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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)



The passing of the Wellington Act prompted a number of Knottingley residents to seek to obtain a second source of income by becoming beerhouse proprietors. Economic duality had, however, been a discernable feature amongst the towns publicans long before the 1830 enactment and remained so throughout the remainder of the century despite a gradual tendency towards diminishment. In many cases recourse to a second form of employment was an economic necessity, notwithstanding the demographic changes within the local community which had resulted in the establishment of so many public houses. The fact did not auger well for the financial aspirations of the newly sprung beerhouse proprietors following the legislation of 1830. The hopes and aspirations of the new vendors is seen in the rapid increase in the number of such establishments in the decade following the Act whilst the economic reality is evident from their swift decline in the ensuing decade.

Many of the secondary occupations followed by the towns publicans were associated with the production of food or the materials and services arising from the demands of a semi-rural economy. Farmer and craftsman are commonly found amongst the occupations followed by licensed victuallers, particularly in the pre-industrial era. Thus, Thomas Gaggs was designated as a farmer seeking official status as a licensed victualler in 1771 and seven years later no less than a quarter of the licensed victuallers in the town were listed as farmers. (1)

The reason is not difficult to find, for in an age when even people of fairly modest means occupied houses set amidst several perches of land it is unsurprising that many practised animal husbandry and cultivated both their adjacent holdings and their allotments in the common fields.

Nor is it surprising that these smallholders, together with tradesmen with abundant space plus a little surplus capital should utilise both as a means of supplemental income by setting up as licensed victuallers as the development of the maritime trade and the limestone industry created consumer demand for such services.

Smallholdings were particularly suited to conversion as alehouses, having a brewhouse and accompanying stables and outbuildings which readily lent themselves to such utility. Where such premises occupied a peripheral location, such as that of the Red Lion and the Bay Horse, lying respectively at the eastern and western extremities of the town, their relatively isolated situation often ensured that they enjoyed less estrictive control by the local authorities. (2) In this context, it is worth digressing to mention Park Balk Farm which occupies a site on the southern edge of Knottingley at the top of Womersley Road, the farmhouse of which it is claimed, was used as a public house in the eighteenth century. Whilst it is undeniable that the location of the farm was eminently suited to such use, and allowing for the fact that oral tradition based upon folk memory usually has some basis in fact, the claim is, however, one which as yet awaits documentary verification. Nevertheless, the possibility provides an example of the genesis of early day inns as well as the transient nature and subsequent demise of a few. Indeed, the history of the Bay Horse illustrates such economic opportunism, the owner of this inn having abandoned cultivation of the surrounding farmland in order to extract the limestone beneath, and turned his premnises into an inn to cater for the passing trade. It is no coincidence that the licensee, Joseph Taylor, was simultaneously recorded as farmer, limeburner and publican. (3) Similarly, Edward Spenc, owner and licensee of the John Bull, was also designated as a lime burner. (4)

There were two distinct categories of public house ownership. In the first case were men of substantial wealth for whom the ownership of licensed premises represented an investment of money accumulated in other spheres of business. William Moorhouse, Thomas Shillito, Richard Dickson Askham and Spence himself, were lime merchants. William Earnshaw and John Austwick were master mariners. Samuel Atkinson was a rope maker, Robert Coward a maltster and George Greenhow a chemist and druggist. All representitive of the ‘investment’ group. Amongst the owner/occupiers however, it is difficult to discern the extent to which the profession of publican represented an opportunity for the investment of surplus capital in order to supplement primary source income and the circumstances in which the adoption of a second occupation arose of necessity from the failure to obtain an adequate income as a publican.

John Curtis of the Commercial Inn was a farmer throughout most of his occupation of the inn and was succeeded by his son William, as both publican and farmer in 1893. (5) Shortly before his death Curtis held 57 acres of land and in addition to his sons, William and Robert, both of whom are recorded as farmers, employed another man and two boys to tend his holding. (6) However, it is of passing interest to note that in 1841, prior to his becoming a publican and at a time when the passenger coach service was not yet under threat from the railway, John Curtis was stated to be a coach proprietor, living under the roof of William Gandy, landlord of the Ropers Arms. (7) Even as late as 1851, by which time Curtis had become licensee of the Commercial Inn and the coaching trade was in terminal decline, Curtis employed six servants solely for posting duties. (8) The indications are that Curtis adopted the occupation of license victualler in order to expand and supplement his existing profession but that following the diminishment and ultimate demise of the coach trade, with its accompanying decline in the business of the inn, he was compelled to seek a secondary source of income and chose agriculture as a replacement for the defunct coaching business.

A similar multiplicity of occupations was followed by William Smithson of the Duke of York Inn who throughout the early decades of the nineteenth century combined being a publican with the manufacture of bricks and tiles whilst simultaneously conducting the trade of ironfounder. (9) Smithson appears to have eventually concentrated on one sphere of occupational activity, for in 1854 he was living at Pontefract, being in business as a brick and tile maker, which may be an indication that in his case the role of publican was secondary to that of manufacturer. (10) Several other victuallers followed occupations connected with the building trade. John Fenton of the Swan Inn was also a brick and tile maker although it is unclear whether he was Smithson’s successor. (11) Joseph Brown at the Cherry Tree around mid century, was a builder (12) as was John Bacon who kept the same premises a little earlier, (13) whilst William Myers licensee of the Royal Oak, from the late fifties, followed the craft of stonemason. (14) Samuel; Astbury, licensee of the Royal Oak by 1881, was a potter, (15) as was George Thursby of the Potter’s Arms a decade later. (16) William Holmes of the Aire Street Hotel supplemented his income as a hairdresser (17) whilst a few decades earlier, John Pease, trading from unnamed premises in Back Lane (probably the Blue Bell Inn) had been a saddler. (18)

