Feasts and Fairs

The Women’s Guild of Empire float at the Woodlesford carnival on the “Rec” in the late 1920s. The dray was loaned by Harry Kent of Eshald Place who had a small haulage business. Previously he’d been an enginewright at Water Haigh. He’s sitting on the dray smoking a pipe and Albert Butterick, who worked for him, is holding the horse. Ernest Rogers, a weigh clerk at the pit who lived on Bernard Street, is sitting on the shafts. (Photo: Jim Butterick collection.)

Carnivals or feasts were annual events for many decades in both Woodlesford and Oulton. The Woodlesford feast usually took the form of a procession through the streets culminating in a gathering on the recreation ground at the top of Oulton Lane, now built over by the houses of Northwood Falls and Northwood Park. A travelling fairground would also arrive to coincide with the event which took place around Whitsuntide in June. Some years it was held in a field next to the Boot and Shoe pub at the end of Alma Street. 

The feast probably had its roots in midsummer celebrations going back hundreds of years but it definitely became an organised procession and party in Victorian times, most likely after the end of the Crimean War in 1856 when a three day peace celebration was held. 

There were other occasions during the year when travelling fairs stopped for a few days. According to the Oulton vicar, Reverend Geoffrey Mercer, writing in the 1940s, a fair was held at the White Hart in Woodlesford on Sunday 11 July 1875 during which a competition was held to climb a “greasy pole.”  

Mercer also records fairs in July on a triangle of land, originally part of a quarry, bordered by Midland Street and Aberford Road opposite the Midland Hotel. In August 1899 at a meeting of the local council the Woodlesford vicar, Arthur Irvin, claimed that steam roundabouts were causing a nuisance. They “kicked up a tremendous row” and the residents nearby were very much annoyed he said. “People are kept up until past ten o’clock at night when they ought to be in bed and nobody seems to have any control in the matter,” he complained. The clerk referred the matter to the West Riding County Council who were responsible for enforcing by-laws on travelling fairs. After the site was acquired by Dr. Joseph Buck, to build a row of houses along Aberford Road in about 1921, the fair moved to the other side of Midland Street close to the Stockings footpath, also on old quarry workings. It was still held there in the 1940s although in 1949 it was reported that despite “suberb” weather not many people attended the attractions which included a Noah’s Ark, swings, and “the usual sideshows.”

This must have been the fair remembered by builder Harry Taylor when he spoke to the Rothwell Advertiser in 1975. He recalled that it was run by a man by the name of Kit Johnson and had been visiting since he moved to Woodlesford from Methley after the First World War. 

Kit, which was short for Christopher, was born at Seacroft in 1860 where his father, Benjamin Johnson, was a miner. According to the census returns Benjamin appears to have become a hawker during the 1860s and then the owner of a “shooting gallery” which was probably like those still seen at fairs and the seaside today.

Kit also became a miner and brought up a family of nine children at Featherstone but seems to have inherited his father’s business and spent the summer months as a travelling showman. A column called “The Showman World” in The Era newspaper in July 1905 reported that Kit Johnson “with his steam galloping horses and highfliers” had been at the Outwood Feast. Other attractions were marionettes, a freak show, juvenile swings and coconut shies. It’s likely they also came to Woodlesford. Between the wars one of his steam traction engines, built by Fowler’s in Hunslet, spent some time in Young and Doggett’s yard next to the Midland Hotel.

When he died in Janurary 1937 around 300 showmen from all over the country attended Kit’s funeral. He was reported to be a popular figure at fairs on Heath Common near Wakefield and at Harrogate. He also raised money for charity and had received a Royal commendation.

At least one of Kit’s son’s also became a showman. Arthur Johnson was listed as an “amusement caterer” living with his wife in a caravan on Teall Street in Wakfield at the start of the Second World War. One of Arthur’s brother’s, George Johnson, was living there in a caravan next door but working as a railway goods manager. Their sister Betty had married Frank Heyes who was also a showman. She died at Clayton Hospital at Wakefield in November 1936 a few weeks before her father. She’d been taken there after an accident whilst returning from the Hull Fair. According to Harry Taylor she was riding on the back platform of a gypsy style caravan when she fell off after it stopped suddenly and she was run over by the following van.

