Any area has its pubs of distinction and historical note. Calderdale, located on an important pass and trade route across the Pennines from Lancashire, is no exception.
One very old local pub is the Great House, in Westgate, Elland. Originally Great House Farm, it was long known as the Fleece Inn until 1997. The buildings date from around 1610, and its long history has left it with much character. A fight in the early 19th century ended in murder, and a bloodstained hand-print on the stairs that could not be erased – until part of the old staircase was burnt in the 1970s. The inn – or rather the barn that stood beside it until the 1960s – also had a ghostly headless coachman, Leatherty Coit, who would ride full tilt down Westgate, in a carriage pulled by a similarly headless horse. Tales of a grey lady, a secret passage and a listening hole are also told of the building.
Halifax’s Union Cross Inn is the oldest in town, having been in existence since at least 1535. Originally named simply the Cross for its position opposite the Market Cross, the ‘Union’ was added at the time of the Jacobite rebellion. The inn was the central coaching and packhorse halt in town, and its vicinity has been busy with all the usual revels of the past, including cockfighting and maypole festivities, causing divines like Oliver Heywood and John Wesley to despair – Wesley had to give up an attempt to preach from its steps. More respectably, perhaps, it is also believed that Daniel Defoe wrote part of ‘Robinson Crusoe’ while staying at the inn.
Sometimes people don’t like it when the name of a well-known pub is changed. One such inn is Lewin’s, at Bull Green, Halifax, a listed building dating from 1769. First known as the Hare and Hounds Inn, it became Lewin’s in 1881 when taken over by the Lewin family, until 1996 when it became one of the Irish theme pubs, O’Neill’s. The change of name caused some controversy, and finally (?), in 2000 it got its old name of Lewin’s back! However, one tradition long associated with Lewin’s seems unlikely to return – during the beer shortage of the Great War women were banned from the pub, and the men-only drinking continued until 1969.
Skircoat Green’s Standard of Freedom Inn has a special place in Calderdale’s radical movement. Originally known as the Waggoners, its name was changed in support of the strong movement of Chartism . The landlord at the time reputedly declared "the people of Skircoat Green shall join in that march of freedom, and I will raise the standard of freedom at this inn". The village was known for its radicalism and the inn became known for its Chartist and similar meetings.
The oldest inn in Calderdale is said to be the Old Bridge Inn, in the centre of Ripponden. An inn was certainly recorded in the vicinity around 1307, but it is not certain that it stood on the same site, and the first recorded landlord was John Hurstwood in 1754. Nonetheless, a plaque on the outside wall proclaims it to be ‘probably Yorkshire’s oldest hostelry’! The present buildings, which are Grade II Listed, are thought to date from around the 16th century. The inn was previously called the Waterloo Inn.
Hebden Bridge’s oldest inn is the White Lion Hotel, originally known as King’s Farm when it began life as a hostelry serving the river crossing. Another 17th century building, it preserves a fine stone fireplace at each side of which is carved a spiral – an old local charm against fire.
One of the district’s first libraries was in the Lord Nelson Inn at Luddenden. The 1634 datestone over the door recalls its origin as a private house for Gregory Patchett’s family; it did not become an alehouse until the middle of the 18th century, when it was called the White Swan. It was shortly afterwards that the library was set up with a collection of books donated by the parish minister.
Perhaps it was the library that attracted literary regulars like local poet William Dearden and Branwell Bronte, who was station-master at Luddenden Foot Station. The library continued until 1925; some of the books are now in the Calderdale Libraries and Information local studies collection.
Another local ‘library pub’ was the Golden Lion, at Todmorden, whose Book Club ran from 1798 until 1902. Its meetings were stipulated to be held ‘on or before the full moon’.
Mytholmroyd’s 17th century Dusty Miller stands where the Cragg Vale road joins the main road through the valley. Its long service as the village hostelry brought some notoriety in the late 18th century, during the time of the Cragg Vale Coiners. It was here that Mytholmroyd conspirators Robert Thomas and Matthew Normanton met in 1769 before going on to Halifax to murder the exciseman William Deighton.
Unfortunately, social developments are bringing about the loss of rural pubs all over Britain, and upper Calderdale is no exception.
The Robin Hood Inn in Cragg Vale and the Mount Skip, on an historically important trade route above Hebden Bridge, are among those recently lost, while the villages of Midgley and Blackshaw Head now have no pubs at all. Also lost to us is Calderdale’s highest pub, The Withens, which at 1392 ft above sea level was also West Yorkshire’s highest.
Several inns stand as stopping points on the annual Sowerby Bridge Rushbearing Festival Procession. Central to them is the Rushcart in the hilltop village of Sowerby, where the Sunday procession begins. The Rushcart is a relatively new name – previously it was known as the Star, and in the early 19th century John ‘Almighty’ Whiteley, a local Constable, lay preacher and something of a character, married the widowed landlady.
In 1837, he rebuilt a cottage adjoining the pub (which still remains, adorned with curious grotesques) to hold preaching meetings – the sale of liquor was suspended while these were in progress. Whiteley’s downfall began after he advertised in local newspapers for a wife, and he ended up destitute. However, among the various spirits latterly available at the Star, it seems, one was reckoned to be old John Almighty, with a taste for brushing against landladies!
Warley’s Maypole Inn remembers Calderdale’s last maypole, which stood at the junction where the fountain is now located. The Maypole was erected – not without public opposition – in 1863, and remained a focus of Mayday celebrations from 1864 until around 1888, when deterioration necessitated its removal. The inn itself started life as a farmhouse, and was known as The Horns in 1773, probably acquiring its present name when a first maypole was erected around 1814 to commemorate Napoleon’s defeat.
Luddenden's Lord Nelson Inn had its own mayor-making ceremony. In 1861, customers decided to celebrate what they considered the village’s growing status by electing its own mayor. An elaborate chain of office was bought and an induction ceremony devised; the ‘Mayor’s Parlour’ (the snug by the bar) had a bench known as the Mayor’s Chair. Anyone sitting in this seat was invited by custom to become Mayor for a month – if they agreed, as strangers might, they were expected to pay for drinks all round! The ‘Mock Mayor’ ceremony was revived again in 1996.