Knottingley and Ferrybridge Online West Yorkshire
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Also by Terry Spencer

The following studies by Terry Spencer are now available on the Knottingley website:

By the last quarter of the nineteenth century the August Bank Holiday period at Knottingley abounded in fun and frolic with the Feast as the hub of the festivities. The fair was supplemented by community sports and of the sporting element within the town none was more prominent than Knottingley Town Cricket Club.

Situated on the southern bank of the River Aire, to the north side of Aire Street, lies Knottingley Flatts. Today, the Flatts occupy only a small portion of the original layout which comprised the greater part of Knottingley Ings.

The modern image of the fair is one of outdoor entertainment for pleasure seeking people but such a concept is one which has developed over the last two centuries being born as a result of the Industrial Revolution.

Prior to the establishment of the National Health Service in 1948 local people relied for health care in the event of sickness or serious injury upon charitable institutions such as Pontefract Dispensary and Leeds Infirmary.

The application by Knottingley Urban District Council for a grant of arms was made to the College of Arms, London, in mid 1942.

That there was a glassworks at Ferrybridge is indisputable for it was both documented and photographed. That it was situated on the north bank of the River Aire "..where the Parish of Brotherton merges into the Parish of Ferrybridge" is confirmed by map reference. The doubt lies not in the existence or location of the furnace but with its origin.

The township of Knottingley, situated three miles north-east of Pontefract in the Wapentake of Osgoldcross, developed from a 6th century Saxon settlement in a forest clearing on the south bank of the river Aire. By the time of the Norman Conquest of 1066 the settlement had acquired the status of a manorial vill

As the process of industrialisation and urban development gained pace in the second half of the nineteenth century the provision of public spaces such as municipal gardens and parks for the purpose of public recreation and amenity became increasingly desirable.

Percy Bentley, scion of a prominent Knottingley family, was born in that town on the 18th January 1891, the son of James William and Helena Bentley, and was baptised in the parish church of St. Botolph on the 11th February.

On Wednesday, 25th September 1918, a committee previously sanctioned by Knottingley Urban District Council in meeting assembled, met in the Council Chamber at Knottingley Town Hall to consider the form of memorial to the men who had fallen during the Great War.

No less than the citizens of its larger neighbour, the inhabitants of the village of Ferrybridge decided to honour those drawn from the community and slain in the Great War.

For approximately a decade from the mid 1940's the 'K' Sisters, Marjorie and Pamela Kellett, were prominent throughout the town and district of Knottingley as all-round entertainers who harnessed their talent to providing public enjoyment and in so doing raised large amounts of money for local charities.

The new cinema, one of the earliest purpose-built picture houses in the country, was situated on an oblique strip of land some 560 square yards in extent, adjacent to Ship Lane at the junction with lower Aire Street. The hall was designed to seat 600 people: 500 in the area and 100 in the balcony.

In 1752, eighteen residents of the township of Knottingley in company with John Mitchell, the Parish Constable, agreed to be bound over in the sum of £10 each to observe the legal and moral obligations attendant upon being granted a licence as an innkeeper.

In the Spring of 1994, the recently deceased and much lamented Edwin Beckett arranged for the installation of a clock at the top of the Town Hall turret. The event was celebrated in verse by Mrs Joyce Bell who concluded her eulogy by stating that her mother, Dolly Lightowler, had always wished to see a clock set in the "bare face" of the Town Hall - a wish which had now come true.

Awareness of a link between my native Knottingley and the Prince's statue came quite recently when Mrs Shirley Bedford of Knottingley informed me that her great grandfather was the master of a barge which had transported the statue from Hull to Leeds in 1903.

It was in the course of a recent conversation with Roger Ellis that the subject of nicknames arose, following which, in an idle half-hour, I casually began to compile a list of those I recalled. My list quickly exceeded fifty in number and I was seized by a natural desire to list as many more as I could obtain.

The origin of Knottingley Band is obscure. In 1980 the Band celebrated its conjectured centenary year, the date being taken from an old letterhead of 1880.  However, a subsequent documentary source has been located which indicates that the genesis of the Band may lie much further in the past.

The burgeoning spirit of civic pride found practical expression on 29th October 1864, when a group of prominent citizens of the town formed the Knottingley Town Hall & Mechanics’ Institute Company Limited.

The purpose of this study is to consider the topography of modern day Knottingley and formulate a theoretical model concerning the development of the settlement during the medieval and post medieval eras as reflected in the field systems adopted.

An A-Z listing of Knottingley field and place names.

One of the most impressive and graceful houses ever built at Knottingley was Lime Grove. The large attached house was the residence of the Carter family and was built to the orders of Mark Carter at Mill Close, Hill Top, about 1808.

Conflict is fuelled by finance so it is unsurprising that following the outbreak of war in 1939, local savings committees were established to encourage people to curb personal expenditure and invest surplus cash in the National War Savings Scheme in order to assist the cost of the war.

