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History of Bingley

  • council: Bradford
  • population: 19,884
  • phone code: 01274
  • postcode area: BD16
  • county: West Yorkshire

Bingley is located six miles north-west of Bradford city centre along the Aire Valley. The bustling town centre is a great place for specialist shops, historic inns and cafes, whilst Bingley Arts Centre provides a popular evening attraction.

A newly created riverside trail along the River Aire links various points of interest close to the town centre. Stroll up the hillside to find the famous Three and Five Rise Locks on the Leeds-Liverpool Canal—a masterpiece of 18th century engineering—and take a breather watching colourful barges negotiating the locks.

Bingley was once known as the Throstle's Nest of Old England - though there is no evidence that thrushes were more abundant there than in other parts.
It is more likely to be a reference to its position, nestling in a valley at a bend of the River Aire, five miles north of Bradford, reasonably sheltered from the prevailing blast of the north wind and on the edge of Rombalds Moor, known in popular song as Ilkley Moor.

There is no record of the first inhabitants. Although Druids' Altar, a sheer rock overlooking the valley, suggests ancient Celtic origins, its name is the product of a romantic tradition rather than real evidence. The town does, however, have a number of springs and wells with Celtic echoes, and a number of carved heads have been discovered around the town, some of them being incorporated in gateposts and garden walls.

At the bottom end of the town, Bailey Hills suggest the site of a castle, and one 17th Century historian claimed to found evidence of such a building.

The name recalls a Saxon owner called Byng. Lea is another word for field. It is a unique name - there isn't another Bingley anywhere.

The Romans knew it as a spot on their road from Ilkley to Manchester.

But to all intents and purposes, Bingley's story began in 1213AD with the granting of the manor of Bingley and a market charter by King John to one Maurice de Gant. Like the rest of the North of England, Bingley suffered from the Norman conquest and the Domesday Book logs the whole manor as four leagues long and one broad (the definition of a league varies, but up to three miles is commonly held to be the equivalent), and 'waste' - i.e. destroyed.

Through the middle ages and up to the Industrial Revolution, Bingley was more important than its neighbour Bradford.

It was a market town, a manufacturing town and an agricultural centre. The last of these is reflected today in the annual Bingley Show, the biggest one-day agricultural, horticultural, craft and horse show in Europe, traditionally on the first Wednesday in August.

Bingley joined the canal network before its neighbour and boasts one of the wonders of the waterway age in Five Rise Locks (1774), which raises boats on the Leeds-Liverpool Canal up sixty feet in five steps.

Apart from the canal and the river, the narrow valley also holds a railway and the main road from east of the Pennines to the Lakes and the west of Scotland - a communications bottleneck that has worsened over the years and blighted the town, absorbed into Bradford's local government set-up in 1974 and now as much a commuter dormitory as a marketing and manufacturing centre.

It houses the headquarters of the Bradford and Bingley Society, an architectural addition to the main street which has been less than universally welcomed.

But away from the main street Bingley can offer havens of rural tranquillity, with woodland walks along the river and through the St Ives estate, a gift to the town and its people from the Ferrand family, landowners.

By Jim Appleby

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