Leeds and West Yorkshire

Leeds: ‘Loidis’ – ancient Leeds

Leeds may have been the centre of a Roman settlement, although there is no definite evidence for this. It is first mentioned in Anglo-Saxon times when it was called Loidis by the Venerable Bede of Jarrow. It was a Welsh speaking ancient British area that held out for a time against the Anglo-Saxons and it is thought to have been a subdivision of Elmet, another Welsh speaking area that was later a part of the Kingdom of Northumbria. The nearby settlements of Ledston and Ledsham were also part of Loidis and still recall its name.

Briggate, Leeds
The busy street of Briggate dates back to Medieval times © David Simpson

Loidis was possibly the name of a tribe and could mean ‘people of the flowing river’ – an early reference to the River Aire on which Leeds is situated. In medieval times Loidis became known as Leedis and the present name of the city derives from this. Sometimes residents of present day Leeds are described as Leeds Loiners and this is sometimes thought to be a derivative of Leeds’ ancient name although there is no evidence for this.

An eleventh century manuscript claimed that in the tenth century, Loidis lay on the boundary between the Viking kingdom of Jorvik and the Welsh speaking Kingdom of Strathclyde (which included Lancashire, Cumbria and south western Scotland). A saint called Cadroe is said to have visited both Strathclyde and Jorvik in the tenth century receiving the hospitality of the Kings of these two regions. The two kings are said to have met at Loidis during Cadroe’s passage from one kingdom to the other.

Other places in Yorkshire with Ancient British/Welsh connections connections are Pen-y-Ghent (a Welsh name if ever there was one), Craven, Hatfield, Aldborough and Stanwick near Scotch Corner. Ancient British forts also existed in the neighbourhood of Huddersfield and Sheffield.

Medieval Leeds

A church may have existed at Leeds in Anglo-Saxon times but if so it was replaced by the Normans. The Norman parish church dedicated to St Peter was destroyed by fire in the fourteenth century and replaced by a new medieval church.

This second medieval church was replaced by the nineteenth century church of St Peter which stands today in Kirkgate. Kirkgate means street of the church but the oldest church in Leeds today is St Johns in Briggate which dates from 1634.

In 1086 Leeds was a small village belonging to the Norman baron Ilbert de Lacy of Pontefract Castle. Kirkstall Abbey was founded the following century in 1152 by Henry Lacy in wooded land by the River Aire three miles north west of Leeds village.

Modern Leeds by the RIver Aire
Leeds by the Aire © David Simpson.

Kirkstall Abbey was a Cistercian foundation and like Rievaulx, Jervaulx and Fountains became the major land owner in the area developing industries like iron forging, but more importantly wool making. Kirkstall Abbey owned around five thousand sheep.

Leeds was destined to become one of the most famous wool making centres in the country and the cottage craft businesses of weaving and spinning developed steadily during the Middle Ages. One of the earliest references to cloth making here was in 1275 but earlier still in 1201 a character called Simon the Dyer is mentioned, accused of selling adulterated wine.

By 1560 Leeds was showing the first signs of major growth and the streets of Kirkgate and Briggate were already in existence, along with a lane that later became Headrow. By 1600 the population of Leeds was 4,000 and by 1661 its first Mayor was appointed.

Leeds’ Cloth Trade

Leeds and places in the surrounding countryside to the west specialisised in the making of ‘Northern Dozens’ or ‘Yorkshire Broadcloths’ – cheap good quality cloths which spurred on the growth of Leeds in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century. This was a cottage industry – the cloth produced by clothiers in cottages or attached workshops in Leeds and surrounding villages. A strategically located town with a good market was needed for this trade, to supply the raw materials, to supply a market for the product, to organise the sale and export of the product and to supply a food market for the workers.

For a time Halifax and Wakefield may have seemed likely candidates to fill this role but Leeds had overtook them in size and importance by the 1660s. Leeds’ situation was perfectly situated at an important bridging point on the River Aire with links to the sea via the River Humber to the east and links to the wool and cloth producing districts of moorland Calderdale and Airedale to the west . It was also situated on the edge of the the rich agricultural Vale of York from which supplies of food could be brought in for the cloth workers to buy.

