Jean inspired by rich life of her home town

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Jean Illingworth’s love for and fascination with her home town of Sowerby was at the heart of her talk to the Hebden Bridge History Society.

It is mentioned in the Domesday Book, but its history probably dates back much further, with local stories maintaining that Roman troops marched down the main street.

It was part of the forest of Sowerby providing hunting grounds for aristocrats, and was a centre of the civil war, with locally encamped Roundheads involved in skirmishes with the Royalists in Halifax.

Much has changed, not least within Jean’s own lifetime.

She spoke of the significant buildings that were lost, including alms houses, pubs, post office, farms and chapels that were demolished when new corporation housing was built.

But some fine buildings remain, including St Peter’s Church, with a magnificent interior including Giuseppe Cortese plasterwork, fine Corinthian columns and beautiful stained glass.

Sowerby’s rich social life used to revolve round the many churches, chapels and Sunday schools and there were many local characters whose names endure.

One was the Whig MP known as John ‘Almighty’ Whiteley, from his habit of preaching in the upstairs room of the Star Inn (Rushcart).

His portrait used to hang in the pub, looking down with his stern gaze.

Thought mysteriously lost, it turned up on an Antiques Roadshow in Sussex.

Jean spoke with passion about her ‘free’ childhood in the countryside around Sowerby, and has recorded her stories in a book ‘Growing up in Sowerby’ which stimulated such a response that she put together the new stories in a second book ‘Sowerby Tales.’

She also advised her enthusiastic audience to look out for the annual heritage open days which offer an opportunity to look round St Peter’s Church.

There are also guided walks in the area, when Jean can point out the features that make Sowerby such a fascinating place.

The next meeting of the Hebden Bridge History Society on Wednesday, February 25, goes back into pre-history, when David Shepherd looks at life ‘Long ago, but not that far away’.

Meetings are open to all, and start at the Methodist Hall at 7.30. Details on