Tuesday, July 20, 2010

West Yorkshire In Ten Squares : Square 3 - Woodlesford

This project attempts to provide a flavour of what is typical in my home county of West Yorkshire by focusing on ten randomly selected squares from throughout the County. Each of the 500 square metre areas has been chosen by a random number generator and here I explore each of them in images and words.

In the days leading up to me asking the random number generator to nominate the third set of co-ordinates for my ten square odyssey of West Yorkshire, I wondered how on earth the chosen square could match up to the historic interest and the natural beauty of the first two squares. An old brewery perhaps (those who know me know that I like an old brewery almost as much as a fresh pint). In the event I was close, very close, missing out by a mere forty or so years.


When I checked the random numbers against my West Yorkshire atlas and realised my allotted square took in a good slice of the village of Woodlesford I assembled a list of all I knew about the place : it was somewhere to the south of Leeds, it had a railway station (I recall hearing its name intoned by the lady announcing the slow train from Sheffield to Leeds), and, at some stage, it had a brewery. During my visit I did discover a lot more about Woodlesford and found that it had its' own take on Yorkshire beauty. Even though the brewery is long gone, it is anything but a one-horse (or a one-train) town.

Let me start with that brewery and with a picture of how it used to be. The drawing shows the Eshald Well Brewery of Henry Bentley & Co of Woodlesford as it would have been in the 1890s. Later, following a series of mergers and acquisitions, it became better known by the initials "BYB which stood for Bentleys Yorkshire Brewery.
Bentley's Eshald Well Brewery (Illustration from "The Noted Breweries of Great Britain" by Alfred Barnard)
Much of the land which once housed this fine brewery site has now been redeveloped as a housing estate, and only a series of twee names give a clue to the hoppy grandeur that once was. In his monumental four volume record of "The Noted Breweries of Great Britain and Ireland", that great Victorian, Alfred Barnard, describes a visit to the brewery in the 1890s and how he was taken to see the fermenting house, "a lofty, well-ventilated building, measuring 70 feet by 40 feet with its ten slate fermenting squares, with latticed pathways between them, each fitted with copper rousing pumps, worked from shafting connected to the main engine" Ah, do the residents of the neat new houses know where they are sleeping at night?

Tom Pudding boats passing along the Aire and Calder Navigation, Woodlesford
But the fine industrial heritage of my square has not been all buried under bijou properties. The Aire and Calder Navigation still runs through the top corner of my square and as I watched from the road bridge I was delighted to see a group of old barges approach. This was a rare sight indeed as they were the last of the "Tom Pudding" boats returning from Leeds where they had been taking part in a festival. Tom Puddings were a unique system of container barges developed for moving coal along the Aire and Calder and Calder and Hebble canals in West Yorkshire. In a way they were a precursor to the idea of a container ship, except the flat bottomed containers filled with coal were strung together and floated rather than piled high on some ocean-going ship.

My square was not all industrial archeology. You can walk along the canal path - which forms part of the magnificent Trans-Pennine trail - and see little but green fields and hear little but the buzz of insects and the songs of birds. There were some fine buildings within the part of the village that fell within my square, one of the finest being the building that, until twenty years ago, was the local church. All Saint's Church was originally build by Bentley family (the brewers) in the 1880s but was converted into a private house in the 1990s.

Breweries and barges aside, the housing mix was perhaps the most fascinating element of the square. Within 500 square metres you can find one of the most eclectic mixes of houses you could ever hope to discover. There are fine old Yorkshire stone terraced houses, stunningly adventurous new designs, converted public buildings and suburban semis.

The former All Saints Church, now a private dwelling
Typical Yorkshire terraced houses in Woodlesford
Modern housing on Church Street, Woodlesford
The overwhelming feeling you get from a visit to Woodlesford is that it is a nice place. Having been introduced to it by serendipity, I will return (my square contained a fine looking pub - The Two Pointers Inn - which was not open during my early morning visit and therefore a return trip is necessary). Whilst my first two squares were spectacular in their own ways, they were less representative of West Yorkshire at the beginning of the twenty-first century than Square 3. If the random number generator is right, and this is typically West Yorkshire, I for one will not be complaining.

Woodlesford Railway Station
To read the other installments of this series follow these links :

22 comments:

  1. Very interesting indeed Alan. I felt like I was walking along with you. Love the photos ~ then and now. It would be interesting to know how many residents of the new houses have no idea about the history of the area.

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  2. Another excellent post, Alan. Well worth waiting for.

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  3. What a fine outing--by the way--is the woman in blue on the front barge playing the pan pipes? It does seem like these sub-divisions (as we call such housing developments over here) are bound & determined to use "twee" names!

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  4. I'm enjoying this series enormously. Anything to do with 'places' is an instant hit with me! I find them fascinating :)

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  5. I am amazed of all the history seen in your pictures and the long standing traditions with boats on the water and old architecture. I live in a little house on the prairie without curbs and the oldest building is probably 140 years old.

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  6. Ah! I love canals - walking the paths or floating down them. We used to hike the canal path on the C&O Canal, which parallels the Potomac River on the Maryland side from Georgetown in DC up to Cumberland, MD. You can also take mule-pulled barge trip in DC and up at the Great Falls of the Potomac. We did that once, but in my family the preferred way to navigate the canal was in our own canoe. Great fun!

    And leave it to you to find a brewery, even if it isn't there any more!

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  7. John : It isn't the twee names I dislike so much it is these "new wave" names that are springing up all over the place : Heritage, Velvet, Suede and the like.
    Larry : Could you do a ten square treatment of the plains or would none out of the ten squares look exactly the same?

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  8. Roy : Fascinated to hear about your canals. There is a long tradition of horse-pulled barges over here as well.
    I do have an App for my iPhone which enables me to find the nearest brewery for any location I might ne in.

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  9. This project gets more fascinating every time. I've never been to Woodlesford but it looks an attractive little place. I imagine the property prices are quite high! You struck lucky seeing those barges too.

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  10. Here I am at my desk, but I feel as if I just took a trip to West Yorkshire, unfortunately without the food and drink, but mustn't be too fussy. I would very much like to stay in one of those traditional terraced houses.

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  11. Christine : That's a lovely compliment, thank you.

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  12. Woodlesford! I love those English names. I'd also love to be drifting lazily down one of those canals.

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  13. Lovely, how very enjoyable and I do like that new house!!! But where's the Pontefract cakes?

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  14. Von : About eight miles to the south east (and Pontefract Cakes are a subject so interesting that I will return to them later in the week).

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  15. Ah leave no pub unturned I say! love the little terraces. I have a friend near Durham who converted two old miners terraces, it's fantastic inside. Pretty spot.

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  16. I do enjoy these vicarious treks with you. -J

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  17. i really need to book a flight and come let you be my tour guide alan...you take us to the most fascinating places..

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  18. This is a great series..I am really enjoying it! :)

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  19. Excellent post, Alan! You and Jennyfreckles (Saltaire) have convinced me I need to visit Yorkshire.

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  20. Anonymous12:32 PM

    It really is a great place to live and of course the village of Oulton is beautiful as well

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  21. It surely is a nice place to visit and live. The locals seemed very friendly.

    I am going to be visiting again with the family and dog :-)

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  22. Anonymous12:22 PM

    That 'modern house' is not modern! It is my auntie and uncle's house and I hope you asked permission to take a photograph. It's from the 1980s, and designed and built by my uncle.

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