CIVIC SOCIETY NEWS
CIVIC SOCIETY NEWS
By Brian Haigh, vice-chairman of Huddersfield Local History Society
At a recent meeting of Kirklees Council’s Strategic Planning Committee approval was given to an application to build a new restaurant, hotel and information centre on the site of the former Castle Hill Hotel.
Locally, the controversial decision was met with surprise and disappointment. At the same time, memories of the former hotel have been prompted and questions raised about its history.
There has been a public house on top of Castle Hill since about 1810-12. In his book on the history of Leeds and its region, published in 1816, noted antiquarian, the Rev, Thomas D. Whitaker wrote: ‘In digging for the foundation of a house within the precinct of the castle a winding staircase was discovered, but was not pursued, as it ought to have been.’
This building was an ‘L’ shaped structure incorporating a licensed house and stabling. It is clearly shown on the early large-scale Ordnance Survey maps of the area. Occupying a site to the north of what was later to become the Castle Hill Hotel car park, it survived until after the Second World War.
Richard Ainley is listed in the 1841 Census as the publican. Aged 40 years, he was living at the house with his wife and three children. Richard’s death in July 1848 must have come after a lengthy period of illness as his widow, Elizabeth, was later to claim that she had applied unsuccessfully for a licence to sell beer in her own right on no fewer than 13 occasions.
It seems likely from what happened subsequently, that the magistrates’ objections were directed not at Mrs Ainley but rather at the building. She took over her late husband’s licence, which came up for renewal in 1851.
At the Brewster (licensing) Sessions held in the Huddersfield Guild Hall on August 23 she appealed to the magistrates as ‘a very respectable widow’ who had ‘conducted the house most respectably’ in the three years since her husband’s death.
Initially refusing, the panel agreed to further discussion of Elizabeth’s case which included proposals for a new hotel on the site. At the Police Court the following week, Mrs Ainley’s plans for the new house were presented to the bench.
Joseph Brook JP, who was also chairman of the Huddersfield Improvement Commissioners, was said to have remarked that, ‘the public were crying out for accommodation and proper places of refreshment’.
He had no objection to the new building as long as, ‘a new and safe road was made’ to the hotel. The application was granted on the condition that the new building was completed before the next annual licensing day. This took place on August 26, 1852, when the magistrates refused to renew Elizabeth Ainley’s licence as she had not fulfilled these conditions.
In her defence, her solicitor Cookson Floyd, argued that ‘every exertion had been made to carry out the stipulations upon which the licence had been granted’. It appeared that the plans and specifications had been approved, the work let and the foundations dug, but construction was yet to begin.
‘The great amount of work going on in Huddersfield and neighbourhood was the sole reason,’ Mr Floyd argued. A successful appeal was mounted at the West Rising Quarter Sessions in October 1852 and building commenced in the following year.
On March 25, 1854, readers of the Huddersfield Chronicle were informed that arrangements were being made for the speedy opening of the new and spacious hotel which had recently been erected at Castle Hill.
With the summer season approaching, the grounds around the new hotel were being laid out as a flower garden, pleasure grounds and a bowling green. For the townspeople of Huddersfield this would be a convenient summer resort, ‘in a locality commanding one of the most picturesque and romantic panoramic views to be met with in the West Riding’.
For their convenience, an omnibus would run between the town and the hotel at stated times during the week. Elizabeth Ainley had already advertised that the new hotel was to be let. In September, the licence was transferred to Richard Noble of Almondbury.
Elizabeth Ainley moved to the New Inn (previously known as the Wessenden Head Inn) at the Isle of Skye in Austonley. William Wallen, Huddersfield’s first professional architect is thought to have been responsible for the design of the new hotel, though there is no written evidence to support this claim.
There are close similarities between the new hotel and the Ramsden estate offices at Longley Hall, now part of Woodley special school, on which Wallen was employed. Both buildings are strongly rooted in local building traditions.
With its castellated tower, the new hotel might have been a shooting lodge or a 17th Century yeoman’s house. Wallen was familiar with Castle Hill and its history having sought subscribers for a proposed guide to the site in 1852. This was never published.
Another proposal by the architect was to come to nothing. This was for a prospect tower at Castle Hill. About 26ft square and 95ft tall, the tower was to accommodate a restaurant, museum and observation room. A wooden model was displayed and aroused much local interest in a town ‘that was without any place of attraction for visitors.’
Isabella Ramsden, a trustee of the Ramsden estate during the minority of her son, Sir John William Ramsden, was less enthusiastic. Her son’s ‘antiquarian taste,’ she claimed, ‘is quite shocked by the idea of the old fort …. on Castle Hill, being disturbed for a new erection of any kind or sort.’
The new hotel must, however, have had the young baronet’s approval as it was built after he attained his majority. Perhaps it represented an improvement on the existing alehouse which it was expected to replace. But this was not to be. It remained alongside the new hotel and, in the summer of 1855, re-opened as a temperance hotel. The landlord was said to be ready for all comers.
‘Teetotallers can be provided with fermented ginger beer,’ while in permitted hours ‘there is for those who require it stronger potations to moisten their clay.’
Waiters moved from one hotel to the other. On Sundays, when the regulations limited the sale of alcohol, alternative refreshments could be offered. This could only add to the attractions of Castle Hill which, it was believed would become ‘the chief pleasure resort’ for the people of Huddersfield and its neighbourhood.
From 1874, the Castle Hill Hotel was taken over by Bentley and Shaw of the Lockwood Brewery.
Local historian Philip Ahier, in his book on the hill, lists the landlords from the 1890s to the 1940s. Bentley and Shaw were taken over by Hammonds in 1944 and subsequently became part of Bass Charrington. In this and subsequent amalgamations, a number of tied houses were sold. This included the Castle Hill Hotel.
Acquired by developers the Thandi brothers in the 1990s there were plans to re-furbish the hotel and remove later additions which disfigured the building. Planning approval was given in 2002. During the course of demolition works, the tower became unstable. Permission was granted to replace the original building but as construction progressed it became clear that the new building was larger than that for which permission had been granted. Work on the site was stopped.
Subsequently, an order was served for the demolition of the building. Since then, the leaseholders — the Castle Hill Hotel remains part of the Ramsden Estate which was bought by Huddersfield Corporation in 1920 — have submitted a number of new plans.
These were all rejected until the present application was approved on October 28, 2020. The low-lying building - variously described as a much-needed facility, a monstrosity or as looking like a branch of McDonald’s - is at the centre of an ongoing debate.
The plans and the decision were the subject of ministerial scrutiny. The outcome was announced on March 22, 2021. Subject to Scheduled Monument Consent, the development can take place. But what would Isabella Ramsden have thought of it?
* Brian’s feature was first published in the March 2021 edition of the Huddersfield Local History Society members’ newsletter.
Victoria Tower, Castle Hill picture by Vinny Tyrell
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