Burley-in-Wharfedale, West Yorkshire

The village has been described as 'a harmonious mix of grand and simple buildings' while its people have a strong sense of independence as Penny Wainwright discovers PHOTOGRAPHS BY BILL HEARLD

They certainly know how to get things done in Burley-in-Wharfedale. The village's Community Council has restored buildings and saved them from development, improved amenities like the village green, millpond and sports pavilion and ensured effective representation at planning enquiries. As if this weren't enough, in 2006 Burley achieved its own elected Parish Council which gives the village more autonomy and independence from its (albeit very nice) neighbours, Menston and Ilkley.

The younger generation get involved, too, producing a history trail leaflet as part of a Young Enterprise project, and taking part in Guides and Scouts, Cubs, Brownies and Beaver packs. 'I'm amazed at the number of people with community spirit,' said the parish clerk, Jo Griffiths, who has lived in Burley for about eight years. 'For instance, we're hoping to stage a summer event and the response has been so positive. There's something everyone can do,' she added.

'Do' seems to be the byword round here. A comprehensive handbook, produced by the parish council and distributed free to every household, is packed with information about local activities - and beyond.

Burley has also been helping to improve the lives of villagers in the West African country of Mali as part of a millennium initiative that was the brainchild of Channel4 news presenter Jon Snow.

Burley folk are attached to their village - witness the unusual number of seats and trees dedicated to loved ones - and money is raised for improvements through events like the annual duck race, which sees hundreds of plastic ducks bobbing down the River Wharfe, and from bequests such as that from the Jepsons, local electrical retailers, whose generosity helped finance an outstanding modern Parish Centre.

'We do all sorts here,' said Ann Clough, one of the centre's team of volunteer office staff, many of whom are drawn from the local churches. 'There's Open Door, a drop-in centre for anybody and everybody, and rooms for hire - one upstairs set up for talks and another downstairs looking on to the garden.'

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Today the blinds were drawn: Ann explained tactfully that there was a life-drawing class in progress. On other days, you might find children's ballet, French classes, ante-natal or drama sessions in action.

While improvements to today's village tend to be the result of a community effort, the local population was once dependent on a handful of wealthy benefactors, such as the Fairfax family of Denton Hall, who in the 17th century endowed the chapel that stood on the site of the present parish church.

A couple of hundred years later, two mill owners had a huge influence on the development of Burley. As employers of hundreds, many of them children, at Greenholme Mills,W. Fison, and his business partner and local MP,W. E. Forster, took their paternalistic responsibilities seriously. They built the Lecture Hall in Main Street which included a concert hall and meeting rooms, library and - importantly for Forster, who as minister in Gladstone's government drafted the 1870 Education Act - a school. The building is still in use,  though children are now educated in more modern surroundings at Burley Oak, and Burley & Woodhead Primary schools.

Two prominent Celtic-style crosses in front of the community rooms, renamed the Queen's Hall in 1953, ensure that Fison and Forster's contribution didn't go unnoticed. Greenholme Mills had been part of Burley's landscape by the River Wharfe since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in the 1790s. Coincidentally, that's when the Feast of the Great Pudding, held every seven years when a huge pudding was boiled and served to villagers under a tree, ceased. Maybe mill work lefteveryone too tired to organise it. The tradition is remembered in the Pudding Tree Garden, where the Community Council have planted flowers and replaced the original tree.

Meanwhile, Greenholme Mills are occupied by small businesses which enjoy easy access from the A65. The road speeds traffic past the village but it has also created a barrier to pedestrians and riders, who have to dismount and lead their horses through an unprepossessing 1960s underpass to reach the riverside. But this is a rare blot on Burley, and Bradford Council's conservation assessment describes the village as 'a harmonious mix of grand and simple buildings'.

At the grand end of things, there's the former manor house, Burley Hall, now a BUPA care home, and Burley House, a perfectly proportioned Georgian mansion (the only Grade I listed building in the village) built by landowner and poet Thomas Maude. After a varied life as a restaurant and hotel, it's now the company headquarters of Findel plc.

Along Main Street, a substantial Victorian villa called The Lawn is being converted to affordable housing by Bradford Council while The Grange, built by the founder of Salem Chapel, is up for sale following its recent use for adult education. An unusual glass rotunda known as the Roundhouse is more evidence of the Community Council's role, in this case as leaseholder, enabling this attractive little building next to Grange Park, with its neat flowerbeds and bowling green, to be open for refreshments and meetings hire.

Burley's oldest homes date back to the 1600s, but many more were built in the next two centuries to house the hundreds of workers employed at Fison's mills. Today, the two-storey cottages make desirable residences, as do the former one-up, one-down cottages of Iron Row which must once have rung to the sound of clogs tramping towards the mill.

These days you're more likely to hear the boots of boys and girls from Burley Trojans junior football teams on their way to the sports fields. Last May their 5-a-side competition drew nearly 200 teams, with a remarkable 800 programmes sold and 100 gallons of tea and coffee served. The earlier denizens of Burley would have been utterly astonished by what can be found just a stone's throw away from their modest dwellings: a Michelin-recommended restaurant and a beauty salon; an interiors shop, an Asian restaurant and Chinese takeaway.

They're signs of the times, of course, but also of affluence. Upmarket houses at Scalebor Park have replaced the psychiatric hospital built in 1902 but recently closed as part of care in the community policy, while the old National School has been converted into more housing. Add to the mix a railway station with half-hourly trains to Leeds and Bradford, good schools and a rural location with views of the moors, and it's no wonder that Burley cherishes its independence.

All they really need now is their own flag. It could always feature a Great Pudding.

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