Knottingley and Ferrybridge Online West Yorkshire
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Also by Terry Spencer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Knottingley and Ferrybridge Local History


by Dr. Terry Spencer B.A. (hons) Ph D.

Revised and re-written, June 1999, from the original version of June 1991

Dedicated to the memory of my dear wife, Barbara Spencer (1935 –1999)

A report in the local press dated 4th October 1912 stated;

"A site has been acquired in Aire Street, Knottingley, on which it is intended to erect a permanent picture hall. The entertainment’s to be given will be well conducted and are to be of high class order to secure the patronage of all classes. The contracts for the work are about to be let and the building will be commenced at once and carried on with all speed."

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. The building had sloping floors to facilitate unobstructed viewing and also had permanently fixed tip-up seats. To ensure maximum safety the building was designed with separate entrances and exits. The design featured a promenade with a refreshment buffet and the screen area incorporated a stage platform with adjoining dressing rooms to enable ‘live’ shows to be given. Indeed, such shows were a regular feature at the Palace during the early years with talent contests and other entertainment’s taking place between the films, the cinema pianist accompanying the performers.

Constructed of red brick with sandstone facings, the cinema presented an imposing facade. A central entrance and reception area was flanked by sturdy rectangular turrets, slightly offset for visual effect, creating an impression of bulky strength and drawing the eye towards the entrance and the interior of the building. The roof was of blue slate and the front of the cinema had a narrow forecourt which was encompassed by iron railings about five feet in height, with gates which slid open to either side of the centralised entrance. It is of interest to note that although the façade of the cinema stood square-on to Aire Street, the lie of the land on which the building was constructed dictated that the auditorium lay at an angle to the frontage, a fact which was largely obscured by the skillfully designed facade.

The cinema was built at the behest of a company registered under the title of Knottingley Picture Palace Ltd., on land belonging to one Benjamin Braim, a local joiner who resided at the opposite side of Aire Street at a point near the junction with Cow Lane. The company, with Fred Calverley and George Braim as directors and John E. Lunn as Secretary, took out a 99-year lease on the land and property from the 1st April 1913 at an annual rent of £17. The cinema was the designated office of the company and the residential manager was Mr. H.B. Edwardes (sic) with a Mr. Tinkler as the general manager. The first licensed cinematographic performance at the Palace was undertaken in the name of Mr. Fred Calverley on the 25th February 1913.

Reporting a full house for the first performance, the Pontefract & Castleford Express stated; "The Management are to be complimented upon their choice pictures for the opening week."

In his opening speech, Mr. Tinkler assured the public that, "..none but the best educational and entertaining pictures were to be shown."

How true the statement was, may perhaps be judged from the titles of the films featured during the following week. Performances on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday consisted of ‘Builders of the Empire’ (not as one may conject, a glorification of Imperialism, but a Western drama) and ‘Grandfather’, described without intentional irony as a "pathetic picture". ‘Love, Luck and Gasoline’, a romantic love story, together with several short comedy films ensured value for money entertainment. The second half of the week was no less entertaining with ‘The Reformation of Broncho Billy’ and ‘Lost Years’ being supplemented by "some good comics". Unfortunately, we are denied analysis of further programmes for apart from that single instance the Palace does not appear to have undertaken any press advertising during the first dozen years of its existence. No doubt the novelty value of the new form of public entertainment was a reason why it was considered unnecessary to advertise too widely especially given the close nature of the local community at that period, plus the fact that most businesses valued and relied upon personal recommendation. In addition, as Dr. Taylor has noted, picture houses were mushrooming in neighbouring localities at that time as local businessmen sought outlets for their surplus capital, with film theatres and skating rinks being front runners. The year 1912 seems to have been a particularly fecund year with no less than four cinemas opening in Castleford alone in the inaugural year of the Palace. "Peoples Popular Prices" of 2d., 4d., and 6d., were charged for the once nightly shows which commenced at 7.45, Monday to Friday. On Saturdays there were two evening performances, at 6.45 and 8.45, plus a matinee at 2.30pm.

The opening of the Palace was not however, the first occasion on which films had been shown at Knottingley, nor yet even shown on a regular basis. Before that time itinerant showmen using portable projection apparatus had shown silent films to local audiences at the annual ‘Feast’ or at other venues within the town.

