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West Riding
Ilkley - The Grove - September 2007.jpg
The Grove, Ilkley
Grid reference: SE116477
Location: 53°55’30"N, 1°49’19"W
Population: 13,828  (2001)
Post town: Ilkley
Postcode: LS29
Dialling code: 01943
Local Government
Council: Bradford

Ilkley is a spa town in the West Riding of Yorkshire. Ilkley civil parish includes the adjacent village of Ben Rhydding. Approximately 12 miles north of Bradford, the town lies mainly on the south bank of the River Wharfe in Wharfedale, one of the Yorkshire Dales. The parish had a population of 13,828 at the 2001 census.

Ilkley's spa town heritage and surrounding countryside make tourism an important local industry. The town centre is characterised by Victorian architecture, wide streets and floral displays. Ilkley Moor, to the south of the town, is a wild, beautiful moorland (and the subject of a folk song "On Ilkla Moor Baht 'at", often described as the unofficial anthem of Yorkshire).

The town is a tourist destination and is used as a base from which to explore the famous moor and the countryside beyond. Ilkley is a shopping town that sells everything from game, fine wine, expensive fashions and fine art. The Victorian parades of The Grove and Brook Street have a selection of speciality shops. The town's original Victorian arcade has been restored as an indoor shopping walkway complete with a fountain and hanging baskets.

Ilkley has little by way of industry or commerce but employers include The Woolmark Company, Spooner Industries and NG Bailey. The town is also home to two breweries, Ilkley Brewery situated on the outskirts and Wharfedale Brewery which is housed within the grounds of a former eighteenth-century farmhouse in the town centre.


The Old Bridge, Ilkley

The town partially straddles the River Wharfe in a valley, rising from the river at 230 feet to 650 feet above sea level, up Ilkley Moor, a bracken and heather covered moorland with rocky outcrops to the south, and to 540 feet across Middleton Woods in the north. The river runs through the northern extent of the town from west to east, and is crossed by four bridges of four ages – a 16th-century three-arched stone bridge, now closed to road traffic; a 19th-century single-span wrought-iron bridge; a suspension bridge for foot traffic only and a prefabricated steel arched box-girder bridge, and a set of concrete stepping stones. The river is prone to flooding the sports fields (and a few houses) that occupy the watermeadows.[1]]]

The town is within the travel-to-work radius of Leeds and Bradford, Leeds is 18 miles away and Bradford 16 miles by road, with a railway connection offering frequent trains to each destination from Ilkley station. The railway, before the Beeching Axe, also connected to Addingham, Bolton Abbey, and Skipton to the west, and to Otley, Pool-in-Wharfedale, meeting the main Leeds to Harrogate line at Arthington.[2]


Ilkley's mediæval parish church All Saints', largely reconstructed in the Victorian era, houses artefacts of the site's ancient Christian heritage including three Saxon crosses. An expanding congregation in the 19th century triggered plans in 1873 for a second church which became St Margaret's Church, designed by Richard Norman Shaw and completed in 1879.

Churches in Ilkley include:

  • Church of England:
    • All Saints
    • St Margaret's
    • St John's (Ben Rhydding)
  • Baptist: Ilkley Baptist Church
  • Methodist:
    • Ben Rhydding Methodist Church
    • Christchurch (Methodist/ United Reformed Church
  • Society of Friends (Quakers): The Ilkley Society of Friends
  • Roman Catholic: Sacred Heart


Bronze Age markings at Hangingstone Quarry, above Ilkley

The area around Ilkley has been continuously settled since at least the early Bronze Age, around 1800 BC; more than 250 cup and ring marks, and a curved swastika carving dating to the period have been found on rock outcrops,[3] and archaeological remains of dwellings are found on Ilkley Moor. A stone circle, the Twelve Apostles Stone Circle, was constructed 2,000 years ago. Serious interest in the rock art of Ilkley began after the publication in 1879, by Romilly Allen, of "The Prehistoric Rock Sculptures of Ilkley" in The Journal of the British Archaeological Association.[3]

The remains of a Roman fort exist on a site near the town centre. A number of authorities believe that the fort is Olicana,[4] dating to 79 AD, but the identification is not settled. A number of Roman altars have been discovered dating to the reigns of Antoninus Pius (138 to 161), and Septimius Severus and his son Caracalla (211 to 217).[5]

Three Anglo-Saxon crosses formerly in the churchyard of All Saints', but now inside the church to prevent erosion, date to the 8th century. The site of the church as a centre for Christian worship extends to 627 AD, and the present mainly Victorian era church incorporated mediæval elements.[6]

The Domesday Book of 1086 records Ilkley (Ilecliue / Illecliue / Illiclei / Illicleia) as in the possession of William de Percy 1st Baron Percy. The land was acquired by the Middelton family of Myddelton Lodge, from about a century after the time of William the Conqueror. The family lost possession through a series of land sales and mortgage repossessions over a period of about a hundred years from the early 19th century.[7] The agents of William Middelton (1815–1885) were responsible for the design of the new town of Ilkley to replace the village which had stood there before.[8]

In the 17th and 18th centuries the town gained a reputation for the efficacy of its water. In the 19th century it became established as a fashionable spa town, with the construction of Ben Rhydding Hydro, a Hydropathic Establishment at Wheatley, a mile to the east, between 1843 and 1844.[9] Charles Darwin underwent hydropathic treatment at Wells House when his book On the Origin of Species was published on 24 November 1859, whilst staying with his family at North View House (now Hillside Court).[10] Tourists flocked to 'take the waters' and bathe in the cold water spring. Wheatley was renamed Ben Rhydding after the Hydro, which has been demolished.

