By Brian Haigh, vice-chairman of Huddersfield Local History Society
Many people don’t realise there were pubs on Castle Hill long before the tower was built … in fact for almost 100 years there was a pub AND a hotel.
There has been a public house on top of Castle Hill since about 1810-12 and the first one was an ‘L’ shaped structure incorporating a licensed house with stables and was there until after the Second World War.
But it was not the only one as a hotel was built close to it in the middle of the 1800s and the Grade-II listed Victoria Tower – built to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee of 1897 – wasn’t finished until 1899.
The landlord at the pub built in around 1810 was a Richard Ainley who died in 1848 when he was in his late 40s. His widow, Elizabeth, became the landlady and when her licence came up for renewal in 1851 she put forward her plan to build a hotel on the top of Castle Hill.
Joseph Brook JP, who was also chairman of the Huddersfield Improvement Commissioners, was said to have remarked that “the public were crying out for accommodation and proper places of refreshment.”
He had no objection to the new building as long as “a new and safe road was made” to the hotel. The application was granted and on March 25, 1854, readers of the Huddersfield Chronicle were informed that arrangements were being made for the speedy opening of the new and spacious hotel which had just been built at Castle Hill.
With the summer season approaching, the grounds around the new hotel were being laid out as a flower garden, pleasure grounds and a bowling green. For the townspeople of Huddersfield this would be a convenient summer resort described as “commanding one of the most picturesque and romantic panoramic views to be met within the West Riding.”
An omnibus ran between the town and the hotel. In September 1854 Elizabeth Ainley transferred the licence to Richard Noble, of Almondbury, and she moved to the New Inn (previously known as the Wessenden Head Inn) at the Isle of Skye in Austonley above Holmbridge.
William Wallen, Huddersfield’s first professional architect, is thought to have been responsible for the design of the new hotel with its castellated tower, although there is no written evidence to support this claim.
Another proposal by the architect was to come to nothing but was an omen for the future. This was for a viewing tower at Castle Hill. About 26ft square and 95ft tall, the tower would have featured a restaurant, museum and observation room.
Isabella Ramsden, a trustee of the Ramsden estate during the minority of her son, Sir John William Ramsden, was less enthusiastic. Her son’s “antiquarian taste”, she claimed, “is quite shocked by the idea of the old fort on Castle Hill being disturbed for a new erection of any kind or sort.”
The new hotel must, however, have had the young baronet’s approval as it was built after he came of age. Perhaps it represented an improvement on the existing alehouse which it was expected to replace but this was not to be as it remained alongside the new hotel and, in the summer of 1855, re-opened as a temperance hotel serving drinks such as ginger beer.
From 1874, the Castle Hill Hotel was taken over by Bentley and Shaw of the Lockwood Brewery.
Local historian Philip Ahier, in his book on the hill, lists the landlords from the 1890s to the 1940s. Bentley and Shaw were taken over by Hammonds in 1944 and subsequently became part of Bass Charrington. In this and subsequent amalgamations, a number of tied houses were sold. This included the Castle Hill Hotel.
It’s thought the old pub was demolished in the late 1940s or early 1950s, leaving just the hotel next to the tower.
The hotel was acquired by developers the Thandi brothers in the 1990s with plans to re-furbish the hotel and remove later additions which disfigured the building. Planning approval was given in 2002 but during the course of demolition works the tower became unstable.
Permission was granted to replace the original building but as construction progressed it became clear that the new building was larger than that for which permission had been granted. Work on the site was stopped.
Subsequently, an order was served for the demolition of the building. Since then, the leaseholders – Castle Hill remains part of the Ramsden Estate which was bought by Huddersfield Corporation in 1920 – have submitted several new plans.
These were all rejected until the present application for a restaurant and bar with six bedrooms and a visitors’ centre with toilets was approved on October 28, 2020. The low-lying building – variously described as a much-needed facility, a monstrosity or as looking like a branch of McDonald’s – is at the centre of an ongoing debate.
The plan will go ahead unless English Heritage refuses to give Scheduled Monument Consent for it after the Government refused to become involved in the decision-making.