10th April 2013 St Richard's Friary excavations: the excavations of 2011 and 2012.
Simon Tomson, Excavation Field Director, Pontefract and District Archaeological Society.
Our April lecture, an excellent finale to the season, described the work done by the Pontefract and District Archaeological Society to locate the church of St Richard's Friary.
The Dominican mission arrived in Britain in 1221 and reached Pontefract by 1256. Latecomers to the English Medieval scene, friaries tended to be located on marginal sites as is the case in Pontefract where Edmond de Lacy provided sloping land on the edge of the town. For nearly 300 years the friars prayed, preached, heard confessions and buried the dead, supported by gifts from the people of their allocated territory stretching between Pontefract, Rotherham and Wakefield. At the Dissolution in 1538 the bells and roof lead were sold and the buildings demolished. The site was sold and reverted to agricultural use until the Pontefract Dispensary was constructed in the 1890s. During the 1960s Pontefract General Infirmary was expanding and the Archaeological Society was given permission to mount an exploratory excavation to locate the friary, which was known to be in the hospital area. At that time several friary buildings were found. Two years ago the Society was funded to try to locate the friary church before redevelopment of the site.
The area available for the excavation had been used for liquorice-growing so that a deep layer of topsoil had to be removed. Finally the first signs of the church were found, exposing the robbed-out remains of the north and east walls of the church. Several interesting features were excavated including the buttresses along the north wall, an altar base, a broken grave cover slab, and pieces of stone window tracery. It was a particular delight that Simon could demonstrate how the tracery would have been used by pointing out similar pieces in the structure of the chantry window behind him. An important discovery was a Purbeck marble sarcophagus, once set into a wall niche and indicating a high status burial. Documentary evidence has shown that the friars buried execution victims and battle casualties. A list of battle dead drawn up in 1497 included Richard Duke of York, whose body rested in Pontefract after the Battle of Wakefield in 1460, before his funeral cortege transported his remains to Fotheringhay in 1476. It is possible to speculate that the marble sarcophagus was made for him.
The excavations of 2012 found the remains of the south wall. Evidence of two parallel wall lines close together there suggested a rebuilding possibly around 1374 when documents describe the church as 'ruinous' and record timber being provided for the friars. By using comparisons with the size and layout of other friary churches the extent of St Richard's Friary church was established with reasonable certainty and no further excavation is now envisaged.
There is more information on the Friary and the work done there by the Pontefract Archaeological Society on the Society's website: www.pontarc.org.uk/page3 and in the Society Newsletter (under publications) for the years 2012 and 13. These include work in progress on a significant collection of clay tobacco pipes found during these excavations.
AGM and Members' Evening March 13th 2013 A well–attended and speedy AGM was followed by three short presentations given by members.
Tomorrow's History. Brian Holding
Since his retirement Brian Holding has been on a mission. His aim is to record on camera the changes which occur to the Wakefield townscape and its buildings as they happen. From his growing collection of images he prepared an audio-visual presentation of fifteen minutes for this members' evening. In it he showed a number of significant recent changes in the town including the alterations to the Cathedral, and the demolition of the old market and the areas around it followed by the construction of Trinity Walk. Much of the time was used to look closely at work done recently on the Waterfront, from the renovation of the Calder and Hebble warehouse and the building of flats in the area, to the demolition of many small businesses and the construction of the Hepworth in their place. In future years Brian's archive will be an extremely significant resource: even these very recent developments impressed members with the speed of change and the completeness with which the present can obliterate the past.
Huddersfield Archaeology Society, Jo Heron
The Huddersfield Archaeological Society has a long history and is the origin of the Yorkshire Archaeological Society, which later moved to Leeds. The Huddersfield Society members have been active in archaeology for over fifty years, excavating at Castle Hill and Slack Roman Fort during the twentieth century. More recent work has been at Myers Wood where charcoal burning and furnaces making iron were sited from medieval times, a project which has earned a number of prestigious archaeological awards. The Society has worked on the interpretation of this important site, producing an excellent book. Other excavation has included work near the Roman Fort at Slack to reveal the Roman vicus there, and the tracing of the route of the Roman road leading across the Pennines. The Society, which has its own Library, is very active, arranging fieldwork and fieldwalking, lectures and an annual dinner. There are close links with the Young Archaeologists group and the Society arranges a variety of excursions, including an annual trip overseas.
