Holmfirth as a town grew up around a short stretch of an ancient E-W route-way bringing salt from Cheshire over Holme Moss into the West Riding. The route crossed the river at Upperbridge
In the Early Modern period the salter route would have reached Upperbridge via Modd Lane. Upperthong Lane brought another route to Upperbridge, the N-S Maythorne way from Marsden to Penistone.
Both routes followed the Holme down Hollowgate and crossed what is now Holmfirth’s hidden river, the Ribble Dyke. The Maythorne way branched off climbing out of the valley by way of South Lane and the salter route continued along Towngate, up what has become Station Road and along Bramble Banks, now a footpath, to Thongsbridge. There it turned back across the river to Honley and beyond. Goose Green led to another ancient route on the Cartworth ridge and alternative access to the southern part of the Maythorn Way and to Holme Moss by way of Yateholme.
The crossing of the Ribble is uncertain. The direct line between Hollowgate and Towngate is the natural one and there may have been a ford or bridge there. A bridge, Higgin Brigg, was built off South Lane a few yards upstream of this direct route and by the C18th, if not before, superseded any earlier crossing. These earlier routes are shown in brown on the map with the conjectural ford in tellow and the Higgin Brigg alternative in red.
At Towngate the river loops away from the road. The space between them, now the bus station and Post Office, was Mill Hill, the site of a manorial or soke mill where manorial tenants were obliged to get their corn ground. Its name, Cartworth Mill, suggests it dates back to the days of the royal Cartworth estate before the post-Conquest reorganisation of townships into Holmfirth. The Holmfirth chapel was built on the other side of Towngate. The mill and chapel were the nucleus of the town.
The salter way became a turnpike in the C18th and within a few years the Thongsbridge to Upperbridge portion was re-routed along the other side of the river. This route is shown in green on the map. In the C19th it was the nucleus of further development, New Town. Also in the C19th Victoria Bridge, Victoria Square and Victoria Street radically changed the layout of the town. Turnpike developments also led to the building of Woodhead Road, cutting out the Modd Lane/Burnlee Road loop, and the new Greenfield, New Mill and Dunford Roads.
In a series of talks to the Holme Valley Civic Society a number of the Holmfirth Local History Group members have explored the details of this development of the town of Holmfirth aided by old and new photographs. Their work is presented here.