Victorian Period 1837-1900
The second half of the nineteenth century brought advances in transport and communication which increased the industrial and recreational use of the Chevin landscape.
In 1842 the new Leeds to Otley road (now the A660) was built and this dramatically improved access to and from the town, eliminating the need to negotiate the steep and difficult hill of the old road. Probably an even greater impact was felt when the Leeds – Otley Railway was opened in 1865.This made the delights of the countryside more accessible to people from the city and provided a welcome escape from the dirt and pollution of industrial Leeds. Leisure activities were gradually becoming more popular at this time and by the end of the century rambling and cycling clubs were being established.
The new Otley Station was situated at the foot of the Chevin and those visitors wishing to take on the challenge of reaching the Chevin Top would either walk up the Old Leeds Road (now called East Chevin Road), where seats had been placed at convenient intervals, and along Miller Lane, or follow the ancient footpath known locally as “Jacob’s Ladder” or the “cat steps” to reach the point now known as Surprise View.
To cater for this upsurge of tourism, local farmers saw an opportunity to supplement their income and began to provide refreshments for the visitors. White House Farm was ideally situated at a half way point on the climb to the top and would have provided a welcome opportunity for a rest. Once people had reached the top of the Chevin there was Jenny’s Cottage, also a farm, where refreshments had been served since about the 1830’s and also the Royalty Inn, on Yorkgate, which opened in 1865. Unfortunately for the Wilson’s Arms, the new road led to much less vehicular traffic using the “Old Leeds Road” and it closed as an inn some time in the 1840’s.
There had long been small scale quarrying on the Chevin, but this developed into a larger industry in the 19th century, again helped by the improvements in transport. However, even before this, in 1837, stone was transported to London to be used for the foundations of the new Houses of Parliament, probably by the difficult road through Yeadon and down to the Leeds-Liverpool Canal at Apperley Bridge. The landscape of the Chevin gradually changed as more quarries were developed both along the Chevin top and at Pelstone and Caley Crags. In the late 1800’s a link to Pool Station on the Leeds Otley railway was opened which accelerated the extract and shipment of the stone.
The Danefield side of the Chevin continued to belong to the Fawkes family of Farnley Hall, who had begun to create a number of plantations on their land. Unfortunately the building of the new road and railway sliced up the land to the north and south of the Caley Hall and by the second half of the century the exotic animals in its park had gone, although the deer park remained and the gamekeepers continued to live at “Keeper’s Cottage”.
The White House side of the Chevin belonged to several individual owners following the Enclosure Act of the previous century, many of whom let their plots out to farmers or quarrymen. These plots changed ownership throughout the nineteenth century. Although still privately owned, some public access was given, particularly on the Chevin top, as ancient footpaths passed through them. Towards the end of the 19th century two new plantations were established. These were Ritchies (after a local doctor) Plantation and the White House plantation, both situated close to the White House.
The tradition of lighting a beacon or bonfire on the top of the Chevin was continued during the Victorian era, but only in times of celebration. According to a local historian, the Beacon was lit on at least five occasions during this period: 1856 – end of the Crimean War, 1860 – marriage of King Edward VI, then Prince of Wales, 1887 and 1897– Golden and Diamond Jubilees of Queen Victoria and 1900 – Relief of Mafeking.