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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 1870 Knottingley had an unenviable reputation as an unruly community with above average rates for illegitimacy and petty crime and also a mortality rate higher than any of the local townships. (1) Whilst it is not suggested that local public houses were the sole reason, or even the predominant reason, for this state of affairs, there is no doubt that the drunkenness they promoted was an important factor influencing adverse social conditions within the town.

As early as 1848, the need for moral uplift was given practical expression by the decision to divide the existing parish. A new parish was created to serve the spiritual needs of the expanding community of east Knottingley. A new church, Christ Church, was erected at Seaton’s Croft as the symbol of moral and spiritual regeneration and a vicarage was built at Racca Green to house the first incumbent, Reverend Thomas Davy, who was appointed to minister the needs of the growing population. (2)

Some indication that action however overdue, was minimal in its initial effect may be gained by reference to the resolution of the Select Vestry, dated 7th April 1852, which noted the drunkenness, vice and immorality prevalent within the town. (3)

One wonders what source provided the ‘most respectable testimony’, upon which the resolution was based; the parish priests perhaps, and also whether John Carter in his role as Vestry Chairman, considered the possibility of any correlation between the manufacture and consumption of beer and the condition explained of?

The problem of drunkenness and the dissolute conduct and consequences engendered by that state was, of course, a national one, particularly in the burgeoning industrial townships of that period. Long unremitting days of arduous toil, together with inadequate diet, overcrowded, squalid domestic conditions and low standards of hygiene and public health, combined to drive workers to drink. Paradoxically, a case may be made for the virtues of alcoholic drink for at a qualitative level the dubious nature of the public water supply may have been more detrimental than the consumption of liquor. As one authority has pointed out the popular hymn words "My drink is water bright…from the crystal spring." Have an ironic significance when compared to the domestic supply, which was usually polluted, especially when drawn from the river Aire. (4) In addition, the public houses, as centres of social life among the labouring classes, afforded a measure of relief from the myriad problems which beset workers in the course of their daily lives. However, the mores of this underclass were to a great extent, shaped by the social intercourse engendered by the confines of licensed premises, resulting in drunkenness and lewd behaviour which outraged the guardians of local society.

The table below shows the social composition of the manual workers within the town during the third quarter of the nineteenth century, comprising the bulk of customers who frequented the inns of the town at the time when the general agitation against the consumption of intoxicating liquor was beginning to exert considerable influence at both national and local level.

1861 1871 1881
Manual Occupation No. % No. % No. %
Craftsmen 275 6.3 119 3.0 228 4.5
Limeworkers 95 2.3 93 2.2 53 1.1
Pottery Workers 169 3.9 116 2.9 157 3.1
Glass Workers - - 5 0.1 172 3.4
Railwaymen 53 1.2 48 1.2 65 1.3
Waterway Workers 71 1.6 57 1.4 70 1.4
Mariners & Shipping 190 4.4 161 4.0 149 3.0
General Labourers 57 1.3 139 3.5 209 4.1
Agricultural Labourers 121 2.8 85 2.1 87 1.7
Domestic Servants 156 3.6 179 4.4 187 3.7
Brewers & Maltsters 19 0.4 14 0.3 18 0.4
Miscellaneous Occupations 64 1.5 72 1.8 123 2.4
Victuallers 62 1.4 58 1.4 64 1.3
Inn & Boarding House Keepers 24 0.5 21 0.5 25 0.5
Local Population 4,379 4,039 5,069

The workers categorised above comprised 29% of the local population in 1861 and almost 30% twenty years later. A slight decline to 28% in the middle decade mirrors a decline in the occupations associated with the traditional local occupations of agriculture and the maritime trade. By 1881 the decline had been offset by the dramatic rise in the number of glassworkers and general labourers as new industries such as glass and chemicals replaced old established occupations. The new industrial labourers in no way diminished the demand for beer but rather stimulated the demand, hence the comparative stability in the number of innkeepers shown in the table. However, all was not as idyllic as the brewers and innkeepers would have liked.

