Cleckheaton is a town in the Metropolitan borough of Kirklees, in West Yorkshire, England. Historically part of the West Riding of Yorkshire, it is situated south of Bradford, east of Brighouse, west of Batley and south-west of Leeds. It is at the centre of the Spen Valley and was the major town in the former borough of Spenborough. Cleckheaton has a history as a mill town, although this industry has now all but vanished.
Cleckheaton is at the centre of a number of villages which together form the Spen Valley:
The town itself is made up of areas such as Moorend, Whitechapel, Whitcliffe, Moorbottom, Moorside, the Marsh and Rawfolds.
Cleckheaton adopted the Local Government Act of 1858 in 1864 and a local board was formed to govern the area. In 1885 Cleckheaton and the three neighbouring townships of Gomersal, Heckmondwike and Liversedge were grouped to form the Parliamentary constituency of Spen Valley. The Local Government Act 1894 reconstituted the area of the local board as Cleckheaton Urban District. There were at this time attempts to involve all the local authorities in the valley in joint projects such as installation of sewers and water. In 1915, the three urban districts of Cleckheaton, Liversedge and Gomersal were amalgamated to form Spenborough Urban District. In 1937 a county review order enlarged the urban district to include Birkenshaw, Hunsworth and Hartshead.
Spenborough (which now included all of the Spen Valley save Heckmondwike) was granted a charter of incorporation and became a municipal borough on 23 May 1955. The borough continued to use the coat of arms which bore the motto "Industry Enriches" which it had been granted in 1949.
On 1 April 1974 the Local Government Act 1972 reorganised administration throughout England and Wales. The borough of Spenborough was abolished, and its area combined with that of ten other local authorities to form the Metropolitan Borough of Kirklees, one of five metropolitan boroughs of West Yorkshire.
The Spen Valley was once heavily wooded. Evidence of human habitation in Mesolithic and Neolithic times has been found in the area. Roman remains have been found in the valley and it is thought that roads from York to Chester, and from settlements in Halifax and Wakefield, passed through Cleckheaton and the junction gave rise to a staging post.
Cleckheaton was in the ancient parish of Birstall. A chapel-of-ease, known as the White Chapel (later Whitechapel) was established.
The area was very disorganised for a long time after the Norman Conquest and the richest townships at that time were still the richest 300 years later as the Poll Tax returns of 1379 show. They also demonstrate the lack of administration as only the richest four of the 227 families living in the Spen Valley were made to pay more than the 4d (approx. 2p) minimum tax. These tax returns also show the recent deviation form the traditional sources of wealth in the area (i.e. farming and allied trades). These were centred on textiles and included dyeing, weaving and fulling (common names in the area nowadays still recall these early trades: Lister- dyer, Webster- weaver, Walker- fuller). The spread of these trades was also a result of the absence of regulation of the area. Due to the lack of manorial control, land was divided between all the sons in a family rather than just passing to the eldest. As the farmland owned by a family got smaller they became unable to support the family and so people turned to production of woollens to gain extra income.
After the Reformation, Kirklees Priory was largely destroyed, many families were driven from the area and new non-aristocratic lords of the manor who were sympathetic to Protestantism were introduced by Elizabeth I, as was a puritan clergyman who was installed at Birstall Church. By 1570, at the time of the Rising of the Northern Earls, the last of the old Norman noble families had been swept away. Sir John Neville went into exile and forfeited his estate and Thomas Hussey (heir to the de Tilly family of Oakwell Hall) was imprisoned in the Tower of London for some time before being pardoned.
By the 17th century land-owning farmers were finding it increasingly difficult as were their landlords and some payments were still in kind as farmers had no money to pay their debts. Meanwhile the textile workers were becoming more and more prosperous and paid less and less attention to their hard up and increasingly impotent landlords. During the English Civil War the clothiers were on one side and the landlords on the other. Lords of the area were made Royalist officers and made some progress such as at the Battle of Adwalton Moor about a mile east of Birkenshaw and the siege of Bradford, before the Parliamentarians took control of the area. Royalist families were forced, after the war, to pay large fines to keep their lands and avoid imprisonment. All the time clothiers were growing wealthier and by the end of the 17th century more than half of the wills in the parish of Birstall came from men whose wealth came from textiles.
