It was a long time since I last visited Hebden Bridge, a small market town nestled in the south Pennines, eight miles from Halifax. We travelled there by car, making our first stop at Shibden Hall one mile outside Halifax. This half timbered Tudor fronted house dating from 1420 is set in Shibden Park covering 90 acres of parkland.
The hall is now run as a museum by Calderdale Council and is furnished in styles of the 17th,18th and 19th centuries. Standard admission to the Hall is £5 and it is open daily from 11.00-3.00 p.m. (closed Friday). We were eager to look inside as Shibden Hall is the focus of the current BBC drama series Gentleman Jack written by Sally Wainwright. The period drama explores the life of Anne Lister (1791-1840) who returned to Shibden Hall after travelling the world. She documented her life in a series of diaries covering 26 volumes and hid these in the walls of the hall.
The hall contains inglenook fireplaces, oak panelling and a galleried landing. Adjacent to the hall is a 17th century aisled barn housing a collection of horse drawn vehicles and carriages. Other outhouses display collections of tools relating to traditional trades and crafts.
After enjoying our visit to the hall we strolled through its grounds down to the boating lake where we found a large, attractive cafe at one corner. There’s also a pitch and putt course, children’s playground and a miniature railway.
It was then a short drive into the centre of Halifax where we enjoyed lunch in the magnificent Piece Hall. Sitting beneath the stunning arches of this beautifully restored Georgian building on such a warm, sunny afternoon it felt as if we had been transported to an Italian piazza.
The Halifax Piece Hall is the sole survivor of the 18th century north of England cloth halls exemplifying the importance of the trade in hand woven textiles from the Middle Ages to the early 19th century. It was built as a cloth hall for the trading of ‘pieces of cloth’. A ‘piece’ was a 30 yard length of woven woollen fabric produced on a hand loom.
There are three heritage rooms, the first documents the Piece Hall story informing visitors of the historical significance of the building at the centre of the world’s woollen trade. Moving on to the Map Room, displays in here show how woollen cloth sold in Halifax was traded across the world. Finally, the Trader’s Room features one of the units in its original condition providing a sense of what it would have been like to be in the Piece Hall on a busy trading day.
Its large open square hosts a large number of cultural events throughout the year with many of the small trader’s rooms now occupied by galleries, craft shops and small independent retailers. Along the lower level are numerous wine bars and restaurants, their terraces spilling out invitingly around the sides of the square.
Just around the corner from the Piece Hall stands the impressive covered Victorian Borough Market. This market first opened its doors in 1896 and has continued to trade receiving the accolade of best market in Britain in 2008.
Market stalls range from traditional family butchers and fishmongers to clothing, household items and cafes. Dominating the centre of the market hall is a large clock which hangs beneath a 60 foot high octagonal lantern supported by decorative cast iron columns.
Returning to the car we paused to admire the imposing 19th century town hall which was designed by Charles Barry who also designed the Houses of Parliament in London. The building has a magnificent 180 foot tower with clocks that were wound by hand for over a hundred years until electrification in 1963.
A few minutes drive to the west of the centre took us to The People’s Park which was given to the people of Halifax in 1857 by the local carpet manufacturer, Sir Francis Crossley. A few years ago the park was restored to its former glory and we enjoyed a leisurely stroll through the gardens before continuing eight miles on to our final destination at Hebden Bridge.
The picturesque small town of Hebden Bridge is nestled in a stunning valley setting and takes its name from the nearby Packhorse Bridge, the scene of a famous battle between the Roundheads and Cavaliers. The popular town was recently voted best town in Britain for its mix of independent shops, small cafes and bars alongside galleries, gift shops and organic food outlets. Today Hebden Bridge is known as the ‘Town of Little Shops’ for its vibrant economy, welcoming atmosphere and its eco-friendly policies being the first town in Britain to ban the use of plastic shopping bags.
At one point there were over 30 mills in and around Calderdale and our accommodation for the next two nights was to be in a converted former saw mill in the town centre. The four star Croft Mill Aparthotel has been sympathetically converted using contemporary interior design whilst still retaining some of its original features and the character of its industrial heritage. Our duplex penthouse apartment was stylish, comfortable and came complete with a generous breakfast hamper of locally sourced, organic produce. A separate post will focus on our stay at Croft Mill in more detail.
After settling in and relaxing with a glass of fizz on the sunny balcony we wandered along the narrow streets to the nearby White Lion Hotel for an evening meal. This traditional coaching inn has been welcoming guests since 1657 and has recently been renovated to meet the needs of today whilst still retaining its charm and original features.
The main bar lounge has a contemporary feel with its copper topped tables and stylish bar. In one corner there is a huge fireplace where a roaring fire keeps guests warm and cosy on cooler days,
Food is available both in the bar and restaurant where we were shown to a table by one of the friendly staff. Over glasses of wine we perused the extensive menu of locally sourced produce and, although spoilt for choice, I settled on locally reared lamb shank with a pea purée and couscous. Across the table, my friend Caroline chose one of the daily specials, pork belly with red cabbage in a caramelised Suffolk cider jus.
Both our mains were beautifully presented, with my slow cooked lamb tender and juicy, bearing witness to the White Lion’s reputation for fine country pub dining. We were then tempted into a dessert and our pear and ginger panacotta accompanied with generous slices of lavender infused shortbread was the perfect way to end our meal.
Service was attentive but not rushed and with such reasonable prices for the quality of food served was a definite hit with us and a great place for lunch or dinner when visiting Hebden Bridge.
It was just a short walk back to our accommodation at Croft Mill and we enjoyed the warm evening air as it was so nice to be able to be out at night without coats.
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