KNOTTINGLEY PUBLIC HOUSES & BREWERIES
circa. 1750 – 1998
by TERRY SPENCER B.A.(Hons), Ph D. (1998)
Most of the early day licensed victuallers brewed their own beer in
their own premises, a fact confirmed by mention of an adjacent brewhouse
in numerous deeds appertaining to local inns. Even following the
establishment of a common [i.e. public] brewery within the township of
Knottingley at the start of the nineteenth century numerous publicans
continued to brew their own beer. It has since been estimated that at
least two-thirds of all national production in 1825 was undertaken by
licensed victuallers and that in the context of supply to public houses,
common brewers did not begin to dominate until about 1840.
The earliest and most permanent common brewery at Knottingley was
established by the partnership of Edward Gaggs, Mark Carter and Robert
Seaton, trading under the name of Gaggs, Carter & Co.
Edward Gaggs was the head of the Knottingley family, which had
its roots in the town as early as the seventeenth century and which
during the following century had obtained considerable wealth from the
excavation and sale of the local limestone. By the early nineteenth
century Edward Gaggs was one of the most wealthy and socially prominent
townsmen, being a lime merchant with considerable landownership and a
Mark Carter was a descendant of an ancient family of that name
based at Kempstock, Berkshire. By the seventeenth century the family
were resident at York and in the following century Thomas Carter, father
of Mark, moved to Howden where the family owned a brewery together with
another one at Market Weighton.
The third member of the partnership, Robert Seaton, was a partner in
the privately owned banking concern of Seaton & Co., known generally
throughout the district as the Pontefract Old Bank.
Each partner brought particular gifts of financial and business
expertise to the joint enterprise which resulted in the establishment of
a highly successful common brewery.
Initially, the brewery business operated from premises owned by
Benjamin Atkinson, the site being leased for the term of eleven years
from the 10th October 1801. Examination of the Enclosure Award Map of
the township reveals Atkinson as the possessor of land two acres, one
rood, 35 perches in extent situated at the junction of Hill Top and
Chapel Street. The site was that of the Old Hall, the mansion of the
Wildbore family, former manorial lords of Knottingley. The mansion, in
common with all large residences at that date, was served by a series of
accompanying buildings including a substantial brewhouse and therefore
provided ideal facilities for the newly established brewery.
The establishment of a small country brewery at that date, whilst
requiring a modest financial outlay was somewhat irksome for the legal
process required that the proprietors should open the premises for
inspection by the Excise officers who undertook a detailed examination
of the site, including the utensils and storehouses. The Revenue Office
dictated the very layout of the brewery and fixed the terms under which
production occurred. Any subsequent alteration of the site or production
process was the subject of a time consuming reassessment by
representatives of the Excise who had to give approval to the proposed
changes. The lease of an existing brewhouse was therefore a shrewd
action by the partnership, representing a saving of time and the expense
of equipping new premises.
The business appears to have thrived from its inception for by July
1807 the partners had purchased a nearby site known as Mill Close for
the sum of £1,050, and begun to prepare for the transfer of the business
to a purpose-built brewery which was erected on the newly acquired site
at Hill Top. The stock and utensils for the furnishing of the new
premises were obtained by buying out James Wadsworth, a common brewer of
Pontefract, in November 1807.
By the spring of 1809, the new brewery was equipped and ready for
operation. The partners therefore gave notice to Atkinson of their
intention to surrender the lease of his premises and in October of that
year they commenced production at the Mill Close brewery.
In the pre-railway era business activity was confined to the immediate
neighbourhood; an area dictated by the effective utilisation of
horse-drawn transport. The restriction imposed on business expansion is
clearly illustrated by the decision of Mark Carter to establish a
brewery at Knottingley, which was considered sufficiently distant from
Howden to offer no threat to the existing family breweries. A further
insight into the limited trading area available to local business in
that age is seen in the terms of the agreement between Gaggs, Carter &
Co. and James Wadsworth whereby the latter was prohibited from
recommencing in business as a common brewer within twelve miles of
Pontefract and agreed not to allow his recently surrendered premises to
be used as a common brewery for the space of thirty years on pain of a
fine of £1,000.
Whilst there is no extant documentation to indicate the outlet for the
company’s products during the early decades of the partnership it seems
most probable that the bulk of the company’s production went to private
customers and to an increasing number of publicans within the town who
for reasons of time and economy had ceased to use their own brewhouses.
