The story of how we got to where we are today.
Yorkshire sat at the heart of the industrial revolution in England, and today the region’s many museums, historic canals, heritage steam railways and striking Victorian architecture are testament to Yorkshire’s industrial history.
Table of Contents
At the coal face…
Coal has been mined in Yorkshire since the middle Ages, but no great demand for coal existed until the Industrial Revolution.
Coal was then needed to make iron, fuel steam engines, locomotives, and to power factories. Coal from the Yorkshire coalfields was one of the major sources of power behind the global industrial revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries.
Explore the 41 acre site at the National Coal Mining Museum for England to discover the hidden world of mining through the centuries. Visit our galleries to see how miners lived, worked and relaxed, from the Victorian age through to modern day. Don a hard-hat and lamp, to descend 140 metres on an underground tour led by ex-miners to find out how coal was extracted and moved to the surface.
Elsecar Heritage, Barnsley – Elsecar is a remarkable village, transformed by the Earls Fitzwilliam into a thriving centre of iron and coal. Few places in Britain have so many reminders of its great industrial age: collieries, ironworks, cottages, a canal, steam railway, schools, pubs and more, all dating back to Georgian and Victorian times. The Earls’ impressive workshops are now packed with a wonderful range of independent retailers, cafés, an antiques centre and an indoor children’s play centre. It is also home to The Ironworks, an exciting event space which hosts gigs, craft fairs and much more.
Iron in them, there hills!
Locally sourced iron ore has been processed on the North York Moors since medieval times but the discovery of high-grade magnetic ironstone in Rosedale during the 1850s saw the village’s population explode, growing from around five hundred to three thousand in just two decades.
The railway soon followed carrying iron ore from Rosedale down onto the Cleveland plains, and for seventy years Rosedale was a noisy, dusty and active part of industrial Britain. The mines shut in the 1920s but many impressive industrial ruins still line the valley today and the spectacularly scenic route of the railway can now be followed on foot all of the way round Rosedale, across the top of Farndale and up to the plains on the dramatic Greenhow incline.
The Elsecar Heritage Centre, set in the conservation village of Elsecar near Barnsley, is located within the former ironworks and colliery workshops of the Earls Fitzwilliam. Restored buildings now house an antique centre, individual craft and business workshops, the Living History Centre and Building 21, and a multi purpose exhibition hall, which holds events most weekends. The Centre also features the Elsecar Railways and the world famous Newcomen Beam Engine.
Cannon Hall Museum is a country house museum set in 70 acres of historic parkland. For almost 300 years Cannon Hall was home to the Spencer, later Spencer-Stanhope family, who made their fortune in the local iron industry. In 1957 the hall opened as a museum, and is home to a collection of art including ceramics, glass, furniture and Old Master paintings, displayed in the hall’s Georgian and Victorian rooms.
The Cleveland Ironstone Mining Museum was founded in 1983 by a group of volunteers acutely aware that the remains of the ironstone mining industry, which had once formed the basis of Cleveland’s growth & prosperity, were rapidly being lost, forgotten or destroyed and who set out to celebrate the heritage of that industry by the preservation, conservation and display of artefacts, photographs and documents relating to it.
Stories and sounds from the steel industry
Explore Sheffield’s industrial steel heritage at Kelham Island Museum. The museum is the showcase of Sheffield’s industrial story, from early industrialisation to modern times where ‘Made in Sheffield’ remains a mark of quality known worldwide. Enjoy a great family day out full of nostalgia and innovation as the interactive galleries follow the growth of the Steel City, from light trades and skilled workmanship to mass production.
Catch a unique glimpse of life at home and at work at a rural scythe and steelworks dating back to the 18th Century at Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet. Worker’s houses, waterwheels, crucible steel furnaces, tilt hammers and workshops make Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet one of the largest water powered industrial complexes on the River Sheaf.
Yorkshire’s Textile Industry
Explore the history of Yorkshire’s textile industry, within our fascinating industrial museums.
Many of Yorkshire’s mills survive today as cutting edge arts centres. The two most well-known are World Heritage Site Salts Mill at Saltaire near Bradford, once home to the mighty worsted woollen mill owned by Sir Titus Salt. Salt built Saltaire village around the mill to keep his workers firmly under his paternalist hand. The other mighty Yorkshire mill arts centre is Dean Clough in Halifax, once home to the largest Victorian carpet mill – Crossley Carpets.