The township of Knottingley became a semi-autonomous parish in 1789 following the ecclesiastical reorganisation of that period but remaining under the patronage of the Vicar of Pontefract until it became an independent parish in 1846

Knottingley and Ferrybridge Local History




Revised and re-written, January 1998
from the original version of May, 1991

Dedicated to Peter Bramley (1931-1988)
"Who through our conversations renewed my dormant interest in the subject"


That there was a glassworks at Ferrybridge is indisputable for it was both documented and photographed. That it was situated on the north bank of the River Aire

"..where the Parish of Brotherton merges into the Parish of Ferrybridge" (1)

is confirmed by map reference. The doubt lies not in the existence or location of the furnace but with its origin.

The design and location of the furnace suggest that the glassworks may have existed on the site as early as the last quarter of the seventeenth century for there is documentary reference to a Ferrybridge works from that period although such evidence is both obscure and confusing and orthodox opinion is that the glassworks were established at Ferrybridge circa 1840.

The purpose of this study is to ascertain the facts concerning the origin and development of the Ferrybridge Glassworks by tracing the outline of the historical development of the glass industry in England and its implications for assuming the establishment of an ‘early day’ furnace at Ferrybridge. 

Consideration is given to the nature and context of the documentary sources which appear to support such an assumption and the study concludes with an examination of documentation from nineteenth and twentieth century sources to prove or disprove the hypothesis.


Photographs reveal two cone glass furnaces at Ferrybridge of a type commonly constructed in Britain over a period of a century and a half from the mid point of the seventeenth century. The characteristic British design comprised a brick-built cone, which served the dual function of glass furnace and integral workshop. The cones were generally some 50-60 feet in height, tapering towards the top which was open to allow an upward draught to fan the furnace and carry off the smoke. The base of the cone was about 50 feet in diameter (2)

Throughout the period several furnaces were built on sites within the West Riding of Yorkshire. Cones are known to have existed at Silkstone, Bolderstone and Haughton in the late seventeenth century and others were constructed at Gawber (1720), Rothwell Haigh (1726), Leeds (1738), Catcliffe (1740), Wisby Moor and Masbro (1751), York (1784) and Hunslet (1804). (3)

Cone glass furnaces were always erected at rural locations where the arcadian surroundings provided a plentiful supply of wood to fuel the furnace while ensuring a degree of isolation, thus ensuring the preservation of the ‘mysteries’ which formed the basis of control of the craft and ensured the socio-economic status of the artisan glassmakers. The latter element was naturally of great importance to the artisan craftsmen and although suffering gradual diminishment following the advent of the Industrial Revolution was nevertheless an important element in the development of the glass industry throughout the nineteenth century. Indeed, artisan control of the craft was to prevail until the adoption of the modern automatic machine early in the twentieth century rendered the manual production process obsolete.

The underlying basis of the early industrial development of glassmaking in England had its origin in the persecution of the Huguenots in France during the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century. As a result of this persecution the glassmakers of Flanders and Lorraine sought refuge in England.(4)

The Protestant refugees first plied their trade in the Wealden area of Southern England. By 1615 the prodigious use of timber for iron and glass furnaces had caused the depletion of the surrounding woodland, endangering national defence by denuding the shipyards of their essential natural resource. As a result a proclamation was issued ordering the prohibition of wood as a furnace fuel. (5) As the prohibition had only regional application families of glassmakers migrated to the West Midlands where a new centre of the industry was established in the Stourbridge district. (6) From this base various glassmakers eventually commenced on a further series of internal migrations to other regions of England.(7) Thus, by the mid seventeenth century refugee families previously associated with Stourbridge, such as Plimy, de Henzy (Henzall), Fenney, Tyzack and Tottery, were active in parts of South and West Yorkshire. (8)

The expansion of the English glass industry was paralleled by the rise of capitalist enterprise commencing with the monopolistic control of the trade by noblemen such as Lord Mansell and thereafter by the financial participation of the minor nobility and gentry.(9)

Following the French example the system applied in England from the mid seventeenth century was for a wealthy landowner to provide a suitable location on his estate, finance the construction of the cone furnace and outbuildings and also the operational capital and materials used in production. Such materials as sand and lime, together with straw and osier wands used for packing the finished wares were often obtained from within the confines of the estate whilst the capitalist entrepreneur also assumed responsibility for the sale and despatch of the goods. (10) Frequently the artisan glassmaker paid either no rent or at worst a token sum under the conditions of a short-term agreement, usually fixed for a period of between three and seven years duration. Thus, in terms of capital requirement and restrictive movement such contacts imposed minimal constraint upon the artisan whose principal contribution to the partnership was his skill. (11) One need not look askance at the formation of partnerships so favourable to the glassmaker for the skills he possessed had been jealously guarded over many generations of familial association with the craft, thus ensuring a high degree of craft exclusivity which placed the skill of the glassmaker at a premium. (12) The extent to which such exclusivity served to engender social status is clearly seen by reference to earlier generations of the fraternity. In Venice, glassmakers were ranked with all but the very highest aristocracy, while in France they were referred to as ‘gentlehommes verriers’ and their social standing confirmed by their right to wear swords. (13) The emergence of the contract system allied to the rise of capitalism resulted in some diminution of social status by the nineteenth century but was nevertheless sufficiently favourable to ensure the respect of the English gentry for the itinerant artisans of the pre-industrial era.(14)

In the context of the newly sprung combination of capital and labour and its possible application to the founding of a glassworks at Ferrybridge one must consider the factors in relation to the location of Brotherton Marsh end.

