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Also by Terry Spencer

The following studies by Terry Spencer are now available on the Knottingley website:

By the last quarter of the nineteenth century the August Bank Holiday period at Knottingley abounded in fun and frolic with the Feast as the hub of the festivities. The fair was supplemented by community sports and of the sporting element within the town none was more prominent than Knottingley Town Cricket Club.

Situated on the southern bank of the River Aire, to the north side of Aire Street, lies Knottingley Flatts. Today, the Flatts occupy only a small portion of the original layout which comprised the greater part of Knottingley Ings.

The modern image of the fair is one of outdoor entertainment for pleasure seeking people but such a concept is one which has developed over the last two centuries being born as a result of the Industrial Revolution.

Prior to the establishment of the National Health Service in 1948 local people relied for health care in the event of sickness or serious injury upon charitable institutions such as Pontefract Dispensary and Leeds Infirmary.

The application by Knottingley Urban District Council for a grant of arms was made to the College of Arms, London, in mid 1942.

That there was a glassworks at Ferrybridge is indisputable for it was both documented and photographed. That it was situated on the north bank of the River Aire "..where the Parish of Brotherton merges into the Parish of Ferrybridge" is confirmed by map reference. The doubt lies not in the existence or location of the furnace but with its origin.

The township of Knottingley, situated three miles north-east of Pontefract in the Wapentake of Osgoldcross, developed from a 6th century Saxon settlement in a forest clearing on the south bank of the river Aire. By the time of the Norman Conquest of 1066 the settlement had acquired the status of a manorial vill

As the process of industrialisation and urban development gained pace in the second half of the nineteenth century the provision of public spaces such as municipal gardens and parks for the purpose of public recreation and amenity became increasingly desirable.

Percy Bentley, scion of a prominent Knottingley family, was born in that town on the 18th January 1891, the son of James William and Helena Bentley, and was baptised in the parish church of St. Botolph on the 11th February.

On Wednesday, 25th September 1918, a committee previously sanctioned by Knottingley Urban District Council in meeting assembled, met in the Council Chamber at Knottingley Town Hall to consider the form of memorial to the men who had fallen during the Great War.

No less than the citizens of its larger neighbour, the inhabitants of the village of Ferrybridge decided to honour those drawn from the community and slain in the Great War.

For approximately a decade from the mid 1940's the 'K' Sisters, Marjorie and Pamela Kellett, were prominent throughout the town and district of Knottingley as all-round entertainers who harnessed their talent to providing public enjoyment and in so doing raised large amounts of money for local charities.

The new cinema, one of the earliest purpose-built picture houses in the country, was situated on an oblique strip of land some 560 square yards in extent, adjacent to Ship Lane at the junction with lower Aire Street. The hall was designed to seat 600 people: 500 in the area and 100 in the balcony.

In 1752, eighteen residents of the township of Knottingley in company with John Mitchell, the Parish Constable, agreed to be bound over in the sum of £10 each to observe the legal and moral obligations attendant upon being granted a licence as an innkeeper.

In the Spring of 1994, the recently deceased and much lamented Edwin Beckett arranged for the installation of a clock at the top of the Town Hall turret. The event was celebrated in verse by Mrs Joyce Bell who concluded her eulogy by stating that her mother, Dolly Lightowler, had always wished to see a clock set in the "bare face" of the Town Hall - a wish which had now come true.

Awareness of a link between my native Knottingley and the Prince's statue came quite recently when Mrs Shirley Bedford of Knottingley informed me that her great grandfather was the master of a barge which had transported the statue from Hull to Leeds in 1903.

It was in the course of a recent conversation with Roger Ellis that the subject of nicknames arose, following which, in an idle half-hour, I casually began to compile a list of those I recalled. My list quickly exceeded fifty in number and I was seized by a natural desire to list as many more as I could obtain.

The origin of Knottingley Band is obscure. In 1980 the Band celebrated its conjectured centenary year, the date being taken from an old letterhead of 1880.  However, a subsequent documentary source has been located which indicates that the genesis of the Band may lie much further in the past.