'Malt does more than Milton can', Phil Judkins
Our Secretary, Phil, presented a whistle-stop tour of malting, one of the main industries of the Wakefield Waterfront for many years. Malt is a key ingredient of beer, produced in kilns by a process of soaking, drying and heating. The barley from which it was produced came from the eastern counties to be used in making beer for the rapidly-growing populations of the towns of the West Riding and Lancashire. In the eighteenth century maltsters had been at work throughout Wakefield with malt kilns on domestic plots, but gradually malting became focussed on the Waterfront to take advantage of the proximity of water and later rail transport. Phil's attention then turned to the communities in Wakefield who lived and worked on the Waterfront. He showed documentary evidence of owners, maltsters and their families, houses and schools, and illustrations of the church and the malthouse buildings. This presentation provided examples of the type of questions, starting points and sources which research for the Society's Waterfront project might pursue to find out about the many workplaces, homes, and other institutions of the previous three centuries, now almost vanished without trace.
Many thanks to the three speakers whose presentations demonstrated the great variety of interests, activities and skills of our own members. Hopefully next year other members will be able to share something of what they have learnt about the Wakefield Waterfront as a result of our project.
13th February 2013, "Wakefield's Roads" by John Goodchild
The slushy snow falling on the night of our February meeting did not deter a good number of intrepid members and visitors from attending our Vice President's talk on the roads and transport services of Wakefield from 1700 to 1900. Visiting members of the Milestone Society brought with them a small display of photographs. As an introduction to his talk John reminded us that he has lectured to our Society more than a hundred times over the course of the last sixty years – a remarkable achievement.
The origins of many road routes can be traced to medieval times and earlier. In the Middle Ages road repair and construction were a manorial responsibility and a pious duty, with bequests often provided by the devout for the work. By 1555 the church's role had disappeared and the legislation of Queen Mary introduced the requirement for householders to work or provide labour every year for a small number of days. A highway rate was raised on households to pay for materials, and townships could be fined for not undertaking work. By the late 18th century many towns established Street Commissioners by Acts of Parliament with detailed powers to raise rates to keep the town streets clean, tidy and well surfaced. These were the forerunners of the Borough Councils which emerged in the 19th century.
However, the eighteenth century saw a differentiation between the responsibility for these town streets and the management of the regional routes. Traffic servicing the area's growing industry and increasing population required far better, more reliable main roads between towns. These routes gradually became the responsibility of turnpike trusts. Of the main routes to Wakefield only Batley Road was not turnpiked. The roads from Wakefield to Halifax, Pontefract and Doncaster became turnpikes in the 1740s, and from Wakefield to Leeds, Bradford, Huddersfield and Sheffield in the 1760s. These trusts gradually widened the roads, eased the bends and improved the surfaces. New routes from Wakefield to Aberford in 1789 and from Wakefield to Denby Dale in 1825 were developed by trusts. Other new branches included turnpikes to Horbury Mill and High Hoyland, and in the early 1830s Ings Road was built.
Other roads were constructed following enclosure in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. These roads, some of which were private, were to provide access to the newly enclosed plots. There were always many bridleways and footpaths for more local journeys and a corpse road from Stanley to the parish church in Wakefield.
Pedestrians, mounted riders, drovers' animals, pack animals, haulage horses and oxen, and many other wheeled vehicles used these routes. For long-distance travel coaching had developed from the 1600s. In 1647 there was a coach on the Great North Road travelling from London to York via Ferrybridge in six days. In 1695 a coach from Wakefield to London via Barnsley took seven days, then five days by 1698. By the 1770s coaches between Leeds and London were taking two days. Journeys were expensive: in 1768 an inside seat cost 45/- from Wakefield to London and in 1822 London to Wakefield it cost £3.00 with many hidden extras including tips and gratuities for the coachmen. Travelling might also be dangerous: John cited examples such as the coachman who was scalped by a coach wheel, the dangerous races between drivers, and the robberies from coaches. There were many inns in Wakefield which accommodated coaches such as the Strafford Arms, the Woolpacks, the Talbot, and the George. During this period the coaching routes were multiplying and the network became increasingly sophisticated with timetabled links at coaching centres. However, the coming of the railways in the 1840s and 1850s caused the rapid disappearance of long-distance coaching. Only shorter journeys continued to be serviced by horse-drawn transport, often carrying passengers to and from stations like Kirkgate, or from surrounding villages.
