Horbury Junction

Horbury Junction has since Victorian times been a heavily industrialised part of Horbury. It was named after the railway junction there and covers an area of 1,163 acres. The start of the industrialisation began in the early 1870s with the construction of Millfield Mill, followed by the Horbury Ironworks Co. In 1873, Charles Roberts bought a site for a new factory at Horbury Junction and moved his wagon building business from Ings Road, Wakefield to Horbury Junction. Before that, the area of Horbury Junction was a quiet backwater with a corn mill and a ford across the Calder for farm traffic. In reality, a beautiful pastoral area of countryside was changed forever with the coming of the Railway, Millfield Mill, the Wagon Works and the Ironworks. The Charles Roberts story is covered in a separate chapter. 

The Soke Mill at Horbury Junction was used by villagers to grind the corn from their fields. The Lord of the Manor of Wakefield had from the earliest times maintained a soke mill at Horbury, one of three in the Wakefield area. Local people were bound by law to take their corn to the soke mill for grinding, giving a portion of the grain in payment to the Lord of the Manor. As the local population increased in Horbury, the soke mill at Horbury Junction didn't have the capacity to grind the quantity of corn required to make flour for bread. This led to the smuggling of flour, which was quite a common practice, although illegal, with most of the flour being brought ashore from ships at Hull. The flour was then sold in bags or in small quantities to the villagers in Horbury. However, it wasn't until 1852 that Wakefield (and Horbury) achieved freedom from this restriction by means of an Act of Parliament at a cost of £18,000, paid on the 1st June 1854.

The Horbury Soke Mill on the Calder at Horbury Junction. The mill was demolished in 1920/21. Picture courtesy of Neville Ashby and was originally a picture postcard dated April 27th 1909.

The Ford over the river at Horbury Junction. In 1897, a complaint was made to Horbury Urban District Council that the raising of the weir at Lupset for the Calder and Hebble canal had rendered the ford at Horbury Junction dangerous to use.

The Horbury Junction ironworks were intended for the manufacture of sheet plate, bar and other kinds of iron. Initially, the new company arranged that their workers could have shares in the company if they wished, and they allotted a number in a reserve fund for this purpose. This was perhaps an early employee incentive scheme with a share ownership scheme for the workers.(2)

Several setbacks occurred in the late 1800s, first when Samuel Davison, the manager of the Horbury Junction Ironworks, was killed in a tragic accident in September 1883. Davison was on a visit to the North-Eastern Steelworks in Middlesborough with members of the Iron and Steel Institute to see how they produced iron and steel. As a result of a locomotive derailment, molten metal being conveyed from the cupola to the Bessemer converter accidentally tipped over, spilling molten metal on to Mr. Davison and injuring eight others, one of whom died a few days later. Davison received a charge of molten metal in the face, blinding his eyes and causing him to fall several feet down a lift shaft, and he was only saved from falling to the bottom by being caught in a hoist. He was dangerously burned about the face, chest and legs, but died shortly afterwards in hospital.(3)

Clearly, the 1890s was a difficult period at Horbury Junction Ironworks. The 1893 coal miners strike was triggered by a significant drop in the price of coal. In an attempt to maintain profits, colliery owners tried to introduced a 25% reduction in miners' wages. This was rejected by the Miners Federation who called for a "living wage". The result was a lock-out that went on for much of the summer of 1893. The lack of coal caused by the miners strike caused the Horbury Junction Ironworks to close down in September 1893 and around 400 men were put out of work. This letter in the local press in November 1893 describes the plight of the men as a result:

"May I say that at Horbury Junction, we have a large population of ironworkers employed by the Horbury Junction Iron Co. Ltd who are suffering keenly through no fault of their own in consequence of the protracted coal strike. Many of these men have not worked more than two or three shifts in about twelve weeks and they and their families are absolutely without bread. We have done, and are doing all that is possible to cope with this mass of suffering, but our efforts can only accomplish a partial deliverance from starvation. I am connected with the ironworks and also the Co-operative Society (which has given £75 away in provisions) and I know well where suffering is, and any funds that may be placed in my hands shall be well expended. - Edwin Bostock, Horbury Junction Iron Company." (4)

By 1945, the Charles Roberts factory covered 45 acres, including the adjacent site of the Horbury Junction Ironworks Company, which Charles Roberts Ltd. had taken over in 1923 after the Ironworks business went into liquidation. They used the site of the old Ironworks business to build road passenger carrying vehicles.

Aerial view of the Charles Roberts Works in 1926. The site extended to some 43 acres.

Industrial Street, Horbury Junction in the 1950s. Built for the workers at Charles Roberts Wagon Works, most probably circa 1910. 

Horbury Lagoons were developed from sand and gravel pits that were excavated between WW1 and WW2. Horbury Urban District Council paid £2,750 for the sand quarries to provide refuse tipping facilities for 100 years. The area included 27 acres of water. The gravel extraction was operated in the 1940s and 50s by Whitaker's Sand and Gravel Company. The lagoons have been used at one time by the Charles Roberts and Co. Sailing Club, Wakefield Tradesmen's Angling Club, Wakefield Model Boat Club and one lake is leased in 2016 by the Wakefield Angling Club for coarse fishing. The lagoons were cut completely in two by the construction of the M1 motorway.

1894 map showing the major industries at Horbury Junction. The Iron Works, Charles Roberts Railway Wagon Works, Millfield Mills and Dudfleet Mills can be clearly seen.

1930 map of Horbury Junction with more industrial development and more houses for the workers and their families with the arrival of Industrial Street and Prospect Street. The first of the gravel pits is shown for the first time on this map.

Millfield Mill at Horbury Junction was built in the 1870s and began as Ward's Mill. In the mill's heyday cloth was produced for police uniforms. Later, the mill made indigo, dark green and red cloth for the Government. It was later taken over by Archer, Ritchie and Co., cloth manufacturers, who also owned nearby Dudfleet Mill. Archer, Ritchie and Co. was formed in May 1878, after the death of Abram Archer, in a new partnership between Henry Ritchie and John William Archer of Ossett. The company also at that time operated Spring Mill in Ossett. On the 25th October 1890, during the ownership of Archer, Ritchie and Co., a fire destroyed the large four-storey Millfield Mill with damage estimated at £20,000, which was a huge sum in those days.

In later years, Millfield Mill was bought by Messrs. Fenton and Co. Eventually, the business failed and was taken over by a bank acting as liquidators. Millfield Mill finally closed circa 1918. The approach to Millfield Mill, which can be seen on the map above, was along the side of the river Calder from Charles Street. When the mill was closed and then demolished, some of the recovered materials were used to build St. George's Church in Lupset, Wakefield.

It was reported that during demolition, some of the contractors sieved the dry soil underneath the floors of the old mill and where the counting house stood, they found several gold sovereigns, half sovereigns and coppers that had fallen through the floorboards. When the mill was being demolished circa 1949, one weekend, thieves somehow stole a steam crane with a 100ft long jib that was set on 12ft high concrete pedestals. The crane had been used to load and unload barges bringing materials to the mill when it was working. 


1. "Leeds Mercury", 21st May 1881.
2. "Leeds Mercury", 1st May 1873
3. "York Herald", 22nd September 1883
4. "Leeds Mercury", 16th November 1893
5. "Some Horbury Yesterdays" by R.D. Woodhall, first published in 1973.
6. "Proud Village - A History of Horbury in the County of Yorkshire" by R.L. Arundale, reprinted 2003 Horbury Historical Society.
7. "Building History" - St. Mary's Church, Horbury Bridge


Stephen Wilson  June 2018