The first mention of Vejle was in 1256, but the town is believed to be older. South of Kirketorvet, buildings have been excavated dating back to 1100 CE. In Denmark, market towns were granted status as royal boroughs in 1327.
From ford to industrial town
‘Vejle’ derives from the old Danish word for ford. The first settlements were built on an islet in the heart of the valley of Vejle Ådal, by the confluence of the rivers of Grejs Å and Vejle Å immediately before the estuary.
The southern side of Vejle, around Søndergade, was the first section to be developed. Later, the town extended to the north. At the time, Vejle was surrounded by watercourses. Namely by two converging rivers, Grejs Å and Vejle Å, in addition to two waterways, Omløbsåen to the west and Mølleåen to the east. To the south, the city was bordered by Sønderåen, and to the north by Midtåen.
The oldest Vejle and its citizens
Originally, the citizens of Vejle were traders and craftsmen. The rivers and the inlet also supported a group of fishermen, and gradually agriculture became an important occupation as the market town expanded to also serve the uplands.
Vejle’s oldest existing building is Sankt Nicolai Church from the mid-thirteenth century, located east of Vejle’s pedestrianised high street that comprises Søndergade, Rådhustorvet, Torvegade and Nørregade. However, excavations in Klostergade indicate that Vejle had an older church situated on the highpoint of town. The church dated back to before the Blackfriars constructed a monastery there around 1310.
Vejle Windmill was constructed in the 1200s and included a more than 700-metre long mill canal, Mølleåen, complete with a water dam situated to the east. Vejle also had another canal, Midtåen. These two canals additionally served as a fortification of Vejle. The street name, Borgvold (i.e. fortress rampart), indicates the location of a royal fortress, Castrum Wæthel, which once stood where today there is a bus station.
During the 1400s, Vejle grew beyond its old border to the north. Houses were erected on the present Nørregade. Midtåen lost its importance as a fortification and eventually narrowed in width from approx. 20 metres to 1-2 metres. During the same century, the royal fortress was decommissioned.
Vejle’s town gatherings were held at Kirketovet, the square next to Saint Nicolai Church. Later, this also became the location of the town council and town hall. Vejle’s first town hall was constructed around 1460 on the corner of the present Kirkegade and Grønnegade, but was raised by fire in 1530. The following year, the king gave the town a dilapidated monastery as a town hall. Since then, two different town halls have been erected in almost the same location by the present Town Hall Square, Rådhustorvet.
A small market town – plague and competition
In the 1500s and into the 1600s, Vejle, like many other market towns, experienced prosperity and growth. Vejle benefited from the rising exports of bullocks and from trade with merchants from Flensburg, Lubeck, etc.
By the mid-1500s, Vejle had about 1,500 inhabitants. In 1584, the plague reduced the town’s population by a third, just as the many wars of the 1600s proved challenging times for Vejle. In 1654, Vejle narrowly lost its market town status in favour of Fredericia.
The competition from the neighbouring towns was considerable, and Vejle fared poorly. Only towards the late 1700s did commerce gain strength. Around 1800, Vejle was still a small and insignificant market town with a rural feeling. The first censuses from 1769 to 1801 show that the population of Vejle grew from 967 to approx. 1,300 townspeople.
Port, railway and development
In 1827, a brand-new port was inaugurated east of the town, which became an important asset in the continued development of Vejle. In 1868, Vejle gained a railway connection with the outside world when it became a station town on the Jutland longitudinal railway line. With the additional establishment of two private railway lines, Vejle-Give in 1894 and Vejle-Vandel in 1897, the town gained greater access to its western upland. During the same period, other utility services were established, such as a gas plant, water supply and telephone.
From market town to industrial town
In 1850, there were approx. 3,300 inhabitants in Vejle, but the town expanded in the latter part of the century so rapidly that at the turn of the century it had approx. 14,600 inhabitants. Vejle could absorb the large population growth over just a few years due to the industrialisation of the town.
