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HOLMFIRTH AND THE HOLME VALLEY IN 1852

The name of Holmfirth, it will be safe to say, had not up to 1852 been heard at any great distance from its own obscure neighbourhood, except, perhaps, for the merits of its well-known woollen cloths, the quality of which was held in high estimation in the country at a time when the word ‘shoddy’ was not to be found in a woollen manufacturer’s dictionary. 

But since that year it has been, and henceforth will continue to be, held in remembrance because of the havoc which was caused in its then busy valley by the bursting of the Bilberry Reservoir.

Although nearly 60 years have passed since the event took place, Holmfirth has not recovered the blow it then received, the many – alas! To many – empty mills being a standing proof in support of this statement.

The town of Holmfirth, as the reader may be aware, is situated in the valley of the Holme, and the appearance of the place is such as will impress the mind of a stranger by its rugged grandeur. 

The town is situate at the foot of three great hills, and climbs partly up their rugged sides.  The locality is diversified by beautiful extensive valleys, and sloping moor and woodlands, stretching out to the borders of Cheshire, Derbyshire, and Lancashire reaching their highest point in that immense range of hills known as the “Backbone of old England” and sometimes called the “English Alps”. 

These wild and preciptuous hills, which are covered with heather, the happy hunting ground of the sportsmen and follower of the hounds, are broken by deep cloughs or glens, which drain the wild tracks of moorland, the latter extending from the summit of their ridges for miles, their beds being washed by small streamlets, which, augmented in their course by many a waterfall, gradually widens at the termination of the cloughs, and become the source from whence the larger streams of the valleys are supplied.

The Holme Valley is one of the most extensive in the locality, terminating in the high lands known as Holme Moss on the west, and Black Moss and Ramsden Edge on the south – a distance of three miles above Holmfirth. 

A small river – called the Holme – formed by the confluence of the Holme and Digley streamlets, which empty themselves into it near to Holmebridge church, and by the Ribbledon Streamlets, which drain the hills lying to the south-east, runs down the valley, affording every facility for steam and water power. 

These facilities led to the erection of mills for the manufacture of fancy woollens, which had for many years have been successfully carried on in the valley by the “Master Clothiers” as they were then called, and a trade of great importance had gradually grown, which found employment for a large population.

The concentration of this industrial spirit in the locality soon led to an increase in the population of the district, which is covered with six or seven villages, having the town of Holmfirth for its centre.

Holme, the first village at the head of the valley, is of great antiquity, and lies on the slope of Holme Moss, in a wild, secluded nook, away almost from all human ken. 

About a mile lower down, at the confluence of the Holme and Digley streamlets, is situated the village of Holmebridge whose beautiful little church of St David’s had been only just erected before the event we are recording took place. 

The village stands chiefly on the left bank of the Digley streamlet.  A few hundred yards lower down, and within about a mile-and-a-half of Holmfirth, is situated the village of Hinchliffe Mill, which extends mostly on the left bank of the river.  At this point the valley is dotted with many woollen favourites.

The town of Holmfirth is mostly picturesquely situated on the banks of the river which flows through its centre, and was crossed in 1852 by four bridges, called Upper Bridge, Victoria Bridge , Norridge Bridge and Lower Bridge, each having a span of about seven yards. 

On the cliffs and along the ridges are many habitations which were then occupied by an industrious population, and on the east high lands slope gradually from the valley, and which at the time were covered with all the evidences of industrial activity. 

The greater portion of the town lies in the valley, and abutting on the river were several extensive woollen manufactories and dyeworks, which all gave to it that appearance of activity and industry which a manufacturing town generally presents.

The next village to Holmfirth is Thongsbridge which was then built chiefly on the river Holme, where there are also several woollen manufactories. 

After leaving Thongsbridge, the river continues its circuitous route down the valley, until it falls into the River Colne near Huddersfield, and ultimately empties itself into the river Humber.

In the year 1850, Holmfirth had been connected with the neighbouring town of Huddersfield by a branch railway, which had proved to be of immense benefit to the thriving valley, some on sites apparently least adapted for their object, were mills, manufactories, dyehouses, shops and dwellings, the owner of each having been actuated only by consideration of his own means and requirements. 

Where the valley contracts to a gorge and the stream deepens as it narrows, there the little space by the side of the stream, perched on the precipitous bank on the other side which did not allow room for anther mill. 

The Parish Church, a handsome modern edifice, with a tower containing six bells, sinks into insignificance beneath the neighbouring houses on the cliff, where the beholder looks down upon its highest pinnacle.

Such is a general description of the Holme Valley as it appeared in 1852 before the flood, and it is safe to say that with the exception of the havoc caused to buildings by the flood, its appearance has changed little from that day to this.

At the time of which we are writing, the population of Holmfirth was stated to be 2,347 and with that outlying districts at 17,000.  the mills were employed in the manufacture of black and fancy woollens of the very finest description, and these goods have given the valley a world-wide fame for the excellence of their finish.

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