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




Preliminary Draft May 2005



From the time of the Act of 1601, with its reference to ‘sturdy beggars’, little sympathy was shown to itinerants. Casual wayfarers, even when genuinely seeking work were invariably treated as social outcasts and being destitute, were unwelcome in any parish of entry.

It was in order to prevent workhouses being treated as common lodging houses that Gilbert’s Act of 1782 had specified that entry was to be restricted to the aged, infirm, sick and children (the latter, accompanied where necessary by their mothers). However, the socio-economic conditions of the late eighteenth- early nineteenth century eroded rigid distinction, particularly at Knottingley which as a maritime locality drew an above average number of casual labourers.

Owing to the limitation of space within the parish workhouse, alternative arrangements were necessary at Knottingley and vagrants were accommodated in the town’s lodging houses. In April 1842, however, the Select Vestry, probably motivated by the desire to curb the increasing expense of such an arrangement resolved that, "Blankets and clean straw be provided in the Town’s Prison for the accommodation of Vagrants instead of sending them to Lodging Houses and those who are in real distress to have 3d each given to them for breakfast." (1)

Use of the phrase ‘real distress’ indicates the dilemma of the authorities in seeking to define genuine labourers from bogus ones (a situation not altogether dissimilar to the contemporary problem concerning asylum seekers.) Sometimes, it would seem, genuine cases did not readily submit themselves to the indignity of prison accommodation, hence in mid 1841, it was resolved, "That Mr. Bell (Overseer) relieve the stranger living in Mr. Gaggs’ yard." (2)

Some vagrants deliberately avoided the workhouse as a condition of entry was the surrender of all personal possessions. Ostensibly, this was a measure taken to safeguard against theft but by 1843 parish officers had been granted the right to search tramps to obviate the entry of contraband goods. Vagrants usually objected to such treatment and when in possession of funds, preferred to seek a lodging house or otherwise sleep rough. (3)

In order to deter bogus claimants, work was assigned to all able bodied pauper inmates but on occasion the claimant refused to undertake the allotted task. In February 1860, for instance, it is recorded that, "Joshua Mattinson have no relief until he performs the work appointed for him." (4)

In October 1848 the ubiquitous Joseph Cawthorn was indicted for neglect of work (5) and further distinguished himself in April 1852, being committed to the House of Correction at Wakefield for refusal to work. (6) The following year it is recorded that, "Jas King be summoned [as] a rogue and vagabond." (7)

Another persistent offender, John Kirkby, who, like Cawthorn, was a long-term pauper, knew how to work the system to his own advantage. In the Spring of 1854 the Select Vestry sought unsuccessfully, to obtain his removal when he sought relief, which Kirkby appears to have resisted on medical grounds. (8) Undaunted by authority, Kirkby was still agitating as late as June 1856 at which time the Vestry resolved to commit him to the House of Correction, "…if he persist in demanding relief." (9)

Nor was such assertion of perceived rights an exclusively male preserve.

"The Overseers to take Hannah Jolly and her daughter to Castleford tomorrow and get them committed to the House of Correction if possible for returning to this township after having been removed to Swillington", is recorded in 1831. (10) The following decade Widow Kitson, another recipient of frequent relief throughout the 1840s, despite being removed to Kings Lynn in 1846, continued to make such clamorous demand for relief by the Knottingley authorities that the Select Vestry decided to bring her back to the town in order to have her committed to the House of Correction. (11) Blatant contempt for authority by pauper inmates of the workhouse is also evident. In 1843 Ann Rowbottom was threatened with prosecution by the Select Vestry for wilful disobedience (12) and Thomas Brook, supervisor of the oakum teasers in the workhouse, seems to have defied earlier censure for in 1856 the Select Vestry resolved to haul him before the magistrates "…if he get drunk again." (13)

The threat of being sent for correction seems to have held little fear for recalcitrant paupers. Indeed, one historian of the Poor Law has stated that under the reformed regime, post 1834, life in prison was more favourable than that in the workhouse. (14) Whether such claim was valid under the Old Poor Law system as practised at Knottingley, is a matter of conjecture but there is certainly much evidence of the parish authorities threatening the committal of the more assertive of the town’s paupers.

