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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.

Dedicated to past and present members of Knottingley Town Hall Management Committee and all their supporters.


The population of Knottingley, recorded as 2692 in 1801, had almost doubled by mid century and by the 1860’s the steadfast nature of the ‘Knottla’ native augmented by the determination and vigour of ‘incomers’ had combined to forge a common identity and pride in the expanding township.

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 following month a notice was published in the Pontefract Advertiser revealing details of the new venture.  The prospectus stated that the company had been established “to fill a long-felt need for a public place of assembly” and that the inhabitants of the town were now “determined to erect a good and substantial building to comprise rooms for a Mechanics’ Institute, class and reading rooms, societies, and Co.”  The underlying aim of the company was “to promote the interest and well being of the town rather than the realisation of any great profit.

Nevertheless, the venture was a commercial one and it was anticipated that a 5% dividend would be obtained.  The company sought to raise £1,000 by the issue of £1 shares whilst reserving the option to increase the share issue.  The public were invited to apply for 700 of the allotted initial issue before 21st November 1864.

The Chairman of the new company was Sydney Woolf, owner of the Ferrybridge Potteries and, later, Member of Parliament for the Borough of Pontefract.  The directors of the company were listed as Rev. E Gatley, Minister of the Independent Chapel, Edward Moorhouse, lime merchant and vessel owner, William Worfolk and Robert Garlick, shipbuilders, John Howard, ropemaker, John Arnold and John Copley, shipowners, George Greenhow, chemist and druggist, John Balance, willow merchant, Daniel Haigh, druggist, and Nathaniel Dickinson, draper.  The company secretary was Thomas Worfolk (secretary of the existent Mechanics’ Institute).  The solicitors were Messrs John Foster & Sons, Pontefract, and the bankers were Messrs Leatham & Tew & Co., Pontefract.

It is perhaps of passing interest to note that while six of the directors were members of the town’s administrative body, the Select Vestry, its Chairman, John Carter, proprietor of the Knottingley Brewery and the wealthiest and most influential figure in the township, played no direct part in the venture nor did several of his close friends who were also Vestrymen.  The omission may presage the developing political tension within the town which had an underlying religious bias and was to culminate in the Select Vestry ‘Riots’ a decade later.

Whatever the latent political ramifications, the proposal drew the enthusiasm of the public.  An editorial in the Pontefract Advertiser noting the increase in the number of eligible voters in Knottingley, which being based on property qualification was therefore an indication of growing prosperity, commented on the social aspirations of the inhabitants, stating that it was “remarkable that no previous attempt has been made to provide a public venue," as the town had long outgrown the primitive and makeshift arrangements then in existence.  In expressing his best wishes for the success of the venture, the editor concluded that “the general happiness of the town would be considerably increased by the provision of such a room.”

There was indeed need of a public hall.  For almost a century the meetings of the Select Vestry had been held in the committee room of the workhouse at Hill Top, while public gatherings such as the annually held Town’s Meeting and similar assemblies, were convened in the National Schoolroom, and local church halls were utilised for social functions.  The desire for a hall as the focal point for public affairs was fully endorsed by the local populace which quickly subscribed to the proffered share issue.

It is unsurprising that Sydney Woolf was the prime figure in the promotion of the scheme for he already had an active interest in the promotion of mechanics’ institutes and had cut his political teeth lecturing in such local institutions.  Indeed, the Mechanics’ Institute at Knottingley of which Woolf was president, had been established within the town during the middle of the previous decade in rooms constituting part of the Swan Inn.  Having outgrown this venue, the Institute had next moved to the Congregational Schoolrooms before eventually occupying the Wesleyan Schoolrooms.

The annual soiree held at the latter venue on the last Tuesday in March, 1865, coincided with the announcement of the acquisition of the site on which the new Town Hall was to be erected.  The site was a parcel of land a little over 736 square yards in extent, being part of a close known as Cock Garth, bounded on the west side by the Weeland Turnpike Road, and on the south side by a public footpath and a private cart road, formerly a ropewalk.  The land acquired belonged to two spinsters, Fanny and Emma Smallpage and to John Carter.  Carter’s willingness to make his portion of land available to the promoters of the Town Hall scheme indicates his public spiritedness regardless of any reservations he may have entertained regarding the scheme.

It was decided to combine the annual soiree of the Mechanics’ Institute with the cutting of the first sod and so following a tea for 500 people in the Wesleyan Schoolrooms, a procession headed by Sydney Woolf and supported by Rev. E. Gatley and Rev. P.V. Saville proceeded to the site where a flag marked the spot for the intended building.  To a deafening cheer and loud plaudits, Woolf cut the turf and spoke of the success of the undertaking.  Rev. Saville emphasised the need for the proposed building and following a vote of thanks by William Worfolk, seconded by John Howard to which Woolf suitably responded, the procession re-formed and returned to the Wesleyan Schoolrooms where a concert was performed before local dignitaries, one of whom was John Carter.  Woolf, as President of the Mechanics’ Institute then gave the annual report, emphasising the growing attendance and the success of its library.  The Report was followed by a further round of speeches before the evening concluded with the singing of the National Anthem.

