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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.


In an effort to produce permanent sources of revenue the Committee sub-let part of the Town Hall premises to two local businesses. Although undertaken with the best intentions the scheme backfired when, in 1982, the legal department of the District Council, at the behest of the Finance & General Purposes Committee, examined the original leasehold agreement and found that the action of the Town Hall Management Committee had broken the terms of the lease. The nub of the problem was that the Local Authority held the Town Hall Committee to be responsible for the payment of rates levied upon its sub-tenants whereas the Committee had assumed separate rating assessment. The Council’s demand for payment of arrears of rates amounting to several thousand pounds, was a crippling blow to the Committee but the breach of the lease agreement jeopardised the charitable status of the Town Hall and therefore posed the likely withdrawal of the discretionary grant paid by the Local Authority. A Committee spokesman vainly protested that the Town Hall could not survive without the income obtained from business sub-tenants and berated the Council for not revealing the legal aspects of the situation to the Committee at the time the proposed sub-tenancies were notified to the Council. The protest evoked little sympathy from the Council representatives. The Chairman of the W.M.D.C. Finance & General Purposes Committee, although a former member of the K.U.D.C., and a man of self-proclaimed pride in the town who had given tacit support to the Town Hall Committee, now stated that he had repeatedly informed Committee members (albeit unofficially) that their action was foolish. (96) Culpability aside, the fact remained that the Town Hall faced closure but as a result of the withdrawal of the business tenants and protracted negotiations between the main parties, a settlement was eventually reached which saved the charitable status of the hall and thereby ensured the continuation of the grant in aid. Nevertheless the withdrawal of the tenants caused a considerable reduction in income, adding to the hardship of those committed to the future of the Town Hall as a community centre.

Indeed, not all local inhabitants appreciated the efforts of the volunteer force or even the need for their effort, particularly at a time when pit closures and ‘downsizing’ in local industries threatened the disintegration of the local community as the infamous and dogmatic assertion that “There is no such thing as society, only individuals” yielded bitter, divisive attitudes.

By 1980, the old solid fuel boiler required expensive repair work and there were hopes of replacing the system with a new gas-fired version but an estimated cost of £1,500 and concern on the part of the local mining community already under the threat of unemployment, prevented fulfilment of the plan.

In 1985, a letter in the local paper prompted by the report of yet another financial crisis, which threatened the closure of the Town Hall unless repairs at an estimated cost of £45,000 were immediately undertaken, claimed that the Town Hall was an eyesore which should be demolished. (97) The response of the Treasurer, Arthur Gill, who had replaced Rowland Knapton as primus inter pares of the Committee in 1982, was both forceful and ameliorative. Gill pointed out the nature of the leasehold agreement placed the onus on the District Council for the cost of the bulk of the repairs and pulling no punches, stated that it was not the hall but the Council which ought to be demolished (and replaced by a town council). (98)

The extent to which Gill’s criticism carried weight at Wakefield is conjectural but any influence arising from his comments was reinforced by comments made by Knottingley’s Council representative, Cr. Graham Stokes, concerning the content of a report marked ‘Private & Confidential’ submitted to the Council’s Finance & General Purposes Committee. Cr. Stokes had twice previously demanded the approval of the Council Committee for the release of funds to enable repairs to the Town Hall roof to be undertaken without delay. To this end through the aegis of Knottingley Trades’ Council, supported by the Warwick Estate Tenants’ Association, a petition had been drawn up requesting W.M.D.C. action. Cr. Stokes now alleged that the said report placed a value of only £25,000 on the Town Hall when it was clearly worth far more. The conclusion formed by Stokes was that there was a secret agenda on the part of un-named parties to push the report through the Committee in order to facilitate the closure of the Town Hall.

Stokes’ assertion was never fully refuted although a Council spokesman stated that alternative ways of keeping open the Town Hall were under consideration. (99) Meanwhile, it was reported in the Pontefract & Castleford Express that a petition bearing more than 1,000 signatures was in the hands of the Voluntary Committee which had run the Town Hall without loss for eight years (my italics) and was circulating within Knottingley and Ferrybridge. The newspaper claimed that the whole town was against the closure (except the person who had called it an eyesore) and added that the building was used by 5,000 people each week. (100)

‘Vox populi vox Dei’, and when the people speak politicians take note. Faced with public opinion the W.M.D.C. acceded to the demand. Funds were quickly apportioned and work commenced almost immediately. Once again crisis had been overcome and closure averted and in 1986, Arthur Gill, on behalf of the nineteen strong Committee, signed a new agreement with the Local Authority. Under the terms of the agreement the Council agreed to pay for the repair of the roof, guttering and boiler and in turn the Management Committee would accept thereafter full responsibility for the maintenance of the building. Whilst repairs were underway, however, it was discovered that the second floor windows needed replacing. The Committee therefore sought to renegotiate the agreement to obtain an increase of £15,000 to the contribution of the District Council to cover the cost of the replacement windows. After some initial disagreement the crisis was resolved by the grant of an interest free loan of £6,500 to the Committee with the Council agreeing to undertake the work of replacing the windows to minimise the cost. The Committee then embarked upon a fundraising effort, organising a Spring Fair on the 17th May 1986, and a pie and pea supper. An appeal for support was made to the companies who supplied the bar at functions held at the Town Hall. Although the situation was daunting the Committee undertook the task in characteristic fashion, aiming to spread clearance of the debt over a five year period and, to their credit, succeeding in this intention. (101)