The most obvious connection is the Ramsdens of nearby Byram Hall, a wealthy family who owned land in the vicinity and further afield. (15) Quite apart from capital, the Ramsden estate at Byram could meet all the demands of materials and space required for the establishment of a rural glassworks. (16) The siting of a furnace in the semi-isolation of the Marsh end and yet adjacent to the river ensured a high degree of privacy while enabling full utilisation of the established waterborne trade in an era when poor conditions on overland routes (even as important as the adjacent Great Northern Road) made the despatch of goods by road twenty times more expensive than carriage by water.(17)

Given the existent conditions one may reasonably envisage a situation in which a group of artisan glassmakers, perhaps en route from the West Midlands to the North of England, were persuaded to deviate from their proposed course and practise their craft at Ferrybridge under the protection and patronage of the local landowner, resulting in the establishment of the glasworks there in the late seventeenth century.


In 1696, John Houghton stated that there were three glasshouses in existence in Yorkshire; "…two near Silkstone and one near Ferrybridge." (18)

It has become commonly accepted that the glasshouse "near Ferrybridge" was once standing at Houghton (later Glasshoughton) and that the reference to Ferrybridge was for ease of geographical identity, the latter village being an important posting stage on the London-Edinburgh route and therefore an ideal location for business communication.(19) The prefix ‘glass’ is an undoubted indication of the manufacture of that material at Houghton, a fact confirmed by other documentary sources dating from the late seventeenth century.(20) The absence of official records, business papers or even incidental references in newspapers and correspondence concerning the Ferrybridge works has served to reinforce the supposition that the glasshouse to which John Houghton referred was not actually located at Ferrybridge. Nevertheless, an element of doubt has always remained. Francis Buckley, an eminent historian of the early glass industry, whilst acknowledging the existence of the Glasshoughton furnace, implies that it was additional to that situated at Ferrybridge.(21) Likewise, Hodkin, who states specifically that a glasshouse existed at Ferrybridge in 1696, with another one at nearby Glasshoughton.(22) The issue is further confused by Butterworth who having traced the historical development of the Glasshoughton site, concludes his account by ascribing facts concerning its utilisation at a much later date which are undoubtedly applicable to the Ferrybridge works.(23) A further area of confusion concerns the very site of the Ferrybridge glassworks. Researchers unfamiliar with the neighbourhood have at times referred to Brotherton Glassworks, regarding such as being additional to those at Ferrybridge.(24)

Clearly then, the documentary references to a glassworks at Ferrybridge in the pre-industrial era while providing an indication of the possible existence of an ‘early-day’ glass furnace are of a confused and inconclusive nature. However, if the putative date of circa 1840 is accepted for the establishment of a glassworks at Ferrybridge several questions arise. Why, for instance, did the new works employ an outdated architectural design? It is not without significance that by 1840 almost all the cone glass furnaces (with the exception of Catcliffe) had long ceased production. By that date the development of the Yorkshire coalfield, allied to improvements in transport, had resulted in the relocation of the County’s glass industry. The early decades of the nineteenth century had seen the establishment of glassworks in the emergent urban areas close to the coalfield where the development of road and rail networks was augmented by a plentiful supply of cheap labour and growing markets based on urban consumerism.(25) An important consequence of the industrial relocation was a change in the architectural design of glasshouses. Furnaces in urban locations were housed in rectangular buildings which had frequently been constructed to serve some previous industrial purpose and had for reasons of economic adaptability replaced the purpose-built cone furnaces.(26) The draught for the furnaces was provided by a chimney which enabled higher temperatures to be obtained and therefore reduced the time required to melt the batch as well as permitting larger quantities of metal to be prepared in the large rectangular ‘day’ tanks which had replaced the crucible ‘pots’ associated with the older technology of the cone furnace.(27) The economic advantage afforded by the new system is obvious and indicates the folly of constructing cone furnaces at such a late stage in the development of the Yorkshire glass container industry. The introduction of the regenerative (i.e. continuously charged) tank furnaces from the 1860’s widened the economic disparity for unlike the cone furnaces the urban glassworks were easily adapted to the new technology.(28) Consequently, before the middle of the nineteenth century the cone furnace, in terms of location and general economic viabilty had become semi-obsolete in the Yorkshire district. The fact is underlined by reference to the number of operational glassworks in the County which rose from seven in 1784 to eighteen by 1833, no new cone furnaces (other than Ferrybridge) being built after the turn of the century.(29) While it is true that the cone furnaces at Catcliffe and Ferrybridge retained their productive function alongside the urban glassworks this was largely due to their proximity to the coalfield and good lines of communication. (30) However, both sites were minor centres of production by mid century and even Hunslet, the location for the first urban glassworks and the centre of production of flint glassware, had been replaced by Castleford as the seat of the glass container industry well before 1850. (31) Admittedly, cone furnaces continued to function in the North East of England district of the trade during the first half of the nineteenth century and a second cone furnace was constructed on the Ferrybridge site in 1873. In the case of the former area the construction of cone furnaces was undertaken in connection with the production of the cheaper black bottle trade which had been largely supercharge within the Yorkshire districts by the pale metal which was to distinguish the County trade for several decades. The erection of the second cone at Ferrybridge was a singular exception to the general trend, arising from the exigencies of the trade boom of the early 1870’s. As the site of the Ferrybridge works was visible from the seat of the Ramsdens’ at Byram Hall it is possible that the decision to build a cone furnace was taken from aesthetic considerations concerning the nature and location of the existing site although it is equally as likely that the construction of a cone furnace was both quicker and cheaper then the establishment of a more modern plant. Furthermore, in an age untroubled by considerations of visual amenity or environmental pollution in which economic matters were generally predominant, it is unlikely that aesthetic considerations would override the profit motive. Whatever the case, it is clear that the adoption of the existent design was a tacit acknowledgement of the place of the Ferrybridge works within the context of an earlier phase of industrialisation for however well served by the nearby waterway and road systems the Ferrybridge works were at a disadvantage when compared to the more update and centralised factories at Breffit, Winterbottom, Lumb and their contemporaries.