From the sixteenth century, the Puritans with a fervour combining the threat of damnation with the appeal to individual reason, had unsuccessfully inveighed against ale houses and the evils of drink. By the early nineteenth century the moral force of Wesleyanism had begun to exert a growing influence generally and nowhere more than in the township of Knottingley. It was, however, only the requirement for a disciplined and settled workforce with regular work habits, arising in consequence of the Industrial Revolution, which engendered any noticeable abatement in the degree of drunkenness. As industrialisation per se had little practical application within the town before the last quarter of the century, all other measures were merely palliatives. Nevertheless, the advocates of temperance were at work all through the century, being particularly associate with the Wesleyan congregation by the 1850s.

The Temperance Movement as an organised pressure group had been present in Yorkshire since 1830 with branches at Bradford, York and Leeds at that date. (6) From that time a new phase of temperance is discernible with the emphasis on total abstinence and greater militancy. By 1860 the issue was becoming increasingly politicised as the alienated middle classes not only regarded pubs and beerhouses as sources of working class disaffection, encouraging militant trade unionism in the same way that an earlier generation had accused them of being Chartism, but saw brewers, with their huge profits and tied properties as the manifestation of monopolistic capitalism. (7) The attainment of temperance goals by political action resulted in polarisation of the issue as the advocates of temperance allied with the more sympathetic Liberals and the alliance of brewers, publicans and maltsters identified with the Conservatives. (8)

Even before political division had become manifest at Knottingley the well liked and widely respected John Carter, a liberal in every sense of the term, was regarded with reservation by an element of the populace. Nor were the critics confined to the town’s nonconformist element. At a Temperance Society soiree held at Pontefract in 1864, one of the speakers was the Reverend E. Gatley of Knottingley, an acquaintance, if not friend, of Carter. (9) It should not be assumed, however, that all temperance advocates were motivated solely by moral or ethical considerations. Commercialism was a motivating factor since those diverted from alcohol were more likely to attend work regularly and the wages earned be spent on consumer goods, thus boosting profit margins. (10) Naturally, such aspects formed the ‘hidden agenda’ of the temperance movement but there was sufficient material available for propaganda purposes to enable base motives to remain obscured. The Pontefract Advertiser which had been established about 1862, regularly featured cases of drunkenness and disorder at Knottingley. Sometimes the trouble was ‘imported’ as on the occasion when the police were called to the Ship Inn around midnight to find a body of at least forty militiamen, drunk and disorderly, had taken possession of the premises. Eventually, becoming weary of the tumult, the soldiers ‘fell in’ and marched in disorder along Aire Street. Some, armed with cudgels, amused themselves by breaking windows, others by assaulting innocent passers-by whom they encountered as they quit the town. (11) The soldiers had been undertaking training at Pontefract throughout the previous month and it is somewhat ironic that the previous week the local paper reported favourable comments by the citizens of the town concerning the soldiers good conduct. (12)

Shortly after the above incident occurred, the Temperance Society undertook a series of events to highlight the evils of drink. In August 1865, the Band of Hope drum and fife band paraded in the district (13) and in December two lectures were delivered by Mr. Charles Bent at the Wesleyan Schoolrooms, Knottingley, where so persuasive was the case presented, based entirely upon the gentleman’s experience, that no less than thirty-two people were reported to have signed the ‘Pledge’. (14)

Many organisations of middle class composition supported temperance. The local lodge of the Order of Rechabites restricted its membership to tee-totallers, whilst the local trade union leaders also commended temperance to their members. Alfred Greenwood, General Secretary of the Glass Bottle Makers’ of Yorkshire Trade Society, published ‘A Moderate Drinkers Ready Reckoner’ in one issue of the Society’s Quarterly Report to bring home to his members, who were prodigious consumers of alcoholic beverages, the financial cost of drink, leaving them to calculate the human cost consequent on their indulgence.

Those members of the middle class resident in Knottingley who were not adverse to partaking the occasional drink but whose professional and social status led them to disdain public houses, established their own club in the town. The Social Club Company, under the secretaryship of Thomas Speak, was founded about 1860 in premises at the top of Flag Lane, as the Ropewalk was called. (15) It is no coincidence that the establishment was more popularly referred to as the ‘Gentlemens’ Club’, being of exclusive membership. Speak was the owner – occupier of the premises for many years (16) but the club continued to function well beyond his lifetime before finally closing its doors about 1947. (17) It is of passing interest to note that the establishment of the Knottingley Social Club anticipated by several years the British Workmans’ Public House Movement which was established at Leeds in 1867, with the aim of providing conviviality without inebriation, thereby echoing the sentiments of the gentlemen of Knottingley.