However beneficial referral to the House of Correction of those refusing work or otherwise defying authority may have been for the parish and however justified in terms of reformation of character of the offenders, there is no doubt that the dependants of those committed also suffered punishment. Thus, in 1825, it is recorded, "John Dixon’s family allowed 4s per week until his release from Wakefield House of Correction", and in September 1831, "John Sutton’s wife to have 1s6d for her child, her husband being in Norwich jail for felony." (15)

In April 1850 relief was denied to "Wm. Saynor’s wife and children… he being in Wakefield House of Correction." (16), while in 1856, sixpence of the five shillings allowed to the family of Reynard Shaw was stopped due to his confinement within the House of Correction. (17)

Even more drastic, in February 1829, "Thomas Langfield’s wife applies for relief he being transported for the term of 7 years. She has 2 children, Julia, 4, and Ann, 1. To have 3s per week."

Langfield’s wife had been granted 2 shillings per week the previous year at which time he was stated to be in Wakefield House of Correction for poaching. Whether the sentence of transportation arose from that offence is unstated but it is, perhaps, wise not to rush to judgement regarding Langfield’s crime of poaching which may have been prompted by a desperate desire to obtain food for his starving family as much as by wanton criminality. (18)

While existing records provide few instances of vagrancy its frequent incidence is apparent from the fact that one of the prime duties of the township’s policeman was the management of the tramps entering the town. (19)

In general the plight of widowhood was recognised by the Select Vestry and the attitude of that body is reflected in the degree of provision made in cash and kind. Of eight applicants during the period November 1840 to March 1841, all were granted some measure of relief with one case resulting in admittance to the workhouse.


1841-42 20 5 1
1846-47 28 3 0
1851-52 14 12 0
1856-57 19 6 1

(Source: KSV Minute Books B & C passim)

The table reveals the increase in the number of applicants for relief by widow women during the ‘Hungry Forties’. The harshness of that decade is reflected in the proportion of rejections, which fell from 20% of all applicants at the start of the decade to 9.6% by mid term. A fall of 50% in the number relieved in 1851-52 and a 46% increase in rejections of total applicants for that year is perhaps less due to an increase in general prosperity than of the financial crisis faced by the Select Vestry during the early 1850s. Of the 12 cases in which relief was refused in 1851-52, 8 were cases in which ongoing relief was terminated, with 3 being ultimately reinstated. It is an indication of humanitarian consideration afforded to the town’s widows by the Select Vestry that throughout the 1840s they were granted an additional allowance. However, the effect of the national financial crisis of 1847 on local affairs is seen in the Vestry resolution of September that year, "That the extra sixpences given to widows weekly be stopped." (20)

Examination of the application of poor relief to widows reveals a comprehensive and flexible system. In July 1827 it was stated that Widow Hodgson required relief, her son (presumably the breadwinner) being very ill. Even more distressing is the application of Widow Howes in 1831, who has seven dependant children between the ages of 6 months and 13 years, to whom the Select Vestry awarded 12 shillings per week. (21) In April 1841, Widow Atkins received an advance of five weeks pay (22) while the previous November, Widow Wainwright was granted 1s 6d per week, backdated to August 1840. (23) On occasion relief took the form of cancellation of outstanding arrears of rates as seen in the cases of Widows Walker and Perfect in 1841, the latter also receiving 3s per week in addition. (24)

Arrears of rates, which were collected quarterly, was a common danger, for paupers found it almost impossible to save from their weekly dole. The Vestry took responsibility in some cases, adjusting relief accordingly, as show by reference to the case of Widow Howram who in 1851 has a shilling stopped from her weekly allowance in lieu of rates. (25) In another instance, in 1842, the Vestry paid the doctor to examine Widow Greenwood (26) and in 1857 Widow Barber was allowed 9s to enable her son to be examined by the doctor. (27) In 1841 the Vestry awarded 10s towards the cost of a coffin for Widow Braime. (28) There are also numerous instances of the donation of clothing and articles of everyday use to widows. Perhaps the most intriguing concerns two donations of indefinable objects. In April 1849 the Vestry decreed that "Widow Clayton have a pair of Lord Mayors", and the following month that "Mary Smith have a pair of Lord Mayors." (29)

The cases cited are the only examples of their kind and despite comprehensive research the articles in question have not been identified.

