Pateley Bridge is the principal settlement in Upper Nidderdale, an area that has seen considerable change over the years, particularly in the past two hundred years. Evidence of Neolithic people has been found around the area. The River Nidd, from the word for sparkling, was given its name by the Celts, but it wasn’t until Anglo-Saxon times that real settlement in the area began with a pattern of scattered farms on the spring line, near the top of the hills. The land was acquired by the Archbishop of York sometime before the Norman Conquest, and his manor, which extended from Wath to Wilsill, became known as Bishopside – hence the parish name of High and Low Bishopside rather than Pateley Bridge.
After the disastrous harvests and Scots Raids of the early 14th century, the Archbishop was granted the right to hold a market and fair at Pateley Bridge in order to stimulate trade. The market was held weekly on Tuesday (alas no more) and the fair on the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary on 8th September. The Feast (or Fair) is still held each year, albeit some two weeks later, when the Nidderdale Agricultural Society hold the last of the main Yorkshire shows and a visiting amusement fair takes over the car park at the Bewerley Park Showground.
As the population grew, the land was unable to sustain the population so people looked to other forms of employment to earn money. Greenhow Hill provided work in the form of quarrying and lead mining – lead had been mined in the area during Roman times, and Nidderdale lead had been used to roof Windsor Castle in 1363. St George’s Chapel at Windsor had a set of steps in Nidderdale Marble, a crinoidial limestone quarried at Blayshaw Quarry near Lofthouse; this stone was also used in the construction of Fountains Abbey. Handloom weaving of woollen goods was gradually replaced by linen with flax grown locally but mainly imported from Europe via Hull and Boroughbridge.
The Metcalfe family provided much of the development of Pateley Bridge and surrounding area with its investment in mills, quarrying and breweries. George Metcalfe in particular was instrumental in bringing the railways to Nidderdale; he also had a majority interest in the Scot Gate Ash Quarry and built an inclined railway from the quarry above the town to the goods sidings to enable to quick and efficient transhipment of the stone to many major building projects. Scot Gate Ash stone, a fine Millstone Grit, was used in many public buildings throughout the country, notable Victoria Station, the National Gallery and museums in London. By the 1880s, Scot Gate Ash was the largest quarry in the West Riding.
Throughout the 19th century, Pateley Bridge was a highly industrialised small town with a very active social and cultural life, much of it centred round the chapels and church. However, by the 1880s the lead mines were in terminal decline, followed twenty years later by many of the quarries. In the 1960s the flax/linen mills, which had turned to string and rope production, also closed and a period of recession hit the town. However, the rise in tourism, coupled with the demolition of derelict properties, started a period of regeneration which continues today.
Parish councils were established by the Local Government Act, 1894 which specified that there should be a parish meeting for every rural parish and a parish council for every parish with a population of over 300. Elections for the High & Low Bishopside Parish Council were first held in the Board School on Saturday, December 15th 1894, with the result declared on December 17th. At the first meeting held on Monday evening, December 31st, William Harker was proposed as the first chairman but declined the offer and William Daykin was elected in his place with Dr Lumsden as vice chairman. It was decided that future meetings would be held in the board room of the Workhouse at 7pm. These meetings continue today on the first and third Tuesdays of each month. The Pateley Bridge Rural District Council combined with the Ripon Rural District Council in 1937. With the local government reorganisation in 1986, the Ripon & Pateley Bridge Rural District Council was dissolved and its wards and councillors became part of the Harrogate District Council. The High & Low Bishopside Parish Council then became the Pateley Bridge Town Council with a mayor elected annually by the councillors.
Adapted from ‘Pateley Bridge – a walk round the centre’ by Eileen Burgess