In 1724 Daniel Defoe visited Leeds and described the town’s cloth market as ‘a prodigy of its kind unequalled in the world’. In 1730 Leeds was described as one of the ‘largest and most flourishing towns in the country’. Its expansion continued into the Victorian age.

Victorian Leeds

In the eighteenth century Leeds grew rapidly with a population of 6,000 rising to 16,300 between 1700 and 1771. Different cloths were brought into Leeds by the city’s merchants including narrow woollen cloths like Kerseys from the Bradford and Halifax area to the west, coloured broad cloths from the surrounds of Leeds and undyed white broad cloths from the area between Wakefield and Bradford to the south. Later worsted was brought in from Halifax and Bradford and fancy cloths from Huddersfield. Most of the cloth was traded in grand cloth halls and the cloths were exported to Holland and Germany.

The real boom period for Leeds was brought about by the growth of the great cloth mills in the nineteenth century. It was the Industrial Revolution and the introduction of machinery which made mass production possible and spurred on the growth of the mills. The first mills were the Park Mills of Bean Ing in western Leeds developed by Benjamin Gott, who was the owner of a cloth merchant firm called Wormald, Fountaine and Gott.

Leeds Town Hall
Old postcard showing Leeds Town Hall

Between 1790 and 1800 Gott developed the Bean Ing mills for the production of superfine cloth – they were the first factory in Leeds. The output of Gott’s mill was greater than anything achieved before and he was soon supplying the British and the Swedish army, so great was his output. The Armley Mills established by Gott at Armley, Leeds in 1806 are now the site of an industrial museum. Gott’s statue stands in Armley Church.

More mills followed those of Benjamin Gott, opened by other entrepreneurs and each employing huge numbers of people. Orders for Leeds-made cloth came from all over the world, notably from America and the Orient.

The proximity of cheap coal in the neighbourhood of Leeds was a further boon to the industrial growth in this West Riding town and potteries, brick works and sugar refining were among the other industries to develop here. In 1816 Leeds was linked to the great Lancashire port of Liverpool by the completion of the Leeds and Liverpool canal, making shipment to the Americas ever the more easy. By 1841 the population of Leeds was eighty-eight thousand.

Leeds – Business and Shopping

Much of today’s Leeds is of Victorian origin with many impressive and imposing buildings of the nineteenth century. Many of these buildings were designed by an architect from Hull called Cuthbert Broderick. His buildings include the imposing Leeds Town Hall (1858), the Leeds Mechanic’s Institute, the Civic Theatre and the famous domed Corn Exchange of 1861.

Leeds Corn Exchange. Town Hall and Thornton Arcade Clock
Leeds Corn Exchange. Town Hall and Thornton Arcade Clock © David Simpson

The dome in the corn exchange allowed sunlight in so that merchants could clearly see the quality of the grain they were buying.

Leeds is well known for its shopping arcades off the main shopping streets of Headrow and Briggate. These date mainly from the late Victorian period and include Thornton’s Arcade and the County Arcade.

Thornton’s arcade was the first of the arcades and was opened in 1877 by Charles Thornton, a Music Hall owner. The arcade is best known for its clock which features animated characters from Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe. Robin Hood and Gurth the Swineherd strike the quarter hours, Friar Tuck and Richard the Lionheart strike the hours.

Shopping arcade, Leeds
Shopping arcade, Leeds © David Simpson

Leeds is famous for its shops and it is interesting to note that Michael Marks of Marks & Spencer fame was a Lithuanian Jew who began trading in Leeds in 1884 with a penny bazaar store at which everything cost a penny.

He later moved to Wigan where he teamed up with Tom Spencer of Skipton to form what was to become one of the most famous British retailing companies of all time.

