Jonathan Muncaster

A view of St. John’s church Jonathan Muncaster would have recognised.

The second incumbent priest at Oulton St. John’s church was Jonathan Muncaster. He took over in October 1834 following the departure of John Kershaw Craig who had moved to Edmonton near London earlier that year. The three month gap between them was filled by John Butterfield, a graduate of Trinity College, Dublin, at the time a curate at a church in Bradford. Amongst the services he conducted at Oulton over the summer was the baptism of the daughter of John Verity, one of the masons who had worked on the construction of the church between 1827 and 1829.

The Reverend Muncaster’s previous parish was Selby but he was already well known to older inhabitants in Oulton and Woodlesford as he had been the curate in charge at Rothwell’s Holy Trinity church from 1811 to 1819 on a stipend of £100 a year, worth about £6,000 a year today. There he officiated at most of the Sunday services and conducted a majority of the baptisms, marriages and funerals. This was because the vicar from 1796 to 1829, Ralph Henry Brandling, seldom visited the parish and continued to live at his family’s home at Gosforth House near Newcastle.

Brandling was able to delegate his duties to Muncaster, and other curates, because the benefice or living was in the hands of his family, owners of the collieries at Middleton which was then part of Rothwell parish. It must have been an exciting period for Jonathan Muncaster as just over a year after he arrived there was an event which is still remembered and celebrated. It was the first successful commercial use of a steam locomotive which took place on the Middleton Railway on 12 August 1812. The locomotive is believed to have been named Salamanca and along with three others was built in Hunslet to a design by the Brandling’s colliery steward or manager, John Blenkinsop. He was buried at Rothwell in 1831.

Whilst he was in Rothwell Jonathan Muncaster and his wife lived in a house on Town Street, now Commercial Street. It had belonged to a lawyer called Samuel Smithson who died in 1801. He came from a farming family which owned a substantial amount of land in the parish in the 18th century including in Oulton and Woodlesford. The Smithson house later became a draper’s shop owned by tailor Samuel Batty.

The fullest insight into Jonathan Muncaster comes in the History of Rothwell published in 1877 by Samuel’s son, John Batty. He collected much of his information from old Rothwell residents. Many would have known Muncaster when they were young and were probably baptised or married by him. The description though was more likely to have been based on their more recent memories from the 1830s and 1840s after his return to take up the incumbency at Oulton.   

“Reverend Jonathan Muncaster,” wrote John Batty, “was a superior evangelical man, imbued with religious feelings, and he kept up the dignity of his sacred office. He interested himself in the eduction of the children of the village. He was well disposed to other religious parties. He was proud of his figure, wore the clerical costume of the day – black cloth or velvet breeches, silk stockings, buckled shoes, and a broad brimmed hat looped up at the sides.” Note the reference to “other religious parties” meaning the members of the Methodist chapels which probably had congregations at least as large as  the Church of England in Rothwell during the 19th century.

Apart from the parish registers there are practically no records of Reverend Muncaster’s eight years at Holy Trinity in Rothwell. Two references in newspaper archives refer to his charitable activities. For instance in October 1815 the Leeds Mercury noted he had raised £25 from Rothwell township to contribute to a fund “for the for the relief of the families of the brave men killed, and of the wounded sufferers, of the British army at the Battle of Waterloo.” Then in July 1819 the Leeds Intelligencer mentioned a sermon he gave resulting in a collection of over £11 in aid of the Society For Propagating The Gospel In Foreign Parts.

During their time in Rothwell the Muncasters would have got to know well the Blayds/Calverley family of Oulton Hall. The banker John Calverley, who changed his name to John Blayds in 1807, lived most of the time in Leeds but came to his country retreat at Oulton at weekends and is known to have worshipped at Holy Trinity where he was buried at the age of 73 in 1827. The relationship may have led John Blayds’ son, also called John, to invite Jonathan to become the first perpetual curate at Oulton from 1829 but for some reason he declined.

