An incomplete history of Windhill


In the 1820s, Windhill was described as a hamlet in the Chapelry of Idle, in the parish of Calverley, in the Morley division of the Agbrigg and Morley wapentake, liberty of Pontefract. [1]

It was said by William Peel [2], one of its more eccentric inhabitants, to have taken its name from a cottage built on rocks on the top of a hill overlooking the confluence of the River Aire and Bradford Beck just 3 miles north of Bradford. Being exposed to the prevailing south-westerly winds, it acquired the name of Windhill. Others consider that it derived its name from the prolific growth of whins (=‘whinhill’) - the surrounding area was probably no more than barren scrub land. The derivation of the name of nearby Idle, from the Old English Idel, meaning an empty, barren place or an uncultivated area, is strongly supportive of this theory.  The name could also refer to a device for winding woollen yarn or a basket containing winnowed grain.

But on a map made in 1584, the name is spelled ‘Windell’. A windell, or windle, was a winding lane on a hillside. Several such lanes would have climbed the steep hillside up to Wrose.


The region of West Yorkshire in which Windhill is situated was a stronghold of the Briganti tribe in Roman times, although few supporting artefacts have ever been found. The first settlements that have been identified were of eighth century Anglo-Saxon origin. The Anglo-Saxons were followed by Danish invaders who penetrated the Aire Valley. In those times the Windhill / Idle area would have been largely forest, scrub and moor with occasional small cultivated clearings. Before the Norman invasion, the land between Keighley and Farsley (which includes Windhill) was held by two Anglo Saxon noblemen, Archil and his nephew Gospatric. After the conquest, their lands were given to Ilbert de Laci of Pontefract in recognition of his service to William the Conqueror during the Battle of Hastings. The descendants of the de Lacis are thought to have erected the first water-powered woollen mills in Bradford during Plantaganet times. Some historians believe that the extensive de Laci lands passed to the Plumpton family of Plumpton near Spofforth; in 1190, Sir Nigel de Plumpton, who held the Lordship of the Manor of Idle from the de Lacis, gave part of his holding in Idle to the Cistercian Priory at nearby Esholt, on the opposite side of the River Aire, on condition that the nuns pray for the souls of his family. By the 16th century, the Lordship of Idle and the dependent hamlets of Windhill and Wrose were the property of the Plumptons.


One researcher [3] has claimed that the Batesons were once copyholders of the Plumpton estates, the suggestion being that their association with the Plumpton family explains their presence from early times in Kirkby Overblow, Otley, Guiseley, Harewood, Esholt and Calverley - some of these settlements have proven associations with the Plumptons and later with the Earl of Harewood.

The Lordship of Idle passed into the hands of the Clifford family of Skipton Castle through the 15th century marriage of William de Plumpton and Elizabeth Clifford.


In the late 14th century, Poll Tax returns show that there were only sixty adult inhabitants in the Manor of Idle.

The Lay Subsidy of 1545 shows that there were 26 householders paying a total of 4s 10d.

By 1584, Idle Manor had been split into several moieties, half being held by George Clifford, 3rd Earl of Cumberland, with the remainder shared equally by William & Cecilia Reyner of Clifton in Calderdale and Sir Anthony & Anne Thorold of Marston in Lincolnshire.
In 1583, a cash-strapped Cumberland commissioned a detailed survey of Idle to facilitate a sale of the Manor. Along with his coparceners, he sold land to a variety of local farmers, clothiers, tanners and millers as well as property investors from further afield. These sales created a number of leasehold properties in Idle, Thorpe, Thackley, Wrose and Windhill. Their owners continued to pay a manorial rent to the Lord but owed loyalty solely to the King. It was the continuation of a process of amalgamation or enclosure of scattered strip fields into what began to resemble modern farms.


By 1629 Robert Clarkson was Lord of the Manor of Idle, as well as the owner of a number of closes in the district. On 7 October a deed noted that "2 cottages called the Smythies made into a fulling mill in Windhill" were conveyed to the Clarksons.


In 1653 Robert Clarkson's son, William, conveyed the Manor, rents and all appurtenances in Thorpe, Wrose, Windhill, the Smithies (at Windhill Crag), the fulling mill, the chapel at Idle and the site of the manor house to his son Robert.


Robert Clarkson jnr sold the Manor to Sir Walter Calverley of Esholt Hall in 1714 for £700. Calverley's son Walter Blackett (the name was changed to the female inheritance) sold it to Robert Stansfield in 1755. Descent through female inheritance introduced the names Rookes and Crompton, but they adopted the name Stansfield. Three daughters, the Misses Crompton Stansfield, lived at Esholt Hall until Bradford Corporation bought the whole of the Esholt estate, including lands in Idle, (though not, as far as can be ascertained, any lands in Windhill) in 1906. They did, however, retain the title of Lord of the Manor of Idle when they moved out. [5]


An annotated version of the map that accompanied the Cumberland Survey of 1583/84 shows that the Lordship comprised the nucleated settlements of Idle, Thorpe, Wrose, and Windhill. [6]

Idle Moor and Windhill Crag were areas of uncultivated land while the West Wood on the northern boundary, West Royd, Wrose Brow and Appletree on the southern border were extensively wooded. Pasture land, probably with meadows, prevailed along the banks of the River Aire. Villagers would have grazed sheep, cattle and pigs on the common pastures and in the woodland. Crops were grown in the strip fields. South of Wrose, the map shows an area of open fields with their strips indicated by dotted lines; the cultivated areas on either side are described as Wrose Fields and Wrose Open Fields. These unenclosed arable fields would have been divided into furlongs and subdivided into strips that were worked co-operatively by the farmers. Significantly, the other 'Fields' in Idle are subtitled 'closes', pieces of land that were enclosed by fences or hedges. Most of Windhill is labelled thus, suggesting that the land there was owned and worked by individual freeholders and perhaps by copyholders. Much of Windhill Crag, however, was unenclosed and remained so until the Inclosure Award of 1813. It was probably uncultivated wasteland, exploited only for quarrying wall stones and roof slates. Writing in 1857, William Peel portrayed the Crag before 1810 as a stony wilderness, a "waste land and covered with brambles". [6]