Leeds – The Modern Capital of Yorkshire

The biggest employers in Leeds City centre are the City Council , the Health Authority and Leeds University the last of these founded in 1904 from Leeds College. Other employers have included Joshua Tetley’s brewery (founded in 1822 but its closure announced in 1998) and a number of important Yorkshire institutions like The Yorkshire Post Newspaper, The Yorkshire Bank, Yorkshire Electricity and Yorkshire Television. These names demonstrate that Leeds can make a very strong claim to be the modern capital of Yorkshire – although York undoubtedly makes the stronger claim on historical grounds.

More recently Leeds has become the home of the Royal Armouries, an important national museum housing the nation’s collection of armoury and historic weaponry. The Henry Moore Institute and Gallery devoted to sculpture is also in Leeds. The sculptor Henry Moore (1898-1986) was born in the Leeds area.

City Square, Leeds
City Square, Leeds © David Simpson

Middleton Railway

Other features of the Leeds area include The Middleton Colliery Railway, one of the oldest railways in the world. Middleton Colliery Railway runs for just over three miles between Leeds and Middleton Colliery to the south of Leeds. The first line was constructed in 1758 and was utilised by horse drawn trucks in the same way as ‘The Newcastle Roads’ of North-East England.

In 1812 the manager of the colliery, a Northumbrian called John Blenkinsopp employed an engineer called Matthew Murray of Stockton-on-Tees to build a steam locomotive to work on the colliery. Murray’s steam locomotive was the first to be commercially successful and it paved the way for other colliery locomotives like George Stephenson’s Hetton Colliery locomotive of 1822 and the world’s first passenger railway – the Stockton and Darlington Railway of 1825.

Morley, nearby was the birthplace of Sir Titus Salt who built Saltaire village and Salt’s Mill near Bradford . It was also the birthplace of Herbert Henry Asquith (1852-1928), the Liberal Prime Minister of Great Britain 1908-1916.

Harewood, Temple Newsam and Fulneck

Four notable historic houses that can be found in the Leeds area are Harewood House, Temple Newsam, Bramham Park and Lotherton Hall.

Temple Newsam in eastern Leeds was built in 1521 by Thomas, Lord Darcy but was swallowed up by the expanding suburbs of Leeds in more recent centuries. Lord Darnley, who later married Mary Queen of Scots was born in this house. Darnley was murdered in 1566 the year after he had murdered David Rizzio, Mary’s lover. The parkland surrounding Temple Newsam was laid out by Capability Brown in the eighteenth century.

Lotherton Hall is situated to the east of Leeds on the road towards Towton and Sherburn in Elmet. It was given to the town of Leeds by Sir Alvary Gascoigne and Lady Gascoigne in 1968 and is a building of Edwardian origin.

Harewood House, the most famous of the great houses of the area lies within the boundaries of Leeds. It is situated to the north of the city less than a mile from the River Wharfe and close to the A61 road that heads north towards Harrogate. The house was built by John Carr between 1759 and 1771 for Edwin Lascelles, the 1st Earl of Harewood and the interior was decorated by Robert Adam. Its grounds were laid out by Capability Brown

Bramham Park mansion to the north east of Leeds is located close to Wertherby and Tadcaster and was built in 1698 for Lord Bingley, the Lord Chamberlain to Queen Anne. Its gardens have a similar layout to the gardens of the Palace of Versailles.

Other notable places around Leeds include the town of Otley which is part of the Leeds council area but lies at the entrance to Wharfedale (see Wharfedale section).

Pudsey in south west Leeds is a former mill town where we find the settlement of Fulneck. This place was established by Moravian religious refugees from Germany in 1742. There is a museum all about the settlement there. Fulneck was originally the name of a town in Germany.

Bradford – Textile Town

Bradford has an Anglo-Saxon name that means the broad ford. Throughout the Middle Ages Bradford was, like Leeds, an important woollen and textile centre but the town did not really begin to grow until the nineteenth century. The industrial growth of Bradford was to attract labour from all over Europe and the British empire so that Bradford ha become famed as a cultural melting pot with people of Irish, German, Italian, Eastern European, Caribbean and Asian descent.

