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Hebden Bridge celebrates its 500th birthday
Jason and Robin on Hebden Bridge
Jason and Robin are just two of many preparing for the bridge's birthday

Hebden Bridge celebrates a special birthday this year as the stone bridge from which the town takes its name marks its 500th birthday in style.

Events range from Civil War re-enactments to a birthday cake made entirely out of other birthday cakes.

Organisers say they hope everyone in the town will get involved.

Neighbourhood manager Jason Boom says: "We're celebrating 500 years of Hebden Bridge and how it has become this creative, thriving little town."

Hebden Bridge 500 logo
The 500 year celebrations at Hebden Bridge even have their own logo

Around 30 groups in Hebden Bridge are now working on a whole series of events which will be taking place in the coming months, culminating in June when a big official anniversary celebration is set to take place.

Of course, the roots of the bridge go even further back than the construction of the stone bridge in 1510. Robin Dixon, deputy mayor of Hebden Royd town council, says its origins are almost lost in the mists of time: "It used to be a wooden bridge and an ancient route between Heptonstall, Burnley and Halifax. That was its original purpose.

"It was also part of a religious trail that started off in East Yorkshire and which went into Lancashire. It was mainly goods, though. It was part of the packhorse trail which developed through the wool industry."

The bridge's role as a focus for the wool trade might be well and truly over in 2010 but its role in another trade - tourism - has kept the bridge firmly in the spotlight. Hebden Bridge is, after all, one of West Yorkshire's established destinations for visitors from the UK and beyond.

Despite that, though, the celebrations marking the 500th anniversary of the bridge will focus on the people for whom its solid and reassuring presence is a daily fact of life.

Civil War soldier
Civil war comes to Hebden Bridge as part of the celebrations

Jason Boom explains: "There's often an accusation that the people who have been here all their lives are forgotten and we don't want that to happen this year - especially this year. They've lived with the bridge all their lives so we want them to be involved."

In fact, one of the big ideas for this anniversary year is to collect images of 500 faces of people in Hebden Bridge. Photographer Jason Elliott has already spent two years on the project and has nearly reached his goal. Once finished, all the photos will feature in an exhibition in the town.

Jason Boom says: "I really like the 500 faces! I'm lucky because I am one of them. There are a few gaps, but we're up to about 470 now. It's almost a badge of honour to people to be 'one of the 500'.

"It's basically just everyday people who live and work in, or maybe even visit, Hebden Bridge. It's young people and old people, employed people and unemployed people. It's people from swanky bankers who commute to Manchester every day to the Big Issue seller.

"One of the poignant things is that two of these people have since passed away - one of them the Big Issue seller and the other being the projectionist at the Hebden Bridge Picture House. It just shows that time moves on."

As well as the 500 faces, people are also being asked to build a collection of 500 photographs of the town, and while a picture (or even a photo) might paint a thousand words, Hebden Bridgers are being encouraged to submit 500 words about the town. There is, as you can see, a theme to all of this!

We're going to 'build' a big cake made from 500 cakes and we'll sing Happy Birthday to the bridge.
Robin Dixon, deputy mayor of Hebden Royd

The centrepiece of the year's events is on the weekend of June 19-20 when the main celebrations take place. Deputy mayor Robin Dixon says that is what he is most looking forward to.

He says: "That will bring a lot of people together. The town will be full of brass bands with a concert on the Saturday night and a marching band contest on the Sunday.

"Then there's a triple event being planned with the Town Hall going into the hands of the community. There will be a ceremony with the handing-over of the keys which will start off the day. Then we'll go to the bridge for a civic event and then we're engineering it so that it will disintegrate into a party.

"Hopefully, we're going to 'build' a big cake made from 500 cakes and we'll sing Happy Birthday to the bridge. That's quite a lot going on!"

It's another big anniversary event that neighbourhood manager Jason Boom has marked on his calendar - the weekend of July 10-11 when the Civil War breaks out again in Hebden Bridge - with a little help from the famous Sealed Knot society who will be re-enacting the Battle of Heptonstall.

He explains: "I'm really looking forward to the Civil War battle right in the middle of the town. The idea of musket fire up and down a main shopping street and across a narrow waterway is quite exciting. To have it under your nose is going to be absolutely fantastic. I can see the place being absolutely packed."

The bridge in Hebden Bridge
The bridge at Hebden Bridge is half a millennium old in 2010

So, between musket fire and the biggest birthday cake Hebden Bridgers will ever have seen, the spring and summer of 2010 looks set to be an exciting one. But what would the people who originally built the stone bridge in 1510 make of the town today?

Jason says: "Who could imagine what it would turn into? I hope they would enjoy it and appreciate it. I hope they would join in the celebrations."

And Robin thinks they would approve of what Hebden Bridge has become: "I think they would like the fact that the town is still very independent. I think they would enjoy that and the slightly rebellious nature of quite a lot of the people here.

"At that time, with Henry VIII just on the throne, they wouldn't have sat back and waited for people to tell them what to do. Hebden Bridgers certainly don't do now, either!"

To find out all the latest about what's going on in Hebden Bridge in this very special anniversary year, visit the HB500 website



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