Goods were carried by wagon and firms flourished like that of Thomas Hadfield at Westgate End established before 1782. He had a large warehouse yard there where the Wagon and Horses pub still exists. Another such firm was Benjamin and Joshua Ingham who carried goods from Wakefield to London. The canals took much of the heavy trade and some firms, like Pickfords in the 1840s combined the provision of road and canal transport.
Horsebuses, useful for linking the populations of suburbia or main route ribbon development to the town centres, appeared only gradually in Wakefield because the population of the town grew so slowly in the early eighteenth century. By the 1890s there was a horse omnibus system, the Wakefield City and District Omnibus Company which had a depot in York Street. With the coming of electric trams many places lost horse-drawn services and the Omnibus Company sold their depot in 1908.
John's lecture provoked many questions about the organisation of the turnpike trusts, which were set up by Act of Parliament and run by unpaid trustees who qualified for the role by virtue of their property ownership and who usually had business interests in improved roads. The possible avoidance of the tolls was discussed, and the whereabouts of turnpike records. Almost all the local turnpikes have surviving records held at Wakefield Archives, apart from those for the Wakefield to Austerland and Wakefield to Bradford routes. There was curiosity about the slow growth of Wakefield in comparison to other towns in the region which John attributed to large extent to the high price of land caused by the value of grazing for the considerable livestock market held here, although, as John explained, there have been other theories developed around this interesting question. He also described the way that coaching was organised with stages of about 10 miles for the horses and about three drivers used on the way from Wakefield to London. Coaching fares were always high, restricting their use to the moneyed classes; wagons were an alternative for poorer people. Finally, there was some discussion about horse-drawn hearses.
As always our thanks go to John for a stimulating talk.
Thursday January 17th, Joint Wakefield Civic Society and Wakefield Historical Society meeting Hosted by the Civic Society at Bishopgarth.
Bretton Hall Proposals
A sprinkling of snow welcomed a few intrepid WHS members to Bishopgarth for this year's joint lecture with the Civic Society.
Before introducing the speakers Kevin Trickett, Civic Society Chairman, explained that the Society had already discussed and studied the proposals to convert Bretton Hall into a hotel and business centre and had agreed to support them.
Mike Finch is from the Bretton Investment Group, part of the Rushbond Group, of which he is a Director, who are the Developers of the Bretton Park scheme. Mike introduced the scheme, which was the result of planning between Rushbond, Wakefield District Council and the Yorkshire Sculpture Park with advice and guidance from English Heritage and other bodies. In February the proposals will go to WDC Planning Committee.
Sue Sparling, an Associate Director at DLA Architecture, Project Architects for the Bretton Park scheme, guided us through the plans, maps and projections to show the thinking behind the scheme and how it would look. She felt that all parties have recognised the unique environment of house and grounds, describing it as a world class site, the 'jewel of the region'.
Sue showed the area which the proposal covers including the Hall and other original buildings, and the College buildings and other hard standing which had been added in the 1960s or later for Bretton Hall College of Education and Leeds University. Sue used maps from 1849-51 and 1890 to show original features like an ice-house and four ponds which could still be located around the site. To help to envisage the house before it became a College with its institutional décor and layout, she had referred extensively to an article in a Country Life Magazine issue of 1938; pictures of the interior from the article helped to explain some existing architectural features which had not been fully understood.
The original buildings are The Mansion built in 1720-30 and the Stable Block which are Grade II* Listed, and the Camellia House which is Grade II Listed. Kennel Block has already been converted into café and resource rooms by the Sculpture Park. Other buildings which will be retained are the 2003 Theatre building which stands on the site of the College Assembly Hall, the Library building, the Archive building now managed by the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, the Gym which sits gracefully above a small lake, and the rather less attractive Ezra Taylor building just below the Gym. The buildings which will be removed are the Dance and Music studios, the Victor Passmore Building, the refectory and all the three-storey student hostels. The access roads will be changed. The road into the park from West Bretton village which runs down to Kennel block will be closed and the road crossing towards the House just below the Sculpture Park Visitors Centre will be continued to form the main access to the house.
