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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

circa. 1750 – 1998

by TERRY SPENCER B.A.(Hons), Ph D. (1998)



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 entertainment.

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 time.

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 determined sorority.

Terry Spencer, 1998



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