By the 1860’s other moderating influences within the local community were the Salvation Army. Founded by William Booth in 1878, the Army had established a citadel in Knottingley by 1887. From that start the local corps carried the fight for temperance into the ‘enemy’ camp, visiting licensed premises and disseminating propaganda, raising finds and making working class converts by an admix of fervour and goodwill.

A further moderating influence was the gradual improvements at home, and at work as the result of continuous legislation from the 1840s, bringing higher standards of public health and education. By the 1860s the cumulative effect had produced some amelioration of the conditions, which were responsible for causing former generations to seek solace in drink. (18)

By the 1880s the introduction of cheap public transport facilitated excursions to the coast and attendance at the increasingly regularised sporting and social events, all of which provided counter attractions to public houses.

From 1870 proposals appeared to cut the number of public houses by licence limitation, increased licence duties and restrictions on opening hours. Such measures formed part of the Intoxicating Liquors Bill of 1872 but, ironically, the proposals failed to gain the support of the Temperance Movement which considered them to be insufficiently restrictive, or the Church Authorities, who favoured voluntary restraint as opposed to compulsory sobriety. (19) As a result, the agitation of the brewers and allied representatives of the licensed trade, prevented legislative action.

Nevertheless, the brewers were fully aware of the need to adopt a more responsible attitude to the problem of drunkenness as a means of countering the growing criticism of their opponents. Thus, when William Edward Spence, landlord of the Ship Inn, not only allowed drunkenness on the premises in the Autumn of 1875 but was prosecuted for being drunk himself, he was instantly dismissed by George Carter, despite having been a tenant for fourteen years. (20) In addition, the closing decades of the nineteenth century witnessed considerable expenditure on the part of the brewery company in an attempt to present a more wholesome image and provide a greater degree of customer comfort in the hope of attracting a more businessmen and professional people and thereby enhance the beleaguered reputation of its public houses. (21)

Paradoxically, the dawn of the new industrial era at Knottingley from the 1870s whilst theoretically regularising drinking habits by displacing the more casual nature which characterised the structure of the old established occupations, did little to assuage the demand for drink. Chief amongst the newly introduced industries was the manufacture of glass containers. The hot, arduous nature of the work was such that landlords of inns close to the glasshouses were guaranteed a regular income from the supply of liquor consumed by the glassmakers throughout their working hours. The shrewd John Curtis realised this when he provided financial assistance to enable the establishment of the first glass furnace in the town on land adjacent to the Commercial Inn. The landlord of the nearby Lime Keel Inn was reputed to rise early each working day at the turn of the century in order to have upward of 100 pints pulled ready for the commencement of the artisans breakfast break. (22) Doubtless a similar scene applied at the Red Lion Inn which stood next to the Round House, later known as the Hope Glassworks, established in 1874. At Burdins (1887) and Jacksons (1893) where the glassworks were at some distance from the nearest pub, a ‘trammer’ was employed to fetch liquor to the workmen at regular intervals throughout each shift, and so great was the amount consumed that the ‘trammer’, who received a halfpenny per pint, earned a living wage from his labour.

The consumption of beer at the workplace was a custom based practice within the glass trade and when employers such as William Bagley attempted to curtail the custom in the name of safety and efficiency, they frequently risked strike action. In face of the employers opposition to drink at work, the glass hands fought a rearguard action. A secret hatch in the perimeter fence ensured a link with the Commercial so that ‘essential’ supplies could be unofficially obtained. It was only when the advent of automatic machine production combined with the licensing restrictions impose during the Great War that the anti-drink campaign made headway in the glass industry. Even then a lingering element remained for the writer can recall in his boyhood, men visiting the ‘jug & bottle’ at inns near the glassworks in order to purchase beer for consumption during the shift breaks, a practise continued well into the 1950s. (23)

In 1870 the Yorkshire Brewers formed a County Society to challenge the influence of the Temperance Movement. The effect was minimal, however, as factional self-interest manifested in a reluctance to provide adequate funding, rendered the Society’s efforts ineffectual. (24) Yet despite social protest, industrial recession, high taxation and restrictive legislation, all of which contributed to the curtailment of consumption and changed drinking habits during the closing decades of the nineteenth century, the licensed trade had a natural constituency of working men to ensure the survival of the pub into the twentieth century.

Terry Spencer, 1998



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