A Hebden Bridge Portfolio

Martin Parr’s Remarkable Photographic Record

Issy Shannon looks back to the days of the “hippies”:

The revival of Hebden Bridge, from dying industrial town to thriving artistic and tourist centre, can be traced back to a group of ex-Manchester Polytechnic students who, in 1974, spear-headed the “hippie” movement on which the town’s transformation and eventual prosperity came to rest.

Surrey-born photographer Martin Parr was among those pioneering spirits who moved into the empty 19th century mill workers’ houses, then plentiful and cheaply available, establishing the town’s reputation as an artists’ paradise.

Together with potter Jenny Beavan and painter Ray Elliott, Martin rented a former jeweller’s shop at 8 Albert Street: in 1975 the premises became the Albert Street Workshop, not only a focus and “drop-in” centre for an ever-increasing artistic community but exhibition space for the group’s innovative work, which soon attracted nation-wide attention.

Throughout this period Martin had been producing an immense amount of exciting and challenging work, photographing anything and everything which caught his eye, at the same time immersing himself in the lives of the people around him. He joined Hebden Bridge Camera Club and helped to organise the town’s first Arts Festival.

He was especially concerned to record on camera traditional events and customs before they disappeared into oblivion, establishing particularly close links with Crimsworth Dean Methodist Chapel.

Martin and his wife, Susie, also became involved in setting up the New Arts Association, which in 1978 organised the first Hebden Bridge Festival.

Martin was becoming increasingly well-known and admired: sales of his work were taking off and his “Hebden Bridge” series was shown at a major London venue. In 1980, however, Susie accepted a two-year teaching assignment in Ireland and ties with the upper Calder Valley were broken.

Today he is acclaimed as one of the most successful photographers in the world.

We are indebted to Martin Parr and the Magnum Agency for permission to reproduce the photographs. “Martin Parr” by Val Williams (Phaidon £24.95) is available from The Book Case, Hebden Bridge and local book shops. More of Martin Parr’s photos feature in our next issue.

Read the full story in Milltown Memories, issue 11. If this or other stories stirs a memory, we'd be happy to know - send us your memories and comments.