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lecture notes 2013-2014

9th April 2014, Work Rest and Play, The post-medieval architecture of the working classes in West Yorkshire
By Elizabeth Chamberlin, Senior Historical Buildings Officer West Yorkshire Archaeology Advisory Service

A main aspect of the work of The West Yorkshire Archaeology Advisory Service is the appraisal of all planning applications in West Yorkshire. As the Service’s Buildings Officer, Elizabeth has detailed knowledge about many of the sites she has been required to investigate. Her illustrated lecture was thus an eclectic selection of buildings from many areas of West Yorkshire chosen to illustrate her theme of working class work, rest and play. 

Firstly Elizabeth showed a variety of industrial buildings from around the county. Some have had multiple uses like Tanhouse Farm at Lower Whitley which has been a tannery, a mill and a pit: others like the Tower Brewery at Hipperholme brewed beer for more than a century, beginning the process on the top floor and working downwards. More local examples included Balne Lane Mill, used for spinning flax and later producing worsted, which has recently been demolished. Elizabeth reminded us that great houses were the workplace for many domestic servants. At Bretton Hall the staff lived in the attic rooms, and a brick-built tunnel from the grounds may have brought outdoor servants into the Mansion House without being visible. Until recently used as a teacher training college, the Hall now has planning permission to become a hotel.

Most of Elizabeth’s chosen sites illustrated aspects of leisure and play in working class life. Some sites were created for working people by enlightened employers or philanthropists, others were financed by the potential users. The buildings in Roberts Park in Baildon near Saltaire, part of the World Heritage Site, have been carefully conserved. The sporting, leisure and educational aspects of the site were illustrated, in particular the elegant Half Moon cricket pavilion and the band stand.  Elizabeth reminded us of our own Drury Lane Library financed by the philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie, which has recently closed. She traced its development from its 1906 opening as newsroom, reading and magazine room and lending library. In 1938 there was an extension added to house the children’s library and more library space built with new booklifts to bring stock from the basement. We are all aware of the different uses that these spaces have had. In Wakefield the future of the building seems to have been preserved, and in Shipley the 1905 Carnegie Library, threatened with demolition to make way for a supermarket, may be rebuilt elsewhere stone by stone.

Another local example was the building until recently used to house Wakefield Museum, and first constructed from public subscriptions raised to provide a library, newsroom, assembly room, dispensary and public baths. Later becoming the Mechanics Institute, it is currently part of Wakefield District College as its performing Arts Department, thus continuing to serve new purposes for the community. Unity Hall in Wakefield was built by Wakefield Industrial Cooperative Society in 1906.  Elizabeth highlighted some of its surviving features like the counter where dividends were paid and the tiled walls of the butchers’ department. Other Cooperative Society buildings in Middlestown, where garage repairs are now done in a former cinema, and in Stocksbridge, Barnsley  Dewsbury were shown.

Imposing architectural features can be seen in many buildings financed by local communities or groups.  The South Elmsall Miners’ Institute with fine pediments and a classical doorway was built in 1920.  A Hall of Science in Huddersfield was founded in 1830 by local adherents of Robert Owen and housed Chartist meetings, but later becoming an organ manufactory, with hoist still in place. Manningham Baths are an example of another structure for the working population with a slipper baths as well as swimming baths, the latter reminding me of the old Almshouse Lane Baths in Wakefield.

Places of entertainment mentioned were the recently refurbished City Varieties in Leeds, a Grade 11* listed building. Evolving from the small music room of the Swan Inn built in 1762, the floor was originally flat with a bar licensed for singing and dancing but not drama. The Cock and Bottle public house in Bradford dating from the early nineteenth century has opulent interiors fitted in 1890 by a London firm. The compartmentalised arrangement provided private spaces for different types of client: the tap room, the public bar, the saloon bar or the lounge, and these were separated by opaque glass. The brewhouse was used until the 1920s and the cellar has low stone benches so that barrels could be stored on their sides.  Another surviving pub, the Beaumont Arms in Kirkheaton, dates from the eighteenth century although there has been an inn on the site since the sixteenth century. A 1930s refit introduced oak panelling and bannisters. The bell pushes behind the seats allowed customers to call for service.  Upstairs is a room used in the past to hold manorial courts.  

