“There was an old well at which I used to drink when I was a boy......,” so Robert Collyer told the folk of Boston USA, in a lecture. Ilkley, the Olicana of Ptolemy and Ylcanley of Saxon times. Some form of population has inhabited this area for over five millennia. Each tribe leaving their mark. None more so than the Victorians and the present crew! Rombalds Moor, of which Ilkley Moor is but a small part, covers an area from Hawkesworth in the east to nearly Skipton in the west, with the Dales of Wharfe and Aire being north and south, respectively.
The Town, on the other hand, has been in existence as we see it today only a comparatively short time. In the year 1800, it was nothing more than a mucky little hole with a beck running through it. A population of about three hundred (give or take the odd dying wretch), and not much else. Apart from a cold spring high on the Moor. A few years earlier, the then Squire Myddleton, converted a building on t'moor into one this Country's first Spaw Baths. At least that is what it became later. One might call it a 'Sauna in reverse'.
So it was these small buildings became the foundation of modern Ilkley. Over a passage of time the 'Well' or 'Bath' house became known as White Wells. The taking of the 'spring' water which brought about such change to this part of Wharfedale and it's effects on the local countryside, must have been astronomical. More so than the long proposed by-pass!
Imagine spending all your life in a thatched cottage by a babbling brook, when in the next instance, some bod called Hamer Stansfeld, from a place he calls Headingley near Leeds, reckons he's going to put Wheatley and Ilkley on the map! Ten to one you've never heard of Headingley, let alone seen a map.
Yet this is exactly what Hamer and his mates did. One might say they turned "water into wine" or, as they say in Yorkshire, "water into brass". Large Hydropathic establishments grew from the virgin earth, such was the demand for this remarkable substance. There then followed the rest of the attendant services and crew. Also, about this time a railway wandered into the valley.
The first of many mill owners, industrialists and their families moved to the countryside for fresh air without fumes. I wonder what they would make of present day Ilkley? Not only had Ilkley become a fashionable water hole, it was now a commuter town.