The state of widowhood did not guarantee automatic relief nor continuation of the same once granted as shown by resolutions such as, "That Widow Hepworth have no relief", and that "Widow Stacey’s pay be stopped." (30)

Nor were such cases infrequent as shown by the wholesale stoppage of widow’s pay in March and June 1852. (31)

On occasion widows were left with no option but admittance to the Workhouse as in the case of Widow Newton in 1841 who was received into the House and given "a few shillings", as was Widow Braithwaite the same year. (32) In some situations entry into the workhouse was only averted by the granting of conditional relief. Thus in 1845, the Vestry decided that it would let "Hannah, Widow Jackson, have 1s and [the Select Vestry] summon her son George", (33) and again in 1859 "Widow Fozzard have 2s per week and her sons be made to repay the money." (34)

Or yet again, in 1842 "Widow Cawthorn have 5s per week till her daughter obtain work." (35)

There is also evidence of a degree of coercion by the Select Vestry. Either suspecting collusion between mother and son or alternatively seeking to establish the whereabouts of the latter in order to obtain recompense, the Vestry sought to resolve the issues in April 1852 by a decision that "Widow Davis’s pay be suspended until she give up the letters from her son, Thomas." (36)

An interesting insight into the moral attitude of the period is provided by a resolution of 1842, "Widow Tree – 3s - for herself and children", has been subsequently amended in the apparent light of a later disclosure so that the words "and children" have been struck out and replaced by "and her legitimate child". In a similar case two years later, Widow Arnold was given 4s 6d for herself and children, "having nothing for her eldest girl", although it is unstated whether this discrimination was on grounds of age, settlement or morality. (38)

While the resettlement of a widow was infrequent, it was not unknown as shown in the case of Widow Grey in 1845 and Widow Kitson the following year, (39) whilst directions such as "John Rhodes Lee’s Widow’s settlement be enquired into", and that "Widow Stables be examined as to her settlement", and that "Widow Whitteron be not relieved by Knottingley", indicate active steps to prevent widows being a charge to the town’s ratepayers. (40)

Legislation in 1846 sought to prevent harassment of recently bereaved widows by ensuring the right of residence for one year following the death of a husband. It has been claimed that the legislative obligation was often evaded (41) and a Vestry decision of September 1844, "That Calvert’s widow & family have 20s to go to Hull to reside there", (42) may be indicative of one method by which the statutory safeguard was circumvented.

Careful observation of widows within the parish is clearly evident pre 1846. In May 1843, for instance, the Vestry noted "Thomas Rowbottom’s widow has applied for relief" (43) and in another instance the same year, it is recorded that "William Smith’s widow [pay] the rates that have become due since her husband’s death." (44)

Similarly, that "Widow Copley pay her rates", while conversely we find Widow Carr having her rates given. (45)

The combined effect of settlement law and financial stringency resulted in even closer monitoring of widows by the late 1840s. In March 1849, the Select Vestry instructed the Overseer to draw up a list of poor widows, many of whom were victims of cutbacks in relief in the early years of the following decade. (46) One example of a family which experienced adversity as a result was the Wilds’. In 1842, Widow Wild, a long-term recipient of parish pay, received 6s per week for herself and two children, together with a rent supplement. (47) By 1847, however, the family was in crisis to the extent that in January that year the Vestry decided "Widow Wild’s daughter have 1s 6d per week [for] a fortnight then cease to beg." (48)

In April, Widow Wild’s son was sent on trial to Thomas Ellerington, presumably in the hope of obtaining regular employment and income thus removing him from the charge of the parish. (49) The hope appears to have been unfulfilled, however, for in July the son was admitted to the workhouse. (50) The mother, herself, was granted relief of 7 shillings per week for a few weeks in September 1847. (51) Thereafter the record is silent but the known facts typify the day to day struggle of pauper families to make ends meet and their inability to cope with even the slightest change to the status quo arising from unforeseen and inescapable situations. The point is vividly illustrated by reference to the Widow of James Cawthorn who had her pay stopped instantly after enquiries revealed that her place of residence was a freehold property, thus making her ineligible for parish relief. (52)

The plight of widowhood revealed in the Select Vestry Minute Books tends to overshadow less frequent but equally deserving cases of hardship arising from death and desertion. Thus in April 1828, John Brigg’s wife applied for relief, "…he having gone and left her with 2 children under 7 years of age", to which the Select Vestry responded by awarding her 2s6d per week and resolved to "make vigilant enquiries with respect to him." (53)

