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
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
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
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
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
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
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.