That such a peripheral and outdated site failed to commend itself to potential manufacturers is evident from the spasmodic phases of productivity undertaken at the Ferrybridge works. During the period 1840-83 there were five tenants, each of whom surrendered the leasehold, finding the site to be economically unviable in the long term.

Consideration of local determinants therefore suggests that the Ferrybridge Glassworks was either a pre-industrial (i.e. earlier than the nineteenth century) establishment or that if of later date, the design and location was based on outdated technology and therefore represent a serious economic miscalculation.


Early maps such as those of Jeffrey (1772), Thorp (1819) and Greenwood (1834), reveal no indication of a glass furnace at Ferrybridge. An undated map, apparently of eighteenth century origin, belonging to the Aire & Calder Navigation Co., entitled ‘The Brotherton Cut’, and most probably dating from the surveys undertaken by Palmer (1736) or Smeaton (1772) on behalf of the Company, does contain a rather vague indication of two apparently conical objects standing on the appropriate site.(32) However, as it is a matter of record that the second glass cone at Ferrybridge was not built until the following century it is unlikely that the objects depicted on the map are glass cones. Indeed, a further map from the Navigation Company’s archives, dated 1827, while revealing Bridge House and an adjacent rectangular building (probably outbuildings) shows no indication of a glass cone on the site. In addition, the list of all English glasshouses paying tax during the financial year 1832-33, which was compiled by the Commission of Enquiry into the Glass Tax (1833), contains no reference to the Ferrybridge works.(33) Neither is there any reference in other Treasury Papers in the Public Records Office.

The crucial factor in the theory of ‘aristocratic’ patronage as the basis for the possible establishment of an ‘early day’ glasshouse at Ferrybridge concerns the Ramsden ownership of the site. The respected local historian, John Goodchild, has mortgage documents dated 1745, concerning the Swan Inn (Bridge House), which he considers may well indicate the date when the building was first erected. At the time the site was occupied by the Askell family and owned by John Lowe of Brotherton.(34)

The evidence would therefore appear to invalidate the theory of a long established glasshouse on the Ferrybridge site and suggest a nineteenth century origin. The generally accepted date of about 1840 therefore seems most probable and substantiates the opinion of John Goodchild that it is unlikely that kilns were run adjacent to a busy, prosperous coaching inn, even if downwind of it, at an earlier date.(35)


The Swan Inn stood adjacent to a plot of land 1 acre, 3 roods, 17 perches in extent, which was allotted to the owner of the inn, John Lowe, at the time of the inclosure of Brotherton Marsh in 1793. (36) The land contained a dwelling house, stables and sundry outbuildings which were utilised in conjunction with the business of the Swan as one of three large coaching inn within the village of Ferrybridge.(37)

Following the demise of John Lowe in 1808, the inn and the accompanying land and property passed to his son, John Lowe Junior (38) and subsequently via his descendants, into the hands of Samuel Thwaites (39) Then, in July 1817, the entire holding passed into the ownership of the Ramsdens of Byram Hall.(39)

The heyday of the Swan Inn had commenced with the introduction of the Royal Mail Service in 1785 but the coaching trade was already showing signs of decline by the time of the introduction of the steam locomotive and the first wave of railway construction in the 1830’s. By 1840 the inn had ceased to function as the expanding rail network ensured the terminal decline of the coaching era. It was at this period that the first glass furnace was built on the site adjacent to the former hostelry.(41) In this connection it is of passing interest to not the doubt expressed by a former local historian concerning the location of the glasshouse on the Swan site. In an interesting article touching on the origin of the works, the late Harry Battye drew on the fact that while Bradley and Harper in their retrospective accounts of the coaching era noted the derelict state of the former inn by 1889, neither made any reference to the existence of a glass furnace on the site.(42) Battye (apparently under the erroneous impression that the glassworks were housed in the premises of the former inn) therefore concluded that

"It seems most unlikely that a building in rapid decay in the year 1889 could have been converted into a works."(43)

What were the factors which influenced the apparent establishment of the glassworks at Ferrybridge towards the middle of the nineteenth century?