The filmed records of the Diamond Jubilee in 1897 followed thereafter by the funeral of Queen Victoria in 1901, had, despite poor technical quality, aroused immense interest in the new medium and indicated the potential of cinematography as a serious vehicle for public information and entertainment. Thus, by the middle of the first decade of the twentieth century companies were being established to produce and distribute films on a commercial basis. Apart from Knottingley Town Hall, which provided a regular venue for film shows up to 1925, similar entertainment was provided by James Holgate, licensee of the Wagon & Horses Inn, Aire Street, until 1912. Another venue for regular weekly performances was the Congregational Schoolroom where every Saturday evening the ‘Happy Hours Picture Hall’ promised; "Excellent and up to date cinematograph pictures [with] illustrated songs."

The price of admission was 2d. for children if accompanied by parents. The promise was evidently fulfilled for the local paper reported that; "There was a good attendance in the Congregational Schoolroom on Saturday evening and an excellent cinematograph entertainment. The pictures shown were ‘A Trip to Bombay’ and ‘Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night’ (sic)

The chemical composition of the film stock was however, highly volatile, rendering its use a potential safety hazard. In addition to the fire risk were dangers of overcrowding, temporary and makeshift seating and insufficient egress. Children were frequently admitted to shows unaccompanied, their admittance often procured by presenting an empty jam jar in lieu of money. The reality of the danger had been brought home on the 11th January 1908 when sixteen children had been crushed to death as the result of a fire, which had occurred during a film show in the public hall at Barnsley. To ensure public safety the Cinematograph Act of 1909 decreed that all buildings in which public film shows were given were henceforth to be subject to annual licensing by the local authority. As a result, many previously used venues were denied a license and by 1913 further tightening up of the Act resulted in a spate of purpose-built cinemas such as the Palace, being constructed.

The grim years of the Great War and its bleak economic aftermath ensured the success of the cinema as a form of cheap, popular, if somewhat unsophisticated entertainment. It would appear that a ready audience existed at Knottingley for apart from the dissemination of programme information in the form of handbills and posters distributed throughout the town and its near neighbourhood, as noted above, no attempt was made to attract a wider audience via press advertising before 1925.

Details concerning the tenancy of the cinema during the early years of its existence are sparse but it is recorded that by 1914 the licensee was Mr. J Harris. Harris was the head of a very talented family of musicians who made a living as itinerant entertainers, appearing regularly in summer shows at Bridlington in the years prior to the Great War. The family residence was at Hill Top, Knottingley, but the Palace served as a business address, featuring on all their publicity material which suggest that the cinema served as a booking agency.

It would appear that Harris regarded cinematography as an alternative source of income for in addition to his tenure at the Palace he held a licence to provide picture shows at the Town Hall until 1920. Despite the ever-growing popularity of cinema as a form of entertainment Harris decided to divest himself of his cinema interests shortly after the end of the war. The cinema had provided a regular source of supplementary income, particularly at the onset of the war when there may have been doubt about the viability of live entertainment but the exigencies of war had made unforeseen demands on Harris and his family. Harris’s daughter, Millie, now a sprightly 96 year old resident of New South Wales, Australia, has revealed how at the age of eleven she was called upon at short notice to improvise musical accompaniments for the silent films following the enlistment of the cinema’s regular pianist.

Shortly after the conclusion of the war, Harris, aware of the resurgent demand for all forms of entertainment as the antithesis of the years of conflict with their grim aftermath, divested himself of his cinema interests. He quit Knottingley and took the family act ‘on the road’, appearing throughout Britain and Europe before eventually embarking for more distant parts of the Empire.

In 1920 the R.T.A Company obtained the tenancy of the Palace, together with the licence for the Town Hall where pictures continued to be shown until 1925.

The R.T.A. Company had its origins in or about 1917 when John Arthur Rowley, a rag merchant of Victoria Works, Batley, met Walter Townend, a fellow rag merchant based at Ossett. The two men were looking for means to invest surplus capital and decided to form the Victoria Picture Company, which ran the Star and Empress cinemas at Castleford. The pair then met Elliot Aspinall of Castleford and in 1920 formed R.T.A (the company name being formed from the initial letters of the surname of each partner) to build and run the Picture House, Castleford.

There are indications that suggest a period of economic reorganisation followed. In December 1921, the R.T.A. holding in the Grand Cinema, Normanton, was sold to Albert and Donald Wood and on the 6th February 1922, R.T.A sold its interest in the Palace, Knottingley. The new leaseholder was Albert Wilcock of Wakefield Road, Pontefract, who paid £4,600 for the residual rights of the 99-year lease of 1913.

Wilcock appears to have been a transient figure, for by the following month the Palace lease was held in the joint names of Percy Woodcock and J.M. Scott, Pontefract businessmen.

Woodcock, a joiner of Park Lane and James Mountain Scott, a wholesale potato and game merchant, obtained the leasehold on the Palace on the 20th March 1922 for the sum of £6,000. The substantial financial gain allied to the rapid resale of the Palace lease suggest that Wilcock’s interest in the cinema was purely speculative although he is designated as a "picture house proprietor" in legal documents.

