Otley is a market town and civil parish in the City of Leeds metropolitan borough, West Yorkshire, England, by the River Wharfe. Historically a part of the West Riding of Yorkshire, the town has a total resident population of 14,124. It lies in the valley of Wharfedale. The town hosts Wharfedale General Hospital which serves the surrounding area.
Otley's name is derived from Othe, Otho or Otta, a Saxon personal name and leah, a woodland clearing in Old English. It was recorded as Ottanlege in 972 and Otelai or Othelia in the Domesday Book of 1086. The name Chevin has close parallels to the Welsh term Cefn meaning ridge and may be a survival of the ancient Cumbric language.
There are pre-historic settlement finds alongside both sides of the River Wharfe and it is believed the valley has been settled at this site since the Bronze Age. The majority of the early development of the town dates from Saxon times and was part of an extensive manor granted by Athelstan to the see of York. The Archbishops of York had a residence and were lords of the manor. Their palace was located on the site occupied by the Manor House. Otley is close to Leeds and may have formed part of the kingdom of Elmet. Remains of the Archbishop's Palace were found during the construction of St Joseph's School. The town grew in the first half of the 13th century when the archbishops laid out burgage plots to attract merchants and tradespeople. The burgage plots were on Boroughgate, Walkergate and Kirkgate. Bondgate was for tenants who did not have 'burgage' privileges. A leper hospital was founded on the road to Harewood beyond Cross Green.
Documented history for the market begins in 1222 when King Henry III granted the first Royal Charter. The town had two cattle markets, Wharfedale Farmers' Auction Mart on East Chevin Road and the Bridge End Auction Mart which has closed and was subsequently demolished. Market days are Tuesday, Friday and Saturday, and there is a Farmers' Market on the last Sunday of every month.
Thomas Chippendale, the cabinetmaker, was born in a cottage at the junction of Boroughgate and Wesley Street and his statue stands next to the old Grammar School that he once attended in Manor Square. J.M.W. Turner, the painter, visited Otley in 1797, aged 22, when commissioned to paint watercolours of the area. He was so attracted to Otley and the surrounding area that he returned time and time again. His friendship with Walter Ramsden Fawkes made him a regular visitor to Farnley Hall, two miles from Otley. The stormy backdrop of Hannibal Crossing The Alps is reputed to have been inspired by a storm over Otley's Chevin while Turner was staying at Farnley Hall.
The woollen industry developed as a cottage industry but during the Industrial Revolution and the mechanisation of the textile industry, mills were built using water then steam power. A cotton mill and weaving shed for calicoes were built by the river in the late 18th century. Later woolcombing and worsted spinning were introduced. By the mid 19th century 500 inhabitants were employed in two worsted-mills, a paper-mill, and other mills. A tannery was established in the 19th century.
The Wharfedale Printing Machine was developed in Otley by William Dawson and David Payne. An early example can be seen in Otley Museum. By 1900 the printing machinery trade, with over 2,000 people employed in seven machine shops was Otley's most important industry.