Apart from stone quarrying the principal occupation in Oulton and Woodlesford for hundreds of years was farming. In the 19th century most of the land was owned by the Calverley family of Oulton Hall. They had tenants at what’s now called Oulton Farm, but which was earlier known as Home Farm or Hollin Hall. Other tenants occupied Greenland Farm on Farrer Lane and the smaller Manor House Farm next to Oulton St. John’s school.
There were other farms and smallholdings including Croft Farm, now marked by a blue plaque, as it was once the home of the classical scholar and theologian Richard Bentley. Farmers also lived at Fleet Mills. Water Haigh farm off Fleet Lane became the property of Henry Briggs, Son & Company Ltd. when they bought the land to sink the pit in 1908.
At Woodlesford there was Wood End farm. Before World War One it was the childhood home of Meta Hopkins, a girl from Northern Ireland, who, as Meta Mayne Reid, became a famous children’s writer taking her literary inspiration from her childhood playing near the River Aire.
In the early 19th century the Wood End land belonged to the Fenton coal mining family. It passed to the Rothwell pit owners, J. & J. Charlesworth, and in the 1940s was leased by Rothwell Urban District Council. Their tenants were the Hirst family who lived in a house on the site of the Needless Inn at the junction of Homsley Lane and Pickpocket Lane. The Hirsts were well known as the builders of brightly coloured gypsy caravans.
The Calverley tenant farmers were managed by a land agent. In the 19th century the agent was John Farrer who was succeeded by his son of the same name. After that John Hirst took over followed by his son, Fred, and finally his grandson Bernard Hirst.
From about 1932 Greenland and Manor farms were tenanted by Thomas Knowles and his family who had come from Arkendale near Boroughbridge. They were probably related to George Knowles who had been a labourer thirty years earlier for Thomas Murtland, a previous tenant of Greenland Farm.
In 1942 Fred, the eldest son of Thomas Knowles, married the daughter of a Water Haigh miner who had himself migrated from Wales. Fred went on to run Greenland Farm and his brother, Ronald, took over Manor Farm. Both had strong working relationships with Sadler’s piggery which had been established in a disused quarry off Quarry Hill.
After serving in the army, another brother Cecil, who went by the name of Cyril Knowles, became a professional wrestler and promoter. After his death his daughter, Wendy, accepted a lifetime achievement award at a professional wrestlers’ reunion at the Harold Hall in Oulton in March 2011.
Click on the links below to hear Fred Knowles’ son David, who was born in 1945, talk about farm life and the thriving bus and transport business his father built up.