Posted by: brigid benson | October 16, 2012

Postcard from Marsden: jazz in a West Yorkshire Town

Marsden  Swing    Sheep   Canals  Cake   Wool   Tunnel   Water Taxi 

Marsden Jazz Festival 2012

High in the Pennines and surrounded by moorland and sheep the former mill town of Marsden in Yorkshire is a great destination; I write about it in my book 52 Weekends in the Country  . As ever, all pictures in my blog are snapped on the camera of my mobile phone.

On parade: jazz bands and followers in the streets of Marsden

The annual Marsden Jazz Festival is a great way to spend an autumn weekend. Jazz and swing bands of all shapes and and sizes fill the town’s public rooms and bars, spilling out onto pavements, bridges and into the market place too. There are more than 50 free performances to enjoy along with the headline gigs.

The clock tower of the handsome Marsden Mechanics Institute

Marsden Mechanics Institute

The event is superbly organised, there’s even a nippy  jazz bus that circulates around venues in the mill town before scaling steep Pennine hills to more remote venues.

All aboard!

Characterful venues all around the mill town

The event showcases bands and young musicians from local colleges and universities.

Huddersfield University Big Band

Red Hippo band

The Red Hippo band played in a jam packed pub – here’s Daz Jones on sousaphone, a challenging instrument to handle, let alone play! In the streets, crowds gathered to soak up the music.

Crowd scene!

And the local ales…

There’s music all over and not all of it jazz and swing…

Meanwhile the festival atmosphere is broadcast by the local community radio station for the Colne and Holme valley area , Two Valleys Radio,operating from a daubed caravan at the heart of the action beside the weir and quacky ducks.

Two Valleys community radio

Bands perform on the bridge over the weir

And children from local schools take part in a musical, dancing parade, dressing up as the festival’s iconic sheep motif.

I especially enjoy the way the whole town throws itself into the weekend, including the local stores.  From the charity shop where staff dress in razzamatazz jazz outfits – jaunty hats, feathers, sparkle…

Charity shop music for jazz fans!

To the florist, Lily Blossom, offering beautiful buttonholes for snappy dressers.

Oh so stylish…

The local butcher offers local delicacies, including homemade Yorkshire parkin, a moist cake made with oatmeal and molasses.

There are more cakes in the church hall.

The mill town sings out its great northern character loud and proud. Here’s Mick Kirby-Geddes’ street sculpture revealing the tightly packed industrial buildings and workers’ terraced cottages.

Here’s one of the town’s immense textile mills and warehouses, now empty.

Dewsbury/Mirfield Music Centre Swing Band

Beyond town there is something extraordinary and unmissable.

The history of the canal is fascintaing and a trip into the tunnel is thrilling – for more information about the area and its history, plus great advice for a fantastic visit, all based on my experience, read my book 52 Weekends in the Country

From the thin strip of waterway beside the railway station there’s a ten minute towpath walk to the tunnel, or try a trip aboard the water taxi.


The Standedge tunnel is a real wow experience – learn more about it in my book.

Journey into the dark aboard a boat, travel part way or the whole way through and walk back over the hill following the route the canal horses took when commercial canal traffic was at its peak.

Taking visitors into the darkness…

The Loft Space is an inspirational creative hub in a beautiful canal building which also houses displays on the historic construction of the tunnel.

A creative meeting place overlooking the moors and canal

Impossible not to be inspired in these airy, historic, colourful surroundings

Beyond the canal and the town there’s even more to discover on the National Trust Marsden Moor estate.

Marsden Moor Estate: Follow packhorse routes, glide up into the air from crags….

And after all the action, the generous locals invite you to take the weight off your feet.

And perhaps write a jazz festival letter home…


  1. Brilliant pictures!! 🙂

  2. Thank you Brigid – I was there the whole weekend and must have missed lots – lovely pictures xx

  3. Great photos of our lovely village! Thanks! It was a brilliant weekend.

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