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What Otley Used to Look Like

· Joseph Sheerin · Culture


From Bronze Age settlements to a thriving market town, take a walk through Otley’s history…

Otley is one of the most picturesque towns West Yorkshire has to offer, but it didn’t always look this way. Its story is a long one, that starts from all the way back in the Bronze age, taking you through the Industrial Revolution to its current status as a vibrant market town loved by both locals and tourists.

The small village


Otley has long been an integral part of Yorkshire, with evidence of settlements on its current site going back as far as the Bronze Age. It was once one of the points of the Kingdom of Elmet. Fast forward centuries though, and Otley had grown into a sleepy crossing point across the River Wharfe.

Church at its centre


At the heart of Otley, much like many other towns, sits the parish church, All Saint’s. It’s more intriguing than others, however, due its amalgamation of different parts of the region’s history. It’s built in late-Norman style, but Saxon sculptures have been found on the site, as well as part of a Viking gravestone.

All around the maypole


This is Otley in one of its earliest photographs, taken in the 1860s. The thatched cottages were the hallmark of the town, but with time, they’ve been replaced by traditional Yorkshire stone houses. The Maypole didn’t last either, as it was struck by lightning in 1871 and burnt to the ground, replaced by a new one on May Day 1872.

The famous Chevin


Otley has always been known for the natural wonders that surround it. The Chevin has long been a huge attraction, and here, you can see Jenny’s Cottage Cafe which was perched atop, offering a cuppa for those out walking. Alas, you won’t find it there anymore, as it was sadly demolished in 1976.

Manor House


Unlike most industrial towns, Otley was home to its own Manor House, which was the seat of the Constable family from 1836 until the late 1970s. They played an important part in the town’s progression over the years, ensuring the new settlers, particularly those from Ireland, were welcomed, and providing the necessary amenities for them.

Trams to get around


To meet the demand for transport in Otley, they introduced something called the trackless tram, a wheeled carriage that would take passengers from Otley to nearby Gisele, operating two different services, a 40 minute route which would stop at more places, and an express 20 minute route.

Modern market town


The industrial machines died down somewhat in the second half of the 19th century, so Otley had to reinvent itself somewhat. It became known for its busy market, which folk would travel from all over to visit. It also has one of the largest numbers of pubs per head of any town in the UK, with 21 pubs for 15,000 people.

Otley today

Otley Town Centre

As well as becoming famous for its market and pubs, it’s now a tourist destination. Thousands of people have seen it on TV, as it became the set for the town of Hotten in Emmerdale. However, Otley has become a destination in its own right, with a quaint but vibrant setting. It’s blessed with picturesque beauty and old school Yorkshire charm, which continues to see it championed as one of the most popular parts of Leeds.

Old Otley images all copyright Leodis, Leeds Library and Information Services. Final image copyright Peppermint Creative.