During questions Elizabeth described the records kept by her Service. The West Yorkshire Historic Environment Record lists the sites of all known archaeological sites and historic buildings including industrial sites, some of which have detailed records and research findings available for public perusal by appointment. It has a collection of many maps, thousands of photographs, and a reference library.

Elizabeth’s enthusiasm was infectious and the wealth of examples she presented were fascinating. She often focussed on the telling detail in construction or fittings, such as the bell pushes in the Cock and Bottle or the cinema’s plasterwork at Middlestown Co-operative building, which conveyed so much about how buildings had been used and who had used them. The lecture highlighted the value of the monitoring and recording provided by Elizabeth’s Department as buildings change so rapidly and so much is lost. 

Wednesday 12 March 2014
Members evening following the AGM

The talks after the AGM were all related to the Waterfront Project which is now coming to an end. Pam Judkins gave a general introduction on how maps and trade directories could track how the waterfront area changed over time.

Stella Robinson described how she had been researching one particular street, Wellington Street, and
following the people who lived there through censuses and other sources.

Shirley Levon talked about the work she had done looking at the whole area for one particular year, 1851, and using similar sources was able to produce statistics on where people had come from and the different occupations represented in the area.

Lesley Taylor played selected extracts from interviews given by local people about their memories of living or working on the waterfront. Memories of childhood and recollections of the impact of floods were themes that recurred in several of our interviewees.

Wednesday 12th February 2014
Old for New: Fifteen Years of Archaeological Discoveries in the Wakefield District by Pam Judkins

A surprising number of brave souls raised the latch of the Chantry door to escape from the howling wind and rain on the wildest night of the winter so far. They were rewarded with a wide-ranging and informative talk.

Pam has had a long career in Wakefield Museums, including working on the archaeological collections, so that she has been closely involved with local archaeology in her professional capacity. She pointed out that as a result of changes in planning policy guidance in the 1990s about ten times more archaeology has been undertaken in recent years. This is because planners are required to consider the archaeology of any proposed developments, and developers are obliged to pay for archaeology where it is deemed necessary before changes are implemented. Archaeological techniques used include desktop studies, aerial photography, geophysics and field walking, with excavation being the final weapon in the archaeologist's armoury.

Development takes place for a variety of reasons. Some remarkable discoveries have resulted from new road developments like the Ferrybridge A1/M62 interchange and the Hemsworth link road. Repairs like those on Went Bridge which carried the old Great North Road or renovations as at Hanson House in Normanton provide opportunities for more careful study. Open landscapes like the Normanton Industrial Park extension show that early settlement has often occurred in the past in areas where there is none today. Requirements for new housing on the edge of towns have exposed old industrial sites like tanning and pottery kiln remains in Pontefract, the medieval tanning or dyeing in Westgate, Wakefield, or the glass and brick works at Hightown in Castleford. Leisure developments like the Hepworth Wakefield, the Visitor's Centre at Bretton or the new footbridge at Castleford are another opening for archaeology.

The Ferrybridge interchange archaeology has been perhaps the most exciting. A considerable landscape devoted to the dead was exposed consisting of a large henge with a double ring surrounded by other monuments and burial mounds. The unusual chariot burial found there seems to show that this area remained a centre of ritual for a wide community for many years through the Iron Age and the Roman period and beyond. Land earmarked for extension to the Welbeck site has pushed back the evidence for the homes of early settlers in our area by 1000 years.

Occasionally new sites provide evidence which will rewrite history. The kiln site in Pontefract produced pottery known as Stamford Ware which archaeologists previously thought was made only in Stamford in Lincolnshire in the 11th and 12th centuries. Now views of its origins have to be re-thought: not only was it also being made in Pontefract, but scientific dating shows the kiln at Pontefract was just before the Norman Conquest. This project involved many volunteers, including members of our own society, who washed and pieced together the pottery allowing a more comprehensive analysis of what had been found. Sometimes sites raise expectations which are disappointed: it wasn't possible to excavate the dry dock and boat yard on the Hepworth site because of contamination; hopes of finding Roman wharves on the riverfront when the Castleford footbridge was built, were dashed.