Long into the 1800s, hydropower was an important operational power source for industry. Early industrial development therefore occurred outside Vejle close to the rivers of Grejs Å and Vejle Å. Even by the mid-1800s, the largest factories were located outside Vejle, such as Haraldskær Isenkram og Kobberfabrik with 15 employees, Lerbæk Teglværk and Tirsbæk Teglværk with 9 and 20 employees respectively. With 150 employees, Grejs Klædefabrik stood out from the crowd. Within Vejle, there were only 10 companies employing more than six people.
From the mid-1800s, a number of companies were established, of which several expanded to become large enterprises. Vejle was characterised by large industries to a greater extent than other commercial towns, especially within the iron and textile sectors. With companies like P. Jensen & Co. Jernstøberi (1862), C.M. Hess Jernstøberi (1876), Vejle Bolte- og Møtrikfabrik (1899), Vejle Bomuldsspinderi (1892), Vejle Bomuldsvarefabrikker (1896) and Windfeld-Hansens Bomuldsspinderier (1904). These companies represented the two industrial sectors that were to dominate Vejle’s commerce well into this century. Later, these industries had to give way to the food and beverage industry with Tulip and Dandy as leading companies.
In recent decades, the new information and communication industry in particular has come to the fore. This industry is characterised in Vejle by a wide range of small and medium-sized companies.
In the cultural area too, Vejle now boasts a number of institutions. Opening shortly after each other in 1992/93 were Torvehallerne and the Vejle Music Theatre, and in 2010 Spinderihallerne was added – the old cotton mills in Vestbyen that were formerly home to De Danske Bomuldsspinderier, but now lend their space to entrepreneurs and artists, local associations and VejleMuseerne - Kulturmuseet Spinderihallerne. Vejle Art Museum has also been expanded with a new extension in 2006, so there is now room for their extensive collection of Danish art.
Housing and infrastructure
Initially, the need for housing was solved by fill-in construction along existing streets, utilising the backyards and building extra floors on the existing properties. In the 1890s, a new working-class district began to take shape in Vestbyen. South of Vejle, in Mølholm, leading industrialists built their private villas.
In the 1970s-1980s, new neighbourhoods with detached houses advanced both north and south of Vejle. This growth continued up to and after the turn of the millennium. The old medieval town is now completely surrounded by housing, except for the inlet side to the east and a large section of the valley of Vejle Ådal to the west, where areas of natural beauty have been preserved and where the bird life is unique.
Naturally, the growth of Vejle resulted in heavy traffic in the town centre. To alleviate congestion, new streets were constructed, the Mølleåen pipeline was laid in the 1930s, and the Vejle Bridge was opened in 1980.
From the 1990s until today, major renovation of the old town have taken place. The pedestrian area has a new look, public squares and fountains have been added, and sections of the pipelined Mølleåen canal along Dæmningen has been exposed.
Social Democratic Town
Politically, for most of the twentieth century, Vejle has been a stronghold of the workers’ movement and Social Democrats. Social Democrat Christian Jacobsen became Vejle’s first elected mayor in 1919, and he was succeeded by four Social Democrats as mayors, among whom Willy Sørensen was the most prominent. He was mayor from 1946 until his death in 1978. Social Democrat Karl Johan Mortensen succeeded him as mayor.
The Social Democratic monopoly on the mayor’s post was broken in 1994, when a political coalition between Venstre, Konservative, Radikale Venstre and Socialistisk Folkeparti (SF) gave the mayor’s post to SF’s Flemming Christensen, who remained the Major of Vejle until the municipal reform of 2007, when he was succeeded by Social Democrat Leif Skov. The result of the subsequent municipal election was that Vejle gained its first Venstre mayor, namely Arne Sigtenbjerggaard. Since 1 March 2017, Vejle’s mayor has been Venstre politician, Jens Ejner Christensen.
Municipal reform and population
Following the municipal reform of 2007, Vejle was merged with the surrounding municipalities of Børkop, Egtved, Give, Jelling and the village of Grejs. Vejle Municipality today has approx. 115,000 inhabitants. In Vejle itself there are approx. 57,000 inhabitants.