Dewsbury is a Minster Town in Kirklees, West Yorkshire. For hundreds of years it was an important town in the West Riding of Yorkshire, growing in prominence in the 19th century, due to its growth as a woollen mill town. As part of the so-called West Riding Heavy Woollen District, it was a major manufacturer of woollen blankets, until the decline of manufacturing in the UK in the later part of the 20th century.
Bartholomew’s Gazeteer 1887 described Dewsbury as:
Dewsbury, parl. and mun. bor., market town, par. and township, S. div. West-Riding Yorkshire, on river Calder, 9 miles S. of Leeds and 182 miles N. of London by rail — par., 10,102 ac., pop. 54,012; parl. bor., 4759 ac., pop. 69,566; mun. bor. and township, 1468 ac., pop. 29,637; 3 Banks, 3 newspapers. Market-days, Wednesday and Saturday. D. has water communication with Liverpool and Hull by means of the river Calder, and has stations on the London and North-Western, the Lancashire and Yorkshire, and the Great Northern Railways. The trade of the town is chiefly connected with the mfr. of blankets, flannels, carpets, druggets, baizes, and other heavy textile goods. Coal is worked in the neighbourhood. D. was a place of importance early in the 7th century. It was made a mun. bor. in 1862, and a parl. bor. in 1867. The bor. returns 1 member to Parliament.
In Saxon times, Dewsbury was a centre of considerable importance. The parish of Dewsbury extended east of the Pennines to encompass Huddersfield, Mirfield and Bradford and would have been primarily an agricultural area.
The Domesday Book of 1086 records the name as Deusberia and Deusberie. It is believed to mean “fortified place by a stream”, from Old English deaw “dew” (stream) and burg “fort”. Other suggestions include the Burg of David, from the old pre-Norman-Conquest British Gaelic for David, being Deu, similar to the Welsh form, Dai. There are other theories on the name’s origins such as a Mercian name, after the founder of a fortified settlement, named Dui, Dew or Deus–“beria” meaning fort or stronghold, “God’s Hill”, from the old British word “Duw”, meaning God (cf Latin “Deus”), and “burg”, meaning a hill or “Tiw’s Burh”, derived from the Germanic god Tyr from the same Indo-European origin. (Wikipedia)
Dewsbury’s record in the Domesday Book states,
“in Deusberia there are three carucates to be taxed, which two ploughs may till. This land belongs to Wakefield, yet King Edward had in it a manor. It now belongs to the King, and there are six villains and two bordars, with four ploughs, a priest, and a church. The whole manor is four quarentens long, and six broad, In the time of King Edward, the value was ten shillings, and it is the same now.”
(A quarenten is 40 paces long).
There have been many Saxon graves found in the area and it is believed that, in 627 Paulinus, the first bishop of York, preached in the church situated here.
Paulinus appears in Bede’s history. Legend says that he was the son of a Welsh King, who was sent to England in 601, by Pope Gregory, to become a missionary and spent 23 years as a monk at Canterbury before becoming Bishop of Rochester then of York. He was also appointed chaplain to the Queen Aethelburh and became King Edwin’s Secretary and Advisor, no doubt one of the most powerful positions in England.
From Dewsbury Minster Records:
On Easter Day 626 two things happened that Paulinus believed to be “the hand of God”. An assassination attempt on the King failed and the Queen gave birth to a daughter. Grateful King Edwin “gives his infant daughter to Paulinus to be consecrated to Christ. She was . . . the first of the Northumbrian race to be baptised”. King Edwin promised that if he defeated the attempted assassin’s king he would “renounce his idols and serve Christ”. He reneged on this and was “unwilling to accept the mysteries of the Christian faith at once”.
Meanwhile Paulinus arranged for the Pope to write to both the King and Queen. It was possibly the first letter that Edwin had ever received. Probably in Latin he would have needed to have Paulinus translate it. The king was converted finally after a Council at Derwent when Coifi, the pagan high priest “took a spear in his hand” and destroyed the idols. So “King Edwin, with all the nobles of his race and a vast number of the common people received Holy Baptism in the year of our Lord 627. He was baptised at York on Easter Day in the church … which he had hastily built of wood”. Paulinus’ patience, skill and faith had been rewarded.
Dewsbury Minster lies near the banks of the Calder, traditionally on the site where Paulinus preached. Parts of the church are said to date to the 13th century. It houses the “Devil’s Knell”, a bell rung each Christmas Eve, one toll for each year, in a tradition dating back to the 15th century. It was donated by Sir Thomas de Soothill, in penance for murdering a servant boy in a fit of rage. The Minster has the remnants of a Saxon Cross in three fragments, which is believed to be part of the old cross that commemorated the preaching of St Paulinus in the Town. The fragments probably date from the early 9th Century. Medieval stained glass in the Minster is from the 14th Century.
Through the middle ages Dewsbury retained a measure of importance in ecclesiastical terms, collecting tithes from as far away as Halifax in the mid-14th century. John Wesley visited the area five times in the mid-18th century, and the first Methodist Society was established in 1746. Centenary Chapel on Daisy Hill commemorates the centenary of this event, and the Methodist tradition remained strong in the town.
Patrick Bronte, father of the famous Bronte sisters of Hawarth, was Curate at Dewsbury Minster from December 1809-1811. The sisters, Charlotte (born 21 April 1816), Emily (born 30 July 1818), and Anne (born 17 January 1820), are well known as poets and novelists. The family moved to Haworth in 1820, where he served as Minister for 41 years. Patrick’s wife died a year after the move and all his five children pre-deceased him.
A talented violinist, Wallace Hartley became a bandmaster on Atlantic liners. He and his fellow bandsmen gained lasting fame for their heroism in remaining on the deck of the Titanic, playing popular music and hymns to comfort those in the lifeboats until the great ship slipped beneath the waves.
In 1770, a short branch of the Calder and Hebble Navigation Canal was completed, linking Dewsbury to the main canal system and giving access to distribution centres in Manchester and Hull. By the time of the industrial revolution, Dewsbury was one of the centres for the “shoddy” industry, the recycling of old woollen items by mixing them with new wool and making them into heavy blankets and uniforms. The town benefited economically from the canal, its location at the heart of the Heavy Woollen District, and its proximity to the coal mines. The railways arrived in 1848 when three stations were opened in the town, including Dewsbury Wellington Road, the only one which remains. This period saw a great increase in population, rising from 4,566 in 1801 to around 30,000 by 1890.
Dewsbury was incorporated as a municipal borough in 1862. In 1974 it became part of the Kirklees Metropolitan District.