From Ford to Industrial Town

“Wæthlæ” and “Wæthelæ” are older versions of the name Vejle and mean ford.
This became the name of the settlement that was established on an islet at the bottom of the valley of Vejle Ådal where the small river of Grejs Å converges with Vejle before the latter runs into Vejle Fjord.

Vejle is mentioned for the first time in 1256, and King Valdemar III granted the oldest known municipal charter, on 16 August 1327 in Nyborg. But Vejle is, of course, older than this.
The southern part of the islet around Søndergade was developed first, and later the town spread to the north. Vejle was completely surrounded by rivers: the two branches of Grejs Å with Omløbsåen to the west and Mølleåen to the east. Sønderåen and Midtåen formed the southern and northern borders, respectively.

Traffic junction

The first citizens of Vejle were probably traders and artisans who made a living at the crossroads of the ford. A group of fishermen lived from catching fish in the small rivers and the fjord.
As the town grew, it was able, to an ever-increasing degree, to extend its services to the surrounding area. Agriculture also became important for the citizens of the market town.

Today, the oldest building in Vejle is the Church of St. Nicolai, which dates back to the middle of the 13th century. It is situated east of the main streets of the town: Søndergade, Rådhustorvet, Torvegade and Nørregade. However, excavations in Klostergade indicate that Vejle had an earlier church, located at the highest point of the town where the Dominicans built a monastery in circa 1310.

The construction of the mill, Vejle Mølle, and a canal, - Mølleåen - more than 700 metres long with a dam to the east, as well as the deepening of the small river of Midtåen, would have required such resources that the King was probably responsible for the impressive construction work. The establishment of the two canals was also for defensive purposes The King’s castle, Castrum Wæthel, was situated at the place near the bus station, which is still called “Borgvold” (Castle Ramparts).


In the 15th century, the town grew beyond its old northern border, and houses were built in what is now Nørregade. Midtåen ceased to play a defensive role, and its width was gradually reduced from about 20 metres to one-two metres. It was in this period that the King’s castle was demolished.

Village meetings were held in the church square near the Church of St. Nicolai, and later the Town Court and the Town Hall were situated here. Around 1460, Vejle’s first town hall was built on the corner of what are now Kirkegade and Grønnegade, but the town hall burnt down in 1530. One year later, King Frederik I converted the derelict monastery into a town hall. Since then, a further two town halls have been constructed in almost the same place beside the present Rådhustorv.


The small market town

During the 16th century, and also much of the 17th century, Vejle, like many other market towns in Denmark, witnessed improved standards of living and growth. Vejle had a significant export of oxen and traded with merchants in, for example, Flensburg and Lübeck. In the middle of the 16th century, Vejle had a population of about 1.500, but the plague in 1584 reduced this figure by one third, and even by 1627 the population of the town had not reached its size prior to the plague. The 17th century was a hard time for Vejle because of the many wars, and in 1654 Vejle only just avoided losing its municipal charter to Fredericia. In 1682, Vejle and 25 other market towns had to forego their right to appoint mayors and each had to make do with a town recorder.

The 18th century was also hard on the citizens of Vejle. The Dano-Swedish Wars dealt a serious blow to the town. Competition from neighbouring towns was keen, and Vejle fared badly. Et was not until the end of the 18th century that developments started again. In 1800, Vejle was still a small and unimportant rural market town, and even as late as 1801, 40 per cent of the town’s properties had both stables and barn buildings.  From the first census in 1769 until 1801, the population had grown from 967 to approx. 1.300 people.

The agricultural reforms carried out in the latter half of the 18th century and the improved trading conditions for agriculture that followed were of great significance. Vejle’s traders saw increased business over a wider area, and then in 1796 Vejle was appointed county town in the newly established County of Vejle. When farmers were in Vejle with matters to settle with the authorities, it was natural for them to make their purchases at the same time.

 Far into the 19th century, waterpower was an important energy source for powering the machines. Therefore, early industrial development took place outside the town near Grejs Å and Vejle Å, two small but fast-flowing rivers.