The Manor House, Ilkley

Development based on the Hydro movement, and on the establishment of a number of convalescent homes and hospitals, was accelerated in August 1865 by the construction of the railway, the Otley and Ilkley Joint Railway, to the Leeds and Bradford Railway and the North Eastern Railway. A further connection was made in May 1888, by the Midland Railway, to Skipton via Bolton Abbey.

Today, the only remaining Hydro building is the white cottage known as White Wells House.


The nearby Ben Rhydding Sports Club in Ben Rhydding is the home of Ben Rhydding Hockey Club, founded in 1901 and Ben Rhydding Cricket Club.

Cycling races

The town has seen a number of high-profile international cycle races pass through. The climb up to Ilkley Moor is normally the reason for the races to visit as it presents a short but challenging climb. For three consecutive years between 1994 and 1996, the climb was used as part of the Leeds Classic, which was part of the World Cup series of events.[11] In both 2005 and 2007, the town hosted stages of The Tour of Britain race, with Ilkley Moor being a categorised climb on each occasion.[12]

In 2014, the town will have its biggest cycling moment to date when the Tour de France passes through. The route will approach the town on the A65 from Otley and pass through the town centre along the A65.[13]

Around and about the town

Cow and Calf rocks
Suspension bridge over the Wharfe
Cherry blossom on the riverbank by the town centre

Ilkley town centre is a tourist attraction with a high proliferation of small independent shops. Ilkley is one of five towns to hve a Bettys tearoom and has the Michelin-starred Box Tree restaurant where Marco Pierre White trained.

In 1991 Ilkley won the Entente Florale and in 1990 and 2004 the Britain in Bloom contest in the category of 'Town'.

The Manor House, one of the town's oldest buildings, houses a museum and art gallery. The museum contains prehistoric artefacts and documents the Roman fort, remains of which are exposed at the back of the building, and the rise of Ilkley as a Victorian spa town.

Ilkley Toy Museum has a collection of toys dating from 350 BC and a collection of wooden dolls.[14]

Snowfall on Railway Road

Ilkley's principal shopping street is The Grove, designed with wide pavements for promenading.

Ilkley Moor attracts walkers and cyclists to the area. The Cow and Calf rocks, which overlook the town on Ilkley Moor, consist of a large outcrop, which allegedly imitates a cow, and a boulder, which imitates a calf. The site is also visited for its rock climbing routes.[15] The Old Bridge just outside the town centre is the official start to the Dales Way, an 84-mile walk through the dales to Bowness-on-Windermere in Westmorland.

Darwin Gardens, to the south of the town, is a Millennium Green. It has a maze, whose design was influenced by the Swastika Stone carving, and includes monuments with an evolutionary theme.[16]

Ilkley is home to the largest and oldest literary festival in the north of England, the Ilkley Literature Festival.[17]

On film and television

  • A Private Function (1984), written by Yorkshire playwright Alan Bennett, was filmed in Ilkley and Ben Rhydding.
  • Calendar Girls (2003) used Ilkley as one of its locations.


See also

Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Ilkley)


  1. Greaves, Amanda (21 May 2009). "Environment Agency tackles Backstone Beck". Ilkley Gazette (Newsquest Media Group). Retrieved 15 June 2009. 
  2. The Railways of Wharfedale, Peter E. Baughan (1969) David & Charles (Publishers) Ltd
  3. 3.0 3.1 Beckensall, S., 2009, 'Prehistoric Rock Art in Britain, Chalford: Amberley Publishing, ISBN 978-1-84868-626-7
  4. Shaw, Thomas (1830). The History of Wharfedale], Otley: William Walker, p.70
  5. Shaw, Thomas (1830) "The History of Wharfedale, Otley: William Walker, pp.72–5
  6. "Brief History of All Saints – Ilkley". Retrieved 7 May 2011. 
  7. Carpenter, David (1999). "Who were the Middletons?". The Lords of Ilkley Manor – The Road to Ruin. Retrieved 11 January 2007. 
  8. Carpenter, David (1999). "Middelton Mini-Biographies". The Lords of Ilkley Manor – The Road to Ruin. Retrieved 11 January 2007. 
  9. Shifrin, Malcolm (Last updated 3 October 2008). "Ilkley: Ben Rhydding Hydro". Victorian Turkish Baths: Their origin, development, and gradual decline. Retrieved 12 December 2009. 
  10. "Darwin Correspondence Project – The correspondence of Charles Darwin, volume 7: 1858–1859". Retrieved 30 June 2009. 
  11. "Leeds chosen for start as English route is unveiled". The Telegraph. Retrieved 17 January 2013. 
  12. "Get on York Bike". BBC. Retrieved 17 January 2013. 
  13. "Grand Départ of The Tour de France 2014: Yorkshire to London, a 'royal' programme". Tour de France Official Website. Retrieved 17 January 2013. 
  14. "About Us". Ilkley Toy Museum. Retrieved 10 January 2007. 
  15. "Ilkley". YorkshireGrit. Retrieved 11 January 2007. 
  16. Harnett, Peter (March 2008). "The Evolution of Darwin Gardens Millennium Green". Darwin Gardens Trust. Retrieved 9 June 2009. 
  17. "Star Writers Head for Ilkley as Annual Festival Florishes". Telegraph & Argus. Newsquest Media Group. 26 September 2002. Retrieved 28 June 2009.