The Town Hall was designed by Messrs Shaw and Weightman and built by a local builder, John Stanhope, under the supervision of a sub-committee of the directors of the Town Hall Company headed by the ubiquitous William Worfolk.

From the start the project was dogged by controversy as disagreements arose between the contractors and the abrasive and forceful Worfolk, who being a member of the Mechanics’ Institute as well as a director of the Town Hall Company was delegated to monitor the materials and quality of workmanship applied to the construction of the hall.

The foundation stone was laid by Sydney Woolf on 29th June 1865, on which occasion he was presented with a silver trowel.  Disputes notwithstanding, a public notice on the front page of the Advertiser in September 1865, announced the forthcoming opening of the Town Hall.

The building comprised a two storey brick structure with a central tower at the front, and second floor balcony surmounting the centrally situated entrance.  The centrally located porch had double-headed arches to right and left, with twin staircases leading to the public hall above.  A centrally situated passage with a series of rooms intended as classrooms, each 20 feet x 16 feet x 15 feet, and lit by a well placed window, designed, it was stated, in accordance with the most recent model for mechanics’ institutes ‘as found in the most flourishing manufacturing towns’, occupied the remainder of the ground floor.  To the left at the east end of the passage was a staircase leading to the platform or stage of the public room, permitting access without transit through the main body of the hall.

The main room was 68 feet x 30 feet x 20 feet and lit by four large windows to either side and at night by three gaseliers, above each of which was a ventilation shaft.  The platform at the east end of the public room was about three feet high and deemed ideal for visual convenience.  Some criticism was, however, directed at the acoustics, it being contended that the sound quality was most effective when the auditorium was no more than half full, being observed that a speaker’s voice tended to rebound if the room was above half full.  Within the basement area were public baths.

The rectangular building was covered by a pyramid roof of blue slates, and the tower had a blue slated apex topped by a weather vane of ornamental ironwork.

The opening on 15th September 1865, was marked by a commemorative tea commencing at 5.00pm.  Admission was by ticket costing five shillings which in addition to the tea ensured a reserved place at the following soiree.  Tea and unreserved admission to the body of the hall cost 1s. 6d., tickets being available from various business outlets in Knottingley and Pontefract.

For the opening the hall was filled to capacity with 700 people in attendance.  Above the platform chair, to be occupied by Sydney Woolf, was a motto made from 500 pink paper roses on a white background and bearing the words ‘Long Live Our Chairman’ produced by the daughter of George Greenhow.  The words ‘God Save The Queen’ were above the motto and were flanked on either side by a Royal Standard and the Union Flag with supplemental flags arranged as festoons, all provided by W. S. Hepworth, Secretary of the Marine & Fishermens’ Insurance Society.  Central to all was the banner and motto of the Prince of Wales.  Between the red curtains of the stage and side windows were various flags lent by local vessel owners with banners and armorial shields featuring the arms of neighbourhood nobility and gentlemen.  At the west end of the room, between the twin doors, was an English ensign flanked by those of Prussia and Denmark with the motto ‘Independence’ beneath and two others: ‘Wisdom is Power’ and ‘Unity is Strength’ running the full length of each side wall.  The angle between the ceiling and the walls was filled with wreaths of evergreens.

Amongst the dignitaries who were present for the opening soiree were the two local M.P.’s, H.C.E. Childers and Major Waterhouse, Mr R. Arundel, the Mayor of Pontefract, the Rev. S.E. Blomfield M.A., Vicar of Knottingley, Rev. R.S. Coe and Rev. W. Sanders, local Nonconformist ministers, and R. Moxon, J.P.  Lord Houghton who had originally signified his intention to be present, was unable to attend, finding a sudden necessity to visit Vichy for the baths and waters, but providing in his absence two fine specimens of arbor vitum to adorn the platform.

Within a year of the opening it was found that the entrance to the hall was constrained by lack of space and would be better served if the Company held claim to the immediate frontage of the building.  It was therefore proposed by Sydney Woolf and seconded by Nathaniel Dickinson at a subsequent Select Vestry meeting that the Company be granted a few yards of land to the front of the Town Hall at the rate of five shillings per square yard.  The proposal was objected to by John Senior of Leys Farm, Darrington Leys, who suggested an informal agreement ‘on the give and take principle’ would be better and the Vestry therefore left the issue to be decided by John Carter and Senior who were ‘to act as they think best’ in the matter.  Being of an informal nature the settlement is unrecorded and we may only assume some compromise was reached.

