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Ilkley is a spa town and civil parish in West Yorkshire; the civil parish consists of four wards Ilkley North, Ilkley South, Ilkley West and Ben Rhydding, all within the metropolitan borough of Bradford; the town partially straddles the River Wharfe in Wharfedale, one of the Yorkshire Dales; it is in a valley, which rises from the river at 230 feet (70 metres) to 650 feet (200 metres) above sea level, up Ilkley Moor, a bracken and heather covered moorland, with rocky outcrops, to the south, and to 540 feet (160 metres) across Middleton Woods in the north.

Ilkley's spa town heritage and surrounding countryside make tourism an important local industry; the town centre is characterised by Victorian architecture, wide streets and floral displays; Ilkley Moor, to the south of the town, is the subject of a folk song, often described as the unofficial anthem of Yorkshire, "On Ilkla Moor Baht 'at"; the song's words are written in the Yorkshire dialect, its title is translated as "On Ilkley Moor without a hat."

The earliest evidence of habitation in the Ilkley area are flint arrowheads or microliths, dating to the Mesolithic period, from about 11,000 BC onwards; the area around Ilkley has been continuously settled since at least the early Bronze Age, around 1800 BC; more than 250 cup and ring marks, and swastika carvings dating to the period have been found on rock outcrops, and archaeological remains of dwellings are found on Ilkley Moor.

A druidical stone circle, the Twelve Apostles Stone Circle, was constructed about 2,000 years ago; it is located high up on Burley Moor at a height of 380 metres above sea-level the Twelve Apostles stone circle stands close to a track 20 to 30 minutes walk from the Cow and Calf rocks and car park.

This is a delightful circle set in a spectacular location; although it seems to have been restored in recent years as old guide books refer to it as being badly damaged; it now has the 12 stones that its name suggests but the archaeologist Arthur Raistrick suggested that there were originally around 20 in the circle with a diameter of just under 16 metres, set within a rubble bank; none of these stones are particularly tall, the largest is less than a metre and a half in height and the whole aspect of the circle is similar to some of those found in Derbyshire.

There have been theories that suggest the stones were used for observation of the movement of the moon or celestial bodies; indeed it was once known as a 'Druidical Dial Circle', however the fact that the site has been altered in the past would make this very difficult to prove; it is also said that from the circle the rising summer solstice sun appears exactly above the White Horse at Kilburn; often referred to as 'The Twelve Apostles of Ilkley Moor' the circle is in fact on Burley Moor, one of the constituent areas of the larger Rombald's Moor.

A local from Ilkley is called an Olicanian which is derived from Olicana, thought to be the name of the remains of a Roman fort (Circa 79AD) that Ilkley is built upon; a number of Roman altars have been discovered there that date back to the reigns of Antoninus Pius 138 to 161AD and Septimius Severus and his son Caracalla 211 to 217 AD.

Three Anglo-Saxon crosses formerly in the churchyard of All Saints', but now inside the church to prevent erosion, date back to the 8th century; the site of the church as a centre for Christian worship extends back to 627 AD and the present mainly Victorian era church incorporates medieval elements.

The Domesday Book, of 1086, records Ilkley (Ilecliue/Illecliue/Illiclei/Illicleia) as being in the possession of William de Percy; the land was acquired by the Middelton family of Myddelton Lodge, from about a century after the time of William the Conqueror; the family lost possession through a series of land sales and mortgage repossessions over a period of about a hundred years from the early 19th century; the agents of William Middelton 1815 to1885 were responsible for the design of the new town of Ilkley to replace the village which had stood there before.

In the 17th and 18th centuries the town gained a reputation for the efficacy of its water and in the 19th century it became established as a fashionable spa town, with the construction of the Ben Rhydding Hydro in Wheatley, circa 1843; Wheatley was renamed Ben Rhydding after the Hydropathic Establishment, which unfortunately has now been destroyed and the only remaining Hydro building is the white cottage known as White Wells House, which can be seen and visited on the edge of the moor overlooking the town.

Many tourists flocked to take the waters and bathe in the cold water, including Madame Tussaud and Charles Darwin who underwent hydropathic treatment at Wells House when his book On the Origin of Species was published on 24 November 1859, whilst staying with his family at North View House, now known as Hillside Court.

The town is now a tourist destination and shopping town and is used as a base from which to explore the famous moor and the countryside beyond.

Ilkley is home to the largest and oldest literary festival in the north of England, the Ilkley Literature Festival; the 1984 British comedy film A Private Function, written by Alan Bennett, was filmed in Ilkley and Ben Rhydding and the town was also one of the locations used for the 2003 British comedy film Calendar Girls.

Famous People: Alan Titchmarsh



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