Mill House

William Whitehead and his second wife, Mary Rebecca, outside the Mill House, probably around the time of their daughter Jane’s wedding in 1908.

A windmill on Holmsley or Homsleigh Lane is clearly visible on a map drawn in 1809 and is also shown in sketches by the landscape designer Humphrey Repton which he made at about the same time as designs for the landscaping of the Oulton Hall grounds. In the middle of the 19th century several families appear to have lived at the house and cottages nearby. They included Matthew Wheelwright who worked in the woollen industry and Thomas Leuty who had a factory in Leeds.

William Whitehead, who lived at the Mill House for many years, was the son of a Woodlesford stone mason and was a mason himself marrying his first wife, Jane Elizabeth Stead from Quarry Hill, in 1864. She died in 1871 after giving birth to three children. William remarried Mary Rebecca Toyne from Tattershall in Lincolnshire two years later and by the time of the 1881 census was at the Mill House with her and four children.

In February 1873 he was appointed a sanitary inspector for the Hunslet Rural Sanitary Authority which had been formed in 1872. With local government reorganisation in 1894 it was later known as the Hunslet Rural District Council and William worked for them right up until a few days before his death, at the age of 78, in July 1918. Another role he fulfilled was that of Registrar of Births and Deaths for Oulton, Woodlesford and Whitkirk from 1876 up until 1907 when the sub-districts were rearranged. 

William had the title of “Inspector of Nuisances” which involved inspecting houses and their outside “dry” toilets or privies. He was also responsible for the local roads, gutters and refuse tips where human waste was dumped along with ashes from household fires. Another task was to distribute disinfectant to help householders in the constant battle against infectious diseases. The conditions on canal boats on the Aire and Calder Navigation were another of his responsibilities.

A short obituary in the Rothwell Courier and Times reported that William Whitehead was “highly respected by his co-officials and by the great number of those in the district with whom his work brought him into close association.”

Mary Rebecca Whitehead. The dog was called Lance and is the same as the one pictured outside the Needless Inn on Holmsley Lane.
The wedding of Jane Whitehead to railway clerk Harry Edmund Tombs on 13 September 1908.

In September 1908 William Whitehead’s youngest child, Jane, married railway clerk Harry Edmund Tombs, a grand occasion with some very fine hats on show captured by a photographer as the wedding party posed outside the Mill House. The best man was the bridegroom’s younger brother, Ernest Alfred Tombs, who was also a railway booking clerk working at Heeley station in Sheffield. The chief bridesmaid was Jane’s niece, Ethel Frost. 

After their marriage the couple lived at the Mill House and their daughter Edith was born there in 1910. Harry was the son of a cooper and market gardener from Evesham in Worcestershire. He was 14 years old when he started work on the Midland Railway at Warmley station in Gloucestershire in June 1892. His first job was as a machine lad on a pay of 6 shillings a week, worth about £80 today. The job was the first rung on the clerical grade and involved weighing parcels on large scales on the platform or in the booking office. 

Harry moved about a year later to Mansfield Woodhouse in Nottinghamshire where he earned 10 shillings a week and stayed five years before moving to Woodlesford on 16 shillings a week. His big break came a year later when he was promoted to the salaried staff earning £55 a year which rose to £70 in 1902. When he first arrived in Woodlesford Harry lodged with two other railwaymen at the home of Jane Hobkinson on Princes Street. By 1914 he had been promoted again to a job recording the arrival of parcels at Wellington Street station in Leeds on £90 a year. Harry and Jane were still living at the Mill House on Holmsley Lane when he died in 1964. 

Harry and Jane’s wedding cake.
A windmill is clearly visible on the horizon on one of Humphrey Repton’s sketches in plans he drew for the landscaping of Oulton Park.