Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Nicolson's prominent Place in the town's history

The corner of Silsden bearing the name Nicolson Place has played a long and interesting role in the life of the town. Before Mr Nicolson's time there was just a handful of 18th Century cottages there, along with the large three-storey building (demolished long ago) on the left of this photograph, which is from the late Kevin Bower's Collection.

For some reason, this building was known as T'Dog Oil with the top floor given over to hand-loom weaving and several families of nail-makers and labourers accommodated below.  The top floor was later used by the town's Wesleyan Methodists as their first  place of worship before they were able to raise enough funds to move in 1813 to their own premises, in Highfield Lane.
Above: the rear of T'Dog Oil. When the name faded into history, the building became known as Horne's Garret because it was owned by farmer Peter Horne, whose nearby small farmhouse fronted on to Main Street (near the present Town Hall) along with 40 acres of pasture.
The entrance to Nicolson Place from Kirkgate (opposite Post Office) can be seen at the bottom right of this striking circa 1960s photograph from the late Kevin Bower's Collection, showing the great extent of the Airedale Shed mill, which grew out of Angus Nicolson's textile ambitions. Nicolson, born in 1817, was a Scotsman from Stornoway, who was appointed in the late 1850s as a land agent to Lord Hothfield at Skipton Castle. Nicolson quickly realised there was money to be made from Silsden’s rapidly growing textile industry based in the mills.
Nicolson paid for the building of a large new mill (always known as Airedale Shed) with two steam engines and chimney, which for over a century dominated the area and skyline between New Road and Kirkgate. Nicolson offered the premises for lease, this being taken up by several manufacturers including the Fletcher and Knox families. Pictured above are employees of C. H. Fletcher's.
 This photograph is of weavers at Knox's.
Warpdressers at Knox's.
Nicolson Place, as it was then officially named, continued to be the home of many local characters and eccentrics, perhaps the most memorable being Thomas Bottomley (pictured above), better known as Tom O’Fannys (Tom, son of Fanny), which distinguished him from several other Silsden men of the same name. Tom, who sold odds and ends from a small flat cart pulled by a pony, may have been dishevelled, down at heel and unschooled but he was far from unintelligent and his pithy remarks and poems were treasured by the community. Tom spurned offers of help and sustenance, saying “We never died in winter yet” – but he indeed passed away on a cold November night in 1900 at Skipton Workhouse. This photograph is from the late Neil Cathey's Collection.
Other characters included Asquith Tillotson and Jack Atkinson (Jack O’Miles), pictured above, who ran a tailoring business from a congested wooden hut in Nicolson Place and played a variety of brass instruments for the delight of themselves and their customers.
For much of the late 19th Century and well over half the 20th Century, Nicolson Place was a vibrant spot with mill employees arriving and departing work, and numerous local organisations, including the  Homing Society, using it as a starting point for trips and outings. This photograph, courtesy of Jean Bancroft, shows a late 1940s Royal British Legion gathering.
The 1970s and 1980s brought huge changes. Airedale Shed closed for good.
Several of the Nicolson Place properties were demolished, although some cottages were saved and renovated as important examples of our industrial heritage, as was a portion of the old mill, which was transformed into apartments, as can be seen in the photographs above.

The above photograph and the following five pictures, courtesy of the Clarkson family, give interesting perspectives of demolition and other work at the site in January-February 1990.

Nicolson Place today -- still playing an important role in town life. 
For many years Holgates was a popular presence at the corner of Kirkgate and Nicolson Place.
Bilaluci's cafe bar has been a welcome addition to Silsden's retail offering. This photograph was taken in 2012.