Proof that Jonathan Muncaster was highly regarded in Rothwell is found in the parish registers. Almost a year after he had moved to Selby in 1819 he returned for a couple of weeks at the end of August 1820 to perform a number of ceremonies. It was probably at the invitation of the churchwardens to cover for his replacement, Joseph Wardle, who needed a break. Amongst the weddings was that of prominent citizen John Hindle, a surgeon who lived in Oulton, to a widow called Jane Butterworth. In a directory her previous husband, James Winter Butterworth, was described as a “kerseymere printer” of Park Square in Leeds. Kerseymere was a fine woollen cloth used in the printing trade but it’s not clear if Butterworth made the cloth or was himself a printer. The History of Rothwell describes the cloth factory he built in 1806 on land now in Springhead Park.

Jonathan Muncaster was born at Thackthwaite near Loweswater in Cumberland at Christmas 1774 and was baptised on 2 January 1775. His grandfather and uncle were hill farmers but his father, James, had served an apprenticeship and become a shoe maker or cordwainer. Jonathan had three older brothers – John, Ferdinando, and Henry who joined his father in the shoe making and repairing business. It’s not clear when or why Jonathan moved to Yorkshire although one reference places him at Hull Grammar School earning a living as an assistant teacher or usher. At Rothwell in 1790 the registers show a John Muncaster as one of the witnesses to the marriage of William Booth from Pontefract. This may have been his eldest brother.

Jonathan doesn’t appear to have had a university education at either Cambridge or Oxford but qualified to be ordained into the Church of England in 1797. In the same year he was appointed as curate at Beswick north of Beverley. From there he went in the same role to St. Andrew’s in Ferrybridge in the parish of Ferry Fryston, followed by Holy Trinity in Elvington near York. 

In 1801, at St. Andrew’s, Jonathan married Mary Eyre, the daughter of William Eyre. He owned and ran a carting company operating wagons on the Great North Road between Yorkshire and Nottingham, a centre of the lace making and hosiery trade. This connects Jonathan Muncaster to some of the wealth being generated during the Industrial Revolution. One of Mary’s younger sisters, Eleanor, married a silk manufacturer called William Ridge who had premises on Newgate Street in London. After he died in 1825 she quickly married Robert Milburn who continued to run the business known as Ridge, Milburn & Company.

William Eyre died whilst on a visit to the Muncaster’s house in Elvington in 1810 and in his will bequeathed some of his money to Mary and Jonathan. Jonathan’s father also died in the same year and left him £100. The money appears to have been invested in shares in the turnpike road between Selby and Market Weighton which opened in 1793. They also bought into the company owning the bridge at Bubwith, built in 1798 across the River Derwent over which the road passed. It replaced a ferry and speeded up journey times. Both the road and the bridge made money by charging tolls and passing on their profits to investors. The Ferrybridge carting business continued to operate, managed at first by William Eyre’s wife and from 1814 by his son, also called William.

After he left Rothwell Reverend Muncaster spent 14 years as the vicar at St. Mary and St. Germain church in Selby, otherwise known as Selby Abbey. Founded in 1069 it had been home to monks and abbots until the dissolution of the monasteries by King Henry VIII in the 1530s. A brief paragraph in the Yorkshire Gazette on Saturday 15 May 1819 noted that Rev. J. Muncaster of Rothwell had been nominated to the perpetual curacy of Selby by the Honorable Mr. Petre. This was Edward Robert Petre from an old and prominent Catholic family based in Essex. They had long held land in Yorkshire and were lords of the manor of Selby giving them the right to make church appointments. Edward Petre owned Stapleton Park near Pontefract where he kept race horses winning the St. Leger at Doncaster five times in the 1820s. His horses also competed at the Haigh Park racecourse at Stourton. Later he became Lord Mayor of York and sat in the House of Commons.

The ecclesiastical terms are slightly confusing but what is clear is that Jonathan Muncaster became the vicar of Selby as opposed to being just a curate. The situation was made clear in another notice in the Yorkshire Gazette on Saturday 23 October 1819 declaring he had been “appointed surrogate in the room of the late Reverend Thomas Mounsey,” the word surrogate meaning substitute or deputy.

