This small hilltop wood in Horsforth has a long geological history having been formed as part of a huge delta 250 million years ago. Ancient trees bordering the estuary eventually became coal seams and sand became hard sandstone used to build many of Horsforth’s buildings. During the last Ice Age 10000 years ago the area was covered with boulder clay brought down in the the melting glaciers, forming a dome on Hunger Hills which helped many native wild flowers to flourish on this acid soil.
This part of Horsforth was owned by the Stanhope family from Eccleshill Bradford as a result of the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry V111. They were early industrialists in iron, steel and nail manufacturing but Walter Spencer Stanhope was also an early environmentalist who helped create the wood we see today.
Back in the early 1700’s the hillside would have been an industrial landscape ravaged by mining and quarrying with 26 bell Pits in the West End and Hunger hills area plus a large quarry in the fields behind the wood.
The Stanhope family would have been able to see Hunger Hills from their home at Horsforth Hall and Walter replanted the hillside with 3000 saplings.
Whilst coal mining ended in the 1850’s, quarrying continued into the 1930’s by the Horsforth Ganister Co, owned by Frank Whitaker. They quarried sandstone, used to produce Ganister. This material was used to line furnaces & when mixed with Fireclay was able to withstand the high temperatures when smelting iron and steel.
This stone eventually ran out in the 1930’s when the business moved to Summerbridge in Nidderdale and the quarry was filled in and returned to agricultural use.
The name Hunger Hills came from the Norse word ‘ hangra’ meaning a barren slope, or ‘hanger’, a wooded slope and has nothing to do with the two men and a boy who were trapped in one of the mine shafts.
In 1947 the Stanhope family donated the wood to the people of Horsforth. The deed of gift protected the wood from development. In 1974 ownership passed to Leeds City Council & it is now part of Leeds Parks & Countryside dept who have a Stewardship Agreement with a lively & active Friends group.
Over the last 10 years the Friends have raised funds to surface paths,create a new perimeter path, install benches,bird boxes,sign posts & an Information viewing lectern. In addition the Friends have an Outreach programme to help schools learn about the woods & its flora & fauna as well as organising free annual events for the community such as a Bluebell Walk& Bat Watches, Treasure Hunt & Fungi Forage.
Further details & information about the Friends can be obtained from www.hungerhillswoods.org or Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/Friends-of-Hunger-Hills-Woods
Photos: Phil Munroe