Dewsbury ancestors:  Archer, Whitworth, Greenwood, Wright, Thompson, Sheard, Whitaker, Hemingway, Auty, Fox, Longley, Westerman. 

Dewsbury 1775

Dewsbury is a Minster Town in West Yorkshire. For hundreds of years it was an important manufacturing town, due to its growth as a woollen mill town, and it stood on one of the richest sources of coal in Yorkshire.

As part of the West Riding Heavy Woollen District, it was a major manufacturer of woollen blankets, carpets, shoddy and fine woollen cloth, until the decline of manufacturing in the later part of the 20th century.

Early 20th Century – Dewsbury Town Hall from Market Place

Origin of the Name

Dewsbury is a settlement of great antiquity and alternative theories for the origin of is name include:

  • “Fortified place by a stream”, from Old English deaw “dew” (stream) and burg “fort”.
  • The Burg of David, from the old pre-Norman-Conquest British Gaelic for David, being Deu.
  • A Mercian name, after the founder of a fortified settlement, named Dui, or Dew.
  • Deus–“beria” meaning fort or stronghold
  • “God’s Hill”, from the old British word “Duw”, meaning God (Latin “Deus”), and “burg”, meaning a hill.
  • “Tiw’s Burh”, derived from the Germanic god Tyr.

Saxon Dewsbury

Saxon Dewsbury was a centre of great importance, containing the mother church of a large parish.

There have been Saxon graves, Norman and Viking grave slabs found in the area and it is believed that, in 627 Paulinus, the first Bishop of York, brought Christianity to Dewsbury and preached at the crossing point of the River Calder at Dewsbury. A church was built on a site close to where he had preached, and it became the “mother church” of a Saxon parish covering 400 square miles from Howarth and Bradford in the north to Holme in the south, from Todmorden and Littleborough in the west to Wakefield and Methley in the east.

Domesday Book

The Domesday Book of 1086 records the name as “Deusberia” and “Deusberie”. Dewsbury’s record in the Domesday Book states,

This translates as:

In Deusberia there are three carucates to be taxed, which two ploughs may till. This land belongs to Wakefield, yet King Edward had in it a manor. It now belongs to the King, and there are six villains and two bordars, with four ploughs, a priest, and a church. The whole manor is four quarentens long, and six broad, In the time of King Edward, the value was ten shillings, and it is the same now.

Domesday Book
Note: A quarenten is 40 paces long.

The Domesday book also records that “Dewesberia” had a church and a priest.

At that time, nearby Earlsheaton had just 2 households and Hanging Heaton 0 households.

In his writings, Camden’s “Britannia” of 1607 says:

The Calder having passed by these places, runs on to Kirkley, heretofore a Nunnery; thence to Robin Hood’s Tomb, a generous robber, and very famous upon that account; and so to Deusborrough, situated at the foot of a high Hill. Whether this name be deriv’d from Dui, the local Deity already mention’d, I cannot determine: The name is not unlike; for it resembles Duis Burgh in sound, and this Town has been considerable from the earliest date of Christianity, among the English of this Province. For I have been inform’d that there was once a Cross here, with this Inscription: PAVLINVS HIC PRÆDICAVIT ET CELEBRAVIT.
That is, “Paulinus here preach’d and Celebrated”.

William Camden 1551-1623; Britannia or a Chorographical Description of GREAT BRITAIN and IRELAND, Together with the Adjacent Islands.

Dewsbury Minster

Dewsbury Minster lies near the banks of the Calder, traditionally thought to be on the site where Paulinus preached.

The Minster has the remnants of a Saxon Cross in three fragments, which is believed to be part of the old cross that commemorated the preaching of Saint Paulinus in the town. The fragments probably date from the early 9th Century.

In AD 980, a huge Anglo Saxon Minster Church stood in Dewsbury. Its stonework is still visible in the Worship Area of the present church. Parts of the existing church also date to the 12th and 13th centuries. Medieval stained glass in the Minster is from the 14th Century.

In digging the foundations for a pillar in the body of the Parish church, a stone was discovered with an inscription in Saxon characters. Partial demolition and renovation of the parish church, in 1766, uncovered more stones dating probably to the time of Paulinus, carved in basso relief with a variety of figures showing Christ with fingers uplifted in the act of blessing. The carving, from an illustration in “The Early History of Dewsbury” is shown here.

Stones dating probably to the time of Paulinus, carved in basso relief with a variety of figures showing Christ with fingers uplifted in the act of blessing. Drilled eyes would have contained coloured glass and the original sculpture would have been coloured.

