It is said that a Cockney returning to the City of London after a quarter of a century's
absence cannot identify a single street, and had I been away I should have been almost as much
puzzled to find where I was born and where I lived as a youth. My father being in the cloth
finishing trade (afterwards as a carpet manufacturer and blanket merchant), my earliest
recollections relate to the Cropper's Mill of John Naylor (died 1856, aged 63 years) and Co.,
established by a Mr. Craven, called after his name, on Westgate Common in the 17th century.
The premises are now occupied by Mr. Jesse Archer. John Naylor succeeded Mr. Craven as woollen cloth finisher. Up to the year 1831, the cloth was finished by hand with shears by men called croppers; only one of them is now living. His name is Whiteley, living at Alverthorpe. My uncle managed the business. The weaving of the cloth was mostly done in private houses on Westgate Common, and in the villages of Flanshaw, Outwood, and Alverthorpe. The following were the largest manufacturers - in Alverthorpe, Thomas and William Harrison; Flanshaw, Thomas Ward, Robert Child, David Lindley, George Burton, Benjamin Burton, Joseph Artle, Benjamin Wood, John Artle; Outwood, Samuel Shuttleworth.
In July, 1831, our present Borough Member's (Sir Edward Green) father supplied the Naylors
with a 7½ horse power beam condensing engine (his first) to drive eight cutting machines called
Lewis's for finishing the cloth, in place of the Cropper, afterwards by improved ones by Davises,
and then Perpetuals. There were about 40 men employed in the works. In 1857 Messrs. Cawthorn and
Slater succeeded Captain William Naylor, his cousin John halving died in 1856. They declined the
business in 1862.
In Hardy Flatts (Burton Street), where I was born, there were very few houses, and right away by Bell Street were gardens and green lanes. In the Flatts the inhabitants had a feast, on tables erected in the open air, on the day of the coronation of George IV., and the guests had earthenware plates given them in commemoration of the event.
At the end of the Flatts was the celebrated Cliffe Tree blown down in 1845 by a very heavy gale of wind. It is stated that Field Marshal General Wade encamped near this tree when he was marching his troops northward in 1746.
Behind my residence in Westgate there was a bear and beer garden, held by a Mr. Russell, and on one occasion the bear got out of its pit, and worried a woman. My uncle passing by, heard screams, and, assisted by Mr. W. Stead rescued her, but she died in consequence of the injuries. Mr. Boston, gunsmith, shot the unruly bruin. When in 1859 the spire of the Parish Church was re-built, I saw a man climb by means of the crockets to the weather-cock with the agility of a monkey. My ancestors were patrons of the Militia, who up to 1802 drilled in South Parade and on Heath Common, but I never heard of the famous ducking- stool kept by the ratepayers for the chastisement of female scolds by sundry dips in the Calder - a practice that was in vogue up to 80 years ago.
The Races at the Grand Stand, Wrenthorpe, made the town exceedingly merry, and brought in crowds of carriage folks. The flower of the aristocracy might be seen on the grand stand and in the coaches and carriages. It was a great blow to Wakefield when the Meeting was abandoned through lack of subscriptions.
The Parish Church had then a very different interior to its present appearance. The galleries reached down to the pillars, and the organ was in the west gallery, where the singers sat, and where a band of music led the singing before the introduction of organs. Mr. J. Saville (verger) was one of the instrumentalists, and my father was asked to take part with his bass viol. The three decker pulpit was a striking feature in the centre aisle. There was a clock on the top part of the organ. At night the Church was lighted by candles, and the beadles poked the sleepy and noisy with their long wands.
