Hebden Bridge Local History Society column with Sheila Graham: The Saving of Hardcastle Crags

Dam project: People battled to save the valley and drew on a deep affection for the landscape.
Dam project: People battled to save the valley and drew on a deep affection for the landscape.

When Grant Lowe came to work for the National Trust at Hardcastle Crags his curiosity was aroused by a memorial recording three attempts to flood the valley, and the instruction: ‘May future generations guard it well’.

These plans to create a reservoir were in 1934, 1949 and 1969. He told a meeting of the Hebden Bridge Local History Society that in his role as Visitor Experience Officer he was involved with a project to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the last attempt to dam the valley to meet the needs for water, focusing on the theme of ‘the people’s landscape’.

The Hardcastle Crags Preservation Committee which continued the fight to save the valley drew on a deep affection for the landscape of Hardcastle Crags felt by ordinary people.

Part of the commemoration and celebration of the place was a long poem visualising the loss of the landscape, described as ‘a place locked in the heart’.

Grant was able to get a sense of the work involved in the protest from a box of correspondence and other artefacts held by Hebden Bridge History Society’s archive.

Some of the old protest leaflets were re-printed as banners and displayed in the visitor centre, attracting some interest and even a willingness to join a new protest if it was happening all over again.

An evening walk through the valley to the point where the dam wall would have been erected was filmed, and people were asked to imagine that where they were standing would be 100 feet underwater.

There were even some yodellers reflecting the nickname of Little Switzerland given to the steep valley sides.

Members of the audience were able to add to the story and point to the wealth of material in the archives in Halifax, Wakefield as well as Hebden Bridge which could show the extent of the plans and their rationale.

The strong affection felt for the place grew from its position as a playground and day-trip destination especially for textile workers in the early 20th century who made their way by train from surrounding towns.

The story of the key role played by Douglas Houghton, the MP for Sowerby, was also explained by some in the audience.

There are plans for further work exploring the events with Alan Dix of 509 Arts in Shipley seeking more information.

Hebden Bridge Local History Society meetings are held in the Hebden Royd Methodist Church, starting at 7.30pm, and visitors are very welcome.

Further details can be gained at the www.hebdenbridgehistory.org.uk website or the group’s Facebook page.