Ossett and Horbury - two neighbouring communities with very distinct identities

PUBLISHED: 00:40 12 August 2013

John Whiteman from Build Ossett Better.

John Whiteman from Build Ossett Better.

Joan Russell Photography

Two neighbouring communities in West Yorkshire have very distinct identities as David Marsh discovers

Photographs by Joan Russell

‘Border country where the north-west of the coalfield merges with the south-east of the wool towns’ was how Horbury-born author Stan Barstow described the area in which he grew up. And certainly textiles and coal mining were key industries for Horbury and its nearby bigger neighbour Ossett during the 1930s’ childhood of Barstow, whose books include A Kind of Loving and Joby.

Ossett, a busy market town between Wakefield and Dewsbury, was once a centre for the manufacture of shoddy, a coarse material made from recycled wool. While in recent decades those once traditional industries have declined, both Ossett and Horbury remain bustling, vibrant places with a strong sense of their own identity.

With the big cities of Leeds and Wakefield close by, Ossett’s challenge is to make sure its voice is heard in the effort to attract shoppers and visitors and an organisation called BOB – Building Ossett Better – is up for the job. Originally established as a business forum, the organisation has developed into a community interest company (CIC) and is working to attract more shoppers, visitors and business to the town. It has supported and helped organise a wide range of events and earlier this year took over the licence from Wakefield Council to operate a local food and craft market held on the last Saturday of each month between February and November.

Income generated by BOB will be ploughed back into other Ossett projects. BOB chairman John Whiteman said: ‘Building Ossett Better CIC is in its infancy as an organisation, and all those associated with it are in for the long game. We are taking small steps to ensure that we have firm foundations upon which we can build.’

Angela Taylor, councillor for Ossett and Gawthorpe said many organisations were involved in working towards the town’s success. ‘Over the past year we have celebrated the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee with a fantastic Party in the Precinct jointly organised by the Town Centre Partnership and Civic Trust.

‘The Maypole Committee hosted the annual World Coal Carrying Competition in Gawthorpe on Easter Monday along with the Maypole Parade in May.

‘July in Ossett always signifies our famous summer gala and the Town Centre Partnership ensures that the town hall and fire station is open to the public on Heritage Day in September, complemented by their third annual Scarecrow Festival. Their attention then turns to the Victorian Market and Christmas lights switch-on at the end of November.

‘Ossett is thriving but none of us is complacent - we must work together to ensure that the fun continues and the town continues to grow,’ she said.

In the early 19th century Ossett was briefly a spa town when natural springs in the area persuaded entrepreneurs to build baths to tap into the burgeoning health tourism market. And that entrepreneurial spirit is clearly alive and well today as demonstrated by Ossett Brewery. Launched in 1997 behind the Brewer’s Pride pub and initially producing five barrels a week, the company quickly grew and is now brewing 160 barrels a week of its award-winning beers.

The town boasts a host of independent shops and for Mark Ellerker, BOB vice chairman who runs a cafe, Eller Coffee, in the town centre, it is one of its strengths. He said: ‘There are about 125 businesses in the town centre and we have only a few national retail chains which means Ossett has a character all of its own and can offer something a bit different compared to other places.’

They may be geographically close but Mark does not detect any great rivalry between Horbury and Ossett. He said: ‘There is the difference in size with Ossett being bigger and both places would see themselves as distinct from each other and each with its own character.’

It is a view echoed down the road in Horbury by Richard Knowles, who runs Rickaro, a shop selling and antiquarian books. ‘Ossett is a separate town from Horbury and has a very different feel to it,’ he said. ‘Both have their own strengths and one of Horbury’s is its strong sense of community. There’s a nice mix of independent shops, cafes, restaurants and pubs that offer something for everyone. There is enough to make it a destination and not somewhere you just pass through.’

Horbury boasts some wonderful architecture and historic buildings including the medieval Horbury Hall and on Tithe Barn Street an old lock up – or kidcote – originally used as a prison.

The renowned Georgian architect, John Carr, was born in the town. He designed and paid for the neo-classical Church of St Peter and St Leonard and is buried there. Another of Horbury’s claims to fame is that Sabine Baring Gould was working as a curate in Horbury when he wrote the hymn Onward Christian Soldiers.

Janet Holmes, who represents Horbury on Wakefield Council and is a member of Horbury Village Partnership, said: ‘I love it here because it is so friendly. It is a town with a lot to offer and people who live here are fiercely protective of it.’

In Rickaro’s window a book about Horbury is simply titled Proud Village. Says it all really. n

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