One important factor was growth of urban consumerism which had increased the demand for containers for a variety of foodstuffs and liquids. It is interesting to note that arising from the response to public demand and the ensuing business competition this engendered, manufacturers began to give higher regard to the presentation of their wares. As a result, glass containers were produced in a variety of shapes and colours, a fact confirmed by the proliferation of coloured metal found by the present writer when the Ferrybridge Glassworks site was disturbed as the result of civil engineering in the summer of 1990. (44) It was also in response to the desire to present consumables in a n attractive manner with the emphasis on the wholesomeness and quantity of the wares, that the Yorkshire glassmakers developed the pale metal which was to become the staple of the County trade from this time.

Other developments such as the construction of the Aire & Calder Canal between 1820-1826 and the advent of the local railway services from the mid 1840s’ together with the extension of the coal measures, were influential considerations. A most important economic factor was the repeal in 1845 of the excise duty on glassware which had constrained glass manufacture for more than a century and a half. The removal of the imposition prompted an increase in the number of local glassworks and in so doing intensified the degree of business competition within the trade. The repeal of the duty was of dubious benefit in the case of the Ferrybridge for while it may have been a favourable influence in the establishment of the business, its inability to compete due to inequalities arising from the economic misjudgements in the design and location of the works, proved to be a long-term detriment to the business.

A further indication of the establishment of the glasshouse at Ferrybridge around 1840, is provided by Alfred Greenwood, the long serving Central Secretary of the Yorkshire Glass Bottle Makers’ Society. Writing in 1893, Greenwood stated that he possessed information concerning the history of the works covering the previous half century (45) and confirmed (via another source) the existence of the Ferrybridge works prior to 1847.(46)

More specifically, a memorial of 28th August, 1840, reveals that the lease of the Ferrybridge site was obtained by James Kelsall,a colourmaker of Burslam, Staffordshire , and William Stanway, a potter of undisclosed location within Yorkshire.(47) The deed includes the lease of all the buildings formerly comprising the Swan Inn, together with the adjacent parcel of land but makes no reference to the existence of a glass furnace on the said plot. The deed of lease therefore most probably indicates the date of transition from inn to factory site.

The occupation of the leases', together with the Staffordshire connection, suggests the site was also used for the manufacture of pottery, a fact confirmed to some extent by the Census Returns of 1841 which name Henry Kelsall, aged 17, and William Stanway, aged 21, as pottery and glassmakers. Two other glassmakers are recorded in connection with the Ferrybridge site at that date; William Taylor and George Jackson, both being 20 years of age. The dual use of the site was well illustrated in 1990 when the site was disturbed, revealing numerous potsherds in addition to a multiplicity of fragments of coloured glass.

In 1845 the site was identified as that of the Yorkshire Bottle Works, a name which could easily embrace the manufacture of stoneware containers as well as those of glass. By 1848, however, the site was occupied by the Yorkshire Glass Bottle Company and is named as such on the Ordnance Survey Map of 1852.(48)

The proprietor of the Yorkshire Glass Bottle Co. was a Mr Thatcher who specialised in the manufacture of common or black bottles, of which the recent upheaval of the site produced much evidence. About 1854, Thatcher relinquished the leasehold and moved to the northeast of England, then the seat of the black bottle trade, where he established a glassworks at Blaydon.(49)

Some indication of the hours of arduous work endured by the glassmakers at this period is obtained by reference to the retrospective remarks of Alfred Greenwood, who, in 1847, as a boy of ten, was employed at the Hunslet works of Roberts, Scott & Taylor. Writing in 1910, Greenwood recalled that

"In 1847 and for some years afterwards, it required, in Yorkshire, seven days a week to work five journeys. [i.e. to obtain the productive output of five working days] The bottle hands commenced to make bottles at 12 o’clock Sunday midnight, and sometimes had to leave off work at 12 o’clock Saturday midnight before getting the Number [the number of bottles comprising the acceptable output of a twelve hour shift] in. These were ‘glorious good old times’. Making bottles on Sunday was not then allowed, or perhaps the bottle hands would have had to get the Number in before leaving off at Saturday midnight."(50)

The ironic tone of Greenwood’s remarks indicates the debasement of the status and the social esteem enjoyed by the artisan glassmakers in the pre-industrial age, notwithstanding the combination of the artisans to establish a union or trade society by the late 1820s. However, artisan power was boosted early in the following decade when as the result of the earlier revocation of the excise duty, the introduction of pale metal within the Yorkshire trade and a general upsurge in trade, the glass container industry enjoyed its first major boom.

The partial removal of the duty on glass manufacture in 1828 had produced favourable economic conditions which had led to the establishment of the glass container industry at Castleford about that date (and ultimately to the founding of the Ferrybridge works) as well as the artisan trade society. The introduction of the pale, almost translucent, green metal was a significant factor, the origin of which is, alas, lost to history. Nevertheless, the combination of economic boom and the increasing public preference for pale metal containers explain both the transition of Mr. Thatcher from tenant to factory owner and his relocation to Blaydon where the neighbourhood was more congenial to the manufacture of black metal.

