Magazine article The Spectator

Trouble at Mill

Magazine article The Spectator

Trouble at Mill

Article excerpt

Hebden Bridge: A Sense of Belonging by Paul Barker Frances Lincoln, £16.99, pp. 205, ISBN 9780711232150 I have some sympathy with the pioneering incomers who moved to the Yorkshire mill town of Hebden Bridge in the 1970s. At the time Hebden was in a near terminal decline, its factories closing in rapid succession. As a result, the town suffered one of the fastest depopulations ever seen in Britain, as the more animated locals left to find work elsewhere. The incomers, called 'offcomers' locally, sought to reverse this with a strong dose of middle-class culture, although being for the most part liberal Guardian readers they would probably baulk at the idea they ever sought to engineer working-class Hebden into something more bourgeois.

Nonetheless, that is what they did, and it worked. Today Hebden is as much an advertisement for the power of art and culture for social regeneration as the later examples of Hoxton, Liverpool or Gateshead. The problem for the incomers is that despite the obvious benefits of having shops, schools and an astonishing cultural life for a town its size, the natives of Hebden Bridge don't seem to like it. Instead, they simmer with a quiet resentment towards the colonists previously seen only in the more ungrateful outposts of the British empire. Perhaps it has something to do with the historic culture of the place being almost entirely swept away by this alien invasion. Or is it that the incomers can appear a bunch of opinionated busybodies?

I am also not sure how Paul Barker, an exiled native of Hebden Bridge, views the new arrivals. In the background of this book, part memoir and part social study, there is an unstated quest to find remains of the old Hebden in which he grew up. Often it takes the form of a simple conceit in which Barker travels to Hebden for a meeting or event but finds himself arriving early. Whilst waiting he wanders around the town looking for familiar landmarks and remembering people he knew and events he witnessed.

It is not a subtle trope, but is effective and leads to a series of bite-size chapters, most of which could work easily as independent newspaper articles. Indeed, with his truncated sentences, which can at times read as ungenerously curtailed, Barker betrays his background in newspaper journalism. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.