Barbara Rudman’s passion for the history of 20th century pubs led her to explore the stories of the pubs in Todmorden and how they reflect social change.
Since she first undertook her research and published her book Todmorden Old Pub Trail, more and more pubs have closed, a trend driven, she believes, by the availability of alcohol in supermarkets and the dominance of mobile phones in providing social contact. For centuries drinking ale was the healthy option compared with unclean water, and most farmers would be brewing for the family and neighbourhood. The first commercial ale houses were often farms on the tops, such as the Sportsman’s at Kebcote, where thirsty travellers on the packhorse routes sought rest and refreshment. Where the packhorse routes dropped down into the valleys there would also be pubs to serve their needs, such as the White Lion in Todmorden or Hole in the Wall in Hebden Bridge. Developments in transport continued to encourage new pubs, with new places springing up beside canals, turnpikes and railways in their turn.Although essentially providing rest and refreshment, pubs have been at the heart of many developments in the community. Inquests and public auctions were commonly held in pubs right through till the 19th century when local government took over many of these functions. Pubs were the venues for banks, libraries, societies, Sunday schools and lock up cells.
Barbara has uncovered some of the social history of local pubs and their centrality to the community. The Golden Lion was a coaching inn, where the publican was also receiver of mail, providing stabling and fresh horses and carriages to keep the mail on the road. Here also a lending library was established, and newspapers would be shared among an increasingly educated population. The Royal George was a trading post till the 1840s, with goods and groceries for sale every Thursday. Todmorden market was established at a meeting in the White Hart, and here some significant local trials were held in an upstairs room. The Shoulder of Mutton (Jack’s House) was home to a lending library, and at the Hare and Hounds the Agricultural society was founded.
A look over the history of local pubs shows that there have always been changes driven by innovations in the way we organise society, so perhaps the modern decline in pubs is not so surprising. Perhaps everything has its season, and now people meet and socialise in new ways. Barbara’s audience certainly appreciated her recording something of the diverse history of local pubs.
The next meeting on October 25 will be hearing of other social changes when Chris Ratcliffe and Jenny Slaughter share their recollection of How the hippies changed Hebden Bridge. The talk at Hebden Bridge Methodist Church will be preceded by a short AGM at 7.30pm.