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Saturday, 28 January 2023

Hebden Bridge Local History Society

17th Century Yeoman Farmhouses and oak furniture of the Upper Calder Valley

Speaker: Peter Thornborrow

P® The interest in oak furniture came first, but he soon had the dream of getting a house where it could be at home.

Akroyd House, a semi-derelict building on the edge of the moors above Hebden Bridge, filled that purpose. Peter set about its restoration and he recounted how features of the building's earlier history were revealed as the work progressed. Opening up windows, removing plaster and unblocking doorways led to the conclusion that this had at one time been a single storey timber framed house. The work was all consuming, and Peter recalled the trials and tribulations of restoration, including a few falls and some uncomfortable work in a saw pit.

By 1975 the work had progressed to the point where it won an award for the best house restoration in the north west of England.

The initial spark of interest also led Peter in new directions. As he became more immersed in local history and the vernacular buildings of West Yorkshire he was appointed as an architectural historian in Calderdale, undertaking a survey of listed buildings and eventually becoming an inspector of historic buildings.

Peter's slides illustrated not just the work in progress, but also features typical of 17th century yeoman houses such as the mullioned windows, ornate drip moulds and the practical layout of the rooms branching off from a cross passage. He was also fortunate to find probate records from 1701 which included an inventory for the property. This provided a model for the refurnishing of each room as it would have been at the end of the 17th century.

Furniture has a story to tell about how lives were lived and homes organised. Four-poster beds were commonly found on the ground floor in the best parlour, and often accompanied by a 'truckle' bed, which wheeled underneath the big bed and could be pulled out for a servant to sleep on. A slope topped desk was a more or less portable piece of furniture, as were the bible boxes and some of the chests. Arks held the families supply of oatmeal.

There was almost always a long-settle near the fire, and a long table where the whole household could gather to eat, seated on forms and stools. Peter was always keen to buy furniture of local provenance, and the auction sale papers he has kept showed his hopeful notes – some successes, but also ones that got away when the price went too high.

Anne Mealia will be exploring the scandals to be found in ancient court documents at the next meeting of Hebden Bridge Local History Society, on Wednesday 8th February, 7.30 at Hebden Royd Methodist Church.

Details of the History Society talks programme, publications and of archive opening times are available on the History website and you can also follow History Society Facebook page.

With thanks to Sheila Graham for this report

See also: the HebWeb History section