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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




Preliminary Draft May 2005



From earliest times Knottingley formed a chapelry of the parish of Pontefract, its church, dedicated to the Saxon Saint, Botolph, and dating from the late eleventh century, serving as a chapel of ease for the manorial population. Ecclesiastical reorganisation in 1789 conferred a degree of autonomy on the burgeoning township which became a separate parish with full rites of baptism, matrimony and sepulture but remained a perpetual curacy under the patronage of the Vicar of Pontefract until 1846.

Despite its subordinate status it is clear that by the early eighteenth century the incumbent priest was assisted by chapel wardens (1) and given the known history of the township it seems probable that the church based institution, known as the Vestry, was frequently convened to deal with parish affairs, ecclesiastical and secular. (2)

The decline of the feudal system resulted in widespread vagrancy as peasants were dispossessed of their meagre land holdings while the suppression of the religious houses in the 1530s added to the number of vagrants while simultaneously removing the principal source of almsgiving to itinerant paupers. As a result a mobile and socially independent but indigent populace roamed the land presenting a growing threat of lawlessness and social disorder. To forestall and counter the danger sundry items of legislation were introduced by royal decree from the late medieval era, particularly during the period of the Tudor dynasty, placing specific responsibility upon each parish within the realm. The effect was to increase the degree of secularisation, resulting in the metamorphosis of the church vestry into a secular unit of local administration known as the select vestry.

An act of 1555, revised in 1563, decreed the parish constables and churchwardens call a parochial meeting annually during Easter week for the purpose of ordering the maintenance of the parish highways throughout the forthcoming year. The principal element of secularisation, however, was the Poor Law Act of 1597, confirmed by the Act of 1601.

Under the terms of the legislation two to four householders of each parish were to be chosen at the annual town’s meeting to assist the church wardens in the administration of poor relief during the ensuing year. Theoretically, the right of appointment was vested in the local justices but the magistrates bowed to local knowledge of parishioners and in practice accepted and approved individuals nominated for office at the towns meeting.

Of the evolutionary phase of development at Knottingley we know nothing before 1820 when a committee of township residents is first recorded. The earliest extant minutes concerning the local Select Vestry, however, date from May 1823 at which time it is known that although the manorial organisation of the township was still in nominal existence the system had long ceased to exercise any administrative of legal function (3) for by the eighteenth century the physical and demographic expansion of the township had stimulated the range of civic activity within its boundaries and further promoted the autonomy of the local inhabitants.

However, an entry within the Select Vestry Minute Book in 1840 affords a glimpse of the transitionary nature by reference to the bygone feudal age, recommending that "the Lords of the Manor be requested to call a court Leet as soon as convenient." (4)

Nevertheless, that such a request was mere tokenism is obvious and the extent to which the power of the Select Vestry as an autonomous body had developed is shown by a statement at a later date which averred:-

"A notice having been placed on the Church doors that a meeting will be held on the 27th instant to elect church wardens for the ensuing year, it is the opinion of this [Select Vestry] meeting that as it might invalidate the business of the Township in all matters in which their functions would have to be exercised, it is desirable that such election of church wardens should not proceed on that day but take place at the usual time in Easter Week." (5)

The formal existence of a Select Vestry had been promoted by the Sturges-Bourne Act of 1819. Whilst having national application the legislation was sufficiently flexible to minimise interference with existing forms of local administration which had evolved in ad hoc fashion in preceding eras. The Act did, however, lay down conditions of local government by Select Vestry such as procedure, public notification together with a legal obligation to compile and retain minutes of business transacted by such a body. Compliance with the clauses of the Sturges-Bourne Act marked the completion of the transition from church vestry to select vestry at Knottingley for the Act specifically stipulated that the affairs of each unit of local administration should henceforth be undertaken by a committee of local ratepayers consisting of a minimum number of five and a maximum of twenty members. (6) Knottingley township was at the forefront in choosing a Select Vestry of maximum size as indicated by the formation of such a committee to safeguard the interest of the town during the proposed construction of the Aire & Calder canal through the town in 1820. (7)

In accordance with legal requirements it was necessary to post formal but separate notification concerning the appointment of overseers of the poor, surveyors of the highways and vestry members. To save time and expense a single public meeting was convened each Easter at which all civic officers were nominated and appointed, subject to the approval of the local magistrates. (8) The inaugural public notice reads: -

"Knottingley 25th May 1823
Notice is hereby Given
That the inhabitants of this town are requested
To attend at the School House on Thursday the
5th June at 4 O’clock in the afternoon to consider
the propriety of Forming a Select Vestry and other
[signed] John Robinson
Wm. Seaton
Wm. Taylor
Wm. Smithson Overseers of the Poor
Edward Gaggs
John Jackson Chapelwardens."

