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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


by TERRY SPENCER B.A. (Hons), Ph D

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, which in consequence of seasonal flooding were rich in alluvial soil and therefore ideal for cultivation.

By the mid eleventh century the Flatts, as the name indicates, formed the oldest element in the system of common land ownership which characterised the agricultural system of manorial organisation. (1)

By the thirteenth century however, further population settlement had occurred in the ‘greens’ areas of the vill and an extensive open field system had been developed at the south side of the manor of Knottingley, leaving the central area of the Flatts clear and allowing wider access to the riverside and the Marsh at the opposite side. It was at this time that the maritime activity began to develop apace with landing places and jetties promoting the construction of storehouses and dwellings. Throughout succeeding centuries such encroachments occurred at either end of the High Street so that by the early nineteenth century the Flatts had become confined to the approximate dimensions of the present time.

Two of the most significant encroachments defining the size of the modern Flatts were the establishment of the manorial demesne around and to the west of the area occupied by the chapel of St. Botolph during the late Anglo-Saxon period and the much later establishment of the shipyard in the Pickhill Island area and the huge storehouse built on the orders of King Henry VIII at the eastern end of the modern Flatts in the late medieval period. (2) The major encroachments whilst official ones, encouraged the growth of numerous smaller ones. Thus, although nominal control of the site was vested in the lords of the manor and by suzerainty the Crown, the land was held in commonality and was theoretically the peoples’. (3)

Following the transition of the Flatts from agricultural to public land the watering of beasts and pasturage on Brotherton Marsh became commonplace, occurring on a daily and seasonal basis. In addition, as the river channel was deepened to facilitate the transport and despatch of waterborne cargoes, ferry’s replaced the original fords. The public land also provided a drying space for residents of Aire Street, an exercise which had by the nineteenth century acquired the status of customary right. (4)

The potential conflict of interest is revealed by the survey of 1594 arising from the action initiated by the Duchy of Lancaster against John Brown and William Battle who it was alleged had encroached upon "the waste of the Manor known as the High Street... ...under the River Aire by erecting a house of stone thereon."

The same survey also showed an additional encroachment on the site of the Flatts by William Longwood. (5)

In 1628, Charles I, in dispute with Parliament and strapped for cash, divided into four parts "all that land known as the Manor of Knottingley" and sold off each sub-division, thereby in effect, creating four lordships, each with a proprietorial interest in the Flatts.

The principal use of the Flatts by the general public was in conjunction with the annual festival to commemorate St. Botolph to whom the local chapel was dedicated and whose saint’s day was observed on the 17th June. By the early nineteenth century the festival had developed into a weeklong celebration held each July and known colloquially as the ‘Feast’. At this time the Feast had begun to attract an increasing number of showmen, stallholders, itinerant vendors and entertainers as natives of the town, exiled for various reasons used the celebrations of the Feast to return home and renew acquaintance with family and simultaneously local mariners sought to return from sea voyages in time to participate in the festival. (6) With the application of steam power to various rides and amusements the space required to house the Feast increased, the site becoming increasingly congested by the presence of mechanical attractions and the merrymakers they attracted.

The date when the Feast was first held on the Flatts is not known but certainly by 1848 the event had begun to command so much space that it was proving to be a temporary inconvenience to those inhabitants requiring regular access to the Flatts. In June of that year a resolution was passed by the Select Vestry "That the annual feast shall be in future held on Racca Green." (7)

The banishment from the Flatts appears to have been ineffectual for the Feast was restored to the Flatts.

It was at this time that attention became focused on the Feast as a potential source of revenue. In January 1849, the Select Vestry decreed "that the [Parish] Constable demand of the show-folks rent for setting up their shews (sic) on the flatts (sic) to the amount of £1-0-0 per night." (8)

The extent to which the decision represents an attempt to cash in on what was regarded as an increasingly lucrative event or was merely a punitive exercise designed to drive the show people from the site is conjectural. At all events a regular toll does not appear to have been levied for it was not until July 1867 that it was further proposed to "…charge stalls, puppet shows, Hobby-Horses and all similar erections a rent for permission to fix them on the Flatts during the Feast & Co." (9)

At that time the Surveyor of Highways was detailed to collect tolls and apply them in aid of the local Highway Rate. The proposal was not implemented that year however, due to there being insufficient time to organise a system of collection and provide adequate notice to the showmen and the public that a facility which had hitherto been free was now to be paid for.

