Horbury Bridge is situated on the River Calder on the main A642 Huddersfield to Wakefield road. The first mention of a bridge across the Calder at Horbury was in 1473, when a settlement was established. Although closely connected to Horbury, Horbury Bridge is a separate community and ecclesiastical parish in its own right. The bridge, after which the community is named, spans the Calder and Hebble canal as well as the River Calder. The ecclesiastical parish was formed in 1882, from the parishes of Thomhill and Wakefield. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, textile mills dominated the local area and the majority of the population of Horbury Bridge were employed in these mills or in the coal mines in the local area.
The village of Horbury Bridge gained in prosperity and in population with the building of the Calder and Hebble canal. The River Calder was only navigable as far as Wakefield. To the west of Horbury where the Calder wasn't navigable, the canal linked Horbury Bridge to places like Ossett, Dewsbury and the bigger towns along the Calder valley. To the east, the canal linked to the navigable part of the Calder at Wakefield and then via other waterways to the North Sea. Initially it was coal and lime that was transported, but it was the advent of the woollen trade that enabled Horbury Bridge to really prosper. The canal barges now brought in coal for the new woollen mills that were being built and in return, the barges carried away the mill products.
Of course, workers were needed by the mills and the workers needed houses. And so Horbury Bridge grew and prospered. However, with such rapid growth, law and order was sadly lacking. The people were a vigorous and rough generation. They worked very hard and played very hard. They played knur and spell, flew pigeons (and still do), fought cocks, coursed rabbits with whippets, gambled on anything and everything and drank prodigiously. There were, and still are, three pubs within a hundred yards of each other, but back then, no place of worship whatsoever.
In 1871, Wakefield solicitor and travel author W.S. Banks wrote "Horbury, Ossett, Dewsbury and Batley have a far rougher and vigorous speech and manner than the agricultural parts of the neighbourhood of Wakefield have. The people of the manufacturing districts are in manner, as hard and sharp as the machines with which they earn their bread. But I do not know that they are at bottom, less kind than the persons who lead a quieter life."
The bridge was the meeting place. At night it was the 'red light area'. On Sunday mornings the men met to arrange dog races or cock fights and bet on the result. Theses matches took pace in the fields between the river and the canal. Although one Sunday morning it wasn't cocks but two women fighting. They'd had a domestic argument and met in the ring to settle the matter. By all accounts it was hot and exciting; they pulled out handfuls of hair and scratched each other's faces with their nails. It isn't recorded who was the winner.
Above: Horbury Bridge. Photograph is courtesy of Stanley Walker.
Another more gruesome pastime in days gone by for some Horbury Bridge folk was cashing in on the poor unfortunates who had drowned in the river Calder or the Calder and Hebble canal, for there was a reward of 7/6d for the finder. It was a common occurrence for people to commit suicide at Horbury Bridge by drowning themselves, perhaps if they were suffering from depression at losing their job or the loss of a loved one. Often, a sign that someone had committed suicide was the discovery of a folded coat and a hat or a cap left neatly nearby. Those who knew where the currents flowed knew where to jump in. One local who frequented the Horbury Bridge area regularly watched the river early in the mornings. If he found a suicide victim, he fished the body out of the water and checked the man's clothing. If the clothes were better than his, he did a swap before raising the alarm.
There is a story, which may be apocryphal, about two young men who found a body in the water near the lock gates between the river and the canal at Horbury Bridge. They got the body out, but an old man who was passing by told them that they had wasted their time because the law had changed and that the police now had to recover the bodies. Hadn't they read in the newspapers that the 7/6d reward for finding suicide victims in the water was a thing of the past? One of the young men promptly pushed the body back into the water. They had second thoughts though, and told the police where to find the suicide victim. Inside the drowned man's pockets was about £500, the remains of the £3,000 he had stolen from his employers.