One of the measures arising from the continual improvements and changes undertaken by the Town Hall Committee over the years was the installation of a clock on the tower above the main doors. The struggle to keep open the Town Hall had inspired one local enthusiast to write a verse letter to the local papers commending the Committee and recalling former days and usage concerning the building. The unveiling of the clock in 1994 prompted the same source to produce the following doggerel:

“Hickery, dickery, dock,
Knottingley Town Hall has at last got a clock,
Blue and gold and illuminated at night,
For Knottla folk a wonderful sight.”

The writer stated that her mother had long wished to see a clock in the ‘blank face’ above the balcony of the Town Hall, now the dream was a reality. (102) The comment prompted a debate within the town as to whether the Town Hall had previously had a clock. Despite the assertion of a respected antiquarian in an Express article of 1976 that the Town Hall had previously had a clock (103) neither the original specifications or subsequent documentary sources support the assertion; indeed, quite the contrary. In this context it is germane to refer to the ceremony to mark J.G. Lyon’s gift in 1904. During the speeches made on that occasion was one by the prominent local solicitor W.E. Clayton-Smith in which he humorously expressed a desire to immortalise his name by adding an illuminated clock to the front of the Town Hall. In proposing a later toast, E.L. Poulson, proprietor of the West Riding Pottery, Ferrybridge, stated that if the Council thought fit to install a timepiece he would gladly subscribe. (104) Sadly no such action was forthcoming but such a design must have been in the minds of the designers of the hall for the Town Hall was constructed with a circular aperture, albeit plastered over, until such time as a clock should be placed therein. It was not until more than a century and a quarter later that the provision was fulfilled.

From its commencement the Town Hall Committee membership had largely consisted of senior and middle aged volunteers, not unnaturally since these were the generations who remembered the hall in its ‘glory days’. With the effect of old age, illness and other circumstances most of the original volunteers had gradually withdrawn from the Committee’s work.

As early as 1980 there were signs that the voluntary support which had reprieved the hall was waning as Rowland Knapton appealed for more volunteers to help with the running of the hall. (105) By October 1991 the dwindling band had decided to organise a final New Year’s dance as a prelude to surrender of the lease following vain appeals to gain more support from new volunteers. The Committee by this time was reduced to three members; Arthur Gill, his wife Joan, and Mr Louis Bedford. (106) Early in 1992, therefore, the ageing band of volunteers, feeling the constraints of age and the burden of responsibility for a task continually marked by financial crisis, felt that new and younger blood was needed and a last appeal was made for new helpers. Sadly, the appeal was unsuccessful and a demoralised Arthur Gill, aged 76, decided to give up the struggle and retire. In consequence, a public meeting was called under the chairmanship of Cr. Graham Stokes. The 200 attendant members of the public were inspired by an outline history of the Town Hall to respond in an encouraging manner and this support, reinforced by letters of appreciation in the local press,  provided Gill and his volunteers with sufficient heart to enable them to continue with their valuable work on behalf of the townspeople. (107)

A prospective lifeline was the declared willingness of members of the recently formed ‘Sapphires’ jazz band, consisting of younger people, to take over the running of the hall. Unfortunately generational disparity led to claims and counter claims concerning the operation of the hall and the source of its funding and the proposed takeover never materialised. (108)

In response to another crisis meeting, called by the Council, a new committee was eventually formed (109) and a few months later it was announced that the Town Hall was being helped by Easdales, a local foundry, which replaced boiler parts free of charge and thereby saved the Committee £200. The saving enabled a ‘facelift’ for the building to be contemplated and to this end the Knottingley Youth Brass ensemble gave a concert on Monday 23rd May 1992 to raise funds. (110) Other events were held throughout the town but despite such efforts the W.M.D.C. took a pessimistic view of the future prospects and would only grant a 12 month lease on the building. (111)

Nevertheless, the Treasurer’s Report revealed that the Committee had ended the year with a credit balance of £1,800. (112)

Gill, who had been active at the Town Hall since 1977 continued until 1996 by which time Edwin Beckett had taken over the administrative post of Treasurer which he currently undertakes with distinction. Upon relinquishing the reins of office, Arthur Gill was honoured by his fellow workers who presented him with a painting of the building he had served so well and the installation of a plaque in the public room bearing the words:


