Gillian Smallwood visits a West Yorkshire town which has probably the
oldest hostelry in the county and where pork pies are supreme There is
water, water everywhere in the Pennine hills above Ripponden, in fact
so much that it has got to be the area’s biggest ‘export’. About half a
dozen reservoirs, including Scammonden and Ryburn, dot the countryside
attracting water sports enthusiasts, bird watchers and walkers.
Down in Ripponden itself there
is plenty happening including the gala, the pie eating contest and the
upcoming rushbearing festival.
The rushbearing is the only festival of its kind in Yorkshire and it is
a colourful sight, drawing huge crowds. Revived in 1977, it is now a
two-day, annual event held each September. It starts with the blessing
of the rushcart at St John’s Church, Warley and after stops at seven
churches and several public houses the revellers reach their final
destination, St Bartholomew’s Church, Ripponden
Rushbearing dates back several centuries to the time when rushes
provided floor covering in the churches. Each year, the old, rotten
rushes were thrown out and new ones were taken to the churches in
carts. This gradually turned into a celebration and holiday involving
revelry, music and Morris dancing.
I was on my way to find out more about the pie-eating contest when a
sudden heavy downpour prompted me to take shelter in one of the local
cafes, and listening to the conversation I soon realised that Ripponden
is a close-knit community. The diners and staff all knew each other
well enough to be on first name terms, and the talk revolved around
local issues and events.
Villagers have recently been doing some self-promotion with A Bit of a
Do, which showcased several of the clubs and groups in the Upper Ryburn
Valley including Ripponden Brass Band, Ryburn Ringers Handbell Group,
the gardening club, the bowling club, pottery painting, dancing, keep
fit and the art group.
As the skies cleared I headed for Old Ripponden, a secluded area by the
church. I’d caught a glimpse of the slender spire of St Bartholomew’s
above the trees, but it was only when I reached the church itself that
I spotted the ancient packhorse bridge across the narrow river Ryburn
and the quaint. low, whitewashed buildings of the Old Bridge Inn.
It’s probably Yorkshire’s oldest hostelry - the earliest record of it
is from 1307 - and it’s here that the pie-eating contest takes place.
‘Back in the I 980s, on Saturday afternoons, a group of young men would
go to the local gym and then come here for a drink,’ said Lindsay Eaton
Walker, who runs the inn with her husband Tim.
‘We’re a traditional public house, rather than a restaurant and we
don’t serve food on Saturday or Sunday evenings.
‘One chap always brought a snack to eat, and the others would be
salivating as he ate it in front of them. Eventually they asked Tim if
they could each bring in a pork pie and rather than lose a dozen
thirsty lads he agreed. They soon realised that some pork pies had more
merit than others and so the Pork Pie Appreciation Society was founded.
‘Now we have an annual competition with butchers from all over the
country entering their pork pies and the winner gets a trophy,’ added
The Old Bridge Inn is full of
history there’s some original wattle and daub walls and a fine cruck
frame but one thing you won’t find is a traditional pub sign outside
‘We don’t need a sign above the door because people know us by
reputation’, said Lindsay.
Something else that is aimed at enhancing the village’s reputation is
the newly formed Ripponden Villages’ Group.
‘It’s been set up to promote
community action to protect and improve Ripponden and district,’ said
Barbara Costello, clerk to the parish council, which along with
Ripponden covers Rishworth, Soyland and Barkisland.
‘It will organise activities to renovate, enhance and maintain public
places and will eventually take over Ripponden in Bloom.
‘Ripponden came ninth last year in Yorkshire in Bloom and this year
we’re doing a lot of seasonal planting. We’ve tidied up the area around
the war memorial and the soldier’s bayonet, which was broken, has been
replaced. Ripponden’s a very hilly village so we’ve got plenty of
benches dotted around and because we want to keep the place tidy, we’ve
got lots of rubbish bins too.
‘People should have pride in where they live, and I think that’s true
of those who live in Ripponden,’ said Barbara.
So, what else is going on in the village?
The local youngsters are rising to the challenge of raising £60,000 for
a new skateboard park while over at the church, which is a Grade 2
listed building, they’re going all out to find £400,000 for extensive
restoration work to the roof, spire, windows and interior and
everyone’s hoping that it won’t be long before the village gets a new
medical centre with doctors, dentists and a chemist
There was just one last snippet of information that I wanted to check
out before I left the lovely Ryburn Valley, and for that I needed to
speak to Ian and Jean Moodie at Toll House Jewellery.
I’d been told about a gold ring that had been sent to them from Rome to
‘The former vicar of Ripponden,
John Flack, dropped his gold and amethyst ring on a marble floor in
Rome and cracked one of the amethysts so he sent it to us to be
repaired,’ said Jean.
‘We’d made the ring, which has four amethysts, for him when he was
appointed Bishop of Ely some years ago.
‘He’s now the Right Reverend John Flack, director of the Anglican
Centre in Rome and the Archbishop of Canterbury’s representative to the
Holy See,’ she added.
So, what with rushbearing, rival pork pies and religious gems,
Ripponden was a real revelation to me.
The first recorded reference to Ripponden was in 1307 when it was
called Rybourndene, which is Anglo Saxon meaning a forded river in a
One of the stained glass windows in the present St Bartholomew’s Church
the fourth to be built since the 15th century - is made from fragments
of a window in the first church, which was built by permission of
It takes 60 men to pull the rushcart, which weighs around 18
hundredweight. on its nine mile journey via local villages from Sowerby
Bridge to Ripponden.
During the Second World War the place names one old milestone opposite
the toll bar house were chiselled away to cause confusion should the
When the first passenger train left Ripponden Station in 1878 the local
brass band was on board playing away spiritedlt
The Old Bridge Inn at Ripponden won the Traditional Pub of the Year
category in the Yorkshire Life Food and Wine awards 2004-2005 for
exemplary cooking with welcoming service in a charming location.
In 1722 a storm caused the river Ryburn to rise to a height of IS
feet.The raging torrent flooded the churchyard and coffins were left in
the branches of trees.
The Calderdale Way passes through the heart of Ripponden.
Photographs: Leo Rosser