Ilkley

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Ilkley is a spa town and civil parish in West Yorkshire, in Northern England. Historically part of the West Riding of Yorkshire, Ilkley civil parish includes the adjacent village of Ben Rhydding and is a ward within the metropolitan borough of Bradford. Approximately 12 miles (19 km) north of Bradford, the town lies mainly on the south bank of the River Wharfe in Wharfedale, one of the Yorkshire Dales. The parish has a population of 13,828 (census 2001).

Ilkley’s spa town heritage and surrounding countryside make tourism an important local industry. The town centre is characterised by Victorian architecture, wide streets and floral displays. Ilkley Moor, to the south of the town, is the subject of a folk song, often described as the unofficial anthem of Yorkshire, “On Ilkla Moor Baht ‘at”. The song’s words are written in Yorkshire dialect, its title translated as “On Ilkley Moor without a hat.”

The earliest evidence of habitation in the Ilkley area is flint arrowheads or microliths, dating to the Mesolithic period, from about 11,000 BC onwards. The area around Ilkley has been continuously settled since at least the early Bronze Age, around 1800 BC; more than 250 cup and ring marks, and swastika carvings dating to the period have been found on rock outcrops, and archaeological remains of dwellings are found on Ilkley Moor. A druidical stone circle, the Twelve Apostles Stone Circle, was constructed 2,000 years ago.

The remains of a Roman fort exist on a site near the town centre. A number of authorities believe that the fort is Olicana, dating to 79 AD, but the identification is not settled. A number of Roman altars have been discovered dating to the reigns of Antoninus Pius (138 to 161), and Septimius Severus and his son Caracalla (211 to 217).

Three Anglo-Saxon crosses formerly in the churchyard of All Saints’, but now inside the church to prevent erosion, date to the 8th century. The site of the church as a centre for Christian worship extends to 627 AD, and the present mainly Victorian era church incorporated medieval elements.

The Domesday Book, of 1086, records Ilkley (Ilecliue/Illecliue/Illiclei/Illicleia) as being in the possession of William de Percy 1st Baron Percy. The land was acquired by the Middelton family of Myddelton Lodge, from about a century after the time of William the Conqueror. The family lost possession through a series of land sales and mortgage repossessions over a period of about a hundred years from the early 19th century. The agents of William Middelton (1815–1885) were responsible for the design of the new town of Ilkley to replace the village which had stood there before.

In the 17th and 18th centuries the town gained a reputation for the efficacy of its water. In the 19th century it became established as a fashionable spa town, with the construction of Ben Rhydding Hydro, a Hydropathic Establishment at Wheatley, a mile to the east, between 1843 and 1844. Charles Darwin underwent hydropathic treatment at Wells House when his book On the Origin of Species was published on 24 November 1859, whilst staying with his family North View House (now Hillside Court). Tourists flocked to ‘take the waters’ and bathe in the cold water spring. Wheatley was renamed Ben Rhydding after the Hydro, which has been demolished.

Development based on the Hydro movement, and on the establishment of a number of convalescent homes and hospitals, was accelerated in August 1865 by the construction of the railway, the Otley and Ilkley Joint Railway, to the Leeds and Bradford Railway and the North Eastern Railway. A further connection was made in May 1888, by the Midland Railway, to Skipton via Bolton Abbey.

Other Victorian visitors to the town include Madame Tussaud. Today, the only remaining Hydro building is the white cottage known as White Wells House. The cottage can be seen and visited on the edge of the moor over-looking the town.

The lowest unit of local government is Ilkley Parish Council. Ilkley is part of the Keighley UK Parliament constituency . Ilkley is in the Yorkshire and the Humber European constituency.

Before 1974 Ilkley was an urban district, a type of local government district. Ilkley Urban District Council shared local government responsibilities with the West Riding County Council. The Local Government Act 1972 dissolved urban districts and in 1974 Ilkley adopted its current status as a ward of the metropolitan borough of the City of Bradford. Services provided by the urban district council are now run centrally by the City of Bradford Metropolitan District Council.

Until 2006 Ilkley civil parish consisted of Ilkley ward, which includes Ben Rhydding, and the north half of Rombalds ward. The latter ward housed the villages of Burley-in-Wharfedale and Menston. The population of the parish in 2001 was therefore considerably higher than it is today, consisting of 24,954 residents. In 2006 Burley-in-Wharfedale and Menston established their own parishes and today Ilkley consists only of Ilkley ward (13,828 residents).

The town partially straddles the River Wharfe in a valley, rising from the river at 230 feet (70 m) to 650 feet (200 m) above sea level, up Ilkley Moor (a bracken and heather covered moorland, with rocky outcrops, to the south) and to 540 feet (160 m) across Middleton Woods in the north.

The river runs through the northern extent of the town from west to east, and is crossed by four bridges, in order: a 16th century three-arched stone bridge, now closed to road traffic; a 19th century single-span wrought-iron bridge; a suspension bridge for foot traffic only (a set of concrete stepping stones) and a prefabricated steel arched box-girder bridge. The river is prone to flooding the sports fields (and a few houses) that occupy the watermeadows.