In the wake of the said meeting a copy of the following was submitted to the magistrates at Wentbridge, viz: -

"At a meeting held in the School House in
Knottingley the 5th day of June 1823 to appoint
A Select Vestry (a notice being first duly given
For that purpose) The following persons are hereby appointed
The Rev’ John Bailey – Clerk
Mr Thomas Shillito
Mr Edward Gaggs
Mr William Allen
Mr Mark Carter
Mr Edward Tomlinson
Mr Robt. Long
Mr William Moorhouse Junr.
Mr William Smithson
Mr John Hoylands
Mr Maw Long
Mr John Hepworth
Mr Thomas Atkinson
The Overseers for the time being
The Chapelwardens for the time being
Signed by Wm. Moorhouse – Chairman."

The presiding magistrate then authorised the insertion of a prescribed form of words in the Select Vestry Minute Book viz: -

"West Riding of Yorkshire:

Whereas in and by the statute made and passed in the fifty ninth year of the Reign of his late majesty King George the Third, entitled ‘An Act to amend the laws for the relief of the Poor’, the inhabitants of any Parish in Vestry assembled, are empowered to establish a Select Vestry for the concern of the Poor of each Parish and to that end nominate and elect on the same or any subsequent Vestry, or any adjournment thereof respectively, such and so many substantial householders or occupiers within such Parish not exceeding the number of twenty nor less than five..and the Rector, Vicar or the Minister of the Parish and in his absence the Curate ..and the Churchwardens and Overseers of the Poor for the time being together with the inhabitants who shall be nominated and elected…such being appointed by writing under the hand and seal of one of his Majesty’s Justices of the Peace…shall constitute a Select Vestry..And whereas it hath been this day made to appear to me that the Inhabitants of Knottingley..have established a Select Vestry I therefore authorise the following [list of appointees] to be members of the said Select Vestry..

Given under my hand and seal at Wentbridge 16th June One thousand eight hundred and twenty three.

[signed] Jos. Scott." (10)

Initially, affixing a notice on the door of the parish church was sufficient notification of the impending towns’ meeting or other issues of public concern but as the town grew in size and population handbills and notices were distributed throughout the town. (11) Thus, in 1859, apropos the town meeting to be held in the National Schoolroom,

"convened by public notice"

it is resolved that

"The Town be placard with proper notices of the same." (12)

An interesting glimpse of the relationship of religious observance and public affairs is afforded by an incident in March 1842. Notices having been issued that the Towns meeting would take place at 6.00 in the evening of the 25th March and "some persons demurring at the meeting being called for Good Friday. Notice was put upon the Church Door on Sunday the 19th day of march Instant, 1842" (13) to notify the public that the date of the Town Meeting was to be brought forward to the evening of Thursday 24th March.

In addition, at a time when literacy was largely confined to the middle classes of the town the Town Crier was pressed into service. References to the existence of the local town crier reveal that originally he was an appointee of the manorial court but by the beginning of the nineteenth century the crier’s duties were subject to the supervision and authority of the Select Vestry. Once appointed, the Town Crier was confirmed as the official keeper of the bell, the possession of which had both a practical and a symbolic significance. Appointment to the office of Town Crier (somewhat unusually for that era) appears to have been open to both sexes whilst possession of the bell appears to have endowed a degree of prestige upon the office holder as indicated by a Select Vestry decree of 1842 that, "Richard Askham be ordered to give up the Bell to Hannah Clarke, the appointed Cryer by the Court Leet." (14)

Membership of the Select Vestry was confined to a limited number of the most prosperous citizens of the town, men usually engaged in business or commerce within the neighbourhood, the legal profession or banking. By virtue of their wealth, education and social status, such men were adjudged best fitted for the task of administering the affairs of the township. Vestry membership was largely a self perpetuating oligarchy in which sons succeeded their fathers so that membership lists show a generation bias with family names only disappearing upon the demise of the male line or the occasional cessation of residence within the town. Succession appears to have been automatic as there is no reference in the Vestry minutes to extraordinary town meetings being called. Thus, in the list for 1850-51 we find the name of John Senior crossed out and the word ‘dead’ appended together with the name of Senior’s son Joseph, alongside. (15) The fact that no additional meetings appear to have been convened following the demise of a vestryman who either had no male heirs is problematical but in the absence of any evidence to the contrary it must be assumed that the Vestrymen were the arbiters of any adjustment to the Vestry membership. During the period 1849-50 no less than four Vestry members were replaced, including Thomas Burton, the Overseer of the Poor that year whose place on the Vestry was taken by Daniel Fewster and who was replaced by John Howard as the Overseer. (16)

