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Ilkley Through Time (2)

By Prof Mike Dixon

  1. The Cold Water Cure
  2. Robert Collyer - Blacksmith and Preacher
  3. The Coming of the Railway
  4. The building of the Grove Church
  5. The growth of tourism
  6. The Heather Spa
  7. Leisure and Sports
  8. The Black Hats versus White Hats


1. The Cold Water Cure

By 1843 Ilkley was already established as a minor spa, or "spaw" as Yorkshire folk termed it. However, it was the arrival of hydropathy (the cold water treatment) in that year that gave a substantial boost to the development of the town. A Leeds businessman, Hamer Stansfeld, had visited Gräfenberg in Silesia (now part of Czechoslovakia) where an illiterate peasant Vincent Priessnitz had established the cold water cure, and having benefitted from the treatment Stansfeld decided to establish hydropathy in Ilkley. In 1843 he installed a Dr. Rischanek in Usher's Boarding House in West View who soon built up a flourishing practice using the baths at White Wells. Stansfeld was persuaded that a purpose-built hydropathic hotel was required. He purchased 65 acres of land in the village of Wheatley and in 1844 opened the magnificent Ben Rhydding Hydro - the first of many hotels offering the water cure to appear in Ilkley during the Victorian era.

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2. Robert Collyer - Blacksmith and Preacher

The name of Robert Collyer is well known to students of local history. From humble beginnings as a blacksmith in Ilkley he rose to be one of the great pulpit figures of America. He was a Victorian hero who maintained a close interest in Ilkley and frequently intervened (by letter and personal appearance) in local affairs. His bust graces one of the alcoves alongside the entrance to the Library. Collyer came to Ilkley from Blubberhouses at the age of 14 in 1838 to serve as an apprentice at the smithy in Leeds road. He worked there until 1850 when he emigrated to America. He secured employment in a claw-hammer factory near Philadelphia where he worked for 9 years. In the meantime he became a local preacher and in 1859 he gave up factory work and took a position as an "outreach" minister with the Unitarian church in Chicago. His reputation as a preacher grew steadily and in 1879 he accepted an invitation to become the Pastor of the main Unitarian Church in New York. He continued to preach until a few weeks before his death in 1912, eight days before his 89th birthday.

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3. The coming of the railway

By the 1860's Ilkley was firmly established as an inland spa and holiday resort and more and more visitors were coming to the town - but only by coach and horses ! It was apparent that Wharfedale in general and Ilkley in particular needed a railway, and a joint line was proposed by the Midland and North Eastern companies linking the town to Bradford and Leeds. The line was opened amidst great rejoicing (brass-bands, bunting and bun-fights) on 1st August 1865. The rail connection not only boosted the town as a tourist centre but also gave a strong impetus to house building and Ilkley's expansion as a commuter town. However, Ilkley was not seen as the terminus of the line as it is today. In 1883 a Midland Railway's bill for a line from Ilkley to Skipton received the Royal Assent. The proposal caused a furore as the extension would split the town in two, but work commenced in 1885 and the line made its serpiginous way through Addingham, Bolton Abbey and Embsay to Skipton. The first passenger service to Bolton Abbey commenced in May 1888, and by October trains were running through to Skipton.

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4. The building of the Grove Church

A scheme for the building of a Congregational Church in Ilkley began to take shape in the mid-1860's. "The need of a suitable Church for the accommodation of the residents and also for the visitors to this attractive inland watering place holding the principles of Independency had long been felt and acknowledged by influential friends of the Denomination throughout the West Riding." The difficulty of obtaining a site presented the first stumbling block, but a plot of land was obtained in the Middleton land sale of 1867 on the corner of Green Lane (later the Grove) and "the proposed new Riddings Road". (The land for the Wesleyan Church in Wells Road was purchased in the same sale). On Saturday 30th May 1868 many people from Leeds, Bradford and the surrounding area arrived in Ilkley to witness the laying of the foundation stone by the Mayor of Bradford, James Law Esq. A bottle containing several documents and copies of the Ilkley Gazette and other newspapers was placed in a cavity in the stone. They are presumably still there! About six weeks later services were started in the schoolroom (now the Coffee Centre) and several months later the need for a commodious church was evident as many people were unable to get into the crowded schoolroom. The church took 13 months to build, and the total cost of building and furnishing amounted to £6119-7s-11d of which two-thirds had been subscribed before the opening services. Gifts rapidly cleared the outstanding debt of £2060. Among the benefactors were Sir Titus Salt (£400) and Sir Francis Crossley. It was intended that there should be seating accommodation for 644 people. Although much work needed to be done before the scheme was completed, the church was opened for services on 16 June 1869.