Following its opening the Town Hall quickly became the focal point for social activities within the town with frequent concerts, lectures, exhibitions and balls supplementing the regular facilities such as the library, baths, reading rooms and the classes held under the auspices of the Mechanics’ Institute, and thus setting a pattern of local usage which continues to this day.  Notwithstanding its popularity, however, the Company always operated on a financial shoestring and in March 1867, the directors mortgaged the premises and site in the sum of £800 at 5% per annum interest to William Roberts of Cleckheaton, lime merchant.  It is interesting to note that of the original directors the names of Rev. Gatley, Edward Moorhouse and John Copley had disappeared, being replaced by those of Joseph Whitteron and Robert Cawthorn, shipowners, and William Simpson Hepworth, bookseller, and Thomas Edwards Gaggs Bywater, surgeon.  On 13th December 1869, the mortgage was transferred to Harriet Hemsworth of Fryston Lodge, Monk Fryston, by the directors of whom the name of James Burston, shipowner, was included whilst those of Howard, Greenhow and Bywater were extinct.  In February 1880, the mortgage was again transferred, this time to Andrew Mooney of Pontefract, proprietor of the Round House (later Hope) Glassworks, Fernley Green.  Nine years later the mortgage was held by a trio of businessmen, John William Gaunt of Farsley, William Banks of Pudsey and George Henry Lawrence of Leeds, who surrendered the possession to J. G. Lyon in December 1901.  The balance sheet of the Company for 1869 provides a glimpse of how tight were the finances of the organisation.

Following the establishment of the Pontefract Poor Law Union in 1862 and the eventual transfer of the Knottingley Workhouse inmates to the newly constructed Union workhouse at Pontefract in 1865, steps were taken to dispose of the old parish workhouse.  The vestrymen were therefore deprived of the use of the committee room and sought a new venue for their meetings.  Accordingly, in May 1868, they undertook an inspection of the ground floor rooms of the Town Hall to ascertain if any were suitable for their use.  The following month an agreement was reached with the Town Hall Committee whereby the latter offered the room selected at an annual rent of £11 per annum inclusive of fuel and gaslight.  At the final meeting held in the workhouse it was decided that subject to the approval of the local Poor Law Board the towns Overseers of the poor should be empowered by the Select Vestry ‘to rent or hire a room in the Town Hall to be used as a Public Office for the Township.’  Following the signing of a formal agreement between the contracting parties the room was suitably furnished and the Overseers entered their new office on Saturday 5th September 1868.  Thus the Town Hall became the centre for civic administration as well as the social life of the town.

The management of the Town Hall appears to have been less than ideal and despite the popularity of the hall as a social venue, the Committee quickly experienced financial difficulties.  Indeed, the £1000 estimated cost of building the hall was exceeded by £1400 so the company started with a deficit, hence the necessity for the mortgage, supplemented by the fees charged for the use of the hall.  The charge of £1-5s per evening (with ten shillings extra for use of the piano) was, however, economically unviable and most public events were loss making.  It was not long, therefore, before recriminations began, even amongst the directors themselves.  Matters reached a head in November 1869, when William Worfolk issued a libel writ against Robert Hirst and Daniel Haigh over the content of an article entitled ‘The Unveiling of the Town Hall’ which appeared in a local free sheet newspaper – the ‘Business Currier’ of 23rd October 1869.  The article, presumably based upon the personal knowledge of Haigh, an original director of the Town Hall Company, impugned the directors of the Company in general and Worfolk as a director of the Company and the Mechanics’ Institute in particular.  The article referred to ‘dodgery’ and ‘cheap and dirty tricks ably performed’ and drew the parallel between overspending in the construction of the building and the (implied) graft in the supply of materials used.  As Worfolk had been deputised to supervise the choice of the materials and payment of wages and expenses he was the obvious (albeit un-named) target of the article, particularly as he, in his business capacity of brickmaker, had supplied the contractor, John Stanhope, with bricks to the value of £70.

At the subsequent court hearing Worfolk called fellow directors Sydney Woolf and John Bentley to support his contention that he was the libel target and to give evidence to show that all transactions he had undertaken were subjected to cross checking and approval by a number of other parties.

Owing to the good offices of one of the magistrates, Rev. J. A. Rhodes, the issue was settled in camera.  With his tongue so firmly in his cheek that it is scarcely credible he could speak, the solicitor for the defendants stated that his clients ‘…….did not for a moment wish to impugn the complainant nor reflect anything privately on him or the Directors and would not publish anything of the kind again.’  With an apology and payment of costs by the defendants the case was therefore terminated.