The river Calder was first spanned at the present crossing place by a five arch bridge commissioned in 1634 by local freemasonry. It was four yards wide, cost £600 to build and was in need of repair by 1692.
In 1759, the Wakefield to Huddersfield road was authorised as a toll road. Between 1769 and 1780, following a survey by John Smeaton, the Calder and Hebble Navigation canal was constructed close to the river Calder. The river had previously been navigable via the Old Cut (at one time Cusworth's Builders Yard and the Riverside Industrial Estate), which bypassed the weir on the Calder.
Between 1760 and 1820, the Bingley Arms was a popular Georgian style coaching inn, now a listed building, and it was once the house of a substantial local landowner, but was named after Lord Bingley.
After further repair work, a bridge collapse occurred on the 23rd May 1918, and the remainder of the bridge was washed away in a heavy flood on the 12th February 1920. A temporary wooden structure was erected to maintain the route to Huddersfield.
Above: Horbury Bridge after being damaged by flooding in 1918.
The present bridge was designed by Mouchel (Consulting Engineers) and was built by Yorkshire Hennebique Ltd. of Leeds for the West Riding of Yorkshire County Council in 1925. Routine structural assessment in the 1980s of the integrity and strength of both the Horbury river and canal bridges revealed that both structures were not adequate for the loading imposed by modern day vehicles and as result traffic was banned from using the bridge. Between 1988 and 1990 and withe the full co-operation of the National River Authority, specialists undertook both a hydraulic survey and an underwater inspection of the bridges. The information obtained was used in the design work carried out by West Yorkshire Highways, Engineering and Technical Services on behalf of Wakefield MDC. The strengthening of the canal bridge was also designed at the same time. In 1991, tenders were evaluated for the remedial work on the bridge and the contract was awarded to Morrison Shand Construction Ltd. (now Morrison Construction Ltd.)
Above: Strengthening work on Horbury river and canal bridges in 1991. Photo is courtesy Bob Dye, Ossett.
And so it was to Horbury Brig (as it was known then) that a 30 year-old, newly ordained curate, called Sabine Baring-Gould, arrived on the Monday after Whit Sunday in 1864 with the remit to set up a Mission Church at Horbury Brig. Accommodation was hard to find, but he managed to rent a small cottage next to a shop. He converted the downstairs room into a night school, and the bedroom into a chapel. In later years the cottage and the shop were made into one house. Part of the shop was converted into the Post office. The little church grew and grew until the Sunday services filled the whole house. While Baring-Gould lived in the cottage, he started a Savings Bank for the local people.1
In the 1860s, Horbury itself had the parish church of St. Peter's, but at Horbury Bridge, Sunday meetings were in what is now the Post Office. Twenty years later, the parish was able to build the church of St John, with its little stone bell-cote.
Above: St. John's Church, Horbury Bridge. Photograph courtesy Humphrey Bolton. St. John's was built in 1884 to plans made by London architect, Mr. J.T. Micklethwaite. The contract for the building of the church was awarded to Messrs. Langley of Leeds, at a cost of £2,600. Among those who subscribed to the cost of building the new church were the relatives of a Mr. Bayldon, described as "a devout layman." The consecration of the church took place on Saturday, November 15th 1884. Because the bishop of the diocese could not be present, the consecration of the building was performed by the Bishop of Winchester, and old friend of Canon John Sharp. Canon Sharp was responsible for the building endowment for the church. Before his death in 1903, he gave the patronage of the living, i.e. the right to appoint the vicar at St. John's Church to the Warden and Scholars of Keble College, Oxford.
The viaduct at Horbury Bridge consists 17 arches, in two groups of eight, plus one larger arch across the A642, the Wakefield to Huddersfield main road. The viaduct carried the old Midland Railway line, first opened in 1909, which later became the London, Midland and Scottish Railway from Royston Junction, near Barnsley to Thornhill, Dewsbury and Bradford.
Above: The disused railway viaduct at Horbury Bridge spanning the A642 Wakefield - Huddersfield Road.