The burgeoning spirit of civic pride found practical expression on 29th October 1864, when a group of prominent citizens of the town formed the Knottingley Town Hall & Mechanics’ Institute Company Limited.

The purpose of this study is to consider the topography of modern day Knottingley and formulate a theoretical model concerning the development of the settlement during the medieval and post medieval eras as reflected in the field systems adopted.

An A-Z listing of Knottingley field and place names.

One of the most impressive and graceful houses ever built at Knottingley was Lime Grove. The large attached house was the residence of the Carter family and was built to the orders of Mark Carter at Mill Close, Hill Top, about 1808.

Conflict is fuelled by finance so it is unsurprising that following the outbreak of war in 1939, local savings committees were established to encourage people to curb personal expenditure and invest surplus cash in the National War Savings Scheme in order to assist the cost of the war.

The township of Knottingley became a semi-autonomous parish in 1789 following the ecclesiastical reorganisation of that period but remaining under the patronage of the Vicar of Pontefract until it became an independent parish in 1846

Knottingley and Ferrybridge Local History



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



To meet the growing need, new settlement sites were established on the southern and eastern edges of the manor. The new settlements occupied land situated at a moderate distance from the original nucleus and by the fourteenth century the manor had a fourfold pattern of settlement based on Aire Street, Racca Green, Fernley Green and Swinley Green (the latter also being known as Low Green).

It is not known whether the new settlements were created on land constituting part of the existing field system but it seems quite probable for topographical evidence suggests examples of settlement relocation on common field sites. The possible imposition of greens settlement at Knottingley particularly with regard to the Racca and Fernley greens, would have meant the forfeiture of prime land and given impetus to the further expansion of the common fields to provide compensatory space and additional peasant holdings.

While the piecemeal assart of the surrounding woodland was often undertaken on an individual basis the eventual expansion of the common field system resulted in the incorporation of such clearances in exchange for additional strip allotment to compensate for the individual assart of closes.

The earliest phase of expansion was undertaken as a supplementary extension of the two field system commonly found throughout the eastern areas of Yorkshire and first recorded at Knottingley in the late eleventh century.

The initial assart of the area to the south of Back Lane was eventually followed by extension to east and west so that eventually the original field system comprising the Flatts and the water meadows to the east was substantially enlarged to include all the area known today as Marsh End, the southern boundary being Sunny Bank, and all the land lying along the south side of Hill Top, the southern boundary being the original line of Spawd Bone Lane. It is not improbable that the area to the east was eventually extended southward beyond Sunny Bank to encompass the land to the south bounded by what is now Weeland Road and terminating eastward at Trundles Lane.

The entire area was first laid out as a two field system with each individual having half his total holdings in each field. The two furlongs or fields being separated by a broad balk known as a headland. Most probably the headland ran in a north-south direction from a  point roughly in a line from the entrance to Stolzle (ex Bagley / Rockware) glassworks and on beyond the present canal, through Primrose Hill to the Back Lane with the fields lying to either side and encompassing the space bounded east by Fernley Green and west by the Headlands.

Demographic studies clearly indicate that population growth invariably occurred in areas which had the greatest potential for economic and physical development such as Knottingley. (21) In such conditions of demographic growth the two field system, with half the arable lying unused at any given time, proved to be both wasteful and inadequate. A three field system appears to have been dictated by economic necessity. The establishment of secondary settlements at Racca Green and Fernley Green had invariably put pressure on the area encompassed by the dual field system and necessitated the extension of the cultivated area southward and eastward, providing in the process, the impetus for adoption of a three field system.

