The landlord of the Midland Hotel for most of the 1880s was George Heath. He was one of the original shareholders when Bentley’s brewery became a limited company, but a few years later he went bankrupt and had to leave Woodlesford to become a coachman in London.
George was born at Marham in Norfolk in 1846, the eldest son of Ralph Heath who was a publican there. It’s probable that looking after horses and coaching had been family skills for some time as Ralph was the son of the owner of a coaching firm. He came from Bentley in Hampshire although there’s no connection with the Woodlesford brewing family. George’s mother, Susan, was the daughter of a sea captain and had been born at Flushing in Holland.
In about 1858 Ralph Heath moved his family to London where he went back to his roots to become a coachman living at William Mews behind Lowndes Square off Knightsbridge in one of the wealthier parts of the city. The family were still there in 1871 although George appears to have lived elsewhere and isn’t to be found in the census in either 1861 or 1871 so its possible he may have become a soldier or sailor and gone abroad.
At some point George Heath became a coachman for the Lowther family of Swillington House. He worked for them there, in London, and at Wilton Castle near Redcar which they had acquired in 1806. On his travels he met Sarah Ann Gillatt, the daughter of a woodman who in 1871 was looking after her grandparents at Auckley near Doncaster.
George and Sarah’s first child, a daughter, was born in London in 1872. A couple of years later they were back in the north at Wilton for the birth of a son christened Charles. By 1876 they were in Swillington where they had two more girls. They eventually were formally married at Finningley parish church in June 1879.
Interestingly Ralph Heath died in Swillington at the age of 57 in 1878. He’s buried there but it’s not known if he too had moved north or was just visiting his son and grandchildren. It’s possible that he was also employed by the Lowthers. After his death his widow had to earn a living as a laundress and lived with her youngest daughter in a flat off the Pimlico Road in London.
By 1880 George Heath had saved between £300 and £400 which he decided to invest in shares when Henry Bentley’s family run brewery at Woodlesford became a limited company. He was one of eleven ordinary shareholders present at one of the first meetings of the company in June 1880 chaired by colliery owner Joseph Charlesworth. At the same time he used the shares as security to take out a loan to buy the Midland Hotel. The 1881 census lists him as a hotel keeper suggesting there were regular paying guests. As well as his family also living there were Sarah Ann’s youngest sister, Martha, and Alfred Rigg from Sand Hutton near Thirsk who served behind the bar and acted as a general servant.
All appears to have gone well during the first part of the 1880s and in 1885 George Heath was listed on the electoral role as the the occupier of a public house with a rateable value between £12 and £50. He was also running a horse drawn cab business.
Another son, George William, was born in 1886 but then it became apparent that George’s abilities as a businessman were not up to scratch and he had run up a large debt, most likely to the brewery. Within a couple of years he and his family had to leave the hotel. They moved to Cripplegate just outside the City of London where he became a coachman once again, this time for the Lord Mayor, a position he probably acquired with help from the Lowthers.
At a public hearing at the London Bankruptcy Court before Mr. Registrar Hazlitt in July 1888 it was revealed that George had unsecured debts of £402 and no assets. In what appears to have been quite a lenient hearing in his defence he said his failure was because of “a want of knowledge of a business which he considered he was dragged into,” although he didn’t make clear by whom. Questioned by the official solicitor he said his current salary was £2 a week. “What, not more than that for the Lord Mayor’s coachman?” “No, not a penny more,” he said. A few months later, with no offences being proved, he was discharged and released from his debts.
By 1891 the Heaths had moved again to Whitechapel where George was reduced to working as a stable man or groom. Ten years later they were in Marylebone where he was described as a “horse trainer’s brakesman.” He’s believed to have died in 1906. George William became a tailor’s messenger and later joined the army and was posted to India with the 2nd East Yorkshire Regiment.
VIOLENT SCENE WOODLESFORD. Yorkshire Evening Post. Tuesday 22 December 1914.
At the West Riding magistrates, today, James Stephens, miner, Broadfoot Street, Accommodation Road, was charged with being drunk and refusing to quit, and with assaulting police. It was stated that on Saturday night the defendant and two other men entered the Midland Hotel, kept by Herbert Sheldon Three pints of beer were called for, but the defendant was drunk the landlord refused to serve him. Thereupon he picked up a bottle and threw it through the bar window. He also refused to give his name, struck the constable the mouth, and kicked him about. The defendant was sent to prison for two months, and ordered to pay the damage done to the window, 12s.