Knottingley and Ferrybridge Online West Yorkshire
Amazon Advertisements
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



The earliest recorded reference to a guardian of the law at Knottingley is the 7th January 1825 when the Select Vestry appointed John Atkinson as Town’s Constable for the ensuing year with Samuel Atkinson as his deputy together with five special constables. (1)

The office of Parish Constable was of ancient and honourable origin. Prior to the passing of the Elizabethan Poor Law legislation the Constable was the one entrusted with the general supervision of civil affairs within any parish. The lodging of the impotent poor, apprenticing children, admonishment of vagrants, superintendence of ale houses and convening of parish meetings were all the domain of the Constable who was therefore the mainstay of local law enforcement. Furthermore, unlike other parish officials, the Constable was authorised to arrest wrongdoers or, if even suspecting that a breach of the peace was imminent, to apprehend any suspect and confine him in the local prison, or failing the existence of such, lodge him in his own house until the offender could be brought before the local Justice of the Peace. (2)

The latter requirement applied in the case of John Shillito, Knottingley’s Constable, who in June 1841 is recorded as having a 12 year old boy, William Priestley, as a prisoner in his house. (3) The township did have jail premises at that time but it is probable that Shillito’s decision to house Priestley within his home was prompted by consideration of the extreme youth of the prisoner and the self-evident of moral danger arising from confinement within the jail house. It is clear that while a sturdy physique was a prerequisite of the office holder, fair mindedness and some understanding of the psychology of human nature, together with respect for one’s fellow citizens, were no less essential attributes for the post.

Of all the local officials it was the Constable who brought direct focus on the personal rights and liberties of his fellow citizens and who was the physical embodiment of justice. In the mid seventeenth century, William Sykes, Constable of Knottingley, used his office to lead the townspeople against the perceived injustice of tithes payment, placing the cause of moral law above that of customary observation and suffering a martyr’s fate for championing the popular cause. (4)

Owing to its comprehensive, time consuming and legalistically fraught nature, the office of Constable was regarded as the most onerous post and therefore the one which eligible men sought to avoid. While the post of churchwarden was one conferring dignity upon the holder, hence its being held by the gentry of the town, the posts of Overseer of the Poor, and Surveyor of the Highways involved much labour and not a little unpleasantness with ones fellow citizens and were therefore filled by the ‘lesser gentry’. From the seventeenth century onward, the office of Constable was the least socially prestigious of the local offices, being regarded as a stepping stone for the attainment of higher office by ratepayers of more humble means and status. (5)

The absence of central control throughout the eighteenth and the first quarter of the nineteenth century had permitted a considerable degree of autonomy in administrative systems and yet, while no two governing bodies were alike, they each had features in common which enabled parishes to meet legislative obligations. Owing to the odium and unpleasantness parochial service could engender, a disinclination to serve in the capacity of Constable had developed amongst a substantial element of the ratepayers by the latter date. To ease the burden, an Act, 6th Victoria 1842, directed magistrates to call annual meetings for the purpose of nomination and recommendation of eligible parishioners from a list drawn up by the serving Overseers of each parish. The custom of forwarding additional names as a preliminary to the specially convened meeting to elect the Constable is clearly evident at Knottingley. In 1842, where in accordance with the precept from local magistrates, in July, Knottingley Select Vestry issued a public notice that the ratepayers of the town convene in the schoolroom adjacent to the church in order to nominate ten or more able-bodied men of the town qualified to be appointed Parish Constable. At a subsequent meeting on Thursday 6th October, Joseph Atkinson was elected from the list of twelve nominated citizens. (6) To the initial list of ten nominees, two others were added later, one being the retiring Constable, Joseph Shillito. An interesting insight into the degree of reluctance or the unsuitability of potential office holders is provided by the meeting held in the town’s schoolhouse in February 1847, when only five candidates were listed. Of the five, John Fenton was nominated as ‘Chief Constable’ by Joseph Atkinson, the retiring Constable, who was in turn nominated for re-election. Unfortunately, the proposer and seconder are not recorded so we have no means of knowing whether Atkinson was nominated by Fenton in order to deflect the dubious appointment from himself, nor does the record reveal the name of the appointee. (7) Again, in 1852, only eight nominees were listed, six having featured as candidates in 1842 and all having served in subsequent years. (8) Of those nominated in February 1860, six were listed by the Overseers and two were proposed from the floor at the public meeting, whilst two years later the Surveyors nominated five candidates and the public, four. (9)

