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Middleton History

Read up on the history of Middleton.

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Medieval Middleton

The first mention of Middleton by name, as with so many other West Yorkshire settlements, occurs in the Domesday Survey compiled for William the Conqueror in 1086. It is assess together with four other local communities (Rothwell, Thorpe-on-the- Hill, Lofthouse and Carleton) all of which had been given to Ilbert de Lacy as part of a vast estate administered from Pontefract. This makes it difficult to say much about how Middleton may have looked or how many people lived there at the time. However, it is unlikely that it was a large place in 1086: when Ilbert needed a place from which to run this section his estates, he chose Rothwell and not Middleton.

A legal dispute

Despite its size it was clearly worth fighting for. In the late 1100s the boundary between Beeston and Middleton became the focus of a protracted legal dispute between William Gramary and Adam de Beeston. The two men were arguing over where the boundary lay through the dense woodland which then covered the area. At one point the quarrel grew so acrimonious that William took Adam's forester and put him in the stocks! The dispute was not finally settled until 1209 when a boundary bank and ditch which was constructed. A large stretch of it can still be seen today in the present Middleton Woods.

Early Mining

It was mining (both iron and coal extraction) which was to change the face of Middleton forever. Mining had probably been going on there since medieval times, but this was to develop dramatically in the 18th century. Survivals of these and other workings can still be seen under the trees in the wooded areas of Middleton Park. They have recently been surveyed by the Friends of Middleton Park in Association with South Leeds Archaeology. The survey team has identified hundreds of shaft mounds, wagonways and other archaeological features.

The first steam railway

The Industrial Revolution brought further changes to Middleton. In 1810 John Blenkinsop who was then manager of the Middleton Colliery was looking for a more efficient way to get his coal into the bustling markets of Leeds. Horse and cart were providing to be too inefficient. He hired a Newcastle-born engineer named Matthew Murray to build him a fleet of steam engines. The first of these, the Salamanca was put into active service in 1812. Unlike a modern railway engine it had toothed wheels which locked into a rack rather than a smooth rail. Murray and Blenkinsop felt that this would give their engines a better grip when hauling heavy coal wagons. The efforts of Blenkinsopp and Murray meant that Leeds had a working steam railway long before the much more famous Stockton to Darlington line of George Stephenson. Both Blenkinsopp and Murray are buried locally. Murray has a cast iron monument in Holbeck churchyard and Blenkinsopp's grave can be seen at Rothwell.

There's lot more information about local places on the WYAAS website at: www.archaeology.wyjs.org.uk

Have a look today. You never know what you might find.

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