William Bell and Smithy Hill

The Hebden Level spoil heap is locally known as Smithy Hill, because the northern section was once leased to William Bell, the local blacksmith, and had an impressive stone smithy built on it. This was probably in the late 1880s, as the 1890 25" OS map has the smithy marked. A newspaper advertisement implies that he still had tenancy in 1919 for £3.00 p.a.

The son of a blacksmith, William Bell was born in Aireton in 1849. He married Mary Warden, from Lancaster in 1877, and was settled in Hebden by 1878 where he lived until his death in 1931. He had seven children. One of his sons, William, was apprenticed to him in 1903, and after serving a few years in the navy, emigrated to Australia in 1913 where he continued the family trade in Melbourne. Two of his other sons, Thomas and David, spent their lives in Hebden. David served in the First World War, and died in 1970.

William Bell must have been a remarkable craftsman, as he made Hebden Suspension Bridge which crosses the River Wharfe adjacent to the stepping stones. It was erected in 1885, and its £80 cost was paid for by public subscription. Made largely of recycled materials from the local lead mining industry, including 262 yards of steel cable, it originally had a central supporting pier (the base of which can be seen in low water conditions) which was removed when the span was raised in 1937 after being damaged in a heavy flood in December 1936. William Bell also built a suspension bridge across the Wharfe at Netherside Hall, 2 km north-west of Grassington, which subsequently got washed away.

The following photographs are available on other pages.

  1. Photograph of William Bell and the smithy on Smithy Hill taken in the 1900s.
  2. Photograph of Smithy Hill with the smithy and the waterwheel taken about 1900.
  3. Photograph of Extract of the 1890 25" OS map showing the position of the smithy.
  4. Photograph of Hebden Suspension Bridge taken in the 1900s showing the central support.