Tenants and buildings were recorded in the survey of 1584. The manor house or Idle Hall, situated at the northeast corner of the village was in a state of disrepair. The ruins stood within a fenced and walled deer park, which incorporated a lodge for the keeper of the park. The present place-names of Park Hill and Park Lodge derive from this medieval park. The inhabitants of Idle comprised 21 tenants and 14 cottagers, the majority of tenants residing in smallholdings or messuages consisting of a house, barn, and outbuildings, with a croft or parcel of land to the rear of the property. The cottagers lived in a cottage with a garden, and had rights of Common Land. [6]

Land in the Lordship was more suitable for grazing than for crops. Villagers kept sheep as well as cattle and pigs. Crops were grown in the strip fields. It was the rule that corn had to be ground and cloth fulled at the manorial mill on the banks of the River Aire. [7] 

The manufacture of cloth became an important industry and was protected by government legislation, which prohibited the export of raw wool to other cloth manufacturing countries. Peat and wood were the main fuels burnt in the cottages.  Although small amounts of coal were found on Idle Moor, the iron smithies continued to be fuelled by charcoal from timber cut in the East and West Woods. The cottages themselves began to be built of stone quarried locally.

In most homesteads the women would be involved in spinning and the men in weaving, this in addition to their farm work. Kersey, a coarse woollen cloth, was the main type of cloth produced. Some processes, such as fulling, had to be carried out in mills such as Buck Mill.


Clothiers proliferated in the 17th century when cloth production accelerated following inventions such as the fly shuttle loom, which improved productivity and created an increased demand for yarn – a demand met by the Spinning Jenny, which could spin 8 threads at once from a single wheel.

The term "clothier" seems to have covered a range of activities. Some clothiers were undoubtedly wealthy cloth merchants of yeoman stock. Others were men of small capital, who had a farm or some other occupation independent of their manufacturing operations. An increasing number of clothiers probably kept a smallholding while their main industry was carrying out most of the necessary processes before taking the cloth to be sold. Some were employed by wool-staplers or by other clothiers on a commission basis, being supplied with a quantity of raw wool, the yarn or cloth produced being the property of the supplier who paid them for their labour. Those who largely restricted themselves to carding, spinning and weaving were also known as stuff makers. Stuff making would have involved the rest of the family, particularly the children and women, with the men doing the weaving. The coarse cloth would then be taken by those clothiers who possessed a horse to the local fulling mill to be consolidated and thickened by various evil-smelling processes. Finally the cloth would be stretched and dried on a tenter frame. Either dyed or undyed, the finished cloth would then be sold at one of the local weekly markets (Cloth Halls) in Bradford or Leeds.

Although one man and his family might well have carried out all these production processes, from buying the raw wool, carrying out the various operations ‘in-house’, to taking the finished piece to market, wool production in the 17th and 18th centuries is likely to have been a much more fragmented industry.


Houses became 2 and 3 storied, weaving being carried out on the top floor because it was usually better lit from its many windows. At the rear of these houses were stone steps running up to the weaving rooms. Spinning would often be carried out on the ground floor.  Children from the age of 5 had to do their share of the family work, cleaning and teasing wool in readiness for their mother’s spinning wheel. It would take the yarn production of several spinsters to keep one weaver fully employed. [7] 


Worsted weaving required an additional process, combing, which was often carried out in an upper chamber by the men, assisted by family members. It was a noxious process involving hot combs. The constant fumes from the heat of the combs meant the average life span of a member of a wool combing family was only 23 years. [8] Woolcombing became mechanised by the early 1800s and gradually transferred to purpose-built mills.


By this time, new machinery meant that establishments such as Buck Mill could also carry out the scribbling process. 

The introduction of mechanised spinning and looms heralded the decline of the clothiers, who were more likely to produce woollen, rather than worsted, cloth. While the new power looms put a strain on the short woollen fibres, they were able to take advantage of the longer, stronger fibres of worsted yarn. As factories took over from handloom weaving, the clothiers had to take up employment in the mills. George Bateson, for example, was a Clothier at his marriage in 1820 but described himself as a Worsted Winder in the 1841 Census. Handloom weaving did persist in the Windhill area until the middle of the 19th century, but only as a cottage industry. Handloom weavers, who may have described themselves as clothiers early in the century, were more likely to have been called weavers by the 1840s.


Windhill was in a good position to benefit from mechanisation: it had wool, soft water for washing the wool, coal brought in by the new Leeds to Liverpool and Bradford canals to power the new steam engines, and a skilled labour force. In 1800 Idle township as a whole had a population of 3400, having seen an increase of around 50 per cent in fifty years. By 1870 the population had risen to just over 12,000 of which 3,300 were employed in textile mills.



1                Genuki

2                A Short Description of Crag Cottage, Windhill by William Peel, 1857

3                from a family tree drawn up by John Brackpool

4                Idlethorp by Wright Watson, Bank House Media, 2009

5                A History of Buck Mill by Eileen White, 2006

6                Survey of the Manor of Idle, 1584 - quoted in Round About Bradford by William Cudworth, Thomas Brear, 1876

..                Martin Bradley has produced an annotated version of the map

7                The History of Idle by Steve White, published by Idle Online, 2005

8                The History of Pudsey by S Rayner, 1887