The Upper Valley area of Calderdale covers Todmorden and Hebden Bridge. It boasts several fine buildings, including:
It is rare to find two churches remaining in a single yard, but this is the case in the ancient hilltop village of Heptonstall (Westminster and South Walsham in Norfolk are also notable examples).
Beside the 19th-century church of St Thomas, built in the 1850s at a cost of £6,666, stand the ruins of the original church of St Thomas a Becket, first built c.1260.
The old church suffered severe storm damage in September 1847, losing its roof and part of the walls, including the tower. The villagers, rather than rebuild the already much-altered edifice (described by John Wesley in 1786 as ‘the ugliest [church] I know’), decided to construct a proud new Victorian Gothic church in keeping with their age. The old church’s clock (made in Sowerby Bridge in 1810) was re-installed in the new church.
The old church had a colourful history. Most spectacularly, the church was closed as a result of ‘an effusion of blood’ in 1482. The exact details of the incident that caused this are unknown. A local legend, ironically in a church dedicated to St Thomas a Becket, tells of a priest slain in the church for performing an illicit marriage. A remnant of bygone folk magic came to light in 1847, when a mummified cat was found in the ruins of the tower. Cats were once walled up alive to protect a building from fire, though apparently not storm.
The new church has had its controversies too. Particularly, over the new moveable internal furniture installed in the 1960s, which was not to more traditionalist tastes.
Among the noteworthy gravestones in the old churchyard (said to have contained over 100,000 bodies) is that of David Hartley. He was the leader of a notorious gang of coin counterfeiters at the close of the 18th century. He was hung at York in 1770 and suspended in chains on top of Beacon Hill in Halifax.
The new churchyard is especially known and visited for the grave of Sylvia Plath (d.1963). The American poet who married Mytholmroyd-born Ted Hughes, who later became Poet Laureate.
Dobroyd Castle in Todmorden was built by mill owner John Fielden as a honeymoon home for his mill girl wife, Ruth. The objective was to create a building which would "immortalise the name of Fielden" and which would be "the most commanding object in the neighbourhood".
The building was designed by John Gibson of London. When it was completed in 1869, the total cost of construction was £71,589.The completed building attracted the attention of the architectural press.
Externally the property boasted four small turrets and a main tower. Inside, praise was given for the fine saloon, panelled ceilings and columns of Devonshire marble, together with the imposing staircase. The initials of John and Ruth were carved in a dozen places around the building as a testimony to their love.
The census records of 1871 show John and Ruth living at Dobroyd, with five maids, a porter and groom. It also records a gardener, coachman, butler and their families living in houses on the estate. Although John and Ruth were childless, his nephew and niece were regular visitors to Dobroyd.
Over the years, the Fielden family used the house less frequently and by 1942 Dobroyd Castle was registered as a Home Office approved school. Young males aged between 15 and 18 were sent by the courts to learn skills such as carpentry and building as well as continuing their education. In September 1979, the School closed but was re-opened three months later as a privately run school for twenty boys with emotional and behavioural problems.
In 1995, Dobroyd Castle was bought by monks from the New Kadampa Buddhist Tradition for £320,000. The renamed Losang Dragpa Centre, housing up to 20 monks and nuns, offered meditation courses and weekend retreats. However the Centre was closed in summer 2007 without the scheduled restoration works, which would have cost around £200,000, being carried out.
These days the Castle is the base for the Robinwood Activity Centre which offers residential adventure courses for school children.
Opened in July 1921 by a group of local businessmen trading under the name of Thistle Holme Estate Company, the Picture House became a thriving source of entertainment during the 1930s and into the war years.
However, the Picture House suffered the same fate as countless other cinemas with the national decline in cinema going, and for a time in 1964-65 it closed its doors.
Private individuals re-opened the cinema and the Hebden Bridge Light Opera Society used the cinema as a venue for their annual production. They also carried out improvements, including an extension to the stage and improved lighting.
Hebden Royd Town Council purchased the premises in November 1972 and again the cinema closed for a period from January 1974. By 1977, the Picture House, now under the ownership of Calderdale Council, closed once again for major refurbishment. Over £50,000 was spent on stone cleaning, rewiring and new dressing rooms.
In 1996, cuts in public expenditure threatened closure. Feelings ran high in the town and there was a series of protest meetings. The Friends of Hebden Bridge Picture House was formed with a view to saving and promoting the cinema, following which the Picture House's future was secured once again.
In recent years the Picture House has benefited from technological improvements and the range and variety of films shown, appealing to all ages and tastes, has resulted in growing audiences.
In April 2012, Calderdale Council officially signed the Picture House over to Hebden Royd Town Council on a 125 year lease. Local enthusiasm and commitment to progress seem to herald a bright future for a valued local facility.
The town hall in Todmorden straddles the River Calder and was situated in both Lancashire and Yorkshire until the county boundary was moved on 1st January 1888. This imposing building was designed by John Gibson of Westminster and has a semi-circular northern end.
It is considered one of the finest municipal buildings in the country, with a frontage of 53 feet at the County Bridge End, extending 130 feet to the apse and measuring 67 feet to the top of the pediment.
As early as 1807, a meeting took place in the Golden Lion where there was a proposal to form a company to build a public hall. The first limited company was formed in 1860 and plans were drawn up for a public hall with a market hall underneath. Work commenced on the foundations, cellar and the ground floor. However, the scheme failed due to a complex series of reasons, including the American Civil War and the resulting cotton famine.
In 1866 Samuel and John Fielden bought the partially constructed building for £5,500, and the town hall was rebuilt at a cost of £54,000. Officially opened on 3rd April 1875, the opening ceremonies were watched by an estimated 4,000 people and special trains ran from surrounding districts. At the ceremony a monument to John Fielden, the great industrialist, was unveiled and the town hall was presented to the town on 6th August 1891.
“The imposing Todmorden Town Hall, on the hub of the town athwart the junction of the Halifax and Burnley Roads”.
One interesting external feature of the town hall is the pediment. The fine carved stonework has two central female figures on a pedestal. The left hand one represents Lancashire (cotton spinning industry) and the right hand one Yorkshire (engineering and agriculture). The mosaic inside the building is one of its most striking features. The mosaic is set into the corridor floor and includes the Todmorden coat of arms together with the motto 'By Industry We Prosper'. For the last 125 years the town hall has served its people well. It has acted as a council chamber, magistrates court, meeting hall for local societies and a venue for dances and competitions. The town hall has many outstanding features and is certainly worthy of more than a passing glance.