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Evidence for the earliest inhabitants of the area around Ilkley survives on the nearby moorland today, particularly in the examples of prehistoric carved rocks. The origins of the town itself lie in its location at the junction of two major Roman roads close to a fordable point on the Wharfe. A fort was built at this strategic point in the 1st Century AD. Three Saxon crosses indicate there was probably an early church at Ilkley, although little else remains of the village in this period.
The medieval community was centred on the site of the Roman fort and probably comprised a church, on the site of the current parish church, and a hall on the site of the Manor House Museum, along with a cluster of other buildings incorporating Roman masonry. For many years the settlement remained a small village in the parish of Ilkley, largely protected from the arrival of the industrial age by local landowners who were uninterested in, or resistant to, change.
Consequently the village and its surroundings retained their beautiful and unspoilt setting which, in combination with the abundance of natural springs rising on the nearby moorland, led to the development of a well-known and popular spa. It became a destination of choice, providing health and relaxation, for the inhabitants of the heavily industrialised towns of Leeds, Bradford and Keighley, particularly during the hydrotherapy boom of the 19th century. The arrival of the railway in the second half of the 19th century brought visitors from further afield, and ease of transport made the town an attractive proposition for those wealthy enough to build houses here. Building plots were developed in a planned manner so the value and attraction of the town was not lost as it grew and the beautiful setting against a craggy moorland backdrop has survived.
This readable, informative and fully illustrated narrative tells the story of the town from its early origins and shows how a small agricultural settlement in Wharfedale developed into an attractive and fashionable spa, an oasis of peace in the midst of heavy industrialisation. The spas are now gone but Ilkley continues to be a popular place to live, work and visit, with a vibrant and prosperous community.
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