In questions after the talk John Goodchild deplored the inaccessiblility of all this information. Although reports from all the sites mentioned here are lodged in the County Historic Environment Record (HER), most are not published. The HER is at present housed in the Registry of Deeds building in Newstead Road in Wakefield to which pre-arranged visits are welcome.

8th January 2014. The new Wakefield Archives: The progress of the bid for the new Kirkgate site, by Teresa Nixon, Head of Archives, and members of her staff         

As the January lecture was our Society’s turn to host the yearly joint meeting with the Civic Society we selected a larger venue, the Orangery, to accommodate both memberships. With well over fifty audience members this was a wise decision.

Teresa Nixon provided an overview of the situation in which the Archives have found themselves and then outlined the current progress made in pursuing Heritage Lottery Funding to enable the construction of a new home for Wakefield Archives.

The Wakefield Office of the West Yorkshire Archive Service is in the purpose-built Registry of Deeds building, dating from the 1930s, and situated just behind the College in Margaret Street. In itself the West Riding Deeds Registry is a huge resource maintained from the early eighteenth century and in operation until 1970, one of only four such registries in the country and perhaps the best and most well-indexed. With the Deeds Registry and all the former West Riding records making up two-thirds of the Archives housed (the other one-third being the Wakefield collections) this is a facility that serves a wide and large community. However, a few years ago the National Archives advised that the building did not meet their standards for record repositories and since then the Local Authority and the other West Yorkshire authorities have been searching for a solution.

A Heritage Lottery Bid was initiated to build a new Archives and a year ago approval was granted for this bid to pass into the second phase during which detailed plans are being drawn up using a development fund of £200,000. These are in three parts: firstly the building specifications and plans to provide a secure and stable environment for the collections, secondly the plans for activities and the involvement of users with better access and more welcoming facilities to encourage public engagement, and thirdly a conservation management and maintenance plan.

The site of Crown House has been selected for the new building as part of the wider Kirkgate regeneration. It will be three stories high with the public spaces on the ground floor. The higher floors will be used for the strong rooms needed to house the documents and will include twenty years’ worth of expansion space. These will contain the very important collections now in the Registry building: the countless volumes of the Deeds Registry itself and all other West Riding records, and a vast coal-mining collection which is currently underused. The John Goodchild Collection is a very significant component of the bid and there are large collections from Nostell Priory and Stanley Royd. These and many other resources help to tell the story of Wakefield and the wider region.

The Public Consultation for the whole scheme with the architects’ plans available for perusal is to be held on Friday 31st January and Saturday 1st February from 10am to 4pm in an empty shop on Kirkgate on the corner of George Street (please note that the Thursday evening opening announced in the lecture is now cancelled). Teresa urged the audience to come and study the plans and learn more about the proposals.

She then introduced Gary Brannan who is responsible for the Wakefield Offices and is Eservices and Offsite Services Co-ordinator at West Yorkshire Archive Service.
Gary emphasized that the core function of an archive to hold documents and make them available to the public would not be altered, but there would be changes in the way things were done.

Gary recognised that an archive visit can be a very daunting experience for new users. He showed pictures of facilities in other newly-designed archives to provide a flavour of the kind of welcoming atmosphere and pleasant visitor experience the Service would like to provide. The aim is to have a lighter airier building, more flexible, accessible and more easily staffed than at present, with spaces for groups working together as well as for individual research, for display and for visitor storage. He is enthusiastic about the possibilities of cutting-edge technology in making the collections easier to access and understand. He also mentioned that the other services currently using the Registry of Deeds, the Ecology Unit and the Historic Environment Record, will also be housed in the new building.

The third speaker was Shirley Jones Head of Conservation at West Yorkshire Archives. Her recent work has been to quantify the total collection to be housed in the new building. These consist of huge quantities of documents and volumes of all shapes and sizes in many different types of collection. Much packaging, bar-coding and jacket-making has been going on, often using volunteers. On the ground floor of the new building will be the conservation room with facilities for training courses and work by both professionals and volunteers.