There used to be a toll bar at Horbury Bridge on what is now the Wakefield - Huddersfield road and another one between Horbury Bridge and Netherton Lane, but the toll gates were closed forever in November 1882 and the turnpike road was no more.
Horbury Bridge's Textile Mills
In the 19th century, there were several large textile mills in the immediate vicinity of Horbury Bridge: Addingford Mill, Albion Mill, Albert Mill, Dudfleet Mill, Ford Mill, Horbury Bridge Mill, Navigation Mill and Victoria Mill.
Above: Addingford Mill, Horbury Bridge pictured in disrepair in 1991. Photograph is courtesy Brendan Hughes, Ossett.
Navigation Mill was so named because originally it was used for barge building, being located so close to the river and the canal. The mill was then used as a fulling mill by Ellis Brothers of Victoria Mills in nearby South Ossett. The use of fulling mills reduced with the phasing out of the production of broadcloths in Ossett, Horbury and Alverthorpe and in 1910, Navigation Mill was sold to the Smith family for the production of shoddy and mungo. Later still, the mill became the Horbury Scouring Company employed in the scouring and bleaching business.
Above: Map from circa 1900 showing Horbury Bridge and some of the textile mills adjacent to the river Calder.
One of the largest mills in Horbury Bridge was Richard Poppleton's Albert Mills where they carried on the business of dying and spinning worsted cloth. Poppleton's successors later diversified the business and produced knitting patterns and knitting kits in the 1950s, before they finally ceased business and the mill closed in the 1980s.
Messrs. Poppleton exhibited at Prince Albert's Great Exhibition of 1851, and the company started in business first at premises in Wakefield, before moving later to Albert Mill in Horbury, pictured left. At the time Poppleton's only used part of the mill buildings and the rest of the premises were used by other textile firms, including a company specialising in silk spinning. The stone-faced Albert Mill, which faced the railway tracks at Horbury Bridge, was built circa 1820. The window heads of each storey are of a different design, perhaps as the mill was extended upwards to become a four-storey building. The back, and both ends of the building, were made from brick, perhaps because of shortages after the end of the Napoleonic War.
The building that housed the yarn scouring and drying section had very thick stone walls made from stone of varying thickness and size. It is possible that these stones could have come from a mediaeval building like Horbury's old Parish Church, which was demolished in 1790 to make way for Carr's new St. Peter and St. Leonard's Church.
The founder of Poppleton's, Richard Poppleton, was originally a mining engineer and engineering consultant. He became a partner in a firm of worsted spinners and then went into business in his own right in 1847. Poppleton had two sons: William and Richard. William Poppleton was apprenticed to Jonas Dawson, a worsted spinner, of Thornes, Wakefield, where he was held in high regard. Sadly, William was to die young in 1858. His brother Richard had intended to pursue a career in the mining industry, but after his brother's death, he joined the family textile business at Albert Mill. He was known affectionately in later years as "Dickie Popp" and he took a leading part in Horbury's civic life. Richard Poppleton J.P. was elected to the new Horbury Urban District Council in 1894 as a Conservative councillor with 422 votes. Poppleton died in 1904 at the age of 71 years.
Above: Poppleton's Mill in 1991, just prior to demolition. Photograph is courtesy Brendan Hughes, Ossett.
Part of Poppleton's Mill was known as Ford Mill and Ford House was demolished in 1970. Poppleton's bought the premises, which had been used previously by Rayner and Mitchell. During WW2, both Poppleton's and Rayner and Mitchell's mill premises at Horbury Bridge were taken over by the Air Ministry as a clothing depot.
Above: An aerial picture of Albion Mills from the 1950s. Albion Mill was built by George Harrop and was later owned from 1935 by George Sykes, Sporting Goods Manufactures and then Slazengers.