Referring to the mid 1850s, Greenwood stated that during the period 1854-56

"…The Yorkshire Society took the Ferrybridge works, belonging to Sir John Ramsden, which were then standing, [unused] which had been given up by Mr. Thatcher…."(51)

The Glassmakers Society sought to obtain a satisfactory return by investing its funds in such a venture in order to provide labour for its out of work members, thereby reducing the demand for ‘Donation’ [unemployment] benefit. With the gradual decline of favourable trading conditions due to the onset of a cyclical depression of trade, conflict arose between the Society and the County’s manufacturers when the wares produced at the Ferrybridge works were sold at a price which deliberately undercut those of other manufacturers. In an effort to force the Society into line the manufacturers, who it should be noted, were the employers of the bulk of the Society’s members, announced an all-round reduction of six shillings per week in artisan wages. The measure was presented as one which was necessary to enable the employers to compete with the market price established by the goods produced at the Ferrybridge works but was in fact a calculated attempt on the part of the manufacturers to provoke an industrial dispute resulting in strike action by the artisans. The desired action would engender financial pressure on the Society through the necessary provision of benefit to out of work members. The stratagem adopted by the manufacturers proved to be effective when after only eight weeks the Society’s funds were almost exhausted and the lease on the Ferrybridge works was surrendered.(52)

Subsequently, a lease on the works was obtained by Greenhow & Co.. The leasehold must have been acquired before 1859 for in that year a further strike took place at the Ferrybridge site at which time the proprietor sought to engage glassmakers from the northeast district of the trade to replace the Yorkshire-based artisans. The measure caused bitterness on the part of the Yorkshire glasshands for shortly before the time of the action the various regional glassworkers’ unions had belonged to an Amalgamated Society formed in an attempt to present a nationally united front to the manufacturers. The action of the North of England artisans may have been prompted by the awareness that Mr. Thatcher had engaged Yorkshire artisans in the establishment of his Blaydon on Tyne works. Whatever the reason, the Yorkshire hands felt great resentment and still expressed recriminative opinions on the subject more than thirty years later.(53)

The extent to which the 1860 dispute had an adverse effect upon the tenancy of Greenhow & Co. is conjectural but by 1864 the Ferrybridge works were again standing unused. In that year Edgar Breffit, the leading Yorkshire manufacturer, obtained the leasehold of the Ferrybridge works in order to operate the site as a subsidiary branch of his Castleford works.(54) The acquisition of the Ferrybridge site arose in consequence of an upturn in trade which engendered the expansion of the industry and marked the high point in the prosperity of the container trade early in the following decade. Arising from this phase of industrial expansion, Breffit persuaded William Bagley, then Central Secretary of the Yorkshire Trade Society, to resign his post with the Union and take up the position of manager of the Ferrybridge works.(55)

At the time of Bagley’s appointment the Ferrybridge works consisted of a single reverberatory furnace containing four fire-clay pots or crucibles, providing employment for eight chairs of bottlehands working a two-shift system.(56) The limitations of the cone furnace may be judged by comparison with the regenerative tank furnaces of urban works by the fact that the former required a long, slow process of recharging the pots and melting the batch to produce the metal between shifts, whilst the latter allowed continuous production. Even the ‘day tanks’ which were forerunners of the regenerative furnaces, provided a better economic proposition than the cone furnace crucibles, for although requiring recharging after working out [emptying] the metal, they were of greater capacity than the pots. From this it is obvious that the economic potential of the Ferrybridge site was limited to those periods of cyclical boom when market demand ensured its use in a supplemental productive capacity. The situation appertaining within the container trade from the late 1860s was a singular example of a rising market and at some stage early in the following decade a decision was taken to build a second furnace on the Ferrybridge site. The new furnace consisted of a second brick-built cone of a type which, whilst architecturally compatible with the existing cone furnace was, like its forebear, once long superceded within the Yorkshire region of the industry. The continued erection of cones within the North-East region beyond the mid point of the nineteenth century was quite commonplace, such edifices being built by small firms of limited capital resource. The limited capital requirement, allied to speed of construction and (perhaps) aesthetic considerations arising from the visibility of the site from the Ramsden seat, may furnish the reasons for the decision to build a second furnace of conical design at Ferrybridge.(57)

The new cone was slightly smaller than the existing one both in height and circumference. The precise date of construction is not known but statistical data from the Quarterly Reports of the Glass Bottle Makers Society reveals that an additional bottle house was operational by October, 1872.(58) It is most probable, however, that the increased capacity indicated at that time was occasioned by the establishment of a furnace at Knottingley where William Bagley and his associates had commenced in business as bottle manufacturers, Bagley having resigned from his managerial position at Ferrybridge the previous year in order to commence as a manufacturer.(59) The Ferrybridge works are in fact recorded in terms of their previous maximum capacity early in 1873, which appears to support the supposition that the increase of October, 1872, was due to the start of production at Bagley, Wild & Co.(60) It would therefore seem that the output of the new Ferrybridge furnace is first recorded in the Branch Returns of June, 1873, although the figures for November show an increase of one bottle house which may be an indication that the productive capacity of the new furnace was a staggering operation.(61) The incorporation of data concerning the successful and gradually expanding Knottingley glassworks within the trade returns of the Ferrybridge Branch of which it initially formed a part for the purpose of Union administration, makes at almost impossible to define which of the statistics concerning productive capacity refers to Ferrybridge and which to Knottingley and therefore obscures the date on which the second Ferrybridge furnace became operational.