It is significant that by the meeting of 1860 and at all subsequent annual meetings, those nominated from the floor of the hall are, "recommended and willing to serve as Constable."

Also, of the five nominees put forward by the Overseers in 1862, one had his name scratched by the Vestry Clerk, presumably being disinclined to serve. (10)

The list of 1850 is particularly interesting for it provides details of the residential locations and occupations of the nominees and thus provides an insight into the social status of those nominated. Of those listed all were self employed and seven had previously served as Constable, while some were later to serve as Overseers of the Poor (11) viz:-

John Howard Marsh End Ropemaker
Joseph Atkinson Hill Top Currier
Richard Askham Flatts Dealer & Chapman
John Shillito Flatts Constable
John Cheesbrough Cow Lane Lime Burner
John Fisher Holes Butcher
George Barton Low Green Carpenter
John Bentley Primrose Hill Farmer

It is significant that John Shillito is named as Constable, he being the ongoing occupant of the post, implying the full time nature of the office.

Following the Act of 1842 there was a degree of detachment by the Select Vestry concerning the appointment of the Constable which may have found expression in the custom of nominating candidates from the floor of the town meeting to supplement the list formally drawn up by the Select Vestry as a recommendation to the magistrates. A clear indication of this freedom of action by the general public is seen in the Vestry resolution of 24th April 1848 that,

"When a Vestry or Town’s Meeting is called for any purpose, the Select Vestry shall individually have notice of the meeting and its business." (12)

The resolution followed a town’s meeting convened in the Church Schoolhouse on the 19th February at which it was decided to recommend Joseph Atkinson for appointment as Constable for the ensuing year. Having received no formal notification of the said meeting, the collective dignity of the members of the Select Vestry felt sorely abused, hence the subsequent assertion of authority. However, the Vestry acceded to the public demand by adding Atkinson’s name to the official list. It is of interest to note that the final list of candidates was scheduled by the Select Vestry for publication on the first two Sundays in March by being posted on the door of the parish church thereby observing the traditional connection with the church vestry. (13)

The exercise of public choice at one degree removed from the auspices of the Select Vestry in the matter concerning the candidacy for Constable. Appears to have raised the question on at least one occasion as to whether the formal legislative requirements were being observed. In 1856, the Select Vestry instructed Isaac Smith, the Vestry Clerk, to write to Mr. Jewison, the district coroner, and inform him that the meeting held on the 21st February for the specific purpose of nomination, was legally conducted. Presumably the explanation was accepted for there is no further report concerning the subject. (14)

During the second half of the nineteenth century the emphasis on the duties of the Parish Constable changed from being primarily a law enforcement officer to being a civic administrator. The same force of change which produced difficulties in other social spheres (such as population growth and its concomitant urbanisation and the transient nature of an element of the local public, arising from the development of the townships status as an important inland port) combined to pose problems for the maintenance of law and order.

On a psychological level the theory of less eligibility which informed the New Poor Law administration was equally valid in its application to lawlessness. The presence of a uniformed policeman as the full time professional representative of the forces of law and order would, it was considered, render the condition of the criminal less viable than that of the law abiding citizenry and therefore provide an effective deterrence to crime.

The establishment of the Metropolitan Police Force in 1829 had great influence on public attitude and the reform of municipal corporations in 1835 enabled local constabularies to be formed under the supervision of local watch committees, a measure which was extended to the counties by the Police Act of 1839. However, response was sporadic and whilst by 1836 conditions at Knottingley warranted consideration of the establishment of a formally constituted force, the general response was by no means uniform before the enactment of the County and Borough Police Act of 1856, assisted compulsory measures by Exchequer grants.