By the pecuniary help of Mr. Daniel Gaskell (the first Borough Member) the Bear ground in Back
Lane was purchased for burials for members of the Bell Chapel (now Westgate Unitarian Chapel),
so called because of its bell, which used to call the congregation together up to the present
Presbyterianism in Wakefield began with the expulsion of Mr. Kerby from the Parish Church in 1672, under the Act of Uniformity. An indulgence permitted worship in a room in 1694, and after the chapel in Flanshaw Lane became too small the chapel was opened near to Mr. Kemp's (surgeon's) house, in Alverthorpe Road, (where the burial ground can yet be seen) in May, 1694. The present chapel in Westgate was opened in November, 1752, with Mr. Alfred Turner as Minister, then Mr. Turner, junr. Mr. Thomas Johnson was pastor from 1760 to 1794. Mr. Cameron I knew, as a great supporter of the Mechanics' Institution. The creed of the Church had gradually undergone a change (like most of the Presbyterian Churches of the time), and after his ministry was of a pronounced Unitarian type. There was a separation in the Church, some joining the Independents and others the Wesleyans; but most remained members. The endowments realise about £300 a year. Some of the best Wakefield families (*) have been connected with this Church, and its history is inseparably interwoven with that of the town.
Another old synagogue was that of the Jews in Quebec Street, which, after being in use for forty years, was sold on the 10th of September, 1861, by Mr Howgate, for £80. Before that time we had a Hebrew colony in that part, and a learned rabbi was its spiritual shepherd.
The site of the original Independent meeting room (1778) was near the present Baptist Chapel - that is, at the end of what was then the yard of the Great Bull Hotel. At Stanley Wesleyan Chapel is the pulpit in which John Wesley preached when at the Friends' Meeting House in Thornhill street, which then belonged to the Methodists.
After the Cock and Swan Inn had got out of date for public requirements (it was built in 1393,
according to a date in one of the rooms), the White Hart Hotel near the Parish Church (which has
left its name to a yard there) came into favour. It was a brick building, with a compo front, and
boasted a good dining and ballroom. In my youth all the big meetings came off there. A century
ago (1788), when St. John's Church was commenced, the Earl of Mexborough presided at a banquet
there. It was a great posting house, and it was a sensation to see the departure of the stage-coaches
to York and their arrival thence. There were several other coaches, and I am reminded by a memorandum
of an old friend of my family - Mr. John Dunnill - who died on March 21st, 1858, aged 75. He
held the Griffin Inn, in Northgate and owned several coaches - two called the Tradesman and the
Struggler, each drawn by four horses, and which ran between Leeds, Wakefield, and Barnsley.
Another innkeeper had an opposition coach, named the Royal Sovereign, and these rival conveyances sometimes had a race, to the eminent risk of a capsize.
Another institution of the past was the Round Robin Lodging House (kept by John Brady), where Mr. Fallas now has a furniture warehouse adjoining the Cornhill Temperance Hotel. I have seen as many as thirty tramps in the round bed there, lying like soldiers in a tent with their feet to the centre. The charge was 2d. each. These tramps were often escorted out of the town in the morning by the constable.
The wells at the bottom of Thornhill Street, where Mr. Matthews has lived for twenty years, and where the present Mr. Holdsworth's family (of New Wells) was born, was an institution that at one time might have made Wakefield a Spa equal to Tunbridge Wells and other like places. Its mineral waters were good for weak eyes and deranged stomachs; the wells only needed a Dr. Jeffery (who established the fame of the Leamington Springs), or a Lord North (the discoverer of those at Tunbridge) to puff the virtues of the chalybeate into fashionable repute. The Wells were in the part of the house now used as the kitchen, and there was a spring also outside the house, as now. It was a hydropathic establishment about 150 years ago, so far as I can make out, and has been in the Holdsworths' family for nearly 120 years. Over the entrance door, cut in stone, are the words-"Fontes benedicite Domino " (the Lord bless the wells). The stone bath at Kirkthorpe is a century older.
