The historic Heptonstall Museum is set to flourish under the care of dedicated volunteers, following the official handover of its management by the Calderdale Council to the Friends of Heptonstall Museum (FOHM) charity. This transfer of community assets, which occurred on July 4, 2023, marked a significant milestone for the Grade II listed, 17th-century building, symbolising a collective effort to honour Heptonstall’s past and shape a vibrant future for the museum and the village.
Heptonstall has recently gained national attention through its inclusion in The Gallows Pole TV drama series, recounting the captivating tale of David Hartley and the Cragg Vale Coiners. Located at Church Yard Bottom, within the picturesque and ancient village of Heptonstall, the museum found itself on Calderdale Council’s community asset transfer list due to the challenges posed by COVID-19 and financial constraints.
As part of the Future Council initiative, the council invited community groups to express interest in taking over the management of certain buildings. In response, a group of passionate Heptonstall residents stepped forward, establishing FOHM and presenting a compelling business plan. The council diligently reviewed the proposal, ultimately approving FOHM’s application in 2022 after a rigorous evaluation process. Since then, both the council and FOHM have collaborated to finalise the lease and Joint Working Agreement.
FOHM’s core mission is to celebrate and encourage participation in Heptonstall’s rich and diverse heritage, fostering an appreciation for the village’s evolution as a well-preserved hilltop community, steeped in economic, social, and artistic determination—exemplifying true ‘Yorkshire grit’.
Throughout the community asset transfer process, FOHM organised special events, such as Heritage Open Days, the Sylvia Plath Literary Festival, and a ‘preview and performance’ day, attracting local and national interest. With the museum now open every week from Thursday to Sunday, entirely run by volunteers since its closure in 2019, FOHM plans to capitalise on the recent spotlight by curating an exhibition linked to The Gallows Pole titled ‘Criminal Coiners: Life and Death in Wild West Yorkshire.’ This exhibition shares the captivating story of the Cragg Vale Coiners, and visitors can find David Hartley’s grave in the adjacent graveyard.
Looking ahead, FOHM intends to seek grant funding to undertake essential building renovations while exploring opportunities to better utilise vacant spaces within the museum. With the collective efforts of dedicated volunteers and a vision to celebrate Heptonstall’s unique heritage, the museum is poised for a promising and thriving future.
Tim Machin, Friends of Heptonstall Museum Chair and local resident, said; “It’s been great to have the support of Calderdale Council as we work together to realise our ambitious vision for the museum. This will be a museum for the whole community, created by the whole community of Heptonstall and the wider Calder Valley. Alongside our Gallows Pole exhibition, we have a rich and varied programme of events, including talks, walks, poetry readings and music which really help bring this exciting place to life.”
Cllr Silvia Dacre, Calderdale Council’s Cabinet Member for Resources, said; “Thank you to everyone from the Council and the Friends of Heptonstall Museum who have worked incredibly hard to make this community asset transfer happen.
“The FOHM volunteers share our ambition to help Calderdale’s culture, towns and places to thrive. By working together to secure a sustainable future for the museum, which is a key part of our local heritage, we can maintain a much-loved attraction, boost visitor numbers and build on the success of the Heptonstall-based filming for the major national TV series, The Gallows Pole.”
Cllr Jenny Lynn, the Council’s Cabinet Member for Public Services and Communities, added; “The brilliant work, exhibitions and events led by the talented Friends of Heptonstall Museum volunteers will be a key part of our Year of Culture 2024. It’s wonderful to see new life breathed into Heptonstall Museum, and the village and surrounding beautiful landscape too, and it’s taken a lot of hard work from the Council and the charity to get there.
“I visited the museum recently and really enjoyed the Gallows Pole-themed exhibition. I received a lovely welcome from the volunteers and it was great to see lots of other people enjoying the museum and Heptonstall.
“Making the most of our distinctive local heritage and culture is a key part of the CultureDale brand, and Heptonstall Museum’s new chapter will add to Calderdale’s growing profile as a vibrant cultural destination.”
The atmospheric and authentic Heptonstall Museum building dates back to 1600. Built as a warehouse, it was converted to a grammar school in 1771 and closed in 1889. The Yorkshire Penny Bank occupied it from 1898 until 1954. It became a museum in August 1972.
Thanks to the collective efforts of young people, their friends, and family, the event raised over £200 to support the attendance of some of Leeds Children’s Hospital’s youngest competitors at the British Transplant Games.