Albion Mill produced worsted cloth and was owned by the Harrop family who lived at Rock House. Sabine Baring-Gould refers quite scathingly to Albion Mill being owned by non-conformists in one of his letters. George Harrop (1813 - 1892) built the mill in the 1860s and his son Joshua Harrop (1858 -1923) carried on the business after his father's death. Joshua Harrop lived at Cliffe House, Quarry Hill, Horbury and took an active part in Horbury's civic administration. The last head of Harrop's Albion Mill was Mr. Arthur Harrop, nephew of Joseph Harrop, whom he succeeded as head of the family textile business. Arthur Harrop retired at the age of 47 years and like his uncle, lived at Cliffe House. When Cliffe House was demolished to make way fro the new Horbury bypass, he moved to Carr Lane, Middlestown where he died, aged 85, on the 16th October 1972. Albion Mill was sold to the George Sykes sporting goods manufacturing company in 1935 and then to Slazengers during WW2, when a lot of additional buildings were added.
To give an idea what life was like for the textile workers at Albion Mill, here are a couple of extracts from the Victorian newspapers, which tell us how life was so completely different back then:
"Fatal Accident in a Mill at Horbury: 4 Yesterday forenoon, Mr. T. Taylor held an inquest at Mr. H. Smith's, Three Tuns Inn, Wakefield on the body of young man named Joshua Audsley, who had died at Clayton Hospital on Sunday from injuries he received on Friday last. The deceased, who was 22 years of age, was a fettler at Mr. G. Harrop's Albion Mill, Horbury Bridge, and on Friday afternoon last, whilst teazing some wool, his left arm got amongst the teeth of the plucker or swift, and was torn and smashed in the most frightful manner. He was removed to hospital at Wakefield on the same day, and on Saturday, the injured arm was amputated, but on Sunday he died. A verdict of 'accidentally injured' was recorded."
What is so troubling is that the machines were left running whilst people like Joshua Audsley were required to clean the detritus that accumulated during the production of the worsted cloth that was made at Albion Mill.
Whilst it wasn't unusual back then for people to have their employment terminated by an employer without notice, for example when business was bad, the opposite was not the case and workers could be taken to court and fined if they moved to a different job without giving appropriate notice. The following extract, again featuring a worker at Harrop's Albion Mill from 1899 is a good example:
"Employers Claim at Wakefield:5 Yesterday, a case of some interest to cloth manufacturers and their work people was brought before the West Riding Magistrates at Wakefield. The complainants were Messrs. George Harrop and Sons, of Albion Mills, Horbury Bridge, and the defendant Martha Ann Bedford, a young woman living at Crigglestone, and who has for some time been employed at Messrs. Harrop's mills as a cloth weaver. Mr. Bransby Greenwood appeared for the prosecutors and Mr. W.H. Burton for the defendant.
On the 23rd December, work was suspended at the mills for the Christmas Holidays and for some repairs, until the 4th January. The defendant did not return to work on the 4th, and as she had an incomplete piece of cloth in hand, she was sent for to return and finish it. As she did not return to work, she was sent for a second time, and was informed that unless she returned to the mills on the 9th January to finish off her piece of work, she would be summoned for breach of contract. The defendant still remained away and Messrs. Harrop now summoned her for 12 shillings as damages, as they wished to show their weavers that they could not leave work when they liked.
In defence it was said that the young woman had got work at another mill and wished to send a substitute to Messrs. Harrop's, but was not allowed to do so. The defendant was ordered to pay £1, including damages and costs."
The extended Christmas holiday period from the 23rd December to the 4th January "for repairs" will not have included any holiday pay and, in the event, Harrop's workers will have gone unpaid for nearly two weeks. This was, of course, deemed acceptable back then, but doubtless created hardship for some families. By today's standards Martha Bedford was treated dreadfully, but back then workers had very few employment rights. We should be thankful that attitudes and working conditions have changed.
Above: A picture of Horbury Bridge showing the textile mills that dominated the skyline circa 1900. The Bingley Arms can be seen clearly in this picture.