But probably the most interesting place in Wakefield to the antiquarian is the Rolls Court, because its relics and deeds are an indisputable record from 1272 to the present time. This establishment is indeed of national importance, and yet how few know that its documents relate to millions worth of real estate. The first Registry Act of 1703 (to enable manufacturers of cloth to raise money on their lands), when the trade was declining, led to an institution adjacent, where are little deeds to many millions worth of property, but the old musty parchments of the lords of the manor bring us face to face with belted, armoured knights from the time of Edward the First. 15,000 deeds are registered in this county annually; but they compare not with these illuminated scrolls in Latin and Old English, with a Frenchified infusion. And then how precious the axe, keys, manacles, and rusty implements that tell of the magisterial functions of the lords of the manor, when they had the power of life and death in their hands and used the gibbet and the block for poaching, sheep-stealing, and such like indiscretions! when Wakefield was surrounded by a Park with gates at Kirkham, Warren, Outwood, Lingwell, Kirkgate, and on the West and North of the town, in charge of John Savile, constable of Sandal Castle, and in more civilized days, till the original paving charter of Edward III. was supplemented by a modern Paving Act, and the common law of the Moot Hall gave place to a Police Act and Sessions. The ancient weights and measures (including the Winchester brass bushels), muskets, swords, and dirks- (deodands of felons or the forfeit of felons)- these things are witnesses to the facts of history. Some rolls are "The Great Court Leet of Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector." In the Moot Hall (where Mr. R. A. Goldthorp sits as a harmless heir of the great Constable of Old), Lord Brougham, Lord Abinger, Sergeant Cockell, and other eminent lawyers have pleaded, before the erection of the West Riding Court House. The Court Leets still held, with their officers and assessors, are a striking illustration of feudal times, and show, that juries were in vogue before Magna Charta. An old book in brown leather and clasps gives an outline of the succession to the manor, its extent, officers, fines, freeholders, &c. From this book we learn that the Manor was originally in the possession of Edward I.; that it was granted to William de Placetis, son of the first William, Earl Warren, in consideration of his service in taking Robert de Courtois, the King's brother, prisoner in Normandy (Henry I., 1107); that it remained in the Warren family 252 years (the issue being in one case so "natural" that a surrender was made to the King for a re-grant to a son and concubine); that it was in the York family 100 years, and then till 1554 in the hands of the Lancasters; that it was thus in the hands of the Crown for 170 years; from Sir George Clifton it went as a marriage portion to the Earl of Holland, who sold it to Sir Chriso Clapham, afterwards sold it to the Duke of Leeds (represented by Lord Conyers now). The books show that the Westgate bakery was farmed by William Beevers (as the bailiff farmed the market and other tolls), and that all public houses and bread sellers had to bake there at a charge from ¼d to 1d. per pie or quantity of bread, the rent being £25 to the Lord; therefore it must have been a good business.
Fees of the Bakehouse. £ s d
The common Bakers who bake to sell have twenty pennyworth of bread or other things baked for 0 00 1
The baking a Load of Meal into bread for any Housekeeper in Wakefield 0 1 0
A Large Pye 0 00 1
A Large Pudding 0 00 0½
Six Tarts 0 00 1
A Large Stue of Hoghel 0 00 1
A Small One 0 00 0¼
A Small Pye 0 00 0¼
The "Stone" weight bears the arms of the Commonwealth, as do a number of military commissions.
A dagger and broken sword, found at the Pugneys, are relics of the Battle of 1640. The axe
(which belonged to the Halifax gibbet) is a foot long and half-a-foot wide, rough, and with two
holes for bolts into the wooden head. At the signal of the constable a pulley was let go, and
the axe fell in a grove on to the victim's head. There is a yard measure in brass and an old
pewter jug. One of the daggers is like a piece of iron wire stuck into a light handle. A sword
stick is more than a yard long.
The musty begrimed rolls are in stacks round the walls of the vaults, and each reign is seen at a glance, while the deeds have a tablet attached indicating the property without unrolling the parchment. The ink is a marvellous dye, as dark and bright as ever in most cases. Mr. Lumb took much pains in mounting and labelling the warrants and commissions.
Red Hall, Wrenthorpe, has left a quantity of debris to mark the site of an old country house of the time of Elizabeth, which is said to have fallen a prey to the fanaticism of the Ironsides. Many relics have been dug up here.
Dr. Crowther's Charity, in George Street, is one of many local benefactions dating back to that of The Frieston Hospital, situate at Kirkthorpe (near which stands the village stocks - at the entrance to the churchyard) is of the same period as Heath Old Hall (the end of the sixteenth century), though differing much in style.
HEATH OLD HALL. 1879.
