A short history of Kirkburton

Bertone is recorded at Domesday as part of the Manor of Wakefield and described as ‘waste’, likely as a consequence of the harrying of the North. Its Anglo-Saxon origins may indicate the beginning of a formal settlement in the 8th century. However the origin of the name and the precise location of the settlement are uncertain. Highburton is first recorded in 1416. First reference to Kirkburton followed some 100 years later, reflecting the growing importance of the village centred on the already substantial All Hallows Church, itself dating from the 13th century.

Archaeological excavation has revealed that by that century industrial activity was already taking place nearby in the form of the medieval monastic iron smelting at Myers Wood, later to become part of the Storthes Hall estate. In 1753, a township map records what was still an essentially agrarian community of some 750 souls, but with a clearly expanding industrial base. Several tan pits are recorded, including one at Dean End, and place names record coal mining in the eastern part of the township. For many people farming had become an occupation secondary to trade, particularly textiles.

The early textile trade was firmly based in the homes of the weavers. The early mills that followed provided operations to support the activities of the hand-loom weavers. Several developed initially as warehouses for the collection and finishing of cloth made by those home-based weavers. By 1880 there were eight working mills in Kirkburton. The further development of the local textile trade is recorded on the local industry page.

Population expanded rapidly as life expectancy and immigration generally increased and by 1800 it had reached around 1500. Economic growth provided enhanced job and housing opportunities. This relative prosperity and increased mobility, particularly with the opening of the Kirkburton Branch railway in 1867, changed the local demographics forever and by 1871 half the population had not been born in the village. The early history of the village is fortunately recorded in H J Morehouse’s History and Topography of the Parish of Kirkburton of 1861.

The 20th century brought mixed fortunes for the economic base of the villages, but both Kirkburton and Highburton remained attractive locations for residential development. The 20th century also saw the opening in 1904 of the Storthes Hall asylum for the mentally ill, based at the Storthes Hall estate, which had been developed in the late 18th century by the Horsfall family. The institution was to play a significant role in the economic and social activities of Kirkburton and its surroundings for nearly ninety years, until changing attitudes to the care and treatment of the mentally ill resulted in closure in 1991.

Storthes Hall subsequently became a campus for the University of Huddersfield and anticipates a new future with a variety of residential uses. The story of Storthes Hall Remembered is lovingly recorded in Ann Littlewood’s book. Recent housing development, in Highburton particularly, has brought a further population influx, yet the character of the villages and their industrial past in part remains.

Following the Kirkburton Township Trail is an excellent way to explore the historic heart of the village and the surrounding countryside. The trail is about four miles long and the guide leaflet is available locally, including from Kirkburton Library.