Batley is a town in the Metropolitan Borough of Kirklees, West Yorkshire, England. It lies southeast of Bradford, southwest of Leeds and north of Dewsbury, near the M62 motorway. Historically part of the West Riding of Yorkshire, it has a population of 49,448 (including Birstall). Other nearby towns include: Morley to the northeast, Ossett to the southeast and Brighouse westsouthwest. After undergoing a period of major growth in the 19th century through the success of the shoddy (recycled wool) trade, Batley has more recently undergone a period of decline. Batley is part of a special EU transformation zone.
The name Batley is derived from Danish, meaning either valley or homestead of bats, or more likely, homestead of the locally prominent Batte family. It is recorded in the Domesday Book as 'Bateleia'. After the Norman Conquest, the manor was granted to Ilbert de Lacy. It subsequently passed into the ownership of the de Batleys, and by the 12th century had passed by marriage to the Copley family. Their residence at Batley Hall was held directly from the Crown; at this time the district fell within the Duchy of Lancaster. The population at this time was 30 to 40 people. By the late 14th century, the population has increased to around 100.
There has been a church in Batley since the 11th century. Batley Parish Church was built in the reign of Henry VI (1422–1461), and parts of the original remain. Despite Batley being an ancient settlement, this is all that remains of any great antiquity.
Howley Hall at Soothill was built during the 1580s by Sir John Savile, a member of the great Yorkshire landowners, the Savile family. The house was besieged during the English Civil War in 1643 before the Battle of Adwalton Moor but appears to have sustained no serious damage. It continued to be occupied during the 17th century but fell into disrepair. Howley Hall was demolished in 1730. Many ruins exist including the cellars of its great hall.
Batley Grammar School was founded in 1612 by the Rev. William Lee and is still in existence.
Methodism came to Batley in the 1740s and took a strong hold in the town which continued into the 20th century. John Nelson from Birstall was a leading lay preacher in the early Methodist movement. Areas of the town, such as Mount Pleasant, were noted for their absence of public houses due to the Methodist beliefs of the populations.
During the late 18th century the main occupations in the town were farming and weaving. The Industrial Revolution reached Batley in 1796 with the arrival of its first water powered mills for carding and spinning. During the next half century the population grew rapidly, from around 2,500 at the start of the 19th century to 9,308 at the 1851 census. The parish of Batley at this point included Morley, Churwell and Gildersome, with a total population of 17,359.
A toll road built in 1832 between Gomersal and Dewsbury had a branch to Batley (the present day Branch Road) which allowed for "the growing volumes of wool, cloth and coal" to be transported. Until then there had only been foot and cart tracks. Around the same time there were strikes in the mills, which led to an influx of Irish workers who settled permanently. Initially this led to antagonism from residents, due to the lower wages demanded by the Irish workers and general anti-Roman Catholic sentiment, but this faded in time. By 1853 Catholic services were held regularly in the town; its first Roman Catholic church, St Mary of the Angels, was not built until 1870 and is still in existence.
By 1848 there was a railway station in Batley, and in 1853 Batley Town Hall was erected. It was enlarged in 1905, and is in the Neoclassical style style, with a corbelled parapet and pilasters rising to a centre pediment. In 1868 Batley was incorporated as a municipal borough, the former urban district of Birstall was added to it in 1937.
1853 also saw the establishment of a small confectionery shop by Michael Spedding. His business expanded, moving to larger premises in 1927 becoming Fox's Biscuits. Today, along with Tesco, it is one of the largest employers in the town.
During the late 19th century, Batley was the centre of the "shoddy trade" in which wool rags and clothes were recycled by reweaving them into blankets, carpets, uniforms. In 1861 there were at least 30 shoddy mills in Batley. The owners of the recycling businesses were known as the "shoddy barons". There was a "shoddy king" and a "shoddy temple", properly known as the Zion Chapel. This imposing building in the town centre was opened in 1870, and reflected the popularity of the Methodist movement. The library was built in 1907 with funds donated by the philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. The library has been modernised, with a new microfilm viewer, and reels of the Batley News dating back over 120 years. The newspaper was founded by James Fearnsides – a local printer. His grandson Clement, later became the mayor of Batley. There was coal mining in Batley at this time. The first records of coal mining in Batley date back to the 16th century at White Lee; the last pit in the town closed in 1973.
From the end of the 1950s, the need for cheap labour in the town's textile industries drew in migrant labourers from Gujarat, Punjab and other parts of modern day Pakistan and India. The South Asian population of Batley is now around 30%.