Dan Ivor James

A group of parishioners meet the Rev. Dan Ivor James on a return visit he made during the incumbency of the Rev. Alan F. Payne. Left to right: Elizabeth Carr, Dorothy Nicholson, Amy Westmoreland, Betty Benson, Rev. Payne, Robert Nicholson, Rev. James, Annie Breckon, Annie Thorp, Stella Madeley, Edith Westwood.

Rev. Dan Ivor James was the third vicar at Woodlesford from 1925 to 1962. Born at Aberdare in Glamorganshire in 1885, where his father was a schools inspector, Dan Ivor was educated at the county school in Llandilo and went from there to University College of Wales, Aberystwyth, from where he graduated with a science degree in 1905.

He moved to Sidney College at Cambridge and was one of the top students in the Natural Science Tripos in 1908. When the time came for part two of his examinations he was suffering from measles so his doctor arranged for him to sit them in a separate room attended by a nurse. According to a newspaper report he was taken there by car and “stimulants were administered at frequent intervals.” Afterwards he was sent straight home and back to bed learning a few weeks later that he earned a “double first” degree. 

He then studied for an M.A. for three years, probably in theology, before spending about a year as a professor of chemistry at a college in South Africa returning to England from Cape Town on the Edinburgh Castle in December 1912.

After studying at Ely Theological College he was ordained a deacon at Ely Cathedral in December 1913 and a year later became a priest at the Church of St. Mary Magdalene in the Manningham area of Bradford. He left there in 1916 for St. Jude’s in one of the poorest parts of central Birmingham where he was the vicar until 1922. Whilst there he met Jessie Lyall Lee Strathy, the daughter of a doctor, and they were married in 1921.

Crockford’s Clerical Directory doesn’t record where Rev. James was employed between 1922 and 1925. However the electoral register shows that he and Jessie lived at College Court in Hammersmith before moving to Woodlesford.

About a year after he arrived in the parish Dan Ivor took part in the ceremony to unveil the Oulton-with-Woodlesford War Memorial in September 1926. It was dedicated by the Bishop of Knaresborough, Dr. Lucius Smith, who returned a few weeks later, on Sunday 31 October, to take part in a special service at All Saints’ to dedicate a new set of church gates. 

The gift of an anonymous donor they were made of oak, constructed and carved in his workshop by the village joiner, Walter Lockwood. He had served as the church organist for over 50 years. Midway through the service the choir and congregation filed out of the church singing “Onward Christian Soldiers” to watch the Bishop formally untie the gates.

Princess Marie Louise.

A few years later Rev. James was able to secure a rare visit by royalty to Woodlesford in the shape of Princess Marie Louise, a granddaughter of Queen Victoria. Well known for her charitable work the princess regularly went to stay at St. Peter’s convent in Horbury near Wakefield with nuns who ran the House of Mercy, established in 1858 to “rescue fallen women from sin and destruction.”

Dan Ivor was a frequent visitor to the convent and through his relationship with the Mother Superior he was able to invite the princess to open a bazaar to raise funds to pay off a £450 debt on the newly enlarged parish hall.

The princess had just returned from a three month visit to Brazil but she readily agreed to the request, her first public engagement since the trip, and duly arrived, accompanied by the Mother Superior and her lady-in-waiting, Miss Chaplin, on Easter Tuesday in April 1930.

A large crowd of parishioners filled the hall for the opening ceremony which was chaired by Dr. Lucius Smith. According to the Yorkshire Post the 58 year old princess “spoke clearly and earnestly for some minutes, looking tall and slim beside the Bishop of Knaresborough, in a coat of shaved lamb and a close fitting plum coloured hat turned back from the brow with a diamond pin.”

She said most of her life was spent going to bazaars, but she always felt it was a privilege to take part in the bond of union and friendship which bound the church workers together. She was especially glad that her first function since her return from abroad should be in Yorkshire, where she always received “such kindness and hospitality.”

Frank Watson was presented to the princess.

After the speeches the princess was presented with a basket of tea roses by five year old Dorothy Madeley, daughter of miner and church sidesman John Edward Madeley and his wife Dorothy, nee Wigglesworth. She was also introduced to parochial church council members, architect’s assistant Walter Pelham Peters and brewery general manager Frank Watson, along with John Edward Robinson, one of the two churchwardens who was a foreman in the machine room of a wholesale clothing factory.

She then made a tour of the stalls and bought some violets, a pair of baby’s fluffy gloves, a lemon squeezer, cork mats, towels and some plates, which were probably passed on to the residents at the House of Mercy. 