That the ratepaying element of the Knottingley public favoured the proposal is beyond doubt. At a Town’s Meeting held on Friday 8th August 1867, William Worfolk’s proposal "that a rent be charged to persons for stalls, theatres, Hobby-Horses and all similar erections for permission to set them on the Flatts and that no entertainment or stall & Co. be permitted to remain longer than one week" obtained unanimous approval. The fact that such dues were earmarked to subsidise the rates may have been a powerful influence. (10) In the light of subsequent events it is somewhat ironic that William Worfolk in the capacity of Surveyor of Highways that year, should be the proposer of the motion to levy tolls on the use of the Flatts at the behest of the Select Vestry.

Despite popular support the plan failed to be enforced. Ancient constraints with the force of law appear to be the reason for nothing further is heard of the proposal until May 1879 when Joseph Senior offered to travel to Selby at his own expense in order to consult Messrs Weddal & Parker, solicitors on behalf of the Vestry, concerning the Flatts. (11) The offer was gratefully accepted, being described as "…the best plan to be adopted at the present."

The outcome of Senior’s consultation seem to have been unfavourable, however, for at a subsequent Vestry meeting it was stated "…with reference to the Flatts and movements of the Lords of the Manor…. a placard be issued that by order of the Vestry all persons visiting the feast will be allowed to set up their stalls, shows and other temporary erections free during the feast week and they be requested not to pay anybody whatever who demands a toll during that time for the present year." (12)

Reading between the lines it is apparent that the Vestry desired to charge for the use of the Flatts, and indeed, as the final phrase, "for the present year", indicates, were hopeful of doing so at some future date. However, legal opinion that the Flatts were held in common right, precluded levying a toll for use of the site.

While the majority of the Vestrymen reluctantly adhered to this policy it had been challenged by one of their number – William Worfolk. Worfolk, a shipbuilder and smallholder, had been resident at Knottingley since 1843, becoming a member of the Select Vestry in 1858 and holding a number of public offices between 1862 and his death in July 1886. (13)

Worfolk gave evidence to the Royal Commission on unseaworthy ships in 1873, the only representative of the town to do so. (14) In that year Worfolk also purchased one half of the town’s manorial rights, although half that holding was disposed of following mounting financial difficulties during the following decade. (15)

A forceful, contentious man, Worfolk was no stranger to controversy nor litigation. In his role of Parish Constable in 1875-75, Worfolk brought an action against Knottingley farmer, George Joliffe, seeking damages of £100 for alleged slander by claiming that Worfolk had sworn a false oath claiming non-payment of rates by Joliffe. Worfolk won the case but was awarded the contemptuous sum of one farthing compensation in what was described as the most trivial legal case brought before a London court. (16) Earlier, Worfolk had been involved in a legal action against two local printers and publishers of a local newspaper who it is claimed, had made defamatory statements concerning his conduct as a Trustee at the time of the construction of Knottingley Town Hall in 1864, the matter being settled out of court. (17) Again, in 1877, Worfolk was at the forefront of controversy, refusing to pay tolls on the Weeland Road Turnpike and successfully leading public resistance and agitation for the abolition of the tolls. (18)

Worfolk responded to the public notice issued by the Vestry advocating non-payment for use of the Flatts by issuing one of his own:

"The Flatts
I have seen a bill posted in the Town with the names of seventeen Townsmen appended, purporting to be the ‘Select Vestry’; such a body does not legally exist, as the Select Vestry was abolished when the Township became part of the Pontefract Union [1862] Some of these are names of the very persons who for years have been trying to establish and levy a Toll upon all persons who set up Temporary Erections upon the Flatts. I was present at the so-called Vestry Meeting, and it was admitted that neither Overseers, Waywardens or Surveyors could collect any Toll; and so ‘Dog in the Manger like’, they resolved to advise nobody to pay. The Lords of the Manor have the right of so doing (which is bought and paid for) and the will insist upon maintaining their rights in this matter.
Knottingley, July 26th, 1879
Hepworth, Printer, Knottingley.

As a Vestryman for many years, Worfolk’s denunciation of the legal standing of the Select Vestry, although technically correct, must have been composed tongue in cheek, especially as he continued to be a Vestryman, being appointed as Parish Constable for a second time in 1881. (19)

The matter did not end in deadlock however, for Worfolk, with a keen eye for detail and some little experience of the law, successfully sought the permission of the Attorney General, Sir John Holker, to bring a prosecution against Charles Fawbert, printer and proprietor of the Castleford Gazette. Fawbert had printed the handbills issued on behalf of the Select Vestry at Knottingley Feast, denying Worfolk’s right to levy tolls. Worfolk claimed that the bills were offensive, depriving him of money which was rightfully his. The case however, hinged upon a technicality. Under the Acts 32 & 33 Victoria, cap 34, sec 2, the issue of a public document required the name of the printer upon it. Worfolk contended that Fawbert had contravened the Statute by omitting his name. Fawbert, whilst pleading guilty, questioned whether the offence came under the terms of the Acts since there was no intention to give offence. Fawbert also claimed that the omission was an unsupervised error which had occurred in consequence of his being away from home at the time the bills were printed and that the smallest fine possible should be imposed. The offence was subject to a fine of up to £5 but Fawbert was merely fined one penny for each of the nine bills issued, plus costs. Again, a Pyrrhic victory for Worfolk. (20)

The issue of the right to levy tolls continued unresolved for many years thereafter. In 1881, George Greenhow and John Skipworth Bentley proposed at the annual Town’s Meeting that "the Flatts be let to persons wishing to occupy them."