Most of Bradford’s famous buildings are Victorian, but one of Bradford’s oldest buildings is its fifteenth century cathedral in Church Bank, which was Bradford’s parish church of St Peter until Bradford was created a diocese in 1919. It is a large church reflecting Bradford’s size and status in medieval times.

A steam powered mill was erected at Bradford in 1798, but the real growth of the town was in the nineteenth century. Most of the impressive buildings of the city date from the Victorian period including the Wool Exchange of 1864 and Bradford City Hall of 1873 which were both designed by the Bradford architects Lockwood and Mawson. The style of the City Hall is Victorian Gothic with a huge clock tower based on the Pallazzo Vecchio in Florence.

Bradford’s Victorian buildings were often influenced by classical European styles. Even industrial buildings were influenced by such styles including Lister’s Mill (1873) in the Manningham area of Bradford, with its 250 feet high chimney styled like an Italian bell tower.

Perhaps the most famous Victorian building in Bradford is Lockwood and Mawson’s St George’s Hall, a concert hall in Bridge Street dating from 1851. A more unusual feature of Bradford’s Victorian history, occasionally promoted as a tourist attraction, is the Undercliffe Cemetery which is famous for its extravagant and outstanding Victorian funereal art and architecture.

Buildings of the more modern era include the National Media Museum which opened in 1983. It has claimed to be the home of the world’s biggest lens, the smallest camera and the first ever photographic likeness.

The population growth of Bradford in the Victorian age was as follows – 13,000 in 1801 growing to 104,400 in 1851, to 280,000 by 1901.

Famous People of Bradford

Famous folk born in Bradford include the novelist and playwright J.B.Priestley (1894-1984). His full name was John Boynton Priestley. Priestley’s works reflect his typical blunt Yorkshire characteristics. Staying on the literary front, the Bronte family of nearby Haworth, can almost be claimed for the Bradford area.

Social campaigners connected with Bradford include Richard Oastler who campaigned against the use of child labour in the mills and the Bradford MP, W.E Forster who was the man behind the Compulsory Education Act of 1870. On the artistic front Bradford is famed as the birthplace of the artist David Hockney who was born in the town in 1937 as well as being the birthplace of the composer Frederick Delius (1862-1934) whose parents were German immigrants.

Saltaire and Bradford Surrounds

One of the most interesting places in the neighbourhood of Bradford is Saltaire near Shipley, three miles north of Bradford. Saltaire was a model village built in the 1850s by Sir Titus Salt and it was one of the first model villages in the world. The village stands at the entrance to Lister park, a healthy location chosen by Sir Titus for his new alpaca and mohair cloth mill – the famous Salt’s Mill of 1853.

The model village was built for the workers at the mill. Eight-hundred or so houses were built, along with a public dining hall, schools, a hospital, a church and almshouses. Almost every provision was built except for a pub. Salt’s Mill is now a gallery which displays the work of the Bradford born artist David Hockney.

Bolling Hall in Bradford’s Bowling park was built around a fifteenth century pele tower, a fortified tower house more typical of Northumberland. The building was extended in the seventeenth century and then in the eighteenth century by the architect John Carr. Families connected with Bolling Hall include the Bollings, Tempests and Saviles.

Bingley is a town to the north west of Bradford on the road to Keighley. Here to the north is Ilkley Moor and beyond the moor Ilkley itself, but there are no roads directly across.

Fulneck Moravian settlement lies to the west of Bradford near Pudsey on the outskirts of Leeds. Another Moravian settlement can be found at Wyke on the road south towards Brighouse and Huddersfield.

Calderdale : Halifax to Pontefract

The River Calder

The streams and rivers that feed the River Calder rise in the moors to the west of Halifax near the Lancashire-Yorkshire border. Close by is the town of Todmorden which was traditionally split in two by the two counties with the border running straight through the middle of the Town Hall. Today the place is firmly in Yorkshire as the result of a boundary change back in 1888. Boundaries seem to have been a feature of this area for a long time as Todmorden’s Anglo-Saxon name is thought to derive from Totta’s Maer Dene (Totta’s boundary valley) though who Totta was is not known.