In the middle of the 19th century, the large factories were still situated outside the town, for example Haraldskær Isenkram- og Kobberfabrik, a hardware and copper factory with a workforce of 15, and Lerbæk Teglværk and Tirsbæk Teglværk, two tiles works with 9 and 20 employees, respectively. Grejs Klædefabrik, a cloth mill, stood out from all the others with its 150 employees.
In Vejle itself, there were only ten companies that had more than six employees, and Vejle’s first industrial chimney was built as late as 1862, when P. Jensen established his iron foundry in Vestergade.

 The inadequate harbour facilities at Sønderbro had hampered the development of trade for a long time because even very small ships had to anchor out in the fjord and have their goods transported to the shore in small, flat-bottomed boats.
In 1824, the town sought to solve this problem with the building of at new harbour to the east.

The harbour was already being used in 1826, but the official inauguration did not take place until the following year. The harbour provided good conditions for the continued development of Vejle’s trade and industry.  In 1857, telegraph services improved communications with the outside world, as did the railway connection and the building of Vejle station in 1868, linking the town to the northern and southern parts of Jutland. In 1894 and 1897, two private railways were built, Vejle-Give and Vejle-Vandel respectively, which opened up transport with western Jutland. Other services were also established in this period such as, for example, the gas works in 1859, the water supply from Grejsdalen in 1867, the telephone services in 1885, etc.

The industrial town of Vejle

In 1850 the population of Vejle was approx. 3.300 but in the decades that followed the increase in the population was so rapid that by the turn of the century the number had grown to 14.600. Vejle was able to absorb this growth because of its smooth transition from being a town of traders and artisans to being a characteristic industrial town.
 From the middle of the 19th century, many companies were established, a number of which grew into major industrial enterprises. Vejle, as opposed to many other market towns, became well known for its large-scale industry
    Metal works such as P. Jensen & Co. Jernstøberi (1862), C.M. Hess Jernstøberi (1876), and Vejle Bolte- og Møtrikfabrik (1899) and cloth works such as Vejle Bomuldsspinderi (1892), Vejle Bomuldsvarefabrikker (1896) and Windfeld-Hansens Bomuldsspinderier (1904) formed the basis of the two industrial sectors that would come to dominate trade and industry in Vejle right into the 20th century. Subsequently, these two sectors  have had to surrender their leading position to the food industry, with Tulip and Dandy as the leading companies. However, in recent decades there has been a significant increase in the number of information and communications companies. In Vejle, this line of business is characterised by a great variety of small and medium-sized companies and one very large company, JDC-data.

The rapid growth in the population led to serious housing problems and the need to extend the town boundaries. New areas were established to meet the need for more housing. To begin with, more houses were provided by converting half-empty streets into built-up areas, by utilising backyards and by building additional floors on existing properties. In the 1890s, a new working-class area appeared in the western part of town.

The workers settled in multi-storey houses in Vestbyen whereas a residential area, mostly with villas, was established in the parish of Vinding. In Mølholm, between Fredericiavej and the fjord, leading businessmen built their houses. Mølholm was not officially included in the Municipality of Vejle until 1970. In the 1970s and 1980s, residential areas mushroomed to both the north and south of Vejle and this almost explosive growth also meant, of course, much more traffic in the town centre. To relieve traffic congestion new streets have, from
early on, continually been built, and from 1932 to 1938 Mølleåen were covered over. The new thoroughfare was named Dæmningen in memory of the old milldam. The bridge across Vejle Fjord was opened in 1980.

 Politically, Vejle has been one of the strongholds of trade unions and the Social Democratic Party since the turn of the century. The first mayor to be elected in Vejle was a Social Democrat named Chr. Jacobsen who became mayor in 1919, and four Social Democratic mayors followed him. Of these Willy Sørensen was the most prominent. He was mayor from 1946 until his death in 1978. 

The monopoly held by the Social Democrats was broken in 1994 when, through a political cooperation between the Liberal Party, the Conservative Party and the Socialist People’s Party, Flemming Christensen, of the Socialist People’s Party, was elected as mayor