Birstall, Leeds .
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Birstall is a large village in the metropolitan borough of Kirklees, in leeds, West Yorkshire; it is situated centrally between Leeds, Bradford, Huddersfield and Wakefield close to the M62 motorway; the village has always benefited from good transport links but more recently has seen massive growth because of the expansion of Leeds resulting in a growth of commuters wishing to live in more rural surroundings.

Birstall has been alluded to as one of two main settlements within Gomersal, and was listed in 'Pigot's National Commercial Directory for 1828-29' as one of the four villages which make up the township of Gomersal; the name means either "the fortified place" or "the place where the fort is"; it is popularly thought that the original location of the Burgh-Stall, Burgh meaning a fortification and Stall meaning place, is where the St Peters Church is located; however it is more probable that the Church was built at the bottom of an ancient hill fort site; the fort would have been situated high above the village, to one side of the present-day Raikes Lane, the church site was, in fact, built above a sharp bend on the Birstall Beck, below Gomersall, pre-Conquest known as Guthmers Hahl or a nook, or corner of land; this area is also thought to be an Anglo-Saxon burial ground.

Birstall features the picturesque St Peter's church dating to the time of Henry VIII, although the original tower is much earlier and may have been part of the original "Burgh Stall" or "Fortified Place".

Fieldhead estate was built on a hill, named Mount Top which was an ancient hamlet, and once a thriving settlement of stone and brick cottages, Raikes Hall, barns and farms; it was a thirteen and a half acres of Oats and Barley not very far away from the local rhubarb fields and the fine Elizabethan mansion of Oakwell Hall, the Fieldhead of Charlotte Bronte's 'Shirley'; Joseph Priestley was born just off Fieldhead Lane as you go up towards the Drighlington bypass on the right, the second house on that row opposite Wilkinson's farm; there's a plaque on the house to say he was born there.

In prehistoric days, trackways ran in various directions from one British settlement to another, one such settlement being on the top of Birstall Hill; this site was chosen for its central location amongst the nearby waterways and its accessibility to and from other nearby hill forts, such as Castle Hill at Almondbury in Huddersfield and Barwick-in Elmet, near Leeds; following the course of Fieldhead Lane towards Drighlington is the Roman Road of Tong Street; this location would give Birstall a great geographical advantage, making it within easy reach of the main thoroughfares of ancient Yorkshire.

A Roman tiled mosaic was unearthed at Birstall Smithies, a former early industrial slag smelting site, during excavations in 1965; this and a hoard of Roman coins discovered at the foot of Carr Lane, on what was then Birstall Recreation ground indicate quite succinctly as to the prehistoric origins of Birstall; the coins, which were discovered in the 18th century date from 192 to 268 AD.

A quarter of a mile up the hill from Birstal on Leeds Road, there was once a Roman Watch Tower; this observation point was built on the Ridge or "Brae" of the hill; one side overlooked the Birstall area, while the other looked downwards from Howden Clough and the Valley towards upland Morley; this Watchtower was known in the early 20th century to the local inhabitants as the Brass Castle, a corruption of Brae Castle; it followed the line of other such structures built in West Yorkshire, atop prominent projecting ridges.

Moving further forward in time, but only a few hundred yards in location, there is the site of Moat Hill an important meeting place; an Anglo-Saxon parliament would meet here several times a year to discuss laws and "mete" out punishment; for the word moat, meet, is a corruption of an ancient word, pronounced "mute", meaning a meeting place for official decisions; there were only a handful of these places in Anglo-Saxon Britain, with Birstall having been host to one of them; others were in Scotland and at Tynwald Hill, on the Isle of Man, which still meets annually to this day and forms the historic place of Parliament for that independent island.

John Nelson was born here, a stonemason who was converted by John Wesley to Methodism whilst working in London and who returned to Birstall and became one of Wesley's most important preachers.

Birstall is famous as the birthplace of Joseph Priestley, the discoverer of Oxygen amongst many other things, who was tutored extensively by the then Vicar of Birstall, a highly educated Edinburgh man with a keen interest in science; Priestley was also a pupil at Batley Grammar School for Boys, founded in 1612 by the Rev. William Lee and the school still remains on Carlinghow Hill, about one mile from Birstall.

Birstall enjoyed prosperity even before the Industrial Revolution, being within a small area that was a centre of excellence for the English white cloth industry; however, the Industrial Revolution saw massive growth and the architecture of the period still dominates today; the wider area became known as the Heavy Woollen District, although the decline in textile production has led to a decline in its usage; it is still used in local sport however; most notable of the features of this period is the cobbled market place sporting a statue of Priestley, which was erected in 1912 by public subscription and sculpted by Frances Darlington; it is one of very few pieces of her work on public display.

Famous People: Joseph Priestley and John Wesley.



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