From locks and architecture to culture and TV, Bingley has plenty to shout about

Every town has stories that have had the mists of time swirling around them.

Canal boats on the Leeds Liverpool Canal above the Five-Rise Locks, Bingley. (James Hardisty).
Canal boats on the Leeds Liverpool Canal above the Five-Rise Locks, Bingley. (James Hardisty).

And Bingley is no different. It had its own railway station in 1847, and passengers first went through the gates on March 1.

They had all probably read of the problems that Leeds & Bradford Railway engineers had encountered building the line, particularly the conditions they had battled against in the Bingley area.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

The bog just north of the proposed station was claimed to be “unpassable”, and in an attempt to make the ground more firm, “no fewer than 100,000 cubic yards of solid earth and stone have been poured into this insatiable maw”.

Thousands watch the barge, Wye, as she marks the 200th anniversary of the construction of the Five-Rise locks on the Leeds and Liverpool in 1974. (YPN).

Parts of the old Grammar School are said to have to have slowly slid into it, and so – according to local lore – did an entire locomotive, some wagons, the driver and his mate.

However, investigating further, it appears that the railway firm had no record of such an event, and that this yarn was probably concocted by some rather fevered imaginations.

And don’t even attempt to ponder the tale as you stand on the platforms today, because the building (Grade II listed) isn’t even on the original site. The tracks were shifted in 1892, and a replacement went up, designed by the Charles Trubshaw, who also gave us the Midland Hotel in Bradford.

The tunnel in and out of the station is 151 yards long. But that tunnel – and the bog – pale into insignificance when you learn about the creation of the locks of nearby Leeds and Liverpool Canal. There are two sets of stretches in Bingley, the three-rise and, beyond that, the five-rise.

Bingley has green spaces as well as some impressive buildings. (James Hardisty).

This venerable canal is nearly 130 miles in length, and has a total of 91 locks along the way. It was designed by James Brindley, the engineering genius of his time, and work began on it in 1768.

It wasn’t finally finished until 1816, by which time railway transport was only a few years into the future.

The Bingley locks were conceived by John Longbotham and make a staircase flight, with the lower gate of one lock forming the upper gate of the next. Those gates weigh 4.5 tonnes per pair and are solid English oak. Longbotham is one of the forgotten men in our industrial history, and when he died in poverty in 1801, the canal company had to pick up the expenses for his funeral.

Both Longbotham and Brindley were acutely aware of the rivers and water flows across England, but Yorkshire was the place where their problem solving also demonstrated their extraordinary talents. They must both have gazed at Bingley’s medieval Ireland Bridge over the River Aire, and the fact that the parish church of All Saints and the Old White Horse (then a coaching inn) were within a stone’s throw of each other.

The current bridge dates from 1686. This crossing has been a significant one for centuries and for a long time Bingley was the largest town in the area. There was a poll tax return in 1379, which showed that it had 130 households, putting its population at perhaps over 500. Bradford, Halifax and Leeds had half of that figure.

Bingley was early to have a Market Charter, granted in 1212 by one of the most infamous kings in English history, John. If he knew anything about the town, he would have had the information from the Domesday Book, which named it as Bingheleia. It was then a manor, owned by Gospatric, a Saxon soon shoved out of the way by the new Norman regime.

Bingley has a wide range of listed buildings. They include those impressive locks, two aqueducts, two bridges, the Butter Cross, another packhorse bridge, a bandstand, the former library, a tannery, the war memorials and… an old telephone box.

The Old White Horse has provided sustenance since around 1379. Two stone lanterns tell us that the first owners of the current building were the Order of Knights of St John of Jerusalem. Which means that some of the earliest lads to prop up the bar were en route to one of the first Crusades.

The Industrial Revolution brought prosperity to Bingley, and also a huge growth in its population. Many came to work in the woollen and worsted mills, with most moving from the surrounding countryside, but there were Irish families too, escaping the ravages of the Great Famine.

Over the decades, successive councils tried to deal with the demand for extra housing, with varying forms of success – and failure – and in the 1960s if you wanted to seek out “Brutalist” architecture, Bingley was a good place to go. One of the notable buildings of the time was the block that became the headquarters of the Bradford & Bingley Building Society, on Main Street.

Local folk either loved it or loathed it, with the majority in the latter camp. It was later demolished and became part of the sad story of the well-regarded mortgage giant which collapsed after it was hit hard by the credit crunch more than a decade ago.

If you look back down the years, you see that this particular town in the verdant Airedale Valley has produced an eclectic cast of notable figures. The list includes actor Rodney Bewes (always remembered as one of The Likely Lads), the famed astronomer Fred Hoyle and motorcycle road racer Ian Hutchinson, who has won the Isle of Man TT no less than 15 times.

But let’s rewind further back in time. The parish church of All Saints has a history that predates the Normans, but the bulk of today’s building dates from around 1491, and quite apart from some lovely late medieval stonework, it also has a magnificent stained-glass window crafted by two of the most famous Victorian artists, William Morris and Edwards Burne-Jones, and a peal of eight bells.

Look around carefully, and you will find the memorial to General William Twiss, another visionary engineer, who came up with the Martello Towers, built to fend off a Napoleonic invasion of the south coast. He retired to Bingley after a distinguished career in the Army, and died in 1827 at his home in Myrtle Grove, aged 82.

There are more points of interest to be found in the town. Next to the general’s old home is Myrtle Park, where the Music Live Festival and the Bingley Show are staged.

At the Arts Centre you’ll find the Bingley Little Theatre which performs 10 and more productions a year in the 350-seater auditorium.

Next year will be a very special one for the group as they will be celebrating their 75th anniversary.

“We try to give something for everyone, classics, new writing, you name it,” says vice-chair David Kirk. They’re a creative lot in Bingley, don’t you think?