Questions covered further points: The bid is for £3.5 million. The present building will be sold. Assuming a positive outcome from the Heritage Lottery in late 2014 it is hoped that the building programme can be completed by the end of 2015 or early 2016. Teresa described the stringent National Archive Standards which must be met in the design of the strong rooms to avoid fire, humidity etc. An interesting question was raised about the work done by the Archive Service to digitalize many of the most heavily used documents so that these are available on line. Millions of users now find records from this and other Archives on line through programmes like Ancestry. There is also an on-line catalogue that is constantly being improved so that accessing documents on site becomes quicker. The impact of these developments on visitor numbers and spaces required in the building was questioned. A small library is under consideration. It is certain that the Archives will have increased opening hours and that advice available from qualified staff will continue.

Following the lecture, coffee, tea and biscuits were provided and many members of both Societies took the opportunity to chat and enjoy the venue.

11th December 2013. As the York Mystery Plays are to the City of York, so the Towneley Plays are to the City of Wakefield” – true or false? by Peter Meredith: Emeritus Professor of Medieval Drama, University of Leeds.

The Towneley plays were a series of 32 short plays based on the bible stories but it is not known where they were performed. Wakefield certainly had a Corpus Christi Play in the middle of the sixteenth century, but no text survives. It is possible that the Towneley Plays, named because they were in the collection of the Towneley family are the missing Wakefield plays. Despite many years of debate, the question is still an open one. This talk looked at the evidence - old and new - for the Towneley plays’ connection with Wakefield.

Peter began the December lecture by presenting the extremely limited evidence - just three or four sources from the 1550s and 1570s - of plays being performed in Wakefield.  In comparison the records for the staging of the plays in York are various and many. Peter provided maps showing the town centres of York and Wakefield: he had marked the stations where the plays are known to have been presented in a circuit around York. In contrast Wakefield’s streets meet centrally suggesting a different staging, perhaps with a fixed space or spaces near the Parish Church. With a smaller population and fewer guilds in Wakefield only a selection of the plays may have been performed at any one time.

The Towneley text itself is a persuasive piece of evidence for Wakefield performances. Local names are included in the text: ‘Gudeboure at the Quarelle hede’ is Goody Bower, a track leading to an early quarry site in the heart of Wakefield near the present Elizabethan Gallery at the head of Trinity Walk. Also the shepherds mention ‘Horbery Shrogys’.

New evidence that the Townley plays are linked with the local area has recently been found in an alchemical treatise studied in the United States. An annotation in the margin of the manuscript known to be by one John Postlethwaite from Pontefract is a misquotation from the Towneley Plays. This could suggest that the plays were performed in more than one place in the neighbourhood of Wakefield.

Peter commented on the appropriateness of the Chantry setting for the discussion of these medieval plays and when he quoted from the original texts the words resonated and seemed familiar. He introduced us to the distinctive language of a writer who has come to be known as ‘the Wakefield Master’ by performing short sections from the text. This writer often directs his speeches at audience members making the pieces very realistic and humorous, and he likes to use food imagery. A handful of plays display the Master’s distinctive stanza form and, in literary terms, are regarded as among some of the best of all the surviving texts. He is likely to have been local and well educated, perhaps as a churchman or manorial administrator. Other Towneley plays are very similar to plays in the York series, some with stanzas added or altered and some identical.

In summary Peter felt that the evidence pointed to a clear relationship between Wakefield and the Towneley set of plays. He introduced the connection between the likely date of recorded performance in the 1550s when Mary Tudor was re-establishing a Catholic country: the plays might have been used to promote this. The fact that these appear to have been performed in the 1570s is remarkable: despite their great local popularity the performance of York plays had stopped by 1569, already eleven years into Elizabeth’s reign.

After the lecture the questions pursued further the timing of the evidence for the performance of these plays during the changing religious backdrop of the reigns of Mary and Elizabeth Tudor. Another area of interest was in stage directions and staging. Peter had advised on performances of the plays in Wakefield in 1980 and had opted for fixed stages placed outside the Cathedral.

13th November Northallerton: the Evolution of a County Town by Jennifer Allison

As this lecture provided the opportunity to compare and contrast the evolution of Northallerton with that of Wakefield as a county town, our speaker was at pains to point out that Northallerton was in many ways very different from Wakefield: it had no main river or river crossing, no important castle or even surviving manor house, and no mining or industrial enterprises. It had always been a small place, hardly more than one long shopping street, with very little claim to fame. In 1673 the Hearth Tax Returns gave a population of 846 and in 1728 there were 1,090 inhabitants. By the first Census in 1801 the town had 2,138 inhabitants: these figures could be roughly quadrupled for the town of Wakefield.