Three years later Woodcock’s half share was acquired by J. & G. Howdle of Knottingley. An indenture dated 2nd February 1925, reveals that George Howdle became Scott’s partner when a half share was assigned to him by Percy Woodcock and his wife, Edith. Howdle’s half share cost him £2,000 of which £600 was borrowed from his sister-in-law, Jean (nee Arnold) who had some years previously been the organist at the Congregational Chapel, Knottingley, and had provided the accompaniment for films shown in the chapel rooms.

The partnership with Scott continued until November 1927, when it was formally dissolved, Howdle paying Scott £3,000 for his share. To enable the transaction to be undertaken Howdle borrowed £2,000 from the Midland Bank, mortgaging the cinema and also surrendering a life policy with a value of £500 as security for the loan. In addition, Howdle borrowed a further £1,000 from his sister-in-law to whom he granted a second mortgage.

Howdle’s interest in cinematography appears to have been kindled during the previous decade when he was the manager of both Knottingley Town Hall and the Palace Cinema at the time film shows were shown by Mr. Harris and his successors although he was also involved in the film shows at the Congregational Chapel and it is known that he was also interested in photography.

In November 1925, the local paper reported;

"Knottingley’s only film resort, established long ago, is now under the capable management of Mr. Geo. Howdle, enhancing its reputation for bright, varied and enjoyable entertainment. Residents have no need to go further afield to see first class films, as witness the programme arranged for this coming week."

The programme in question consisted of ‘Rin-Tin-Tin’, the wonder dog in ‘The Lighthouse by the Sea’. The main feature was supported by one of a series of films entitled ‘The Music Masters’, the one shown portraying the life of Felix Mendelssohn. The programme was shown from Monday to Wednesday at 7.15 each evening and also a matinee on Monday at 2.30. The latter half of the week featured an entirely changed programme. ‘His Hour’, based on an Eleanor Glynn novel, was the main film. The supporting programme was ‘The Surprise Fight’, again one of a series of films, this one featuring Benny Leonard, a popular boxer of the period. Evening shows commenced at 7.15 except for Saturdays when there were two houses, the first at 6.15, followed by the final performance of the week at 8.45. At that time it was the usual for reels of film shown at the Palace to be exchanged with those shown at the Hippodrome, Featherstone. Billy Spires (who later became the Palace projectionist and afterwards a successful tradesman in Knottingley) had the unenviable job of cycling in all weathers between the two cinemas to effect the exchange of the film stock. The possible delays incumbent upon the errand helps to explain the necessity for ‘live’ entertainment between the films as well as illustrating the more leisurely pace of life in general at that time.

With the advent of the Howdle proprietorship however, a significant change occurred. The Palace now began to advertise its future programme on a regular basis in the local press alongside those of other cinemas in the district. The use of vividly coloured posters within the town continued, including their display on the premises of local shopkeepers who received complimentary tickets for such assistance.

The extent to which newspaper advertising reflected the enterprise of the Howdle’s or the need to become more competitive in order to ensure economic viability is conjectural. It must be remembered however, that the period following the end of the Great War saw the establishment and expansion of local bus services. A regularised system of public transport meant a wider potential audience as people from the more rural and isolated communities around Knottingley were able to avail themselves of such services to visit the cinema.

With the introduction of advertising for the cinema, strategically placed billboards at Hill Top, Weeland Road and Low Green, ensured that travellers using the main road through Knottingley could not fail to be aware of the Palace programmes regardless of the direction of the journey.

The change of management and the wider catchment area afforded the Palace a new lease of life. The development was further assisted by promotional ’stunts’ designed to increase public awareness of the cinema. Thus, when ‘Dick Turpin’s Ride’ was shown at the Palace, a local man, George Lightowler, dressed up as a highwayman and travelled the surrounding area on horseback to publicise the film. A former resident of the town, who was a small boy at that time, remembers queues three to four deep stretching as far as the Flatts when the Howdle’s owned the Palace.

In 1927 however, the cinema industry became subjected to a rapid and dramatic technological change with the successful launch of ‘The Jazz Singer’, a part ‘talkie’ featuring the great American entertainer, Al Jolson. Almost overnight silent films became passe as "all talking-all singing" sound-tracked films caused cinemas throughout the land to be wired for sound projection. Late in 1929, the Picture House, Castleford, announced "the Talkies are coming" as the owner invested £4,000 to install a Powers Cinephone system to enable the public to see and hear Jolson in ‘The Singing Fool’. A little earlier the Majestic, "Castleford’s first sound cinema", had broken new ground by installing the rival Vitaphone system. The public were reported to be"…‘sound wise’. Radio has turned the ears of the masses to a keen appreciation of the tone quality in speech, music and song and sound effects."