In September 1831 William Shaw’s wife was granted 4s6d weekly and re-housed, her husband having run away and deserted her. (54) When Peter Horsefall, a presumed widower, died in 1832, his father became responsible for the upbringing of the deceased’s three young children. Unable to meet the burden, the father applied for parish relief and was granted one shilling for each child per week. (55)

In passing, it may be appropriate to digress and mention two privately founded charities existent in Knottingley during the nineteenth century which though restricted in nature and extent, were under the nominal control of the Select Vestry and to a limited extent supplemented the system of parish relief.

In the years 1811 and 1812, Mrs Elizabeth Brown, a resident of York but Knottingley born, donated two sums of £100 to be invested, the annual interest to be used for the purpose of teaching a dozen young girls of the town to read and knit and also to provide an annual Christmas dole for Knottingley widows.

The terms of the charitable foundation specified that the selection of the young girls for tuition and the payment of the widows was undertaken by the Curate and chapelwardens but the management of the money was to be undertaken by four trustees, being principal inhabitants of the town (and therefore almost assuredly members of the Select Vestry). The original trustees were Edward Gaggs, Mark Carter, Richard West, and William Jackson (56). By the Spring of 1837 Gaggs was the only one of the four resident in the town and in accordance with Mrs Brown’s wishes that when the number was down to one the Select Vestry be convened to nominate replacements, met and appointed Rev George Stewart, John Carter and William Moorhouse to assist Edward Gaggs. (57)

Of the charity school we find no detail and the documentation concerning the dole to widows is sparse. However, extant accounts covering the period 1853-71 reveal that the investment of £60 in 5% government stock in 1821, enabled between 65 and 133 widows to receive 1s 6d each during the aforementioned period. (58)

Where the disbursement of public money was concerned there was little room for sentiment, a fact which applied even to pauper children who were, if anything, treated less favourably than were the widows of the town.

When John Spence, a widower, was committed to the County Asylum in 1841, his 11 year old daughter, Ann, was left destitute and was summoned before the Select Vestry in accordance with the stipulation of the Act of 1661, in order that an examination of her circumstances could be undertaken. (59) The Act stated that children whose parents could not support them were to be taken into custody, set to work and apprenticed when of sufficient age, but the practical difficulties of finding suitable work for children created increasing difficulty with the implementation of that aspect of the statute. (60)

The Knottingley Select Vestry Minute Books furnish numerous instances of children being examined (61) with the decision whether or not to provide relief being made on the basis of oral deposition. (62) In some instances children were admitted into the workhouse in accordance with the stipulation of the Act. A resolution of March 1841 decreed that, "Amelia Mountier’s children be brought into the House" (63) and at the time of the 1841 census in June of that year the two children, Harriet, aged 15 and Thomas, aged 10, were still inmates, together with another child, Jane Fletcher, aged 5 years. Amelia Mountier was not, however, resident within the workhouse, she being in receipt of 2 shillings per week outdoor relief. (64) The reluctance to take children into the workhouse, however, is suggested by a Vestry decision in April 1842 that, "Widow Gill be allowed 1s 6d per week for a short time on account of her son, Robert." (65)

Not all children were readily provided for, however, children with no claims to settlement were unceremoniously removed. In 1841 it is recorded that "Benjamin Hall’s Children be removed to Brotherton", (66) and in August 1858 that "William Robinson’s child be removed." (67)

The seemingly callous indifference of the administrators in the application of the law is upstaged by the ease with which some parents appear to have abandoned their offspring, leaving them to the mercy of the parish authorities. The Vestry Clerk was instructed in August 1841 to write to the bookkeeper at Leeds Pottery and enquire, "…where John Finny (sic) is now working, he having left five children chargeable to this township."

Of the foundlings, Charlotte aged 6 years, Mary Ann, 5 years, and John 2 ½ years, were allocated 3 shillings per week for their upkeep. (68) Again, in 1860, that, "steps be taken to compel Mrs Johnson to maintain her grandchildren now chargeable to this parish." (69)

It is of interest to note that earlier that year a court order had been issued against Richard Johnson, the children’s father, in an apparently unsuccessful attempt to compel him to repay charges incurred in the relief of his children. (70) Clearly, the Select Vestry was intent upon recouping its capital outlay by whatever means.