Whatever the retail outlets, the company prospered and by 1820 both
Edward Gaggs and Mark Carter were prominent in the social and business
affairs of the township. The ongoing prosperity was achieved despite a
setback which caused a fundamental change in the structure of the
About 1810, Seaton & Co. suffered a financial crisis which resulted in
the collapse of their banking business. The cause of the crisis is only
relevant to the present study in that it necessitated the withdrawal
from the original partnership of Robert Seaton because of his
bankruptcy. As a result, the remaining partners purchased Seaton’s third
part share in the concern for the sum of £1,650. The money for the
purchase was obtained by splitting Seaton’s share between John and
Thomas Carter of Howden, brothers of Mark Carter, each obtaining a sixth
part of Seaton’s former holding.
In 1836, Mark Carter, then 59 years of age, retired from the business
and handed the practical control of the firm to his eldest son, John,
from whom Mark received a pre-arranged annuity of £200 per year for the
remainder of his life. Mark returned to live at Howden where he died in
The years of John Carter’s administration were marked by rapid
expansion of the firm due to socio-economic and technological changes in
society. The same period also witnessed the increasing control of the
company by the Carter family with John as the principal shareholder.
Edward Gaggs, who died in 1840, at the age of 68, was succeeded by his
wife, Grace, whose interest in the brewery was of passive nature.
Following the death of Grace Gaggs in 1860 her third share was purchased
from the executors of the estate of her pre-deceased son leaving the
business under the exclusive control of the Carter family. By degrees,
as a result of inheritance and the purchase of family holdings, the
business increasingly devolved to the Knottingley branch of the Carter
family, finally becoming the sole ownership of George William Carter,
son of John, who had succeeded to his father’s position as head of the
company upon the death of the latter in October 1873.
By the time John Carter took over the running of the brewery in 1836,
two important developments had occurred which were beginning to exert a
considerable influence upon the business. The first was the advent of
the railways which with the construction of the national network during
the following decade was to affect local life and business. The second
major influence was the Beer Act of 1830, known colloquially as
Wellington’s Act from the fact that the old Duke was the Prime Minister
when the measure was enacted.
Allied to the above influences were a number of other developments
which also assisted the speed of business communication, namely the
electric telegraph in the 1830s, the reduction of newspaper duty in 1836
and the introduction of the penny post in 1840.
The railways facilitated the delivery of raw materials and the
despatch of finished goods whilst simultaneously reducing transport
costs. In addition, the eventual introduction of cheap passenger
services increased social mobility and the potential for widening areas
of distribution via new retail outlets.
In the context of the brewing trade the introduction of the Beer Act
resulted in the establishment of a myriad small outlets defined as
beerhouses. The legislation had been formulated with the intention of
curbing the growing dominance of the trade by common brewers through
their collusion with the local justices who, drawn from the same social
class, generally supported them in their business aims. Ironically, the
Act had the opposite effect to that intended by its framers. Many people
who could afford the two guineas for the licence which enabled them to
establish a beerhouse without magisterial approval lacked either the
knowledge or sufficient funds to obtain the utensils and commodities for
the production of their own brew. Those who had the knowledge, space and
facilities to provision their own houses were unable to compete
economically or qualitatively with common brewers and usually had to
rely upon the latter for their supplies.
A decline in domestic brewing had occurred from the late eighteenth
century as the mass production methods employed by common brewers
resulted in the gentry, farmers, hospitals, workhouses and other
institutions which had previously brewed their own beer to turn to them
for their supplies, finding such a course cheaper, less troublesome and
a source of consistent quality. It has been calculated that as late as
the 1840s private trade may have accounted for as much as 50% of the
output of common brewers, a fact which suggests that Knottingley
brewery’s trade may have been sustained by such trade during the early
The conclusion of the Napoleonic Wars and the economic depression of
the post war decade were constraints on general prosperity which may
have affected the brewing trade but thereafter, apart from a blip during
the ‘hungry forties’ an increase in material comfort was experienced by
the labouring classes who formed the bulk of the developing urban
population. Greater affluence resulted in an increase in the consumption
of beer as people of humble social status had increasing recourse to
public houses, thereby creating the scope for an increase in retail
outlets and the opportunities for the common brewery to supply them.
Alert to developing trends, John Carter, upon assuming control of the
business, commenced a policy of acquiring premises tied to his brewery
by rental, leasehold or, increasingly, by outright ownership. As a
result of the latter option the ‘tied house’ system was commenced in
1836 and continued apace until John Carter’s death in 1873 when it was
then continued and considerably expanded by George William Carter.
Naturally, the developments noted above did not go unnoticed by others
within the town of Knottingley who, seeking to capitalise on the
opportune trends, set up as common brewers. As a result, by the second
quarter of the nineteenth century two rival breweries, those of William
Bywater and of Edward Long, were operational within the town.