By the early nineteenth century the principal members of the Select Vestry were William Moorhouse, Edward Gaggs and Thomas Atkinson who were the nominal Lords of the Manor and as such the largest landowners in the township, together with Mark Carter who though owning less land had acquired substantial wealth as a brewer. (17) These men and most of their contemporaries were pillars of the Anglican church although a minority of less significant Vestry members were nonconformists after mid-century, following a decree of relaxation concerning the acceptance of non-conformism with public affairs. Nevertheless it is of passing interest to note that the incumbent of the parish of St. Botolph’s and his successors were automatically elected to membership of the Select Vestry until 1872, a fact which also underlines the origins of the Select Vestry as a church vestry. The clerics however, appear to have been ex officio members of the Select Vestry, their views doubtless being well represented in their absence by their acolytes. (18)

For more than thirty years until his death in October 1873, John Carter served continuously as the Chairman of the Knottingley Select Vestry. A practising Anglican, John Carter was a liberal by nature and political persuasion and an extremely wealthy man through his inheritance of the brewery business established in Knottingley at the start of the nineteenth century by his father. Carter’s position at the forefront of public affairs was not merely secured by his wealth however, for there were others such as William Moorhouse who apart from being almost as wealthy as Carter was senior in age and residence and as one of the manorial lords owned far more land within the township. It was largely the respect and esteem afforded to Carter by his contemporaries at all levels of local society, together with his proven managerial ability, which ensured his prominence in the governance of Knottingley. (19)

Following the passing of the Reform Act of 1832, a slightly more democratic element was introduced into the composition of the Select Vestry membership. Whereas before membership qualification had been restricted to individuals in possession of freehold property, following the Reform Act burgesses owning property valued at £10 per year, being resident with the borough, were entitled to vote. The franchise was also granted to £10 copyholders and £50 leaseholders outside the boroughs. Whilst the Select Vestry remained a middle class preserve, during John Carter’s tenure as Chairman a subtle change occurred in the composition of the membership with the predominant element of landowning and professional men increasingly joined by the emergent class of self-made nonconformist businessmen. The latter group were products of the socio-political, technological and demographic changes taking place in Victorian society and presented a contrast to the traditional attitudes which had previously provided the background of Vestry membership. The latent differences between the two elements of the membership underlay the brief but explosive ‘Vestry Riots’ of 1874. (20)

The meetings of the Select Vestry were held in the Committee Room of the parish workhouse, Hill Top, and were initially convened at frequent but irregular intervals according to the demands of parish business. In the year 1824-25, the first complete year for which data is available, 13 meetings were held and by 1841-42 the total had risen to 38, averaging two per month during the milder seasons of he year and three per month during the winter period when seasonal conditions produced a higher level of unemployment, attendant destitution and illness, creating a considerable increase in applications for poor relief by parishioners. (21)

The method of summoning the vestrymen was by means of a circular issued by the Parish Clerk following consultation with the Chairman. In addition to stating the date, time and venue, the circular also contained an outline of the proposed agenda. (22) On occasion however, notice would be served at an ongoing meeting of a particular matter to be raised at a subsequent meeting. (23) There are several recorded instances of meetings being called at short notice for the consideration of matters of which an immediate decision was desirable. In October 1841 an emergency meeting was called to consider the possible source and method of delivery of stone for the repair of the road at High Cross (Hill Top), (24) while at a later date a similar meeting was convened to hear appeals against the Poor Rate levy before legal action to compel payment was taken. (25) In May 1849, a morning meeting at which one routine item of business was passed resolved that a further meeting take place at 6.00pm but although an increased attendance was recorded no business was transacted. (26) On yet another occasion the Vestry Chairman, William Moorhouse, officiating in the absence of John Carter, had formally closed the meeting when news reached the members;

"…of Mr Rbt. Lowther having saved the lives of W. Pollard & P. Denby from drowning by jumping in the River Aire & bringing each of them out."