There is evidence of a transitionary phase in the general neighbourhood during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Beal, Kellington and Whitley are reported to have had three fields systems at a time when Knottingley, Kirk Smeaton, Womersley and Burgwallis still retained a two field layout. (22) The adoption of the Midland three field system had the advantage of reducing the percentage of fallow land whilst affording greater flexibility on cropping rotas so that over time the Midland system was widely adopted. (23)

The numerical identification of land division employed later by the Enclosure Award Commissioners, although somewhat intricate, is nevertheless of use in identification of the boundaries of the three great fields of the township of Knottingley at their fullest extent. In addition, place names afford a glimpse of former boundaries. In the latter connection, the term ‘bank’ is most useful for the comparison of ‘bank’ names featured within the Award Schedule with their location as shown on the Award Map reveals that several such sites are situated on peripheral areas of the great fields, the field edges being delineated by a ridge or bank separating the cultivated land from the adjacent wasteland areas. Allied to such locations are others identified by name elements such as ‘butt’ or ‘balk’. The butts were small, irregular shaped parcels of land, usually triangular in shape and therefore named alternatively as gores, the shape of which was determined by geographical considerations but invariably lying at field edges. Banks were banks of soil raised by the process of ploughing and served as divisional markers between land holdings and furlong boundaries. The name ‘Buttlebank’, recorded in the sixteenth century but doubtless of more ancient origin, is a superb example of a field name which incorporates a combination of the name elements ‘butt’ and ‘bank’, and although its omission from the Enclosure Award Schedule prevents locational identification it seems possible that Buttlebank was an alternative name for Sunny Bank and that the forepart of the name was additionally inspired by the profusion of buttercups on the site of the early field boundary.

If names such as Pudding Bank, Kemp Bank, Park Balk and Butts Close identify parcels of land situated at the extremities of the great fields then locations such as Banks Lane, Bank Dole and Sunny Bank, situated more centrally within the township area, provide a clear indication of the perimeters of early field systems, thus confirming Spawd Bone Lane, to which Banks Lane provided access, and Sunny Bank, as the boundaries of an early two field layout.

Naturally, the transformation of the field system at Knottingley required a high degree of communal compliance and organisation. The extent to which lordship was a factor in promoting change is variable in general but the manorial lord had the authority to implement change and the medium of the manorial court as the means to enforce his will and could command the services and skills of manorial officials to give practical expression to his desire. (24) The lord stood to benefit from greater efficiency which in turn rendered savings in time and reduced waste, to say nothing of the financial gain in service rents accruing from the newly enfeoffed peasantry. The imposed layout of the town of Pontefract at this period which is clearly evident from examination of its present day thoroughfares, its topography and commercial trading names, has been remarked by various authorities. The evidence of reorganisation in respect of Pontefract and other de Lacy holdings is indicative of the likelihood that the reorganisation occurred at Knottingley was prompted by the tenant in chief. (25) The peasantry, for whom survival was the paramount factor, bonded socially and psychologically to feudal servitude and may have welcomed reorganisation of the existent system if it was perceived to be materially beneficial to them. However, regardless of its source, change could only be undertaken with the approval of the lordship. (26)

The extent to which reorganisation of the field system at Knottingley was an instant operation or a more protracted scheme is also conjectural. Domesday evidence indicates areas of woodland clearance in some manors pending future cultivation. Such clearance may have been undertaken at Knottingley to provide sufficient space for reapportionment of holdings as the initial stage of agricultural expansion for there is evidence of individual assartment during the twelfth and early thirteenth centuries. By the latter period the existing fields which were located between parallel boundaries formed by the River Aire to the north and the line of Weeland Road – Spawd Bone Lane – Simpson’s Lane to the south, had been incorporated into the vastly expanded three field system.

The most extensive of the reorganised open fields at Knottingley was the South Field which occupied the acreage lying west of a line created by England Lane and Banks Lane and the western edge of the present Warwick estate and extended southward as far as the boundary with Darrington. The smaller Middle Field incorporated the eastern portion of the previous area of cultivation and widened out to occupy the land lying between England Lane – Racca Field Lane (Womersley Road), extending southward as far as the boundary with Darrington. The East Field, also known as the Low Field due to the eastward declination of the land below Broomhill, was located to the east of the boundary with the Middle Field and extended from the East Ings beyond Stocking Lane, (the latter name being derived from the process of assartment) to the common or waste land of the South Moor (originally situated adjacent to a woodland area and known as South Moor Wood). The southern and south-eastern boundary of the East Field abutted the rein of Cridling Park before turning northward to absorb the area known as Gascoigne Reach lying east of Bank Dole. (c.f. fig ii)

