This history of Woodlesford was written by local historian Albert Brown and published in a pamphlet to mark the centenary of Woodlesford School in 1979.
The village of Wridlesford, Wridlesworth or Wriglesworth, for these are all ways in which Woodlesford is written in the Rothwell parish registers, gave its name to a family of distinction in the 12th and 13th centuries.
Farrer, in his ‘Early English Charters’, quotes Sampson de Wridlesford as Steward to Robert de Lacy, in 1190. Sir John de Wridlesford attested an agreement at Martinmass in 1246. In ‘Calverley Charters’ 43, Walter de Wridlesford’s daughter, Emeline, married Hugh de Lacy, of Pontefract. This Walter de Wridlesford sold all the family properties in Yorkshire in 1251 and. went to live in Sussex. The family died out when the last De Wridlesford was killed in the Crusades.
In the old days, it would seem, Woodlesford never had any one prominent industry such as coal mining at Rothwell Haigh and at Carlton, or the quarrying at Oulton. Colliers and quarrymen are recorded “of Woodlesford” in the registers but they were mostly employed in the adjoining hamlets of Waterloo, Astley and Oulton.
Probably in days long gone by Woodlesford folk depended on the river trade or the pack-horse traffic using the British trackway which Batty says “anciently ran from the coast of Wales, in the west, through Chester and via the Pennine Gap to the ford across the River Aire at Woodlesford, to York, and along to the east coast at Bridlington Bay.”
In his ‘History of Rothwell’ Batty records that Sally Armitage, before the time of the Brandlings at Middleton, transported coal from the pits there, in panniers on the backs of asses, down to the boats at Swillington Bridge.
The Hirst family who made gypsy caravans at the old Needless Inn, on top of the hill, from the middle of the 19th century, were in earlier times boat builders at a place at the bottom of the hill.
Alf Walshaw lived in one of a row of stone cottages in Church Street and worked at the Fanny Pit in the 1920’s. His baptism is recorded in “The Rothwell Parish Magazine” from 1881, now in the library at Rothwell. He was a thick set little man with a somewhat florid face. He was quietly spoken with a dry kind of humour and often with an impish gleam in his eye, if he should catch you falling for one of his outlandish tales.
He also claimed to be a Garforth man although his family had not lived there for several generations. He said one of his forebears, a blacksmith by trade, had moved to Woodlesford because there was more money to be made by acting as a guide and protector to itinerant wool merchants travelling on horseback, and sometimes on foot, between Dewsbury and York.
In those times the wild wastes of Swillington Moor and Hook Moor were the haunts of footpads and highwaymen. At least he could have been telling the truth about his origins because several families named Walshaw are recorded in the Garforth parish registers for the l6th and 17th centuries.
Another blacksmith of Woodlesford, in the middle of the 19th century, was a well known bare knuckle fighter. It was said he was “The Squire’s Man” whose friend, a gentleman of York, also had a champion, a prize fighter known as “The Tinker of York”.
A bare knuckle contest, for a purse of £5, was arranged to take place in a field at Woodlesford behind the Two Pointers. It began at nine o’clock in the morning. In those days there were no rounds, as there is in modern boxing, so the two contestants fought until the seconds of either man thought that their man was in need of a rest. They stopped the fight by jumping into the ring and waving a towel.
The referee then stopped the fight temporarily. When he judged the two men had rested long enough, and that could depend on the amount of beer he had drunk in the interval, the fight would be re-started. About twelve o’clock the whole thing was brought to a halt for a meal interval. The gentry and the well-to-do went into the Inn for a hearty meal and the other spectators repaired to the well stocked tables, set up in the field behind the Inn, for beer and sandwiches.
About an hour or so later the fight was re-started with the two men setting about their work in brisk style. However, this did not last very long. Soon the length of time spent in fighting grew shorter and shorter and the intervals of rest which they took between ’rounds’ grew longer and longer. At about four o’clock in the afternoon neither of the two men could be got back on to their feet and the referee almost started a riot amongst the gambling men when he declared the contest to be “No fight”.
The spectators eventually went their different ways but The Blacksmith of Woodlesford and the Tinker of York had to be hoisted on to a flat cart and taken off to Leeds Infirmary.
