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Dewsbury is a market town within the Metropolitan Borough of Kirkleesmarker, in West Yorkshire, England. It is to the west of Wakefieldmarker, and lies by the River Calder and the Calder and Hebble Navigationmarker.

Historically a part of the West Riding of Yorkshire, after undergoing a period of major growth in the 19th century as a mill town, Dewsbury went through a period of decline. More recently there has been rapid and ongoing redevelopment of derelict mills into apartments, and other projects concerned with regenerating run-down or deprived areas.

According to the 2001 census the Dewsbury urban sub-area had a population of 54,341. Dewsbury is the largest town in the Heavy Woollen Districtmarker, which forms a conurbation of small mill towns.



The Domesday Book of 1086 records the name of the town as Deusberia and Deusberie. The name is believed to mean "fortified place by a stream", from Old English deaw "dew" (in the sense stream) and burg "fort" [23076].

There are some other theories on the name's origin:
  1. A Mercianmarker name, after the founder of a fortified settlement in the area, named Dui, Dew or Deus--"beria" meaning fort or stronghold.[23077]
  2. "God's Hill", from the old British word "Duw", meaning God (cf Latin "Deus"), and "burg", meaning a hill.[23078][23079]
  3. "Tiu's Hill", as above, but derived from the Germanic god Tiu from the same Indo-European origin.[23080]

Early history

In Saxon times, Dewsbury was a centre of considerable importance. The Parish of Dewsbury extended east of the Pennines to encompass Huddersfieldmarker, Mirfieldmarker and Bradfordmarker. Ancient legend records that in 627 Paulinus, the first Bishop of Yorkmarker, preached in the church situated here. Numerous Saxon graves have been found in Dewsbury and Thornhillmarker.[23081]

Dewsbury Minster
Dewsbury Minster lies near the banks of the River Calder, traditionally on the site where Paulinus preached. Parts of the church are said to date to the 13th century.[23082] It houses "Black Tom", a bell which is rung each Christmas Eve, one toll for each year since Christ's birth, and is known as the "Devil's Knell", 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 tradition was commemorated on a Royal Mail postage stamp in 1986. [23083]

Dewsbury Market was established in the 14th century for local clothiers. Occurrences of the plague in 1593 and 1603 closed the market until it was reopened in 1741.

Throughout the Middle Ages Dewsbury retained a measure of importance in ecclesiastical terms, collecting tithes from as far away as Halifaxmarker 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. [23084]

Industrial Revolution

1770, a short branch of the Calder and Hebble Navigationmarker Canal was completed, linking Dewsbury to the main canal system and giving access to distribution centres in Manchestermarker and Hullmarker. 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 Districtmarker, and its proximity to the coal mines. The railways arrived in 1848 when Dewsbury Wellington Roadmarker railway station on the London and North Western Railway opened; this is the only station which remains. Other stations were Dewsbury Central (Great Northern Railway) which closed in 1964 and Dewsbury Market Place (Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway) which closed in 1930; a fourth goods-only station was built in the early 1900s at Savile Town (Midland Railway). In 1985 a road bypass was built on the site of Central Station and its adjacent viaduct, and nothing remains of Market Place Station. The 1800s saw a great increase in population, rising from 4,566 in 1801 to around 30,000 by 1890.

Steam engine, Providence Mills, Dewsbury
The town’s rapid expansion and commitment to industrialisation was not without problems, resulting in social instability. In the early 1800s Dewsbury was one of the centres of Luddite opposition to industrialisation in which workers retaliated against the onset of mechanisation and smashed the new machinery which threatened their way of life. In the 1830s Dewsbury was also one of the centres of Chartist agitation. In August 1838, after a speech by Chartist leader Feargus O'Connor, a mob of between five and seven thousand people besieged the Dewsbury Poor Law Guardians in the town’s Royal Hotel. The mob had to be dispersed by troops. Trouble again flared in 1840 when radical agitators seized control of the town, again troops were called in and stationed in the town to maintain order. This radical tradition left a legacy in the political life of the town, in fact the town’s first elected MP in 1867 was John Simon, a Jewish lawyer from Jamaica and a Liberal.

The mills were still often run as family businesses, and continued manufacturing after the wool crisis in 1950-51, which saw Australian sheep farmers begin to charge higher prices. However, the recovery of the late 1960s was reversed by the 1973 oil crisis, and the textile industry in Dewsbury declined, with only bed manufacturing remaining a large scale employer.

Recent history

After questioning at Dewsbury Police Station, it was to the courtroom of Dewsbury Town Hall that Peter Sutcliffe, the infamous Yorkshire Ripper, was taken after his arrest in January 1981 to be formally charged before magistrates.

