Forty years in Bailiff Bridge



Local history is much easier to study if you are equipped with local knowledge. But, even close to modern Bradford, there are communities which I scarcely know at all. To be fair the village of Bailiff Bridge must be nearer to Huddersfield than Bradford, and closer still to Hipperholme and Lightcliffe. It was notable, for many years, for the presence of Firth’s carpet mill. This lovely map is from the Local Studies Library’s reserve collection and it long pre-dates the carpet mill period. The community’s name presumably partially derives from the bridges built over the Wyke Beck at this point. If any reader knows this area intimately I should very much welcome further information.

It is the quality of this map that makes me wish to include it here, and also because its unexplained features usually lead me to asking questions, and sometimes to finding answers. The first question is how to orientate the map? As so often with old maps north is not at the top. The important point is that the watercourse, Wyke Beck, is on the Bradford side of Bailiff Bridge and in reality runs approximately north-west, not due west as the map appears to suggest. The goit system, which I shall describe later, would only work if water flowed in from higher ground and was released below a powered water-wheel at a lower level. If you rotate the map 45° clockwise the Wyke Beck is in the correct position and now at the bottom right of the map there is a prominent V made by the turnpike to Huddersfield and what is now Wakefield Road. The only problem is that this manoeuvre displaces the road from Bradford and Wyke (Wike) which is already in approximately the correct position. If you don’t believe me find your own copy of the first OS map of the area and gaze at it as long as I have!

The presence of the ‘new turnpike road to Huddersfield’ is also helpful for dating purposes. To the best of my knowledge the Halifax, Bradford, Leeds turnpike was being planned and constructed in the mid-1820s. Clearly this and the section to Huddersfield was completed by the time the map was surveyed. Once the turnpike was constructed, until 1875, there were annual letting advertisements in the press for Bailiff Bridge Gate & Chains, and all the other turnpike bars. So the map probably dates from the early 1830s. I think we can reasonably assume that the collection of stables and farm buildings in the centre of the map preceded the roads since they are not at all on the same alignment.

There is a public house drawn although this is not named. I have spent some time trying to identify the hostelry in trade directories but without success. Frankly I wasn’t really sure which directory section to search. Some sources say that Bailiff Bridge is in the township of Wyke and the parish of Birstall, but the 1822 Baines directory places it is the parish of Dewsbury and the Wapentake of Agbrigg. Anyway I made more progress computer searching nineteenth century newspapers. The Leeds Mercury reports that on various occasions in the period 1813-16 those executing the Wyke Inclosure Act met at the house of James Pollard, The ‘Bailiff Bridge Inn’, township of Wyke, parish of Birstal. Five years later similar reports of property sales in the area indicate that they took place at the ‘Punch Bowl Inn’. I assume that these are the same premises. At any event the Punch Bowl must be correct because this features at the right place on the first OS, surveyed in the late 1840s.

Searching for pub names has thrown up the description of what sounds like a very similar map held by the Yorkshire Archaeological Society (YAS):

MD335/2/4/4 ‘…plan of land west of Wibsey Low Moor and Huddersfield Road showing site of the inn, corn mill and reservoir. With note ‘Punch Bowl Inn and above an acre of land has been sold and could be included’.

I assume that the reservoir mentioned here is the mill dam (or pond on the OS map) and the mill itself is clearly marked as you can see. I assume at this stage we are dealing with a water powered corn mill and an on-line resource (Malcolm Bull’s Calderdale Companion) states that one Jonas Wright was a corn dealer here in 1822 and that the mill was owned by the notable Richardson family of Bierley Hall, Bradford. The Richardson archives are also with the YAS. Interestingly a paper on the mills of Hirst Wood, Shipley describes a corn miller called John Wright who died there in 1851 but who owned land at Bailiff Bridge. We may be dealing with a single extended family but Wright is a common surname so this may be a coincidence.


Our first map shows the tail race or goit, called here the ‘tail goight’ returning water to the beck. The second shows another goit conveying water to the mill dam. Adjacent to the mill is a kiln. What is this: a brick kiln, a pottery kiln, a lime kiln, or a malting kiln? A malting kiln, drying germinating barley into malt, seems most probable. There would be a ready use for this commodity if the pub did its own brewing. Among other features of this delightful map is an overflow from mill dam to watercourse, an ancient fence and an area of disputed land. Again the Leeds Mercury is helpful. In 1832 there is an advertisement concerning ‘Bailiff Bridge near Brighouse’ where at the Punch Bowl Inn there was a sale of land by auction. Lot 2 consisted of a dyehouse, bleaching works, and a close of land. There is a comment that ‘this lot may be turned into a malt kiln and brewery’. Perhaps it was. Incidentally at this early date bleaching involved spreading damp cloth outside to be exposed to the sun. ‘Bleach fields’ were employed for this purpose.

This rural idyll was not to last. Samuel Sowden of Northowram was a worsted spinner, and his Sowden sons became partners in a Bailiff Bridge worsted mill in the 1830s. If I interpret correctly this was a new construction. In the first OS map our corn mill seems to have remained while Holme Mill (woollen) and Bailiff Bridge Mill (woollen & cotton) have been built. But the Sowden enterprise did not flourish. The Bradford Observer in 1837 carried the unwelcome news of the bankruptcy of William, Joseph, Samuel jnr & Jonas Sowden, worsted spinners. I should explain to readers not from West Yorkshire that wollens and worsteds are not the same textiles and that their weaving involves different processes. The following year saw a bankruptcy sale of ‘a valuable mill’ & its machinery for Wm Sowden & Brothers. With this event we are well past the period of our map. But there are a few other events in the history of Bailiff Bridge that I must record.

In 1839 there was a steeplechase held there. Four horses competed over a 3¼ mile course, and 14 subscribers invested 5 guineas in the event. Mr E. Dyson’s ‘Sir Mark’ won. Mr Wheatley a veterinary surgeon, presumably overcome by the excitement of the event, mislaid a brown bull and a terrier dog called Crab. He advertised for their safe return in the Leeds Mercury, and I really hope he got them back. In the 1840s the Halifax-Bradford railway line was planned and in ‘the year of revolution’, 1848, the Bradford Observer reported that HW Ripley had erected a school-room in Bailiff Bridge. Sir Henry Ripley (1813-82) was the principle partner in the Bowling Dyeworks and became a very wealthy man. Some years after the gift of the school he constructed the workers’ village of Ripleyville which has claims to be Bradford’s Saltaire. When Bailiff Bridge school was opened Rev J Glyde addressed a celebratory meeting on the subject of education. Jonathan Glyde was the minister of Horton Lane Chapel with an enviable record of concern for society’s less advantaged people. The school was just erected in time to feature on the OS map and must have been situated roughly where the upper hatched block is on the road to Wyke.



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