Oxenhope is located at the head of the Worth Valley, nestling into the hillsides and surrounding countryside. It has never been a conventional village but consists of settlement clusters and isolated farms. The open spaces between the settlements are essential to the character of the village.
In medieval times, Oxenhope was a subordinate manor of Bradford. The name of the village means “valley head with oxen” and implies that it was an area used for keeping livestock. All the higher land became subject to the 1771 Oxenhope Enclosure Act as the number of farms and small holdings expanded. Arable farming was sufficient to meet local need but the land was and is more suitable for livestock farming.
The 19th Century also saw the building of the two reservoirs, Leeming and Leeshaw, to ensure the water supply was sufficient for the local industry and also industry further down the Worth Valley. In the 20th Century Yorkshire Water or its predecessor, bought up the many small holdings and farms on the high ground and demolished them. All that can be seen of over two hundred such places is a few foundation stones and perhaps a tree.
The high moorland is crossed by conduits built by the water company to ensure that water was collected from as wider an area as possible. Nan Scar was used as an army shooting range during the Second World War. When following the many footpaths around Oxenhope look out for the frequent water courses that feed into the reservoirs or lead away from them. Many have small but attractive waterfalls.
There are three pubs in Oxenhope, all of which serve food. Two are located on Denholme Road and the other on Hebden Bridge Road. Refreshments can also be obtained at the Station.
The growth of the textile industry saw the building of large mills which displaced the cottage industry of hand loom weaving. The mills led to a growth in population and as a consequence the need for new housing. The Lowertown area of Oxenhope saw the largest growth of new houses to meet needs of the textile workers. Many of the houses in this area were built back to back. Although Oxenhope became an industrial village it retained the open spaces between the various settlements and ensured that each had their own identity.
The railway came to Oxenhope in 1867 as a branch line from Keighley. Originally the line was to run only as far as Haworth but Oxenhope mill owners financed its extension to Oxenhope. Problems arose as to where the station was to be located as the Lowertown mill owners wanted it near to their business but the main financier suggested it be nearer his business. A compromise was found equidistant between Lowertown Mill and Old Oxenhope Mill.
It was the building of the railway that finally gave the village the name of Oxenhope. Prior to 1867 the village consisted of Near Oxenhope and Far Oxenhope but the railway just used Oxenhope and this became the norm. Its closure as part of the Beeching Plan resulted in the creation of the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway becoming one of the first preserved railway lines. The K&WVR became famous in the 1970s when it was chosen as the location for the film The Railway Children. Some of the filming was done in Oxenhope and local people were involved as extras.