Alf Rayner

A view of the brewery from Pottery Lane.

Alfred Rayner rose up the ranks of the office staff at Bentley’s Yorkshire Breweries to become the company accountant, a role which he filled until Whitbread took full control of the brewery in 1968.

He was born at 66 Church Street on 1 August 1921. His father, William Rayner, worked as a labourer at Bentley’s and had served in the First World War. His mother was Elsie Nicholson and both families can trace their roots in Woodlesford back several generations. Alf’s great grandfather, John Rayner, was born in Wells in Somerset in 1818 and arrived in Woodlesford with his family around 1850, most probably to work as a papermaker in Oddy’s mill which was near the canal. 

John and his brother William, who also moved to Woodlesford, and was also a papermaker, lived on Alma Place. Alfred’s grandfather, Henry Rayner, married into the Braithwaite family, many of whom were stone masons, and whose links with Oulton go back to at least the early 1700s. 

Alf’s mother, Elsie, was the youngest of the Nicholson family who lived in Church Street in the house he was born in. Three of her brothers served in the First World War. One of them, Colin, was killed in action in France on 12 November 1914.

Alf had an older half-sister called Mary, a younger brother, Charlie born in 1923, and a younger sister, Elsie born in 1928.  He went to Woodlesford School and won a scholarship to attend a grammar school in Leeds, travelling there by train from Woodlesford. 

Alf Rayner pouring the wine at a brewery function in the 1960s. His wife Joan is on his right next to the office manager Geoff Roberts. Beyond him is Kathleen Fowler, the wife of company secretary Charlie Fowler, sitting next to BYB director Albany Hanks. Next to Alf are transport manager Ernest Webster and his wife Lilian who lived in a brewery owned house on Aberford Road next to the Coop. The woman on the end is unknown. Just visible on the right is Ron Kemp  who looked after pubs in the Selby area. On the left is Albany Hanks’ secretary Ivy Hoeg with her husband Danish born Knud “Nutty” Hoeg. They lived on Claremont View in Oulton.

Like many families in the 1930s, Alf’s family needed him to go to work, and he left school to work at Bentley’s, like his father before him. When Whitbread’s took over Alf travelled to work at their Sheffield offices every day for several years until his retirement – quite a commute in those days, especially for someone who had been able to walk to work and home for his dinner every day!

During the Second World War Alf served in the Royal Air Force and afterwards he maintained a lifelong interest in reading and watching tv programmes about the war.

In 1955 Alf married Joan Hughes, whose family lived opposite his at 67 Church Street at the end of a row of stone houses on what is now the outside seating area for the Two Pointers pub. The marriage took place at Woodlesford Church and the family joke was that Joan got in one door of the wedding car and out of the other without it moving, as she lived so close to the church!

Joan had served in the Women’s Royal Air Force during the war and had then taken secretarial jobs around Leeds. Following their marriage, Joan and Alf moved to a new house on Church Lane, Swillington where their daughter Anne was born. The pull of Woodlesford was too strong, however, and in 1961 they returned to another new house at 48 Holmsley Lane next to the then tumbling down Hirst’s farm.

Anne carried on the family tradition of attending Woodlesford School followed by Rothwell Grammar School. Times and incomes had changed and Alf was proud to support her through university, an opportunity he had never had.

After his retirement Alf enjoyed gardening. Joan also ensured he did his share around the house and he became quite a decent cook! They also enjoyed holidays in England and abroad. Alf remained on Holmsley Lane until a couple of years after Joan’s death in 2008 when he moved to a care home in Methley.

A young Alf Rayner outside his home at 66 Church Street.