A footnote appended to the Minutes in Moorhouse’s hand records that;

"the Chair was again taken by Mr Moorhouse and a resolution proposing a vote of thanks to Lowther on behalf of the Select Vestry was passed unanimously." (27)

Regularisation of Vestry meetings took place following a meeting of October 1841 when it was decided that henceforth the Vestry would meet every week between the first Tuesday in November and the last Tuesday the following March. The meetings were scheduled to start precisely at 10.00 "in the forenoon" with appeals for relief being heard an hour later. (28) The sessions throughout the winter months were made desirable by the potential hazard of negotiating unlit streets and poorly maintained pathways, befouled by inclement weather. With the advent of Spring, meetings reverted to evenings, a 7 o’clock start being more convenient to members with daily business to conduct. Indeed, how inconvenient attendance at meetings was is shown by a statement of October 1843, that;

"In consequence of Tuesday being a very inconvenient day to many Gentlemen who are on the Select Vestry for attending its meetings on that day from its being Market Day in some of the neighbouring Towns which those Gentlemen have to attend – Resolved: that in future the Select Vestry meetings shall be held on Thursdays instead of Tuesdays." (29)

Yet by January 1849 in an attempt to make Vestry attendance "less demanding" a reversion took place following a decision that the Select Vestry would meet on alternate Tuesday’s at 6 o’clock in the evening. Clearly, despite the winter season the former decision to convene on a Tuesday morning had been abandoned, presumably owing to the inroads attendance made on business hours. (30) The fact probably explains the fluctuation in the numbers attending Vestry meetings throughout the period 1823-92 during which annual attendance was occasionally as high as 60-75% but was more often between 15-25%. (31)

Following the establishment of the Pontefract Poor Law Union in 1862 and the subsequent transfer of the responsibility for Knottingley paupers to the new system in 1864, the number of Select Vestry meetings was considerably reduced. From a total of 26 meetings in 1862-62 the number fell to 10 in 1865-66 and averaged seven sessions per year throughout the following decade before falling to a single quarterly meeting during the period 1880-92. To ease the burden of attendance meetings were confined to the last Thursday of each month from June 1863, commencing at 7.00 p.m. during the summer and 10.00 a.m. throughout the period September to March each year. (32)

Despite changes to more appropriate time and date and the eventual decrease in the number of meetings following the introduction of the New Poor Law locally, attendance at meetings of the Select Vestry was usually sparse. Between 1835-50 the average attendance was less than one fifth of the elected members. During the first decade the highest recorded number at any single meeting was sixteen and the lowest one, while in the decade following, the highest attendance was nine and the lowest one, and on three occasions between 1839-45 the Parish Clerk registered the fact that none of the Vestrymen had turned out for the notified meetings. (33) It is interesting to note that no quorum was required for the transaction of parish business and on a number of occasions when only a single member was in attendance business was transacted as usual. (34) The overall conclusion to be drawn from the generally sparse pattern of Select Vestry attendance is that the duties arising from membership of that body were conducted with the greatest reluctance under the Old Poor Law system of individual parish relief, undertaken in accordance with legislative requirements imposed by central government. The fact that election to the Select Vestry conferred a degree of social status upon those who were members is perhaps the primary, if not the sole reason why ratepayers sought nomination.

No record of individual attendance at Vestry meetings occurred before the 10th February 1835 when Peter Sharrock was appointed to the post of Vestry Clerk, so there is no means of knowing the number and frequency of members attendance before that date. (35)

The decisions of the Select Vestry were implemented by a number of officials who were also nominated and elected for an annual term of duty at the Towns Meeting each March. In common with the vestrymen the parish officers had their names submitted to the local Justices for scrutiny and approval. As central government acknowledged that the magistrates and those constituting the membership of a select vestry were most aware of the needs of any particular parish and most heedful of the best means of solving any problems arising from such needs, a considerable degree of flexibility was allowed concerning the governance of each local community. Consequently, no single pattern of local administration existed. The number and type of parish officials and the nature of their duties varied from parish to parish according to perceived need.

A statutory duty imposed upon each parish however, was the relief of the poor and infirm. The duty was undertaken by Overseers of the Poor, first named as such in 1572. Initially, the churchwardens acted as the parish Overseers, meeting at least once a month after Divine Service to discuss and transact pauper relief, the business being undertaken with a minimum of consultation of participation by the parishioners.