Wool spinning and cloth manufacture were important originally as cottage industries in Horbury and district, but soon the large mills detailed above were built with power looms displacing the home-based cottage weavers. The nearby River Calder provided the power for the mills, by means of water wheels. At the start of the Industrial Revolution steam engines were installed at Race's Mill in Dudfleet and Foster's Mill on Engine Lane, Horbury Bridge in 1795. Resistance to the implementation of new textile machinery and the factory system was shown when Luddites, who blamed the new factories for depriving weavers from earning a living in a time of widespread hunger and poverty. Named after Ned Ludd, a youth who destroyed two stocking frames in 1779, the Luddite movement began in the early 1800s, and affected large parts of the textile industry. The most affected group of tradesmen being the croppers, who used enormous shears to smooth the surface of the woven material, and were renowned for their strength and skill. Faced with the loss of employment, high wages and status, the croppers and other textile craftsmen reacted violently, smashing up the machines that threatened their existence.
A magistrate at Horbury had urged the owners of the local textile mills to "pull down their obnoxious machinery." Whether this was because he sympathised with the workers’ cause or because he realised that he had not the means to protect them is not known. Some mill owners complied with his suggestion. However, the elderly Mr. Joseph Foster owner of Fosters Mill at Horbury Bridge refused to heed the magistrate's urging.
The Luddites come to Horbury Bridge in April 1812
On the night of 9th April 1812, large numbers of Luddites attacked the extensive Mill complex of Joseph Foster at Horbury Bridge. That night anywhere between 300 to 600 Luddites had assembled on the road between Wakefield and Horbury. They had come from different locations, such as Huddersfield, Dewsbury, Heckmondwike, Gildersome, Morley and Wakefield. They were organised into sections, and moved off, with ten Luddites mounted on horses at the front and ten at the rear, all carrying drawn swords. They reached the Mill at midnight on the 10th April, surrounding it and the family residence owned by the Fosters.
All the routes into and out of the Mill were secured with guards, although the chances of them being disturbed were slim, since the nearest military units were stationed 11 miles away. Most of the Luddites carried weapons; reportedly hatchets, clubs and fire-arms, and all of those seen by the witnesses were disguised. Joseph Foster himself was not resident at the adjoining house that night, but five of his sons were: James, Thomas, Joseph, John and Josiah Foster who were all asleep as the Luddites were assembled outside. The Foster boys were soon awakened by noise and they lay in their beds in terror as they heard the breaking of windows and doors coming from the weaving shop next door. They could soon hear more breaking noises, this time coming from inside the mill, which contained a blacksmith's shop, warehouse, press shop, scribbling mill, fulling mill and a dye house. The noise was coming from all of these locations.
James Foster, who was the foreman of the Mill, lived in a separate house adjoining the main dwelling and the Luddites smashed his windows and soon broke down the front door. He had not dared to stir, but the Luddites were soon in his bedroom demanding the keys to the premises. He did not have them, and the Luddites were soon moving to the next house where the other four brothers lay terrified in bed. Another door was broken down, and the Luddites first confronted Thomas and John Bedford Foster demanding the keys. Thomas indicated they were kept in the next room, where John and Josiah slept.
The Luddites forced the two brothers out of bed, finally obtaining the keys. John and Josiah noticed that the upstairs rooms and staircase were full of men who were either masked or had blackened faces. Still in their underwear, they were hurried downstairs and out into the yard between the houses and the Mill. The yard was packed with Luddites, "almost impassable" in the words of Josiah. The Luddites made Josiah open the door to the scribbling mill, demanding to see the machines. In his fear, Josiah led them to where the scribbling mill was kept, but the men were soon expressing their displeasure, this machine not being that they had in mind: they had come for the shearing frames. They frog-marched Josiah to another door, but the keys had been left behind, so the door was smashed down. Everything inside was to be destroyed: shearing frames and conventional hand shears, two gig mills and even some cloth.
