Kirkstall

KIRKSTALL, an ecclesiastical district, in the township of Headingley cum Burley, parish of Leeds, wapentake of Skyrack, W. riding of York, 3 miles (W.) from Leeds; containing more than 3000 inhabitants. This place was long distinguished by its magnificent abbey, founded by Henry de Laci, in 1152, for Cistercian monks, and of which Alexander, prior of Fountains, was the first abbot. It continued to flourish till the Dissolution, when its revenue was returned at £512. 13. 4.; the site and remains were granted to Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, but were subsequently alienated, and are now the property of the Earl of Cardigan. The remains consist of the roofless walls of the cruciform church, a part of its well-proportioned tower, the dormitory, and other portions of the monastic buildings, with the entrance gateway, now converted into a dwelling-house; the groined roofs of the refectory and chapter-house are singularly beautiful, and the area of the cloisters has been laid out as a garden. From the loftiness of their proportions, the graceful elegance of their style, and their romantic situation near the river Aire, these ruins have an impressively majestic appearance. Kirkstall Grange, the seat of William Beckett, Esq., formerly an appendage to the abbey, stands on an eminence commanding an extensive prospect, in which nine churches are distinctly visible. The village is on the banks of the Aire, about a quarter of a mile to the east of the ruins, and consists of numerous well-built houses, with a spacious hotel; in the immediate vicinity, which abounds with richly-varied scenery, are some pleasant villas.

The manufacture of fine merinos and Indianas is carried on in the St. Anne's mills, the machinery of which is propelled by steam and by water-power; the wool, from a raw state, is passed through all the requisite processes on the premises, till it is formed into the finest textures, and the works for this purpose afford employment to more than 400 persons. There are two other woollen factories, and two large corn-mills. About half a mile from the abbey, and in a pleasant valley, embosomed in thick woods, are the extensive ironworks known by the appellation of Kirkstall Forge, situated on the north bank of the river, and which are among the most ancient in the kingdom, and probably coeval with the foundation of the abbey. The vast accumulation of scoria and cinders in the adjacent woods affords proof that iron was smelted here at a remote period; and it has been authentically ascertained that mills for slitting iron into nail-rods were erected here more than 250 years since. The great improvements that have resulted from the substitution of pit-coal for charcoal, have necessarily led to many alterations in the process of the manufacture of iron; and the present works, which have been in the possession of the same firm since the year 1779, have undergone every requisite modification for the more improved and extended state of the iron-trade. The powerful stream of the Aire gives motion to seven large water-wheels, and there are also two steam-engines, working ponderous hammers, tilts, and rolling and slitting mills, for the manufacture of bar, rod, hoop, sheet, and plate iron of every description; while other machinery is adapted to the making of axle-trees and springs for carriages, screws, vices, anvils, spades, and shovels, and numerous other articles. About 5000 tons of iron are manufactured yearly, and there is a furnace for the conversion of iron into steel: in these works 400 men are constantly employed, and 15,000 tons of coal annually consumed. The manufactory of Messrs. S. and J. Whitham, established in 1790, affords occupation to 120 men, in making machinery of all kinds, mill-work, and implements of every description, both for the home and export trades. The Leeds and Liverpool canal passes through the village.

The ecclesiastical district was formed in the year 1837, and assigned to the church of St. Stephen, which is situated on an eminence, at a short distance from the village, and is in the early English style, with a tower surmounted by a lofty spire. It was erected in 1829, at a cost of £3206, by the Parliamentary Commissioners; and the spire having sustained damage by lightning in 1833, has been since rebuilt: the site of the church, and of the churchyard, which is planted with trees, and comprises an area of two acres, was given by the Earl of Cardigan. The living is in the gift of the trustees of the vicarage of Leeds, and the emolument amounts to about £200 per annum. A parsonage has lately been erected adjacent to the church, at an expense of £1200. There are two parochial schools, in which about 400 children receive instruction; and the Wesleyans have a place of worship.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of England, by Samuel Lewis, 7th edition, published in 1848.

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