Historically a centre for hand-loom weaving, it was also the site of a battle in 1643 during the early part of the English Civil War. The foundation stone of its octagonal Methodist chapel, the oldest still in continued use, was laid following the visit of John Wesley in 1764.
Heptonstall cottages and terraced houses were characterised by their large first floor windows to maximise the light for weaving.
The older churchyard claims “King” David Hartley amongst notable graves there. Hartley was founder of the Cragg Coiners and lived as a rogue in the Calderdale area until he was hanged at Tyburn near York in 1774.
The American poet Sylvia Plath, who was married to Ted Hughes from nearby Mytholmroyd, is buried in the new St. Thomas a’ Beckett’s churchyard. Plath’s headstone is regularly vandalised by removing Hughes’s surname from the memorial, because some of her fans believe he was responsible for her death.
Another poet buried here is the American expatriate Asa Benveniste, also notable as the founding publisher of the Trigram Press.
The village is a popular day trip destination for tourists and walkers, especially in the warmer summer months. There are some facilities; other than the two pubs “The Cross” and “The White Lion”, there is a small post office (the original post office, on Smithwell Lane, is now a residential property) and there are public toilets in the lane opposite Church Street. As of 2009, a very pleasant cafe/deli offering lunches and teas also caters for the regular influx of seasonal visitors, which is situated in Towngate.
The village’s oldest house is Stag Cottage (circa 1580) which is tucked away in a small courtyard known as Stag Fold. At the back of the cottage, on the level of the public car park, is the doorway to the “dungeon”, once used as a lock-up. Nearby there is the pinfold, built to hold livestock but now popular as a picnic area.
In the mid 1980s the paved road through Heptonstall was torn up, revealing the original stone setts. Although the plan was to remove these, protests by some concerned villagers convinced the council to restore them instead. At the same time the existing concrete street lights were replaced with a quainter alternative which resemble cast-iron gas lamps from the late 19th century. This was not only a nod towards tourism but it also acted as a traffic calming measure.