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Knottingley and Ferrybridge Local History



Reproduced from the Official Guide to Knottingley
by Knottingley Urban District Council circa. 1950

The most obvious association of the town with the economy of the surrounding country is the Aire and Calder Navigation System, now nationalised along with all other water transport systems.  By means of this network of rivers and canals, Knottingley serves the district in two ways.  Together with Ferrybridge it is partly a redistributing and storage centre for a variety of raw materials (such as lime) and produce (foodstuffs).  Secondly, as a manufacturing area which supplies finished, semi-processed and machine equipment to other regions by rail and road in addition to canal.

Considering the industrial nature of the West Riding, a surprising percentage of the total goods carried by barge are foodstuffs which vary from vegetable oils and tea, to potatoes, flour and cereals.  The reason for this are the excellent canal networks in the Vale of York and the relative cheapness of water traffic.  Over 50% of the wheat used at the Mills in Knottingley is brought by barge direct to the factory.

It is an interesting example of the part Knottingley's industries play, that the aforementioned barges are possibly built by a Knottingley firm.  Not only do these barges, which are constructed in the local shipyards, act as a link between Knottingley and other industrial centres in the north east, but they are operated on numerous other Navigation Systems.

Partly through the rivers and canals and also by rail and road, Knottingley's factories act as feeders to numerous other industries. Several firms produce a variety of alloy castings in addition to transmission, ball and flexible roller bearing equipment and chemicals which are used, for example, by textile mills in the wool towns of the north west such as Huddersfield, Bradford and Leeds.  The canals return once more into the picture as a considerable amount of these textiles are transported by barge to Hull and Goole for export.

Other nearby industries which use equipment supplied by Knottingley are Chemical Traders, Shipbuilders and Collieries.  The latter lie in a great coal seam due south. In their turn these collieries and the steel mills of Sheffield supply the materials for Knottingley's factories, again much of it by water, this time the Sheffield and South Yorkshire Canal.

Of equal importance to the area is the glass industry, for every firm which manufactures a liquid, whether it is beer, mineral water, dry cleaner or a face cream, needs some kind of container. The most attractive and convenient form is glass which Knottingley produces in abundance and supplies to a thousand firms.  Another type of container mentioned more for it's interest (for the products are complete in themselves) than it's importance to the West Riding, is the pottery which began in 1792.  Transport has been stressed and it is worth noting that Knottingley possesses tar Distilling and Oil refining plants whose importance to all types of traffic is obvious both as a fuel and a road dressing.

The lime quarries of Knottingley are useful to the districts agriculture as when land on the hill farms is first broken up something between six and nine tons of lime per acre is applied.  On the lighter side, and no doubt to the children of the West Riding of equal importance, is the towns sweet factory where liquorice allsorts are produced, which are as widely distributed through the region as the towns other products.


Until 1699, the use of the Rivers Aire and Calder as a means of transport was spasmodic and limited to a craft of very small tonnage. In that year however, the Commons passed an Act whereby an undertaking was to be responsible for making the rivers navigable, and to that end were granted wide powers of purchase and demolition.  A noteworthy exception was the Mill at Knottingley and a special clause was inserted which gave any barge loaded solely with lime from the town, the right of free passage through locks and dams erected by the Undertaking.

The first buildings arose here because the river was fordable and in consequence the settlement acquired some strategic importance. Even while the district was purely agricultural the river was sometimes used for transport and it is not surprising that, when the neighbourhood disclosed supplies of pottery, clay and lime, the establishment of industry followed. During the centuries which succeeded the Act, the Undertaking was very careful to thwart the efforts of any rival concern in obtaining charters from the government while simultaneously carrying out extensions themselves.

Again, because of the river, there have been mills here since the days of the Normans.  More recently King James, who gave his title to the present building, sent a stiff reminder to his subjects in 1624 that they were to grind their corn only at his mills.

