The modern name Denholme is derived from two sources, the Old English ‘Denu’ meaning valley and the Old Norse ‘holmr’ which means water meadow. Therefore Denholme means ‘the water meadow in the valley’ which seems very apt today, given the reservoirs surrounding the village.
The Roman road behind the old vicarage and old Sunday School (next to Denholme Business Centre), and the encampment near Cullingworth, offer evidence of Roman activity in the area, but the first recorded reference to Denholme comes early in the 12th century. These first records describe Denholme as a tiny hamlet belonging to Hugh de Thornton, who gave half his estate to Byland Abbey in North Yorkshire. The exact date is unclear, some records saying 1150, others 1239. However the half of the estate retained in the de Thornton estate was the ‘derepeker’ deer park in Denholme.
The deer park was not walled, as we understand a wall in the modern age, it was more palisaded – a mound of earth, with a wooden fence on the top. All evidence points to the land within the park never being enclosed. On the outside of the park land was enclosed up to the walls, but never within. The deer park land was divided up by the later owners into manageable working sizes, once deer hunting went out of fashion. We still live with some of the heritage of the park today. Denholme Gate, Cullingworth Gate and Thorn Gate were all sited on the actual gate entrances into the park.
In 1337, the last of the Thorntons, Elizabeth, married Robert Bolling of Bolling Hall. The monarch at the time, Edward III, agreed that when all interests in the estate had been satisfied, the manors of Thornton and Denholme were to go to Elizabeth and Robert Bolling. Following this the estates moved into the Tempest Family, also on marriage. The Tempests held the land for many years until it was gambled away, lost by Sir Richard Tempest in a game of cards to the Savilles of Halifax.
In 1822 the main occupations in the village were mining, farming and hand loom weaving. Coal, fireclay, iron pyrates and York stone could be found in reasonably plentiful supply and there were good sources of water. These natural resources attracted industrial interest, and the Fosters arrived on the scene. Recognising the economic potential of the village they started building their mill on the only level plateau of land available in the valley, with easy access to water.
The first mill, started in 1838, was never completed. It was blown down in January 1839. The second was larger than the original, and was a profitable concern until it burnt down in 1857, a common fate for these industrial buildings
The third mill, larger still, also thrived, but on September 6th 1873 there was a strike which lasted 14 days. An agreement, to employ only weavers in the new shed, which held 1,000 looms, had been broken, leading to industrial action. The management had brought spinners, drawers and twisters into the new shed because there were not enough weavers to work the looms. The original architect’s drawings for this mill and some old photographs are now in the possession of the Town Council.
In 2005 any employment on the site of the old mill ended with the closure of Pennine Fibres.The mill building has subsequently been demolished and a housing estate is being built on the site.
There is a record that in 1858 there was a strong committee of men dedicated to the Chartist cause, which surprised a Mr G Robinson, who came up to the village from Bradford to preach Chartism, only to find the men in Denholme were more organised and advanced in their outlook than some of the men in Bradford. In 1800, the largest landowner was William Buck, a barrister, from Stradmore in South Wales. His grandfather, Joseph, was a wool stapler from Allerton who began the Buck estate. His father, John Buck, married his first wife Jane (Jenny) who was from the big Dawson wool family in Bradford. On the occasion of their marriage, they were leased a comfortable home, Godmansend, and all the land in Denholme for a yearly rent of one red rose, which had to be taken to the father every year. This was to be paid until the father died and John Buck inherited the entire estate
His son, John William, from his second marriage, living in London, and practising in Temple Inns, had no real interest in Denholme. When his wife had to move away from London for her health, the Buck family moved back to her family home in Wales. When a close friend of the family died and there was no longer anyone able to collect the rents, John William Buck soon began to sell off his estates in Denholme, although he did give the land for St Paul’s Church.
St Paul’s Church was erected in 1846, midway between the two communities of Denholme and Denholme Clough. The building was paid for by Messrs Eli and Benjamin Foster and Mr Jonathan Knowles. Up until 1846 the Anglican churchgoers had to travel to Thornton every Sunday. St Paul’s, the ‘Minster on the hill’ was used for worship until June 1997, when extensive dry rot was discovered in the structure and for safety reasons it had to be closed. The final ‘Farewell’ service was held on 5th September 1999 in the new graveyard, which is still open for interments.
The congregation of St Paul’s now hold their services in the Worship Centre on Longhouse Lane. This was converted from the old doctor’s surgery. The service of dedication and licensing by the then Lord Bishop of Bradford, the Rt Revd. David Smith was held on 2nd September 2001.
A Wesleyan Methodist community existed in the village in 1760 and the first chapel was built in 1793. It was a small upper room with two cottages below, which itself was extended in 1823. This building, now known as the old ‘little mill’ on Lodge Gate, is being converted into a dwelling.
Education has always been important in the village because there was a Dame School, but the school building by St Paul’s, referred to as the Old Sunday School, was taken over by the Thornton School Board in 1874. The first purpose built school was erected in 1870 at Lodge Gate. It could provide for 470 scholars. This building was used until the mid-1970s when the new school was built on a site at the top of Minorca Mount.
The foundation stone for the Mechanics Institute was laid on the 29th May 1880 by William Foster of Whiteshaw. It was built by public subscription and is a smaller copy of the Institute at Bingley. It has been a public community building ever since.
In 1922, a book promoting the industrial advantages of Denholme, quotes that its population was 3,000 persons living on 2,360 acres and that the centre of the village was 940 feet above sea-level. It was served by regular omnibus to Crossroads for Keighley, and Queensbury for Bradford. Also, that it was on a branch line of the London and North Eastern Railway serving Bradford, Halifax and Keighley.
Denholme was administered by the Denholme Gate Local Board until 1885 when it became the Denholme Urban District Council. However, in 1974 Denholme lost its independence and became part of the new Bradford Metropolitan District. The Council changed its name to the Denholme Town Council with its own Town Mayor when applications to Westminster were open to all ex-urban districts following the move to more centralisation. The Council Chamber is in the Mechanics Institute and remains in use today.
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