Woodlesford’s forgotten industry

When driving over Swillington bridge, crossing the River Aire and then over the canal, heading into Woodlesford, we are greeted with a mix of greenery and residential dwellings.

This idyllic residential scene has not always been the case as this very area was once a thriving industrial hive of activity, which quite possibly gave birth to modern day Woodlesford.

Woodlesford and Oulton have been settlements arguably since Roman times due to the discovery of Roman coins in the area. There is also evidence of medieval farming in the form of ‘ridge and furrow earthworks’. These are a pattern of ridges and troughs created by ploughing (usually with small oxen).

By the 18th century the country was in the midst of industrialisation and this brought one huge advantage to Woodlesford – a vast improvement in transportation links, namely the creation of the Aire and Calder Navigation which linked Leeds and Wakefield to York and the East Riding. It brought about the movement of freight to the area and Woodlesford, like many places situated alongside busy roads, canals or railway lines, thrived. Woodlesford however had all three, in addition to the canal, Aberford Road was constructed in the late 1700’s and by 1840 the Woodlesford Railway Station had also opened on the busy North Midland line.

By the 19th century Woodlesford had become a place of varied industry. The area included two potteries, one situated near Woodlesford Lock and a second next to Swillington Bridge.

There was also a papermill located adjacent to the canal which we believe was at the end of Alma Street and close to the current location of the Yorkshire Game Farm. It is worth noting that at the time of going to press, there is now as little as 7 paper mills in the United Kindgdom.

As well as coal mining which the area had been synonymous for since the 16th century, Woodlesford also had two quarries. One of which was situated in the Midland Street area approximately in the location of the park at the side of All Saints Drive. The second quarry was located on a belt of land which is now the Water Haigh Woodland Park.

In the late 1800’s a Gas Works was erected inbetween the Midland railway line and the Aire Calder Navigation. This was established to serve not only the local community but the next industry to flourish in the area.

This next industry was possibly the most famous industry of Woodlesford, that being the Eshald Well Brewery, later to be known as Bentleys Yorkshire Breweries Ltd.

The Eshald Well produced pure spring water and this attracted the Bentley family to buy a plot of land specifically to take advantage of the spring water for brewing. The Bentleys hailed from Huddersfield and were somewhat pioneers of the brewing industry using the Yorkshire Stone Square system. This fermentation method is still used today by modern brewers including Samuel Smith’s, Theakstons, Camerons, Marstons and Black Sheep.

As Woodlesford was located so well in terms of its transportation links, it gave an opportunity for the Bentley family to progress their company from being brewers serving the needs of just a small locality, to one being able to serve a much wider audience.

Additional to the growing transport links there was an abundance of open countryside for expansion plus local stone for building. When added to the pure spring water from the Esheld Well, this created the ideal formula for a top brewing site and as expected, became renowned for producing top quality ales.

The brewery was eventually acquired by Whitbread & Co. Ltd in 1968 and brewing ceased in October 1972. The site was eventually cleared in 1989 leaving only the Archway (see centre bottom picture), which can still be seen from the roadside at the front of the Maltings Estate.

With a growing industry and community, the area required its own places of worship. The Methodist chapel was the first to be built in the early 1800’s and All Saints’ Parish Church was built in the latter part of the same century.

A village school was also opened as well as the Co-Operative Society shop.

These industries may now be long forgotten, but they helped shape the Woodlesford that we know and love today.

* Images courtesy of the Brewery History Society Photographic Archive