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Knottingley and Ferrybridge Local History


Our local history section contains an extensive collection of articles covering almost every aspect of the towns past, from its origins as an Anglo-Saxon settlement up to the present day. If you are a new visitor to the Knottingley and Ferrybridge Online website then we suggest you begin by visiting our Local History Index where you will find a comprehensive, cross-referenced list to all our published articles.


Looking back at photographs of the town taken over the last century, it is clear to see that both Knottingley and Ferrybridge have seen many changes within that time.  However, the history of the local area dates back much further, evidence of which is the existence of the ruined castle a short distance away in the neighbouring town of Pontefract. Pontefract Castle was built way back in the 11th century by the occupying Norman armies and remained intact until it's final destruction some 600 years later. Today unfortunately, very little evidence of the castle remains. Further evidence of settlers in the area, and one of our oldest remaining antiquities, is at Ferrybridge Henge. This early prehistoric ceremonial monument dates back to the Neolithic period during the years c.4000 to c.1500 BC when these circular henge monuments first began to appear.

Pontefract Castle

Pontefract Castle circa.1630
The original painting is on display in Pontefract Museum


The history of Knottingley and Ferrybridge as a settlement dates back to an Anglo-Saxon development alongside the River Aire and this unique location helped contribute to many types of industries ranging from shipbuilding, glassmaking, brewing and potteries being located in the area. The area is located on land that is mostly rich soil over a bed of magnesium limestone.

Up to 1700 the river Aire was navigable from its connection with the river Ouse at Airmyn only as far as Knottingley thus making it the inland port of the West Riding. However, in 1699 the Aire and Calder Navigation Act was passed which at the time was an historic measure as it was the first navigation scheme passed by an Act of Parliament. Under this act the Aire and Calder Navigation opened the river upstream as far as Leeds for the passage of small barges and the importance of Knottingley as an inland port disappeared. As a modification to the Aire and Calder Navigation a new canal was authorised in 1820 running through the centre of Knottingley within a deep cutting in the limestone. This was duly opened in 1826 and connected the newly opened port of Goole with the river Aire at Ferrybridge. The lock at Ferrybridge was opened at 10am on 20th July 1826. Bank Dole cut provided a connection between the new canal and the old river route to Airmyn by means of the Bank Dole lock.

The crossing of the river Aire at Ferrybridge dates back to the 10th century. A bridge had been erected there in 1198 which was apparently rebuilt at the end of the 14th century and consisted of a chantry chapel at one end. A toll was payable to cross this bridge, as it was also at Castleford a few miles further upstream, until 1810.

By the early 17th century the main route from London to York was via Ferrybridge along the Great North Road. Ferrybridge became a major coaching centre where the routes to York and further north to Edinburgh would divert. Several coaching houses in Ferrybridge served the passengers, coachmen and their horses the most important of which was The Angel. This was a large building with lots of stabling. The bridge at Ferrybridge was found to be too narrow for the increasing amount of traffic going across it and for the small barges passing beneath it along the Aire and Calder Navigation and so a new bridge was authorised and construction began in 1797. Designed by the architect John Carr and built by local builder Bernard Hartley it was eventually opened to traffic in June 1804. The toll house which stands just in front of the old bridge dates from around the same period. Thankfully, both the bridge and toll house still exist to this day. The bridge is no longer accessible to traffic however and the toll house is in use today as office accommodation.

Aerial Photograph of Ferrybridge

The main route through the town was the Wakefield & Weeland road which was made into one of the West Riding's first turnpike roads under an act of 1740 but which was rescinded in 1878. Crossing the Wakefield & Weeland road was the Great North Road which ran along the limestone ridge from Doncaster and across the Aire & Calder Navigation at Ferrybridge. This section had also been a turnpike, the Doncaster & Tadcaster between 1740 and 1882.

The first pottery established in the area was in 1794. This was known as the Knottingley Pottery, (later re-named the Ferrybridge Pottery) and was located on the banks of the Knottingley-Goole canal. It was set up by a group of shareholders to produce both fine and common ware and had an international trade. However changing fortunes meant that the works would eventually be split and passed through a succession of ownership. In the late 1850's the Australian Pottery was established which produced wares especially for the Australian market. This closed in the late 1940's shortly after the war. The West Riding pottery which opened in the 1880's closed down in 1926.

Knottingley is situated on top of a limestone ridge and it was this commodity that became its principal product far into the late 19th century. The vast quarries excavated in those days are still in existence today as is the limestone business itself. The stone was used principally for burning into lime which was used in the agricultural business. The opening of the Aire and Calder navigation brought with it cheap transport for the lime business and barges coming down stream carrying coal from the South Yorkshire coalfields would then make the return journey loaded with limestone.

The Glass Industry in Knottingley was a relatively recent development with the first works being opened in the early 1870's. Bagley's glass occupied land between Weeland Road and the Bendles while situated on Headland Road were Burdin & Co. and Jackson Brothers. It became a significant part of Knottingley's industrial growth at that time and is still one of the towns major employers. There is evidence to suggest that the first glass industry in the area was in Ferrybridge in 1840 adjacent to the site of the Swan Inn coaching house. That there was a glass industry there is not in doubt but the actual date of its formation is not so clear. It was situated on the North bank of the river Aire, opposite the site of the Golden Lion.  The Swan Inn had seen its heyday commencing with the Royal Mail service in 1785 but this had gradually declined until in 1840 the Inn ceased to function and a glass furnace was built on the adjacent site. In 1845 the site was named the 'Yorkshire Bottle Works' though by 1848 it had become known as the 'Yorkshire Glass Bottle Company'. William Bagley took up the position of manager there in 1869 until 1871 when he formed Bagley, Wild & Company in Knottingley.

Remarkably for a town so far in land, Knottingley was home to several master mariners and ship owners as well as those concerned with inland waterway vessels.  The town boasted several ship building and repair yards dating back to the mid-eighteenth century while the area around Bank Dole Junction was to become home to one of the towns major industrial concerns during the twentieth-century with the formation of John Harker Ltd.

In 1848 the town of Knottingley found itself at the centre of the railway network when the Wakefield, Pontefract and Goole railway was opened by the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Co. It connected the industrial areas of the West Riding with the port of Goole. The same company also opened a branchline from Knottingley to Askern where it made  connection with the Great Northern's main line from London. The branch was opened throughout in 1850 which had a major impact on the towns growth. A station was built in Knottingley consisting of five platforms and a covered roof. At Knottingley junction, the line was joined by another branch line from Burton Salmon which opened in 1850 and gave a through route from London to York via  Knottingley. This made Knottingley an important junction where it became possible to change trains to and from the very heart of the West Riding. The town remained on the East Coast main line until 1871 when a more direct route to York from Doncaster was opened. The Swinton and Knottingley railway opened in May 1879 linking Sheffield with York and passing through Ferrybridge where a small station was opened in May 1882.

Knottingley Railway Station

The development of the towns major industries gave rise to many smaller businesses throughout the town. The row of shops which lined Aire Street sold just about every item you could wish to purchase and yet not a single shop remains there today, the area now having been transformed as a housing development.

Knottingley and Ferrybridge have a rich history but there is much more to the story than what can be told here. Our local history section contains a wealth of information about the towns development and numerous studies relating the origins of its industries and organisations. Your starting point should be our Local History Index where you will find links to all our available articles from many of the areas most respected local historians and enthusiasts.



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