Otley’s History

Otley has grown up at an important bridging point on the river. At its heart are the cobbled market square, the “Buttercross” and the historic town clock.

There is still a cattle market on the edge of town reflecting the town’s position in an important agricultural area.

In the valley, the attractive Wharfemeadows Riverside Park leads on to paths and meadows. High above, the wooded slopes of the Chevin form a Country Park, which was donated to the people of Otley by the Fawkes family of nearby Farnley Hall. It is popular with walkers, strollers and climbers.

There are many paths and rights of way leading out of Otley. It links to several long distance walk, is the starting point for our renowned 38-mile Six Dales Trail from Otley to Middleham in Wensleydale and a stage on the new North East Leeds and Country Park Greenways Trail. The Ebor Way and a Dales Way Link cross the Chevin. The most recent of our long distance trails is the Welcome Way, linking Otley with Burley in Wharfedale, Baildon and Bingley. At the end of June each year there is also a highly popular nine-day Walking Festival with a wide choice of guided walks.

A traditional street market takes place in the market square and along Kirkgate on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Enjoy the farmers market on the last Sunday of each month that sells locally sourced produce, plants, preserves, meats, baked goods etc..

Otley is noted for its number of traditional pubs. There is an excellent selection of daytime cafes, takeaways and evening restaurants. There is also high quality accommodation in pubs and B&Bs in the town centre, with further accommodation a short drive or bus ride away. There is a local hospital north of the river with a minor injuries clinic.

Join us for any of the thirteen annual events: Visit Otley

Historical highlights

Otley grew up as a river crossing point, probably in Saxon times, although there are earlier (Bronze Age) traces of settlement in the area. One of the most noteworthy historic buildings in the town is the seven-span stone bridge across the River Wharfe, which has its origins at least as far back as the 13th century.

The Archbishops of York were Lords of the Manor and had a palace in Otley, the remains of which have been found near the site of the present “Manor House”.

The Parish Church stands on high ground above Kirkgate. There are Anglo Saxon foundations on the site, and the remains of two ancient crosses. An 11th century Norman church forms the present chancel. A wide nave, transepts and simple tower were added in 13th century and further additions and alterations over the centuries have resulted in the present attractive stone building.

The market began with a charter granted by Henry III in 1222 and Otley was a significant medieval town as demonstrated by the way routes radiate from it. It went on to expand during the 19th century industrial revolution when initially the river and later coal and steam were used to power mills. Only a few of these are still standing, mainly to the west of the town. The waters of the river still flow over the weirs used to pond back and divert the water for the mills and a tannery. Paper making and printing machinery manufacture were important alongside the usual Yorkshire woollen and worsted mills. The Wharfedale printing machine which revolutionised printing was developed and made in Otley.

Otley’s street pattern, centred on the market square, has hints of its medieval origin with some visible burgage plots, closes and crofts. Further out are the terraced cottages of the industrial workers. Today the town has many newer housing estates with expansion north and south of the river. Many people now work in Leeds and surrounding areas. The modern day shops are built onto much older buildings, some of which are better seen by exploring the narrow cobbled streets and alleys that lead off the main thoroughfares.


Thomas Chippendale, the famous furniture maker was born in the town and his statue stands outside the attractive building that was the original Grammar School. Examples of his work can be found in nearby country houses. The artist JMW Turner was a frequent visitor to nearby Farnley Hall and Otley’s countryside is believed to have inspired several of his paintings including Hannibal crossing the Alps!

Find out more about Otley