The OS map of 1850 illustrated the continuity in the development of Northallerton from the medieval period when the burgage plots along the main street were originally laid out. A Charter for a market was granted by the Lord of the Manor, the Bishop of Durham, and, although the Middle Ages were blighted by attacks from Scotland and the Black Death, the town began to grow and the markets to flourish after this period. The Lord of the Manor was largely absentee and the small town had no Council or Corporation. The vestry of ‘four and twenty’ and their officials managed parish business. Unlike Wakefield, Northallerton did have two MPs who attended the Parliament held by Edward 1 in York in 1298 but there were no further attendances until the 17th century. By the end of the eighteenth century, through buying up the freehold burgage properties, Northallerton’s Parliamentary representation was controlled by the county families of Pierce and Lascelles as a pocket borough. Even the local Magistrates came from the countryside around rather than the town.

However, an important asset of the town was its position on the very busy Great North Road. From the medieval period travellers along the route established a series of comfortable stopping places, and the Bishop’s Palace in Northallerton, renovated for the purpose, catered for important travellers. Later great inns served this purpose. At the same time the road was used by drovers from the North, and Northallerton’s markets and fairs were huge, spreading out down its wide main street. Black cattle and horses in particular were bought and sold, the market for locally-bred horses being fuelled by the many Continental wars of the eighteenth century. Early Enclosure by agreement allowed agricultural improvers to take full advantage of the excellent pasture in the region. Butter and cheese were successful products from the area serving the London market through the port of Boroughbridge. By the late seventeenth century commercial activity as shown in Northallerton wills was creating rich urban tradesmen such as drapers, grocers, tanners and innkeepers. One grocer left £1000 and had a nine hearth house. In 1739 the town was described as ‘new paved with fine houses of brick and stone’ and in 1730 there were four largish inns in a row along the main street. The road brought postal services at an early date to Northallerton. In 1745 a turnpike trust was set up for the section of the Great North road from Boroughbridge to Durham and Northallerton prospered from the rapid growth of coaching in the later eighteenth century. Cock fighting flourished in the town, and the races, established in the mid-eighteenth century, were held for three days a year. The road brought all manner of traffic through the town from livestock to passing armies.

However, county functions in Northallerton were slow to develop: the important meetings of the magistrates at Quarter Sessions who conducted much county administration and justice, were the main county-wide activity. These were held in a variety of places in the seventeenth century but rarely in Northallerton. Gradually the pattern of six meetings became fixed but Northallerton was only visited once each year whilst Thirsk was used twice. Eventually Northallerton was chosen in 1735 as the home of the Registry of Deeds and the elected role of Register was much coveted by county gentlemen as a sinecure. The Register House, constructed for this purpose, still survives. Then in 1780 it was announced that all prisoners in county jails should work, but the House of Correction for North Yorkshire in Thirsk was small, old, and in need of repair. Again, a new building which included a Court House was constructed on a site in Northallerton. This was perhaps the turning point for the town: Northallerton became a centre for county business and the JPs made themselves comfortable there for their meetings. Although the new railway of the 1850s cut through the Race Course it did bring another major transportation system through the town, and in 1888 when County Councils were set up many of the Justices became the first Councillors, and it seemed obvious to place the new prestigious County Hall in Northallerton beside the station.

As the lecture progressed some common features in the development of the two towns did emerge. In the Georgian period both towns derived prosperity from being situated on major transport routes, holding great livestock and other markets, and building fine inns and houses, urban amenities and leisure facilities as a result. In both cases centrality, communications and convenience led to a series of decisions to site county functions in the two towns and gradually led to their recognition as the county towns of their respective Ridings.

9th October 2013, Educating Ossett by David and Deborah Scriven

Our October meeting consisted of two short and lively lectures, the first given by David Scriven, the second by his wife and one of our Vice Presidents, Deborah. 