The parlous financial state of the Town Hall Company is also reflected in its dealings with the Select Vestry.  The latter body found difficulty in obtaining desired improvements, and by January, 1870, were threatening to discontinue using the premises.  Undaunted, the Town Hall Company sought to obtain an increase in the rent from the autumn of 1871 and by May, 1874, notified the tenants that as from the following September, the rent would be increased to £14 per annum.  Despite resistance and negotiation the Select Vestry had to capitulate and pay the sum demanded.  A degree of dissatisfaction resulted and in March, 1879, the Select Vestry decided to seek alternative accommodation, and by November of that year had relocated in premises in Chapel Street belonging to the local School Board.

Ten years after the establishment of the Knottingley Urban District Council in 1894, the Town Hall once again became the administrative centre of the town.  Rooms once comprising part of the now defunct Mechanics’ Institute were adapted as the Council Chamber and offices, and continued in this capacity until the late 1960’s when the Council and its staff transferred to ‘The Close’ at Hill Top.

Meanwhile, the Town Hall continued under the control of the original company which despite popular patronage, struggled financially.  The sale of the hall was increasingly suggested and by the late 1890’s its failure as a commercial venture was clearly evident with talk of its possible transfer to the Council as public representative increasingly mooted and finding general approval amongst the Committee as well as the public.

The general desire was furthered by the munificence of a local industrialist, J. G. Lyon of the Aire Tar Works, Knottingley, who donated the sum of £500 to the K.U.D.C. to be spent as they thought best for the good of the residents of the town.  The Council nominated the Town Hall and set up a sub committee under Councillor John Harker with a view to obtaining the property.

On Monday 20th March, 1901, the Town Hall was offered for sale at auction by Messrs Bentley & Sons.  The sale included furniture, fixtures and fittings, and carried a reserve price of £1200.  It was stated that the original cost represented about £4000 in terms of 1901 values.

It was claimed afterwards by some of the large crowd in attendance at the sale, that the outcome was pre-arranged, a claim which may have been lent substance by public knowledge of a close friendship and business relationship between Lyon and Harker.  In the event, Mr J. Whitteron and Cr. Harker competed with bids by ten stages before the property was finally knocked down to the latter for the sum of £1365.

Following the sale Mr. Lyon extended his original offer to cover the full cost of the purchase price and for reasons of legal technicality, the building was transferred to his name before eventually being bestowed upon the township.

Some indication of the Town Hall Company’s affairs was provided by the Company Secretary, Mr. Thomas Worfolk, prior to the commencement of the auction sale.  In response to a question concerning takings during the two previous years, Worfolk stated that the income was £80-£100 gross out of which £14-£15 was paid in rates, the rateable value of the building being £36.  With additional costs for lighting and heating and mortgage interest payments of £40 per year, it is unsurprising that the premises were badly in need of renovation.

On the Monday following the sale, a specially convened meeting of the Council passed a resolution on behalf of the K.U.D.C. and the townspeople expressing ‘high appreciation of the gift’ and resolved that a sealed copy of the resolution be sent to Mr. Lyon.  Meanwhile, the Town Hall Company had gone into voluntary liquidation.

At a celebratory dinner given by the Council in Lyon’s honour at the Railway Hotel, Knottingley, in January, 1902, Lyon revealed that he had originally considered presenting the township with a steam fire engine before deciding to donate the Town Hall.  Following the dinner, the guests joined members of the public at the Town Hall where a cinematographic show was produced by Messrs Brook and Burland and this was followed by a grand concert. The evening was punctuated with the inevitable speeches of the local dignitaries during which Rev. F. E. Egerton remarked that the gathering was the largest he had ever addressed in that hall.  Following a vote of thanks, the public responded by singing ‘For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow’ and giving Lyon a standing ovation.

Lyon in reply, expressed the hope that the Council would use the hall for more educational purposes than had formerly been the case, and suggested that the profits should be used on immediate decorations and improvements to generate more income.  Lyon also urged the public to take local elections more seriously, stating that there had been too much joking in the past.

An ongoing protracted legal dispute between the K.U.D.C. and the contractors involved in constructing the town’s new sewerage scheme not only engendered a financial crisis but also led to the issue of a writ of Fi Fa against the Council, the implementation of which involved the potential seizure of all the Council’s possessions, including the newly acquired Town Hall. It was to prevent such loss that following the purchase of the hall, the titular possession was retained pro tem by Mr Lyon. Owing to the delays and uncertainties arising from the legal dispute it was not until April 1904 that the Town Hall was formally handed over and reopened for public use. (46)

Nevertheless, improvements were considered although a wrangle concerning the estimated cost of about £1,100 caused protracted delay. (47) During one discussion, Cr. William Bagley suggested that the installation of public baths should be considered to engender income and benefit the public. The suggestion drew from a fellow member the scornful retort

“Baths – They’ll never pay in this town – not in my lifetime”. (48)

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