In 1836 the Select Vestry wrote to the Poor Law Commissioners, established in 1834 to oversee the New Poor Law, asking if it was legally permissible to employ a professional policeman to be charged to the Poor Law Rate or if a special rate was necessary for the purpose. Following considerable delay on the part of the Commissioners a decision was taken to proceed with the engagement of a police officer in anticipation of the Commissioner’s approval. (15) On the 30th July 1836 the Select Vestry resolved to appoint a Constable and prescribed a list of duties before placing an advert in the press concerning the proposed appointment. (16)

The funding of the office of Constable in the event of a decision by the Commissioners to disallow a rate subsidy was obviated by a written undertaking on the part of fifteen substantial townsmen:-

"We the undersigned members of the Select Vestry do hereby guarantee the Overseers of Knottingley that should the Commissioners of the New Poor Law strike out the Overseers’ general account any monies paid as salary to a Constable or Policeman we will make up the deficiency to the said Overseers. As witness our hands this 24th day of September 1836.
P.S. The deficiency is £18-0-0.
" (17)

The Constables salary was set at £30 per annum in addition to the regular and customary emoluments of his office. In addition, the Constable was expected to devote his whole time to the duties of the post and deal with all cases of felony, etc.. It was decided to appoint two deputies to assist the Policeman, they to act in accordance with his directions. Each deputy was to receive £10 p.a. for his services. (18)

On the 26th September 1836 John Hodgson was appointed as Town Constable with Michael Bentley as the deputy for the east (Low) end of the township and John Shillito as the deputy for the west (Top) end. (19)

Bentley, who had been appointed to the Select Vestry the previous year, has served as the township’s Constable in 1831, at which date the duties of the office were defined as : -

"… to serve all summonses which the Parish Officers procure and be responsible for money collected and to give it to the Overseers immediately after recovery and to have no claim on the Town if he cannot receive his expenses of the parties [and] to present his accounts every three month to the Select Vestry." (20)

In addition, the Constable was instructed to prepare three notice boards to be placed at appropriate points within the town for the purpose of expelling vagrants. (21)

It is clearly apparent that under the former system the Constable supplemented his annual salary by obtaining small fees for serving summonses on defaulting ratepayers and collecting arrears from the same. Further sources of income came via giving evidence at the Magistrates Court and summonsing jurors for inquests. With regard to the latter it is of interest to note an arbitrary decision by the Select Vestry in December 1831 that.

"The Constable to have only 3s6d in future from summons of juries on inquests." (22)

In 1834 Edward Gaggs was appointed as Chief Constable for the ensuing year with Michael Bentley, Richard Hill, Joshua Atkinson and William Moon as deputies. It was decreed that all expenses regarding duties were to be paid out of the Poor Rate (23) but it would appear that supplementary earnings were regarded as an essential perquisite. Thus, within a few months of his appointment we find John Hodgson seeking compensatory remuneration from the Select Vestry after attending the County Court and being denied his claimed fee due to the fact that the case ended without the conviction of the accused, an indication of payment by results. The Select Vestry agreed to pay Hodgson £1-10-0 but stated that such payment was not to be regarded as a precedent for any future occurrence. (24)

In September 1837 Hodgson was reappointed for a further year, his salary of £30 being paid from the Poor Rate. Bentley and Shillito were also reappointed as deputies but,

"…without salary…their remuneration to be raised from cases which fall into their hands." (25)

The extent to which the decision was a factor in the eventual accusation brought against Bentley by his supervisor is not clear but on the 15th February 1838 it is recorded,

"The Select Vestry having heard the charges against Mr Bentley by John Hodgson do acquit him of everyone of the charges."

