After the Roman armies left Britain, illegal immigrants from northern Europe began to settle the densely forested lower dales. These people were the Angles (English), who made clearings above the river banks as pastures, called leys. Below Calverley in Airedale there was a ford across the Aire, usable on horseback, and a settlement was built above the north bank which took its name from that horse ford. At the centre of the village was Horsforth Old Hall at the junction of Calverley Lane and Manor Road. Close by was the original village green. Willow Green (now lost beneath the Leeds Ring Road), from which other lanes radiated outward to neighbouring communities, including Newlay, two miles downstream.
Horsforth has had two royal visitors. The first was William the Conqueror, who crossed the Aire at Newlay on his way to confront rebellious Danes at York and took possession of land in north Horsforth from the Anglo Danish Earl Gamal. The land was later granted to one, Robert de Bruys, whose Scottish decendant ‘Robert the Bruce’ laid claim to the Scottish throne. He passed this way on one of his raids into Yorkshire after his victory at Bannockburn, reportedly spending the night at Dean Head Grange on the Horsforth Estate. That outlying area of Horsforth has been known as ‘Scotland’ ever since.
In 1200AD, Horsforth became part of the domain of the Abbots of Kirkstall who exploited its resources by quarrying and farming as well as using the water-power of the beck, to drive their famous forge. Monastic farm houses, often manned by lat brothers, were known as granges. We have Newlay Grange and two granges on the de Bruys land, Dean Head Grange and Owlet Grange.
After the dissolution of the Monasteries the Abbey’s Horsforth estates were sold to private buyers, notably the Greenes and the Stanhopes. Greene acquired the Old Hall, while Stanhope, a wealthy and well connected lawyer, built the splendid Tudor Low Hall near by. It was the Stanhopes who eventually established themselves as ‘Lords of ther Manor’.
Before the reformation, the local place of worship was Kirkstall Abbey Church, involving a two mile walk along ‘Vesper Road’, now called Abbey Road. After the dissolution, the need for a local chapel became pressing, so the Stanhopes and other local worthies financed the building of the Bell Chapel on the Green.
In 1699, John Stanhope built Horsforth New Hall in Hall Park. In 1932 the Hall and park were bought by William Mathieson and donated to the people of Horsforth.
The main industry in Horsforth was the quarrying of high quality building stone. There were also several mills on the valley of the beck which defines the town’s eastern border.
In the industrial revolution, the population expanded greatly, reflecting the rapid growth of Leeds and Bradford, though it did not become a parish until 1869, St. Margaret’s Church was built to replace the old Bell Chapel.
Horsforth enjoyed, (and still enjoys) the title of ‘The biggest village in England’. It became an Urban District of the West Riding, but was never a borough.
In 1974, it was reluctantly incorporated into Leeds and in 1999, it elected to have its own Town Council.
Horsforth is a popular dormitory for both Leeds and Bradford and now has a population of around 25,000. It has thirteen pubs, seven primary schools, a large and very successful high school and a rapidly expanding university college.
A community is defined by its traditions and festivals, and in Horsforth many of these have been preserved and enhanced over the years. Since 1872 there has been an annual gala in the park on the last Saturday in June, with a parade, and all manner of entertainments and charity stalls attended by several thousand people
We have an annual choral festival and a festival of Dance and Drama held in the Church Hall and we have a Sports day in the park. We also had formal celebrations of events like the Millennium and the Jubilee. Our history is preserved in our excellent museum on the Green, staffed and managed entirely by volunteers.
In recent years we have acquired many new residents, and the status of a favoured dormitory town for Leeds and Bradford. We impress upon newcomers that we are a town and not a suburb, that they are welcome to the community, and that if they stay here for forty years, they will be allowed to consider themselves ‘Horsfordians’