A person from Ilkley is called an Olicanian which is derived from Olicana, thought to be the name of the Roman fort Ilkley is built upon.

The town is a tourist destination and is used as a base from which to explore the famous moor and the countryside beyond. Ilkley is a shopping town that sells everything from game, fine wine, expensive fashions and fine art. The Victorian parades of The Grove and Brook Street have a selection of speciality shops. The town’s original Victorian arcade has been restored as an indoor shopping walkway complete with a fountain and hanging baskets. Bettys, the Yorkshire tea room, has a shop in the town. Ilkley has little by way of industry or commerce but employers include The Woolmark Company, Spooner Industries and NG Bailey.

Ilkley lies on the A65 road, which runs between Leeds and Kendal. The nearest substantial motorways are the M62 at Bradford, and the M1 at Leeds, and the A1(M) at Wetherby. The civil parish is served by two railway stations: Ilkley terminus and Ben Rhydding. These are linked by the Wharfedale Line upon which trains run between Ilkley and Leeds/Bradford Forster Square stations.

There is a wide variety of sports clubs and facilities in and around Ilkley. Notable clubs include the Ilkley Lawn Tennis and Squash Club, founded in 1880, which hosts an Ilkley Squash Open that has attracted world-class players such as Peter Barker; Ilkley Golf Club, Yorkshire’s third oldest golf club founded in 1890, and where Colin Montgomerie for some years practised the game; Ilkley Rugby Club; and Ilkley Harriers Athletics Club. There are a number of football, rugby and hockey teams. Ilkley Cricket Club play in the Aire-Wharfe League. The nearby Ben Rhydding Sports Club in Ben Rhydding is the home of Ben Rhydding Hockey Club, founded in 1901, and Ben Rhydding Cricket Club. An Ilkley Karate club is run by former UK champion Mark Outterside. Public facilities include indoor and outdoor swimming pools, and outdoor tennis courts at Ilkley’s Lido. Constructed in 1935, it is one of only four public open-air swimming pools in Yorkshire and is a tourist attraction during the summer holiday season.

The town has seen a number of high profile international cycle races pass through. The climb up to Ilkley Moor is normally the reason for the races to visit as it presents a short but challenging climb. For three consequitive years between 1994 and 1996 the climb was used as part of the Leeds Classic which was part of the World Cup series of events. In both 2005 and 2007 the town has hosted stages of The Tour of Britain race, with Ilkley Moor being a categorised climb on each occasion. . In 2014 the town will have it’s biggest cycling moment to date when the Tour de France passes through. The route will approach the town on the A65 from Otley and pass through the town centre along the A65.

Ilkley town centre is a tourist attraction with a high proliferation of small independent shops. Of particular note is Lishman’s of Ilkley, an award-winning butcher shop whose owner, David Lishman, became one of Rick Stein’s superheroes in 2003. Ilkley is one of five towns to feature a Bettys tearoom and is home to the Michelin-starred Box Tree restaurant where Marco Pierre White trained. In 1991 Ilkley won the Entente Florale and in 1990 and 2004 the Britain in Bloom contest in the category of ‘Town’. In 2006 Ilkley became a Fairtrade Town.

The Manor House, one of the town’s oldest buildings, houses a museum and art gallery. The museum contains prehistoric artefacts and documents the Roman fort of Olicana – remains of which are exposed at the back of the building – as well as the rise of Ilkley as a Victorian spa town. Ilkley Toy Museum has a collection of toys dating from 350 BC and a collection of English wooden dolls.

Ilkley’s rural surroundings attract walkers and cyclists to the area. The landmark Cow and Calf rocks, which overlook the town on Ilkley Moor, consist of a large outcrop, which allegedly imitates a cow, and a boulder, which imitates a calf. The site is also visited for its rock climbing routes. The Old Bridge just outside the town centre is the official start to the Dales Way, an 84-mile (135 km) walk through the dales to Bowness-on-Windermere in the Lake District.

Darwin Gardens, to the south of the town, is a Millennium Green which commemorates the town’s links with English naturalist Charles Darwin. The Green features a maze, whose design was influenced by the Swastika Stone carving, and includes monuments with an evolutionary theme.

Ilkley is home to the largest and oldest literary festival in the north of England, the Ilkley Literature Festival. The 1984 British comedy film A Private Function, written by Alan Bennett, was filmed in Ilkley and Ben Rhydding. The town was also one of the locations used for the 2003 British comedy film Calendar Girls. The Ilkley Gazette is the town’s weekly newspaper.

Ilkley’s medieval parish church All Saints’, largely reconstructed in the Victorian era, houses artefacts of the site’s ancient Christian heritage including three Saxon crosses and today operates within the Anglican Communion. An expanding congregation in the 19th century triggered plans in 1873 for a second church which became St Margaret’s Church, designed by Richard Norman Shaw and completed in 1879. Worship at the church is conducted in the Anglo-Catholic tradition and in 2005 was led by David Hope, Baron Hope of Thornes. When the Archbishop of York resigned he became vicar at Ilkley until his retirement in 2006.

Ilkley is twinned with Coutances in France.

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