Defaulting fathers were ultimately subject to arrest and confinement in the House of Correction but delay arising from legal technicalities and administrative delay and difficulties meant that the threat was more apparent than real. Generally, the responsibility for supporting children fell upon the mother and any relief afforded to the child could be regarded as afforded to the parent. Nevertheless, relief in cash and kind was nominally granted to pauper children.

"Elizabeth Akers to have 1s6d per week for her child", and again "Jane Shorter’s children [to] have 3s per week", (71) or yet again "The children of Thomas Thompson [to] have 1s 6d per week each for a fortnight", (72) are but a few of the many examples of relief granted specifically for the benefit of children. However, on infrequent occasions children were denied, as seen by the decision of January 1843 that, "Webster’s children have no relief." (73)

As may be expected, the principal items of material provision for children were clothes, hence in September 1843, "baby things" were decreed for Sarah Wood’s child, (74) and a few years later the children of Widow Wild received several donations of shoes, clogs and clothes. (75) Sometimes, however, the provision was for a more solemn purpose, as in March 1857, when, "Widow Barber have 9s given for her son, for the doctor, he being lame", (76) or even more sombrely, that, "Ann Appleyard have a coffin for her child." (77) Again, that, "John Teal’s child have a coffin and dues." (78)

Unlike adults, the children within the workhouse could not leave voluntarily and were brought back if they absconded. (79) It was, however, Select Vestry policy to place pauper children in the care of foster parents if possible, paying an allowance to the foster parents. When, in August 1841, Thomas North abandoned his daughters, aged 3 years and 11 months respectively, it was sanctioned that "Mrs Hodgson have 3s per week for one month with Thomas North’s child." (80)

Which child is not specified but clearly North’s children were separated. North appears to have been wilfully and consistently neglectful of his children’s welfare. In March 1843, the Vestry charged him "…henceforth to maintain his child", but his fecklessness (or desperation?) continued and in June 1846 it was ordered that he be sent to the House of Correction. (81)

"That Ellen Lister and children come into the House and [the Vestry] pay her children’s lodgings", (82) indicates that children were taken into the workhouse initially while arrangements could be made to foster them. Following the death of her father in 1843, Ann Spence was taken into the workhouse before being, "…removed to Matilda Gill." (83)

Six months later the girl was still being fostered as indicated by the Vestry resolution, "That Matilda Gill have a few things of clothing for Spence’s child." (84)

The unfortunate girl who was 11 when placed in the care of the Select Vestry was still in receipt of parish pay seven years later in 1848, her only hope of escape from pauperism, presumably, being matrimony. (85)

To what extent fostering was undertaken out of altruism is conjectural. Certainly, the allowance paid by the parish would provide an incentive to those who sought to supplement their meagre income and if, like Ann Spence, the young person was of an age to be useful about the house, fostering provided a source of sponsored labour. For institutionalised children a possible means of escape from workhouse life was via apprenticeship, although as Charles Dickens so graphically illustrates in his novel, Oliver Twist, such a course could be of dubious benefit to the apprentice. Under the Old Poor Law, workhouse children could be bound to a master with payment of a £10 premium by the Vestry. Apprenticeship, however, like illegitimacy, created problems concerning settlement right and this fact, taken into consideration with the potential for abuse of pauper children, led to its abolition in 1834. There are however indications of the continuation of the old practice at Knottingley in the middle decades of the nineteenth century. A Vestry resolution of October 1823 states that, "All pauper children of a proper and suitable age to be put out to apprenticeship to respectable Manufacturers at Barnsley."

The resolution was passed in the light of a report submitted by the Vestry Clerk, Mr. J. Allison, who had recently been despatched by the Select Vestry to enquire and report, "…at what ages the Manufacturers will take children of both sexes apprentice..." (86)

No further details are recorded concerning the proposed exile but in February 1832 the policy was still being observed, albeit apparently somewhat in the breach, the Overseers being instructed, "…to take account of all children chargeable to the Township able to out Town’s Apprentice." (87)

In November 1845 the Select Vestry responded to an enquiry by Widow Akers of Silcoates requesting that her two oldest sons be placed as apprentices (88) and in July 1854, a decision was taken, "That George Radley be continued on the roads a few weeks until the Overseers can apprentice him." (89)