Other mills that are now art centres are to be found across Yorkshire, including some earlier smaller mills like Farfield Mill at Sedbergh in the Dales and historic watermills Gibson Mill within Hardcastle Crags near Hebden Bridge and Thwaite Mills near Leeds.
Visitors can explore the textile industry in the following attractions:
Formerly the largest woollen mill in the world, Leeds Industrial Museum at Armley Mills now explores the city’s rich industrial past. Armley Mills contains exhibits from the 18th century to the present day and tells the history of manufacturing in Leeds, including textiles, clothing, printing and engineering. Visit the textile gallery, the milling room and fulling mill to find out more about Leeds’ connection with the wool and cloth industries.
At Colne Valley Museum, Golcar, near Huddersfield, visitors can discover reconstructions, exhibitions, events and displays at these three 1840’s weaver’s cottages.
Watch ropemaking in progress at W R Outhwaite & Son in Hawes. See how the twist is put in the rope! This is rope making by the traditional process, including various twines, church bell ropes, dog leads, barrier ropes and more, including braid-making machines.
Piece Hall in Halifax is unique. This Grade I listed Georgian masterpiece opened in 1779 to provide a spectacular market place for Halifax’s trade in cloth and is now home to a host of independent shops, cafés and a Visitor Centre and Art Gallery. Events of all kinds take place throughout the year, from festivals and concerts to bike rallies and markets.
Celebrate the history of the waterways
Once at the heart of our textile industry, Yorkshire’s rivers, reservoirs and ancient canal networks are great places to explore and enjoy.
The Canal & River Trust looks after around 270 miles of inland waterways, covering an area which stretches from South Yorkshire to the River Tees in the North East. Yorkshire’s waterways, including the 127 mile long Leeds & Liverpool Canal and large freight ways of the River Aire, combine rural appeal with historic purpose.
The canals and rivers provide countless opportunities for walking, cycling, wildlife spotting, picnicking, angling canoeing or canal boat holidays. They weave through famous attractions such as Clarence Dock in Leeds, with bars, shops, restaurants and a casino, through to the highest, longest and deepest canal tunnel in Britain at Standedge Tunnel, near Huddersfield, built by navvies with enormous difficulty. This engineering wonder and one of the ‘Seven Wonders of the Waterways’, was worked on by the world-renowned engineer Thomas Telford and celebrated its 200th anniversary earlier this year (2011).Huddersfield Narrow Canal runs for 20 miles and near Lock 23E in Slaithwaite, you’ll find the country’s only working Guillotine Gate on a narrow canal.
Worsbrough Mill Museum and Country Park in Barnsley, is a designated local nature reserve set in over 200 acres of delightful countryside. In the park you will see the fully-operational 17th Century watermill and 19th Century engine mill and displays of auxiliary machinery. The watermill is worked daily and contains 3 pairs of stones driven by a 14’4′ diameter, overshot wheel in cast iron.
The Leeds & Liverpool Canal is one of the most spectacular in the country. Unlike many other canals, boats sit above the canal bank so you really can watch the world go by. It meanders through some of the most picturesque countryside in England, taking in some of Yorkshire’s most famous historic towns and villages along the way. The canal weaves its way through the Yorkshire Dales, into Skipton and onto Bingley, home to the Five and Three Rise Locks, which are often described as wonders of the waterways, before reaching the World Heritage Site of Saltaire village.
Visit Sowerby Bridge Basin, home to Tuel Lane Lock, the deepest lock in England, and the joining point of Calder & Hebble Navigation and Rochdale Canal. The Rochdale Canal climbs up the Calder Valley through the towns of Mytholmroyd, Hebden Bridge and Todmorden to its summit at Walsden. A gentle walk with plenty of stopping places.
Yorkshire’s waterways play host to a whole range of events throughout the year – from small, charity walks and Towpath Tidy days, to annual festivals such as the Waterways Festival in the pretty market town of Skipton in May and the Rushbearing Festival in Sowerby Bridge, near Halifax. Why don’t you explore Yorkshire’s canals and unleash the possibilities just waiting to be discovered.