During his years at Selby Reverend Muncaster continued his fund raising activities including in 1821 a contribution to the York Auxiliary Bible Society which sent translations of the scriptures around the world. Other collections came in 1826 and 1827 for a “distressed manufacturer’s fund” during an economic depression following a stock market crash and the failure of many banks outside London. The money raised would have gone to craftsmen like carpenters and other skilled tradesmen, their apprentices and families. Later, in May 1834, he donated to the fund set up to build a school for the blind in York in memory of the Yorkshire MP and anti-slave trade campaigner William Wilberforce.

Jonathan Muncaster’s main achievement in Selby was being in charge of improvements to the Abbey, many parts of which had been destroyed or become decayed through lack of funds in the centuries after the dissolution. In 1824 the nave was brought back into use for services making room for 422 new “sittings” or seats. With a grant from the Society for Promoting the Enlargement and Building of Churches nearly 300 of them were made freely available to worshippers. Regular “pew rents” still had to be paid for the remaining 100 sittings with Selby businessman and amateur architect James Audus paying for nine of the them. Rents from the rest, marked “minister’s pews,” went to augment the income of Reverend Muncaster and subsequent vicars.

In September 1827 the renovated Abbey was the venue for a Grand Musical Festival, the patrons of which were the Archbishop of York and Edward Robert Petre, along with twelve other local dignitaries including Reverend Muncaster. The orchestra consisted of more than 150 musicians performing Handel’s Oratorio of the Messiah and works by Beethoven and Mozart. The most expensive tickets in the Grand East Gallery cost 10 shillings, the cheapest in the North and South Aisle were 2s 6d. A special steam “packet” boat service was laid on daily to bring visitors up the River Ouse from Hull.

Another event attended by Reverend Muncaster was a meeting of the Royal Wallace Lodge of the Odd Fellow’s Society, a mutual organisation which collected subscriptions and paid benefits to members. In May 1830 they marched through Selby to the Abbey where he preached “a very excellent and appropriate sermon” from St. Peter’s gospel.

Four years later, in October 1834, the Muncasters returned to Rothwell parish where Jonathan became the incumbent priest at Oulton. The official announcement of the appointment was made by the Archbishop of York, Edward Venables-Vernon-Harcourt, and was printed in several newspapers: “His Grace the Lord Archbishop of York has been please to license the Rev. J. Muncaster, the perpetual curacy of St. John’s, in Oulton, near Leeds, on the nomination of John Blayds, Esq., of that place.”

John Blayds 1789 – 1868. He changed his name back to John Calverley in 1852.

On one level the move to Oulton was a step down for Jonathan after being in charge of the much larger church at Selby with its more substantial congregation. However he was approaching the age of 60 and the position at the quieter St. John’s with its secure income in an area he was familiar with, was probably an attractive proposition as he grew older. The other reason may have been the large rent free parsonage next to the Nookin with space for relations and visitors. Jonathan and Mary had no children of their own but they seem to have become responsible for other members of the Eyre family. Mary’s sister, Anne, had died at the vicarage in Selby in 1828 and at least two of her brother William’s children are known to have lived with them at Oulton.

The first baptism conducted at St. John’s by Reverend Muncaster was on Friday 24 October 1834, of James, the son of labourer and gardener Jeremiah Walker and his wife Sarah, nee Sowden. Jeremiah was born in Oulton in 1795 and he and Sarah already had several older children. Sadly James died a few days later at the age of 4 weeks and his was the first burial conducted by Jonathan. Sarah Walker was only 42 when she passed away three years later. Jeremiah remarried and was 73 when he died in October 1868.

The church records for 1834 show there were at least three shoemakers living in Oulton and Woodlesford. Given Jonathan’s father and brother had the same occupation it would have been a good conversation starter around the font. Henry, the son of Joseph and Mary Ann Jackson was baptised on Thursday 30 October, followed by Mary, the daughter of Charles and Eliza Birkin the following Sunday, and Thomas, the son of John and Hannah Wilsdon in the last week of November. Joseph Jackson was the only one of the three shoemakers still working in Oulton and listed in White’s Directory in 1837. One of the other names in the directory was that of surgeon John Hindle for whom Jonathan had officiated at his wedding at Rothwell back in 1820. He was 72 when he passed away in April 1839 with Jonathan again conducting the funeral ceremony.