The proposal is that the mansion will become the centre of a 120-bed hotel, and that there will also be several new pavilions for business use. There will be no increase to the current built footprint. The new building will aim to improve vistas using materials and colour tones which will blend into the landscape, and green spaces and gardens will be increased. Much work will also be done on thinning trees to establish views towards the Mansion, a particular concern of English Heritage. Sue showed the plans for the buildings to be retained and computer graphics of all the proposed new-build developments. Computer-generated general views provided an idea of how the scheme as a whole would sit in the landscape.
Mike and Sue responded to questions. The Gym and Library will be available for office/education/research and development uses as will the considerably revamped theatre and Ezra Taylor buildings. Tree–thinning is intended to take out a proportion of the 512 trees in the development area to re-establish a feeling of the earlier managed landscape around the original house and improve views.
The changes to road access were questioned but the new road scheme has already had approval and will extend the road running below the visitors' centre to the Hall and Kennel block. The YSP is extending parking near the visitors' centre so that traffic across the parkland where people will be walking is limited. As far as public access to the whole site is concerned the Camellia House will remain open as usual and there will be no fencing or signage to prevent people looking at the buildings.
We are grateful to the Civic Society for their hospitality and for the work that they do in monitoring planning, and arranging talks of this sort. The preservation of our local heritage is a key concern for both our societies, and this lecture provided the opportunity to hear and question the investors and architects involved in a major scheme for the re-development of a significant historic site in our district.
12 December 2012 The role and status of women in the Diocese of Wakefield and the approach and experiences of their chronicler by Kate Taylor
On a freezing December night, a good turnout of members enjoyed Kate's account of the roles that women have taken in the Wakefield diocese. In a brief introduction, Kate outlined the changes which have allowed women to take on more responsible roles in the church over the years. The various roles which women have played formed the main section of Kate's talk, illustrated with pictures of the people and places mentioned.
The first group were the district visitors, in existence from at least the mid-nineteenth century. These were volunteers working in their own parishes taking a cluster of homes and getting to know everyone in order to check that baptisms and confirmations were performed. They took on numerous tasks such as collecting for missionary societies or for other appeals, for example for the construction of Bishopgarth, taking clothing or food vouchers to the needy, and distributing tracts. In 1899 their help was enlisted by the Wakefield Medical Officer of Health to teach mothers about feeding their babies. In 1930 there were 200 such visitors in the diocese but these women were disappearing in the years before the Second World War.
Next were the deaconesses, an organised system of parochial female labour, somewhere between a visitor and a nun. These women were in an order, but not a holy order. Their work was to assist the minister in many roles, such as baptisms, reading morning prayers or training Sunday school teachers. They did a great deal of needlework too. On occasion they took on more of the minister's responsibilities for short periods but they could not administer the communion.
Another group were women workers who might be salaried. They did a variety of roles in the parish. For example in Wakefield a Westgate house was set up as an evening club for factory girls to learn needlework or listen to readings. In the daytime these workers were attached to particular parishes running mother's meetings and doing house visits. They received wide-ranging training in areas such as Bible study, and church history and doctrine. However this role was dropped by 1905.
The Church Army sisters were rescue workers concerned with moral welfare, often staffing residential homes for vulnerable girls. The St John's Home provided shelter and training to discharged female prisoners. By 1872 there was a new purpose–built home financed by the laundry work done by the residents. Several other homes or hostels were established in other towns, training girls for domestic service or laundry work. In the Great War clubs for soldiers' wives were set up to save women from adultery or prostitution. As social life changed the need for domestic service or laundresses was much reduced and by the 1950s the homes changed in purpose: for example the St John's Home and the Horbury House of Mercy became approved schools.