The statement of acquittal was signed by 16 Vestrymen, including the Curate, Reverend G. Stewart, and ironically, by Bentley himself in his capacity as a member of the Select Vestry. (26) That the charge concerned affairs of a pecuniary nature is evident from the fact that the Select Vestry resolved that a subscription on Bentley’s behalf be entered into immediately and a sum equal to that raised be taken out of the Poor Rate. (27)

The boldness of Hodgson in moving against one of the social elite of the town, albeit one who was inferior to him in civic status, appears to have put paid to Hodgson’s career as Town Policeman for thereafter there is no record of his activities. A reference to the Constable in June of that year may apply to Bentley for the following month he was authorised to act on behalf on the Select Vestry with reference to the Town’s Prison. Furthermore, the month following the Town Cryer was instructed to cry that the Select Vestry would meet on the 23rd October to choose a new Town Constable. (28) As a result on the 30th instant John Shillito was appointed as office holder for the following year. (29) In December the Bellman was again despatched to give notice to the inhabitants of the town that a Deputy Constable was to be elected and the following month the Select Vestry appointed James Cawthorn. (30)

During the course of reversion to the former system of law enforcement Bentley progressed to the office of Surveyor of Highways, being appointed to the post in March 1839 at an annual salary of £15. However, the year following, when William Moorhouse was nominated as Chief Constable, Bentley was appointed as Town Constable, assisted by two deputies. Bentley’s remuneration was £15 with the Overseers instructed to give all summonses and warrants etc. Into his hands for serving, while the deputies were somewhat grudgingly awarded £5 per annum. (31)

Something of the time consuming and potentially dangerous nature of the deputies work is shown by the decree that,

"It is desirable for the Constables to attend Quarter Sessions to watch proceedings in [town pauper] Amelia Mounteer’s trial", and "A complaint having been made to the Select Vestry of rows and fights in the Holes and at the Top of the Hill, the Constable is requested to attend more frequently to the upper part of the Town." (32)

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? The very foundations of the town’s elite society was doubtless rocked when in April 1840 the Select Vestry resolved that,

"From a conviction having taken place for a gross assault upon a female, before the Magistrate at Pontefract on Michael Bentley, one of the Constables of the Township, - the Select Vestry deem it proper…to take into consideration the propriety of petitioning the Magistrates to Quash the appointment of the said Constable and appoint another in his place. " (33)

The decision was confirmed at a special Select Vestry meeting on the 30th April, the Vestry Clerk having meanwhile undertaken enquiries to confirm the conviction. Bentley attended in his role as Vestryman and Joshua Atkinson was recommended as Bentley’s successor with equivalent salary and perks. The Minute Book carries a footnote stating that Atkinson was sworn as Town Constable at Pontefract Courthouse on the 19th May 1840. (34)

It is perhaps a reflection of the ability of the middle classes to close ranks in such situations that there appears to be no public record in the form of newspaper reports despite the fact that gross assault, particularly on a woman, was a committal offence. Furthermore, apart from a little social embarrassment occasioned by having to appear to ‘do the right thing’ no obloquy attached to Bentley who remained within the ranks of the Select Vestry until 1867 and was proposed, albeit unsuccessfully, as an Overseer of the Poor on no less than three occasions before that date. (35)

The reduction in the number of capital offences and the abandonment of transportation made more necessary the provision of places of detention and incarceration. An Act of 1824 had encouraged the establishment of such places but the nature and conditions of prisons varied with localities before the imposition of centralised supervision in 1835. It was not until the last quarter of the nineteenth century, however, that prisons were placed under the full control of the Home Office.