A canal near Todmorden links the River Calder with Rochdale over in the historic county of Lancashire near the outskirts of Manchester. East of Todmorden, the canal is joined by the Hebden Water at Hebden Bridge, which is a former mill town best known for its clog factory though in truth this is situated at neighbouring Mytholmroyd.

Close at hand is Heptonstall, a former weaving village located on a ridge between the Hebden Water and a ravine called Colden Clough. Both valleys join the River Calder at Hebden Bridge. The area north of Heptonstall is home to the Hardcastle Crags, a property of the National Trust. They are home to a beautiful wooded valley, a nineteenth century mill, and some picturesque waterfalls.

The River Calder continues east from Hebden Bridge to Halifax, through Brighouse, north of Huddersfield and from there to Mirfield near the outskirts of Dewsbury. It continues east to Horbury and Wakefield. Eventually the Calder joins the River Aire at Castleford near Pontefract.

The River Aire itself is destined to join the Humber by a circuitous route but close to Pontefract at Knottingley the Aire is joined by a canal called the Calder and Aire Navigation. This canal links the whole Calder and Aire river system with the River Don at Hatfield close to Doncaster. From there it is linked to the estuary of the River Humber near the port of Goole. This canal system linked the Humber in the east to the Mersey in the west and was of paramount importance to the industrial development of the West Yorkshire area.


Halifax is situated to the south west of Bradford where the Hebble valley flows south to join the River Calder. It was a town that grew as a result of the cloth trade but it has a long history. The name derives from Haly Flex Field meaning the place where holy banners were made from flax and indeed in 1175 Halifax was known as Haliflex.

Halifax old market
The old market, Halifax from an old postcard

Halifax has a spectacular location in amongst the hills and one of the best views can be obtained from neighbouring Beacon Hill. Nearby is Shibden Hall in Shibden Dale which was the fifteenth century home of the Otes family. For the next 300 years it was owned by the Listers who lived there until 1933. The house, with its impressive oak panelled interiors dates back to 1420 and is set in 37 acres of Pennine parkland.

Halifax is a busy town well known for its shopping arcades and markets. Notable buildings in Halifax include the impressive Piece Hall a huge quadrangled hall with 315 rooms dating from 1779. Here cloth merchants displayed pieces of cloth for sale on market days. In 1871 the open space within Piece Hall became the site of a fruit and vegetable market.

The Halifax Town Hall of 1863 was built by Charles Barry who built the Houses of Parliament in London. Other buildings of note include Wainhouse Tower of 1871, an elaborate factory chimney built for a dye house that was never used.

Two churches of note in Halifax are All Souls, built by Sir Gilbert Scott and the fourteenth century Church of St John the Baptist where a life size wooden figure of a seventeenth century Halifax beggar called Old Tristram can be seen. There are some Georgian houses in Halifax including Somerset House in George Street, while older buildings include the Union Cross Inn, that was first mentioned as far back as 1535.

A local curiosity is the Halifax Gibbet – a guillotine for beheading people that can be seen (in truth a replica of the original) in Gibbet Street. Relinquished in the seventeenth century, the gibbet was originally used to protect cloth makers from theft. Anyone found guilty of stealing cloth had their heads cut off. Fifty people were executed here between 1550 and 1650 – that’ll teach them!

Local museums in Halifax include the Bankfield Museum (which exhibits the blade from the gibbet) with its collection of textiles, the Calderdale Industrial Museum and the Eureka Museum of Childhood.


Huddersfield, lies four to five miles across the other side of the River Calder from Halifax in the Colne valley. It was called Odersfelt in the Domesday Book. It is another historic cloth making town, best known for producing fancy woollen cloths.

Most of Huddersfield was laid out in the early nineteenth century along the Colne valley, where mills were built along the banks of the river. Its church dedicated to St Peter, is a Norman foundation rebuilt in 1834-26 and the Town Hall dates from 1875.

