History of The Old Mill, the River Calder and Kirklees Priory

The Old Mill first opened as a country pub restaurant in 1988, but the history of the site as a mill dates back almost 1,000 years. It was already described as ‘the old myll’ in the Kirklees Priory foundation charter in 1155, when Reyner le Fleming established a Cistercian nunnery within the Manor of Clifton, on an estate stretching to the banks of the River Calder. After the dissolution of the monasteries, John Armytage bought the estate in 1565 and the mill remained in the hands of this distinguished local family until 1983, when it was sold following the death of Sir John Armytage. The present mill and mill race were built in 1785 with two waterwheels, one for grinding corn and one to drive the fulling mill, where local wool was cleansed and thickened.

Kirklees Priory was an important part of the local landscape for over 400 years, from 1155 to 1539, but it is best known for its reputed part in the story of the outlaw Robin Hood, based on interpretation of an old tale ‘A Geste of Robin Hode’ written around 1450. In the tale, Robin seeks aid from a prioress, interpreted by some to be the prioress of Kirklees, but dies from her ministrations, having shot an arrow through a window to indicate where he should be buried. A grave bearing an ancient inscription referring to ‘Roberd Hude’, enclosed by railings in the 19th century, still stands on private land in the Kirklees estate near The Old Mill, but although references to this alleged site of Robin Hood’s grave date as far back as 1562, many dispute the accuracy of the claim.

A short distance down the Wakefield Road from The Old Mill stands the Dumb Steeple, a tall millstone grit column that is said to have marked the boundary of the Kirklees Priory estate, where ‘doomed’ men could seek sanctuary. It is famous as the meeting place, in April 1812, of a group of Luddites who attacked Cartwright’s Mill in nearby Cleckheaton, when two were fatally injured by sharpshooters.

The Old Mill sits on the banks of the River Calder, historically of vital importance to the development of the wool industry in the Calder Valley. In 1770, the completion of the 21-mile Calder & Hebble Navigation opened up a coast-to-coast waterway by connecting the Rochdale Canal at Sowerby Bridge with the Aire & Calder Navigation at Wakefield. This vital transport route, which bypasses the weir at The Old Mill to rejoin the river just south of the pub, offers attractive towpath walks along the tranquil canalside.

The lovely Calder Valley countryside proved inspirational for the Bronte sisters, all of whom were educated at nearby Roe Head School in Mirfield during the 1830’s. Charlotte Bronte’s second novel Shirley, published in 1849, draws on many features of the area, including Kirklees Hall, the inspiration for her fictional Nunnely Hall.

Today, The Old Mill provides a warm welcome to visitors to this historic West Yorkshire valley, serving delicious pub meals all day every day, with a selection of fine wines and cask ales in beautiful riverside surroundings. It is a popular destination for meeting family and friends over a relaxed Sunday lunch, perhaps combined with a canalside walk or a trip to the Peak District National Park.

Directions to The Old Mill

You can find The Old Mill on the A644 Wakefield Road, just off the M62 at Junction 25. Simply key HD6 4HA into your satnav.