The nuns of Horbury had been established in 1858 to run the Horbury House of Mercy as a rescue home. Nuns were different from all the previously mentioned women because they had greater autonomy, living according to their own rules with their own hierarchy. They too produced a great deal of embroidery: their work on banners - including those for Trade Unions - continued until 1995. The influence of this sisterhood spread: by 1920 there were 70 nuns at Horbury and they ran activities in various cities. They visited women in prison and ran a school, which by 1913 was in Whitby. From 1928 Horbury nuns also ran a hostel for pilgrims at the Walsingham Shrine and from 1924 three nuns were attached to Wakefield Cathedral. In 1930 the new abbess, Mother Sarah, introduced stricter rules for the convent: no-one could eat until after 12 noon and services were to be in Latin. The nuns at the Cathedral complained to the diocesan clergy and a disagreement between Sister Sarah and Bishop over the provision of chaplains sparked Sarah's departure from Horbury with those nuns who supported her. They settled in London and continued to service the Walsingham hostel. The remaining nuns were too few to maintain the House of Mercy which closed and numbers have continued to dwindle so that the sisters now have a 7-bedroom house in Horbury.
The second part of Kate's lecture dealt with the question of the ordination of women. Objections to this included views that it was against bible teaching, that it created a new obstacle to a future reunion with Rome, and that women were different creatures to men with different roles and skills. However attitudes were gradually changing from the First World War onwards. The argument developed that the scriptures should be reinterpreted according to the culture of the period and, more practically, that the number of male priests was dwindling and many parishes were already heavily dependent on the work of women. Overseas other churches were ordaining women priests.
In 1975 a pressure group in England was formed for this purpose. Already in 1969 women could be readers and in 1972 in Halifax a woman ordained in Nairobi became a deacon there. In 1980 a husband and wife team ran the parish of Kellingley together, the wife taking on responsibility for all weekdays and her husband, a schoolteacher, for the Sunday. Many deaconesses were operating like curates, and in one case a deaconess ran a parish with no incumbent for 18 months. In 1981 Synod voted to allow women to be ordained as deacons, but to remain as such. In 1987 the Bishop of Wakefield, David Hope, ordained eight deaconesses and these were licensed as ministers in charge of parishes but they still could not take communion. Eventually in 1994 nineteen women were ordained as priests in Wakefield Cathedral. There remain a number of views on women priests: some parishes still refuse to have women priests and some will not accept confirmations from bishops who have ordained women. In 2011 the first woman archdeacon was appointed but the question of women bishops is currently convulsing the Church of England.
14 November 2012 Three centuries of the workhouse By Peter Higginbotham
Under the old poor law, developed under legislation passed in 1601, individual parishes were made responsible for their own poor. A poor rate was levied which was mostly spent on out-relief, which included cash payments, given to the deserving poor in their own homes.
Gradually, as the century progressed individual parishes established workhouses to house the poor, which, by employing economies of scale, could reduce the cost to the ratepayers. By 1770 there were about 2,000 workhouses across the country, including 99 in the West Riding, but still six out of seven parishes favoured outdoor relief.
The system of poor relief was radically altered by the Poor Law Amendment Act 1834, which forced groups of parishes to combine into Unions, each administered by an elected Board of Guardians. Every Union was expected to build a workhouse for paupers who were no longer offered the alternative of outdoor relief.
The North of England was particularly resistant to these reforms, with many parishes at first refusing to build new workhouses. The 17 parishes forming the Wakefield Union continued to use the old workhouse on George Street until the early 1850s when new premises, housing 300 inmates, were built on Park Lodge Lane. The building was based on one of the model plans produced by the Poor Law Commissioners.
Although entry to the workhouse was supposedly voluntary, it was seen as the last resort because life inside was hard, families were segregated and the able-bodied were set to work. The diet was limited consisting mainly of gruel, bread and cheese, though many workhouses grew their own fruit and vegetables. In 1853 the Wakefield workhouse had 5 acres of garden, growing a wide range of vegetables. Gradually, however the quality of food improved and by 1900 there had been a major overhaul of the menus.
Records show that there were often more men than women in the workhouse and increasingly inmates were the elderly, infirm and handicapped. A survey at Wakefield in 1861 found that the longest-serving inmate was a destitute and blind woman who had lived there for 34 years.
Medical facilities were, at first, of poor quality, but in the 1870s there was an impetus to improve care and trained nurses were employed. Eventually their infirmaries were opened to non-inmates, and, after the system officially ended in 1930, many workhouses became local hospitals or old peoples' homes.