David traced the history of the Ossett Mechanics Institute founded in 1850 with the support of the Yorkshire Mechanics Union. Crucially the latter body required that the Institute should be non-denominational and non-political, overcoming earlier obstacles to such an establishment. The Institute’s aim was ‘the moral and intellectual improvement of the members’ and a circulating library, a reading room, evening classes and lectures were organised to serve this end, all supported by membership subscriptions. David’s lecture traced the changing fortunes of these facilities, the growth of the library, the abandonment of lectures in the 1870s, the demand for more technical classes, and the addition of new activities and services, such as the cricket team and the savings bank. All these reflected national social, economic and political shifts, which David made clear in order to provide the wider context of the local scene.

In the 1880s the Institute built its own premises but gradually the membership dropped and some facilities grew less popular. In 1897 Ossett Borough Council took over the flourishing Technical School provision and adopted the Library to mark Queen Victoria’s Jubilee. Today the building still survives as Ossett Public Library.

Deborah’s curiosity about a controversial headmistress at St Ignatius School was aroused by a large file of papers she noticed during a Society trip to the National Archives. The research that followed revealed a dispute which demonstrates the problems which were faced in meeting the requirements of the 1902 Education Act.  This placed all elementary schools, both Voluntary and Board, under one administration for the first time, introducing the new Local Education Committees with powers to raise rates, and to pay and supervise teachers and equipment. The churches maintained the buildings of the former Voluntary schools and provided religious instruction. These bodies had to learn to work together.

St Ignatius School Ossett had been open since 1883 and in 1905 Miss Katherine or ‘Kate’ Phelan was appointed as headmistress: she had two supplementary teachers working with her. Very soon reports from inspections were critical of the teaching, learning and discipline of the school and the Catholic managers of the school, who also found Kate uncooperative, decided to dismiss her. However a Local Education Committee enquiry - with NUT pressure and a Senior HMI’s judgement  - supported her. The Catholic managers then complained to the Board of Education about the Ossett Education Committee and Miss Feelen focussing on the lack of satisfactory religious instruction in the school. Eventually the Divisional Inspectorate decided Kate should be dismissed and she was given notice in July 1907. Deborah has not been able to trace her subsequent career for certain, but St Ignatius had six headteachers in the following eight years.

Deborah’s deft unravelling of this acrimonious dispute inspired members of the Society to speculate widely about the possible reasons behind this breakdown in working relationships: was it poor pay and conditions, an overbearing Catholic management, or an ineffective, difficult headteacher? We will never know, but this talk put real flesh and bones on the impact of new legislation in Ossett at this period.

11th September 2013, Domesticating Electricity by Graeme Gooday, Professor of the History of Science and Technology, University of Leeds.

In the late Victorian period, the introduction of electric lighting into the home was seen as both dangerous and expensive.  Early lighting was regarded as unreliable, producing a bright, glaring and unpleasant light. It was only with the introduction of incandescent lights that electricity began to be accepted in the home. However it was still regarded with great fear, particularly by household servants and so a campaign was mounted to glamorise electric light, imbuing it with artistic qualities, symbolising truth and beauty. Dancers in the first performances of the operetta “Iolanthe” had fairy lights in their hair (and lead acid batteries hidden in their skirts).  Mrs J.E.H. Gordon produced a book called “Decorative Electricity” extolling its virtues, while Society hostess, Lady Jennie Churchill’s was probably the first private London home to have electric light around 1883. However many ladies still detested the brightness and harshness of the lights which revealed lines and wrinkles in their complexions and gave them headaches. So Lady Thomson began to produce silk lampshades to soften the glare and soon many ladies followed suit.

From the early 1890s the pace of installation speeded up as more people began to realise that electric lighting was safe. In Yorkshire, Bradford was the first town to adopt the new system and by 1905 most towns had a supply. Although there was a proposal in 1883 to install lighting in Wakefield, it was only after an official visit to the opening of the Leeds supply ten years later that that Robert Hammond was appointed as consultant and plans moved ahead. The main generating station was built at the top of Westgate in 1897 and in 1898 the County Municipal Buildings opened with one thousand electric lights.  In 1905 the first private residents to request electric lighting for their homes were H.G. Jarvis and his neighbours in Hatfield Street.