The effect of the technical revolution may be seen by reference to other local cinemas. The issue of the local paper which featured publicity for talking pictures also reported the purchase of the Grand cinema, Airedale, following the recent demise of the owner, William Jackson of Hartley Park, Pontefract. It was stated that the sale by auction elicited ‘little competition’ with only £1,975 being realised, the cinema being purchased by Mr. E.C. Briggs of Horsforth, Leeds. Despite a ‘facelift’ which included changing the name of the cinema to the ‘Empire’ closure took place in Spring 1930. The Crescent cinema, Pontefract, attempted to gain a breathing space by providing "the finest orchestra in the district" to accompany the action of the silent films and also provided "musical interludes on the grand organ" but the management had already seen the pattern of the future and announced in a letter to the ‘Express’ that they "cannot keep silent any longer and are going to talk."

The letter disclosed that the sound apparatus was being installed and that from 30th December 1930, the Western Electric sound system would be utilised to show ‘Broadway’, followed in subsequent weeks by fifteen listed talking films.

Meanwhile, the Palace, offering a form of entertainment which had begun to pall, attempted to compete with its technologically enhanced neighbours. At a time of increasing economic depression, the Palace was able to survive by charging less for admission than the prices charged by ‘sound’ cinemas. Nevertheless, there are indications that the Palace was losing the battle. The programme advertised for the week commencing 17th February 1930, featured the film ‘Virgin Lips’ starring John Boles, an actor who had recently attained fame as the star of the sound film ‘The Desert Song’. The Palace advertisement somewhat ingeniously featured the name of Boles and ‘The Desert Song’ so prominently that the public could quite easily have been misled into the belief that the ‘talkies’ had arrived at Knottingley unannounced.

In July 1930 however, the local paper announced;

"Knottingley to Have Its Own Talkies’
"Ever anxious to provide entertainment of the latest and best type, Mr. G. Howdle, the proprietor of the Palace, has installed sound machines and ‘talkie fans’ need not now go further afield for them."

The first talkie show at the Palace was ‘The Broadway Melody’, which was shown from Monday to Wednesday, 7th – 9th July and was followed in the second half of the week by ‘Mickey Mouse’ and the ‘Donovan Affair’. The new era was marked by a change in the times and number of performances as well as an increase in the price of admission. Since 1925, the cinema had featured a matinee on Monday at 2.30, and the evening performances had been advanced by half an hour to 7.15, a sign perhaps of the shortening of working hours and the introduction of the continuous shift system adopted by the local glassworks. Now, however, the performances were pushed back to 7.30 and a further matinee introduced each Thursday at 2.30. The matinees on Saturday and Monday continued as before, as did the double performance on Saturday evenings at 6.30 and 8.45. Seats in the balcony now cost a shilling with area seats at 9d. and 6d. Admission to the pit (known to generations of locals as ‘the chicken run’) was 4d. Booking for any performance was introduced at an additional cost of 3d. per seat. Half price admission for children was abolished on Mondays unless children were accompanied by an adult. The latter restriction resulted in keen and enterprising children waiting near the entrance of the cinema and requesting passing customers to ‘take them in’ (i.e. to allow themselves to be accompanied to the pay booth and, having first obtained the price of admission from the prospective young viewer, gain entry for both as the putative parent or guardian.)

The sound system installed at the Palace cost £350, paid for by instalments for which Howdle found it necessary to overdraw on his bank to the tune of £200. The apparatus consisted of a pre-recorded soundtrack on a disc. A deft touch was necessary in order to achieve perfect synchronisation with the actual film footage. Failure to achieve the requisite degree of accuracy resulted in a mirth provoking situation guaranteed to transmute pathos to bathos in an instant. It was for this reason that the Majestic cinema at Castleford which had prided itself on being "Castleford’s first sound cinema", when faced with competition from the Picture House with its technologically superior Powers Cinophone system, had quickly refitted.

Howdle’s occupancy of the Palace was one of financial stringency throughout. The funds required to meet the cost of installing the sound system at the Palace stretched the financial resources of the proprietors to their ultimate extent so that when the Howdle’s were faced with competition from the more advanced Western Electric system installed at the Crescent, Pontefract, shortly afterwards, they could not afford the necessary luxury of updating their own recently installed but inferior sound system. Furthermore, as distributors hired out their films on the basis of the profitability of each individual cinema, the Palace was at a considerable disadvantage and was restricted to showing films which had already been screened at Pontefract and Castleford and frequently viewed by a significant element of the potential Palace audience.

