TRANSPORT, farming, the fireclay industry, education, Joseph Craven and the Brontes are among the “potpourri” of subjects connected with Thornton on display at a fascinating exhibition.

The free event, organised annually by Thornton Antiquarian Society, takes place on Saturday June 30 at Thornton Methodist Church.

Also under the spotlight are topics including Thornton’s mills, farming in the community, lost pubs and forgotten corners of the village.

“The dictionary defines “pot-pourri” as a mixture or medley of things, which is a good way of describing what will be on offer,” says society member Richard Gill. “Thornton`s connection with the fireclay industry is displayed under ‘clay-pots and pipes’. We look at James Street school and the Tapp family connection - father and son were prominent school teachers - and Thornton Grammar School.

“The Bronte connection explains how Patrick Bronte came to the village and what he achieved within his five years of service here. There is a display of pictures of the much-missed Hill Top Gala.”

In addition, there is a tribute to one of the founding members of Thornton Antiquarian Society, Frank Leonard, who sadly died early this year.

“His contribution to the club will be greatly missed,” says Richard. On display will be Frank`s hand drawn, detailed maps, his history trail walks around the village, his paintings and extracts from his unpublished youthful memoirs.

The following are excerpts of the subjects covered at the exhibition.


Farming has always been an aspect of Thornton life which is often neglected in people’s minds. The records in the Antiquarian’s archive are limited, but farming was in existence well before the time of the Normans. The upland pastures were fit only for the grazing of sheep and cattle, with the growing of oats in the lower valley pastures. The old Corn Mill (at the bottom of Chat Hill) was strategically placed to service the settlements around the Clayton and Thornton areas.

Until the 1600`s a large proportion of the Thornton area was owned by the Manor of Thornton, as well as the Monks of Byland Abbey, owning Headley and areas around Denholme from ancient times.

A dramatic change in the landscape came about from around 1770s, with the Inclosure Acts. Fields and lanes were walled in local stone. Ownership changed which meant that the poor people no longer had land on which to hold stock or grow food. Poverty increased which forced people off the land and into the growing industrial towns.

The coming of the railway in 1878 enabled milk and farm animals to be transported from the village more efficiently than by the old tracks and lanes to the local markets. Farm feeds arrived more quickly and cheaply than before.

Today it is more difficult for farms to produce an operational profit. There are fewer milking cows, with farms being mainly beef cattle and sheep. Most fields grow grass for sileage which in turn can be sold on to Dales’ farmers for winter feed.

Farm houses and buildings have been sold on to people who work in urban areas, yet want to live in the country. Many farm buildings have been converted into dwellings, with the fields now rented out to the few remaining farmers. In some cases farmers have sold land to developers who in turn have obtained planning permission to build houses.

Hill Top Gala

Originally called ‘Hill Top Children’s Victory Gala’, Hill Top Gala was inaugurated in June 1945. The idea and support came from families living in Hill Top, Spring Holes and Back Heights. “Basically anybody living ‘above the Well’”, says Richard.

Prior to gala day each child resident in the area was given a rosette with coloured strips attached. These could be exchanged for sweets, ice cream, crisps and pop. The disc in the middle was given in for a plated tea.

The original transport was provided by Longbottoms, Cockcroft and Ellertons. In later years Downs Coulter became involved and lastly John Pennington (of Rock & Heifer fame). By the mid- 1970`s the event had fizzled out.

Another social occasion, Thornton Festival, began in 1974.


In 1853, a horse drawn bus service was operating between Thornton and Bradford, but it was not successful due to the cost. Instead, most people choose to walk or use the local carrier/milk carts.

It was not until 1879 that Bradford got full Parliamentary approval for a tramway from the city to Four Lane Ends. The Tramways Act of 1870 allowed the Corporation in Bradford to build and operate the service; however the Council decided to lease the tramway to a private company for 21 years, while retaining ownership of the track. Steam trams operated by the Bradford Tramways & Omnibus Company began their service in August 1882.

