4 Victorian Historical Hotspots in Skipton

Victorian workhouse

by Alexis Wilson-Barrett

In the 19th century, Skipton became a thriving mill town after the advances of the Industrial Revolution led to the completion of the Leeds-Liverpool Canal in 1816.  Those who frequent the town centre will be familiar with places steeped in medieval history, such as Skipton Castle and the nearby public houses.

How much do we know about Skipton during the Victorian Era?  Well, here’s a bit of background on some local sites that played an integral part in the life of Skipton’s Victorian community.


1. Skipton Union Workhouse (Gainsborough Court)

Skipton Poor Law Union was formed in 1837, with its 43 elected board members representing around 25,000 people across 41 parishes and townships.  Construction of the Skipton Union Workhouse took place between 1838 and 1840 with the purpose of housing 200 of the area’s most destitute people.  Victorian workhouses were notorious for the mistreatment of inmates and this is well-documented in publications and literature written after the 1834 Poor Law.  Skipton, however, provided far more reasonable conditions than other such establishments in the country, with a tobacco allowance for the elderly and seaside excursions for the children.  The stigma attached to being a workhouse inmate obviously remained universal, as those born in the Skipton Union Workhouse simply had “16 Gargrave Road” as the address on their birth certificates.  The building then became Raikeswood Hospital before eventually being turned into private accommodation.


Skipton Workhouse
The main block of Skipton’s old workhouse – picture courtesy of workhouses.org.uk


2. Skipton Woods

Skipton Woods consists of 37 acres of ancient woodland and is extremely popular with both locals and tourists.  Located in the heart of the town and filled with an abundance of food, fuel and building materials, the woods undoubtedly influenced the construction of our beloved Skipton Castle, which relied heavily on them for resources.  During the 18th and 19th centuries, the woods were a source of timber, stone and water for the local mills and the resources were regularly transported into town via Springs Canal.  Skipton’s first industrial mill, High Mill, was built at the entrance to the woods in 1785.


Skipton Woods


3. Belle Vue Mill

The original Belle Vue Mill of Messer John Dewhurst & Sons burnt down in 1831 but the building was rebuilt shortly afterwards, and further extensions were added in 1854, 1860 and 1864.  The mill was purpose-built to spin good quality cotton yarns for Bradford, and in 1969 the production of the Dewhurst’s Sewing Cotton began.  Like in most Victorian textile mills, many of the workers were children as they were considerably cheaper to employ than adults, whilst their small frames allowed them to fit underneath the looms.


Victorian workhouse
Children as young as five would be put to work in Victorian mills


4. Raikes Road Burial Ground

Opened in the mid to late 19th century, Raikes Road Burial Ground is the only burial ground in Skipton that remains in its original state.  Although in recent years it’s been largely uncared for and has been closed to the public for a number of decades, it still provides a fascinating insight into Skipton’s Victorian history.  People of all kinds were buried here: local tradesmen, Crimean and Napoleonic war heroes, and notable Skiptonians, including the grandparents of Rudyard Kipling and the reverend who officiated Charlotte Brontë’s funeral.  The Friends of Raikes Road voluntary group have been working tirelessly with the support of our local council to restore it to its former glory.


Raikes Rd Burial Ground
Picture courtesy of http://frrbg.org.uk


Do you have any photos of Victorian Skipton?  Perhaps you have an interesting local story about an ancestor.  We would love you to share these with us.



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