The latter years of the noughties saw Dewsbury labelled as a troubled town, with the occurrence of a series of headline inducing incidents which were linked together by media.Dewsbury became "the town that dare not speak its name".

In 2005, two high profile crimes once more brought the media spotlight on Dewsbury. In June, a girl of 12 was charged with grievous bodily harm following what was reported as the attempted hanging of a five year old boy from Chickenleymarker.

Also Mohammad Sidique Khan, the ringleader of the group responsible for the 7 July 2005 London bombings was discovered to have been living in Lees Holm, Dewsbury.

On 19 February 2008, Shannon Matthews disappeared from her home in Dewsbury Moor. 24 days after going missing, Shannon was found alive on 14 March 2008 hidden in the base of a divan bed in Batley Carrmarker. A 39-year-old man, named as Michael Donovan, was arrested. The hunt for Shannon Matthews was the largest police search for a missing person since the hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper nearly 30 years previously. Shannon Matthews' mother was subsequently arrested and charged with perverting the course of justice and child neglect.


Dewsbury was incorporated as a municipal borough in 1862[23085], its first mayor being Dr George Fearnley. The 1868 Reform Act constituted Dewsbury a parliamentary borough, its first MP being Mr Sergeant Simon. The fine Victorian town hall that stands in front of the old marketplace was built in 1886-89. Dewsbury's boundaries were expanded to include the urban districts of Ravensthorpe, Thornhill, Soothill Nether and half of Soothill Upper in 1910 and it was elevated to county borough status in 1913. "Soothill Nether" refers to the current east end of the town, although, at the time, Chickenley and Chidswell were hamlets, and Earlsheaton formed the bulk of the area's population. The covered market was opened in 1904 and during the 1920s trade moved from the original market place to the area around the covered market.

In 1974 responsibility for local government passed to Kirklees Metropolitan Councilmarker, with its headquarters in Huddersfield. The population of Dewsbury has remained broadly static over the past century - the 1911 census recorded 53,351 people [23086], and the 1971 census 51,326 people, making it the fourth least populous county borough in England (after Canterburymarker, Burtonmarker and Yarmouthmarker).


Market Place
Dewsbury is situated between a number of larger towns and cities. Leedsmarker and Bradfordmarker lie eight miles to the north, Huddersfieldmarker a similar distance to the south west, and Wakefield some six miles east. In recent years its proximity to these major urban centres, the M1 and M62 motorways and its position on the Huddersfield Line, served by the TransPennine Express, have contributed to its rising popularity as a commuter town.

Dewsbury is part of the West Yorkshire Urban Areamarker, and the natural boundaries of the town are not well defined, with built up areas of the town running into neighbouring Batleymarker, Heckmondwikemarker and Ossettmarker.

Geologically, the town is situated on rock dated to the Carboniferous Period, consisting of coal measures and gritstones. Quaternary Period rock, glacial deposits and gravels exist in the Calder Valleymarker. Coal, stone and gravel have all been exploited commercially. Average rainfall is 100 cm per annum.[23087]

The town is dominated by hills, notably Earlsheaton, Dewsbury Moor, Staincliffe and Thornhill. The town centre is at 40 m-55 m above sea level, rising to 110 m at Earlsheaton and Batley Carr, and 230 m at Grange Moor. The approach down from Earlsheaton through the Wakefield Road cutting, constructed in 1830, is dramatic with the view of the town centre nestling in the Calder Valley opening up as you descend.

Machell's Shoddy and Mungo Mill in Dewsbury town centre
The majority of the older buildings were built in Yorkshire stone, many of which have recently been restored by sandblasting. Notable structures include the railway viaduct, and Machell's Shoddy and Mungo Mill, converted into apartments but still bearing the famous slogan of its original occupants.

Divisions and suburbs

Dewsbury has a number of different districts with very different geographical and socio-economic patterns.Some of the districts of Dewsbury are, Chickenley, Crackenedge, Dewsbury Moor, Thornhill, Earlsheaton, Eastborough, Eightlands, Flatts, Ravensthorpe, Savile Town, Shaw Cross, Scout Hill, Thornhill Lees, Westborough, Westtown.

Batley Carrmarker, Hanging Heatonmarker and Staincliffemarker have areas which lie in both Dewsbury and neighbouring Batleymarker. Thornhillmarker is sometimes classified as part of Dewsbury and sometimes as a separate settlement. It was annexed by the town's council in 1910, along with Briestfield and Whitley, but there have been no official definitions of Dewsbury's boundaries since the 1974 local government reforms.

