Sunday, 13 September 2015

5 Fun Facts about Thornton, West Yorkshire

Long overdue, here are 5 fun facts about Thornton in West Yorkshire! These are mainly transport related, because Thornton is situated on a relatively flat part of a steep hill, so access to and from Thornton has been a major theme of my research (and my accidental discoveries).

1. Thornton was one of the last places in the UK to close its trolley bus service back in the 1970s. in case you don't know what one of these is (chances are you are under 40), they were buses attached to overhead cables, like an electric train. Designed to be more flexible than an inner-city tram to transport large amounts of passengers on roads, they dominated urban spaces in large parts of Europe and the USA for most of the 20th century. At one point in the 1920's it was reckoned you could travel from the east coast to the west coast of the USA without touching the ground by using the trolley bus system! 

2. Thornton also had a railway station until Beeching's Axe in the 1960's. It was created out of a rare joint venture between the Lancashire and Yorkshire railway and the Great Northern Railway, which connected Bradford to Keighley via Queensbury (which was the highest railway station in England), through to Denholme in the West and on northwards to Keighley. Later you could reach Halifax in the south frm Thornton. What is remarkable about this particular railway is how many viaducts and tunnels were needed to keep the trains in the relatively flat and straight line. It was so hilly compared to other railway lines, its use of viaducts and tunnels gave rise to this section of track being known as the alpine railway of England, often being no lower than 250 metres above sea level! A number of the viaducts still survive, most notably Thornton viaduct, which has no less than 13 arches AND snakes in an "s" shape so that the trains could enter the station at the correct angle without compromising on speed!

3. Anita Lonsborough, originally born in York, used the Thornton baths to regularly train for the Olympics. She held numnerous swimming records from the 1950's and 1960's and won gold medals at Rome 1960, Tokyo 1964 (both olympic venues), as well as at the Commonwealth and European games around the same period of time. Sadly Thornton baths, which opened in the 1930's, were closed in the early 2000's as the council couldn't justify the running costs.

4.  It's the birthplace of the 3 Bronte sisters and their brother Patrick Branwell in the mid 1810's. The building they occupied for their early life (before moving to the parsonage Haworth in 1820) is still upstanding and is now a cafe. However, did you also know that they had 2 other sisters (Maria and Elizabeth, of whom the latter was also baptised in Thornton) born just before their father and mother moved to Thornton? Tragically they died in childhood after leaving Thornton. The font they were baptised in can still be seen at St. James Church in Thornton, which replaced the Bell chapel the 3 sisters were baptised in. There is now a brand new information board at St James church, Thornton, detailing their lives. For more information about the Bell chapel visit and

5. In continuation of the Bronte theme, back then there were a lot less buildings in Thornton! It has been estimated by Alan Whitworth that there were only about two-dozen buildings. If you consider that there are now about 6,000 people living in Thornton and that 3 mills operated in Thornton during the Victorian Period (after the Brontes left Thornton), you can start to understand the scale of the Industrial Revolution's population explosion ! These included 3 pubs along Kipping lane, some farms, a school and chapels of various non-conformations (Baptist, Methodist etc.) and the Old Bell Chapel, which has its origins from the 17th century but could have replaced an earlier chapel that dated to the 14th century. The oldest surviving structure in Thornton however is Thornton Hall, which dates to just after the Domesday Book. The main road runnig through Thornton today was only built in 1826, originally as a toll road.