The first recorded marriage ceremony by Reverend Muncaster didn’t take place until nearly a year after his arrival. It may be that he had to wait for authorisation to conduct marriages from the church authorities. This seems odd and there is a long unexplained gap in the register from February 1833 for more than 18 months. His first wedding was eventually that of 17 year old Louisa Jane Morton on Tuesday 15 September 1835 to woollen yarn spinner John Audsley from Dewsbury. She was the daughter of Jonathan Morton, a Methley born carpenter, who later moved to Lake Lock at Stanley and probably worked building and repairing boats for the Aire and Calder Navigation.

In May 1835, Mary, the widow of John Blayds, formerly John Calverley, died. Born in 1758 she was the daughter of the Reverend Charles Downes of Manchester and had married in 1785 more than twenty years before her husband inherited John Blayds’ fortune. After her husband’s death in 1827 she had lived mainly at a large house on Park Lane in Leeds leaving the Oulton house to be used by her son. Instead of being buried in the graveyard or vault of her husband’s church of St. John’s, she chose to be interred with him at Rothwell where her funeral was conducted by the Rothwell vicar, John Bell, instead of Jonathan Muncaster. Four years later her grandson, christened John Calverley Blayds, died when he was only 16 years old. It’s assumed his funeral service was conducted at Oulton by Jonathan but that page from the register is also missing.

The middle to late 1830s were a period of great change in Oulton and Woodlesford and if the Muncasters thought they were going to have a quiet life as they grew older they were to be proved wrong. The Aire and Calder Navigation, then a commercial waterway of canals and stretches of river, would have been well known to them as it had been in place since the early 1700s. Indeed John Blayds was a prominent director and shareholder of the company that ran it. When they came back in 1834 they would have been immediately aware of the excavations taking place to enlarge the locks and construct a new section of canal between Woodlesford and Methley.

Completion of the new “cut” in 1835 enabled bigger boats to carry more freight between the docks at Goole and Leeds but the work brought with it a large number of navvies and they temporarily swelled the population leading to friction with residents. Reverend Muncaster would have been shocked in September 1835 to discover that a sub-contractor, a carpenter called William Hutchinson, had been killed in a drunken fight one night. He was lodging at the Three Horse Shoes inn and had been drinking in the Jolly Knobbler beer shop nearby opposite the entrance to the church. Another carpenter, Thomas Smith, was tried the following March, found guilty of manslaughter, and sentenced to 15 months in Wakefield gaol.

Despite the efforts of the Navigation company to make improvements there was dissatisfaction amongst their customers over their near monopoly and high charges for carrying heavy goods like coal and cloth. As a result business owners started to invest in main line railways. The Muncasters cannot have been unaware of this as a proposal for the first one in Yorkshire, the line between Leeds and Selby, was floated as early as 1814. With their existing interest in a turnpike road it’s possible they were induced to buy shares in the line when a company was formed to build it in 1824. It opened ten years later just a month before they left Selby and it’s entirely possible they made their journey to Oulton by train to the station at Marsh Lane in Leeds and then in a horse drawn and carriage.

A few months after they moved into the Oulton parsonage the great railway engineer George Stephenson was in the area surveying for the much larger undertaking, the North Midland Railway from Leeds to Derby passing through Woodlesford. He had worked with the Brandling family in the Newcastle area so there’s a possibility he may have visited the Oulton house of the Reverend John Bell, whose uncle was Ralph Henry Brandling, the Middleton colliery owner and previous Rothwell vicar during Jonathan Muncaster’s time there.

After a delay, because of opposition from the Aire and Calder company, work on the construction contracts of the North Midland between Methley and Leeds began in 1838. Again there was a large influx of navvies, some of whom met local women and stayed on. Reverend Muncaster would have conducted their marriage services and baptised their children. He and Mary were very likely to have been at Woodlesford station on the morning of Tuesday 30 June 1840 to watch a special train running through to Derby to mark the full opening of the line. Completion of the railway meant it was possible to travel to London in about 8 hours. It’s possible they would have gone by train to visit old friends in Selby by making use of a rail connection via Methley and Castleford with a change at Milford Junction. 

