Part History of Batley
- There has been a church in Batley since the 11th century. The present Batley Parish Church was built in the reign of Henry VI (1422-1461), and parts of the original remain. Despite Batley being mentioned in the doomsday book, the church is all that remains of any great antiquity.
- Howley Hall at Soothill was built during the 1580s. The house was besieged during the English Civil War in 1643 before the Battle of Adwalton Moor In the 17th century it fell into disrepair.
- The first records of coal mining in Batley date back to the 16th century at White Lee. The last pit in the town closed in 1973.
- Batley Grammar School was founded in 1612 by the Rev. William Lee and is still in existence.
- Areas of the town, such as Mount Pleasant, were noted for their absence of public houses due to the Methodist beliefs of their populations.
- The Industrial Revolution reached Batley in 1796 with the arrival of its first water powered mills for carding spinning. The population grew rapidly, from around 2,500 at the start of the 19th century to 9,308 at the 1851 census.
- 1853 also saw the establishment of a small confectionery shop by Michael Spedding. His business would expand, moving to larger premises in 1927 and later becoming Fox’s Biscuits.
- During the late 19th century, Batley was the centre of the “shoddy trade” in which wool rags and clothes were recycled by reweaving them into blankets, carpets, uniforms. In 1861 there were at least 30 shoddy mills in Batley. The owners of the recycling businesses were known as the “shoddy barons” . There was a “shoddy king” and a “shoddy temple”, properly known as the Zion Chapel.
- From the end of the 1950s onwards, the need for cheap labour in the town’s textile industries drew in migrant labourers from Gujarat, Punjab and other parts of modern day Pakistan and India. The South Asian population of Batley is now around 30%.
- The Union Rooms were bank premises, club rooms, dwelling house and stables for the West Riding Union Bank, built in 1876. That may account for the pub toilets being two floors up. The banks name changed to Lancashire & Yorkshire Bank which became Martins Bank, and ultimately Barclays.
- Skopos motor museum is now closed.
Seldom have I seen a town so run down as Batley on a Saturday in January.
First the good news there was easy parking near the traffic lights and a good value pub lunch at Wetherspoon’s The Union Rooms. Then we set out to find the local market to buy fruit and veg for the weekend and some marmalade making.
Several ‘pound shops’ competed for trade from the people dodging the showers and despite being friendly they must have been finding it hard to make a living.
Decorating and iron mongers were well represented and things were looking up as we walked down Commercial Street but the optimism was short lived as there seemed to be a poor variety of viable retailers.
After asking passers by for the location of the market we discovered that it was not functioning. It may be closed on a Saturday in favour of the near-by Dewsbury market or be a ‘market of the past’. One local said ‘there are no greengrocers in the town and I bet you don’t want the Tesco stuff’ and he was right.
With nowhere else we stopped in the dreaded Tesco Extra store. What a monster, full of shoppers spend thriftly ring the tills for Tesco and the death knell of local traders. I think we were the only people to leave with an empty basket, (they has no Seville oranges.)
On the Plus Side
- My wife was happy to find The Mill Outlet which made up for the lack of clothing shops elsewhere.
- I sat in the car hoping to escape a trip to Red Brick Mill as I knew my marmalade hunt would go unfulfilled.
- A plug for Batley Town Talk who provided some of the history notes below. You can also find more information on their website
Beware there may be a Tesco Extra being planned in an area near you. Just think what it can do to retail in the surrounding area. Big isn’t always beautiful.