RESIDENTS of the village of Thornton will this month be joined by people from across Bradford district and beyond to look back at the history of the settlement.

Thornton Antiquarian Society is holding an open day, an event which has become an annual fixture, looking at how the village and its surroundings developed over time.

The theme this year is ‘All Roads Lead to Thornton’, focussing on aspects of local history, from all corners of the parish. It will follow the tracks and roads leading to the centre of the village, whose most famous residents were the Brontes.

“The open day will visit Keelham, Well Heads, Moscow, Spring Holes, Hoyle Ing, Malt Kiln, Headley, School Green, as well as other locations will be exhibited on our displays,” says society archivist Richard Gill.

The society came into being in 2002 as a reminiscing group. It became formalised when one of the founders, and later chairman, Eddie North, gave it the name ‘antiquarian’.

“He felt that that covered all bases, from unearthing interesting facts to holding discussions,” says current chairman Terry Miller. “Our mission is to preserve the history of Thornton in all areas - its people, places, buildings, changes over time, anything to do with the village.”


Thornton derives from Old English, meaning a thorn tree at a farm or settlement. It was mentioned in the Domesday Book of the 11th century, under the name Torenton, when it had been laid waste by William the Conqueror's harrying of the North campaigns, staged as punishment for an uprising against the Norman invaders of 1066.

“The name changed as time went on,” says Terry. It is believed that it was called Thornton due to the many thorn trees to be found in the area, on the sides of Bradford Dale, as the valley in which it developed was then called.”

Beckfoot Thornton - formerly Thornton Grammar School - bears three thorn trees as its emblem.

“Thornton was originally a collection of farms dotted around the landscape bordered by Queensbury, Denholm and Wilsden. Thornton was in the middle.”

The society has amassed a collection of items from the village’s past, including including school photographs, old press cuttings - many from the Telegraph & Argus - maps, drawings and other items.

“We have even got items of embroidered samplers that people did years ago,” says Terry. “We have many school records and also quite a few from cricket clubs and various family photographs. They all help to build up a picture of the social side of life in Thornton.”

The archive has been catalogued and stored through collaborative work with Thornton’s South Square centre in a heritage project called ‘Stone’. The two bodies created an accessible archive of local history material. They also developed educational resources for schools and run heritage events and activities for local people. It was made possible with funding from the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund.

“Project manager Lorraine Greenald, an experienced museum curator, helped us properly file, digitise and store the items, which are now in their own room at South Square," says Terry. "Previously they had been kept in a filing cabinet in a ladies’ lavatory, which was far from ideal. Now they are safe and will not deteriorate.”

Some society members carry out research into different aspects of local history in and may present their findings at meetings.


The open day will look at the village’s past, back to around 1800. One of the most popular items viewed are school photographs, which people always find fascinating, says Terry.

“We get generations of families coming along to look at them. Young children want to see what their grandma looked like as a schoolgirl. People also like to see where relatives lived in the past - what their streets and homes were like. There is a lot of reminiscing at the event. Everyone enjoys it.”

As in previous years the society’s collection of books and artefacts will be on display.

“We will be again displaying our wonderful model of Thornton Station,” adds Terry. This was painstakingly constructed by Andrew Hodgson, a Bradfordian who emigrated to Australia in 1989. He remembered visiting the site as the station was being dismantled in 1963 following the Beeching cuts.

He often wondered what the station would have looked like in its prime and, on regular visits home to see relatives, he asked questions of Thorntonians old enough to remember.

“They spoke of a busy station and goods yard, of chuffing steam engines and of crossing the magnificent viaduct,” he said.

Having gathered as much information as he could, Andrew set about building a model of the station. Using various materials he hand etched the stonework on the entire model for authenticity, including the huge retaining wall on the Thornton Road side of the station. The signal box includes interior detail for realism.

The model has attracted a lot of interest since it was first displayed last year.

The 60-strong antiquarian society meet every week at 2pm in Thornton Community Centre in Market Street.

Members also visit schools, community centres and older people’s groups to give talks about the village and its history. “People of all ages are interested. We always get bombarded with questions,” says Terry. “We also produce memory sticks containing information that schools can use.”

  • Thornton Antiquarian Society Open Day will be held on Saturday June 24 at Thornton Methodist Church, Thornton Road, from 11am to 4pm.