It is two years since I came to live in Rawdon. Though I was born and brought up in Halifax, I had lived away from Yorkshire for 15 years. Two years ago I came back to the West Riding. I remember now driving up the A65 from Leeds with Gary Barlow singing Back for Good playing loudly on the cassette player. I was indeed back. It was good. Now if I were a Bill Bryson I would embellish that by adding that the sun was shining, Leeds United had just won the Premiership, the smell of freshly-baked Yorkshire Puddings drifted in the fragrant air and Yorkshire had just beaten Lancashire by an innings and six wickets. But none of those was the case. It just felt good.
Rawdon lies eight miles north-west of Leeds, half-way to Ilkley. It stands on a hill above the Aire and only a few miles to the north is Wharfedale which lies on the other side of the Chevin. From Rawdons highest point, the Billing, on a clear day York Minster can be glimpsed to the east and Pendle Hill is visible to the west. At night the street lights at Calverley and Baildon can be seen strung along the hills like, as my eleven year old said, one of those join-the-dots puzzles.
View from the Billing
You wont find Rawdon in the tourist guides. It isnt particularly fashionable or pretty in the chocolate box sense. However, it is very much a real place full of real people with buildings and landscape redolent of the agricultural and industrial history of this part of England. It is quintessential West Riding. It is what Yorkshire was and still is if you scratch away the modern-day gloss and stop the traffic for five minutes.
St. Peter's Church
Old Rawdon is built along Town Street by St Peters Church. It is made up of stone-built houses of various types, ages and dimensions, the older ones blackened by past industry. Another area of Rawdon centres on the green next to the Harrogate Road. A large number of mature trees is a feature of the place. Then there is the part of Rawdon known as Little London below Micklefield Park. When it was being built in the 1830s so many buildings seemed to be under construction that the locals christened it London. As a result the streets were named accordingly - London Lane, London Square, Lombard Street. Handloom weavers worked in the second-floor rooms built with large windows designed to maximise available light. The area became known as Clattergate because of the constant noise of the shuttles. That was long ago. Today the narrow streets and stone cottages of Little London are highly prized and much-favoured by house buyers.
The Village Bakery
Between Little London and the Aire are Cragg Woods, falling down the hillside. Again this is a little-known place but a gem. Here nineteenth century millionaires who had made their fortunes in the Bradford woollen mills built themselves mansions of staggering proportions. Many still remain, hidden in the trees away from the unmade roads.
Until the early 1970s Rawdon was part of what was officially called Aireborough. Most people in Rawdon regard it as still being very much independent of both Leeds and Bradford. However, in the local government reorganisation of the time it became part of Leeds metropolitan district. Like many other similar towns and villages Rawdon retains a defiant detachment from Leeds which is seen as an occupying force with the interests of local residents last on its list of priorities.
Close to Rawdon is Yeadon, once a mill town typical of the area. During the Second World War Lancaster Bombers were built at Yeadon and, not surprisingly, the Germans wanted to bomb the factory. The Luftwaffe followed the rivers, reflecting the moonlight, from the North Sea. In the black-out they were looking for Yeadon Tarn, a small lake near the factory and marked on their maps. But unknown to the Germans, the Tarn was drained for the duration of the war. It wasnt there. Furthermore, and this is real Dads Army stuff, wooden cows were placed on the roof of the aircraft factory and regularly moved around. Dads Army perhaps but the Germans never found the factory. Production continued throughout the war.
If you come to Rawdon visit the Princess in Little London. This is a pub where indeed everyone knows your name and where you can find some of the most entertaining conversations as well as outrageously incorrect views in Christendom. Enjoy the views and the sky on a fine evening. Walk through Cragg Woods and up to the Billing.
So there you are. Rawdon, West Riding. Nothing special, but rather special. Not Chicago but certainly my kinda town.
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