Leader - Dorothy Hemsworth
2 May 1999
Meeting Place - Airton Green
We gathered for a five-mile circular walk, Kirk
Syke, Bell Busk and Haw Crag, joining the Pennine
way to return to Airton via the riverbank. Though a
walk through gentle countryside, we passed sites of
former industries, including two mills and two quarries,
plus a former station on a once busier railway.
Airton village was founded in the seventh and eighth century by the Angles, who followed the river Aire and settled at Malham, Hanlith, Calton and Airton (the town on the Aire). Common fields can still be traced which grew round the Anglican village nucleus, with the houses clustered in a hamlet in the centre. A century later the Danes were here, occupying what is now Kirkby Malham and establishing a church, probably built of wood and thatch. There are many seventeenth century datestones in Airton; this was a time of great prosperity, which became known as the ‘Great Re-building’.
One such building was Airton Hall, now demolished, which was the dower house of the Lamberts at Calton Hall. We looked at the Squatters House, thought to be one of only four in the country, which was built within one day. Having a roof on, with a chimney emitting smoke, within the day meant that it could stay. At one time this property housed the local down and outs. Nearby are the posts of the former village stocks. We also considered the Methodist Chapel, built by philanthropic mill owners who would expect their work-force to attend regularly. This now seems sadly over-large for a small village.
We then left Airton on the Hellifield road turned left towards Bell Busk, then took the lane on the right towards Kirk Syke Farm. The name (Kirk=Church, Syke=Ditch or stream) indicates that this may have been used for Christian worship before the church at Kirkby Malham was built. Passing a large barn, now a shadow of its former self, we noted the slate boskins separating the booses.
Reaching Bell Busk opposite the former station we learnt that it opened in 1909 and closed in 1959, and is now a bed and breakfast establishment. This was on the ‘Little North Western’ railway, later the Midland. Local farmers would bring full milk churns to be taken to Leeds on the early morning milk train, and a wagonette used to operate for tourists travelling to Malham. Bell Busk stands at the confluence of Otterburn Beck with the Aire. We crossed the bridge, noting the markedly pink stone from which it is built. This is shown on maps as Red Bridge. Over the second bridge is a former millpond (where kingfishers may occasionally be seen) near the site of the mill where silk was spun a century ago.
A steady climb took us to the O.S. Trig Point 913565 on Haw Crag. At 677 feet, this hill was reshaped by quarrying in the nineteenth century. Now on a clear day, it is an excellent viewpoint (see sketch).
Crossing Eshton Moor on the Pennine Way, we followed this all the way back to Airton, noting Newfield Hall across the river. The Holiday Fellowship now owns this handsome Edwardian country mansion.
Reaching Airton at the bridge we discussed the mill, which stands on the site of a predecessor owned by the Canons of Bolton Abbey. It was a corn mill at first, a cotton mill being built on in 1787-1797. The mill dam was built in 1801. This collected river water, which was carried by goit or leat (mill-race), from a weir to the north, which drove an overshot waterwheel. It was re-built around 1838 by the Dewhirst family, with a chimney between the two buildings. The Dewhirsts later moved to a larger mill in Skipton. In 1918 A.E. Jackson of Blackburn, started Airton Engineering Co. He installed an electric generator driven by the water wheel and supplied domestic lighting to all the houses in the village. Street lighting was also started. This was financed not by rates but by fund-raising whist drives and collections from every householder. A workman at the mill was responsible for the maintenance and keeping the supply going. His day’s work finished at 10.30pm when the whole outfit was shut down and everybody had to go to bed! This continued for many years until a mains supply became available which could be used for power as well as light.
During the Second World War the Reckitt and Coleman factory in Hull was heavily bombed and had to find alternative accommodation. They bought Airton Mill in 1942 and made Dettol etc there for several years. When the firm moved to Skipton the mill was used as a warehouse and storeroom for a few years. In 1960 the mill was sold and used as a hatchery and a rearing and breeding unit for poultry for twelve years. The mill was converted into flats in 1972, when the original race or goit was uncovered. This is a stone-built channel or trough about 2 foot 6 inches square. It runs behind the old mill from upstream near the boundary wall, and still carries some water. The flats are now a mixture of permanent homes and holiday accommodation.
We ended our walk in the Friends Meeting House. This was founded by William and Alice Ellis in 1700. They had built a stone house for themselves in the village four years earlier, which is still called ‘Ellis House’. William Ellis was a handloom weaver (linen) who became a zealous Friend. He gained much power as a preacher and made missionary journeys in England, Ireland and America. His house and some land were conveyed to trustees who were to see that home and food were provided for teachers who might visit Airton. Provision was made for putting poor children of Airton, Scosthrop and Calton to ‘plain and honest trades’. Also six large coats and six women’s hoods were kept for visiting friends in wet or foul weather.
Formerly an industrial area giving housing and employment to large numbers of people, this is now a quiet, mainly agricultural area. Airton has no shop or pub and only has a few holiday properties and a section of the Pennine Way to contribute to the tourist industry. This is a delightful walk, full of interest, and is worth repeating in all seasons and weathers.
The Naked Woman, Langcliffe Diana Kaneps