At the date that the Select Vestry was formally constituted, four Overseers of the Poor are listed at Knottingley but thereafter two only were appointed annually. In addition, two Surveyors of the Highways, who in accordance with ancient obligation, were required to repair and maintain the Kings highway passing through the manor or parish, were appointed. A Towns Constable was also appointed to enforce the decrees of the Vestry and was generally responsible for the maintenance of law and order. The Parish or Vestry Clerk was also the Master of the parish workhouse at Knottingley (assisted by a Workhouse Mistress) and was therefore designated as an Assistant Overseer. By the nineteenth century the demographic and physical expansion of the township with its crowded dwellings, slaughterhouses and workshops and lacking adequate sewerage and sanitary provision, posed an increasing health hazard, necessitating the appointment of an Inspector of Nuisances to examine and order the removal of all materials considered to pose a danger to public health. In conjunction with the latter officer was the post of Town’s Medical Officer, a salaried post to which the holder was appointed by the Select Vestry on an annual basis, being rotated amongst the local medical practitioners each of whom undertook the public duty in tandem with private practice.

In addition to the above were minor officials appointed to assist in the collection of the parish and tithe rates and designated as Assistant Overseers, collectors or administrators. Other parish appointees such as the Town Crier, the Pinder, the Sexton, and ferryman were originally manorial appointments but subsequently in the gift of the Select Vestry.

In common with the Surveyors of the Highway, the duties of the Crier and the Pinder had their origin in the manorial organisation of the feudal era but unlike the Surveyors their role had suffered some diminishment in the post medieval period.

A further minor post of which little is recorded in the annals of Knottingley was that of Cattle Valuer for the town. A Select Vestry minute of 23rd February 1866 resolved, "That Mr J.S. Bentley be recommended to the Court of Quarter Sessions for appointment…." but nothing else is known of this post and there are no other references to the office. (36)

The posts of Overseers of the Poor and Surveyors of the Highways were burdensome and open to public criticism. Furthermore, the posts were unremunerative so that the only benefit to the office-holders was a considerable degree of social prestige. Nevertheless, anyone nominated and elected was expected to accept either post willingly or assume the responsibility of finding a substitute. Failure to take either course of action resulted in the nominee being fined £5. (37) There is no record of refusal to serve at Knottingley, quite the contrary, in 1841 for example there were no less than 13 nominees for the two posts of Surveyor. (38)

It is interesting to note that at that date the record specified that the Surveyors were to serve "without any salary" (39) however, payment of a token salary existed shortly before that time. In March 1839 Michael Bentley was awarded a salary of £15 for undertaking the duties of Surveyor during the ensuing year and again, in March 1843 there is recorded an instance of a pre-payment agreement to allow the Surveyors £10 each for the ensuing year. (40) There are clear indications that such payments were discretionary for a motion of April 1842 by an element within the Select Vestry expressed the desire to pay Isaac Smith £10 for collection of the highway rate which move was opposed by others. (41) In the event it was subsequently agreed that Smith be paid the sum of £20 to collect the highway rate and the church tithes in tandem. (42) Before mid century in common with parishes in general, the discretionary payment to the Surveyors had become regularised as an annual salary of £10 per annum as shown by a resolution of March 1847 that "Thomas Miller have a salary of Ten Pounds for the year and all reasonable expenses when on a journey." (43)

Similarly, the previous April the Vestry had agreed that, "The Auditor of the Poor Law Acts. [accounts] have 2gns [guineas] per annum." (44)

It is interesting to note that such payments had been legally prohibited in 1785 in order to counter the developing tendency of some vestries to appoint Overseers of the Poor on a permanent basis, in contravention of the Statute. Within the following half century, however, payments had gradually recommenced in order to palliate the odium and inconvenience to office-holders and upon reintroduction the payments continued to be made, initially as a honorarium and shortly thereafter as a regularised formal payment. There can be little doubt concerning both the odium and the difficulty of collecting the rates at Knottingley, particularly in the straitened economic conditions of the ‘Hungry Forties’. A note dated September 1847, entered in the Select Vestry Minute Book records that :

"Thomas Miller agrees to collect all parochial rates, that is, Poor Rates, the Highway Rates & Church Rates for a salary of £30 per annum." (45)