The necessity for a prison at Knottingley is apparent from consideration of the social environment. The earliest attempt to establish a jail in the township is unrecorded but one of the earliest locations was a complex of buildings surrounded by a high wall, situated at Hill Top and known to later generations of inhabitants as Gaol Yard. The premises are defined as the Debtors’ Prison by Forrest who, in writing in 1871, declares the prison as,

"long since disused and now converted into cottages." (36)

The description is supported by a property deed dated 2nd April 1848, incorporating a sketch plan which reveals a series of cottages and outbuildings in the possession of the local surgeon, William Bywater, at that date. (37) The property was sold in 1863 and resold in the following decade for a deed of sale between James Thackray, agricultural implement maker of Pontefract, and George William Carter, brewer, of Knottingley, dated 25th June 1874, refers to,

"…six cottages, formerly seven, with detached shoemakers’ shop near the same…known as Gaol Houses." (38)

The documentary evidence therefore shows that the site was used as a prison prior to the third decade of the nineteenth century, however, an entry in the minutes of the Select Vestry dated 12th July 1838 shows that Michael Bentley, the Town’s Constable was authorised to,

"…put the old prison taken of Mr. Bywater into the same state of repair in which the Township took it."

A subsequent rider was added by which the Select Vestry agreed to pay Bywater,

"…then rents of the cottages up to the 12th July 1838, including the one used as a Town Prison …and give Mr Bywater £1 to put the cottage used as a prison in tenantable repair." (39)

This suggests that the whole complex was previously used to house parish paupers. As overspill from the nearby workhouse, the entire complex being known as debtors’ prison. The fact that only one cottage was used as an actual lock-up for vagrants and miscreants may furnish a clue which explains the reason for surrender of the lease, namely, lack of space.

The new town prison was located on the site of the Old Hall, the former manor house of the Wildbore family. The prison site was leased from the private owner, Samuel Maw Long.

While limitations of space may have been the prime reason for the relocation of the town’s prison, cost was always a consideration. The fact is clearly seen within a year of taking a lease on the new site when the Select Vestry reached the opinion that Mr Long ought to make some reduction in the rent of the prison and the adjacent dwelling house. At that time Maw Long had already commenced the process of excavating the limestone from the more accessible area of the old hall site which a short time later was to result in the complete demolition of the on site buildings and the extension of the Town’s Quarry. The consequences of Long’s piecemeal excavation underlay the Select Vestry’s claim, by

"…taking away the privilege of a garden and likewise the excavation being so dangerous from the nearness of the Quarry that the Township can not let the property [i.e. dwelling house] as before." (40)

The outcome of the reductive claim is unrecorded but the quarrying continued apace until in March 1840 it was stated that,

"…the approach to the Town Prison is in a dangerous state and quite unfit to take there any prisoners in the night", 

prompting the Select Vestry to call upon Long to make,

"…a good and proper fence and wall not lower than five feet high and eighteen inches thick." (41)

However, as indicated, the lease was terminated in 1844 due to the wholesale demolition of the Wildbore mansion and accompanying buildings in order to enable complete excavation of the underlying limestone, a decision which indicates the value attached to the sale of limestone at that period. (42)

With the expiration of the lease the Vestry became mindful to construct a purpose built gaol. A resolution of 15th August 1843 instructs the Clerk to,

"…enter into the next fortnights notices to members of the Select Vestry to take into consideration the erection of a prison of the Township." (43)

A little over a month later it was reported that John Carter, the Select Vestry Chairman, had waited upon the Wentbridge Magistrates to broach the subject and had been advised that the town should make its own arrangements pending the forthcoming Pontefract Sessions at which an application could be made to the Upper Osgoldcross Division of the West Riding. (44)

At the annual towns meeting to nominate and elect the Parish Constable, held in February 1844, it was publicly agreed,

"That the Constable do call upon the Acting County Magistrates with a view to obtaining the consent of five who may be willing to give proper Notice required by the Act to the Clerk of the Peace so that the necessary assistance may be had at the next Quarter Sessions of the Peace to be held at Pontefract for the purpose of building a Lock-Up House or Prison in Knottingley." (45)

The resolution was reinforced the following month when the customary town meeting to elect members of the Select Vestry decided,

"That application be forthwith made by the Chairman of the Meeting [John Carter] to the proper Authorities for the erection of a prison or lock-up to be built in the said Township of Knottingley in pursuance of 5th/6th Victoria, cap 109, entitled ‘An Act for the Appointment & Payment of Parish Constables." (46)

