...and buy a local book by local people.
The Mid Wharfedale History Group (ie May Pickles and Moira Long) have finally released the third book in the series generated by their researches into Ilkley history. Moira Long's Ilkley in 1847 follows on rather nicely from May Pickles' Pre-Victorian Ilkley, published two years ago. It's a good-ish sized pamphlet (a definite step up in production values from its predecessor), well illustrated, 48 pages long.
Why 1847? Because that was the year the tithe assessors produced the first detailed map of the whole of Ilkley township. The 1836 Tithe Commutation Act imposed a countrywide settlement and regularisation of the payment of tithes, converting tithes in kind (on milk, new born calves, whatever) into a fixed rent. This required detailed mapping of the ownership and use of fields across the whole country. Hence the 1847 map. It's especially interesting in Ilkley, because it marks a period when the Heather Spaw was starting to turn into a venue for mass-tourism. The Ben Rhydding Hydro had opened in 1843, and many of the houses in the centre of town were providing lodging for an increasing number of visitors. So 1847 represented a turning point for the town. And this pamphlet takes the opportunity to look in detail at the use of land in Ilkey just before it became totally dedicated to tourism.
Now, we' ve become used over the past five years to the 'history is the new gardening' theme, especially when it comes to TV History. What this means, of course, is the betrayal of social history and mass-Starkeyisation, a gossipy version of the 'great man/woman' theory that takes us back to Suetonius. There's no room for social and economic forces, no room for the ordinary person, for local history, only for the big stories. It's bitchy gossip as the history of the nation. And it's about as far from this sort of work as it's possible to get.
For this is classic historical research, like its predecessors. It's bringing together material that would be hard for the public otherwise to find. It lacks narrative, or drive, but that's not the point. It's not always easy to read, but as a collection of source material it's invaluable. In this, it's descended from the school of Turner (and Collyer) rather than the elegant and witty Harry Speight, if we compare Victorian writers on the town. It's more David Carpenter (whose book on the Middletons is almost unreadable, but represents a useful transcription of source material) than Tim Binding. Better writers will probably use this material (as Mike Dixon did with Turner/Collyer), but this is what they need to work from.
A few minor and interesting tidbits:
1) the footpath coming up from town along Parish Ghyll Road, then past St Margaret's Woods, and on to the west of Wells House to the edge of the moor is the old droving path of cattle from the town to the moor (and back), which dates back to at least the 13th century. Next time you're climbing that hill, a bit out of puff, think of the thousands of hooves that have done the job before you.
2) The old medieval fields of Ilkley can still be made out on either side of the town centre. The East field spanned from the current Leeds Road up to Bolling Road with what is now Little Lane as the access road to the variously owned strips. Above Bolling Road was the cowpasture. The Western field spanned from Skipton Road to roughly where Grove Road currently is, with the path of Kings Road as the access, up till around Victoria Avenue. The streets running off Kings Road to left and right represent some of the field boundaries.
3) The old stone wall at the southern end of Heber's Ghyll is a medieval boundary between cultivated land and the moor (or 'waste'). It might have been replaced many times, but if York can claim Roman walls on the basis of a Victorian re-build, I'm gonna claim early medieval for this one.
So, if interested, wander down to The Grove Bookshop and buy a copy. £6 and a lot easier to carry than young Potter.