Geoffrey Mercer’s research also indicates a feast was held at Oulton on Whit Monday when stalls and swings were installed on the main road from near Oulton Lodge, past the Three Horse Shoes, to the junction with St. John’s Street. One feature was a circular ride around the village in a horse drawn, and later petrol engined, wagonette. The route was along Farrer Lane, Calverley Road and back to St. John’s Street. The fare was a half penny and the wagonette was probably owned by the Fox family of Rothwell. As traffic increased the Oulton feast moved to a site on Farrer Lane and then in 1912 to a large field known as the Croft. 

Another regular visitor was Yorkshire Bob’s Show featuring wax dolls and ventriloquism which set up on a site next to Ronnie Carter’s fish and chip shop on Aberford Road.

PEACE REJOICINGS AT WOODLESFORD. Leeds Times. Thursday 12 June 1856.

Following the example set by several of the villages in the neighbourhood of Leeds, the inhabitants of Woodlesford commemorated the return of peace by a praiseworthy demonstration yesterday.

For some days past, a committee of gentlemen have been engaged soliciting subscriptions, and by the liberality of the residents of Woodlesford, the sum of £53 was obtained. With this money it was determined that treats should be provided, of which every inhabitant of the village might partake.

As, however, there would be considerable difficulty in feasting the whole village in one day, the committee arranged that the rejoicings should occupy three days, one being set apart for the males, another for the females, and the third for the children.

Yesterday was the men’s treat. In addition, an excellent procession was got up, which mustered at the top of the village at one o’clock. It was composed of the villagers on horseback and in vehicles, most of whom were decorated with rosettes or carried suitable banners; Yorkshire Hussars, the Rothwell band, the acting committee; and, personating the British Queen, Miss Jane Craven, on horseback.

The procession moved through the village, and at the house of J. Jewison, Esq., surgeon, the “Queen” was presented with a beautiful bouquet of flowers. They then proceeded past the residence of H. Bentley, Esq., to Oulton, thence to Rothwell, and back to Woodlesford.

The appearance of the village was extremely animating; numerous banners were hung across the streets, the cottages generally were decorated with streamers and evergreens; and three well-designed triumphal arches graced the principal thoroughfare. At five o’clock, the hour appointed for dinner, the male villagers assembled in a large tent 180 feet long, at one end of which was a gas device of the initials V. and N., in the centre of which was a crown; on either side were wreaths of evergreens enclosing V. N.

At the opposite end of the tent were similar wreaths. A dais was erected under the gas device, on which many of the influential gentlemen of the village were seated to partake of dinner, and two long tables were occupied by about 270 men, exclusively residents of the village.

Plants and cut flowers were placed on the tables, which imparted to the scene a very gay and pleasant appearance. The Rev. J. Bell, vicar, occupied the chair, and the Rev. R. Hamilton, incumbent, was vice chairman. Grace having been sung, an excellent repast was partaken of; and that there was enough and to spare may be imagined from the fact that 380 lbs. of beef and 50 plum puddings were provided, and each diner was allowed a quart of beer.

The provisions were of the best quality, and the meat was cooked in admirable style at the maltkiln of Mr. Bentley’s brewery.

During the’ dinner, the Rothwell band played a selection of music. The doxology having been sung by the company, the chairman gave the usual loyal toasts. The toast of “the Allied armies and navies” was given with three hearty cheers, after which the healths of J, C. Oddy, Esq., H. Bentley, Esq., H, Harrison, Esq., and H. Woffinden, Esq., were drunk, and thanks given to them for their liberal assistance and contributions to the rejoicing fund.

In the evening, the tables were removed from the tent, and dancing was indulged in for several hours. Today, all the female villagers above the age of eighteen, numbering about 300, will partake of tea, &c., in the tent; and to-morrow the children of the village will be similarly regaled.

Amongst the gentlemen forming the committee of management, we may specially notice M. Wheelwright, Esq., and Joseph Howson, Esq., whose valuable assistance proved of great service in arranging the peace fetes. Everything went off yesterday with the best harmony and the greatest success; and doubtless the happy remembrance of the day will remain fresh in the memories of the Woodlesford villagers for many a long year.