Something of the hardship of the period is seen by the fact that in December 1837 of 96 rates defaulters it was decided to summons 62 who could not pay and failed to agree deferred terms with the parish Overseers. Again, in August 1847, fifty townspeople were excused the second stage rate payment on grounds of poverty (46) while the following year the list of people in arrears was revised and forty-six ‘Out Laws’ benefited from the resolution of the Select Vestry, "That the list presented by the overseers, now revised, have their rates given." (47)

The reorganisation of the Poor Law system from 1834 and the eventual incorporation of the township of Knottingley in the Pontefract Union in 1862 removed the principal administrative function from the Select Vestry. By that time however, the township was developing apace and this fact produced increased responsibilities upon that body with regard to aspects of public health and civic amenities. To meet these demands it was felt that an overhaul of the vestry system was desirable. To this end a meeting of the Select Vestry held on the 23rd March 1862 proposed that a Town Meeting be called to appoint a ‘Committee of Management’ to advise "in all matters pertaining to the local management of the township." (48)

The committee duly elected at the Town Meeting held in the National School two days later was however, merely the Select Vestry under a new name for it still consisted of twenty members elected in the age-old way, the bulk of the membership being re-elected from the previous years vestry. It is of passing interest to not how the minimalist nature of the change is reflected in the nomenclature used by the vestry clerk, E.S. Atkinson, who from naming the new body as a ‘Committee of Management’ in May had adopted the term ‘Select Committee’ by September and by early the following year had reverted to calling it the ‘Select Vestry’. (49) Nevertheless, the desire for change was still apparent for in January 1863 a resolution was passed deeming it desirable to call a public meeting with a view to adopting the Local Government Act of 1858 and to determine the number of members constituting such a local body. (50) It was also resolved that a deputation consisting of John Carter, William Moorhouse and William Jackson wait upon the Mayor of Pontefract and his colleagues in order to ascertain the probability of the Borough adopting such a course and the implications of such a decision for Knottingley. (51) At the subsequent public meeting held on the 16th February 1863, it was unanimously agreed that a resolution proposed by William Worfolk that the new form of local government be adopted as was the accompanying resolution by John Howard that the number of members elected to the Local Board be nine. The Select Vestry Chairman, John Carter, therefore resolved that local representatives wait upon Sir George Grey, the Home Secretary, and urge him to acquiesce in the adoption of the Act by the township. (52)

At a further public meeting the following month it was reported that notice of the adoption of the Act had been ordered by the Secretary of State and that publication of the notice in the London Gazette was pending. (53) The meeting was therefore adjourned for a fortnight but this was further adjourned until the 19th of March 1863 when at the annual Town’s Meeting, William Worfolk was elected as Surveyor of the Highways at a salary of £10 per annum "…until the Local Government Act comes into operation." (54) and although the matter was placed in abeyance for a month following a further meeting on the 20th April, adoption of the Act was clearly imminent for the Clerk was instructed to make enquiries concerning the procedure required for the election of members to a Board of Health. (55) At a Committee Meeting convened shortly afterwards for the further consideration of the proposal it was decided to ask John Carter to represent the Select [Vestry] Committee in seeking the advice of a legal counsel concerning the matter of the township’s highways apropos the Local Government Act. (56) In the light of the advice it was subsequently considered not to proceed further for at a meeting of the Select Vestry on the 23rd July 1863 the Committee resolved that "the Local Government Act remain in abeyance at present." (57)

While no details are given regarding the nature of the problem it is clear that management of the local highways was the cause of the obstacle making adoption of the Act undesirable. Owing to the fact that the Secretary of State had formally sanctioned the adoption of the Act a legal technicality prevented the revocation of the legislation by the Select Vestry on behalf of the township. Consequently, a hiatus of eleven months occurred at the end of which period the Select Vestry decided in June 1864 to write to the Home Office with reference to the position of the township vis a vis the Local Government Act. (58) The response of the Home Office prompted the Select Vestry to seek further legal advice for in December 1864 a communication was received from Messrs. Wainwright & Manders, solicitors, and at a specially convened Vestry on the 8th December a decision was taken to obtain annulment of the Local Government Act by memorialising the Home Secretary, albeit with the proviso that the town streets be lighted by gas under the terms of the old watching & Lighting Act, passed 30 years earlier. (59) A memorial was drawn up and forwarded to the Secretary of State through the office of the local Member of Parliament, Mr. Erskin Childers, requesting that the Act be annulled and the township be permitted to enter into a Highway District. (60) The manoeuvre was successfully undertaken and at a subsequent meeting of the Select Vestry in March 1865, William Worfolk proposed that immediate steps be taken to carry out the terms and conditions of the 1858 Local Government Act by electing nine members as per resolution framed on the 16th February 1863, framed in accordance with the provisions of the Act, and that John Carter, in his capacity as Chairman of the Committee, be requested to call a public meeting or otherwise, to secure the election of a Local Board within the township, Worfolk’s proposal was unanimously adopted by all ten Committeemen present and at the subsequent public meeting Childer’s communication was read out and approval given for the appointment of a legal advisor to facilitate the establishment of a Local Government Board. (61) In April 1877 the annual meeting of the ratepayers elected William Worfolk as Waywarden to the newly constituted Highway District by a substantial majority on a show of hands, thus taking the first step in civic reconstruction by reorganising the traditional office of Surveyor of the Highways. (62)

