Geoffrey Hamish Mercer was the vicar at Oulton for 21 years from 1938 to 1959. During that time he did extensive research into the history of Oulton and Woodlesford by looking at old maps and land deeds and collating the information in them with parish registers and burial records.
He also talked to elderly people who had been born in the mid-nineteenth century and wrote down their stories and memories of the past. Using his sources, and without the aid of computers, he was able to piece together a comprehensive historical record of the area stretching back several centuries.
Unfortunately none of Geoffrey Mercer’s work was published in printed form. However a series of handwritten notebooks have survived and they contain a wealth of information including sketch maps of many parts of the two villages. Some of these records and notebooks have now been transcribed and if you click on the links below you can download and read them. One of his sources was a map drawn in 1786 of Oulton and Woodlesford township for the Middleton coal owner Charles Brandling. Copies of maps of the other townships in the parish are now in the Leeds local studies library but the Oulton and Woodlesford map appears to be lost so Mercer’s sketches are an invaluable record. Below there’s also a draft for a pageant of local history written for the Festival of Britain celebrations. It’s not clear if it was ever performed but it may have been incorporated into the script for a Rothwell area pageant which took place in Springhead Park over four days in July 1951.
Geoffrey Hamish Mercer was born in 1890 at Egerton near Ashford in Kent where his father was the vicar. He was sent to a school at Greenwich in London before going on to Selwyn College at Cambridge where he graduated in 1913. The same year he came to Yorkshire to study at the Leeds Clerical School and after being ordained at Wakefield he was a curate at Barnsley and then Lightcliffe near Halifax before serving with the Essex Regiment at the end of the First World War.
After the war he returned to Leeds to the Church of the Holy Spirit at Beeston. From 1920 he spent four years in Mauritius at a theological college before returning once again to Yorkshire to an administrative job in the Ripon diocese. Next came three years as the curate at St Chad’s in Far Headingley and for ten years before he came to Oulton he was the vicar at Pool-in-Wharfedale.
In 1925, at Otley, he married Elsie Powell Briggs, the daughter of a foreman printer at Alfred Cooke’s print works on Hunslet Road.
Below is a link to an official guide to Oulton-with-Woodlesford published in 1927. It was written by Fred Owen who was born in Oulton in 1876. He was the eldest child of William Craven Owen, a bricklayer and mason who had married farmer’s daughter Mary Annie Chadwick in 1875. The family lived at Rose Cottage on Calverley Road. After leaving Oulton school Fred became a clerk and book keeper for a woollen merchant. In 1901 he married Mary Jane Barrett, the daughter of a colliery horse keeper from Methley. For many years, until his death at the age of 56 in 1932, they lived at 1 Roberts Street off Midland Street where Mary Jane ran a small shop.
THE CHURCH GOES DOWN THE MINE. Yorkshire Evening Post. Tuesday 17 March 1953.
A grimy, sweating miner, breaking off for a quick snack at the coal face 380 feet down Water Halgb Colliery, Oulton, today turned to talk a khaki-clad figure at his side. And the talk wasn’t dogs, or football, or “the night before,” but religion and evangelism.
The man in khaki, wearing a miner’s helmet and carrying a miner’s lamp was one of the four Church Army missionaries who started conducting a mission at Oulton on Sunday.
Today the four them – Captain J. Thornton, Captain Raymond Reynolds, Captain Eric Jones and Captain Kenneth King – discarded their clerical grey uniforms and donned Coal Board guest suits (thick woollen shirts, khaki duck suits and heavy boots) and went to see some of the 400 men down the mine. With them went the Vicar of Oulton, the Rev G. H. Mercer,
The reason for the mission’s “descent into the pit” is that the four like to meet men on their own ground.
When they toured local public houses – and they have an invitation to return later to the Three Horse Shoes and hold a full-scale debate – they were told they had no idea at tow the miner lives and works.
“We decided to find out,” said Captain Thornton, the only one of the four who had been down a pit before.
The team were hoping that the miners might have a break together so they could preach to groups at a time. Instead they found that the men broke off singly when they got on top of their work.