As well as improvements to the transport infrastructure of the country in the 1830s there was also great political change affecting the Muncasters and their parishioners. The Reform Act of 1832, brought in by the aristocratic but liberal Whig politicians, had substantially increased the number of people who could vote. The franchise now included middle class businessmen, small landowners, tenant farmers, and shopkeepers. Another act passed by the Whigs in 1834 was a reform to the Poor Law which had existed since 1601 during the reign of Elizabeth I. The new regulations took away the responsibility for looking after those in poverty from parish and church authorities and gave it to elected guardians who administered prison like workhouses. These had harsh regimes where those in need were confined, segregated by sex, and forced to work for their meals instead of being given handouts of cash, clothing or  food. In Yorkshire the new system was bitterly resented and led to an alliance between the majority of poor workers, who couldn’t vote, and a section of the Tory supporting electorate of property and land owners who preferred the old system.

This all came to a head in 1837 during the first parliamentary election after Queen Victoria inherited the throne from King William IV. The electoral register for the West Riding shows that Jonathan Muncaster was able to vote because of land, and possibly a house or houses, he and Mary had inherited from the Eyre family in Ferrybridge. Interestingly he wasn’t amongst the 64 voters in Oulton and Woodlesford as he was just a tenant of the parsonage and not its owner.

There were three candidates for two seats in the House of Commons for the West Riding. Two were Whigs and one was a Tory. On Monday 31 July in Wakefield, which was packed with more than thirty thousand supporters of both sides, they all gave speeches at an outdoor nomination meeting. Many in the crowd were opposed to the new poor law and after a riot broke out a man and a woman were killed. Troops were sent for and a show of hands for the candidates was abandoned. It’s likely Jonathan and others from Oulton and Woodlesford were there and witnessed all this as they had to go to Wakefield to vote in person. 

A Tory poster from the 1837 election.

Voting was postponed for a few days. It resulted in a clear win for the leading Whig but a narrow victory for his colleague against the Tory. The electoral register shows which way each individual cast his vote. Both Reverend Muncaster and his benefactor John Blayds supported the Tory candidate. The rest of the Oulton and Woodlesford electorate were split roughly fifty-fifty between the two sides.

There are a few other indications of the life and routine of Reverend Muncaster during this period. Under two acts of parliament passed in 1836 he was appointed by the Wakefield guardians as the official registrar for births, deaths and marriages for the Oulton district. This new legislation would have been welcomed by the local Methodists as they were now able to have their own officially recognised ceremonies in chapel rather than at St. John’s church.

Evidence that he continued to raise donations to various charities come from brief mentions in the Leeds newspapers. In September 1839 there was a collection for the Ripon Diocese Church Building Society. In February 1841 over £4 was raised after he read a letter from Queen Victoria and preached a sermon on behalf of the Incorporated National Society for the Education of the Poor in the Principles of the Established Church. A few years later, in September 1845, there was a collection of £9 8s 6d. for the sufferers of a “calamitous fire in the City of Quebec.”

A painting of the Quebec fire in 1845 by Joseph Légaré.

In 1839 Reverend Muncaster became one of the first trustees of Webster’s Charity which still functions today. It gave grants to teenage boys and girls from Oulton and Woodlesford who became apprentices or trainee teachers. It also funded a handout to “respectable” widows from the interest earned by an £8,000 investment bequeathed in the will of lawyer William Webster. He had lived at Balby near Doncaster and died in 1824 but his family had owned land in Oulton and Woodlesford in the 18th century and he had a deep affection for the area and its people.

For an unknown reason it took 15 years for Webster’s two nieces, who lived in London and Bristol, to establish the charity. The other initial trustees were John Blayds, John Bell, Woodlesford paper mill owner Joseph  Crompton Oddie, and “coal king” Kirkby Fenton who lived at Leventhorpe Hall. Two others were also involved during the 1840s until they moved away. William Aldam was a Cambridge educated barrister born in 1813 who knew John Blayds as a fellow West Riding magistrate and director of the Aire and Calder Navigation. James Wilson was a gentleman farmer in Oulton who moved in the 1840s to Potto near Middlesborough.