Amongst the parishioners who ran stalls and provided food and drink were men and women, and their sons and daughters, from the following families: Lockwood, Moore, Osborne, Wilson, Jenkinson, Flockton, Hobkinson, Clough, Nicholson, Cowling, Thorp, Penn, Massey, Ramsden, Fox, Wheeler, Boyes, Jones, Newton, Marriott, Sparling, Clapham, Webster, Taylor, and Wilkinson. Market gardener’s wife Annie Angus told fortunes as “Madam Planchette,” and a Miss Irvin, one of the three daughters of the previous vicar, was also listed as a helper. 

After tea at the vicarage school children sang the National Anthem. They waved Union Jack flags and were encouraged to cheer as Princess Marie Lousie was driven back to Horbury.

The following day the bazaar was opened by Leonard Cooper from Roundhay, owner of a Hunslet based firm which erected steel framed buildings, amongst them the Regal cinema in Leeds and the stands at Headingley rugby ground.

Arthur Thorp, Rev. James, Alf Madeley, Bernard Nicholson and Leonard Hobkinson in about 1950. All were heavily involved in the life of the church serving on committees and in the choir. They appear to be on holiday staying at a guest house called Brinecliffe.

During the Second World War Rev. James served as a special constable patrolling the streets at night making sure residents had their blackout blinds drawn. Quite a few were taken to court for not complying with the rules including George Armitage, one of the directors of the quarry and brick making firm. He lived at The Elms in Oulton and in June 1943 was fined 20 shillings for “causing the interior light of a roofed building to be visible during blackout hours.”

Unlike his predecessor, Rev. Irvin, Dan Ivor James doesn’t appear to have been as active in the wider social and political life of the village, preferring to exert his influence in a quieter way through his church work, from his addresses in the pulpit, and in the parish magazine where he often drew comparisons between contemporary events and his religion.

For instance, writing in July 1942 shortly after the Germans had captured the port of Tobruk in eastern Libya, he pointed out that with transport in short supply most parishioners would have to spend their holidays at home. 

“Still, we have pleasant country around us and plenty of fresh air, and we can save our money. We shall want all the fresh air we can get for we shall have to work and to live harder. The lesson of Libya is shortage of men and equipment. More of us will be drawn into more work to release men for the forces, and we shall have to work harder. More of the available shipping will be needed for munitions, so there will be less for bringing us supplies and commodities. That is as clear as daylight. We shall have to live harder, so get all the fresh air you can,” he wrote.

At the same time he was confident enough to criticise the government for what he thought was a bias against the members of church youth organisations like the Church Lads’ Brigade, the scouts and the guides. Their parents had to use precious ventolin no prescription uk clothing coupons to buy material for their uniforms whereas those in government sponsored units like the Air Training Corps received free uniform coupons.

He was also annoyed that the Home Guard and Civil Defence Services held their parades on Sunday mornings reducing attendance at church services. “I know there is a war on, but I also know that the background of this war essentially is a spiritual clash, and unless our youth has a spiritual background, it will not have much upon which to build. It is all very difficult, but it is not made any easier for those of us who feel deeply about these things by thus limiting the opportunities for religious worship.”

Six months later he reported that the church finances were in good order but he was worried again about attendances noting the Christmas 1942 figures were 35 per cent lower than those of the previous year. “I do not know what caused the decrease,” he wrote.

“It was nothing peculiar to ourselves for many of the neighbouring parishes had the same story to tell. It may have been a phase of war-weariness. We are in a critical period, and I think the recent Allied successes have dulled our mental edge to the true nature of things. This country’s military casualties, all things considered, have been remarkably light. But when the invasion of Europe by the Allied forces comes to be a practical proposition, the probability is that our casualties may be of a different nature, and way we may need all our spiritual strength to stand up to them.”

A parish magazine from January 1943. It cost 2d.

After the war and just before the 1950 general election, in which the reforming Labour government was to see its majority reduced to just 5 seats, Dan Ivor James used the parish magazine to rail against the political climate and the development of nuclear weapons. From the text its not clear which way he would have voted but its pretty clear he must have been in the “Ban the Bomb” camp.

“The real backgroud to this election, and make no mistake about it, is the hydrogen bomb,” he wrote. “Our destructive inventiveness has far outstripped are morals. There was a time when the word of an Englishman stood for something fine on the Continent, but I doubt it today. Whatever individual consciences may be, the political conscience seems to have vanished.”