Huddersfield’s industrial growth absorbed surrounding villages in the nineteenth century. These include the village of Almondbury, which has an iron age camp located on Castle Hill nearby.

Almondbury camp is situated on a 900 ft bluff with three steep sides and dates from around 300 BC. It was abandoned sometime after the arrival of the Romans. A castle was built on the site some time after the Norman Conquest, but was dismantled by Henry III.

A tower called the Jubilee tower was built on the site of the hill fort in 1899. Almondbury was the site of a market as early as the thirteenth century and local cloth was traded here until the establishment of Huddersfield market in 1672.

Dewsbury and Batley

Dewsbury is situated to the south of Leeds and Bradford half way between Huddersfield and Wakefield. It is an industrial town with an Anglo-Saxon name referring to a watery ‘burgh’ or fortified manor. It may have been an important place in Anglo-Saxon times as the Christian missionary called Paulinus preached here in the days of Edwin, King of Northumbria. Dewsbury has a church with elements dating from the thirteenth to the nineteenth century.

Batley lies to the west of Dewsbury and is in an area associated with Yorkshire’s Savile family. Neighbouring Birstall was the birthplace in 1733 of Joseph Priestley who was one of the first men to discover the gasses oxygen and nitrogen. Priestley is not to be confused with the twentieth century Yorkshire author J.B Priestley.

Joseph Priestley – he of the gases – moved to the United States in 1794 and lived there until his death in 1804. Priestley’s statue in Birstall market place shows him performing an experiment with a candle in one hand and a jar in the other.

A house known as the Rydings at Birstall near Batley is said to have been the inspiration for Thornfield Hall in Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre though the Bronte story of course belongs to Haworth. Norton Conyers Hall near Ripon also claims to be Thornfield Hall.

Robin Hood is occasionally associated with this area and he arguably has stronger connections with this area than he had with Nottinghamshire. He is said to be buried somewhere in the neighbourhood of Mirfield, west of Dewsbury.


Wakefield’s history goes back to pre-Roman times but in the Anglo-Saxon era it passed to someone called Waca – and Waca’s Field became Wakefield. Wakefield was important for weaving and dyeing and by the thirteenth century was the most important centre for weaving and dyeing in the West Riding of Yorkshire. In later centuries its industrial role was eclipsed by Leeds and Bradford but it was for many years the administrative centre of the Riding.

Remnants of Wakefield’s Medieval Age include street names like Westgate, Northgate and Kirkgate and a six hundred year old ‘Old Bridge’ with nine arches. The bridge has a medieval chapel built upon it, being one of only a few bridge chapels surviving in the country. The chapel, dedicated to St Mary was built in the 1300s but was restored by George Gilbert Scott in a later century. Traffic now crosses the ‘New Bridge’ of 1933.

Wakefield’s Cathedral Church of All Saints was first built in Norman times but was rebuilt in 1329 and a Clerestory was built in 1470. The church was raised to the status of cathedral when Wakefield gained a bishopric and became a city in 1888. It is thought to have the tallest tower of any church in Yorkshire.

An unusual reminder of Wakefield’s Medieval times are the surviving scripts of the Wakefield Mystery Cycle, a series of plays performed by the craft guilds of Wakefield in times gone by. The plays have been performed occasionally in more recent times.

Sandal Magna, now swallowed up by the southern outskirts of Wakefield was once the home of Sandal castle, built in the twelfth century, but of which nothing now remains. It was the ancestral home of the Warren family and was a one time home of King Richard III.

The Yorkshire architect John Carr (born 1723) came from Horbury near Wakefield. Carr later went on to become a Freeman of York in 1757 and the Lord Mayor of that city in 1770.

The boundaries of Wakfield’s Metropolitan Borough extend beyond the town itself to include the neighbouring mining town of Normanton and further west the towns of Castleford and Pontefract.

