Suggest a trip to Hebden Bridge this weekend and the only problem you’re likely to encounter is finding a place to park. Part of the attraction is the amazing range of independent, specialist shops which won the town top spot in a list of least-cloned towns in Britain.
Another reason is Hebden Bridge’s undeniably off-beat residents. This harks back to when property prices were low and hippy-ish people came here to settle from all over the country. The rich creative life they have established in the town saw it acclaimed in British Airways Inflight magazine as “fourth funkiest town in the world” – top in Europe.
Yet things weren’t always like this.
If you’d suggested that trip to Hebden Bridge four decades ago, the chances are that people would have thought you were barmy.
The town then was more dead than dying, young people left as a matter of routine, the houses were becoming derelict and the mills had already beaten them to it.
In a room in a former Baptist chapel, in summer 1979, a group of people were determined to change this. Indeed, they had already begun that process and what they were debating now was the launching of a magazine that would help change people’s attitudes and promote regeneration; not just in Hebden Bridge but across the whole of the South Pennines.
The group was the conservationist charity Pennine Heritage, and prominent among its members were David Fletcher and David Ellis, then polytechnic lecturers, and accountant David Shutt, now ennobled and a Liberal Democrat whip in the House of Lords.
The magazine was called Pennine and its famously black and white pages would be adorned by such luminaries as Alan Bennett, novelist Glyn Hughes, Austin Mitchell, Bernard Ingham (then Margaret Thatcher’s right-hand man), photographer Martin Parr and even, by way of a rarely granted interview, JB Priestley.
Richard Catlow was very much a junior member of the group, but as the only person with journalistic experience – a newly-qualified reporter on a local paper – became editor. There were no paid staff or contributors and even the mighty Mr Bennett received exactly the same as the editor – nothing.
In October, with minimal promotion and even less money, the magazine launched in the same week that billionaire financier Sir James Goldsmith brought out the first issue of his Now magazine – it was to be the British equivalent of America’s Time – backed by plenty of both.
One magazine quickly folded, the other went on, boosted by word-of-mouth and a loyal and growing band of contributors, to achieve more than respectable sales, a sort of cult status (just go to a book fair and there’s always someone selling back issues) and, most importantly I believe, to help build a new South Pennine region