OK then, give me ten interesting things about Otley…

 Not as big a challenge as one might think. I once went to a tourism conference in Thirsk with representatives from umpteen market towns and villages from the midlands and north of England. The opening challenge from the chair was, ‘Put your hand up if your town has got something unique’. Many hesitated, some drew a blank and the first thing that came into my mind was ‘we’ve got an international airport 10 minutes away’. A minute later though I was scribbling down a list…


1. Birthplace of furniture maker Thomas Chippendale (1718) - Otley’s most famous son, his statue stands outside the impressive Manor House, now the Stew & Oyster pub on Clapgate. The blue plaque on the café next door to us suggests he has connexions there but this is unlikely as he had already left Otley for London by 1748, before Dowgill House was built (1753) and the café clearly post-dates us. Ah well


2. Otley Show - First held in 1796, May’s celebration of all things rural is believed to be the oldest one day agricultural show in Britain


3. Birthplace of the Wharfedale Press - One of the earliest commercially available printing presses the invention made the printed word available to the masses. Mass produced since 1856, making Otley the ‘silicon dale’ of its era there were several printing press factories in Otley in the 1800s. Our tiny Otley Museum has lots of information about this


4. ‘Otleywood’ -  Our cobbled streets, Market Place and Georgian stone architecture makes us an ideal backdrop and has been frequently used for location filming in programmes such as Emmerdale (where Otley takes the pseudonym Hotton), Heartbeat, The Chase (the Kay Mellor drama about vets, not the daytime TV quiz), A Touch of Frost and, most recently, DI Banks


5. Otley’s World Champions - Otley’s own pro-cyclist, Lizzy Deignan (nee Armitstead) took gold at the women’s indoor track cycling (Poland 2009), was women’s road cycling world champion in 2015 and loads of other medals before and since. Memorably, Lizzie’s was the first British medal at the 2012 London Olympics (a silver, so no gold post box, I’m afraid) and soon after on an evening of triumphant scenes we helped with her open top bus homecoming, taking the chance to get a few Union flags signed, one for us and the others to raffle off for charity. Commonwealth Games gold followed in 2014 and, of course, the Tour de Yorkshire (the world’s most valuable women’s cycle race) in 2017. The lass has done well.


Our pal, Mervyn Jones was model aircraft Control Line Flying World Champion (1994)


James Barber, of the now departed Artemis tobacconist and gift shop on Westgate, claims to have been world champion at worm charming although he had a twinkle in his eye when he told us and research hasn’t substantiated his claim


Alistair and Jonny Brownlee, World World Triathalon champions (2009, 2011 & 2012) and 2012 Olympic gold and bronze and 2016 Olympic gold and silver medallists, are from just up the road in Bramhope and can often be spotted training around and about and sneaking the odd pasty from one of our bakers


6. Oliver Cromwell - …or at least his troops, reputedly drunk the Black Bull dry the night before the battle of Marsden Moor (1664). The Roundheads won, which may well have been down in part to the Timothy Taylor’s Landlord pale ale



Hairy Bikers recording ‘The Pubs That Built Britain’


7. Morris dancing - Otley is home to no less than four folk dance sides, Buttercross Belles, Flash Company, Kitchen Taps and Wayzgoose who are on show at the drop of a hat for Mayday, September’s huge four day Folk Festival, New Years Day, Beer Festival etc


8. JMW Turner - When painting Hannibal Crossing The Alps the famous landscape artist is reputed to have based the scene on a storm over Otley Chevin he watched while staying at nearby Farnley Hall


9. Ratio of pubs to population - Once the highest ratio in Britain (amongst several claimants these days Rhyader in Wales claims to have dethroned Manningtree in Essex recently) some 24 pubs exist today serving our 15,000 population. Although this is more than when we arrived the town once sustained no less than 32 hostelries. Being the main market town for Wharfedale and the last town in Britain to have two independent auction markets (now only one exists since Foot and Mouth disease in 2001) led to a regular influx of thirsty farmers, pockets bulging from receipts from their livestock sale 


10. Cycle Races - One of the prestige events in British Cycling’s Elite Circuit Races programme, Otley’s race evening is staged annually on the longest Wednesday in June or sometimes early July. The street circuit is lined by a crowd of thousands and the elite race attracts star performers including now Tour de France heroes Mark Cavendish (who won at Otley in 2005) and Bradley Wiggins (2004). As well as Otley Cycle Club the town hosts a cycle race team, PH Plastering. Local Olympic silver, Commonwealth gold medallist and 2015 road cycling women’s world champion, Lizzy Deignan (nee Armitstead) regularly features on race night



Little old Otley, you never knew there was so much in it…