New chapter in Spen’s story

Author and historian Barbara Lumb with her trusty companion Nina at the Queaker burial ground in Hightown.
Author and historian Barbara Lumb with her trusty companion Nina at the Queaker burial ground in Hightown.

A WALK with her dog has led former teacher Barbara Lumb to write a book on Spen’s illustrious history.

Barbara, of Hightown, was out with her golden labrador Nina, when she came across the old Quaker burial ground – or sepulchre – in Hare Park Lane, and was intrigued by the tiny graveyard.

As a ‘comer-in’ Barbara knew little of the history of the Quakers in the Spen Valley and set out to find out just why they had their own cemetery.

From then she was hooked on the area’s history, and so began five years of research which has now resulted in the publication of The Spen Valley Story.

Barbara actually grew up in Dewsbury Moor, but after university she settled in Leeds where she taught history.

“I’ve always been interested in the historical landscape of wherever I’ve lived, but when we moved to Spen five years ago I just couldn’t believe how much history was here.

“I’d taught about the Luddites, the Brontës and Robin Hood, but never realised their context in this area until I was living amongst it.

“It really began when I came across the little graveyard with four 17th century graves in a copse of trees.

“I got this overwhelming sense of peace and tranquillity and wondered what on earth it was. There was also a very touching inscription on one of them and then I learned all about this Quaker family, persecuted because of their faith.

“I then became completely immersed in the history of the area, doing more and more research and eventually found I had enough material for a book.

“I also wanted to give some context as to how the hamlets and villages evolved. For example, historically Liversedge and Gomersal were the two big manors, and then Heckmondwike and Cleckheaton evolved after the industrial revolution because they were in the bottom of the valley by the River Spen.”

The 300-page book which has 60 photographs covers the area from pre-Roman times.

“I have aimed it at the general reader and described the evolution of the Spen Valley from pre-Roman times to the 21st century, developing the major stories of people and events to give some depth,” said Barbara.

“I’m hoping people will read it and realise why places may have particular names; for example on the site of Owens Corning in Hightown was Rayner’s Mill, and that in turn was on the site of Jackson’s cropping shop where the Luddites got their most enthusiastic recruits.

“Nearby is Rayner Avenue, so you can see where the name came from.”

The book also covers politics and social unrest, education, religion, transport, the effect of the two world wars, leisure, shopping and the changing face of industry.

The Spen Valley Story costs £8.50 and is available at Oakwell Hall in Birstall, Red House Museum and the Old Silk Mill in Gomersal, and at BW Bookworms and the Spenborough Stationers in Cleckheaton. Any surplus profit will go to Holly Bank School.