sought tenders for its repair.

The Suspension Bridge in a state of disrepair.
The Suspension Bridge in a state of disrepair - May 1930
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Six years later, on December 14th 1936, the bridge was even more badly damaged during a major flooding event, necessitating its complete rebuilding in the form that we see today. The supporting pillar was removed from the centre (leaving behind its base), and the bridge stabilised by stretching cables on both sides of the bridge from a solid foundation on one bank to to the base of the of the bridge, and thence to the opposite bank. Judging from the evidence of the photographs available, it appears that the current concrete foundations replaced ones formed from masonry blocks. The planks were replaced with slats. The wires no longer went through the top of the columns, but over the top of the columns through a groove. Without the supporting centre column, it became a more orthodox suspension bridge.

Centenary Anniversary Celebrations

In September 1985 a committee from Burnsall, Hebden and Thorpe organised a celebration to mark the centenary of the bridge's opening. The bridge was festooned with bunting, and games and competitions were held including a raft race, a yellow duck race, a Tarzan competition which involved crossing the river by swinging below the bridge, and a tug-of-war between Hebden folk and Thorpe folk across the river - won by Thorpe. After dark torchlight processions arrived from Thorpe and Hebden, and a large bonfire was lit on the river bank. Food was available for the couple of hundred attendees.

Rafyt race at Hebden's Suspension Bridge centenary celebrations, September 1985.
The raft race at the Suspension Bridge centenary celebrations
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The Bridge Today

Responsibility for Hebden Suspension Bridge was transferred to the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority on its designation in 1954, from the West Riding County Council. The bridge underwent a complete refurbishment in 2014 and 2015 partly funded by a £2,000 donation by Eileen King, in memory of her partner Roy. The work included replacing the timber decking boards and handrails, and repairing, restoring, and painting the metalwork.

Suspension Bridge memorial plaque.
Suspension Bridge memorial plaque below the south-west column
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