However, it is clear from the ensuing delay that there was uncertainty concerning the future form of local government and in January 1878 it was proposed by Sydney Woolf at a meeting of the Select Vestry that a committee of five be appointed to ascertain on what terms and conditions the Borough of Pontefract would admit Knottingley as a constituent part of the Municipality. The same representatives were, however, also deputed to make similar enquiries regarding the cost of implementing the Local Government Act of 1858. (63)

On the last day of January 1878 the Select Vestry reconvened to receive the report of the delegation which had met Cr. Philips, Mayor of Pontefract. William Worfolk, supported by John Wild, proposed

"That this meeting resolves to recommend to a Public Meeting of the Ratepayers the adoption of a separate Borough or Corporation for the Township of Knottingley."

An amendment was proposed by John Senior, seconded by John Moody, that a Local Government Board be adopted. A further amendment by George Greenhow, seconded by William Bagley, proposed

"That the Township be permitted to remain as it is, under the same management."

which was followed by a further amendment by Sydney Woolf, seconded by George Greenhow, that the township apply to Pontefract Corporation to be annexed as part of that Borough.

Of the sixteen Vestrymen in attendance, the voting was as follows:-

Woolf/Greenhow 7 9
Greenhow/Bagley 2 13
Senior/Moody 8 7
Worfolk/Wild 7 8

The voting pattern reveals the range of opinion between the Vestry members concerning the best system of local government and the decision to adopt a Local Government Board was only approved by the casting vote of the Chairman, J.S. Bentley. (64)

Perhaps inspired in part by the narrowness of the vote the combative William Worfolk and his adherents used the following Select Vestry meeting to propose the calling of a public meeting to resolve the issue. The meeting convened in the Town Hall on the 15th February 1878 was presented with three proposals. Worfolk, supported by E. Turner, recommended municipal status. J. Beaumont, supported by J. Arnold, proposed adoption of a Local Board and G. Greenhow, supported by S. Rhodes, urged the status quo. The first proposal obtained 16 votes, the second 23 and the third 30, and the vox populi therefore ensured that for a season the township retain the system of governance by Select Vestry. (65)

Despite the reluctance of the majority of Knottingley ratepayers to adopt a Local Government Board the fact remained that the system of Select Vestry administration was archaic and inefficient, particularly so when viewed within the context of expansion of the township in terms of population and physical development and civic improvements in general in the second half of the nineteenth century. Problems concerning sanitation, drainage, water supply and other aspects of public health and safety which demanded urgent attention were incapable of being resolved by the oligarchic dilettantism of the outmoded Select Vestry.

At the root of the problem was not merely the inefficient method of rate collection which resulted in an insufficiency of public funds to enable the Select Vestry to embark upon desired and increasing necessary public works, but the method whereby the rates were assessed. The principal members of the Select Vestry were also the principal land and property owners within the township but as the responsibility for payment of rates fell upon the occupiers of property rather than the owners, the financial contribution of those most able to pay by virtue of wealth and possession was minimised. Not unnaturally, the leaders of the ongoing system of local administration had a personal interest in maintaining the status quo but even those of lesser means who were owners of small dwellings and rentable property had a vested interest in avoiding any change to the method of rate assessment and for that reason supported their social superiors. Thus, when at a Town’s Meeting on the 28th March 1879, George Greenhow proposed the adoption of the Poor Rate Assessment and Collection Act of 1869, which placed the responsibility for the payment of the parochial rates upon owners rather than occupiers of properties of the value of £8 or less per annum, the resolution was defeated by a large majority of the 300 or more people present. (66)