However, the proposal appears to have been abandoned shortly thereafter when the Select Vestry entered into a leasehold agreement with Joseph Atkinson to use part of the Manor House built in the seventeenth century by the Ingram family, as a prison for the township. (47) The town continued to use this site as a prison for more than a decade but in February 1856 it was resolved,

"That Joseph Atkinson be seen by the Overseer to reduce the rent of the prison." (48)

Atkinson seems to have refused the rent for in March that year the Select Vestry gave notice for the surrender of the lease and in April 1857, the prison site was given up. (49)

In February 1846, it was decided to issue two pairs of handcuffs to each of the Parish Constables to be delivered to their successors upon the transference of office. (50) Prior to that time it would appear that the Town Constable was in sole charge of such apparatus, the most recent one, for unspecified reasons, being not too keen to surrender the same upon expiration of his period of office. In February 1840 the Assistant Overseer and Vestry Clerk, Isaac Smith, was instructed,

"…to call upon John Shillito in the name of the Select Vestry and order him to give up the key of the Prison with the Constabulary apparatus belonging to the Township in his possession, as per inventory. Should he refuse to do so he be summoned before the Magistrates." (51)

Shillito’s intransigence may have its origin in the restructuring of the system which occurred in January when William Moorhouse became the nominal Chief Constable in succession to Edward Gaggs, with Michael Bentley as Town Constable assisted by two deputies. While Shillito’s annual tenure of office was nearing its end he may have felt a sense of grievance at not being reappointed. The fact that Shillito was also given one month to quit the house he currently occupied seems to suggest that he held a grace and favour residence, perhaps the house adjacent to the prison had become used for such purpose. For whatever reason Shillito clearly felt a sense of grievance, hence his uncooperative attitude. (52)

The post of Constable was not without its dangers, but despite the recent legislation allowing payment to be made to Parish Constables, those serving in an ancillary capacity at Knottingley received no official remuneration for more than a decade later, on the 17th February 1853, it was resolved by the Select Vestry,

"That we recommend to the meeting assembling this evening for the appointment of Constables to nominate as usual without salaries for the present year." (53)

It is interesting to note that from 1840 two deputy constables were elected, an indication perhaps of the increased potential for disorder arising from the expansion of the township and the volume of business conducted therein. The two appointed in 1853 to serve during the ensuing year were John Howard and John Shillito. Of the six remaining nominees, one, George Archdale, had been specially appointed in October 1851, to act as ‘Police Officer’ in the township for a trial; period of one month at a salary of 15 shillings per week. (54) Despite the brevity of the experimental period, Archdale appears to have given satisfaction for the following month the Select Vestry had met to,

"…take into consideration whether a policeman shall be employed by the Township." (55)

It was decided however, that public notification of the proposed measure should proceed any decision and it was not until the 24th December that a somewhat clumsily phrased resolution announced,

"That the Township engage a policeman is the opinion of the Select Vestry." (56)

It is debateable what most influenced the Select Vestry, a practical regard for the protection of property in common with the prevailing orthodoxy or concern for the debasement of moral standards within the town which, recently promulgated by,

"the most respectable authority"

had engendered a Vestry resolution that,

"…stringent measures shall be adopted for the suppression of drunkenness, vice and immorality now so unhappily prevalent in the Town and neighbourhood." (57)

It is interesting to note that a generation later a statistical survey showed a higher incidence of bastardy, petty crime and illiteracy within Knottingley than in any of the neighbouring settlements. (58)

It was not until March 1854, however, that a decision was taken to approach Mr Ward of Pontefract who was requested to,

"procure us an efficient Policeman who shall have £1 per week and the Constable business that may fall into his hands." (59)

The approach seems to have been unsuccessful however, for at the end of March it was further decided to approach Seymore Clerk Esq., General Manager of the Great Northern Railway Co., at his King’s Cross office, London,

"to provide us a policeman." (60)