Also found in the ancient graveyard was a Saxon tomb shaped like a cottage.

That place (Dewsbury) is remarkable as having been one of the earliest settlements of Christianity in England; a subject which has been ably and instructively discussed by the Historian of South Yorkshire, in a memoir published in the first volume of the Collectanea Topographica et Genealogica…Dr. Whitaker describes it as “part of a Saxon tomb, shaped exactly like a common cottage house, but with the tiles of the roof resembling feathers, and very artificially laid over each other. At the entire end is cut in relievo, a cross of a very antique form”.

Gentleman’s Magazine, Or Monthly Intelligencer: Volume 42; 1868
End view of Dewsbury’s Saxon tomb, from “The Gentleman’s Magazine” 1836

These numerous Christian artefacts gave rise to the belief by many that the original name for Dewsbury was “Deusberia” (God’s town).

Saxon tomb shaped like a cottage, found at Dewsbury

Throughout the middle ages, Dewsbury retained a measure of importance in ecclesiastical terms, collecting tithes from as far away as Halifax as late as the mid-14th century.

Devil’s Knell

The Minster houses the “Devil’s Knell”, a bell rung that is rung each Christmas Eve, one toll for each year, in a tradition dating back to the 15th century. It was donated by Sir Thomas de Soothill, in penance for murdering a servant boy in a fit of rage.

Other Religions

John Wesley visited the area five times in the mid-18th century, and the first Methodist Society was established in 1746. Centenary Chapel on Daisy Hill commemorates the centenary of this event, and the Methodist tradition remained strong in the town, alongside Baptist and Congregationalist Chapels, Anglican and Catholic Churches until the mid 20th Century.

Due to demographic changes since the 1960s, today the religious make-up of Dewsbury has changed. In 2011 Dewsbury West was 46.7% Muslim, 33.5% Christian, 13.0% No religion, 0.3% Sikh, 0.2% Hindu, 0.1% Buddhist. Dewsbury South was 43.8% Muslim, 36.7% Christian, 13.1% No religion, 0.2% Sikh, 0.1% Buddhist, 0.1% Hindu. Dewsbury East was 56.8% Christian, 23.5% No religion, 12.5% Muslim, 0.3% Hindu, 0.3% Sikh, 0.1% Buddhist.


Dewsbury market was established in the 14th century for local clothiers to buy and sell there wares. Occurrences of the plague in 1593 and 1603 closed the market and it wasn’t reopened until 1741.

The old Market Place, shown below, was in the centre of the town, but as the town grew, the market was relocated, in 1904, to a new Market Hall, built between Cloth Hall Street, Corporation Street and Crackenedge Lane. When that became full, an open (outside) market grew up around it. It remains on this site today and there are claims that it is still the largest and most renowned open market in Yorkshire.

The old Market Place around 1900

Industrial Revolution, late 18th and early 19th centuries

In 1770, a short branch of the Calder and Hebble Navigation Canal was completed, linking Dewsbury to the main canal system and giving access to distribution centres in Manchester and Hull. By the time of the industrial revolution, Dewsbury and surrounding districts were important centres for the “shoddy” industry, the recycling of old woollen items by mixing them with new wool and making them into heavy utility blankets and uniforms. The town benefited economically from the canal, its location at the heart of the Heavy Woollen District, and its proximity to the coal mines. The railways arrived in 1848 when three stations were opened in the town.

Town Hall from Longcauseway

The 1800s saw a great increase in population, rising from 4,566 in 1801 to around 30,000 by 1890. In the early 1800’s Dewsbury was one of the areas of Luddite opposition to industrialisation, in which workers retaliated against the introduction of mechanisation and smashed the new machinery which threatened their livelihood.

In 1880, there were 33 working collieries in Dewsbury.

Geographical and Historical information from the year 1868 and 1887

DEWSBURY, a borough in the parish of its name, partly in the wapentake of Morley, but chiefly in the wapentake of Agbrigg, in the West Riding of the county of York, 5 miles W. of Wakefield, and 27 S.W. of York. The charter of incorporation was granted in 1861.

This parish in the Saxon times was of vast extent, comprising nearly 400 square miles, and is at present very considerable, including the townships of Ossett-with-Gawthorpe, South Ossett, Hartshead, Earl’s Heaton, Batley Carr, and Hanging Heaton, together comprising about 9,551 acres. The soil is fertile, resting on a substratum of carboniferous, limestone and coal, which is extensively wrought.