In June 1931, the bank called in its debt, forcing the Howdle’s into voluntary liquidation and as the mortgage agreement conferred power of sale the bank placed the cinema on the market.

At the bankruptcy hearing at Wakefield it was stated that Howdle, aged 54, had gross liabilities of £4,855-16-11 for which he blamed the general depression of trade and competition from the surrounding towns. In 1929 his total receipts had been £2,612 with a profit of £423. The following year receipts were £2,338 and profit was £451.

In December 1931, a new era commenced at the Palace when the cinema was sold to A & D.H Wood, the licence being transferred to the latter in April 1932.

It is interesting to note that the Woods purchased the Palace for the sum of £3,317-10-8, only a little over half the sum which had been paid when the property had been sold by Albert Wilcock a decade earlier. The reduced price probably reflects the desire of the vendor, Barclays Bank Ltd., to sell the property as quickly as possible at a time of universal recession.

With the ‘talkies’, the Woods’, aware of the scale of the technological transformation and its consequences for the silent screen, had sold the Grand cinema at Normanton and following a prudent waiting period to enable events to confirm their opinion, then purchased the Palace. Under the proprietorship of the Woods’ the Palace experienced its ‘Golden Age’.

One of the earliest actions undertaken by the new owners was the refurbishment of the cinema, including the replacement of the inefficient sound system. Thus, at a stroke, the economic viability of the Palace was enhanced. The change occurred at a time when other changes were taking place both within the film industry and society at large. During the 1930s the studio system was developing in Britain in the wake of similar events in America. Mass advertising resulted in the expansion of the movie industry to embrace supplementary aspects of production such as magazines, competitions, promotional features and sales service. The combined effect made regular cinema attendance a sine qua non of social life. The momentum continued throughout the late 30s and 40s as the public sought escapism from the anxieties of war and the grim austerity of the post-war period. The boom in cinema attendance also prompted the purchase of the Featherstone Hippodrome by the Woods’. More significantly for Knottingley, however, was their contingency plan to build a second cinema within the town. As independent proprietors the Woods’ felt vulnerable to the strength of the competition engendered by the large cinema chains which were then established. The Woods’ were increasingly aware that the Palace was not situated on any bus route, a fact which was deemed likely to persuade potential patrons from outlying areas of the town, such as the Broomhill and England Lane estates, or adjacent rural districts, to travel to Pontefract cinemas by means of public transport. Even more alarming was the possibility that a business rival could develop a second cinema on a more viable site within Knottingley. The Woods therefore decided to look round for a more favourable site on which to construct the towns second cinema.

The site chosen was a plot situated at the junction of Weeland Road and Spawd Bone Lane. The plans for the proposed cinema were designed by the Pontefract based architects Pennington, Hustler & Taylor. The new cinema was to contain a total of 866 seats comprising 186 front stalls, 448 rear stalls and 232 in the balcony. The interior of the cinema featured dual gangways, separating blocks of seats to the right and left of the auditorium from the main centrally situated block, exactly replicating the lay-out of the Palace. Unlike the Palace, however, access to the balcony was by a centrally located staircase situated in the lobby area, lying beyond the foyer. The seats of the balcony were designed in a triple block arrangement, thus ensuring greater safety than at the Palace where access to all balcony seats was by a single entrance to each row from a centrally placed aisle. The triple block arrangement was therefore less of an irritant to the public by minimising the number of customers who were required to rise from their seats to facilitate access to empty seats within any section. As at the Palace, the projection room was situated at the rear of the balcony, above the foyer, whilst the screen area featured a stage platform.

All in all, the similarities with the Palace are striking and bear testimony to the advanced design of that cinema when erected more than thirty years earlier. A significant sign of the times, however, was the provision of a car park for the proposed new cinema. Initially this feature was to occupy space at the front of the cinema, off Weeland Road, however, following the recommendation of the W.R.C.C. Planning Office, it was decided to relocate the car park at the rear of the cinema in order to obviate the possible obstruction of traffic on the main highway through the town.

The external appearance of the new cinema was less imposing than that of the Palace, mirroring the increase in the cost of labour and materials over three decades as well as current shortages arising from the result of the Second World War. Nevertheless, the new cinema more obviously reflected the purpose it was designed to serve, with dual entrances and a central display area and shops to each side of the entrances. Basically rectangular, the cinema was designed with a centrally ridged, sloping roof of blue slate, the proposed body of the building being constructed of red brick.

