Howden Civic Society

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About Howden

Howden is a market town that is situated close to the River Ouse. Its history, like that of many towns, has been greatly influenced by its position and its transport links.

Howden is within an area of East Yorkshire that, many thousands of years ago, was covered by Lake Humber. Parts of this lake gradually silted up resulting in areas of dry land. Drainage work and the embanking of rivers by the Saxons and the Danes led to more habitable areas. The early Anglo Saxons settled these raised sites because of their fertile land.

Howden, originally Heaffudene, comes from the Anglo Saxon words 'heafud' meaning head and 'dene' meaning valley, the valley in this case being that created by the river known as the Old Derwent. Hailgate, one of the main streets in Howden, follows the course of the Old Derwent exactly. The town grew because of its position at a crossing point of the river.

By the 10th century Howden had a church and was at the centre of a considerable manor when William the Conqueror gave it to the Bishops of Durham. Its situation ensured that it was an important stopping point for the Bishops as they travelled between Durham and London and the town prospered. This resulted in the construction of a palace by the Bishops not only for their own use but also in which they could entertain politicians and even Kings. The magnificent church was built, a grammar school was founded and finally King John granted the right to hold a market and fairs. This secured the town's survival even when the church's powers declined after the dissolution. The fair was originally used by London merchants and then later developed into an internationally renowned horse fair during which thousands of horses changed hands annually.

Howden continued as a coaching town until the introduction of the railways when its prosperity began to diminish. Goole, on the other side of the River Ouse, began to grow as a port with links to London and to Europe thereby hastening the decline of Howden.

The fortunes of Howden have now changed again within the last few decades. The motorways have ensured its position as a desirable area with fast links to the major cities in the region. The Georgian architecture of its buildings, the specialist shops and the community atmosphere make it an attractive place in which to live.

If you are interested in knowing more about the history of Howden then may we suggest for further reading -

Howden, an East Riding market town by Susan Butler and Ken Powls. Paperback, 140 pages, ISBN 0-9515498-2-0. Published 1994.