The town of Dewsbury is pleasantly situated at the base of a hill by the river Calder, and is a place of great antiquity, though most of the buildings of the present town are modern. There is, however, one most interesting building, now used as a granary and malt-kiln. It was formerly a rectorial manor court-house, and has some choice specimens of 13th century work. Its name is believed to have been derived from Dui, the tutelary deity of the Brigantes, to whom a votive altar, dedicated by Aureliapus, was found in the vicinity, and is still preserved at Bradley. Edwin, King of Northumbria, resided here, and was, with his whole court, converted to Christianity by Paulinus, the first Archbishop of York. This event was commemorated by a cross bearing the inscription, “Paulinus hic prædicavit et celebravit.” It was placed on a gable end of the chancel of the parish church, blown down in 1805, and a facsimile put up in 1811.

For several centuries the town remained nearly stationary, but has recently greatly increased in wealth and population, owing to its situation in the midst of a rich manufacturing and mining district. The extension of the Calder and Hebble navigation, and the opening of the several lines of railway, have brought it into connection with Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Halifax, and Wakefield, and also with the river Humber.

The cloth and blanket hall was erected in 1837, and the Dewsbury Church Institute established in 1842. The inhabitants are chiefly employed in the manufacture of blankets, carpets, worsted, and fine woollen cloth, for the fulling of which last the water of the Calder is reckoned peculiarly suitable. Many of the houses are well built and even spacious, and the streets are lighted with gas.

The living is a vicarage in the diocese of Ripon, value £296, in the patronage of the crown. The parish church was rebuilt in 1767. There are district churches at West Town, Dewsbury Moor, Earls Heaton, Hanging Heaton, Batley Carr, Hartshead-cum-Clifton, Ossett-cum-Gawthorpe, and South Ossett, all of which are noticed under their respective heads. The livings are all perpetual curacies, varying in value from £150 to £200. The charities produce £131 per annum. There are chapels for Wesleyans, New Connection Methodists, Baptists, Independents, Roman Catholics, and Society of Friends. There are several schools, one endowed with £100 per annum, a subscription library, and a mechanics’ institute. The market day is Thursday, but a provision market is also held on Saturday. There are two annual fairs in May and September.

From: The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland 1868

Bartholomew’s Gazeteer 1887 described Dewsbury as:

Dewsbury, parl. and mun. bor., market town, par. and township, S. div. West-Riding Yorkshire, on river Calder, 9 miles S. of Leeds and 182 miles N. of London by rail — par., 10,102 ac., pop. 54,012; parl. bor., 4759 ac., pop. 69,566; mun. bor. and township, 1468 ac., pop. 29,637; 3 Banks, 3 newspapers. Market-days, Wednesday and Saturday. D. has water communication with Liverpool and Hull by means of the river Calder, and has stations on the London and North-Western, the Lancashire and Yorkshire, and the Great Northern Railways. The trade of the town is chiefly connected with the mfr. of blankets, flannels, carpets, druggets, baizes, and other heavy textile goods. Coal is worked in the neighbourhood. D. was a place of importance early in the 7th century. It was made a mun. bor. in 1862, and a parl. bor. in 1867. The bor. returns 1 member to Parliament.

Bartholomew’s Gazeteer 1887

Brontë Connection

Patrick Brontë, father of the famous Brontë sisters of Hawarth, was Curate at Dewsbury Minster from December 1809-1811. The sisters, Charlotte (born 21 April 1816), Emily (born 30 July 1818), and Anne (born 17 January 1820), were well known as poets and novelists.

During the Whitsuntide procession from Dewsbury to Town Green Earlsheaton on Whit Tuesday in 1810, the parade had just turned off Wakefield Road onto High Road leading to Earlsheaton, when a drunken man refused to let the procession go past. Patrick Brontë quickly took the man by the scruff of his neck and threw him to the side of the road. Brontë then led the procession to the Town Green, where the procession stopped to sing hymns, as if nothing unusual had occurred.

The Brontë family moved to Haworth in 1820, where Patrick served as Minister for 41 years. Patrick’s wife died a year after the move and all of his six children pre-deceased him, without issue. Four daughters (Elizabeth, Maria, Anne and Emily) and his son (Branwell) died from TB and Charlotte almost certainly died from hyperemesis gravidarum, a severe sickness in pregnancy leading to wasting and death, though her death certificate also lists TB.


Dewsbury was incorporated as a municipal borough in 1862. In 1974 it became part of the Kirklees Metropolitan District.

Ancient Parish of Dewsbury on GenUKI