The decision concerning the appointment and remuneration was confirmed on the 16th March 1854, and was approved at the town’s meeting the same month which also resolved that the policeman should be employed for,

"the protection of Property and the promotion of more regular order in the Township." (61)

By May 1854, Joseph Hey had been appointed as policeman for the township at £1 per week with,

"uniform, coat, trowsers, (sic) one pair of boots and one hat per year and one top coat in two years." (62)

Hey being requested to send immediately,

"the requisite credentials as to character from the Watch Committee at Halifax." (63)

The precise details of the policeman’s duties are not listed but a resolution that,

"The Policeman to manage the Tramps",

indicates the volume of transient people entering the town and the responsibility of the policeman to reduce the potential demand for parish relief by moving on vagrants. (64)

Earlier reference to the assumption of ‘Constable business’ suggests that the Select Vestry envisaged the transfer of duties of the Parish Constable to the new law enforcement officer. Such acts as the serving of statutory notice in respect of arrears of rates, distress warrants, and myriad civic duties in addition to upholding the law and safeguarding property, were henceforth the province of the Town Policeman. The transition appears to have been less than a smooth operation. A statement in August 1854,

"That the Policeman, Mr Joseph Hey, as was understood at the time of his appointment, to have the whole of the business of the Township",

suggesting some conflict arising between the Parish Constable and the Town’s Policeman, perhaps to the detriment of latter who had therefore complained to the Select Vestry. (65)

Initially, the Vestry appear to have been at some pains to accommodate every whim of the Policeman. In June 1854, it decreed,

"That Mr Hey have a pair of boots or shoes as he pleases",

and the following May a local tailor, George Lock, was engaged to make Hey’s uniform with 5 shillings being added to the originally agreed price of £3,

"to improve his bargain."

Again, in May 1856, the Policeman’s attire was the subject of consideration by the Vestrymen who concluded that,

"Nos. 2 & 4 patterns for the Policeman’s clothes of John Johnson be accepted." (66)

In December 1855 the Vestry agreed to allow the Policeman a mileage allowance for attending the Magistrates Court, a task previously undertaken by the Parish Constables for which payment was discretionary. (67)

A further glimpse of the Policeman’s work which had previously been the province of the Parish Constable is provided by the order of the Select Vestry that the Policeman should,

"…serve all summonses for the Township and to account to the Overseers for all monies received on account of the…rates." (68)

And again, in 1857,

"That the Policeman execute the distress warrants obtained last Saturday." (69)

The record also affords a view of the role of the Policeman in enforcing order within the town. In October 1856, the officer was instructed to,

"…confine Thomas Brook and take him before the Magistrate if he get drink again." (70)

Other examples indicate the routine duties conducted by him. Thus, in October 1855,

"That Thomas Webb be apprehended and committed for neglect [of] family." (71)

The order confirms Hey’s assumption of the duties of the Parish Constable for a similar order in August 1850 had directed that,

"William Copley and Thomas Webb be laid hold of for monies owing",

and shows in addition the persistence of offenders such as Webb. (72)

The variable nature of the Policeman’s work is revealed by a decree of the Vestry in 1854,

"that any persons detected firing squibs, crackers or fire works (sic) of any description will be prosecuted." (73) Plus ca change…??

Again, in August 1858,

"Mr Edward Shaw complains that Sarah Foster and her children are a nuisance to the neighbourhood", (74)

revealing that problems caused by ‘neighbours from heel’ is no new concept.