Much more on the workhouse system can befound on Peter's excellent website: www.workhouses.org.uk
10th October 2012, The Story of the Chartists, by Ken Rowley
Ken described in detail the events of the years 1837-48 during which Chartism, the first mass working class labour movement, was most active. His talk was illustrated with images of a number of the significant figures of the times and some of the landmark events, and he tried to provide local examples of many of the Chartist activities which were nation-wide.
The 1832 Great Reform Act had made significant strides in improving representation by eliminating 32 rotten boroughs, providing MPs to over 40 towns and cities and widening the franchise (in most cases) so that one in 6 adult males could vote. However, working class reformers were outraged by the limited vote. In 1837 the People's Charter, devised by a committee of MPs and working men, was adopted widely amongst radical groupings. It demanded universal male suffrage, a secret ballot, no property qualification for MPs, payment for MPs, constituencies of equal size and annual elections for Parliament.
These ideas were very popular around the country. Feargus O'Connor, a great orator, described as having 'lungs of brass and voice like a trumpet', spoke to what was claimed to be 250,000 people on Hartshead Moor in 1837. He also used a newspaper, the Northern Star, established in 1837 and printed out of Briggate in Leeds, to help to build up a national organisation for the Chartist movement. By 1838 the movement had contacts in most of Britain. The economic and working conditions of the period created the conditions for widespread support of the movement: depression in 1838 to 1842 and in the late 1840s brought difficulties for many families: rapid urbanisation created terrible living and working conditions and much urban poverty and suffering, all in ever-growing contrast to the lives of the rich.
In early 1838 a convention was set up to co-ordinate a petition to be presented to Parliament and evening meetings were held to elect delegates: blazing torches to light the way created dramatic torchlight processions: at Kirkstall for example 200.000 people attended and on Hartshead Moor over 100,000. In 1739 the authorities reacted to the apparent threat of insurrection: torchlight meetings were suppressed and local and national figures were arrested. However, the petition had collected 1,280,000 signatures and on 12 July it was presented to Parliament who voted not to hear the petitioners.
Disappointed groups looked for other measures and in Newport 5,000 men marched on the town in protest. Political elites saw the agitation of working people as dangerous and refused to consider their demands: the 1819 Manchester massacre of 'Peterloo' had already shown the sort of conflict possible. In Newport infantry men fired on the crowd and at least 22 died, with many others arrested. In other areas there were small-scale events and many arrests. Trials were speedily organised and three Newport men were sentenced to hang. Petitions from all over the country came in to save them and their sentence was commuted to transportation, but by this time the first phase of Chartism, was ending.
Locally much related activity continued through a variety of groups and networks: the Chartist created their own songs and dramas, there were education initiatives, many newspapers were published, and retail co-operatives were taken up enthusiastically. A National Chartist Association aimed for the election of MPs and land reform ideas were very popular. A further petition demanded the pardon of the men transported and a petition collected huge numbers of signatures. Thomas Sligsby Dunscombe, an MP, stage-managed the presentation of this petition to Parliament with masons in fustian bearing the huge petition into the house, where, again, this approach was voted out.
Failing to have any success in the 1841 election the National Chartist Association returned to the idea of another petition for the Charter. Three million signatures were collected which constituted a third of the adult population - far more than the then electorate. The petition weighed six hundredweight. Again Dunscombe organised its presentation and again his motion was voted out.
These years were ones of depression with a slump in the Lancashire cotton industry and many strikes which included Chartist aims amongst the demands. The Government were so alarmed that they sent troops to arrest the leaders. In Preston four were killed, in Halifax troops were ambushed and violence continued for several days, and there were many other flashpoints, but the strikes petered out as poverty and hunger took their toll and the National Chartist Conference broke up. O'Connor turned to land reform and pushed ahead with raising money to buy land. In 1846 the Chartist Co-operative Land Society purchased their first estate known as 'O'Connorville'.
In 1848 Europe was galvanised by revolution and it seemed the time to revive the Chartist demands in another petition. This one had two million signatures and on 4th April was presented to Parliament. The authorities in London prepared for violence: 150,000 people were said to have massed in the capital with the petition. However, the situation was defused, the Petition voted out, and the marchers dispersed by their leaders. Following this reverse disillusionment set in and the movement petered out - even the land plan failed. However, 5 out of 6 of the Chartist aims were eventually achieved and the confidence of the working class to push for their own agenda was established. Many initiatives from these years continued: the co-operative movement flourished, New Model Unions of sober and sensible workers began to be taken seriously, and some of the worst living and working conditions were gradually tackled.