On the 28th August it was approved that Radley, "…be bound apprentice to a shoemaker", (90) and in mid November Joseph Watson, the Overseer, and Vestry member, William Worfolk, were deputised to negotiate the terms of Radley’s binding to one John Waddington. (91) The following March the father, William Radley, was granted 7 shillings per week for the upkeep of his family but it was agreed that, "…the eldest son come into the House and work at the Pottery." (92)

Whether the said son was George Radley or his brother is unclear but it would appear that the projected apprenticeship miscarried for in April 1859 George Radley was classed as a pauper, being allowed a pair of new trousers by the Vestry. (93)

A further attempted apprenticeship concerned Henry Rutherford. On the 14th January 1858, the Vestry considered, "Whether the deaf & dumb boy, Rutherford, shall be sent to the Deaf & Dumb Asylum." (94) A decision was deferred, however, and it was not until September that it was decided to send Rutherford to the Deaf & Dumb School, Doncaster, "…at the expense of the Town, his mother providing him with clothes." (95)

Rutherford remained at the school for six years, being maintained by Knottingley township throughout that period (96) but in late December 1864 it was considered "…desirable to discontinue his maintenance…and if possible to place him out to learn some trade and that the Assistant Overseer write…to ascertain from him what business or trade is most suitable." (97)

The indications are that the Vestry plan was implemented for almost two months later it recorded, "…that the parents of Henry Rutherford ought to find the clothes he requires", (98) suggesting that he required "decking out" to embark upon a new lifestyle. It would appear, however, that the parents insisted that such provision was the responsibility of the Select Vestry, initially unsuccessfully, for on the 8th December 1864 the Vestry concluded, "that the case of Rutherford be not entertained." (99)

However, persistence by the parents resulted in a compromise being reached the following month when the Select Vestry made an offer of £5 on condition that the sum was matched by the Deaf & Dumb Institute and that Mr. C. Willson (sic) accepted the total sum (presumably as a bond of apprenticeship) subject to conditions laid down by the Poor Law Board. (100)

In sharp contrast to the Vestry’s long-term investment on Rutherford’s specialist education is the attitude expressed by that body in a resolution dated April 1858, arising from the initiative of a parish pauper, "That Sarah Lawson’s request respecting her child being educated at the Town’s expence (sic) [be] not complied with." (101)

As Lawson’s request was contemporary with the proposal concerning the future education of the boy Rutherford it is tempting to suggest that Sarah Lawson may have been motivated by her awareness of the Select Vestry intention, though whether prompted by outrage, envy, or the desire for equality of opportunity is open to speculation.

In a male dominated society it is unsurprising that the education and employment of men and boys was the pre-eminent, the placement of girls was not neglected, however. Reference has been made concerning the attendance of Maria Oxley at the Pontefract Statutes (hiring fair) in order to obtain employment. Domestic service was the most common form of employment for young females although agricultural work was often an additional feature of work undertaken by those engaged by farmers. There is evidence suggesting that in some cases short-term engagement occurred. A Vestry resolution of August 1854 states, "Maria Westerman have another situation obtained", and five years on Maria was instructed "to go a few weeks to Mr. Twaites [local doctor] as servant", being so deployed whilst awaiting imminent confinement with her illegitimate child. (102)

The transient nature of a considerable element of the poorer labouring classes, particularly those associated with the maritime trade, together with the substantial number of inns and beerhouses within the township of Knottingley, combined to induce a high degree of moral laxity. (103) Consequently, by the mid nineteenth century the township was one in which drunkenness, vice and immorality were prevalent (104) and one which some twenty years thereafter was recorded as having rates of bastardy, petty crime and immorality well above the national average. (105) Placed against this social background one may well understand the concern of the Select Vestry to prevent claims being made on the parish by unmarried females and their offspring. Where a situation arose in which an application for relief was made by an unmarried, pregnant pauper to the Select Vestry, rigorous measure were undertaken to obtain details of the putative father in order to compel him to acknowledge and support the child. Thus in April 1835 we find, "James Adams be noticed to appear at the next Quarter Sessions regarding Mounteer’s bastard Child which has been filiated (sic) upon him." (106)

