The Districts of Leeds Metropolitan Borough established 1974
Horsforth is an affluent town and civil parish within the City of Leeds metropolitan borough, in West Yorkshire, England, lying to the north west of Leeds. Historically within the West Riding of Yorkshire, it has a population of 18,928. Horsforth was considered to have the largest population of any village in the United Kingdom during the latter part of the 19th century. It became part of the City of Leeds metropolitan borough in 1974, and became a civil parish with town council in 1999.
Horsforth was recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086 as Horseford, Horseforde, Hoseforde; but late-ninth-century coins with the legend ORSNA FORD and OHSNA FORD may have come from Horsforth. The name derives from Old English hors or, to judge from the coins, *horsa ('horse') in the genitive plural form horsa/horsna + ford 'ford', thus meaning 'horses' ford'. This refers to a river crossing on the River Aire that was subsequently used to transport woollen goods to and from Pudsey, Shipley and Bradford. The original ford was situated off Calverley Lane, but was replaced by a stone footbridge at the turn of the 19th century.
The three unnamed Saxon thegns that held the land at the Conquest gave way to the king who granted it to lesser Norman nobles, but not long after most of the village came under the control of Kirkstall Abbey, a Cistercian house founded in 1152 on the bank of the River Aire downstream of Horsforth.
After the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539, Horsforth was partitioned and sold to five families, one of them the Stanhopes achieved supremacy and controlled the village for the next 300 years. The estate record of the Stanhopes is regarded as one of the most extensive and important collections of its kind, complementing the extensive mediaeval record associated with Kirkstall Abbey.
Until the mid 19th century, Horsforth was an agricultural community but it expanded rapidly with the growth of the nearby industrial centre of Leeds. A tannery business was founded at Woodside in about 1820 by the Watson family. It was on the eastern edge of their small farm, and memorialised by Tanhouse Hill Lane. The business became a soap manufacturer and moved to Whitehall Road in Leeds in 1861 and under the chairmanship of Joseph Watson junior, created Baron Manton in 1922, as Joseph Watson & Sons Ltd, became the largest soap supplier to the north east of England, second in size nationally only to Lever Brothers. Industrially, Horsforth has a history of producing high quality stone from its quarries. Not only did it supply Kirkstall Abbey with building materials and millstones in the medieval period, it provided the stone for Scarborough's seafront and sent sandstone from Golden Bank Quarry as far afield as Egypt. Situated on Horsforth Beck (Oil Mill Beck) were mills serving the textile trade.
Between 1861 and 1862, there was an outbreak of typhoid.
Horsforth was historically a township in the parish of Guiseley. It became a separate civil parish in 1866. In the late-19th century it achieved note as the village with the largest population in England. Railways, turnpike roads, tramways and the nearby canal made it a focus for almost all forms of public and commercial transport and it became a dormitory suburb of Leeds. The civil parish became Horsforth Urban District in 1894. The parish and urban district were abolished in 1974 and merged into the new City of Leeds metropolitan district. In 1999 Horsforth became a civil parish and a parish council was created, which exercised its right to declare Horsforth a town.
Horsforth Village Museum has collections and displays illustrating aspects of life set against the backdrop of the changing role of the village.
During World War II the £241,000 required to build the corvette HMS Aubretia was raised entirely by the people of Horsforth. In 2000 the US President Bill Clinton acknowledged Horsforth's contribution to the war effort in a letter sent to MP Paul Truswell. The letter is in the museum.