One of the earliest industries at Woodlesford was paper making, and there was a paper mill “in the goit” in 1743. Part of an agreement, made between the Aire and Calder Navigation Company and Sir John Lowther, dated 16th January, 1743 states: ‘The paper mill, at Woodlesford, shall have the use of the water in the Cut (Cryer Cut) doing no damage to the Navigation but in times of scarcity of water the boats there navigating shall be the first to be served with water”.
In October 1779 Mrs. Crompton claimed recompense from the Aire and Calder Navigation Company for “some damage done to her paper Mill, at Woodlesford” and the Company instructed “Mr. Gott to settle with her”.
The Leeds Intelligencer, 2nd. August, 1791 advised its readers: “A few days ago was married Mr. Oddie, Officer of Excise, at Rothwell, to Miss Crompton, of Woodlesford”. The Rothwell parish registers show the wedding took place llth July between Thomas Oddie and Esther Crompton. The bride’s brother gave her away and Ann Crompton, the bride’s sister was a witness.
Joseph Crompton Oddie, who contributed £3,000 towards the cost of building Woodlesford Church is assumed to be a son of the aforesaid marriage. He became the owner, or part owner, of several small local industries, apart from the paper mill. One was that of lace making and the large stone building, now in an advanced state of dis-repair, behind his former home, ‘The Hollies’, now converted into three cottages at the end of Alma Street, is said to be one of those lace mills.
The property, which overlooked the paper mill in times past, is described in an early 19th century document as a dwelling house, barns and stables. It is here the Crompton’s lived in the 18th century and the derelict stone building was probably no more than what it looks – an old stone barn.
Before the introduction of modern machinery, lace making, like that of match box making at Rothwell, was always a cottage industry where families made lace in their homes, before the finished product was removed to a central collection point.
The stone house, No. 7 Holmsley Lane, belonged to Lord Stourton at one time. It came into the possession of J.C.Oddie after some ‘horse trading’ concerning the mineral rights under Mr. Oddie’s lands which Lord Stourton wished to acquire. A local belief that the house was once a Hunting Lodge belonging to the Stourtons and Mowbrays is probably no more than a little bit of local colour even though 200 years ago Woodlesford Common would be well stocked with hares, woodcock, woodlark, curlew and maybe a few red grouse and wild duck from the flat lands beside the River Aire.
Swillington Bridge Pottery was in the township of Woodlesford. It was built in 1791 by William Taylor who had previously owned the Pottery at Rothwell. It was on the south side of the River Aire, west of the bridge, where the Leeds University boat house now stands. By 1814 it had come into the hands of William Wilks who transferred it to his son, William Wilks, Jnr.
The property then consisted of a dwelling house, pottery, lime kilns and a wharfe. From 1817 it was worked by William Wildblood who had it for several years. In 1833 it was being worked by James Reed and Benjamin Taylor. In 1833 Wm. Wilks sold out to Sir John Lowther who, when the lease of the pottery ran out in about 1844, closed the pottery down, it is said, because he was tired of the smoke from the pottery blowing across his estate.
A ‘new’ pottery was established at Woodlesford, on a piece of land called Farthingsworth at the bottom of Pottery Hill. The precise date when it began working is not known, but Charles Collins, the potter there, was declared insolvent in 1819. He relinquished the lease, or sold the property, to Mr. Wilks. The new pottery was then equipped for the manufacture of coarse earthenware.
In 1831 a new lessee began the manufacture of Blackware pottery; possibly the kind of pottery made with the addition of powdered basalt to the normal pot clay. It was said to give an ‘arty’ blackstone appearance to the finished pots. William Wilks Snr died in 1838 and the pottery was sold to Thomas Hall, a butcher, but this did not interfere with the lease of the pottery.
In 1837 Thomas Wildblood, and his son Thomas Jnr. had taken the pottery and they remained until the death of Thomas Wildblood Snr. in 1842. By 1849 there was a new management. Benjamin Taylor and his new partners, James Shackleton and William Gibson, were the potters. In 1861 the partners had departed and Benjamin was the sole occupier until 1881. You can see Benjamin Taylor’s name on the foundation stone of the Board School, in Church Street, Woodlesford. The pottery closed in 1896.
18th and 19th century maps show a windmill in Holmsley Fields. Batty, in his ‘History of Rothwell’ says there was a stone windmill there owned by William Dawson, of Woodlesford, and later by John Flockton, of Rothwell. About 1839 the windmill was in the possession of John Flockton but it appears to have become vacant soon after, although it continued to be shown on maps of a later date.