At the same time, John and Josiah were ordered out into the yard, and made to lie down. While the destruction took place they were tied up, bound together, with one Luddite posted as a guard. Someone had started a fire in the warehouse. Excitement and noise was in the air, and shots from guns rang out from time to time, although the guns weren't aimed at any of the Fosters.
John and Josiah's guard urged them to stand up, as best they could. When their work was over, the leaders formed the huge group into three units, which took some time. The Luddites left at around 1:00 a.m., leaving behind the man who was still guarding John and Josiah. After a while, the solitary Luddite urged the brothers to get up and go back inside the house and followed them to the door. With that, he wished them "good night" and moved with haste back to the yard, where the darkness swallowed him up.
The two brothers waited a short while and Thomas and Joseph joined them, and then James arrived from next door, untieing their bonds. Their first priority was to put the fire out, which they soon managed, helped by the fact the wind was not helping to fan the flames on this night. In the distance, they could hear distant noises and voices from different directions. The brothers later thought that the Luddites had dispersed in various columns towards Wakefield, Leeds, Halifax and Huddersfield. Reports later reached the press and authorities from various quarters that many of the Luddites had headed across the Huddersfield Road on to Grange Moor, where they were observed at 3.00 a.m. Some others went through Horbury on the Wakefield Road, passing another house belonging to Joseph Foster, where they fired a volley of shots into the air. The elderly Foster patriarch was apparently present and heard the shots, which shocked him.2
This group of Luddites then marched towards Wakefield and at Westgate Common they were met by a large contingent of Volunteers with loaded rifles. The sight of the Volunteers barring the route led the mob to quickly disperse. The trouble at Horbury was so serious that soldiers had to be sent to protect the other mills in the area and they stayed in Horbury for 29 weeks from July 1812 to January 1813.
The "Leeds Intelligencer" of the 13th April 1812 reported that the damage to Fosters Mill was to a value of around £700 in 1812. £700 in 1812 is the equivalent of roughly £500,000, using average earnings today.
Despite the extensive damage, the Wakefield Court Rolls suggests that the Luddite attack on Foster's mill did not have lasting impact on the family business. The 1812-13 volume includes a reference at the court on the 13th November 1812 to the newly-built house of one of the sons of the business, Joshua Foster, and to his making substantial purchases of land in the Horbury area.
The government, terrified by the spectre of the French Revolution, eventually crushed the Luddites and extracted terrible revenge at York Assizes in 1813 when, 14 men were hanged and many more were transported to Australia for life.
At the start of the first industrial revolution, spinning and cloth manufacture also boomed at Dudfleet Mill, further to the east of Horbury Bridge and nearer to Horbury Junction. The nearby River Calder provided the power for the water wheel that powered the mills prior to the installation of steam engines in 1795. Dudfleet Mill, was built by the Shaw family of Horbury circa 1823 for the manufacture of worsted cloth. The mill consisted a large three-storey building with a boiler house and a row of workers' cottages in the mill yard. As the business grew in the mid 1800s, more weaving sheds were constructed and also more cottages for mill workers close to the mill buildings.
In 1922, the mill was taken over by Huddersfield brothers Benjamin and Edward Sykes. Trading under the name of Shaws, they produced Melton cloth and hand-made "Peg" type rugs. The fibres used in their then newly installed mechanical looms was made from shoddy (ground up rags). At this time there were 26 houses in Dudfleet (mill) Yard owned by the Sykes brothers and occupied by their workers, many of whom had moved from Huddersfield, where they had worked for the brothers previously.
When Benjamin Sykes died in 1954, the Dudfleet Mill was sold to Mr. H. Hartley for the manufacture of carpets by Edward Sykes, who had recently retired. In 1964, the original large mill was demolished after being left unused for several years. Also pulled down at the same time was the boiler house chimney and the original row of workers' cottages. The weaving sheds, the boiler house and the newer cottages were left standing. Fur Fabrics bought the premises in 1969, but ceased trading and the mill is now derelict.