“This country rarely has needed unity more than it does today, unity to pull itself together and support its weight in the councils of the world, to recover its corporate morality, and to be trusted. But in place of unity is preached class hatred, in the train of which follow lying, selfishness, malice and all uncharitableness. And over it all hangs the hydrogen bomb, which is there to stay.”

“To ask nations to agree to forswear its use is just nonsense. If we cannot trust each other enough to pull together, is it likely that we can trust other nations or that they will trust us? Of course not. And so, when you go to vote, remember for a moment, that hydrogen bomb,  which may possibly drop before even the life of this next parliament is normally closed. Using the parliamentary vote at this particular time is very far from being a light matter.”

One of the most tragic incidents during Rev. James’ 37 years in Woodlesford occurred in November 1952 when three members of the same family died in their sleep after breathing in gas which was leaking from a fractured pipe. The Ellis’s lived on Church Street just a few yards from the vicarage and Dan Ivor was one of the first on the scene when their bodies were discovered the following morning.

The tragedy must have affected him deeply and in the following weeks he brought his scientific background to bear in a campaign to have a pungent smell added to the gas supply. At the vicarage he conducted an experiment on himself and wrote to the Yorkshire Evening Post calling for the gas board to take action. His letter and a report in the following day’s paper are reproduced below.

Rev. James died in Birmingham in November 1972 after an accident.

Rev. James and his wife Jessie at their home in retirement at Cleve Prior between Stratford-upon-Avon and Evesham in 1972. Rev. James last parish magazine in June 1962.


Yorkshire Evening Post. Monday 22 December 1952.

Sir, The recent sad cases of coal-gas poisoning in this village and elsewhere would seem to justify some comments and questions.

 (1) It is not generally understood that coal gas poisoning is practically poisoning by carbon monoxide. The content of this in straight coal gas is about 8 per cent. But with the modern practice feeding coke oven gas into the supply this figure is considerably increased, and the result is a really lethal mixture. Should not housewives be thoroughly warned concerning the dangerous nature of what they are using, quite apart from its inflammability? A leak of coal gas is not merely a matter of smell: it is matter of poison.

(2) In former days coal gas possessed a peculiarly penetrating and characteristic odour; it was objectionable, but it was a safeguard. Modern purification methods markedly diminish that odour. The point is of importance, particularly in industrial areas, where other competing and not very dissimilar odours are often prevalent. It also of concern to many older people whose sensitivity of smell is much diminished. I know by experience how easily one’s nose becomes insensitive to the presence of modern coal gas in an atmosphere that has been breathed for some time. Is there sufficient in this gas of the right kind of odour: one that ischaracteristic and penetrating, and is not filtered out when the gas seeps through earth, and to which the nose does not quickly become insensitive?

(3) Of course we are told to report to the authorities a leak of gas when we become aware of it. But that may not be of great help unless the report is attended to promptly and the source of the leak is dealt with quickly and efficiently.

4) I hope there will be a thorough and impartial inquiry into these happenings in order that responsibility for them may be properly allocated and future similar disasters avoided.

Yours faithfully, Ivor James. (Vicar of Woodlesford).


Yorkshire Evening Post. Tuesday 23 December 1952.

For 15 minutes the Rev. D. Ivor James, short, greying vicar ot Woodlesford, near Leeds, entrusted his life to his nose. He filled a room with coal gas from his cooker and then sat there reading a detective story. He was trying to find out how three of his parishioners died.

And at the end of it all he had confirmed his theory that the human nose becomes so used to smells that it won’t give warning that there is dangerous gas in the room.

It was the accidental gassing of two grandparents and their grandchild in Woodlesford, caused by gas seeping through the earth from a fractured pipe outside their home, that prompted Mr. James to take the risk.

First he turned on the gas and waited for it to accumulate behind closed doors and windows. Then he sat down and read a detective story. He coudn’t smell the gas.

The next 15 minutes he spent in the garden to clear his nose, and then returned to the room.

Mr. James said today: “I wanted to show that the human nose could become used to a smell that danger did not register. I don’t believe in arguing with people about such things without knowing what I’m talking about.”

But Mr James doesn’t advise other people to experiment, unless, like him, they possess a “chemical nose” that can soon pick out smell and identify it.

“Coal gas today has been so purifled that it can be dangerous to people whose sense of smell has been diminished,” he said. “Something could be put in the gas so that it could be noticed immediately, but that is the job of the Gas Board.”

An official of the North Eastern Gas Board said today that the Gas Act says coal gas should have a characteristic smell – “Just what we give it. It is up to the public to report any leak immediately,” he said, “and not to try any experiments.”