During the questions which followed John Goodchild added a minor Wakefield episode to the story. The elected Minister of Westgate Chapel, John Cameron, was a Chartist: he was also Vice-president of the Mechanics Institute, and had set up the Wakefield Working Men's Political Association and the Working Men's Educational Association. However, his appointment divided the Chapel congregation and numbers fell off. As a result the Trustees closed the chapel to him and so he organised a march which broken and rang the bells. He was arrested and his trial was held in York in 1845 when the Trustees were vindicated.
12th September, 2012, Mr Mercury: the life of Edward Baines 1774 – 1849. by Dr David Thornton
Baines' family were based in Preston during his youth but Edward went to school in Hawkshead, attending at the same time as the young William Wordsworth. Later he went to Preston Grammar School. His father was a grocer but as a newcomer to the town the local town bye–laws prevented him for building up his business. Neither could his son attend the Upper Grammar School reserved for the sons of Preston people. Baines' experiences in this Tory-led town confirmed him in his political affiliations to Whig liberalism. In the 1790s Edward was apprenticed to a Preston printer, Thomas Walker, who started to publish a newspaper the Preston Review.
In 1796 Baines left Preston and came to complete his apprenticeship at the Leeds Mercury. In Leeds at this time two major regionally-circulated newspapers were published: the Leeds Intelligencer set up in 1758 as a paper which was Tory and Anglican in bias, representing the strongly dominant political grouping in Leeds Council, and the Leeds Mercury which had been published from 1718 to 1755 and again from 1767 but was failing in the late 1790s. The Leeds Nonconformists saw an opportunity to establish a new paper representing their views with Baines as editor and when the Mercury came up for sale Baines was loaned money to buy it.
Baines was given complete editorial independence and established the tradition of writing a regular leader. He also encouraged a variety of viewpoints by means of letters to be posted at his door, which, if well argued would be published, with an aim of providing a newspaper for a 'reasoning society', as 'truth suffers not by discussion'. He believed that 'freedom of the press was the mightiest bulwark against corruption.'
He campaigned against the 'indelible disgrace' of slavery, for free trade 'the best policy for every nation' and for freedom of the individual. Religion was 'a thing between God and man's own conscience' and this applied as much to Roman Catholics as Nonconformists both of which groups were limited in their freedoms by their religious convictions. A major hurdle was overcome when the necessity of receiving the sacrament as a qualification for office was repealed in 1828.
As the French wars dragged on Baines felt that the dislocation of trade and the subsequent hardship in the textile industry caused by the French wars should be ended and his paper spearheaded a peace petition signed by 28.000 people in the West Riding in 1807. He argued for Members of Parliament to represent the great industrial towns of West Yorkshire and the extension of the vote to the middle classes: 'give suffrage to every man who pays direct taxes', but he was never comfortable with the increasing demands for universal male suffrage. However his paper reported the Peterloo massacre in Manchester graphically and exposed a government agent provocateur who had been inciting the people.
Baines was increasingly frustrated by the Tory stronghold on the Leeds Council and he set up a Whig powerbase through the Vestry in an attempt to wrest power from the Council. In 1830 this grouping successfully supported the election of a Whig industrialist as one of the two Yorkshire MPs. Following the 1832 Reform Act, Leeds had two MPS and at a bye-election in 1833 Baines himself was elected to Parliament.
Many accounts confuse Edward Baines father (1774- 1849) and son (1800-1890) who were both Mercury editors. Apart from his skills as an editor, Baines the father, has been heralded as a great writer, but Dr Thornton has shown that some of Baines' work was extensively borrowed. However his volumes on Yorkshire and the County Palatinate of Lancaster are works displaying Baines' own fine style.
Baines' concerns, campaigns and successes were the culmination of a long period of pressure from the leaders of the Nonconformist, Whig, merchant and industrial middle classes, but many years before his death emerging groupings were looking for more radical policies to transform parliamentary representation, and workers' rights and working conditions. The most important of these, the Chartists, will be the subject of our next lecture.