KNOTTINGLEY PUBLIC HOUSES & BREWERIES
circa. 1750 – 1998
by TERRY SPENCER B.A.(Hons), Ph D. (1998)
THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY
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 so doing the applicants
were observing the requirement of a law dating from 1495 which had
empowered two local Justices of the Peace sitting together to "reject
and put away any common ale selling in towns…and to take sureties of ale
houses in their good behaviour."
Such was the origin of the landlords bond which was reinforced by the
Act of 1753 which rendered compulsory the licensing of public houses.
Ale house licences were originally granted by obtaining the necessary
approval at any time of the year. In 1729 however, the Brewster Sessions
were instituted. Under the new system licences could only be granted at
General Sessions of the Divisional Justices (Upper Osgoldcross in the
case of Knottingley and district) held annually each September.
The age-old legal requirements demanded that each applicant "..keep
the true Assize in uttering and selling Bread and other Victuals, Beer,
Ale and other liquors….and not fraudulently dilute or adulterate the
same…and not use any Pots or other Measures that are not full size."
The moral obligations specified that the licensee was not to permit
drunkeness and tippling on his premises but set and uphold an acceptable
standard of behaviour by remaining sober at all times. All gambling was
prohibited within the house itself and also in adjacent areas such as
outhouses and servant quarters. Sports and sundry amusements such as
bull or bear baiting and cockfighting were forbidden as was the sale of
liquor on Sundays during the usual hours of Divine Service. An
additional duty was that of excluding "men and women of notoriously bad
fame or dissolute girls and boys" from the ale house.
The admix of statutory and moral constraint had developed during the
medieval period as those in authority sought to control the excesses
arising from frequent feast days with their accompanying church ales.
Such excess not only tended to undermine the moral standards espoused by
the Church but also distracted men from archery practice and the martial
exercises which were essential for the defence of the realm. That such
laws continued to be upheld in the post-medieval period when the
practical necessity for the restriction had lost its significance marks
a divide between the Establishment which regarded ale-houses as
potential agencies of social unrest and the general populace which
regarded them as centres of gaiety, relaxation, gossip and
Our knowledge of social life at Knottingley is, however, confined to
more recent times and one can only assume that the ale houses of the
township, as befitted a substantial inland port with its myriad
travellers and tradesmen, existed in abundance and that the activities
undertaken within such places mirrored the general spirit of the age.
The eighteen applicants of 1782 who afforded the earliest reference to
the licensed trade within the township indicate by their number a
profusion of public houses. In appearance such premises were for the
most part little different from the surrounding houses in respect of
size and general appearance. Indeed, many such properties are designated
in early deeds of conveyance as mere dwelling houses or tenements and
although the context of such documents makes clear that the premises
were used as ale-houses they are not distinguished by their titles in
many instances. Nevertheless, whilst doubtless of small dimension and
unprepossessing appearance it is apparent from the number involved that
the licensed premises catered for a clientele well in excess of the
demand engendered by the size of the native population.
Two of the earliest known applicants of 1752 who afford the earliest
reference to the licensed trade within the town were women; Mary Patton
and Widow Knapton. It is probable that the former may have served as the
nominal licensee in order to enable her husband to follow some
alternative trade or occupation, a practice which is still followed
within the trade to this day in rural or small town communities. Widow
Knapton for her part may have followed the well-established convention
of having the licence transferred to her name following the demise of
her husband. Incidentally, the presence of Widow Knapton’s name on the
list of licensees is an early indication of this family’s connection
with the victualling trade although the location of her house is not
known for although the Wheatsheaf Inn is one associated with the
Knapton’s, who are known to have been in continuous possession of the
property until the middle of the nineteenth century, the name of the inn
is not recorded before the 1830s and the Recognisance’s prior to 1820 do
not indicate the houses for which licences were granted.
The names of those persons applying for and granted licences in
respect of Knottingley ale-houses in 1752 are: - Richard Gawthre,
William Walker, Thomas Scott, William Clark, John Tomlinson, Samuel
Hurst, Thomas Morris, John Wilson, Robert Bolton, William Witman (sic),
John Jackson, William Darnborough, Thomas Gaggs, Thomas Shillitoe (sic),
Thomas Ambler, Robert Pickering, Widow Knapton, Mary Patton.
The licensees are a pretty anonymous bunch but Thomas Gaggs bears a
distinguished name, presumably being a member of the family which owned
part of the manorial rights of the township and a forebear of Edward
Gaggs, lime merchant and vessel owner, who, almost half a century later
was instrumental in establishing the first common (i.e. public) brewery
within the town. Likewise, the name Shillitoe was of some distinction
for the family owned considerable property within the town by the end of
the eighteenth century, including the Limestone Inn. The name of William
Clark is also noteworthy for a medical practitioner of that name was
resident at Hill Top during the final quarter of the eighteenth century
and it is not improbable that the doctor was related to the inn-keeper.