The mill remains in dilapidated condition, however, various phases of rebuilding has left little of the original 18th century structure. Much of the original section backs onto the river bank, to the rear of the mill. Part of the site that remains today appears to have been built during the 1950s or 1960s, a few years before operations were scaled back at the site. More recently, when the building was used by Fur Fabrics; they used the site for preparation and spinning of various textiles, before eventually closing down operations in 2005. In July 2011, arsonists set fire to the derelict mill, and at the height of the blaze, fire crews from Ossett, Dewsbury and Wakefield stations attended. Specialist equipment also had to be drafted in from Mirfield to bring the fire under control.6
In August 1890, the Horbury Local Board decided that the best site for a sewage disposal plant to serve Horbury was in the three fields adjoining Dudfleet Mill. The owners of the fields were the trustees of the Horbury Common Lands Trust. By 1893, the sewage works were complete and an engineman/caretaker was employed at 30 shillings per week.
Above: View from the Calder towards Horbury Bridge with Albion Mill on the right.
Luddites were not the only problem faced by the textile mills at Horbury Bridge, and mill fires became a significant problem as well. 1871 was a particularly bad year:
"Fire at Horbury Bridge: At five o'clock yesterday morning, the inhabitants of Horbury Bridge and district were aroused by the continuous sound of the powerful 'buzzer' at Harrop's Albion Mill, Horbury Bridge. It proved to be an alarm of fire, which was raging with great fury at the Old Ford Mill, Horbury Bridge (named Calder Vale Mill at the time of the fire) belonging to Mr. Joshua Fearnsides of Netherton Hall. The factory covers a large area of ground near the railway station, and one portion is occupied by Mr. Etchells of Huddersfield, and another was in the occupation of Mr. Fearnsides.
The reminiscences of this mill possess great interest. In the latter part of the 18th century it was known as Foster's Mill and was first visited by Luddites for the purpose of destroying machinery. Mr. W.G. Etchell's mill immediately adjoining had a very narrow escape yesterday, but nothing serious occurred.
When our correspondent visited the place at 10 o'clock there was nothing standing but the bare walls, which are of stone. The building was of great length, three storeys high. Mr. Fearnsides was entirely refitting the place with new machinery, and had the fire occurred a month or two later, the loss would have been immense. It is completely gutted, the roof and floors having fallen in. Nothing is known at present to the origin of the fire. The damage is estimated at between £8,000 and £10,000. For a large portion of the amount, Mr. Fearnsides is insured with the Liverpool and London Globe & Royal offices. The flames illuminated the countryside for many miles around."
Mr. Etchells wasn't quite so lucky in August 1871 when it was his turn to suffer the effects of a huge mill fire:8
"Fire Destroys Etchell's Mill: At half-past seven o'clock yesterday morning, a fire broke out in Mr. W.G. Etchell's rag and shoddy mill, near the railway station at Horbury Bridge. A dense volume of smoke was seen to rise from the roof of the mill, and some workmen from the new works being erected at Mr. G. Harrop's Albion Mills, near at hand shouted to the engineer at Harrop's Mill to put on the 'buzzer', which was immediately done, and the work people at this and other neighbouring mills immediately turned out to assist in the quelling of the fire. A large number of persons from Netherton, Middlestown, Horbury and Ossett residing within reach of the 'buzzer' were also soon on the scene of this fire, and every effort was made to preserve as much as possible of the stock upon the premises. Machines, bales of rags, shoddy, etc. in great quantities were brought out of the premises and placed in the adjoining roadway.