Conceived shortly before the outbreak of the war, the project was however abandoned despite obtaining official approval and involving an advanced stage of planning. Construction of the new cinema was never really desired by the Woods’, being merely a precautionary tactic adopted to forestall possible moves by rival business concerns. The Woods’ laid their plans but secretly hoped that the need to implement such plans would never arise.

The delay occasioned by the outbreak of World War Two, followed by the shortage of materials in the immediate post-war period, alleviated the danger to the Palace from any rival concern and by the time austerity was giving way to plenty, social conditions were already sufficiently changed to indicate a pattern of declining cinema attendance, thus making any rival project unlikely for economic reasons. The project was therefore abandoned without a single piece of ground ever being disturbed.

Meanwhile, by the early 1950s, new attractions, particularly television, were beginning to erode Palace audiences. Many cinemas, especially those in private ownership, required updating in order to attract the public by offering maximum comfort and service. Donald Wood had always felt it to be important to maintain a high standard of decoration and cleanliness within the cinema and to this end frequently spent more on customer comfort than his business associates considered necessary.

Following the relaxation of wartime restrictions there are several indications of improvements at the Palace. In May 1953, the cinema closed for complete redecoration and refurbishment. The announcement of the grand re-opening in the local press revealed a more flexible programme schedule with new films being shown every two days instead of twice weekly.

In July 1953, the children’s matinee was switched from 2.10 on Saturday afternoon to 10.15 on Saturday morning. The measure may have been introduced to combat the growing coverage of Saturday afternoon sport on television or merely in the hope of providing something for the children to do in order to leave mother free to undertake the weekend shopping or cleaning at a more convenient time than Saturday afternoon provided. Again, it may have been the holiday season which prompted the change by providing an opportunity to test the market by means of a brief experimental period of Saturday morning performances. Whatever the reason, despite emphasis in the local press concerning the changed time of performance, by the following month the matinee had reverted to an afternoon performance.

In December 1953, Mr. Donald Wood, in failing health, sold the Palace to the Star Cinemas, (London) Ltd., who shortly before had purchased other local cinemas including the Crescent and the Alexander at Pontefract in addition to the New Star at Castleford, which the Star Company had controlled since 1931.

The Express report stated that the change was effective from Monday 14th December but there appears to have been a brief period of transition for the issue of the paper dated 18th December 1953, carried two advertisements for the Palace. The topmost advert contained details of a triple bill for the following week whilst an advert placed immediately below and featuring the Star Company logo, advertised the programme to mark the ‘Star’ opening on Monday 28th December. The latter date ties in with the deed of conveyance, which is dated 30th December 1953. The transaction included an assurance by the vendors that the Weeland Road site, which was to be sold separately, would not be used for the purpose originally intended – the construction of a new cinema. A plan of the Palace site attached to the deed of conveyance also reveals that the land lying immediately to the rear of the cinema was also owned by the Woods’ and may well have been purchased by them with a view to expanding the size of the Palace should circumstances have required such development.

To mark the opening programme under the auspices of the Star Company the film ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’ had been specially obtained. The public were advised to;


Seats in the circle and back stalls were one shilling and those in the front stalls were only one penny. Potential patrons were also advised to make a note of seven other films which were scheduled for showing in the near future, all in technicolor, the one sphere in which the cinema could still outshine television.

The change of ownership was also marked by a change in programme times. Monday and Saturday retained separate ‘houses’ but henceforth Tuesday to Friday was to be a continuous performance, commencing at 5.45 each evening. At the same time it was announced that a ‘Knottingley Young Citizens’ Matinee Club’ was to be established with effect from the 2nd January 1954, with two performances at 10.15 and 2.15 on Saturdays. The children’s matinees had always been a popular feature at the Palace. During the Howdle ownership the children attending the matinee were each given a comic. The children in the stalls received a penny number such as ‘Chips’ or ‘Funny Wonder’, whilst those in the balcony were given a ‘tuppeny coloured’ either ‘Tiger Tim’, ‘Rainbow’, or ‘Bubbles’. At a later date, Donald Wood provided special matinee performances for refugee children resident in the camp situated at Pontefract Road, adjacent to the junction with Sowgate Lane.

The opening of the new club was performed by Councillor A. Cardwell, J.P, Chairman of Knottingley Urban District Council. The opening ceremony, which took place immediately before the inaugural performance, was also attended by other civic dignitaries. The new management seem to have attracted the general support of the public for a preface to the Palace advertisement in the subsequent issue of the local paper stated that; "Owing to the overwhelming response to our opening programme, we must apologise to patrons who may have been inconvenienced DO COME AGAIN – A LITTLE EARLIER IF POSSIBLE. We are sure you will enjoy our service."