Samuel Hurst may well be a forbear of William Hurst who is known to have
been a brewer resident at Hill Top early in the following century at
which time there was also a maltster named Samuel Hurst resident within
the town. It would therefore appear that an element at least of the
listed applicants were people of some material substance.
The next recorded list of Knottingley licensees is dated 11th
September, 1771, and is again in the form of official Recognizances. Of
sixteen applicants for licences, five; Robert Bolton, Thomas Shillito
(sic), Robert Pickering, John Wilson and William Darnbrook, featured in
the list nineteen years earlier. The last named person is probably the
one listed as William Darnborough in 1752 for the similarity of the
surname allied to its uncommon nature suggests a variant spelling. The
supposition is substantiated by the fact that the 1771 list contains the
name of a guarantor variously spelt as Goldsborough and Goulsborough.
Here again a family name associated with the licensed trade is evident,
once more in connection with the Limestone Inn, where the publican
during the early decades of the following century was William Darnbrook.
In addition to the five licensees originally named the presence of
Thomas Gaggs Junior and Thomas Jackson on the 1771 list suggests that
these men had succeeded their fathers as victuallers at some point
during the previous nineteen year period. The list of 1771 contains the
name of only one female licensee, Susanna (sic) Saynor, who is recorded
as being a widow. The list also indicates a reduction in the amount of
bond money to be found by each applicant, from £30 to £20, the applicant
and guarantor each standing surety in the sum of £10.
A further interesting feature of the 1771 list is the degree of mutual
aid afforded by the local victuallers, with each standing surety for the
other, the same person being cited as guarantor in several instances.
Thus, Robert Bolton and Robert Askham supported each other’s application
and jointly supported the applications of Joseph Hall and Richard
Turner. Bolton and Askham both featured singly or jointly in respect of
several fellow applicants. Nor was the practice confined to Bolton and
Askham for several other applicants, individually or conjointly,
provided assistance in furtherance of licence applications at this date.
Askham was a man of considerable wealth; a vessel owner with business
interests in limestone quarrying and as such one of the foremost
ratepayers within the town. The obvious social status conferred on
wealthy men such as Thomas Shillito and Robert Askham leads one to
conject that although they were the nominal licensees the properties
licensed in their names would be occupied by sub-tenants. Fellow
applicants during the period 1771-1803 included small farmers and master
craftsmen such as blacksmiths, both occupations by their nature closely
allied to the victuallers’ trade.
In 1773, of sixteen applications for licences approved by local
magistrates, two were granted to women. One of these, Susannah Frank,
may well have been the previously named Susanna (sic) Saynor who had
perhaps remarried. The other female listed in 1773 was Mary Moorhouse.
By 1778, the name of Mary Askham appears, being joined in 1781 by those
of Mary Gaggs and Mary Hutchinson. Again, one may conject that the two
former women had suffered the misfortune of widowhood and were seeking
to renew licences previously held by their husbands. Two points become
apparent from the inclusion of so many women on the list of applicants;
the role of women as publicans was socially acceptable in mid eighteenth
century Knottingley and that such an occupation afforded a means of
adequate subsistence for unmarried or more commonly, widowed women
despite the proliferation of public houses throughout the town at that
Of the practical aspects of inn management in that era we know
nothing, particularly with regard to problems of drunkenness and
misconduct but references from a slightly later period allied to our
knowledge of the maritime trade and its influence upon life within the
township allow one to conject that the inns of the period were
frequented by what may be somewhat euphemistically referred to as ‘men
of the world’ who required a firm hand in their management. The apparent
incidence of remarriage amongst female licensees, particularly where no
growing son existed to aspire to the eventual status of landlord, may
indicate one solution to the problem. Another may perhaps be found in
the presence of a regular lodger, a situation which applied in the case
of Caroline Bayes, licensee of the Duke of York Inn for thirty years
from the mid nineteenth century, whose lodger was the sea captain,
William Whitaker, who succeeded her as publican in 1879 and served in
that capacity until 1892.
In addition, examination of extant data reveals the towns victuallers
as a close-knit, mutually supportive group, a fact which doubtless
ensured full co-operation in all areas of activity within the trade.
Nevertheless, to pursue the occupation of licensed victualler
successfully by whatever means in the rough and tumble mens’ world of
that era reveals the women publicans to have been a doughty and
Terry Spencer, 1998