Sunny Bank Mills brings the textile industry back to the forefront of life in Farsley

PUBLISHED: 00:00 05 November 2015 | UPDATED: 10:43 05 November 2015

John (left) and William Gaunt pictured at Sunnybank Mills

John (left) and William Gaunt pictured at Sunnybank Mills

Joan Russell Photography

The future looks bright for the record-breaking village near Leeds, writes Paul Mackenzie. Photographs by Joan Russell

Kat Jackson and Livi Antrobus enjoy a shopping trip to Kat Jackson and Livi Antrobus enjoy a shopping trip to "Scrap Merchant" in Sunnybank Mill, helped by Vijdan McMuckin

There was a plan a few years ago to change the name of Farsley Celtic Association Football Club to FC Leeds because, it was said, not enough people had heard of Farsley and the change of name would bring more attention and people to the club, and more awareness of the village.

As it happens, bigger changes were in store for the club as they were wound up by administrators. But the new club which was born from the ashes of the old has a name was only subtly different – they began in 2010 as Farsley Football Club and earlier this year re-instated the Celtic suffix.

This rejection of the big city connection is not only a celebration of the club’s long and proud history in non-league football, but also perhaps a sign of a new-found confidence in Farsley.

Once a heavyweight in the woollen industry – hence the sheep’s head symbol you’ll see around the village and on the football club shirts – Farlsey grew rapidly as a result of the Industrial Revolution. Mills were built and the population boomed but since the decline of the textile industry, Farsley has been seen more as a commuter village, handy for Leeds and Bradford.

But one of the first mills to be built in Farsley is now back at the centre of village life. Sunny Bank Mill was opened in 1829 by the ancestors of the current directors, cousins John and William Gaunt who have transformed the complex of buildings into a base for a number of artistic and creative businesses.

The mill machinery was stopped in May 2008, bringing to an end almost 180 years of cloth manufacture. At that time about 60 people worked at the mill but now the mill is the base for 60 businesses employing almost 300 people.

John said: ‘We want to get that figure up to 600 across the site in the next five to ten years. It is a long term project for us but William and I are as passionate about regenerating the mill as we were about making textiles.

‘When production stopped we had a decision to make about whether to sell the site and invest elsewhere or to bring new life to the mill and to Farsley. As a family we have been here since 1830 and we didn’t feel we could leave, or that we wanted to. It is a cliché, but in a family business no-one wants to be the generation who were responsible for the end of the business.

‘We wanted to bring employment back to the mill, and although we’re not employing them directly, that’s what we’re doing. It’s incredible liberating to have changed direction and to be doing something different.

‘We want to raise awareness of Farsley – it’s a beautiful village with a lot of character, a great location and wonderful transport links, I think it has everything going for it. We’re trying to drag people off the ring road, not because we want to compete with Leeds or Bradford, but because we offer something a little bit different in Farsley.’

And they do seem to like things to be a bit different here. Not for them the standard attractions of a village fete – at this year’s Farsley Festival they set a world record for the largest crowd of people wearing knotted hankies on their heads (there were 838 of them, in case you’re planning an attempt of your own).

Town Street was transformed into a beach for the event in May and organiser Ann-Marie Keighley said: ‘We were concerned that no-one would turn up for the record attempt and we were really surprised by how successful it was.’

Ann-Marie is a part of the Farsely Community Initiative which is the driving force behind the festival aother event in the village such as the annual Aston Martin rally and a scarecrow festival held each September and she added: ‘The first festival was just a handful of people in a church hall but it has grown each year and this year we had about 10,000 people. It’s a community based event and there’s lots of free activities as well as stalls, food and entertainment and it’s always really good fun.’

Need to know

Where it is: Farsley is roughly half way between Leeds and Bradford city centres. Typing LS28 5DB into your sat nav should take you to Town Street and there are regular bus services from both its larger neighbours as well as Pudsey and Halifax. The nearest railway station is New Pudsey, which is about a mile away.

Local hero: Samuel Marsden was a farmer’s son from Farsley who introduced winegrowing and sheep to New Zealand. After a charity paid for him to study at Magdalen College, Cambridge, he became a Baptist Minister and in 1793 went to serve in Australia. While there he became interested in the production of wool and was been responsible for the first shipments of Merino wool back to this country in 1808. A monument to him now stands in a small garden in Farsley on the spot where his house used to stand.

Did you know: Former England cricket captain Ray Illingworth played for Farsley Cricket Club, as did his son-in-law Ashley Metcalfe and Phil Carrick.

Find out more: The website is well maintained and filled with useful information on events, businesses and local history.

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