Introduction to the Burton Dean Project

Burton Dean is the main valley running through the heart of the township of Kirkburton, a village located five miles south-east of Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, England. For the purpose of our story, the Dean follows the course of the Dean Bottom Dike, from Dean End at the village centre, near All Hallows Church, north-westwards to Penistone Road at Dean Bottom.

Writing in 1816, Dr T D Whitaker described the setting of the village as ‘beautiful; on the edge of a valley, finely diversified with native oak which have been permitted to attain greater bulk than usual’. Much of the Dean retains a green and pleasant character, though even by 1816 the village would have displayed a ‘busy scene of industry’. For two centuries, that scene continued as Kirkburton became a centre for woollen textiles and other industries. Now much of that industry has gone.

Our story focuses on Burton Dean Park, the site of the former Carter Mill, and now a small public open space, owned and managed by Kirklees Council, with assistance from the local community. Burton Environment Group had a vision of the site as a durable and valued greenspace at the heart of the village. This vision was translated into a bid for grant assistance from the Heritage Lottery Fund, which was approved in 2006.

Through 2007 works were undertaken to repair site features and improve accessibility. A local history interpretation programme explored, presented and recorded the history of Burton Dean. This page hopefully captures that story.

Industrial heritage of Burton Dean

The early local textile trade was firmly based in the homes of the hand-loom weavers. However, the influence of a small number of local master clothiers gradually increased, especially following the building of a water-powered ‘scribbling’ mill at Dogley in 1787. Similarly, this was followed by a steam-driven mill at Linfit at the beginning of the 19th century, to take advantage of readily-available coal. The operations in these early mills supported the activities of the hand-loom weavers. Some developed initially as warehouses for the collection and finishing of cloth made by the home-based weavers.

One such was at Springfield Mill, opened at Dean Bottom in about 1830. The main building in the complex was added for spinning in 1834, and power-loom weaving sheds followed in 1849. The mill’s original owner also built Springfield House which, much later, was bought by Kirkburton UDC in 1935 for use as a Town Hall. In 1992, the house was sold and reverted to a private dwelling. Similarly, the listed buildings of the mill complex remain, but now with a new use as residential apartments.

Another large multi-storey warehouse was opened in the middle of Kirkburton in the late 1820s by Edward Ellis and his business partner William Carter. Here, also, various manufacturing processes were added over the years, including spinning and weaving. Ellis Mill dominated North Road and, as it was enlarged and dyehouse buildings added, it extended across half the valley back to the dike. On the opposite side of the road was a close of cottages, occupied by hand-loom weavers, which is still called Ellis Square.

William Carter developed the Dean Dye Works just a little further down the Dean in the 1840s; the cottages which still bear his name, Carter Row, and his impressive residence, The Dene, remain to this day.

William Carter continued in business after Ellis’s death, but when he himself retired in the early 1860s it passed to his son-in-law, Hermann Geissler. He was originally from Germany and had other local textile business interests in Farnley Mill. He died in 1880 and was succeeded by his eldest son William Carter Geissler, described in 1881 as a fancy carriage rug manufacturer.

In 1884, a reversal of business fortunes led to the sale of Ellis Mill and the cottages in Ellis Square, but Carter Mill was retained. In 1888, William Carter Geissler died and the business was taken over by his younger brother, Gustav. He continued in business, making among other things livery cloth, until the disruption of trade during the Great War caused closure. There are no entries for Carter Mill in the Yorkshire Trades Directories between 1920 and 1934 and the 1932 Ordnance Survey map shows the mill as disused.

In 1934, the mill was acquired by James Whitworth for the ‘reeling, winding and twisting of plain and fancy yarns of woollen, worsted, cotton and rayon’. The building was partly used as billets by members of the Royal Corps of Signals, who were based in Kirkburton during the Second World War. James was joined after the war by his sons, Herbert and Walter, and the business continued until 1952. Between 1952 and 1971, the mill is listed to British Woollens Ltd, manufacturers of pile fabric for carpets and rugs. Thereafter, the mill closed again and it was demolished in 1978.

Ellis Mill had met a similar fate in 1974 after years of periodic use for textiles, but also for many other different purposes including Territorials Drill Hall, Salvation Army Headquarters, Church Hall, Conservative Club, print works and grocer’s shop.

In the 1850s, the family firm of Richard Carter set up a shovel and tool handle business at Dean End. The firm had its origins in the 1740s in blacksmith shops at Highburton, and subsequently at Far Dean, where the usual work of a village smith developed to making agricultural implements and edge tools. At Dean End, Richard Carter’s business expanded to supplying mining implements and replacement handles for the Yorkshire coalfield. By the 1880s, imported American hardwoods, as well as local timber, were being used for the production of poles and handles. Richard died in 1896, but his sons continued and the business remained in the village until 1999, when it outgrew the premises. The firm still trades from its current base in Honley. The Dean Works buildings remain however and still house commercial activity.