Demographics and economy

Dewsbury Market
From the outset of the industrialisation of the town with its many mills, a large influx of Irish workers arrived in the town, settling in the Westtown area. This area has the large and imposing Our Lady and St. Paulinus Roman Catholic Church and its school, once run by the nuns of the area. The Irish National Club also is home to Dewsbury Celtic amateur rugby league club, with its many age groups of players. Starting in the late 1950s and continuing until the 1970s, many families from South Asia, particularly Pakistan, settled in Dewsbury. By 1966 around 2,000 immigrants from Commonwealth countries had made Dewsbury their home. Many worked in the woollen mills, making good the labour shortage in that sector.

The town has a large Asian community. Savile Town and Ravensthorpe are populated mainly by Muslims of Indian and Pakistani origin. In recent years, there has also been an immigration of Iraqi Kurds and Hungarians into the town.. Dewsbury is known for having a Shariah arbitration court, which has caused some controversy.The Dewsbury Moor, Ravensthorpe and Chickenley areas are classed among the 10% most deprived areas in the UK [23088]. In contrast to some British towns and cities, the east side of the town is generally more affluent. The majority of houses in the town are in the cheapest band for council tax, for house prices are amongst the lowest in the country.[23089]

The town centre is starting to see a something of a revival, with large retailers such as Sainsbury'smarker, Next and Matalan. The local market comprising 400 stalls is one of the busiest in Yorkshire and today draws coach-loads of visitors to the town; in April 2007, Dewsbury Market won the award as "Britain's Best Market". Wednesdays and Saturdays are the normal market days with the popular flea market on Fridays. Just south of the River Calder in the town centre was where the mills of the town were traditionally located. As the mills closed, this area became the largest brownfield site in the country. However, many of the units have now been reoccupied and the town's largest employer, Carlton Cards is based in this area. A large shopping centre, planned to occupy a large area of the town centre has as many supporters as detractors.


The Dewsbury Rams rugby league club play in National League 1. They play at the Tetley's Stadiummarker, on Owl Lane, towards Ossettmarker, on the site of the old Savile & Shaw Cross Colliery. Their original and famous ground Crown Flattmarker stood on Leeds Road, at Earlsheaton, for many years until it was burned down, by arsonists in the late 1980s. It has been replaced with a modern housing estate. Dewsbury Celtic play in National League 3, their ground is on the west side of the town, in Crow Nest Park. The club's headquarters are at the Dewsbury Irish National Club on Park Parade.


Dewsbury Museum, in Crow Nest Park
Dewsbury Museum is located within the mansion house in Crow Nest Park. The museum is currently closed for the first phase of a programme of building and gallery refurbishment. It is due to reopen in the spring of 2010. Nearby attractions include the National Coal Mining Museum for Englandmarker.


Dewsbury had two grammar schools – The Wheelwright Grammar School for Boys and, further up the hill, the Wheelwright Grammar School for Girls. The 1970s education reforms downgraded these two establishments to high schools. They are now used by Dewsbury Collegemarker. In the 2005 School League Tables, Dewsbury's Eastborough Junior, Infants and Nursery schools were reported to have the most consistently improved results over the past four years. However, the headteacher of the school, Nicola Roth, has been highly critical of School League Tables in the UK and has been reported to have said "It would be better if league tables did not exist". .

Batleymarker College of Art and Design, which is part of Dewsbury College, has a strong reputation for print and textile-based art work.

Notable people

References in popular culture

Dewsbury is referenced in the Beatles' 1967 film Magical Mystery Tour. A line of dialogue in the film has one of the magicians (all portrayed by the Beatles themselves) - who are keeping an eye on the whereabouts of the bus that is taking its passengers on the journey of the film's title - exclaim: "The bus is ten miles north on the Dewsbury road and they're having a lovely time!" [23091]Dewsbury is also referenced in the 1991 single "It's Grim Up North" by the Justified Ancients of Mu Mu (also known as The KLF).

The 1960 book A Kind of Loving is set in a fictional city named "Cressley", but its description was based upon Dewsbury. The author, Stan Barstow, was born in Horburymarker and grew up in Ossett - both of which are just to the east of Dewsbury.

More recently, the phrase "Dewsbury noir" has been used to describe the violent novels of David Peace, who was born in Dewsbury but lived in neighbouring Ossett.

As many people are unsure how to pronounce "Dewsbury", it was included in the Oxford B.B.C. Guide to Pronunciation, where it was transcribed as .


  1. Hungarians referred to in these articles Kurds referred to in this article
  4. [1]
  5. See also the article "Riding high with his Ripper yarns" from The Sunday Times, Sunday 1st March 2009, page 19
  6. Oxford B.B.C. Guide to Pronunciation, Oxford, 2006, page 99

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