West Yorkshire should not be overlooked when exploring the United Kingdom. It houses some truly amazing historic sites, with legacies of the Industrial Revolution dotted across the landscape and some magnificent works of historic architecture surviving to the present day.
The two great cities of the region are Leeds and Bradford, with their stunning town halls proving popular amongst fans of history and architecture alike. Further afield, you’ll find the quirky Shibden Hall, the majestic Harewood House and Pontefract Castle, which is famed as the murder site of King Richard II.
There are more fantastic historic sites in West Yorkshire, but here are 10 of the best.
1. Shibden Hall
Dating back to 1420, Shibden Hall is a historic house near Halifax surrounded by beautiful period gardens and the Shibden Park estate. Its architecture is a mixture of styles reflecting its long and varied history.
Shibden Hall was originally inhabited by William Otes. For the next 2 centuries, the estate was owned by the Savile and Waterhouse families. It was during this time, in the 17th century, that the Tudor half-timbered house was built.
Today, Shibden Hall and the surrounding park are open to visitors and offer a wide variety of activities. The site also houses the West Yorkshire Folk Museum in one of the adjoining barns, which displays a large collection of carriages and items related to craftspeople such as blacksmiths, coopers, saddlers and wheelwrights.
2. Piece Hall
Opened to much fanfare on 1 January 1779, Piece Hall is the only remaining Georgian cloth hall in the world. It was also the grandest of such halls built in that period, a splendid sign of the wealth and pride of the cloth manufacturing industry. The architecture was heavily influenced by Enlightenment ideas, adopting a neo-classical style.
Following extensive renovation works, the hall was reopened in 2017. Visitors can find a large number of cafe’s, restaurants, bars and shops on-site and can also find a multitude of different cultural establishments ranging from art galleries to libraries and youth centres.
3. Kirkstall Abbey
The ruins of Kirk Abbey can be found northwest of Leeds city centre. The church was founded around 1152 during the reign of King Stephen. The Abbey was disestablished during the Dissolution of the Monasteries under Henry VIII. In 1671 it passed into the hands of the Brudenell family, the Earls of Cardigan. Much of the stone was removed and re-used in other buildings around the area, giving the Abbey its ruined state.
These days the site is open to the public with a visitor centre welcoming everybody who is interested in the history of the Abbey. The grounds are a perfect spot for a family picnic or a relaxing stroll across the gardens.
4. Salts Mill
The Victorian mill was first opened in 1853 as the centrepiece of Sir Titus Salt’s utopian model village of Saltaire. The settlement was created by Salt – a manufacturer, politician and philanthropist – to house the workers who laboured in the mill.
In 2001 the settlement was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The mill ceased its industrial production in 1986 and has since then become a centre of art and culture.
5. Pontefract Castle
The land that now houses the remains of one of the most notorious castles in England was given to Ilbert de Lacy soon after the Norman Conquest of 1066 AD. One of the most infamous moments in Pontefract Castle’s history came in 1399, when Henry IV, a Lancastrian, used it to imprison and murder the deposed King Richard II. During the English Civil War, it was the last Royalist fortress to surrender. Oliver Cromwell ordered its demolition following Charles I’s execution.
One of the most fascinating aspects for visitors to Pontefract is the so-called ‘Magazine Tour’, which takes people underground to view the castle’s notorious cellars and dungeons, as well as the writing and names scratched onto the walls by the unfortunate prisoners.
6. Harewood House
The grandiose Harewood House was built in the heart of Yorkshire between 1759 and 1771. It originally belonged to Edwin Lascelles, 1st Baron Harewood, a wealthy West Indian plantation and slave-owner. It is considered to be one of the foremost historic homes in the United Kingdom.
The estate has been the site of many TV shows and movies including the television drama Victoria and the 2019 Downton Abbey film. Visitors can explore the estate and also enjoy some tea and cake at the courtyard café.
7. Bradford City Hall
The Bradford City Hall, designed in the Venetian style, was partially built to rival those of the competing towns of Leeds and Halifax. The building was opened on 9 September 1873, before being extended in 1909. Further extensions were added in 1914 including a new entrance and staircase in baroque marble.
The City Hall is noteworthy for having a series of statues of past monarchs on the facade, including Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell.
8. Bramham Park
Constructed between 1698 and 1710, the Baroque mansion was built for Robert Benson, 1st Baron Bingley and has stayed in the ownership of his family ever since. In the 19th century, the building stood empty for 80 years before being restored in 1908.
A restricted area of the grounds is kept as gardens and run as a tourist attraction. Visitors can also tour the house but only in pre-arranged parties.
9. Leeds Town Hall
Built between 1853 and 1858, Leeds Town Hall was opened by Queen Victoria in a lavish ceremony and it is to this day one of the largest town halls in the United Kingdom. The building was also the highest structure in Leeds until 1966.
The town hall was built during a period of rapid industrialisation and growth. Its design has been used as a model for civic buildings across Britain and the British Empire, signalling its historic importance.
10. Sandal Castle
Sandal Castle is a ruined stronghold dating back to the 12th century, which played an important role in the Wars of the Roses. In the early years of the conflict, Richard of York was preparing to make a bid for the throne. In 1460, he arrived at Sandal Castle when he was lured into an ambush by the Lancastrians. The bloody Battle of Wakefield ensued.
Today, the ruins of Sandal Castle may be explored by visitors, where many picnic amongst the archways and towers of the once-magnificent stronghold.