The Old Masons’ Arms is one of the oldest pubs in Oulton. Along with the New Masons’ Arms and the Three Horse Shoes, it is marked on a map made for the Calverley estate in 1807. At that time the three establishments probably brewed their own beer on the premises and it’s likely that they were all in existence during the 18th century and possibly earlier.
Quite why the “old” and the “new” pubs are named like that is unknown but they both must have been frequented by the stone masons who worked and lived in the village. Nowadays the New Masons’ is older than the Old Masons’ but it’s also possible that the original building on the Old Masons’ site may also have been younger than that of the New Masons’! It may also be the case that the “old” and “new” names refer to the men who drank there rather than the relative age of the buildings.
All three of Oulton’s pubs were venues for inquests into unexplained and violent deaths. With the body “in view” juries of local residents had to give a verdict after hearing identification evidence and witnesses on the circumstances of an individual’s death. The pubs therefore were usually the only venues with rooms large enough to hold them. Landlords were paid a fee by the coroners and the offer of free drink may have attracted participants.
The earliest mention in a newspaper of an inquest at the Old Masons’ is from the Leeds Times in 1835. It gives a brief account of the hearing by the Wakefield coroner, Thomas Lee, into the sudden death of Faith Flint at the age of 52 on Friday 24 July. The inquest was held the following day when it was stated that she had been in her garden, had fallen down, and “instantly expired.” A post mortem, carried out by a local doctor, had established that a “fit of apoplexy,” what we would now call a stroke, had been the immediate cause of death. The jury returned a verdict that she had died “by the visitation of God.”
Faith was the wife of farmer Robert Flint. One of their sons, George, became a gardener in Wakefield. A daughter, Martha, worked first as a servant for Oulton stone mason Caractacus Owen, before moving to York. At the age of 47 she married a widowed commercial traveller and appears to have been relatively wealthy before she died in 1909.
At the time of Faith Flint’s inquest the landlord at the Old Masons’ was stone merchant James Rhodes. He died in 1850 and when the census of 1851 was taken the pub was in the hands of James Rawnsley, previously an agricultural labourer, believed to have been born in 1831 at Horton near Gisburn. In 1841 he was living alone in Woodlesford at a property owned by brewer Henry Bentley and it looks as though he became the landlord selling Bentley’s beer. His wife was called Ellen and with them in 1851 was 13 year old Frederick Sutcliffe. He was described as a nephew although he may have been a son from her first marriage to a man called Thomas Sutcliffe. By 1861 the Rawnsleys had moved to run the New Inn and a farm at Clayton West between Wakefield and Denby Dale. Frederick became a blacksmith and lived for the rest of his life at West Bretton.
The names of other landlords can be gleaned from trade directories and census records. Farmer’s son Robert Chadwick became the landlord after the Rawnsleys moved on and was still there in the 1870s. Born in Oulton in 1818 he’d previously been a butcher and in 1845 had married Jane Mirfin, the daughter of cartwright John Mirfin. Childless, Jane died in 1871 but Robert was still the innkeeper at the Old Masons’ when he died in 1878. He left his estate to be administered by his brother Thomas, a farmer, and Alfred Peel, the husband of Jane’s niece, Eliza Mirfin and son of Benjamin Peel who ran the cloth fulling mill at Fleet Mills. By 1881 Alfred had become the landlord down the road at the New Masons’.
When the photograph of the Old Masons at the top of this page was taken before the First World War the landlady and licensee was Ellen Lawn and intriguingly she had been widowed twice whilst living at the pub!
She was born in Woodlesford in 1859, the daughter of James Kay, originally from Kippax, who was a labourer in the tun room at Bentley’s brewery. Her mother, Mary, was born at Sherburn-in-Elmet. Ellen’s first husband was Arthur Bramley, also a local lad, the son of Richard Bramley, a brewer at Bentley’s. Arthur worked there as a labourer before he became the publican at the Old Masons in the 1880s. Arthur and Ellen had four daughters by the time Arthur died, at the age of 38, in 1897.
Within a couple of years Ellen had married a man 8 years younger than her, widower Herbert Webster Lawn, who was also strongly connected to the brewery. His family lived at Leventhorpe and his father, James, was a carter delivering beer. Herbert first married Clara Hewitt at Swillington church in 1893 but she died within a year, possibly whilst giving birth, although no child is recorded. Clara had been born at Mexborough in 1868 and came to Woodlesford with her family in about 1890 because her father, Alfred, had a role at the Woodlesford pottery. In the 1881 census he had been a grocer at Mexborough whilst in 1891 at Woodlesford he was listed as an “earthenware manufacturer” suggesting he may have been one of the pottery owners or a manager.
Herbert Lawn was working as a clerk at the brewery when he married Ellen at Rothwell church in 1897. Not long afterwards he formally became the licensee at the Old Masons.
In 1900 Herbert and Ellen had a baby daughter who was christened Margaret. Herbert passed away in 1907, also at the age of 38, and Ellen was still running the pub in 1911 helped by two of her daughters, Alice and Isabel. Ellen was living in Claremont Street, with her daughter Florence, when she died in 1931 at the age of 72.
LOCAL & DISTRICT. Leeds Times, Saturday 19 August 1882.
The White Rose Senate of Romans held their first dinner on Monday evening, at the Old Masons’ Arms Inn, Oulton. Brother Berwick, a member of the Central Council, took the chair. Speeches were made, and songs sungs by Brother Hudaway and others. This branch is winning the support of the young men of the district.