After the restoration of the Monarchy, Anglicanism was reintroduced also. However many people had found puritan teachings more to their taste and it took many years to re-install an Anglican vicar to Whitechapel. Despite the draconian nonconformist laws, there was a large number of non-Anglican meeting houses and nonconformity flourished; a fifth of the population of the Birstall Parish was estimated to be nonconformist. Quakers were widespread and even now a number of 17th and 18th century Quaker burial grounds remain in the area. In the 18th century Presbyterianism was widespread but then lost a large minority of its flock to Unitarianism and to the Baptist church. Methodism also flourished from the 1740s after visits from John Wesley and Charles Wesley, as did the Moravian Church. Indeed John Wesley lived in Birstall for some time as it was near to many large towns in the West Riding.
In spite of the religious strength in the valley, the inhabitants were somewhat unconventional and still went to astrologers, quack doctors and prophets. Men like Eli Collins, the "Wizard of Wyke", and Alvery Newsome, the "Wise Man of Heckmondwike", were widespread. Furthermore, to increase the isolation, the area had no canals and had few roads, apart from a few turnpike roads, including the major ones from Leeds to Huddersfield and Bradford to Halifax.
After the discovery of good quality coal in the north of the valley industry spread quickly.
In 1804 the Reverend Hammond Roberson, annoyed that the administration of Liversedge was disorganised, promoted a system of reform - the select vestry - which quickly spread to Cleckheaton and Heckmondwike. In 1810, after his wife's death, Roberson turned his attention to church building in the area. In 1818 Parliament voted a million pounds for the building of new churches in the country and Roberson was able to secure funding to build Cleckheaton Church: St John the Evangelist in Church Street.
By the mid 19th century the Spen Valley entered its golden era. In 1800 children were paid starvation wages for putting staples into leather for carding wool, but by 1838 there were eleven carding factories in Cleckheaton and by 1893 the town was recognised as the carding capital of the world.
The mill owners built turnpike roads between the villages to enable their employees to get to work and lobbied to get railways built to get their products to reach customers. After a great deal of wrangling with the various railway companies in the 1840s railways were finally built which enabled the textile mills, ironworks, chemical factories and collieries to compete with those around the country. More than this, the railways brought together the people of the individual villages of the valley and quickly the villages grew until they merged.
Around the turn of the century, many huge and expensive buildings were erected and became symbols for the area's wealth; massive chapels and a new grammar school were built in Cleckheaton, and to mark the new urban district and the fact that it was the centre of it, Cleckheaton built a town hall in 1892, paid for by public subscription.
In 1903 Lion Confectionery began making "Midget Gems" in Cleckheaton, and 1904 saw the opening of the Phelon & Moore motorcycle factory in the town, soon followed by a car factory. BBA (formerly British Belting & Asbestos), the large asbestos, friction material, and conveyor belting firm, built its headquarters at Moorend where they manufactured automotive disc brake pads under the Mintex banner. A tourist industry developed to serve visitors to the area made famous by Charlotte Brontë's "Shirley" and by the Luddite attacks. The Mowatt family paid for Cleckheaton Library and also the reference library at Cleckheaton's grammar (later secondary) school, Whitcliffe Mount which bears their name.
From the 1920s, however, Spenborough's fortunes began to decline. Pits began to close and trade waned. Slowly, central government took on responsibilities previously held by Spenborough such as water supply, gas production, public health and education. By this time the level of industry was in serious decline as the textile mills, foundries and other factories slowly closed.
Cleckheaton railway station
In 1972 a singular case was heard at Wakefield Crown Court. A Dewsbury man was accused of, as counsel for the prosecution put it, effectively stealing Cleckheaton railway station. The railway station had closed to passenger traffic in 1965 and to goods four years later. British Rail had contracted for the clearing of the site, part of the deal being that the contractors would sell and retain the proceeds from disposal of the materials and scrap. On arrival, they discovered that the station and most of the material were already gone. It transpired that the man had been contracted by another firm to clear the site, had been advanced a sum for hire of plant, and had spent three weeks clearing the site. Subsequent efforts to trace the second firm failed, and the court found the man not guilty, deciding that he had been duped and left significantly out of pocket.