So, what did the Burnleys do for the Spen Valley...?

So, what did the Burnleys do for the Spen Valley...?

Local historian Mike Popplewell continues his look at some of the lesser-known aspects of Spen Valley history...

IT MUST have been a tough task for the Spen Valley Civic Society to select subjects for their Fame Trail project back in 2007 – particularly those places of historical interest.

The Spen Valley has a rich history in the development of English society, through the times of religious and political upheaval to the industrialisation of the area in the 19th century and beyond.

And if one place can claim to have figured prominently in those times of change, it is Pollard Hall.

Sitauted on Oxford Road in Gomersal, it has been overshadowed by nearby Red House and, a little further away, Oakwell Hall at Birstall, which were both included on the Fame Trail.

But Pollard Hall has strong connections with the 19th and 20th century textile industry in the area.

The house was originally built for Tempest Pollard in 1669 and it is probable that he or his family were part of the royalist Tempest family of the West Riding.

But it was the non-conformist Burnleys who were to make the biggest impact on the village of Gomersal.

Thomas Burnley was living at Popeley House in Gomersal in 1826 when his eldest son, also Thomas, was born. But by 1851, Pollard Hall was the family home and Anne Taylor was living alone in Red House.

While Red House, and its literary connections to the Brontes, has justifiably won its place on the Fame Trail, there is no doubt that the Burnleys have had a far bigger impact on the people of Spen Valley through the two-and-a-half centuries of work provision for local people.

In 1851, Thomas Burnley was a factory ‘master’ employing home weavers to provide the material for his mill.

Thomas Burnley and Sons had taken over from the Gomersal Cloth Mills, founded in 1752, on their Spen Lane site and the sons were Thomas William and James, with James’ son Thomas joining the business later.

By 1901, Thomas William, now 75, was still involved as chairman of the company, while his nephew, Thomas, living across the road at Marsh House – which subsequently made way for the Barrington Estate – was a company director.

The younger Thomas was involved in all aspects of Gomersal life. He was on the urban district council, having previously been on the old local board, and a trustee of the Grove Congregational Chapel.

In days when travel was far from easy, Thomas represented the company on trips all over Europe.

Through the 20th century ‘Burnley’s Mill’, as it was almost universally known, became one of the Spen Valley’s most prominent employers and businesses.

As it slowly wound down, the factory gates were finally closed by the turn of the 21st century and the only evidence of its existence is in the name of Burnley Mill Road, which runs through the housing estate now on the site.

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