From the first, the Star management envisaged a break with tradition by proposing to open the cinema on Sundays. There are only two known instances of Sunday opening in the previous history of the Palace. The first was on Boxing Day 1926, when Knottingley Discharged Soldiers & Sailors Club, by courtesy of J & G Howdle, entertained 104 of the townships children to a free cinema performance. The second occasion was one attended by the present writer, circa 1943 (the nature of which he was then too young to appreciate and is now too old to remember) when the Palace was opened for a public meeting concerning some aspects of the ‘War-Drive’, and drew a capacity audience.

On the 9th December 1954, the Star Cinema Co. Ltd., wrote to Knottingley Urban District Council requesting that the Council take all necessary action to permit Sunday cinema opening. At a General Meeting of the K.U.D.C. on the 3rd February 1954, a decision was taken to convene a public meeting in Knottingley Town Hall to allow consideration of the subject. It was simultaneously resolved to despatch a letter to the Home Office requesting parliamentary approval for Sunday opening under the terms of the Sunday Entertainment’s Act, 1932. At a subsequent meeting of the K.U.D.C. held on the 3rd March 1954, the Town Clerk, Mr. S.B. Hill, presented the result of the vote taken at the public meeting. The number of votes in favour of Sunday opening was 37, with 28 votes against the proposal. However, a petition bearing 112 signatures had subsequently been presented and it was therefore resolved that the whole township be polled to obtain a clearer view of public opinion concerning the issue. The poll utilised the full range of local government apparatus, a fact illustrated by the notice inserted in the middle of the Palace programme advertisement in the local paper which read;


Polling takes place Saturday March 24th, 8.00am to 8.00pm.

Register your vote in FAVOUR (sic) at your local polling station.
Remember, your vote is vital."

The poll naturally imposed a financial burden upon the local community and to mitigate the effect upon the rates the Star Cinema Co., Ltd., offered the sum of £25 to the local council, which was gratefully accepted.

The outcome of the poll was 758 for and 280 against Sunday opening, a majority of 478. Following the poll the documentation was sent to the Home Office in accordance with standard procedure.

Thus by popular demand, the Palace commenced Sunday performances. The first Sunday showing took place on the 16th May 1954, with two ‘houses’, at 5.30 and 7.45. The film shown was ‘Blood and Sand’, starring Tyrone Power and Rita Heyworth. Also, by public demand, the times of screening had been changed shortly before, so that from the 5th April, the performances Monday to Friday inclusive, became continuous, commencing at 5.30 each evening. Saturday retained separate showings at 6.30 and 8.15.

Public enchantment was however, brief. The extension of the television service following the establishment of the commercial system in the mid-1950s coincided with an increase in private car ownership as the result of the dissemination of public affluence arising from the post-war boom. Such developments freed the public from the constraints of the previously observed and generally accepted pattern of leisure activity and thereby enabled the pursuit of newer forms of pastimes and entertainment. As a result, cinema attendance rapidly declined. By March 1959, the children’s matinee had reverted to a single afternoon performance. In a last vain attempt to catch public favour the Palace resorted to ‘screen spectaculars’, shown for a whole week at a time. The experiment failed, however, and on Saturday 3rd December 1960, the last show was given at the Palace. The final performance consisted of the film ‘Savage Innocents’, starring Anthony Quinn. The Pontefract and Castleford Express reported;


Tomorrow (Saturday) Knottingley’s only cinema, the 50-year old Palace, is closing down. It is a far cry from the days when ‘animated pictures’ were first shown at ‘a penny per head’, to the time when Mrs D. Pearce, a widow, became manager of the Palace, a year ago for Star Cinema’s Ltd.

Neither Mrs Pearce nor anyone else would have ventured the opinion that for forty years the Palace would stand empty and increasingly desolate in appearance as vandalism and the weather took an increasing toll on the building.

Towards the end of the 1970s, the Palace was acquired by Mr. J.W Walker of Lofthouse, the owner of several local cinemas. Brief hopes of a new lease of life were aroused in 1980 when Mr. Walker received planning permission to convert the Palace into a bingo and social club. The plan was abandoned, however, when it was found that the building was too small to serve the proposed purpose.

The following year the owner commissioned a feasibility study to consider the use of the building as a social centre involving a ‘new style’ picture house in which club members wined and dined whilst being entertained by video films. The venture was abandoned when the study revealed that the population shift away from Aire Street during the previous decade meant that potential members would require parking facilities. The occupants of the adjacent old and disabled people’s accommodation objected to the prospect of casual parking with its attendant noise whilst a further constraint was again doubt as to whether the building was sufficiently large for the proposed purpose. Consequently, the scheme was abandoned. Permission was undertaken to develop the site however, and in 1987 the Palace was offered for sale by auction. Three years later the property was again placed on the market. The selling agents were Saxtons of Sheffield, acting on behalf of London based vendors, Intuition Properties who had purchased the old cinema in 1987. The sale of the property was expected to realise about £50,000 but at the auction held in Cutler Hall, Sheffield, on Tuesday 24th April 1990, the highest bids were some £10,000 less than the reserve price and the property was withdrawn from sale.