The Town Hall was under threat of the axe yet again in early 1996, due to pressure from the Council and the Police. At that time the Council informed the Committee that the licence for music, dancing and bingo would not be renewed unless a fire alarm system, at an estimated cost of £17,000, was installed in the building. Once again a conflict arose between the parties with the Committee claiming that the Council had previously agreed that it would meet the cost of the apparatus but had reneged on the promise and was now pressurising the Committee to accept responsibility. At an emergency meeting convened on the 28th March 1996, the W.M.D.C. Facilities Development Manager confirmed that the Council was unwilling to pay. It was also stated that a fire escape costing an extra £5,000 was required. The Town Hall Committee was in a Catch 22 situation; no safety system therefore no events to be held to raise money for a safety system. In addition, the Committee felt it was being victimised by the local police following an incident in which cars parked in the Ropewalk by people attending a Town Hall function were issued with parking tickets following a complaint by a resident. Edwin Beckett voiced the despondency of the Town Hall volunteers, claiming that the Council treated Knottingley as if it were a planet in outer space. Beckett stressed the importance of the Town Hall as one of the few historic buildings left within the town and stressed the social significance of the hall which served the whole local community, adding ominously that the hall would close unless financial assistance was received together with increased support from local residents and industry. (113)

Following a subsequent meeting with the Council’s legal representative an embargo was placed upon the size of gatherings at the Town Hall, no more than 100 people being allowed to attend any function. The restriction was a severe blow to the potential income of the Committee but again, with characteristic stoicism, Beckett, on behalf of the Committee, assured the people of Knottingley that the Town Hall would not close. (114)

The apparent disregard shown by the Council to the wishes of the local people was given angry expression by members of the public with one local antiquarian comparing the situation with the apparent disdain shown by the former K.U.D.C. with regard to the Greenhouse playing fields some twenty years earlier. (115)

Recourse was again made to a public petition circularised in shops, pubs and commercial premises as the number allowed to use the hall was halved. Town based businesses and local organisations generously responded by donating around 50 prizes for a grand raffle for which tickets were sold in local supermarkets. The initiative came from the Committee which as Edwin Beckett explained:

“...didn’t want to just go around town asking people to give us money [and] decided to organise a raffle as a way of giving something back…” (116)

At a meeting with the Town Hall Committee the following week, the Chairman of the W.M.D.C. Leisure Services Committee, Cr. J. Walkden, gave assurances that the hall would remain open pro-tem despite restrictions on attendance. The Committee were informed, however, that a new constitution as well as new licenses and improvement works would be necessary if he hall was to be allowed to remain open long-term but that the Council would work with the Committee to put together the improvements required. (117)

To this end the public were invited to a meeting chaired by Cr. Walkden on Wednesday 31st July 1996 at which new committee members were elected. It was reported at that date that the sum of £500 had been collected and it was hoped that a further £1,000 would be forthcoming from the raffle. (118)

Despite the hardship caused by the enforcement of the restricted attendance the dedication and determination of the Committee ensured the survival of the Town Hall. Money was saved to enable a fire alarm to be installed but this in itself was not sufficient to allow the attendance restriction to be revoked. An appeal was made to the National Lottery Fund for assistance and early in 1999 the sum of £54,000 was granted to the Committee. The money was used to pay for the installation of a lift to assist access to the hall. Toilets for disabled people and a new kitchen were also paid for from the grant and by June the work, much of it undertaken by Edwin Beckett and his dedicated helpers themselves, was completed (119) leaving the Treasurer to ruefully remark:

“I don’t think the public realise what it entails to keep the hall working because some moan like hell about things…. I think the amount of hard work the members of the committee do here is incredible and slowly but surely we’re getting there.” (120)

Ironically, the long required fire escape deemed essential by the Local Authority, has become a less essential safety factor in consequence of the installation of the lift. The matter is currently under consideration and installation may yet be found to be unnecessary.

Apart from the formal constraints and the seeming indifference of an element of the local population the efforts of the Committee have on various occasions been undermined by the mindless vandalism which is sadly so prevalent today. The most upsetting example occurred in 1994 when almost on the eve of a reception planned by Mr & Mrs Arthur Gill for the coming of age of their grandson, the Town Hall was broken into and vandalised. Doors were wrecked, drawers ransacked and files strewn about the hall. Spirits from the bar were poured upon the floor and a colour television set was stolen. The Gills’, assisted by family and friends, set about with a vigour which disguised the underlying heartbreak and the place was restored in time for the function to take place. (121)

Since its inception the Town Hall Management Committee has experienced many vicissitudes but with steadfast determination has overcome all problems. At present the short-term existence of the Town Hall as a community centre is reasonably assured but what of the future in a longer perspective? Will future generations be sufficiently inspired by the example set by dedicated volunteers under the leadership of people of the calibre of Knapton, Gill and Beckett? Also, what should be done to safeguard the very fabric of the building which although standing within a designated conservation area is not itself a listed building?

Past and present generations of townsfolk have revealed a strong affinity with their Town Hall, may it long continue to be so in the future. The dedicated attention and struggles of the townspeople engaged in retaining the Hall for use by the local population deserve no less.

Terry Spencer




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