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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


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

Copyright ©Terry Spencer, January 2007

I have a vivid recollection of being taken to Chapel Street Infants’ School by my mother sometime about the year 1941. Having crossed Jacksons’ (Anvil) Bridge, we reached the top of Ropewalk when we were accosted by a woman who, pointing towards the turret of the Town Hall, launched an angry tirade, the meaning of which was as incomprehensible to me as the reason which had prompted it.

I recall the word "disgusting" and as I attempted to make sense of the situation my eyes followed the direction in which the woman’s arm was pointing and I realised that the object of her wrath was the Town Hall clock.

The clock had stopped and someone, presumably in an effort to restart it, had carelessly left unfastened the hinged glass cover so that the glass now hung open at right angles to the clock face, receptive to the passing breeze and in danger of being smashed, thus leaving the clock face fully exposed to the elements.

The incident, although fragmentary in its nature is as vivid in its detail as it was more than sixty years ago.

And yet…and yet…

When 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. (1)

The implication of the remark, backed up by familial memory stretching back to the early decades of the twentieth century, was that no clock had previously adorned the façade of the Town Hall. Yet notwithstanding this fact, the remark sparked an intensive debate as to whether or not the Town Hall had ever had a clock. Impassioned claims, allegedly based on personal recollection, were countered by vehement denials. The argument eventually ending inconclusively for want of irrefutable evidence.

What is presented here is an examination of the available material concerning the subject in the hope of producing an accurate conclusion for the historical record.

Knottingley Town Hall, a "Neat, two-storied structure surmounted by a clock turret", was designed by the architects Shaw & Weightman and constructed by a local builder, John Stanhope, at the behest of the newly formed Knottingley Town Council Company and opened on the 5th September 1865. The building cost £2,000, raised in part by the sale of 1,000 x £1 shares to the local public. (2)

The building specifications make no mention of a clock but the presence of a circular alcove near the top of the centrally placed turret at the front of the building implies and aspirational hope of fulfilment at a later date. (3) Indeed, expectations were doubtless high for although shareholders did not seek a huge return on their investment, the facilities and services offered to the local community rather than excessive profit being the primary consideration, a return of 5% on the shares was confidently expected. (4)

Meanwhile, plans were being formulated elsewhere to add a tower to the parish church of St. Botolph. Construction of the tower began in 1873 (5) but lack of money caused delay and as late as October 1875 the church tower was still unfinished while activities continued to be undertaken to raise the sum of £700 required to ensure its completion. (6)

As with the Town Hall, provision was made for the eventual installation of a clock on the church tower but money was not immediately available and for a number of years the space was filled by a dummy clockface.

A letter to the local newspaper complaining of the ridiculous appearance of the church tower with its artificial clock prompted efforts to raise £200 to furnish the tower with a real clock. (7) Public events and individual donations from August 1883 resulted in the accumulation of the requisite amount and in March 1884 it was announced that the church clock was expected to be installed by Easter. (8) On the 10th April 1884 the clock on the tower of St. Botolph’s church was "opened" to public gaze. (9)

Conformation that the Town Hall had no clock at that date is contained in the above mentioned letter which stated that the only public clock in the town was that belonging to the Ropewalk Wesleyan Chapel. (10)

The provision of a public timepiece situated in close proximity to the Town Hall made the necessity for a clock on that building somewhat superfluous. Nor was money available for such a project for the fortunes of the Knottingley Town Hall Company had declined and by the turn of the twentieth century the company was insolvent.

As a result, early in 1901, the Town Hall was sold by public auction and was bought by Mr. J.G. Lyon, proprietor of the Aire Tar Works, who the following year, presented the Town Hall to the recently established (1894) Knottingley Urban District Council, on behalf of the inhabitants of the township. (11)

A decision was taken at that time to adapt the rooms once used as the town’s Mechanics’ Institute, as a Council Chamber for use by the relocated Council. The Council, newly emerged from a protracted legal dispute arising from the construction of the public drainage scheme, lacked the funds to finance the alterations. Once again J.G. Lyon generously financed the conversion and in 1904 the Council marked the opening of the Town Hall as the administrative centre of the township by holding a civic function in honour of Lyon.

During speeches delivered on that occasion, a local solicitor, W.E. Clayton-Smith, humorously expressed a desire to emulate Lyon by adding an illuminated clock to the façade of the Town Hall. The comment struck a chord with Cr. E.L. Poulson, proprietor of the West Riding Pottery, Ferrybridge, who stated that if the Council should think it appropriate to install a clock at the front of the Town Hall, he would gladly subscribe to its cost. (12)

The parlous financial state of the Council precluded action at that time, however, and the well-known photograph of the front of the Town Hall circa 1910, clearly reveals the absence of any clock at that date.

Conditions arising from the advent of the Great War (1914-1918) and its economic aftermath, followed by the Second World War (1939-1945) and post war austerity, militated against the installation of a clock.

Notwithstanding the assertion of the late, respected antiquarian, Harry Battye, that the Town Hall once featured an ornamental clock, (13) a thorough search of the K.U.D.C. Minutes Books, newspaper files and old photographs, has failed to produce any indication of a clock. All the evidence suggests that no such clock ever existed.

Why then do I, in company with countless other townsfolk, retain a vivid impression of the existence of a Town Hall clock? Wish fulfilment? Is there some deep-seated Freudian explanation? Are we genetically programmed to defy history or is collective memory prompted by the same psychological impulse that makes all the days of childhood retrospectively sunny?

There must be an explanation for our obvious self-delusion.

Terry Spencer
January 2007


  1. Pontefract & Castleford Express 7-4-1994 p12
  2. Spencer T. ‘Knottingley Town Hall’, (2000), for the history of the building.
  3. op cit Appendix One for full specifications.
  4. Pontefract Advertiser 19-11-1864
  5. ibid 14-10-1873
  6. ibid 16-10-1875 & 23-10-1875
  7. ibid 18-8-1883
  8. ibid 19-1-1884
  9. ibid 19-4-1884. The term "opened" was used by the newspaper reporter and seems somewhat inappropriate. It is difficult, however, to find a more suitable word; ‘dedicated’ and ‘designated’ which spring to mind are either factually incorrect or equally inappropriate.


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