Howden, a manor of the Bishop of Durham, was a thriving town in medieval times. The imposing Minster, the fine Bishops Palace, now restored and used as a training centre by the international news agency The Press Association, and a grammar school testified to its importance. King John granted the right to hold a market and fairs.
The ecclesiastical importance of the town diminished during the Reformation and parts of the church later collapsed. Howden became a typical East Yorkshire market town, with visits from London merchants to the annual fair.
The annual fair became a specialist horse fair where, every September, buyers came from all over Europe to buy horses for their armies. In Georgian times, the fair was quoted in The Sporting Magazine in 1807 as being the "largest fair for horses in the Kingdom". It is estimated that up to 4,000 horses were displayed for sale every day of the fair and that the total worth of this kind of sale was £200,000.
A river crossing at Booth Ferry made Howden a popular stagecoach route and several of the present public houses were built as coaching inns.
Much of the charm of Howden comes from the Georgian and town houses built by professional men and tradesmen. The Victorian period also contributed to Howden’s architectural heritage. One notable piece of architecture from this period is the Catholic Church of the Sacred Heart located at the junction of Knedlington Road and Buttfield Road. It is one of the early works of the distinguished architect, Joseph Aluysius Hansom, who later became famous for designing the Hansom Cab.
Growth of the new dock town of Goole from the 1820s onwards took business from Howden and the new railway opened in 1840 passed a mile north of the town, although the Hull and Barnsley railway - now dismantled - was later built closer to the town.
Howden was known in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries as a centre for market gardening and grapes - which were exported to the continent - and later tomatoes were produced in large quantities.
Howden was a centre for the giant airships which briefly seemed to offer the future for air travel. The airship R100, designed by Sir Barnes Wallis, was built just to the north of the town, near Spaldington. For five years there was plenty of work, but after the airship flew to Cardington in 1929 the airship station was closed.
In part due to its proximity to the M62 motorway, Howden in recent times has become a highly desirable place to live and work and its population is once again rising. In late 2003 The Press Association relocated its national Operations Centre on the site of the old police station, creating hundreds of jobs in the town. Initially, many were transferred from Leeds and London, but the company is increasingly offering opportunities to local people, including schoolleavers.
Other major employers include online retailer Ebuyer.com, who recently relocated their headquarters from Sheffield to Howden, and Wren Kitchens. Howden Joinery, the national company, also continue to manufacture kitchens at the former MFI factory.
For more about local history, or for specialist enquiries, contact Susan Butler at http://www.howdenshirehistory.co.uk/