Dark side of picturesque Happy Valley town harshly branded ‘cesspit’

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With its stunning moors, rushing rivers and 19th-century cotton mills, the Calder Valley in West Yorkshire is one of the most picturesque parts of the UK.

Its mix of natural beauty and industrial heritage has made it a popular location for TV film crews including the popular cop drama Happy Valley.

But one ticked-off resident isn't quite so fond of the Valley's largest town, Hebden Bridge.

Earlier this week, the book-sharing kiosk in the West Yorkshire village of Cornholme was filled with porn magazines.

Its discovery at the village’s Little Free Library was met with disgust from locals. An angry note written in capital letters chastised the people responsible and a photo of it was shared on Twitter thousands of times.

“Whoever is placing the copies of pornographic literature in here, stop!,” read the typed-out note.

But it was the rest of the note which also attracted attention by mentioning a nearby town in less than glowing terms.

“Cornholme is a good God-fearing Christian village,” the note to the porno prankster went on. “If this is to your liking may we suggest that you move to the cesspit that is Hebden Bridge."

But what could they possibly mean?

The market town of Hebden Bridge is a few miles from Cornholme and in recent years it has gained a name as "the lesbian capital of the UK”.

With a population of around 4,500, Hebden Bridge is said to have more lesbian women per square foot than London or Brighton, making it one of the most LGBTQ-friendly places in the country.

Official figures show that nearly 500 people are in a registered same-sex civil partnership and that there are around 10,300 to 14,400 LGBTQ people in the wider Calderdale district.

A peaceful town of craft shops, vegan cafés and stone-built terraced houses, its Bohemian image can be traced back to the 1970s when chilled-out hippies moved into the area.

Hebden Bridge holds an annual LGBTQ festival called Happy Valley Pride. This year’s took place online due to Covid and the line-up included Scottish singer Horse McDonald and cabaret act Bourgeois & Maurice.

In nearby Todmorden, the popular women’s disco offers a monthly ‘Lesbian Zone’ update of events and notices.

All sounds quite lovely, doesn't it?

But in Happy Valley, the gritty TV drama, drug dealing is rife and troubled police officer (played by Sarah Lancashire) is bringing up her grandson alone after her daughter killed herself following a rape.

And, just like the fictional Happy Valley, this beautiful region known for its old textile mills, has garnered a reputation as an area with a dark underbelly – not dissimilar to most other towns.

Scriptwriter Sally Wainwright grew up there and has spoke of its dark side, saying police called it ‘Happy Valley’ because of drug problems there.

She said: “Like a lot of people I guess I thought those kind of things just didn’t happen in a place like Hebden Bridge, but of course they do.

"I’m not saying it’s worse than anywhere else, but everywhere – even market towns with lovely cafés and restaurants – has its dark side.

“The Calder Valley is a beautiful place. I grew up there. But the police call it Happy Valley because of the drug problem.”

Documentary film-maker Jez Lewis also grew up there.

His 2009 film Shed Your Tears And Walk Away, looking at drug abuse in the town, inspired Sally to write her drama.

He made the film after 15 friends took their own lives.

Jez told the Mirror wanted to know why Hebden had become “a madhouse with drink and drugs”.

Back in 1994, the murder of 13-year-old Hebden Bridge schoolgirl Lindsay Jo Rimer shocked the town. It remains unsolved.

When Happy Valley featured a murder in the first series, it brought back awful memories.

But Jez said: “When you see Happy Valley, it could be set anywhere. Some people said that to me about my film.

"I don’t want anyone to think Hebden Bridge is full of heinous murderers any more than anywhere else.”

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