Worfolk, supported by a fellow tradesman, Mr. Wetherill, countered with an amendment "that the Flatts be not let."

The matter being put to the vote by a show of hands, the Chairman, Mark Stainsby, ruled the amendment carried. (21) Whether Worfolk saw the irony in asserting his right to levy tolls for the use of the Flatts whilst simultaneously advocating prohibition on their use is conjectural. At the time of William Worfolk’s death in 1886, the matter remained unresolved, the issue being contested by Thomas Worfolk, son of the deceased for more than twenty years thereafter. (22) During that period both parties in the dispute made sporadic attempts to collect rents from users of the Flatts. Worfolk and son collected some tolls at intervals from 1875, at the time of the Feast and on other occasions, albeit not every year, nor from all occupiers of space. Worfolk’s stated intent being a token assertion of his right to do so. (23) In 1883 the Select Vestry, ignoring a public vote against charging for use of the Flatts, taken at a Town’s Meeting in 1881, (24) instructed George Greenhow, the current Waywarden, to make a variable charge in proportion to the space occupied by individual showmen. Greenhow was followed around the fairground by William Worfolk who advised the booth proprietors not to pay. Meeting with a determined refusal from a stallholder selling hot peas, Greenhow overturned the stall and in the process allegedly scalded two children. A court case ensued which was, however, dismissed by the local justices. (25)

By the early 1890s the Select Vestry was obtaining between £30 and £50 per annum in rents from the Flatts and in 1895, desiring a more structured layout with stricter supervision and management of the site, the newly established Urban District Council passed a resolution to take formal possession of the Flatts. All persons having any rights in the site were invited to make known their claim. A claim by Thomas Worfolk, lodged on behalf of the Lords of the Manor was defined as being ‘perfectly visionary’ and dismissed out of hand. Shortly thereafter it was declared that no one had any rights in respect of the land and in July 1895 the Council passed a resolution to take formal possession of the Flatts. Accordingly, a group of councillors visited the Flatts to claim title to the site, giving notice of quittance to one Mitchell who had a stall there. Orders were given for the immediate fencing-in of the land to prevent trespass. On the 9th July, notices were issued by the Council requesting applications from stallholders, circus and theatre proprietors and showmen intending to visit the Flatts for the forthcoming festival. (26)

The crude fence of upended railway sleepers with pea piping laid across the tops and chains fastened by nuts and bolts at the access corners, was erected on the 19th July 1895 and remained undisturbed until 1907 when Worfolk broke the barrier and committed various acts of trespass. (27)

Worfolk was no stranger to the clearance of obstacles from the Flatts. As early as 1875, on the instructions of his father, he and a workman had cut down and removed posts erected by nearby residents for use in drying washing. (28)

With the advent of steam driven vehicles and fairground amusements a water tank had been erected upon the Flatts to supply the engines of the showmen. Having removed the nuts and bolts to lower the chains and facilitate access to the site, Worfolk next inspected the water tank, asking why the supply had been disconnected and stating it would be required by the showmen. The following day, the 26th July, Worfolk confronted the K.U.D.C Surveyor, Mr. Ingle and the Sewerage Works Manager, Mr. Southwell, and repeated his demand. Worfolk was informed that the showmen must first pay tolls to the Council and a workman was left to prevent further trespass on the site.

Worfolk successfully collected tolls every year between 1895-1907 but was prevented from so doing at the time of the Feast in the latter years. However, in October, Worfolk again released the chains to provide access for Mr. Dennis, the proprietor of a small circus from whom he received payment. As a result, early in November, timbers were laid at the spot previously chained off and a workman left on the site temporarily to prevent their removal.