Examples of ancient pottery have been found at Ferrybridge, most appropriately since their makers were forerunners of the Potteries which were established there in 1792.  Samples of this pottery are now rare and bear the mark 'Ferrybridge' with the 'd' reversed. Further indication is given of the early date at which some of the towns industries were established by the fact that John Harker Ltd., was formed in 1891 mainly in order to carry pitch from the local Tar Distillers to the ports of Hull and Goole by barge.  The same firm later established a shipyard where both barges and sea going craft have been built.

The local glass industry was established by two cousins, John and William Bagley in 1871. This is the largest and most characteristic of Knottingley's industries.  Until the end of the century the glass was melted in Fireclay pots and the bottles made entirely by hand.  The local postmaster, together with an engineer, invented a machine for this purpose and the firm installed a number of them which were worked for a considerable time.  several other bottle making firms were soon established, some of whom concentrated on hand made products.  Most of the other information about the growth of industry is hardly history and is dealt with in the next section.  A number of light engineering and chemical firms were founded after the turn of the century and between the wars, while after the recent war there have been such innovations as electric blankets and plastic industries.


For nearly five thousand years the human race has made use of glass and during those centuries have invariably regarded it as fragile and limited in it's application.  Today, scientists have evolved types of glass that are unbreakable, more resilient than rubber or that will float like cork.  Until fairly recently, glass as household ware, was also looked upon as being reserved for the rich.  Whereas nowadays it is the most common of all containers, and it is factories such as those at Knottingley which, by producing glass in bulk, have made that possible.

Of these glass firms, the largest is Bagley & Co. Ltd. who specialize in the manufacture of machine made bottles of all descriptions. Their origin has already been mentioned and the fact that they were quick to adopt automatic methods, indeed they were one of the first firms in the country to introduce the Owens machine.  In 1913 an associate firm (The Crystal Glass Co.) was formed to produce different classes of containers.  After the first world war a further change was made when it was decided that the new company should produce a variety of household glassware.  At first these followed the conventional cut glass forms, but a new design and technique for moulded glass rapidly developed. Gradually, this branch of the firm increased and domestic glassware is now made in a great variety of pastel shades.  The King and Queen visited the factory on the 21st October 1937.  The number of work people now employed exceeds 830 and they are engaged in producing articles such as bottles, lampshades, vases, clock stands, dishes, ashtrays, jugs etc..

There are several reasons why the industry should predominate in the town and a large percentage of the population are employed in the glass and ancillary trades.

Country Hardware - Wholesale and Retail Ironmongers E B Marris Automobile Engineers, Fourways Garage Ferrybridge

Two advertisements taken from the 
Official Guide to Knottingley, circa. 1950

In a simailar way to the previous firm, Jackson Bros. (of Knottingley) Ltd., founded in 1894, began by making containers for jam, pickles, sauce and confectionery.  During 55 years the staff employed has grown from 20 to over 500 people.  A third firm Gregg & Co. (Knottingley) Ltd., employs 180 people and makes white bottles chiefly for sauce and medicine.

The light engineering industry of the town is closely connected with the glass trade as it supplies a fair percentage of the mould castings which the latter needs.  Armytage Bros (Knottingley) Ltd., not only make such moulds but also manufacture automatic vacuum bottle making machines.  These and a variety of other plant and equipment for both mechanical and civil engineering purposes, are exported to many parts of the world.

The majority of the foundries are fairly small as is the case with W. Lightowler & Sons, who employ between 50 and 60 people.  The output of castings from this firm, which is about 1000 tons a year, is some indication of the towns total contribution.  Like Shaw Bros (Iron-founders) Ltd., who, with 39 men, average 40 tons of castings every week, they also produce machine tool castings and power transmission equipment.  The latter firm was founded in 1909 by two brothers, Mr. G. W. and Mr. P. Shaw.  In 1946 it was formed into a limited company and a new foundry building was erected, 200 feet long by 46 feet wide.

The inevitable heat resisting castings are the mainstay of yet another firm, Tranmer & Jagger Ltd. who employ 30 men and serve a wider variety of trades. These range from chemical works, textile mills, shipbuilders and collieries in addition to castings for leather machinery and conveying machinery.