Several innkeepers had commercial or trade connections over the years. The trade of joiner was followed by Joseph Beaumont of the Boat Inn. (19) John Hartley of the Anchor was a shoemaker (20) and John Atkinson of the Sportsman’s Inn was a butcher, (21) an occupation later followed by William Earnshaw Wright of the Red Lion. (22) Likewise, it seems probable that the trade of butcher was followed by Richard Hill, presumptive landlord of the Three Horse Shoes Inn. (23) Earlier, Mark Stillings had traded as a glazier from the Red Lion premises (24) and continued to follow this occupation from the same site after relinquishing his tenancy of the inn in 1857. (25) Thomas Tasker, tenant of the Ropers Arms in 1861, was a ship’s blockmaker. (26) The occupation of publican was an ideal one for those engaged in the hiring of horse-drawn vehicles. Prior to John Curtis taking the Commercial Inn the premise had been in the keeping of Joseph Hill, who like Curtis, was a coach proprietor. (27) A similar line of business was undertaken at the other end of the century and from a venue at the other end of town, by Edward Watson of the Railway Hotel, who hired out a wide range of vehicles, wagonettes, carts, landaus, cabs, traps, etc.. The business was continued by one of Watson’s successors, Hawley Harris, during his tenancy of the hotel between 1904-18. (28) John Shay, occupant of the Wagon & Horses between 1857-80, was also a market gardener and shopkeeper, and the latter occupation was also followed by Shay’s contemporary, William Dixon of the Potter’s Arms. (29)

The two principal types of occupation followed by early victuallers in Knottingley were those of vessel builder and blacksmith. The former group were prominent from the last quarter of the eighteenth century having to some extent ‘usurped’ the role formerly occupied by the small farmers, but fading from the victualling scene by the third quarter of the nineteenth century so that by the time of the Census of 1881, only the long retired, 73 year old, George Burton, was left of the old fraternity. (30) Various documentary sources covering the period 1821-1900 reveal a score of different secondary occupations which were followed by almost double that number of the towns publicans. The fragmentory nature of the data sources suggests, however, that the list is far from complete.

The extent to which the wealthier denizens of the town were actively engaged in the ownership of licensed premises is unclear. In the case of the common brewers it is obvious that the acquisition of such properties was undertaken in order to obtain retail outlets. The position of George Greenhow, a local chemist, who by 1860 was the owner of the Limesto0ne Inn and the Aire Street Hotel, is less apparent. (31) There are indications that Greenhow’s ownership may have been incidental, forming part of the wholesale purchase of property by Greenhow who may have obtained the licensed premises with sitting tenants a part and parcel of his general acquisition. (32) However, there is some suggestion that Greenhow may have had a direct involvement in the administration of the Aire Street Hotel for he is named in the 1860s as a wine and spirit merchant and an agent for Dublin Stout and Burton manufactured and less prestigious ales. Greenhow’s varied activities appear to have combined his dual profession as chemist and victualler as indicated by his appointment as the exclusive agent for Lawe’s Patent Manures. (33)

Other non-residential owners of licensed property at that period include Robert Coward, who was the proprietor of an extensive maltings lying between the canalside and Liquorice Lane at Fernley Green. Coward’s holding included a beerhouse the undertenant of which was William Womack. (34) Likewise, another property, the owner of which was William Moorhouse, was an unnamed beerhouse at Hill Top. Again, it would appear that the existence of licensed premises in properties belonging to Coward and Moorhouse is incidental and does not represent any direct financial investment on their part in the establishment of the same. It is perhaps significant that in both cases the premises are unnamed beerhouses rather than fully licensed public houses, suggesting that their occupiers may have been opportunists taking advantage of a perceived opportunity afforded by the 1830 Act to convert their rented domestic residences into beerhouses and to this end seeking, and obtaining the tacit approval of their landlords, in the same way that a generation earlier William Butler had acceded to William Taylor’s establishment of the Rising Sun Inn. This probability is given added irony in the case of William Moorhouse who was a local J.P. and as such likely to be opposed to the granting of beerhouse licences. It may be no coincidence that a marginal note by a later hand in the town’s 1857 Rate Book has inserted the words"This [property] now converted into two cottages & a stable." (35)However, a caveat must be inserted in respect of the foundation of the Royal Albert Hotel, the establishment of which was Moorhouse’s responsibility.

A further privately owned property, that belonging to Jane Jackson, was the beerhouse established by John Fell as an adjunct to his smithy and later known as the Anvil Inn. (36) Here again, the same circumstances apply, with no direct involvement by the owner in the establishment and functioning of the beerhouse, its genesis being solely due to a perceived opportunity to engender secondary income on the part of the tenant. Similarly, at a slightly later date, the Boat Inn, although belonging to John Raddings, operated under the auspices of the licensee, John Hargraves, not as a direct financial investment on the part of the owner.

From the foregoing summary it is apparent that inns under private ownership but having undertenants as licensees were not regarded as anything more than incidental sources of income by their owners, much less as assets which provided maximum financial return for minimal capital investment. Indeed, extant evidence, although somewhat superficial, suggests that for some owner-occupiers and an even greater number of licensed sub-tenants, an alternative occupation was essential to ensure an adequate livelihood.

Terry Spencer, 1998



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