Contemporaneous with Hey’s appointment was that of John Scorah whom the Vestry employed on a twelve month contract at a salary of £1 per week, to collect the rates of the township and hopefully, claw back outstanding arrears. (75) The apparent strategy adopted by the Select Vestry was to send the formally attired Policeman as the awesome embodiment of the law, to recalcitrant ratepayers and thereby make them more receptive to the demands of the Scorah. In some cases the visit of the Policeman obtained instant payment, an act which left him open to charges of corruption and misappropriation. In May 1856, for instance, Hey was requested to attend the forthcoming Vestry meeting to answer a charge of embezzlement made by Charles Abson, landlord of the Anchor Inn, Aire Street. At the meeting held on 31st July 1856, Hey was cleared of the charge that he had appropriated money paid in lieu of rates by Abson. (75) Nevertheless, from thereon indications appears of an attempt by the Vestry to curtail the degree of freedom of action previously enjoyed by Hey. A resolution of July 1856 even attempted to proscribe Hey’s freedom of movement when a regulation that the Policeman be required to consult the three senior Vestrymen and also make provision for his duties to be covered in the event of his being required to leave the town, was rescinded in favour of the more peremptory one,

"That the Policeman shall not leave the Township." (77)

A further sign of disquiet on the part of the Authorities is seen in October 1856, when both Scorah and Hey were summoned to the Vestry meeting for examination of some unspecified business which adjudged from the context of the meeting concerned some aspect of their duties. (78) Although on that occasion no immediate action was taken by the Vestrymen, it may not be entirely unconnected with the later decision,

"That the Policeman’s services be discontinued and to be paid up at the close of the week." (79)

Scorah continued to serve as the Collector of the Rates and appears to have taken over some of Hey’s duties, pro tem, using the services of his son to assist in the serving of summonses. (80) The initiative was squashed in February 1857, however, when the Select Vestry concluded that,

"Mr Scorah be requested to employ some more able and confidential person instead of his son." (81)

Whether Scorah’s nepotism was a factor which exerted an adverse influence in the minds of the ratepayers of the town is conjectural but upon the expiration of his term of office in April 1857, his desired reappointment was denied at the town’s meeting and the following month James Brown was appointed as Town’s Constable. (82)

A memorandum concerning Brown’s appointment stresses his status as an Assistant Overseer with responsibility for the collection of the town’s Poor and Highway Rates at a salary of £40 per year. (83) No mention is made of additional duties and as the annual salary was considerably less than that previously paid to Hey, it may be that Brown’s duties covered only the non legal aspects of the work undertaken by Hey. The designation of Brown as Constable when two incumbents had been elected as Parish Constables earlier in the year, may have been a ploy to ensure a degree of authority in his role as Collector. (84) Furthermore, it is known that Brown relinquished office when the system of Rates collection was reorganised in March 1859. (85) A successor to Hey as Town Policeman was eventually appointed, however, for a Select Vestry minute dated 8th September 1862 states,

"That a note of compliant and remonstration be sent to the Policeman for his laxity in not removing the nuisances and obstructions of (sic) the footpath." (86)

The traditional system of convening a special public meeting each February for the purpose of nominating and electing Parish Constables continued until 1870. (87) Thereafter, the process was transferred to the annual town’s meeting at the end of March, becoming part of the proceedings of the election of the members of the Select Vestry. (88) The system continued until 1893 in which year eight ratepayers sought nomination for the last ever appointment to the office of Parish Constable, local government from the following year being under the aegis of the newly constituted Knottingley Urban District Council. (89)

From the 1860’s however, the enforcement of law and order had been undertaken by the County Police Force. In the following decades the Police Station was located at Farnhill Court, (which became colloquially known as Police Station Yard) a group of privately owned cottages situated at East Parade to the west end of the Flatts in Aire Street. In 1881, the owner was Ann Farnhill and the occupier of the Police Station and presumed Constable was Charles Hill who appears to have succeeded one Thomas Elcock. (90) Six years later the ownership of the property had changed but the building was still being used as the town Police Station. At that time the occupant was Robert Douthwaite who was the successor to James Brent. (91) Douthwaite was still resident there in 1894 but the property is merely designated as a cottage. (92) It was not until two years later, in 1896, that the recently constituted West Riding County Council erected the present Police Station at Weeland Road.

©2005 Dr. Terry Spencer



Site constructed and maintained by Michael Norfolk
This website is Copyright © 2000-2011 [Knottingley and Ferrybridge Online] All Rights Reserved