Otley History and Heritage

Step back in time with Otley's history and heritage

The Wharfedale Valley was carved with the melting of Ice Age glaciers that left behind the dramatic landscapes that surround Otley today – and those landscapes hold the key to Otley’s real age. The Chevin that overlooks the town is home to megalithic stone boundaries and paleolithic rock art that mysteriously comes to life when wet, while a Roman road that crosses its highest points was once an important thoroughfare connecting York, Tadcaster and Ilkley.

As a town Otley has its origins in Saxon times when the name Otho or Otto was added to the old English ‘leah’ meaning a wooded clearing. And today, remnants of that Saxon heritage can be seen in the Parish Church which displays a selection of stone crosses dating from the earliest Christians who came to live here.

Cattle markets began in the town in 1222 defining its future for almost 800 years, and in 1644 the Market Square played host to Oliver Cromwell’s Parliamentarian army on the eve of the Battle of Marston Moor. It’s said they drank the pubs dry before their famous victory and a strong tradition of those pubs lives on today.

With the advent of the Industrial Revolution, a woollen industry began and the 18th and 19th centuries saw much progress, at a time when Otley helped shaped the very history of Britain.

Stone quarried from the Chevin was used to help build the Houses of Parliament; the Wharfedale Printing Press revolutionised the printing industry; and famed cabinetmaker Thomas Chippendale was born in Otley in 1718 and educated locally at Prince Henry’s Grammar School.

As Otley’s fame grew, it began to attract the great and good, with romanticist painter JMW Turner spending much time at nearby Farnley Hall – the dramatic landscapes around Wharfedale were used as backdrop to some of his most famous paintings. The then Lord of the manor, Walter Ramsden Fawkes was closely related to Guy Fawkes.

Top 5 must sees

The Knotties Stone on Otley Chevin – some of the oldest prehistoric rock art in the county. See chevinforest.co.uk
The Black Bull on Market Square – gathering place for Cromwell’s Army before the Battle of Marston Moor. See otleypubclub.co.uk

Thomas Chippendale statue – outside the Old Grammar School in Manor Square

The Navvies’ Memorial that commemorates the sacrifice made by 23 men during the building of the railway tunnel in Bramhope between 1846 and 1849

Now a popular arts centre, Otley Courthouse is the former police station and Magistrates Court, still retaining a prison cell and a history time line. See otleycourthouse.org.uk