Poverty, poverty knock! Me loom is a-saying all day.

Poverty, poverty knock! Gaffer’s too skinny to pay.

These words from 1905 by Tom Daniels, a weaver from Batley, remind us that life in the woollen manufacturing industry was hard work for little reward. This was especially true in West Yorkshire, where cheap goods of reasonable quality meant a ready market at home and abroad. This made for both low wages and a lower standard of living than in many other textile producing areas. An 1825 survey recorded extremely high levels of unemployment in Kirkburton. Even by 1872, those in full-time home-based work often still suffered as stays weaving was noted as one of the worst paid jobs in the district. Increased competition intensified exploitation; wage cuts and falling prices paid for cloth and garments coupled with rising costs of raw materials and staple provisions made for a hard life indeed.

Shift and spin, warp and twine. Making thread, coarse and fine.

Dreaming of your Valentine, working at the mill.

(Ewan McVicar)

Everyone needs to dream, particularly when life consists of constant drudgery of hard work, long hours and little pay!

More recently, many local people of the older generation have happy memories of Burton Dean and remember it as a wonderful place to play. It was a great place to sail boats on the dike and collect frog spawn. The Dean provided a cricket pitch in summer and a good slope for sledging when it snowed in winter.

Carter Mill is recalled as a working textile mill, latterly producing carpet fabric into the 1970s. It is a happy coincidence that since demolition of the mill, the site has once again become a place for informal recreation.

Ellis Mill ceased to be fully active as a textile mill around the mid-1880s. Older folk can remember the mill building having several different uses. It housed the Salvation Army Hall, the Conservative and Union Club, Harry Booth’s shop on the ground floor, with Arnold Scott below, repairing cycles and motorbikes.

The Dean Works of Richard Carter made renowned shovels and though the firm departed Kirkburton in 1999, Carters are still in production providing a link to a proud industrial past.

The message board is available for people to add their own memories and add to the story of Burton Dean.

Burton Dean Today

Following demolition in the 1970s, plans submitted to build houses on the Carter and Ellis Mill sites provoked vigorous opposition, headed by Kirkburton Civic Society. After several years of campaigning the proposals were rejected, following a public inquiry in 1982.

Burton Dean Park is a local heritage site and public open space located along the Dean Bottom Dike in Kirkburton. The site is sign-posted and readily accessible from North Road via Carter Row. A network of paths allow access for all around the park.

Kirkburton Civic Society raised funds and eventually succeeded in acquiring the Carter Mill site. In 1985, the deeds were presented to the Mayor of Kirklees, on the understanding that the area would be developed as an informal park. This was done, but in recent years minimal maintenance saw the area become neglected and overgrown.

Then, in 2003, the Burton Environment Group (BEG) became involved and injected that vital ingredient of local care. BEG is a voluntary environment organisation, established to protect and preserve the natural and built heritage of Kirkburton and Highburton. The Group had a vision of Burton Dean Park not only becoming a durable and valued greenspace at the heart of Kirkburton village, but also of interpreting the history of the site for local people and visitors. This vision was translated into a bid for grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).

The HLF enables communities to celebrate, look after and learn more about our diverse heritage and their grants assist in opening up the nation’s heritage for everyone to enjoy. The bid was approved in 2006. Through 2007 site improvements were undertaken, and a local history interpretation programme recorded the story of Burton Dean for future posterity.

The site today has reminders of its working past. The dike is confined in a stonewalled channel, previously part-hidden beneath the Carter Mill building, but now colonised by ferns and frequented by grey wagtails. Elevated ponds also confirm the importance of water in the former industrial activities that took place here.

Grassed glades contrast with wooded embankments and copses with ash and sycamore, elm and willow, and elder, holly and guelder rose providing an under-storey. Existing herbs such as dog’s mercury and bistort have been augmented with additional medicinal herbs and dye plants.

Repairs to the old stone walls and the addition of new dry stone walls, constructed via training courses, have provided opportunities for local people to get involved in the site restoration and learn a craft skill. Training was provided by craftsmen wallers from the Dry Stone Wallers’ Association.

The local history programme included a series of lectures tracing the development of Kirkburton and Highburton from Domesday to the present, including the industrial heritage which underpins that development. Also included were fascinating insights into Kirkburton through the Great War 1914-1918, the history of All Hallows Church, and Storthes Hall Remembered. Local history is about people as well as places through time, and the lectures have been supplemented by some reminiscence research. These dimensions of the project have informed the on-site interpretation, a printed leaflet and these webpages. They do not attempt to provide a definitive and comprehensive history of Kirkburton and Highburton – that full story remains to be told and retold – but hopefully they will serve to provide a glimpse of that story and go some way to an understanding of Burton Dean in the context of the development of Kirkburton.