Brief History of Hunger Hills

The name Hungerhills has nothing to do with malnutrition. The Oxford Reference Dictionary lists the Old English word hanger meaning a wood on
a steep slope.


By the 18th century the native woodland had been diminished by
agriculture and devastated by mining. The northern fringe of the Yorkshire Coalfield was close to the surface here, and many “bell pits” were dug to exploit it for local use.


The present woodland was replanted by Walter Spencer Stanhope of Horsforth, who in 1785 paid £4 for 3,000 saplings, to create a “riding”, a scenic woodland bridleway.


In 1947 the family donated the woodland to the people of Horsforth, the deed of gift protecting the woods from development. In 1974 ownership passed to Leeds City Council.


In 2001 the area became “common land”, when Rawdon Common was removed from common land status for use by the airport, and ancient law required Leeds Council to substitute an equivalent area.


The mines and how they worked

Most of the coal mined in Horsforth was taken out by the Bell Pit method. A bell pit was a vertical shaft sink 25ft deep until the coal was found and then widened at the
base until the limit of safety was reached.

The Bell Pit was excavated to reveal the coal seam. Coal was drawn up in buckets by hand or with the use of horses and winches.


Another way of getting the coal was by drift mining or adit as it was called. This was a horizontal tunnel entry driven into a hill until the coal was reached.

More about the history of Hunger Hills

The area of ground covered by Horsforth is 9 square miles stretching up from the river Aire in the south to the flat topped moor in the north by Leeds / Bradford Airport. The land rises up approximately 500 feet from the river with the Hunger hills, one of the best viewing points in the area and to enter Horsforth from every compass direction one must cross water.


After the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII in 1539 Horsforth land was partitioned to five land owners and the Stanhope family came from Eccleshill to own a fifth of the township. They first lived at Low Hall on Calverley Road, but in 1699 moved to the new Hall in the Park to be away from the smelly river Aire. The Hunger Hills was part of their share of Horsforth Land.


Horsforth has a very long geological history, the rocks being formed 250 million years ago in the Carboniferous period. At that time a massive delta existed and over time the accumulations of sand have given rise to the wonderful hard sandstone which has been used for many of Horsforth’s buildings.


Ancient trees bordering theestualy have sink into those early sediments and over millions of years become coal whereas fossils of some of the marine creatures can still be found in the layers of shale; another sedimentary rock in the Yorkshire coal measures. 
10,000 years ago during the last Ice Age, the area was covered with boulder clay brought down by the glaciers and most of this forms a dome on the Hunger Hills.


Coal mining tool place on the Hunger Hills in 26 Bell Pits in West End, Lead Lane and Hunger Hills are as well as in 7 in the Featherbank, 5 in Woodside, 10 in Brownberries and Scotland Lane and 6 between New Road Side and the river.  From about the early 1700s’s coal was mined by the Bell Put and Adit mining methods, bit it was only of poor quality and only for domestic and not industrial use.


The thickness of the seams varied from three to nineteen inches. A pit was dug to reach the seam (25 – 48 feet) and then the seam was attacked sideways forming a bell shape. It was one such put that collapsed in 1806 burying 2 men and a boy who were suffocated by the fall. The location of this put is thought to be off Westbrook Lane.


Mining ended around the 1850’s as better quality coal could be obtained from elsewhere. The pack horse track, falsely known as the Roman Road because of its flagged track-way was used to bring the coal carts down to Lee Lane and into Horsforth.  A very rough lady called Anne Page was often leading the carts riding
her donkey.


Adit mining was when the coal was reached by tunnelling sideways into the hillside. Marine fossils to be found in the upturned slag heaps of shale, now overgrown with vegetation are the coiled Goniotites and fan shaped Dunbarella. Unfortunately as shale is very friable the fossils are difficult to extract in one piece.


Other quarrying, which went on in the Hunger Hills was for Ganister Rock.  The Quarry is shown at the top of the wood on the Ordnance Survey map of 1934. The rock is a sandstone with a high degree of silicon. It was crushed by a steam driven crusher and then rolled to form a fine powder. Fireclay and water were then added to make a heat resistant material used to line furnaces in the iron and steel trade. When it was fired Ganister set hard to withstand the great heat of the furnace. 


The Stanhope family were the environmentalists of their time, beautifying the slopes of the Hills with tree planting even before the mining had finished.  On the top of the slope they made a “Rural Ride” with an avenue of limes along which they took visitors to the estate. 


The origin of the name Hunger Hills has been given more than one explanation, from Hangra – a Norse word meaning barren slope which seems sensible since the soil would be poor and often waterlogged and certainly unsuitable for farming. Or Hanger – a wooded slope. Considering there are other places with a Hunger Hills, it certainly wasn’t named as a result of the mining tragedy of three trapped miners in 1806.


Boulder Clay, sandstone and shale produce an acid soil and many native wild flowers thrive on poor ground. In May the wood is full of bluebells. Foxes are present often coming to forage in nearby gardens and field voles, mice and a weasel have been seen.


Bird life is prolific with Magpie, Jay, Wood Pigeon, Collared Dove and seen more rarely the Greater Spotted Woodpecker, Sparrows, House and Hedge, Blue, Coal, Great and Long Tailed Tits, Chaffinches, etc. Sometimes a Red Kite flies in when the farmer is cutting the grass for silage. Sparrow Hawk seen often and herons fly over on the way to Horsforth Park.  A buzzard may also be seen.


Hunger Hills became common land when some common land in North Horsforth was taken to help develop the Airport. It is an important green space that we should treasure for years to come.


More information can be found in the Museum in Horsforth.