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5. The growth of tourism

At the beginning of the Victorian era Ilkley already had a reputation as an inland spa and attracted a steady flow of visitors. Madame Tussaud of waxworks fame was an early visitor and stayed in a thatched cottage in Green Lane (the Grove). The arrival of hydropathy brought a greater influx of visitors including prominent businessmen, church-men and lawyers. Charles Darwin was undergoing hydropathic treatment at Wells House when his Origin of Species was published in 1859. Although hydropathy only enjoyed a short-lived vogue as a medical treatment, the Hydros diversified, survived and flourished. They introduced new treatments, like Turkish baths, massages and electrotherapy, and softened their regimes so that the Hydros became attractive to a wider clientele whose main concerns were rest, relaxation and entertainment rather than the rigours of the cold water cure. Hotels were built to accommodate visitors rather than patients. The Crescent, the Middleton and the Royal Hotels catered for those who wished to avail themselves of the delights of Wharfedale without medical attention. The railway provided good connections with Leeds and Bradford and after 1888, the extension to Skipton provided access from the industrial towns of Lancashire. The middle classes saw a visit to Ilkley as the thing to do, and would use their stay in the "Malvern of the North" to explore the idylls of Wharfedale. The working man could take advantage of the many cheap rail excursions that ran from the Northern industrial towns and bring his family to this Mecca of factory society. He could even get here free by walking over the moor - as they did in their hundreds from Shipley and Keighley at holiday weekends, - but never b'aht 'at !

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6. The Heather Spa

The early twentieth century saw increasing promotion of Ilkley as an inland resort. The King's Hall and Winter Gardens were built to fulfil the needs of this aspiring holiday centre. The Moor was laid out with paths and rustic bridges and a bandstand was built at the top of Wells Road. The Ilkley Urban District Council produced tourists' guide-books which proclaimed the virtues of the town as "The Heather Spa", emphasising the health-giving properties of the water and the treatments on offer at the still numerous Hydros and the bracing air which swept the heather-clad moors. Alas the Hydros are no more (only Craiglands remains as a hotel) and the heather has largely given way to bracken.

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7. Leisure and Sports

Ilkley is a well known centre for sporting activities. There are long-established Rugby Union and Cricket Clubs and both have moved from pitch to pitch as the need for house-building plots became pressing. The Cricket Club dates from 1850 and for many years played on land behind the New Inn (Listers Arms) before moving to the Crescent ground on which was later built Nile, Trafalgar and Victory Roads. Rugby was played in the early 1870's but the first official club was founded in 1879. Matches were played on several sites until the present ground was opened in 1920. The formation of the Ilkley Tennis Club was noted by the Gazette in 1880. The Club's annual tournament acquired a high reputation and it became one of the premier competitions in the North of England. The Moor Golf Course of 9 holes was constructed by the Ilkley Club in 1890 and moved to its present location across the river in 1898 in order to expand to 18. Ben Rhydding acquired bowls, tennis and cricket facilities but it was the Hockey Club which went on to gain a National reputation.

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8. The Black Hats versus White Hats

In 1877 the Ilkley Cricket club had to move from its convenient pitch behind the Listers Arms to relatively remote field now occupied by the Lawn Tennis Club. The result of the move was that nobody came to watch the matches and the Club sank deeper into debt. Bill Lister suggested a fund-raising "scratch match" and this was held in 1879. In the following year the club moved back into town, to the ground behind the Crescent Hotel, and on 28th September 1880 the first Tradesman's "Novelty" Cricket Match was held to coincide with Ilkley Feast. In 1882 the two teams, each with about 20 players, distinguished themselves by donning black or white hats. In 1883 red and white roses were preferred, and there was a repeat of the war of the roses in 1887. Since that year, however, the black and white tall hats have remained de rigueur. In 1892 a handsome silver cup was purchased by subscription among the tradesmen and offered for annual competition. The competition ran without interruption until the Second World War when it lapsed and there was a gap for over 30 years before its return in 1978.

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Last Updated on Wednesday, 30 June 2010 08:01