For more than a year, hopes had been held that a drainage scheme for the town would be provided under the aegis of the Rural Sanitary Authority and to facilitate this hope the said meeting unanimously accepted a resolution that the maintenance of the town’s highways be transferred from the Highway Board to the management of the Rural Sanitary Authority. (67) The scheme was not implemented however, and in March 1881 it was proposed and unanimously accepted by the assembled townsfolk, that the existing scheme be suspended and a new scheme be devised for presentation to the Local Government Department of the Home Office for approval. (68)

The history of the drainage scheme is dealt with elsewhere in this study, suffice to say here that no action was forthcoming during the following decade despite the potentially hazardous effect on the townspeople of insufficient sewerage and water supply which were the subject of occasional public meetings and agitation. (69) The state of affairs continued until at a Select Vestry meeting on the 19th January 1891, William Bagley proposed that steps be taken to adopt a Local Authority following soundings in several towns of similar sized population to Knottingley’s. A deputation was therefore formed consisting of the Vestry Chairman, J. S. Bentley, J.W. Bagley, Captain W. Johnson, E.L. Poulson and the Clerk, to make the necessary enquiries and report back to the next meeting. (70) As a result the Select Vestry decided to convene a meeting of the Town’s Ratepayers convened to consider the advisability or otherwise of constituting the township a Local District managed by a Local Board in accordance with the provisions of the Public Health Act of 1875. At the same meeting the Select Vestry authorised the Clerk to reply to a letter from the Town Clerk of Pontefract rejecting the Corporation’s offer to constitute Knottingley as a department of the Borough Council. (71) At a subsequent meeting on the 19th February 1891, it was agreed that the Vestry Clerk, Mr. E.S. Atkinson, should continue as the Clerk of the proposed Local Board which was to have nine members and that a public meeting be called to decide the issue.

Under the Chairmanship of William Bagley about 300 owners and ratepayers met the following evening and unanimously decided to adopt the resolution to establish a Local Board and the necessary steps were taken to achieve the stated aim. (72) However, progress was frustratingly slow and at a Select Vestry meeting held on the 18th December 1891, a motion was proposed by Benjamin Atkinson, supported by William Worfolk,

"that this meeting requests Mr. Bagley to write to the Clerk of the County Council and to Mr. Chapman C [ounty] C[ouncillor] to urge the necessity of proceeding with the order to constitute the Township of Knottingley a Local Board District." (73)

The Local Board which was established on the 11th March 1892 and consisted of nine members had only a brief tenure for under the provisions of the Local Government Act of 1894 the township was reconstituted as an Urban District in and governed by Knottingley Urban District Council. (74)

The establishment of the Urban District Council resulted in a degree of conflict with the Select Vestry concerning the presumed authority of the former to appoint parish officials and assume responsibility for their parochial duties, hitherto the preserve of the Select Vestry.

On the evening of the 20th February 1896, a public meeting attended by approximately 60-70 citizens of the township, met to consider the issues involved. The meeting was chaired by the Vicar of St. Botolph’s, Rev. F.E. Egerton, and while conceding to the new council the right to hold and manage parish property and to administer the public charities previously managed by the Select Vestry, denied it the right to appoint and supervise the duties of the Assistant Overseer. Objection was raised to the powers and responsibilities of the Select Vestry being assumed by the K.U.D.C. and an amendment which would have surrendered such powers was defeated by 18 votes to 32. Thus, the Select Vestry continued in existence alongside the K.U.D.C., being a disputant party tot he authority of the former body with regard to the Poor Law administration. (75) Maters came to a head the following month when following the death of the Assistant Overseer and Select Vestry Clerk, Mr. E.S. Atkinson, it became necessary to appoint a successor to the post. While the power of appointment was nominally vested in the Council that body deferred to the expressed desire of the local ratepayers and applied to the Local Government Board to rescind the Order of the 4th March conferring the right of the Council to be the sole arbiter. (76) Consequently, Walter Swaine was elected to the post of Assistant Overseer by the inhabitants of the town in Vestry assembled (77) However, as the K.U.D.C. grew in size and authority during the following decade meetings of the Select Vestry became increasingly infrequent resulting in a renewed but abortive attempt by the Council to reclaim the right of appointment and supervision, the power being exercised by the inhabitants at the time of the last recorded minutes of the Select Vestry in 1919. (78)

©2005 Dr. Terry Spencer



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