Thus, we find in March 1842, an order by the Select Vestry that, "Mr Willson (sic) [the Overseer] enquire after the father of Jane Collin’s child." (107)

The hapless girl was already in receipt of 1 shilling per week relief and had subsequently sought and been denied refuge within the workhouse, either because her allowance was insubstantial or perhaps to ease her confinement. (108) Again, in March 1857, it was ordered, "That the father of Dove’s child be enquired after." (109)

The girl appears to have been particularly vulnerable to some predatory male or perhaps unhinged by events, for some months later she was referred to the magistrates for examination regarding her sanity. (110)

Sometimes paternity remained undisclosed but on other occasions the alleged father was identified as in December 1859 when Maria Westerman, (introduced above as an erstwhile workhouse resident and sometimes domestic servant), "…was examined before the Vestry and she declares that Sykes Taylor is the father of the child of which she expects to be confined shortly." (111)

Identification of the alleged father resulted in legal prosecution by the Select Vestry to ensure that maintenance of the illegitimate child did not fall upon the parish. The process commenced with the issuing of an affiliation order. In April 1843 we find recorded an order, "That Ann Briggs Affiliate her child", (112) and again, in July the year following, in the case of Harriet Howram, resulting in September in a resolution that, "Notice be served of Bastardy on Thomas Swales." (113)

Once the affiliation order had been issued by the magistrates it was the task of the Overseer to collect due maintenance and keep account of all payments made. (114) However, poverty or reluctance, or a combination of both, frequently resulted in failure to obtain the imposed payment, as shown by a Vestry decision in October 1838 that, "The Overseer see Wm. Hossill & the father of Esther Hewitt’s child and [blank] Harrison, the father of Margaret Lee’s child to enquire what sum, if any, they each will pay & if not £30 each, to instruct Mr Harmer to take up the cases immediately." (115)

The response was obviously negative for the following month payment orders were sought by the Vestry. (116)

In January 1839 it was ordered that, "the father of Sarah Stacy’s child be seen immediately", but again, with little effect for on the 14th February it is recorded that the girl was to leave the workhouse (where, presumably she had resided during her confinement) and have 1s6d per week for her child. (117)

Rebuffs notwithstanding, the official pursuit of putative fathers continued unabated and frequently over a quite protracted period of time, particularly if the reputed father was a native of a different parish. When in July 1839, Mary (alternatively listed as Sarah) Waddington named one John Marsden of Little Borough as the father of her child, a letter was sent to the Constable of that parish; the Overseer of Little Borough having ignored an initial communication from the Knottingley Overseers. (118) The second missive also being ignored, the Select Vestry made recourse to the incumbent clergyman at Little Borough regarding Waddington’s child. (119) This seems to have yielded results but it was not until October 1840 that Marsden was served with a summons for bastardy and even then the culprits charmed life continued for he was fortunate to have the debt arising from his transgressions paid by his master. (120)

In 1841 the Select Vestry resolved that, "Reynolds Shaw and James Adams be indicted at the Quarter Sessions for arrears of bastardy." (121)

In the case of Shaw indigence was the obvious reason for failure to meet the commitment for a subsequent entry reveals that, "Reynard (sic) Shaw have 5s per week and an old blanket and two rugs." (122)

The mothers of illegitimate children could always be identified and therefore bore the brunt of Society’s opprobrium which condemned them for failure to resist their seduction, while the fathers often escaped scot free. Nevertheless, the list of local men who fathered children out of wedlock seems to have been considerable and the time and labour involved in collecting and recording paternity dues made such demand on the Overseers’ that in 1848 it was decreed that, "It is not agreeable to the Select (sic) that the Overseer should receive Bastardy Accts. into his hands." (123)

As shown above, illegitimate children were discriminated against in the context of poor relief, with allowance granted to legitimate offspring only. (124) It is, however, of interest to note that notwithstanding the moral indignation of ‘respectable’ society there are signs of a softening in attitude towards illegitimacy over the decades. The term ‘Bastard’ is used less frequently in the minute books after the 1860s, being replaced by references to ‘natural’ or ‘illegitimate’ children. (125) The social stigma long remained, however, and it is only within the adulthood of the writer that we have stopped victimising blameless children although regretfully, it is still in vogue amongst an element of present day society to castigate single parent mothers. Quid novi?

©2005 Dr. Terry Spencer



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