Map of the Week: Blake Hill Cottage, Idle

map-of-the-week-017aAt first sight this would appear to be a rather pedestrian sale plan but in fact it contains several points of interest. It clearly represents a freehold property at Blakehill which presumably was for sale. So, where is Blakehill located on a road that connects Bradford and Idle? On Idle Moor there was a large stone extraction site called Blake Hill Quarry which at one time was associated with a brick works. It was a little further north than Five Lane Ends and lay between modern Highfield Road and Bradford Road. In fact the whole locality was extensively quarried for Elland Flags, but in many cases the individual quarry names seem to be unrecorded or inaccessible. As you can see the surveyed land is situated on ‘Dunk Hill Road’. I cannot identify this thoroughfare by name but Dunk Hill as a place is included on Victorian OS maps of the area. Where exactly could this plot be? I am confident we are looking at Bradford Road, but the junction between two adjacent OS maps rather inconveniently passes between the two properties on the plan!

The second map is from the 1906 OS and shows a more general view. The short terrace is positioned next to the word ‘works’. It is possible that the cottage aligned on the road still exists opposite Enterprise Way, if you allow for an extension having been built. The short terrace must then have vanished under a YEB sub-station. If anyone with a greater knowledge of Idle could correct me I should be most grateful.


In trying to explain the plan further it seemed most sensible to start with the small house and garden belonging to ‘the late Mr Matthew Balme’, since his was a name I recognised. Matthew Balme (1813-1884) was the registrar of births & deaths for Bolton, Idle, and Eccleshill. Victorian historian William Cudworth mentions him as a ‘gentleman of some note’ devoted to ameliorating the lot of factory workers. As a young man he was an associate of John Wood and Richard Oastler, in such enterprises as the Ten Hour Bill (1847) which placed some restraint on the activities of dark satanic mills. For some years Balme was a master at John Wood’s factory school and he certainly attended Oastler’s funeral in 1861. In 1865 he had been elected clerk of the Bolton Local Board. Balme died in 1884 so the plan must evidently be a little later than this date. Using other resources available free in the Bradford LSL I looked for Balme’s entry in the 1881 census which proved helpful.

The census entries were located between Bradford Road and Albert Street, Idle. In the returns a ‘Blakehill Cottage’ is described as ‘recently built’. There Matthew Balme (67) lived with his daughter Mary (37) and Elizabeth Priestley (61), his widowed sister. Cudworth mentions that Balme lived first at Delph Hill Farm and then at Ivy Cottage. It is possible that Ivy Cottage was also known as Blakehill Cottage, but more probably Balme made a further and final move to a new house during the three years of life left to him. Matthew Balme died at Idle and is buried in St Wilfrid’s Church, Calverley where his tombstone is still easily visible. In monetary terms he was not a wealthy man, leaving less than £200. The fact that his friends inscribed on his monument ‘Defend the poor and fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy‘ (Psalms 82:3) reveals how rich he was in other ways. His daughter Mary is buried with her father and remarkably we know a little more about her interests. Bradford Museums & Galleries curates an adjustable reading desk once the property of the Bradford Scientific Association. Mary Balme joined the association in 1906 and the desk was made with a legacy she left them when she died in 1931. You can read Heather Millard’s most interesting account of this object at:

Bradford Museums

The land outside most of the perimeter of the plan belongs to Messrs Nowell & Robson and in one place there appears to be a quarry edge. I attempted to locate this partnership in various trade directories. Nowell & Robson were clearly quarry owners and stone merchants; they also operated a coal mine in Raistrick. They had a London office at Westbourne Park Road, Bayswater from which they seemed to be providing paving slabs for London and working on the metropolitan sewer system. Possibly Robson provided the London contracting arm of the business. Certainly in the 1881 census, next to Blakehill Cottage, was Blakehill House, where Joseph Nowell (57), a stone merchant born in Dewsbury, lived with his wife and children. Assuming that there was only one house of this name it must have had a rather lurid reputation at the time of the census. At Blakehill House, Eccleshill in 1874 Joshua Armitage, ‘a lunatic’, was charged with the murder of John Howard, his attendant, who was seemingly strangled with a bath towel.

