This is how the sleepy Yorkshire town of Hebden Bridge became ‘the lesbian capital of the UK’

It’s very possible that you haven’t heard of Hebden Bridge. If so, you might not be aware that the quiet West Yorkshire town is home to a flourishing lesbian community.

Hebden Bridge might just prove the cottage core lesbian trope has some grounding in reality, given that it’s seemingly home to a disproportionately high number of lesbians, and gay people.

But how did this quaint town become such a hotbed of sapphic culture? Let’s find out.

The origins of the UK’s ‘lesbian capital

In the Calderdale district of West Yorkshire, the market town of Hebden Bridge is surrounded by rolling hills, with a flowing stream and stone bridges. It’s a quaint paradise full of quirky craft stalls and fairytale-like, picturesque homes. 

The town centre has also been dubbed Yorkshire’s San Francisco, because of its artistic atmosphere, independent and eco-friendly shops and cultural venues.  

So, how did Hebden Bridge become the UK’s lesbian capital?

The town’s dense population of lesbians was actually an accidental discovery. While conducting door-to-door interviews for his PhD, researcher Darren Smith noticed the significant number of gay women who lived there.

In 2001, The Guardian drew attention to the flourishing lesbian community discovered in Smith’s research.

“I found doors opened by one lesbian household after another,” Smith said. “And I was being told the same tale of local acceptance and openness by them all. I was astonished: all received knowledge has it that lesbians gravitate towards large metropolitan spaces, this mass movement into the countryside is bucking every known trend.”

Smith thoughts were confirmed in a 2021 census which revealed that nine per cent of the town’s population was lesbian, gay or bisexual. That’s three times the national average.

The wider census showed that just 3.2 per cent of people in the UK identified as lesbian, gay or bisexual. Throughout Yorkshire and the Humber, 3.07 per cent of people identified as LGBTQ+.

West Yorkshire’s Sexual Orientation & Gender Identity 2021 census analysis, published in January 2023, further confirmed that Hebden Bridge – which is about eight miles from Halifax – was home to one of the largest lesbian, gay and bisexual communities in the region.

Hebden Bridge gained further fame as one of the settings for acclaimed UK crime drama series Happy Valley, starring Sarah Lancashire, which is filmed in the Calder Valley – home to Hebden Bridge. Happy Valley sightseers can be spotted taking guided tours of the town, rubbing shoulders with LGBTQ+ residents.

The lesbian history of Hebden Bridge

Hebden Bridge’s current population of about 4,500 began growing in the 1970s, when artists and activists were drawn to the town because of the reasonable prices for homes. bridge&t=1711377468588

In the 80s and 90s, Hebden Bridge’s lesbian population formed a close-knit community where queer freedom became a norm. This is evidenced by the monthly Todmorden Women’s Disco that continues to this day.

This lesbian love persists with Happy Valley Pride, a week-long festival celebrating LGBTQIA+ life in Hebden Bridge and neighbouring villages. The festival welcomes thousands of queer visitors and allies.

If you fancy a trip to Hebden Bridge, you can find out what’s on offer on the town’s tourism website.