A treasure trove of history to be discovered in Brighouse

Cherry Blossom in Rydings Park, Brighouse by Gordon Ratcliffe

Cherry Blossom in Rydings Park, Brighouse by Gordon Ratcliffe - Credit: Archant

There are plenty of reasons for the obvious pride locals have in Brighouse

The upper basin and lock at Brighouse with the marina to the left.

The upper basin and lock at Brighouse with the marina to the left. - Credit: Archant

Brighouse is a magical place – why, even a phantom hound is said to stalk the hills. The so called Guytrash is the local name for what was a familiar spectre assuming various monikers in different parts of the county (it’s Barguest in North Yorkshire). The beastly mutt is mentioned in Jane Eyre as well as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Hound of the Baskervilles taps into the spooky tradition. Such stories evoked real fear in the past, although a Brighouse man’s description of the guytrash as a malevolent cow suggests alcohol may well have been involved in the sighting.

A little more believable is the local theory that England’s most romantic outlaw is buried nearby. Robin Hood is said to have died at Kirklees Priory, just three miles from the town centre and a long way from the glades of Sherwood Forest. All that’s left of the Cistercian nunnery is the gatehouse (recently restored) and a tranquil farmyard – the finest collection of late-medieval agricultural buildings in the country say the experts.

The story goes that Robin was betrayed by the prioress and in his final moments he grabbed his bow and fired two arrows, asking to be interred where they fell. One landed in the River Calder, but the other touched down on terra firma, so a burial at sea was avoided. That spot is now marked by a monument.

Scratch the surface of any Yorkshire town and there’s a treasure trove of history to enjoy.

Looking towards Huddersfield Road bridge Photo John Cocks

Looking towards Huddersfield Road bridge Photo John Cocks - Credit: Archant

Brighouse always makes a positive impression on me – with its stone buildings there’s something solid and permanent about it and on the day I visited it was busy with shoppers enjoying fine weather, with lots of people in the cafes and eateries.

The town is a child of the Industrial Revolution and took off with the building of the Calder and Hebble Navigation in 1760. That linked together the growing canal network and created a vibrant inland port. Over the years the town flourished, trading in wire, leather, silk, cotton, wool and even confectionery (the Turner and Wainwright Toffee Company).

Most of these industries have vanished, but the buildings they occupied have found new life as desirable homes, restaurants and hi-tech businesses. The towering flour mill has also been revitalised as a huge adventure playground known as ROKT. It houses the largest indoor climbing gym in Yorkshire and an external climbing wall higher than the Tower of London and the Angel of the North. The facilities are impressive and a brilliant way of drawing families to Brighouse to do something completely different. It’s certainly an original use for a landmark building and if you fancy yourself as Spiderman, check out rokt.co.uk.

The revival of Brighouse’s canal basin is also a joy to behold. The demise of the waterways in the 20th century is a sad and well recorded story. Many became polluted dumping grounds, with rusted locks and a stench of decay. Today the scene could not be more colourful with narrow boats and pleasure craft thronging the quays. A walk along the canal path is a lovely way to cross the town centre and there’s also a history trail you can explore – pick up a leaflet at the Smith Art Gallery.

The locks and Brighouse Basin...

The locks and Brighouse Basin... - Credit: Archant

Both nearby Halifax and Huddersfield have strong musical traditions – a cultural escape from the grittiness of industrial life – so it’s no surprise to see Brighouse following suit. The Brighouse Art Circle was formed in the 1940s and early members included the First World War artist Albert Pile. It remains active today. Brighouse Theatre Productions is also going strong, with roots in two light opera and dramatic societies formed in the 1920s.

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But the centrepiece cultural event of the year is the sixth Brighouse Arts Festival, an annual celebration of music, art and literature. Highlights include Brian Blessed, recounting his life as Britain’s most famous very loud actor, craft workshops for children, orchestras, choirs, Alan Bennett plays and songs from hit musicals. Run by volunteers, venues are located across the town providing pretty much something for everyone.

Matthew Harrison-Lord, Brighouse Arts Festival director said: ‘We are thrilled to announce the biggest Brighouse Arts Festival to date. The sixth annual festival takes place from October 5th-October 14th and is helping to place Brighouse on the national stage.

‘This year’s headliners include Brian Blessed, Jade Helliwell, Orchestra of Square Chapel, the Brighouse & Rastrick Band, A A Dhand, and Vivaldi’s Four Seasons with soloist Martyn Jackson. We have children’s arts workshops and Eureka! The National Children’s Museum plus Calderdale Libraries are running Minecraft stop motion animation sessions.

Brighouse Basin.

Brighouse Basin. - Credit: Archant

‘Brighouse Arts Festival 2018 has everything from Carmen filmed live from Teatro Dell’Opera Di Roma to stand-up comedy and theatre evenings, with art installations and exhibitions throughout the town. Audiences can expect high quality performances at affordable prices ranging from £8-£12 and many events and family activities for free.’

It’s not the only festival held locally – next year look out for the 1940s weekend (June) and canal and music festival (August). And a special word for the artisan market, four of which are held annually, with the next being the Christmas fair on November 24th and 25th. A winner of the best small speciality market in the UK, there’s a cornucopia of local produce to buy including cheese, bread, meat, cakes, jams and chutneys, along with an eclectic mix of street food. It’s a brilliant showcase for people who are passionate about food and drink and who would not want a bottle of Luddenden Pea Pod wine in their Christmas stocking?

With so many small towns these days losing out to big urban centres and high streets steadily degrading faced with internet shopping, Brighouse is a breath of fresh air. It’s not just the River Calder that flows through the town, but also lots of civic pride.