The second great economic boom in the container trade lasted until 1875. In 1876 a downturn in trade occurred which heralded the beginning of a prolonged period of economic depression. The decline in trade was accompanied by a protracted, albeit somewhat restricted, industrial dispute as some of the Yorkshire manufacturers (surruptitiously supported by others) sought to erode the customary trade practices observed by the artisan glassworkers which had been strengthened during the recent period of flourishing trade, and the Union resisted the attempted assault. The dispute, although intense in nature and carrying implications for working practices and conditions throughout the entire County trade, was confined for the most part to the factories at Conisbrough and Thornhill Lees belonging to Kilner Bros. Simultaneously, the gradual nature of trade decline was such that production continued at the Ferrybridge outpost of Breffit & Co. for several more years. However, by the early 1880s the effect of the recession led to the closure of the Ferrybridge works as Breffit & Co. withdrew from the site to concentrate their production from their Castleford plant. Again the incorporation of statistical material concerning Knottingley glassworks within the Ferrybridge Branch returns makes precise dating difficult but it is evident that the closure of the Ferrybridge works occurred in December, 1883 or January, 1884.(62)

Following the closure, the Ferrybridge works were unused until 1886, at which date the first flint glass hands of the Castleford District of the Flint Glass Makers Society sought to emulate the action of the Bottle Makers Society some thirty years earlier by establishing a union based workers co-operative. Faced with unparalleled levels of unemployment consequent upon the trade recession, the members of the Castleford District of the flint glass trade persuaded the Executive Committee of their trade society to invest £500 of the Society funds to fund the establishment of the co-operative works.(63) As a result, negotiations were undertaken with the Steward of Sir John Ramsden for the lease of the Ferrybridge works recently vacated by Breffit & Co.. The works were described as consisting of two bottle houses [i.e. cone furnaces], each capable of working eight to twelve chairs of flint hands, two pot arches [arches adjacent to the furnace where the fire-clay crucibles were placed to dry out and gradually harden as eventual replacement pots], packing rooms, stables, numerous outbuildings and offices. It was also stated that a large dwelling house together with nine cottages stood on the site.(64)

The large dwelling house to which the report referred was in fact Bridge House, the former inn premises. Following the closure of the inn and the establishment of the glassworks on the site the premises had served as residence for the works manager. William Bagley had been accommodated there when he became the manager of the Ferrybridge Glassworks in 1869.(65) Long before the 1880s the premises had proved to be too large for use by a single family of limited social and financial distinction and had therefore been sub-divided to form four separate tenements.(66)

The Flint Glassmakers Society was informed that subject to the immediate acceptance of the leasehold terms, which stipulated the payment of £172 as annual rent, Sir John Ramsden would undertake all necessary repairs to the glassworks at his own expense. Alternatively, the owner would deduct the cost of the repairs from the annual rent should the Society prefer to carry out the renovation of the property.(67)

The Society’s Executive Committee considered that by sub-letting Bridge House and the on-site cottages it would obtain £70 per year, thereby reducing the cost of the annual rent of the site to £102.(68) Yet despite the enthusiasm of the local delegates and the national leaders of the Flint Glass Makers Society the plan to obtain the leasehold of the Ferrybridge site did not come to fruition. The reason for the failure to implement the plan is unstated in the annals of the Society. There is some indication that delay on the part of the Society’s representatives, constrained by the unwieldy, time consuming process of democratic consultation within the administrative structure of the Society with its myriad of geographically scattered branches, was the cause of the failure of the negotiations for the lease of the Ferrybridge site. In this context one must bear in mind the hostility of some branches and the doubt of others concerning the proposed co-operative scheme. The largely Midland based element of the Society, engaged in the production of domestic and luxury wares, disparaged their northern brethren whom they regarded as inferior craftsmen, being solely engaged in the simple, repetitive process of producing small containers.(69) It is not improbable, therefore, that the known hostility of the ‘traditionalists’ evoked delay in the implementation of the scheme, yet despite this probability, in the absence of any indication of a rival bidder for the Ferrybridge works, it does not seem likely that delay occasioned the breakdown of the negotiations. On the evidence produced by the knowledge of subsequent events it would appear that the interest in obtaining the Ferrybridge site was abandoned by the advent of a more appealing offer.