Pontefract : Cakes and Castle

Pontefract is located a few miles from Castleford, where the River Calder joins the River Aire. The town was originally called Taddensclyff – a shelf of land belonging to an Anglo-Saxon called Taedden, but it was later renamed Kirkby by the Vikings, meaning the village with a church.

The name of Pontefract means broken bridge and is part French, part Latin. It was recorded under this name in 1090 but it is not known how or when the bridge came to be broken. In 1190 the name of Pontefract occurs under the spelling Pumfrate. Pumfrate or Pomfret reflected the Norman French pronunciation of the place name and this pronunciation is still sometimes used today.

“Bloody Pomfret” castle is referred to in Shakespeare’s Richard II and has been a stage for much history. Pontefract Castle was built in the twelfth century by Ilbert de Lacy, whose grandson, confusingly, also called Ilbert de Lacy founded Kirkstall Abbey near Leeds. The castle later passed into the hands of the Earls of Lancaster, whose numbers included Thomas, who was brought here after a battle at Boroughbridge and beheaded in 1322.

King Richard II was another to suffer at Pontefract castle. He was kept prisoner and eventually murdered here. James I of Scotland was imprisoned here, as was Charles, the Duke of Agincourt (captured at Agincourt ) . Many unfortunate folk were executed here during the Wars of the Roses. The castle does seem to have a rather macabre past.

Owners of the castle have included John of Gaunt (1340-1399) who once entertained Chaucer here. Visitors have included King Henry and King Edward – the fourth in each case. The Castle was a Royalist stronghold during the Civil War but was pulled down by the Parliamentarian folk of Pontefract after its surrender in 1648.

Pontefract is centred on a long street-like market place where a number of eighteenth century buildings can be seen including the Town Hall of 1785. There is also a Butter Cross of 1734 and a Red Lion Hotel reworked by Robert Adam in 1776. Two chambers located below a hospital in Southgate were the site of a fourteenth century hermitage built in 1368 by a monk called Adam de Laythorpe.

Pontefract’s St Giles Church became a parish church in 1789. It is mostly an eighteenth century church but parts of the building date back to medieval times.

Pontefract is perhaps best known for the famous Pontefract Cakes, a liquorice sweet manufactured and sold here since the seventeenth century. The sweets were developed by a chemist called George Dunhill in 1760 who mixed the liquorice with sugar. The liquorice was originally grown in fields around the town, but is now imported from abroad.

High Ackworth to the south of Pontefract is the site of a church where the body of St Cuthbert was temporarily brought to rest during its journey north to Durham City in the North East of England. The village has another connection with Durham City, as the church is the burial place for a former Champion Boxer and Durham coal owner called John Gully. John Gully was once the Member of Parliament for Pontefract but lived for many years in a street in Durham overlooked by Durham Cathedral.

Nostell Priory, an Augustinian foundation established in 1110 lay to the west of Ackworth but nothing remains of the priory today. A Georgian mansion also called Nostell Priory stands on the site. It was built by James Paine in the Palladian style and was historically the home of the Winn family. Since 1953 it has been a property of the National Trust.


Castleford to the north of Pontefract is located close to where the River Calder joins the River Aire. It was originally Caestere Ford – being the site of an Anglo-Saxon ford near a Roman fort or settlement. It was known to the Romans as Legiolium. Castleford is historically famous for making glass, especially glass bottles. It is also well-known for the following poem composed in pre-industrial times. It describes the town’s location between the River Aire and River Calder.

Castleford lasses must needs be fair 
for they bathe in Calder and wash in Aire

Yorkshire Pages Links

Cleveland Coast | Cleveland


Ryedale | Scarborough

Whitby and Robin Hood’s Bay 

Northallerton and Thirsk | Yarm

Richmond and Swaledale


Harrogate, Ripon, Knaresborough


Airedale and Ribblesdale 

City of York origins

York Streets | York Minster

Selby and Tadcaster

Hull and East Riding

Sheffield and South Yorkshire

Leeds and West Yorkshire


North East England History and Culture