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

The Township of Idle

This article is an extract from The Illustrated History of Bradford’s Suburbs 2002

THE township of Idle, to the north of Bradford, has always been quite large in both area and population. William Cudworth described the extent of Idle in Round About Bradford (1876) as reaching ‘…from Apperley Bridge to Windhill Bridge, and from Buck Mill to Bolton Outlanes’. The population today, due to the new housing developments that rapidly appeared from the mid – 20th century onwards, is near to 10,000.

The origins of the name Idle can be the subject of much speculation. The spelling of the word in historical documents is often Odell or Ydell, and J. Horsfall Turner, the noted Bradford historian, stated that the spelling Idle was frequently used in the Calverley parish register for the best part of 300 years.  Another Bradford historian, William Claridge suggested that the village took its name from the fact that much of the locality was uncultivated moorland; land that was literally idle.

Idle is well documented through history, and indeed seems to have been settled, or at least passed through, as far back as Roman times.

One William Storey, when opening a quarry on Idle Moor in around 1800, found many Roman coins, and human remains enclosed in stone were also discovered. Written records mention Idle (or, rather, ldel) as far back as the 12th century, when Nigel de Plumpton is quoted as giving a piece of land there to the nuns of Esholt. The Plumpton Family are associated to quite a considerable extent with ldle’s past, and Sir William Plumpton and his son and heir (also William) took part in the Battle of Towton near Tadcaster in 1461. The younger William was killed in the battle, plunging the Plumptons into years of turmoil and dispute, which eventually saw the Manor of idle being first halved and then quartered, the portions being owned at any one time by George, Earl of Cumberland (father of Lady Anne Clifford), and Sir John Constable, who split his half between his two daughters. Possession of the manor eventually ended up in the hands of Robert Stansfield, of Bradford, who bought it in the 1750’s from the Calverley family.  A detailed account of this early period in Idle’s history is available in Cudworth’s Round About Bradford.

By the mid to late 19th century, Idle, like much of the Bradford district, was heavily involved in the textile industry.  A look at the Ordnance Survey map of 1893 shows many mills in the area, including Castle Mills, Union Mill on Butt Lane and the nearby New Mills.  By the 1870s around 1,100 people from Idle were employed in the township’s mills. Idle seems to have achieved some kind of parity in the size of the mills that operated there.   Cudworth states that no giant manufacturer dominated the neighbouring companies in the village.   Indeed he goes on to say that the villagers of the late 19th century were probably the most ‘equal’ in the entire land, with no man of exalted rank or great wealth residing in the township.  The villagers displayed a prominent love of their home but Cudworth found them rather ‘clannish’ in their attitudes to outsiders.

Another source of income and employment in 19th century Idle was quarrying.  Stone was dug underground from beneath Idle Moor and raised to the surface via deep shafts, so unlike areas such as Bradford Moor with its vast coal mining operations, the landscape was not utterly ruined.  Idle stone was well known and was considered superior to stone from many other areas.  It was used on public buildings in many towns in England, and was even exported as far as China, Australia and South America.  Among those involved in extracting Idle stone in the early 19th century were William Storey of nearby Apperley, William Child of Greengates, and later Thomas Denbigh, among others.

Idle grew rapidly during the 19th century, reflecting an increase in the population of the Bradford district as a whole.  In 1801 the township’s population had been around 3,400, yet by 1871 it had risen to over 12,000.

At this time the village itself was well established, along lines that are easily recognisable today.  At the top of the village, on Towngate, the Old Chapel of Ease, which was erected in 1630, was still in its original use.  The chapel came by its name due to the fact that the nearest parish church was at Calverley, quite a trek away, so the chapel was quite literally built for the ease of the people of Idle.  The building currently houses the highly successful Stage 84 drama school.  Adjoining the Old Chapel was the township’s lock-up, complete with stocks.  On the opposite side of Towngate and a little further down stands Holy Trinity Church, built in 1830.  Just across from the church is the former library building, a large Victorian structure which seems to loom over the road.

The rooms above the library were latterly used as meeting rooms for local clubs and societies but were once used for meetings of the Idle local board, which oversaw the township’s affairs. The library moved into former shop premises in a more centralised location just below the Green in the early 1990s.

Idle can aptly be described as a village of two halves.  First there is the top half, centred around High Street, which runs steeply downhill from Highfield Road to the Green, from around which the bottom half of Idle radiates.  It was at the junction of Highfield Road and High Street that workmen making road improvements uncovered three ancient cellars.  The discovery, in 1987, caused much excitement in the local community, and it was suggested that the cellars offered proof of the location of the old Manor House, lost to historians for many years.  The proof of this theory may never now be tested as the cellars, which may have had underground passages running to Holy Trinity Church, were subsequently filled in.  High Street is also home to the wonderfully named Idle Working Men’s Club.  The club has found international fame due to its name and has boasted celebrities such as jockey Lester Piggott and Tom O’Connor among its honorary members.


Idle Working Men’s Club

The bottom half of the village still boasts an array of small local shops, but the lure of nearby supermarkets with their cheap prices has inevitably caused something of a decline.  In its heyday Idle had its own railway station and cinema, both now long gone.  The station was on the line between Laisterdyke and Windhill, which opened to passengers in April 1875.

Sadly there is now little evidence left of the railway line that neatly bisected the village, reinforcing the division between upper and lower Idle.

Idle today is a busy, well-populated suburb of Bradford.  Smart, early 20th century housing lines Highfield Road, and a modern complex of flats stands on Bradford Road, at its junction with ldlecroft Road. The village itself has many excellent facilities for its residents to enjoy.  Small shops around the Green almost give the centre of Idle the appearance of a Dales market town. Idle boasts its fair share of pubs – the New Inn and the White Bear at the very top of the village, the Alexander and the Brewery Tap down on Albion Road, and the White Swan, which stands on the Green, to name but a few.


The Green, Idle

The village has two supermarkets within easy reach, and a new medical centre was built on Highfield Road in the early 1990s, and the village has numerous clubs and societies to occupy its residents.

Like many of Bradford’s other suburbs then, Idle is a popular, pleasant place to live, offering all the trappings of modern living, yet retaining something of its historic appearance and charm.  This is most definitely one part of Bradford that doesn’t live up to its name.

Further Reading

Cudworth, William. Round About Bradford, 1876. (Reproduced 1968, Arthur Dobson Publishing Co.)
Watson, W.  Idlethorp, 1951.
White, E. Idle Folk Idle & Thackley Heritage Group, 1995.
White, E. Idle, an Industrial Village Idle & Thackley Heritage Group, 1992.