Nineveh and Tyre

Whetley Hill

As I look at the old maps in the Bradford Local Studies Library I frequently find myself thinking ‘change and decay in all around I see’. This reflection was certainly occasioned by the above plan, which shows a dignified gentleman’s residence about to be replaced by mean terraced housing. But my thought was inappropriate for an archaeologist. In the first place all times, all cultures, and all houses are of equal value. In the second place my own ancestors would have thought themselves incredibly lucky to have owned even a terrace house. What we have is a sale plan for Whetley Hill, Manningham dated 1872. The house was located to the east of the road of the same name just above the important inn known as the Lower Globe.

The house would have provided an excellent opportunity for gracious leisure. The owner had a lawn naturally, and kitchen gardens for fresh vegetables. Some tender plants required heat and I assume the melons and cucumbers grown would have featured at fine dinner parties. Grapes might well have been provided as a dessert on such occasions and it was only proper to have both an early and a late heated vinery so that the dinner guests could enjoy as long a season as possible. Transport needs were taken care of by a stable and coach house, and for relaxation there was always croquet or a game of cricket. All could not be sweetness and light of course. I assume that the ‘soil shed’ was not a repository for potting compost but a storage area for human waste awaiting the arrival of the night-soil men with their cart. Lunch at your gentleman’s club on collection days. The ‘rubbish place’ was a convenient site for dumping coal ashes and broken pottery or glass in the years before a regular collection was provided by the local authority. Some lucky residents presumably now have an unappreciated archaeological treasure house in their back garden.

When was the house in existence, and who lived there? Immediately there is a problem. Two substantial dwellings exist at the same point on opposite sides of the roadway now called Whetley Hill. They are present on both the 1849 and 1871 Bradford maps. In 1849 this house is drawn, but not named. The house opposite is ‘Wheatley Hill’ with an ‘a’. In the 1871 map our dwelling has adopted the spelling of its neighbour, and is itself Wheatley Hill, while the dwelling opposite has become Wheatley House. This is a very thoughtless disregard of the needs of future local historians and I assume that the respective butlers sorted out the misaddressed mail. Such a large residence was hardly likely to escape the notice of Victorian local historian William Cudworth and he records that Thomas Hill Horsfall was the owner of Whetley Hill in 1839, within a list of Manningham freeholders. Confused? You will be since in Cudworth’s History of Manningham, Heaton & Allerton Wheatley House is described together with its owners the Hollings family, except that he once calls it Wheatley Hall. Neither house was exactly a rural enclave. In the mid-nineteenth century there were several neighbouring quarries and Wheatley House must have had a fine view of a brick works.

Where does the name Wheatley, Whetley or even Whitley, come from? It is a common English place name just as Wheatlands is a common field name. The obvious origin is from leah, a meadow or low-lying land, and the name of the cereal. It is slightly hard to believe in waving fields of golden corn in north Bradford, but there you are. An alternative is ‘white land’ with the whiteness being the result of Roman roads or remains. Some places with this name are close to Roman sites the best example being the fort of Whitley Castle, Northumberland. Whetley Hill is in fact a very straight road and is well-placed to be on the course of a Roman highway.

I think that Whetley Hill was built in the late eighteenth century by one Thomas Wilkinson who owned most of the land in the area and much else besides. He was a bachelor and on his death his housekeeper, a Miss Sally Kitching, inherited. Cudworth describes her as ‘a maiden lady of means and of some repute’. I’d like to know more about her and her repute, but so far her life story has beaten my investigative powers. She died in 1822 and Thomas Hill Horsfall (1802-1855) acquired the house from her executors. While he was resident he kept a pack of foxhounds that hunted all around Bradford; he was consequently known as ‘Hunting’ Tom Horsfall. It is pleasant to record that today you would need to take an immense walk to reach the nearest foxhound pack but that we had a fox safely asleep in our garden this week. Eventually Horsfall sold the house to John Priestman (1805-1866) and moved to Thirsk, around 1838 I estimate. It is fortunate that he was visiting his cousin John Horsfall of Bolton Royds, Manningham at the time of the 1851 census. Their ancestor was John Garnett Horsfall who introduced steam power looms to Bradford. The consequent riot beside his mill at North Wing in 1826 led to several deaths when special constables fired on the protestors.

Be that as it may the new home owner was John Priestman and his wife Sarah. John’s brother Samuel Priestman, of East Mount Hull, is a relative by marriage of my wife’s family. John Priestman was a very different man to Hunting Tom. He was a member of a large and distinguished Quaker family being devoted to peace and an enemy to none but strong drink. He was initially a flour miller and then a successful stuff weaver (John Priestman & Co.). After he died, at Whetley Hill in 1866, his wife and sons continued in residence for a few years longer. Cudworth gives the name of the last known resident as John Spink. By this time, he writes, the land below was covered by housing and after the sale ‘all our pomp of yesterday, is one with Nineveh and Tyre’.


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