(right) Advertisement circa. 1950
Whitehouse Industries Ferrybridge Yorkshire

To introduce the plastics industry in Knottingley a home of glass smacks of heresy, yet since the war Whitehouse Industries Ltd., have established two factories at Ferrybridge.  That which goes under the name of Whitehouse specializes in injection mouldings and fountain pen cases, in either plastic or metal.  One of their most useful contributions is a self locking nut which is used in the Aircraft and Motor Industries.  The second factory is known as Pollard Bearings Ltd., who turn out ball and flexible roller bearing transmission equipment and a variety of bearings.


Knottingley is scarcely the place where one would expect to find a thriving shipyard, for one is inclined to forget that the inland navigation system of England can accommodate vessels of considerable tonnage.  Yet the yards of John Harker Ltd., which employ about 140 men, have built approximately 200 vessels since 1929, which range from small barges of 60 tons capacity up to coasters of 450 tons deadweight, both classes being propelled by diesel engines.  As one of the firms main interests lies in operating barges and coasters in the Aire, Mersey and the Severn Districts, the majority of the yards output and facilities for repair are absorbed by the Lyon & Lyon group of which John Harker is a part.

One of the first coastal motor tankers built, made a voyage under her own steam to the Canadian Lakes where she is still trading, and during the war, numerous vessels of tanker type were constructed for the admiralty, War Department and Ministry of Aircraft Production.  The prefabricated system of building which gained favour in shipping circles during the war, has now been adopted for tank barges, while electric welding is used on a considerable scale.

The company now operates a modern fleet of about 80 tank barges and employs 200 barge personnel.  Initially in the days of Mr J. Harker, four barges were used to carry pitch.  After some expansion the concern was purchased by Stainsby & Lyon in 1918.  During the coal strike of 1921, the Company made a considerable advance when fuel oil was first carried in barges fitted with tanks.  Similarly, petrol was soon carried in bulk from the ocean installations near Hull to inland depots at Leeds, Sheffield and Nottingham.

In industry today, emphasis is laid upon making goods which can be exported to hard currency areas and equally important upon manufacturing goods or substitutes which would have cost dollars if bought overseas.

The Aire Tar Works of Yorkshire Tar Distillers Ltd. situated between the Goole road and the Bank Dole Cut, comes in both categories for considerable attention has been given to developing a tar fuel oil service for home consumers.  Since it was established in the last century, it has been extensively modernised and incorporates continuous distillation plants and a benzole refining plant.  Some indication of the products turned out by this firm is given in their war time record.  Among the most important contributions to the national effort were large quantities of benzole, tar fuel oils, toluole and by-products which when refined are used in the manufacture of plastics and medicine.

On the south side of Goole road an associated company, Synthetic Chemicals Ltd. is installing plant for the manufacture of additional refined products.  A recent development at Ferrybridge has been the acquisition by T. H. Newsome & Co. Ltd. of a site for the erection of an oil refinery.


The food industry in Knottingley is represented by flour mills and a confectionery factory. The former Kings Mills (Knottingley) Ltd. who gained their name because at one time they were Royal property, still retain the ancient waterwheel and millstone which can be used to this day.

The cereal which is ground by modern machinery comes from all wheat growing areas of the world and much of it is carried by ship and barge the entire distance to the mills, where it is swallowed by the great elevators and stored in bins before being washed and cleansed in preparation for the milling process. All types of flour are manufactured and those such as Semolina and self-raising flour are packed automatically under hygienic conditions into 3lb and 1lb containers. Apart from flour milling the farmers of the district are directly assisted as their own grain may be ground to supply livestock feed.

Kings Mills Flour and Provender Millers Knottingley

The second industry, Robinson and Wordsworth (1925) Ltd., is fairly old established and manufactures liquorice confectionery, a proportion of which is allocated to the export trade.  Under normal conditions the factory, which is a model one, has an output of four to five million liquorice sticks every week. The architecture of the factory (built in 1938) is an example of how pleasant industrial surroundings can be with careful planning, for it stands in 12 acres of grounds and is fronted by spacious lawns and flower beds.



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