In the last decade several attempts have been made to effect a private sale with ‘For Sale’ signs affixed to the derelict fabric of the cinema at periodic intervals but at the time of writing the building remains desolate and unsold.

Yet, notwithstanding its derelict state the Palace was recently utilised when early in 1977, the internationally renowned poet and classicist, Tony Harrison, chose the site as the venue for his cinematic project, ‘Promethius’ produced under the aegis of the television company, Channel 4.

In the film, myth and epic poetry are harnessed to contemporary political developments. The film features a veteran miner, who, following the destruction of the mining industry, seeks reflective quietude within the derelict confines of the old cinema, which was the hub of the local community in the days of his youth. Thus, art mirrored life and brought the history of the Palace full circle. All that remains is uncertainty concerning the ultimate fate of the building which, if as it seems most probable, involves eventual demolition, will close another chapter in the social history of Knottingley.

©1999 Dr. Terry Spencer.

[Since the above article was compiled, the Palace cinema has been converted into two dwellings though only the facade of the original building has been retained.]

Mrs Mille Ottignon

In the Spring of 1997, I was approached by Mr. Ted Boyle of Ackworth who was seeking information concerning the history of the Palace cinema, Knottingley. Mr. Boyle had recently returned from holiday in Australia where, by pure coincidence, he had met a former resident of Knottingley, a nonogenarian named Mrs Millie Ottignon.

Mrs Ottignon had recalled that her father had held the lease on the Palace cinema during the second decade of the twentieth century and Mr. Boyle was subsequently searching for material about the cinema to send to her. Millie’s father was none other than Mr. J. Harris, head of the family of entertainers based at the Palace between 1914 and 1919.

Through contact with Millie I learned that following the surrender of the lease on the Palace, Mr. Harris and family embarked upon a theatrical tour of British and European towns and cities, performing their stage act which consisted of playing various musical instruments and singing. The act was a quite incredible one. It began with a fanfare played on five post horns which was guaranteed to command instant attention. Items on the cello, harp, violins, concertina’s and four-part harmonic vocalisation followed, before the act concluded with arrangements for brass instruments, featuring Millie on the trumpet.

The act was seen by Sir Ben Fuller, an Australian impresario, who offered the Harris family a two-year contract to tour his theatres in Australia. En route, the family broke their journey in order to undertake a tour of South African theatres.

Eventually, Mr. Harris decided to retire and settled on a site by the Wonanora River near Sydney where he spent the remainder of his days fishing. Indeed, the site became so clearly identified with Harris that it became known as ‘The Old Mans Bend’, which name it apparently retains to this day.

Following the retirement of Mr. Harris, Millie and her sister formed a double act billed simply as ‘Mildred and Connie Harris’. The couple toured India with their act, which also utilised Millie’s flair for comedy by including comic routines to supplement the musical items.

It was whilst performing in a hotel in India that Millie met her future husband who was a member of the audience one evening. The couple were eventually married in England but returned to Calcutta where Millie joined the Calcutta Symphony Orchestra.

The outbreak of the Second World War prevented Millie returning to England for the birth of their two sons but when the children were of a suitable age to travel, the family decided to go to Australia where Mr. Ottignon was contracted to the Osborne Steel Company.

In Australia, the Sydney Band Leader, Bob Gibson, persuaded Millie to join his nationally famous show band. Meanwhile, Millie also undertook engagements for the Australian Broadcasting Company, playing the harp and when the late entertainer Liberace, toured Australia in the 1960s, he engaged Millie as harpist to accompany his piano arrangements.

Upon the retirement of Mr. Ottignon, the couple settled in Queensland where the versatile Millie embarked on a new and fairly profitable career as an artist. Millie specialised in English cottage scenes, which proved to be very popular with homesick emigres from the ‘Old Country’.

It was whilst visiting their son Robert, who had settled with his family in New Zealand, that Millie’s husband died in 1990.

Millie’s other son, John, owned a property in Buladelah, New South Wales, close to the residential home at Hawks Nest, where Millie now resides. It was there that she met Ted Boyle. Notwithstanding the frailties of age, including near blindness, Millie plays the piano every day and is never happier than when organising a concert for residents and visitors.

Terry Spencer.


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