Joseph Crompton Oddy (or Oddie) owned Woodlesford paper mill and 221 acres of farmland. In 1861 he employed 7 men and 1 boy on the land plus 10 men, 15 women and 2 boys in the mill.

Henry Bentley was the proprietor of Bentley’s brewery.

Harrison is probably referring to Richard Harrison who lived at Woodlesford House on Applegarth. He was a timber merchant who died in 1861 at the age of 49. He had married Eleanora Teal the daughter of land surveyor and map maker Henry Teal at Rothwell Church in 1838. His son, Richard, carried on the business.

Henry Woffinden was a corn merchant who lived in Highfield House. Joseph Howson was a butcher. 

Matthew Whitfield Wheelwright was a salesman of woven cloth or “stuff” in the woollen industry who lived in a house on Holmsley Lane near the old corn mill. He married Mary Craven from Oulton at Leeds Parish Church in 1822. He also owned and rented houses. He died in 1872. His son, Edwin, became a woollen manufacturer.

Living close to the Wheelwrights in the 1850s was Thomas Leuty, a Leeds manufacturer. Born in Rawcliffe near Goole in 1819 he was living in Oulton in 1848 and described as a machine maker when he married Elizabeth Brown, a dressmaker and daughter of Richard Brown, a fuller, who came from Sawby near Ripon. Thomas and Elizabeth moved to live in Leeds where he employed 20 men making canvas and sacking. After the birth of their son, Thomas Richmond in 1854, they moved back to live in Woodlesford, and he probably commuted into Leeds by train. Staying with them in 1861 was Elizabeth’s widowed mother, Jane Brown, who owned land and houses back in Sawley. By then Thomas ran a linen factory in Leeds which employed 28 men and 143 women. With growing prosperity the family moved to Headingley and after the death of his father in 1870 Thomas Richard took over the business. He became the Lord Mayor of Leeds in 1893 and from 1895 to 1900 was the Liberal M.P. for Leeds East living at Headingley Lodge adjacent to Headingley House which had been the home of the Marshall family who owned the pioneering flax spinning Marshall’s Mill in Holbeck.

Jewison was the son of Christopher Jewison, a coroner, chief bailiff, and Keeper of Rothwell Gaol.

Jane Craven was the 26 year old daughter of Thomas Craven, landlord of the Two Pointers.

WOODLESFORD. Leeds Intelligencer, Saturday 19 June 1858.

The annual celebration of  “The Peace Rejoicing” was celebrated here on Thursday and Friday with great zest. A committee being formed, Messrs. Wheelright, Howson, Owen, Lees, and Massey, kindly consented to receive subscriptions, and a handsome sum was collected.

A large tent was erected by Mr. Lockwood and very handsomely ornamented with evergreens and flowers. It being arranged that the womeu should have a tea on the Thursday, and the children on the following day, the bellman was sent round inviting anyone to partake the good things provided. The tea was excellent; there was plentiful supply of ” Jamaica cream”; and as the weather was very sultry, the imbibing power of the ladies was satisfactory.

The Rothwell brass band being engaged, dancing was commenced after tea, and kept with great spirit the remainder of the evening. During the intervals, the Woodlesford and Oulton Choral Society, who had volunteered their services, sang several glees, &c., very well, the piano being ably presided over by Mr. W. Howson, the organist of the Woodlesford lecture room.

The following day the village wore a gay and animated appearance from the mustering of the little ones dressed in their holiday clothing, and their smiling faces lit with expectant happiness. It was a pleasant sight to see several of the youngsters proudly bearing flags and banners, though it seemed rather a struggle for some time to keep their equilibrium.

Preceded by tbe Rothwell brass band, they marched round tbe village and visited several of the gentry, who kindly took them through their pleasure grounds and gardens. On their return they had tea, after which the rest of the evening was spent in suitable games – sack races, &c.

Every one appeared to enjoy themselves, and no doubt this “rejoicing” will eventually emerge into a village feast. It was gratifying to see so many of the gentry present interesting themselves in the proceedings. Nothing is more calculated to beget kindly feeling between tbe classes, and it is to be regretted that this example is not more general.

A Girls’ Friendly Society float at the carnival in the 1930s. Stella Thorp is sitting top left.