Birstall, West Yorkshire
The Joseph Priestley Statue at Birstall Market Place
Birstall shown within West Yorkshire
|OS grid reference|
|Metropolitan county||West Yorkshire|
|Region||Yorkshire and the Humber|
|Sovereign state||United Kingdom|
|EU Parliament||Yorkshire and the Humber|
Birstall is a large village in the metropolitan borough of Kirklees, and is also part of Batley, West Yorkshire, England. Historically part of the West Riding of Yorkshire, it is situated approximately 6 miles (10 km) south-west of Leeds. The village is centrally situated between Leeds, Bradford, Huddersfield and Wakefield, and is close to the M62 motorway,
Birstall is not listed in the Domesday Book but is alluded to as one of two main settlements within Gomersal, and was listed in Pigot's National Commercial Directory for 1828-29 as one of the four villages which make up the township of Gomersal.
Birstall's name means either "the fortified place" or "the place where the fort is". It is popularly thought that the original location of the Burgh-Stall (Burgh meaning a fortification and Stall meaning place) is where the St Peter's Church is located. However it is more probable[according to whom?] that the church was built at the bottom of an ancient hill fort site. The church site was, in fact,[according to whom?] built above a sharp bend on the Birstall Beck, below Gomersall, pre-Conquest known as Guthmers Halh or (a nook or corner of land). This area is also thought[by whom?] to be an Anglo-Saxon burial ground.
The hill fort itself would have been situated high above the village, to one side of the present-day Raikes Lane, which heads towards Gildersome, and onto Leeds. In prehistoric days, trackways ran in various directions from one British settlement to another, one such settlement being on the top of Birstall Hill. This site was chosen for its central location amongst the nearby waterways and its accessibility to and from other nearby hill forts, such as Castle Hill at Almondbury in Huddersfield and Barwick-in-Elmet, near Leeds. Following the course of Fieldhead Lane towards Drighlington is the Roman road of Tong Street. This location would give Birstall a great geographical advantage, making it within easy reach of the main thoroughfares of ancient Yorkshire.
A Roman tiled mosaic was unearthed at Birstall Smithies, a former early industrial slag smelting site, during excavations in 1965. This and a hoard of Roman coins discovered at the foot of Carr Lane, on what was then Birstall Recreation Ground indicate quite succinctly as to the prehistoric origins of Birstall. These coins, which were discovered in the 18th century, dated from 192 to 268 AD.
A quarter of a mile up the hill from Birstall on Leeds Road, there was once a Roman watch tower. This observation point was built on the ridge or "brae" of the hill. One side overlooked the Birstall area, while the other looked downwards from Howden Clough and the valley towards upland Morley. This watchtower was known in the early 20th century to the local inhabitants as the Brass Castle, a corruption of Brae Castle. It followed the line of other such structures built in West Yorkshire, atop prominent projecting ridges.
Moat Hill, just off Leeds Road, was once the site of an important meeting place. An Anglo-Saxon parliament would meet here several times a year to discuss laws and "mete" out punishment. For the word moat (meet?) is a corruption of an ancient word, pronounced "mute", meaning a meeting place for official decisions. There were only a handful of these places in Anglo-Saxon Britain, with Birstall having been host to one of them. Others were in Scotland and at Tynwald Hill, on the Isle of Man, which still meets annually to this day, and forms the historic place of parliament for that independent island.
Birstall is the birthplace of Joseph Priestley, the discoverer of Oxygen. Priestley was tutored extensively by the then Vicar of Birstall, an Edinburgh man with a keen interest in science. He was also a pupil at Batley Grammar School for Boys, founded in 1612 by the Rev. William Lee. The school still remains on Carlinghow Hill, approximately one mile from Birstall.
Also born here was John Nelson, a stonemason who was converted by John Wesley to Methodism whilst working in London and who returned to Birstall and became one of Wesley's most important preachers.
Birstall was prosperous before the Industrial Revolution, being within a small area that was a centre for the English white cloth industry. However, the Industrial Revolution saw extensive growth, and the architecture of the period still dominates today. The wider area became known as the Heavy Woollen District, although the decline in textile production has led to a decline in its usage; it is still used in local sport however. Of this period is the cobbled market place with a statue of Priestley, which was erected in 1912 by public subscription and sculpted by Frances Darlington. It is one of very few pieces of her work on public display.
Before 1937, Birstall had its own urban district council before a merger with the UDC of neighbouring Batley. Just over 30 years later, this, in turn was merged into Kirklees when the metropolitan councils were formed.
Birstall has grown substantially because of the expansion of Leeds, becoming a commuter village of a more rural nature.
The village has retail areas adjacent to Junction 27 of the M62, Birstall Shopping Park, also referred to as West Yorkshire Retail Park, which includes a DW Sports shop and fitness club, IKEA, Toys R Us and Next stores, and a Showcase Cinemas complex. In addition to Birstall Shopping Park there is the Junction 27 Retail Park, which specialises in bulky goods and electronics and is under different ownership to Birstall Shopping Park.
Birstall's community groups and traders organise the "Birstall in Bloom" project, which started in 2010. The local chamber of trade promotes local businesses. Shops and outlets include a florist, baker's, butcher's, travel agent, pet shop, hair dresser's, nail bar, fish shop, nail bar, bistro, and a hot sandwich bar.
Village centre improvements
In mid-2008 the local council's area committee invested £900,000 in refurbishing the Birstall marketplace and regenerating the village after a campaign by locals. The refurbishments were completed in December 2008 with most of the original cobbles being taken away and replaced with a level stone surface with random cobbled stripes. The statue of Joseph Priestley was not moved and is still in its original place. New lighting has been erected throughout the village centre along with a CCTV system. Village centre roads have also been improved. The opening was celebrated with the official "Christmas light switch on" and an 'Italian Market'.
Birstall's St Peter's Church dates to the time of Henry VIII, although the original tower is much earlier and may have been part of the original "Burgh Stall" or "Fortified Place". A family reconstitution of the parish registers of St Peter's, Birstall (1595–1812) was undertaken by Harvey Thwaite, and is one of the group of twenty-six family reconstitution studies that have been extensively used by the Cambridge Group for the History of Population and Social Structure.
The Black Bull Inn is situated behind St Peter's Church on Kirkgate. The public house has photographs of the village, most dating from around the 1900 to 1930 period, and its upstairs room once housed a debtors' courtroom for Birstall and Batley.
||NW: Bradford||Drighlington, Leeds||NE: Leeds|
|SW: Heckmondwike||Dewsbury||SE: Batley|
- Media related to Birstall, West Yorkshire at Wikimedia Commons
- Upper Birstall Railway Station
- Lower Birstall Railways Station
- Birstall News
- Oakwell Hall
- St Peters Church, Birstall
- Website of Mike Wood, the village's Member of Parliament