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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)



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 vessel owner.

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 company.

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 1853.

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 decades.

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 Officer.

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 date.

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



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