In consequence of Worfolk’s action the council brought an action against him which was heard in the High Court of Chancery. At the hearing on Monday and Tuesday, 3rd – 4th November 1908, evidence of a contradictory nature was given for both sides. Thomas Ingle, K.U.D.C. Surveyor, Walter Swaine, Town Clerk and others testified to the collection of tolls by the Select Vestry and K.U.D.C. All agreed that the Flatts had been the venue for the fair for at least upward of half a century but acknowledged under cross examination, common usage of the site for access to Brotherton Marsh by means of the public ferry and also for the purpose of grazing cattle and additionally, as a landing place for river traffic. Regarding the latter, however, it was stated that since the mid nineteenth century when the bulk of waterborne traffic transferred to the canal, the river had gradually silted up and it was no longer possible for cargoes to be landed from the Flatts.

Worfolk, for his part, claimed he had an intimate knowledge of the Flatts, since 1852, having gone to a day school there. (29) Worfolk cited from personal knowledge born of experience free use of the site for domestic and personal use. Regarding tolls, Worfolk reiterated the claims of the Lords of The Manor to levy the same and stated that his father had once sued a man named Barnes for non-payment but had failed to recover the dues as Barnes had claimed he had never been on the Flatts. Informed that another Lord of the Manor, Mr. William Jackson, had declined to assert any title to the Flatts, Worfolk said he didn’t regard Jackson as a manorial lord and also admitted that he had not paid any of the tolls he had previously collected to any other of the Lords of the Manor.

The weakness of Worfolk’s case was his inability to produce any documentation giving proof of title but he underlined the Lords’ authority in respect of the site by pointing out that when in 1864 a newly formed company desired to erect a town hall on the Flatts the company sought the permission of the then holder of the manorial rights, a Mr. Warley, who refused consent on the grounds that it was not desirable to erect buildings on the Flatts. (30)

The Council, also aware of the tenuous nature of its title, emphasised its claim by stressing uninterrupted access for twelve years. The point was a crucial one for in giving his judgement Mr. Justice Parker found in favour of the Council due to their having taken formal possession of the land, fencing it in and thus ensuring a possessory title by twelve years occupation of the site. Not only was Worfolk unable to prove title but had exercised only sporadic ownership. His claim was therefore denied. The Judge refused the Council’s application for damages but ruled that Worfolk should pay the costs of legal action. (31)

At the subsequent K.U.D.C. meeting the Chairman, Cr. J. Jackson, made reference to the ‘regrettable’ action concerning the Flatts and expressed the hope that any hard feelings would henceforth be buried. It was decided however, to record the judgement in the Council minutes. Mr. Thomas Worfolk voted against. (32)

Just over half a century later the question of ownership of the Flatts arose again. In 1961, the council passed a motion that ".503 of an acre presently held as a public open space be appropriated" order to enable flats to be erected upon the Flatts. (33) The decision to develop the site was confirmed at a meeting of the council early in July. In response to a query from Cr. W. O’Brien concerning the ownership of the land Cr. P. Gross stated that some 60 years earlier the Flatts had been purchased from the Lord of the Manor. (34) Public announcement of the proposed development of the site caused outrage amongst a proportion of the older Knottingley residents and resulted in a feature based on correspondence and comment being published in the local paper. A statement was issued by the Town Clerk, Mr. H. B. Probert, outlining the previous history of the Flatts which showed Cr. Gross to be in error concerning the facts. The report also featured a scathing statement from Cr. O’Brien that he had relied on the veracity of Cr. Gross’ statement and that "…this had proved to be wrong – not for the first time."

In the light of correction, O’Brien therefore considered a Town’s Meeting to be appropriate. (35) Subsequently, a meeting was arranged "to canvas public opinion" in order that "the question of who owns the Flatts be fully ventilated." (36)

Attendance at the Town’s meeting was somewhat sparse. Opening the meeting Cr. W.B. Piper, the K.U.D.C. Chairman said objections to the proposed development of the Flatts had been invited as early as 1959 and only one objection received – from a man who had long used the space to park his car. Councillor O’Brien won the hearts of the assembly by saying that the issue was clearly not just one of development but that there were underlying considerations of sentiment. Amidst cheers he stated that negotiations with the contractors should be stopped and the Flatts converted into a pleasure ground complete with boating facilities for the benefit of the townspeople. (37)

The meeting concluded with a straight vote as to whether the Flatts should be left as an open space. Of the 91 people present 55 voted in favour of leaving the land undeveloped, 4 voted in favour of development of the site and 32 people abstained. (38) The development scheme was subsequently abandoned; (39) ostensibly in accordance with public demand but a further influential and unstated reason was the awareness that the original estimate of cost had become obsolete even before preliminary negotiations concerning the housing development had commenced. (40)

The Flatts continued to provide a venue for circus and fairs for several years thereafter before being landscaped in 1972. (41)

Dr. Terry Spencer

Reproduced with the kind permission of Dr. Terry Spencer

Feightin' Over T' Knottla' Flatts  is copyright ©Terry Spencer 2003


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