From the first it was evident, however, that the main building could not be saved. The entire building was one mass of flames from the ground floor to the roof. Machinery, rags, barrels of oil, shoddy, woodwork beams, windows (the glass of which literally melted and ran down almost like water), bricks and even stonework, appeared enveloped in flame. Every room was completely filled with flames, the heat from which was most intense, and at 80 yards distance was still stifling. Barrels of mill oil, one after another burst giving a report like the crack of a musket, their emptied contents adding additional material to the flames, which rose to an altitude of at least 90ft. The slates were burned to white ashes, which were thrown by the force of the heated atmosphere, in some instances, between 600 and 700 yards, some falling in Foster's mill yard, Harrop's mill yard and even as far as the "Middups."
There was a very great danger of the adjoining mill, occupied by Mr. Poppleton, taking fire. The flames scorched some spouting and charred the woodwork, but fortunately did no further damage to it. The fire engine and brigade from Messrs. Ellis Brothers Mill, South Ossett, under the superintendence of Captain George Blackburn arrived soon after eight o'clock, having occupied only ten minutes, from the time of receiving the alarm, in getting the brigade together. On their arrival, the men immediately placed their hoses in the adjoining river and played streams of water on the burning mass, with a view to stopping further progress of the flames as far as regarding adjoining buildings. As is already seen, they accomplished that object, and they also prevented the engine house from being destroyed. The Ossett engines were kept in requisition for several hours afterwards. As the side walls left standing were dangerous, it was deemed best to pull portions down.
The fire originated with the 'willeying machine.' The friction caused it to become ignited, and the mill was soon full of smoke and flames. With great haste, the millhands saved themselves. Mr. Etchells is insured with the Royal. The fire was still smouldering when our parcel left Horbury yesterday afternoon. The damage cannot be less than £7,000."
It was reported that in April 1962, a plague of frogs had invaded the mill yard of what was then Marsden's Mill at Horbury Bridge. Residents in the cottages there thought they had been attracted by a disused mill dam in a nearby field, which was a breeding ground for the frogs. Gallons of creosote were poured into the old dam to destroy the frogs.9
In 2015, the textile mills at Horbury Bridge are all gone, but they have been superceded by all manner of light industry in small units at some of the old mill premises. However, the majority of the old mills have either been demolished or have been left derelict.
Above: Victoria Mill (left) and Albion Mill (right) at Horbury Bridge.
Hartley Bank Colliery
Although just over the border in Netherton, many Horbury men worked at Hartley Bank Colliery, which opened in 1881 and finally closed in February 1968, when the pit it employed 482 men. The pit was closed because all the coal reserves had been worked out. The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) called in their own expert to examine the workings. His view was the same as that of the National Coal Board (NCB), that the pit could not continue as an economic unit.
1. Horbury Bridge Post Office by John Olsen.
2. Luddite Bicentenary - 9th April 1812: Attack on the Mill of Joseph Foster at Horbury, near Wakefield. This account is based upon a number of sources. There are reports in the Leeds Mercury of 18th April 1812, and also the Leeds Intelligencer of 13th April 1812. Also, a letter from Colonel Campbell to General Grey of the 11th April 1812 and a detailed eyewitness account written by Josiah Foster.
3. "Looking Back at Horbury 1 and 2" by Christine Cudworth, printed privately 2000 and 2004.
4. "Leeds Mercury", April 28th 1868
5. "Sheffield and Rotherham Independent", 17th January 1899.
6. "Wakefield Express", 16th July 2011.
7. "Leeds Mercury", 18th February 1871 and "Leeds Times" 18th February 1871.
8. "Leeds Mercury", 23rd August 1871.
9. "Some Horbury Yesterdays" by R.D. Woodhall, first published in 1973.
This chapter is dedicated to my great grandfather, Charles Harry Green (1850 - 1902) who was the village policeman at Horbury Bridge from the late 1880s and into the mid-1890s. Also my grandmother Annie Eliza Green (1889 -1975) was born at 66, Storrs Hill Road, Horbury Bridge where the Green family lived.
Stephen Wilson, September 2016