Mill Bank is a historic area located in Halifax, West Yorkshire. The origins of Mill Bank can be traced back to the Industrial Revolution in the late 18th and early 19th centuries when the textile industry boomed in the region.
During this period, Mill Bank became an important centre for textile production, particularly for the manufacturing of worsted cloth. Numerous mills and factories were established along the banks of the Hebble Brook, which provided a vital water source for powering the textile machinery.
The mills in Mill Bank played a crucial role in the economy of Halifax and contributed to its status as a major textile manufacturing centre in the 19th century. However, with the decline of the textile industry in the late 20th century, many of the mills in Mill Bank fell into disuse and disrepair. Some were demolished, while others were converted into residential or commercial spaces.
Today, Mill Bank retains its historical character with some of the old mills still standing as reminders of its industrial past. The area has also seen some redevelopment and revitalisation efforts in recent years, with a focus on preserving the heritage and promoting tourism. The village has become a popular destination for outdoor activities, such as walking and cycling, attracting visitors and locals alike.
Read through the synopsis below to learn more about how Mill Bank has progressed and changed through the ages. The Mill Bank history group have produced the Illustrated History of Mill Bank, which archives the long history of the village through photographs and anecdotes.
1. Early Times
In the Domesday Book (1086) the area around Mill Bank was described as ‘a great waste’. There was nothing but woodland which was used as hunting grounds with small patches on south facing slopes cultivated for subsistence-farming. Through this wasteland there was an ancient trans-Pennine route which passed through Mill Bank, as we know it today, and some historians believe the Roman road between Ilkley and Manchester followed this route.
2. Twelfth Century
In 1107 King Henry 1 gave the land around Mill Bank to Lord Warenne. The first recorded Manorial corn mill in the Ryburn Valley, ‘Soyland Millnebank’, was established in 1275, at the confluence of the Lum and Severhills becks at the foot of the village. Mill Bank then became a centre for activity as both a natural stopping place for travellers by the stream and as the place where local people paid their dues to the Lord of the Manor. The fast flowing streams were ideal for powering mills and subsequently eleven other mills were built within walking distance of Mill Bank.
3. Sixteenth & Seventeenth Centuries
In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the cottage-based industry system was established and farmer/weavers paved the way for a world-wide textile industry.
Samuel Hill, the first capitalist employer in the area, lived half a mile away at Soyland. He owned 40 pack horses, which passed through the village daily, trudging to and from Halifax. At the peak of his business he was earning the equivalent of about £3 million per year.
By the mid seventeen hundreds the village had expanded to meet the requirements of the local mills. The spinning mule and power loom replaced home- based industry and elaborate system of culverts and goits (artificial waterways) were constructed to feed water to the mills. Some of these remains can be seen in Fiddle woods.
4. Nineteenth Century
In the nineteenth century there was a steady growth of housing in Mill Bank for the mill workers and Victorian terraces on the top and lower roads were built. This was a time of relative prosperity with high employment. At this time the village had seven pubs and over forty shops and services to meet the needs of the six hundred village inhabitants (twice the present number of people).
5. The Hadwen Family
The Hadwens owned many mills in the Mill Bank area including the Kebroyd Mills. In contrast to many mill owners the Hadwen family was admired and held in great esteem. They were considered generous and fair employers and they invested in village improvements. It was Hadwen money that built St Mary’s Church and St Mary’s School (1850) and set up a Technical School and a Benevolent Fund. Concerts, dances and plays were held at Kebroyd and the village had a brass band, a choir and a football team.
6. Twentieth Century
At the turn of the twentieth century there was a turn of fortune for the Hadwens and the whole village. Frederick John Hadwen went bankrupt and four hundred Mill Bank people lost their jobs overnight. A soup kitchen opened in the Working Men’s Club to save families from starvation. This was the start of a sudden decline for Mill Bank. Other mills in the area also closed and by 1950 the village was a ghost town. It was Government policy at this time to demolish and rebuild rather than invest in poor quality housing. Absentee landlords had failed to invest in Mill Bank properties as people could not afford increased rent and there were squatters in many of the houses. The village was also still suffering from the absence of basic amenities, with no electricity or sewage systems.
In 1969, Ernest (later Sir Ernest) and June Hall who lived at Damside, spearheaded a campaign to stop the demolition of the village. There was an acrimonious battle with the then Urban District Council. A detailed survey was made of all the properties and June Hall interviewed every one of the remaining residents. Following a great deal of local and national press coverage, and a visit from Officials from the Ministry for Housing and Development, the demolition programme was halted and the village made a ‘GIA’ a General Improvement Area. This meant that grants were available for renovation.
The Council installed new services and improved the streets and lighting. A new housing estate was built and new infill buildings erected: Nathan’s Folly earning an award for sensitive architecture. In 1976, with the backing of the newly formed Metropolitan Borough of Calderdale, the village was made a Conservation Area.
7. Twenty-first Century
People living in Mill Bank today have access to better transport and many travel long distances for work. Most of the twenty-six new homes built by the Council in the early 1970s and new developments since that time are now privately owned.
Following the activities of the Mill Bank Group, established in 2002 the village was awarded the status of ‘Best Small Village in Yorkshire’ in 2008 and was given Gold Awards for six consecutive years. Rather than relying on benefactors, village developments are now organised and run by volunteers with public grants being awarded for the capital costs of large projects.