History of Wilsden

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To the End of the 18th Century

Wilsden is a village of ancient origin, although there is no evidence about the number or exact location of its earliest inhabitants. There must have been a Saxon presence for the Domesday survey shows that Gamalbarn held taxable land here. The area was part of the King's land at that time, though later annexed by the powerful baron, Ilbert de Lacy. Later, parts of Wilsden were granted to the abbeys of Byland and Kirkstall.

history1After the Dissolution of the monasteries, and various sales and enclosures of land, Wilsden grew as a farming community, looking very different from its present shape. Housing was not focussed along a closely built up main road, but consisted of separate clusters of farms at Hewenden, Hallas Bridge, Mytholme, Wilsden Hill, Norr, Wilsden Lee and Ling Bob.

19th to mid 20th Century

Some farmers diversified very early into home-based aspects of the textile business, the more prosperous ones converting barns into warehouses and eventually building mills. Wilsden's earliest mills depended on water power and so were located in the Hewenden valley. With the coming of steam power, Albion Mill was opened in Main Street in 1810, followed by seven more, and one at Birkshead. Local supplies of building stone and coal were factors in Wilsden's industrial development. The earliest reference to coal mining is to a death in a pit at Norr in 1594 and the last mine, New Holland, closed in 1926.

history2The population grew rapidly from 913 at the 1801 census to peak at 3,454 in 1851. This led to the rash of house building which gave the village its still recognisable shape and character.

The railway came to Wilsden, via the spectacular Hewenden viaduct, and the station (at Harecroft) opened in 1886. Necessities, from groceries to clothes and furniture, could be obtained without leaving the village. Before the second world war there were more than fifty flourishing shops. Social life was provided by the activities of various churches and chapels, a flourishing Mechanics' Institute, Wilsden Band and sports clubs.


The Present Day

Post war years saw a decline in the textile trade and Wilsden gradually took on a new role as a place to live for a growing number of people who did not work in the village. Its attractive setting and the good reputation of the village school and the secondary schools it feeds have led to considerable growth. The population decline that started in the second half of the nineteenth century was reversed with numbers exceeding the 1851 figure in the second half of the twentieth century.


Further Reading

More information about the history of the area is given in the following publications;

* A History of Wilsden by Astrid Hansen published 2001
* Temples Various - a history of St Matthews Church, Wilsden by Astrid Hansen published 1996
* Wilsden in Times Past by Gary Firth Published 1985
* A wander around Wilsden - a video detailing a photographic record of Wilsden's history.