The Hall is a noble specimen of a squire's house of Elizabeth's time-a Hall that has had its vicissitudes, being once the retreat of exiled Benedictine Nuns, and the haunt of Lady Bolles' Ghost; and is now one of the country seats of our worthy Borough Representative, Sir Edward Green, Bart., who, at the visitation of the Huddersfield Archaeological and Topographical Association, on August 25th, 1869, kindly showed us its treasures of art in mouldings and paintings.
Before the establishment of the Borough Market, our weekly Friday Fair was held in the streets,
extending from Cross Street to Silver Street, when those thoroughfares had a very animated appearance,
with stalls of all kinds. The cattle market was formerly held in the same way-the beasts in Westgate,
the sheep in the Bull Ring, and the pigs in Northgate. The market was held fortnightly. It was an
importation from Lee Fair. When it was removed to the Fair Ground it was still held very early in
the morning to allow of the removal of the cattle by the dealers to other markets. In the winter
time I have known the salesmen to be there in the snow and darkness, carrying lanterns before
daybreak. There was from olden time an annual Horse and Cattle Fair in Westgate.
The River Calder remains to us as a link with the misty centuries that are gone; but how changed! It is not now "the streak of silver," the "pellucid stream of meandering beauty," but rather an open sewer, the receptacle of the refuse of mills and towns. In my youth it was a resort of bathers and anglers. Bream and trout, eels and other finny genera abounded in its waters. Then, as now, those waters turned the wheels of the corn mill on Kirkgate bridge - another link with olden days, for according to Roger de Hovenden, 650 years ago, a miller was punished for grinding corn on the Lord's Day-which shows that "the Decaylonge" was more strictly observed in some respects when monks were its expounders, than in later times. In fact "Wack-field" was always regarded as a pious place. In 1723, when the population was only 4,170, there were 2,581 Church Communicants, and centuries before the people gathered together to witness religious plays, as well as to attend mass. Even the notorious outlaw, Robin Hood, is said to have observed the Sabbath in religious rites in the woods. An inn in Ouchthorpe Lane was dedicated to his memory, and the fields there were the scene of his conflict with George a Green, the reboubtable Pinder - songs in whose praise used to be sung and sold in Wakefield Market. And these old ballads used to please the farmers who brought their grain to Westgate Market and their dairy produce to the Cross. The neighbourhood was celebrated for its barley and wheat, and on the hills were several windmills. One in Windmill Yard (leaving a round grindstone in the Cock and Swan Yard pavement), was connected with the bakeries in Bread Street (Booth's), where bread stuffs were once shown in wooden shops with shutters. The progress of our Corn Market is seen by a comparison of the present Corn Exchange with the old one close by. The present building, of Grecian style, was erected in 1838, the foundation stone being laid on May 24, 1837, by the Earl of Mexbrough, as P.G.M. of the Freemasons-another event of my youth to which I look back with pleasure. And here I cannot help remarking that whenever Wakefield gets a public park, it should have a monument to the Savile family, as our custodians, guardians, and champions from the days of the Tudors, to whom we mainly owe the Grammar School and many an ancient charter. That school was founded in 1592, and removed from "Goody Bower" in 1854 to the "West Riding Proprietary School," which was erected by shares and opened in 1834. It is a matter of regret to antiquarians that the old school (where so many eminent men were educated) should be now a furniture warehouse and "marine" depot. The school, which possesses endowments to the extent of £3,500 per annum (managed by the Governors of the Charities), is now threatened with degradation to a middle class or commercial school, under the scheme of reconstruction recently issued by the Charity Commissioners. But I hope that its classical side will be still well maintained, and that part of the funds will establish an excellent Technical School, as I have recommended, for the improvement of local trade by skilled labour.
Wakefield has never been lacking in public generosity (as witness the charities of my namesake, Dr. Crowther, and of those whose trusts are in the care of the Governors), so I would conclude these (reminiscences with a word of entreaty, in the hope of benefitting the town of my birth - that rich men should join with the Working Men's Committee in obtaining the much needed Technical Institution.
Sic vos non vobis.-Virgil. Sic amor urbis.-Horace. Sic transit gloria mundi.-Taeitus.
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