A Brief History of Holmfirth

The history of Holmfirth dates back over one thousand years when the land was a rich forest with its prime use as a hunting area for the lords of Wakefield back in the Saxon era, which is what gave Holmfirth its name as it means ‘sparse woodland belonging to Holme.’ However, it was not long until Holmfirth’s abundant space and greenery began to attract permeant settlers as by the 13th century early records revealed building had appeared in the region. Holmfirth today is sprawled with houses across the valley, particularly higher up, which is a trend that began when settlers first came to Holmfirth. This is because settlers worked mostly as rural farmers or had cottage industries. As with the rest of England the industrial revolution drastically transformed the Holmfirth region, yet prior to this Holmfirth had already seen levels of industrialised due to John Fallas, a woollen clothier, who instead of building his mills up the valley opted for the bottom of the valley where the rivers were located for the production of wool in 1784. This was a watershed in Holmfirth’s history as it had a knock-on effect of more houses being built in the valley as the mills demanded workers who lived close by. It was not long before Holmfirth became a prosperous town due to their milling industry. By the mid-1800s around 60 textile mills had been built.

However, Holmfirth’s history has not escaped tragedy with the very rivers that led to a prosperous milling industry causing a flood in 1852 that killed 81 people along with a number of properties being destroyed which left thousands homeless and jobless. This was caused when Bilberry reservoir’s banks broke and went on to not only destroy parts of Holmfirth but some of the surrounding towns through the Holme Valley in an event that gathered national attention due to the tragic nature of the event. This was not the first flood for Holmfirth as records show floods occurred as early as 1738 and the most recent flood being in 1944.

Up until the 20th century, Holmfirth was known for its textile industry dubbed the ‘town busy with wool.’ Now Holmfirth’s economy is more heavily dominated by rural and tourism activities from hikers to bicyclists along with the town capitalising on the success of The Last of the Summer Wine by offering tours of notable locations from the show that attracts tourists from all over the nation. Moreover, there is still plenty of farms in Holmfirth with agriculture adding to Holmfirth’s economy.

As for Holmfirth’s recent history, the fame the town received from the popular television shows The Last of the Summer Wine shown on the BBC from 1973 to 2010, making it one of the longest-running sitcom in the world, has made Holmfirth a recognisable name. Holmfirth now is known for its abundance of art from the Film Festival, Folk Festival to the Art Week and these events have historic origins due to Holmfirth’s history of art. Notably, James Bamforth who was a local resident in the late 1800s became known as the ‘king of the lantern slides’ and used Holmfirth as a backdrop for his silent films which grew in popularity both nationally but particularly with the local residents. Then in the early 1900s Bamforth solidified his name in the historical records by publishing illustrated seaside postcards that were exported worldwide, famed for their ‘adult’ nature. Bamforth’s success grew rapidly as by the end of the First World War over 20,000,000 postcards were printed every year and then by the 1960s, Bamforth Postcards was the world’s largest publisher of comic postcards.

Blog by Rebecca (Becky) Smith

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