Bywater was a general practitioner who latterly lived at Cow Lane. The
site, later named Ash Grove, remains a surgery to this day although the
original buildings were demolished a generation ago and the brewhouse
long before that. Long, like Edward Gaggs, was a lime merchant. Both
Bywater and Long were prominent in the affairs of the town, Long serving
as a member of the Select Vestry from the 1830s to 1857, being Surveyor
of Highways, 1842-1844. Bywater also served as a Vestryman from 1849-53
and was frequently appointed on an annual basis as the town’s Medical
The Cow Lane brewery seems to have had a relatively short existence.
The business is first mentioned in 1838 and was recorded some ten years
later but ceased trading some time before 1857 when Bywater died at the
age of 69. With the demise of William Bywater the Cow Lane property
passed to Francis Wride and although John Hall Bywater succeeded his
father’s practice and resided at the site, the beer house which had been
established there was reported as pulled down and the former brewery
used as a lumber room at that time.
The brewery of Edward Long has been identified as that situated on the
Old Hall site formerly in occupation by Gaggs, Carter & Co. Again, there
is no mention of Long’s brewery prior to 1838 and by the mid-forties his
name as a common brewer had disappeared, being replaced by that of
Silvester Atkinson who is known to have resided at Racca Green.
The Old Hall site had been purchased by the Long’s from the Atkinson
family but had ceased to be used as a brewery site by 1843 at which date
the property was sold by Samuel Maw Long, a bankrupt, and demolished the
following year to enable the excavation of the underlying limestone.
Silvester Atkinson’s brewery operated from the manor house which had
originally been built by the Ingram family to replace the Old Hall of
the Wildbores’. The Ingram mansion, which from the eighteenth century
housed the Swan Inn, was fully equipped for brewing and is recorded as
being in the possession of Silvester Atkinson by 1857.
Another early brewer recorded in Knottingley early in the eighteenth
century was William Hirst. Hirst is associated with a brewery at Hill
Top which occupied a site adjacent to the White Swan Inn, the property
having originally formed part of the mansion of the Ingram family. The
premises may have been used by Silvester Atkinson as a brewery following
Hirst’s retirement. The precise date of the establishment of this
brewery is not known but Hirst is recorded as being a resident there by
May 1825. By the time of the 1841 Census, Hirst was described as being
sixty years of age and of independent means, living in a cottage at Hill
Top with his wife Maria, who was ten years his junior. At that date
Hirst appears to have retired, for the previous year John Carter had
obtained the leasehold on the property, which comprised five cottages,
one of which had been "lately used as a beerhouse".
Whether Hirst’s brewing had been undertaken solely for the purpose of
victualling the said beerhouse or as a source of supply to additional
outlets is unrecorded but one may conject the latter to have been the
case for it is difficult to see how Hirst could have prospered
sufficiently to enable him to retire at the age of sixty as a person of
independent means had he been a mere beerhouse keeper in a town so
profuse in such premises.
The link with John Carter is quite pronounced, Carter being the
Trustee of Hirst’s estate. The 1861 Census Return recorded Maria Hirst
as a ‘retired brewers widow’ and following her death in 1871 her
residual estate was administered by Carter.
The brief period of operation of the above mentioned breweries
coincided with the boom years following the Act of 1830. According to
one source there were 24 beerhouses in Knottingley by 1838 in addition
to the 19 fully licensed public houses. Little is known of the retail
outlets of Bywater and Long other than the fact that in addition to the
beerhouse on the Cow Lane site, Bywater owned the Greyhound Inn.
Atkinson owned the Swan and the Wagon & Horses in 1857. By 1859 the
beerhouse boom was clearly over with only four such premises recorded in
the town’s Rate Book that year. It is therefore likely to be no
coincidence that about that time Atkinson divested himself of the Wagon
& Horses Inn, probably having ceased to trade as a common brewer by that
The brief period of trade rivalry does not appear to have damaged the
trade of Gaggs, Carter & Co. With the demise of Grace Gaggs and the
subsequent absorption of the shareholding by the Carter family, the
company began trading under the name of John Carter & Co. In 1892,
George William Carter, as the sole owner, sold his interest in the firm
to a newly established public limited company which continued to trade
under the Carter name until 1935 when it was taken over by Bentleys
Yorkshire Brewery Co. Again, however, the long established name of
Carter was retained until in 1975 Bentleys were taken over by Whitbread.
Following a restructuring of the company holdings the Knottingley
brewery was closed and eventually demolished. The site today is a
private housing estate and no vestige of the former brewery and Lime
Grove, the erstwhile Carter residence which stood beside it, remains.
Terry Spencer, 1998