A walk around Wilsden can be like stepping into the past. A charming and unspoiled village, it sits solidly on its hillside location west of Bradford, its old blackened stone cottages and terraces standing firm against the West Yorkshire winds and weather.
In many respects it’s typical of the area, retaining many buildings from the early 19th century, and well deserving the Conservation Area status that was conferred on the village centre nearly 40 years ago.
But it’s also a village with an eye on the future. The mills that provided employment after the Industrial Revolution have either disappeared or been found new uses for today’s businesses.
With the addition in recent years of newcomers who have made their home there while making a living in Bradford and other big towns, it’s something of a dormitory settlement but boasts a thriving business and social scene.
Looking back into Wilsden’s past, we discover it started life as a farming community, probably owing its name to the Saxon personal name ‘Wilsige’ and the word ‘dene’ meaning valley. ‘Wilsedene’ is recorded in the Domesday survey of 1086, though its origins and activity before then are undocumented.
In the 13th century, lands were held by the Thornton family who in 1288 granted their holdings to the monks of Byland Abbey. Kirkstall Abbey also had interests in the area by the 15th century.
It is believed that settlement in the medieval period probably comprised a few farmsteads at Wilsden, with a further group of farmsteads to the west at Wilsden Hill.
Some of the farmhouses in and around the village date from the 17th century, and Main Street is identified on maps from the late 18th century.
In those days, most occupants of the farmsteads and cottages in Wilsden made their living in farming, often supplementing their income with domestic spinning, weaving and combing.
From the late 18th century to the mid-19th century the village expanded and prospered with the subsequent growth of textile manufacture.
Towards the end of the 19th century, there were no fewer than 11 worsted mills in or near Wilsden, such as Well Holes Mill, Spring Mill, Providence Mill, Royd Mill and Albion Mill.
The expansion came to a halt as local coal supplies were exhausted, and the village’s development became somewhat frozen in time while other Yorkshire mill towns and villages were still growing. The population even shrank from around 3,500 to 2,800.
Today, the population of around 4,000 enjoy the unique character of Wilsden and its adjoining village of Harecroft.
At the centre of village social life is the Village Hall. Wilsden Village Hall is a not-forprofit charity held in trust, in perpetuity, for the people of Wilsden. It was founded in 1976 to serve as the hub of the community, for the benefit of all residents.
The hall is run by a management committee made up of volunteers from the local community and a manager. It is entirely selffunded, covering running costs through user fees supplemented by fundraising.
Village groups who meet in the hall include uniformed organisations, dance and fitness groups, church groups, art classes and many more. It is also available to hire for special events such as christening and wedding receptions.
Wilsden Primary School also plays an important role in village life. The school’s vision is ‘to provide a dynamic and engaging learning community with a global perspective, where everyone is engaged in lifelong learning in order to achieve their personal potential and dreams.’
There are also plenty of opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors at Wilsden. The railway that closed in 1964 has been redeveloped as the Great Northern Railway Trail, ideal for for walking, cycling and horse riding.
Wilsden Cricket Club also plays a big role in village life, and two years ago earned a Sport England grant of £50,000 towards a new pavilion with improved disabled access and extra space for modern changing rooms, showers, kitchen, and social area. Wilsden Junior footballers also benefit from the development.
Wilsden Squash Club is another of the village’s thriving organisations. Situated in Townfield, the club offers squash and racquetball, holds social events to which members’ family and friends are welcome, and has the benefit of a licensed bar.
There’s also Wilsden Badminton Club, who use the facilities at Bradford Grammar School.
Pub life plays an important role in Wilsden. There’s The Villager, home to live music and special nights, along with the New Inn and Ling Bob’s.