Because of his unique name I easily identified Jonathan Hargreaves Wilcock (1818-1890) who owns the remainder of the land outside the perimeter. He was a farmer of Owlet Hall, Idle (presumably the one now in Festival Avenue, Bolton). He was living there in 1881, being married to Hannah and having children Amelia & Harper. When he died in 1890 probate was granted for a substantial sum of more than £5000. As far as the plan landowners were concerned I was then left with James Hargreaves. There was of course a very famous man of this name who invented the Spinning Jenny. Well, it cannot be him, nor can it be the man Cudworth describes as James Hargreaves of Delph Hill: remember Delph Hill? This second man was a farm labourer who learned to weave after working hours. Having saved some money he leased Delph Hill Farm. He carried his first cloth pieces to Bradford market to sell. His sons William and Joseph later took Frizinghall Mill & Red Beck Mill for worsted weaving. But this James Hargreaves had died in 1816 so our man can neither be him, nor any son of that name.

The truth is that James Hargreaves was a common name. Since he is described as ‘late’ the man from the plan is likely to have died in the mid-1880s. I imagined him as a wealthy developer, rather than an occupant of one of the houses. Assuming that, as a man of property, he would have left a will I investigated probate records. The most plausible man was James Hargreaves (1834-83), ‘late of Eccleshill’, who died in Staverton, Wiltshire in 1883. His wife Elizabeth sought probate on a will leaving excess of £30,000; a huge sum for those days. The money was unsurprisingly earned as a cloth manufacturer. Another hint is that in 1883 one Henry Hargreaves, son of Elizabeth and James (manufacturer) was baptised at St Luke’s, Eccleshill. This was an adult baptism since Henry had been born in 1861. Possibly Henry had originally been baptised in another denomination and now wished to become an Anglican. James, with his wife Elizabeth Hargreaves and Jonas Hargreaves his brother, are in the 1871 census living at Lands Lane, Eccleshill. I can confirm this from the 1879-80 PO Directory. Why their son Henry is not with them in 1871, whether Jonathan Hargreaves Wilcock was related them, and how James came to die in Wiltshire, are questions I shall leave to better family historians than myself to resolve. At least I got you started, or at least this plan did.

Derek Barker Library Volunteer

One thought on “Map of the Week: Blake Hill Cottage, Idle

  1. I live near Blakehill School. I wondered if the first map shows the row of old Terrace Houses next to the school towards Idle? Next to the row of Terraced Houses is an attractive stone built Cottage & land (still used as pasture land for the resident horse). The property is Hawthorne Cottage 184 Highfield Road. (Owned by Bradford Council who are trying to sell it & land for development- shame as I feel it’s such a grand ornate house it was possibly built for someone of wealth or respect. Looking at the quality of stone, Mullion Windows, Circular central original Ornate Window to the rear ( why so ornate focal from the rear angle not the front?) also appears to be the same stone & design as the substantial Property shown on the Map as as Norman.Bank (on Idle Road) and some substantial properties on Leeds Road, Thackley just down from Thackley Corner ( now. It’s Companions Nursery & Great Northern Pub) Hawthorne Cottage is right on a sharp camber on Highfield Road. To the rear of the cottage & small row of terrace Houses is now Northedge Meadow which has footpath right of way that leads & connects to Bradford Road. This is called Docfor Hill ( I suspect the footpath was for the Doctor who lived at All Alone and the Quarry Owners & workers to use to get to the brickworks on Bradford Road Friars Industrial Estate opp end of Doctor Hill. I understand Blakehill Quarry & Friars were a n the Geo Vints Company ownership. Such history around Blakehill Doctor Hill with the original Cottage & its small holding. I have asked Council to look at Listed Status for the cottage & Dry Stone walled small holding & Doctor Hill. The Council did nothing albeit did admit Hawthorne Cottage was an attractive property.


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