The town is situated in the Holme Valley, the word “firth” was the Old English name for wood and woodland. The town grew up around a corn mill and bridge in the 13th century but the present church dates from the 1470s.
Three hundred years later Holmfirth expanded rapidly with the growing cloth trade grew and the production of stone and slates from the surrounding quarries increased. It was a prosperous town and in 1850 the very first steam train pulled into Holmfirth thanks to the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company. (Unfortunately Holmfirth no longer has a rail link – it was demolished in the mid-1960s).
A major tragedy struck the town in 1852: the famous Holmfirth Flood. Although there had been other floods, the 1852 flood was caused much more extensive loss of life and damage than any before or since. Eighty-one people died as heavy rain caused the Bilberry Reservoir, near Holme Village, to burst its banks sending a torrent of waves crashing through Holmfirth.
In the 19th Century a “new” industry came to Holmfirth, silent movie films and postcards.
James Bamforth was a keen photographer and a talented artist from Holmfirth and became one of the most well known and biggest producer of Life Model slides in Britain.
James used the long summer days to paint backdrops and photograph his actors and the dark winter months to produce the thousands of sets of Magic Lantern slides, creating 600 different new slide sets each year.
Bamforths also produced early comic postcards and sentimental cards that were sent to loved ones in the First World War. They became well-known for their saucy seaside postcards featuring over-large ladies and hen-pecked husbands.
The outbreak of the First World War in 1914 brought an end to this new movie industry. But the production of postcards, continued right up until recent years. At its height, sales of the mother-in-law put downs and the seaside double entendres topped 16 million a year. Production has recently been transferred outside the Valley.
Holmfirth is now best known for production of Last of the Summer Wine which started with a pilot season in 1973. Thirty years on, the show is more popular than ever, and is now the longest-running British television sitcom. Holmfirth sees many visitors walking its roads looking for Sid and Ivy’s cafe, Nora Batty’s House and Clegg’s home.