The first in a long list of widows to receive 10 shillings from the charity at Christmas 1840 was 74 year old Betty Sharp who lived with her son Edward, a canal or railway navvy, and his family in Oulton. It’s doubtful she knew her true age – when she died and was buried at Rothwell a couple of years later she was said to be 78.

Webster’s first apprentice was 14 year old John Berry. The charity paid his joining “premium” of £10  in August 1841 when he was placed with Oulton wheelwright Benjamin Smith for seven years. His father, also John, seems to have travelled around a great deal. He was born at Badsworth but married a woman from Newcastle. Their sons were born at South Hiendley. In the Webster’s Charity handwritten minute book he was described as a labourer but the census records he was a groom. Ten years later he was listed as a coachman living on Dobson’s Row off Quarry Hill in Oulton. Ruth Berry, the Oulton teacher for many years, was his great granddaughter.

After his apprenticeship the young John Berry worked as a colliery carpenter on the Brandling estate in Middleton and lived at Nova Scotia cottages. With his own family he then moved to Leeds and later set up a market garden and florist business in Lofthouse.

The first detailed census in June 1841 shows two live-in servants employed at the parsonage. It’s difficult to trace what happened to the youngest, 17 year old Elizabeth Wood, because her name was very common. The other was Sarah Foster from York who was 31 or 32 and probably did the cooking. In 1849 she married James Morley Morton who appears to have been employed by the ratepayers of the Oulton and Woodlesford township as he was listed as the civil registrar, church clerk, assistant overseer of the poor and road surveyor. Sarah brought up three of James’ sons from a previous marriage and was 85 when she died in Oulton in 1894.

Also at the parsonage in 1841 were Mary Muncaster’s niece and nephew, Jane and Francis Eyre, the grown up children of her brother William. It looks as though Francis was just visiting, but Jane may have lived there for some time. Born in Easingwold in 1812 he  was a merchant. He moved to Hull and was still working as a merchant and commission agent when he died in 1879. His sister was born in Nottingham in 1800. With an independent income, after she left Oulton she moved to Easingwold where in 1851 she shared a house with her mother Elizabeth and unmarried sisters Martha and Rebecca.

Apart from the Blayds family the most prominent worshippers at Sunday services at St. John’s during Reverend Muncaster’s incumbency were the brewer Henry Bentley, his Halifax born wife Maria, nee Stocks, and their five children. A hymn book, printed by Richard Nichols in Wakefield 1834, with the Bentley name embossed on the front cover, is the only artefact surviving from the early days of the church and is now kept at the Leeds Library.

Henry and Maria Bentley’s youngest son, Frederic, was born in March 1837 and curiously his baptism in June isn’t in the St. John’s register. The official record shows he was baptised locally, with the ceremony possibly taking place at the Bentley’s home which was part of the brewery complex before they moved into Eshald House in the early 1840s. This may reflect a degree of animosity between Jonathan Muncaster and John Blayds, as Bentley voted for the Whigs in the 1837 election and they may have been at loggerheads politically. If they had fallen out it appears they were on a more even keel in 1846 when Reverend Muncaster officiated at the marriage Sarah Heptonstall, the Bentley’s housekeeper, to gardener James Pearson of Oulton.

Jonathan Muncaster conducted his last wedding service at St. John’s on 2 July 1846. In September he joined other clergymen for a service, led by Bishop Longley of Ripon, to consecrate the new church of St. Mary the Virgin at Middleton. It was built on land donated by his old vicar from Rothwell, Ralph Henry Brandling.

His last burial was that of Jane, the baby daughter of Thomas Rimmington and his wife Christiana nee Webster, on 4 January 1847. It may have been one of the saddest ceremonies of his long career as she was only 12 days old. After that Jonathan Muncaster  appears to have been ill for several months and died at the parsonage on Friday 28 May 1847. He was buried the following Thursday in the Oulton graveyard after his funeral service at St. John’s conducted by Reverend John Bell. He was 72 years old. Mary Muncaster died three years later on 2 July 1850 and was buried with her husband.

A modern view of St. John’s church.