Each of the three great fields was between 300 and 500 acres in extent and each was sub-divided into a number of smaller fields known variously as furlongs, flats, riggs or shotts, which subject to geographical conditions, were of rectangular shape, approximately ten acres in extent. The layout was, however, decreed by the lie of the land in order to take advantage of factors such as natural drainage, convenience of access and ease of ploughing. Thus, some furlongs rather than being parallel were situated at right angles to each other. Theoretically, the furlongs were 220 yards long by 22 yards wide, the area representing a day’s ploughing for a single ox-gang. Here again, a degree of variation existed according to the configuration of the fields and the nature of the soil. The furlongs were separated at each end by a headland some 15-20 feet wide which was the space required to turn round the ox-gang. Following the completion of the ploughing of a particular field the headland was then ploughed along its length in order to utilise all available arable land. (27) Furlongs were divided lengthways by a ridge or balk of earth created as a result of the soil turned over by the ploughshare as it traversed the length of the furlong. The strips created by ploughing each length of the furlong were apportioned pro rata amongst those manorial peasants entitled to an allotment within the open fields, thus ensuring an equitable distribution of the good and poorer soil within each furlong. (c.f. Fig vi, infra)

From the foregoing it will be seen that the term ‘field’ had considerable flexibility being applicable to the entire area under cultivation or the smaller sub-divisions formed from groups of furlongs, each furlong having its own name, while small individual enclosed areas, although commonly referred to as closes, were also designated as fields. Therefore, as a furlong consisted of a series of parallel strips so a group of furlongs comprised a field which was a larger division within the even larger open field area. (c.f. fig iv, infra showing a stylised representation of the various land divisions).

The assart of surrounding woodland was probably undertaken a furlong at a time with subsequent apportionment of the cleared land taking place on a piecemeal basis. Portions of land cleared as a result of individual assart were mostly incorporated within the reorganised system with compensatory apportionment within the newly created furlong. Evidence of individual activity is seen in the form of small enclosures, several of which are clearly shown in the areas of secondary settlement on the Enclosure Award map of the late eighteenth century. (28)

The size of the medieval population of the manor is not known although as mentioned earlier, the Poll Tax of 1377 was levied on 73 persons. The Poll Tax was levied on all people 14 years and older but under assessment and evasion are constraining factors which in the case of Knottingley was doubtless compounded by a degree of mobility arising from the burgeoning maritime activity and associated trades at that time. Furthermore, the Tax was calculated in the immediate wake of a series of visitations of the Black Death, occurring between 1348-69. The plague had devastating effect upon all manorial communities and it may be assumed that Knottingley with its maritime connections was a potential crisis area.

By the middle of the fourteenth century climatic change, soil exhaustion, plague and the technological limitations of medieval agriculture practise had combined to limit demographic growth. The large scale reclamation of land slowed to a gradual halt, not least because of a growing awareness of the need to preserve the remaining woodland for constructional purposes, fuel and pannage. (29)

The open fields of Knottingley endured for almost a further four and a half centuries during which feudalism which formed the basis of the open field system of agriculture, was replaced by capitalism based on individual land ownership. The advent of a money economy with wage payment replacing feudal service led to the abandonment of demesne farming and the breakdown of the complex administrative aspects of medieval economy. Consolidation of strips took place by means of exchange, leasehold agreement and partible inheritance with comparable gains in time and efficiency of purpose. By the sixteenth century the manorial lordship of Knottingley had been divided and was abandoned in all but name by the middle of the eighteenth century. Local additional factors promoting the demise of the feudal system are the expansion of the maritime trade from the late Middle Ages and the rapid and widespread development of the limestone trade from the sixteenth century. Both these developments had considerable implications for local labour and land usage in the post medieval period. Ironically, because of the development of the limestone extraction industry, much of the physical evidence of the medieval field organisation was destroyed so that where most other towns present a palimpsest, Knottingley presents a series of voids. Nevertheless, the retention of a myriad field and place names allows some insight into the township of yesteryear. (30)

Terry Spencer




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