In 1898 Bradford Council approached the Thornton Local Board with proposals for it to merge with the City. A deal was struck which included the construction of a new tram line from the village to connect with the steam tram at Four Lane Ends. The new electric tram arrived in Thornton on December 18, 1900, to enable the population to travel out of the village, competing with the Great Northern Railway`s train service to Bradford.

Within two years the corporation acquired full operating rights when the lease ran out on the private tramway companies in the city, thereby allowing them to convert the stream tram routes to electric. ‘Through’ electric trams from the village to the city started in February 1902.

History of the Turnpike Road

In the early years of the 19th Century Bradford was one of the fastest growing towns in the country and needed a quality route to obtain Thornton`s valuable stone, coal and fireclay deposits. It also needed Thornton’s milk and agricultural produce to feed its ever-increasing population. Thornton developed its own industrial base: apart from quarrying, mining and domestic textile production, 1826 saw David Wright establishing factory spinning in the ‘Old Mill’ (Hugill Street), and then in 1828 Simeon Townend introduced the first power looms in Thornton.

Business speculators in both Thornton and Bradford recognised the inadequacy of the ancient Thornton to Bradford Road, which before 1825 was pot-holed and made up of broken rock and limestone. The route was not direct but meandering. The speculators set about forming ‘The Bradford & Thornton Turnpike Trust’.

A turnpike road system was a means of financing the upkeep of a road by tolls charged upon users- the old parish repair system, financed by local rates, having proved unsatisfactory.

The first meeting of the trustees was held in August 1825. The contractor was Nicholas Wilkinson and the surveyor George Leather.

By 1827 three turnpike-bars were erected at City Road/Thornton Road; Girlington cross roads, and just above Leventhorpe Hall. A later bar - which can still be seen - was built at Keelham. The road reached Sunside Cottages on the Keighley to Halifax road in 1829.

By 1861 the Turnpike was abolished due to bad debts and ownership of the roads passed to the local authorities.

“The road was a tremendous boost to the Thornton economy and helped develop the village from a rural backwater into a thriving community,” says Richard.

School log books

Extracts from school log books, taken between 1960 and 1980 are a fascinating read. They include, in 1971, demolition work starting on air-raid shelters and details of a school break in in1974, when two boxes of Eagle markers, one box of anti-dust chalk and two packets of felt-tipped pens went missing.

On June 10, 1981, the log book at James Street School records some exciting news: ‘Prince Charles is passing the bottom of James Street at 3.35pm.’ The log, presumably written by the head teacher, goes on to say: ‘I have received permission to close the school ten minutes early to enable children, staff, and parents to line the route.’

It adds: ‘Mrs Yule, our crossing patrol lady has received new clothing and white gloves and a new stick for the occasion.’

Joseph Craven

Joseph Craven was born at Close Head, Thornton on December 14, 1825. His father Joshua (1803-1874) was the cloth manufacturer who was responsible for the building and developing of Prospect Mills.

By 1847 Joseph went into partnership with his father. He had convinced him that the future in textiles lay in the development of power looms within a modern mill, as opposed to the old, ‘cottage industry’ ways of producing textiles.

Prospect Mills developed and expanded with Joseph`s father retiring in 1862. In 1875, a few months after his father died, Joseph sold the business to Getz & Co. Joseph`s only son, Joshua Craven Junior, had died of rheumatic fever in 1874 at the age of 25, and this event no doubt played a large part in his decision to retire.

Like many distinguished 19th century manufactures, Joseph sought to use his assets for the benefit of the community, possibly prompted by a mixture of altruistic motives, religious feelings and a desire to extend his control and influence beyond the confines of Prospect Mills.

He provided a free gift of land and money towards the building of the Mechanics Institute. He provided land for the building of the second grammar school, and also funded scholarships and books. He was chairman of the Thornton Board, as well as being an active member of Kipping Chapel. He was elected Liberal Member of Parliament for Shipley in 1885.

Joseph died in 1914 aged 89 and was said to be worth £600,000.

*The event is on Saturday June 30, between 11am and 4pm, in the Methodist Church Hall, Chapel Street, Thornton, BD13 3JR, Admission is free and refreshments are available.