EMPHASIS ON INDUSTRY
KNOTTINGLEY AND THE WEST RIDING
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.
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.
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
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
HOW INDUSTRY BEGAN
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
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
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.
THE FACTORIES TODAY
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.
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.
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
(right) Advertisement circa. 1950
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.
THE INLAND FLEET
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
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.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
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.
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.
AROUND TOWN | EARLY
HISTORY | WEST RIDING