Following the death of Edgar Breffit in 1882, the company over which he has so long presided underwent considerable reorganisation, rendered more necessary by the deepening economic gloom within the trade which was by that time beginning to experience the additional effect of Continental competition. In addition to the withdrawal from the Ferrybridge works the company had also discontinued production at the Black Flagg (sic) site at Whitwood Mere.(70) It was the availability of the latter site that diverted the attention of the Flint Glass Makers’ Society as one more favourable for their co-operative venture. Consequently, the Society obtained a seven year lease on the Black Flagg works which contained provision for the surrender of the lease after three years in the event of business adversity.(71) The inclusion of the ‘escape’ clause may well have been an influential factor in the Society’s preferment of the Black Flagg works for Sir John Ramsden was by this date notoriously indifferent to the fate of the Ferrybridge works. As a rich landowner Ramsden could afford to be indifferent to the operation of the Ferrybridge works and may therefore have proved to be less accommodating to the Society than the more commercially minded owner of the Black Flagg site. Again, a more centralised urban site may have appeared economically more advantageous compared to the more peripheral, semi-rural location of the Ferrybridge works. Whatever the reason, the rejection of the Ferrybridge site by the representatives of the Flint Glass Makers’ Society marked the end of an era in the history of the Ferrybridge Glass works.(72) The site, disused since 1883, remained so ever thereafter, slowly falling into a state of neglect and disrepair. Over the ensuing years the myth developed that the reason for Ramsden’s reluctance to let-out the Ferrybridge site was the smoke nuisance which, carried from the furnaces by the prevailing wind towards Byram Hall, was alleged to be ruining the trees on the Byram estate, prompting Ramsden to order the closure of the works.(73) However, the fact that Ramsden was willing to permit negotiations at all suggests that such considerations were of secondary importance to him and, indeed, the operation of the Ferrybridge works at periods throughout the preceding half century suggest that even if the possibility of any smoke nuisance was not anticipated with the founding of the works it was nonetheless tolerated. Likewise, although indifferent, Ramsdens' willingness to countenance the future operation of the glassworks may be evident from the fact that they were left pending possible further use, for almost a further half century. A somewhat dismissive comment by Alfred Greenwood, some years later that;

"The works at Ferrybridge are still standing [i.e. unused] and are not likely to be worked again. The owner can well afford to let them stand or demolish them"

provides ample indication of Ramsdens indifference.(74)

With the passage of the years however, possible reuse of the Ferrybridge site became increasingly remote. A degree of recovery from the trade depression by the late 1880s was constrained by the increase in both domestic and foreign competition. Furthermore, the pale metal which had previously been the sole preserve of the Yorkshire container industry had by then been ‘usurped’ by other districts of the trade, particularly the biggest rival, Lancashire, in an effort to ensure economic survival at the expense of the Yorkshire area.(75) The prevailing economic conditions and the accompanying technological development in container production meant that by the closing decade of the nineteenth century most operational glassworks carried spare manufacturing capacity. Not only did the ongoing conditions prevent the absorption of surplus artisan workers but they also restricted entreprennurial opportunities such as those which had characterised the industry during the boom periods of the 1850s and 1870s. In addition, the adoption of new technological production processes such as the gas fired regenerative furnaces, annealing lehrs and crude, but ultimately successful, bottlemaking machines, was a feature of the final quarter of the century. A cone furnace, such as the one at Ferrybridge, was totally unsuited to the adoption of modern apparatus compared to works of urban design. Thus the initial disadvantage of the Ferrybridge works was widened. The impracticality of any possible use of the Ferrybridge works was also reinforced by the capital requirement necessary for the modernisation of the existing plant. So huge was capital demand to enable modernisation of even the most favourably suited of urban glassworks that the process could only be met by corporate effort in the form of public limited companies. The era of individual patronage and private propriertorship had been rendered as obsolete as the design of the Ferrybridge furnaces. Even though as recently as the mid 1880s Ramsden could afford to invest capital in the hope of revitalising the Ferrybridge works, such a possibility was even then imprudent and was made otiose by subsequent developments. Additionally, factors contributing to a gradual decline in the socio-economic status of the landed gentry from the turn of the new century had particular significance for the Ramsdens for whom the impending financial crisis of the aristocracy was an immediate consideration, preventing all possibility of capital investment in the Ferrybridge works. In consequence of such developments the Ferrybridge Glassworks became increasingly more obsolete and ruinous. By the turn of the twentieth century it was recorded that;

"The ruins of the once flourishing Ferrybridge Glassworks stand. Spacious buildings, two large cones and a beautiful house, once inhabited by the manager, now by tenement dwellers, testify to the former prosperity of the trade. About twenty-five years ago the works were disestablished and the whole scene is one of incredible desolation." (76)

Despite disuse, the works continued to feature in the quarterly trade returns of the Glass Bottle Makers Society until the middle of 1909.(77) Indeed, it was not until about 1903 that the Society redesignated the ‘Ferrybridge Branch’ as ‘Knottingley Branch’.(77) About 1914, a chimney on the site was demolished, having become unstable following years of neglect.(78) The remaining portion of the glassworks, with the exception of Bridge House, was demolished about 1920.(79) At the time the works were demolished the Ramsden family were experiencing severe financial difficulty as a result of which it became necessary to sell much of their holdings, including the Byram Park estate.(80) Doubtless the demolition of the glassworks was undertaken with a view to making the site more appealing to a potential buyer whilst simultaneously raising a small amount of capital from the sale of salvaged material. Bridge House was, however, spared at that time due to its potential sale value as rented accommodation. Thus, when the outlying portions of the Byram Estate were sold in 1922, the property, identified as ‘lot 69, Bridge House, formerly the Swan Inn’, was featured.(81) Following the sale, the premises continued to be used as individual tenements until about 1936 when the property was demolished.

In recent decades the construction of the M62 flyover and the installation of a subterranean pipeline which cut directly across the glassworks site has resulted in considerable disturbance of the land on which Bridge House and the adjacent buildings stood. Careful scrutiny of the untouched portion of the site, however, reveals foundation marks, constituting a vague memorial to the almost equally vague history of the Ferrybridge Glassworks.

Terry Spencer

Credits to be included later.


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