William Minett ran a substantial steam haulage and contracting business in Woodlesford throughout the latter part of the 19th century and into the first decades of the 20th century which also continued after his death in 1915.
Over the years he owned five traction engines and six road rollers which were based in a yard off Aberford Road next to the Midland Hotel. From there the traction engines would have been a noisy and colourful sight as they went out to haul loads such as stone for quarry owners or to power threshing machines for farmers.
The slower moving rollers would have trundled along to work on road building and maintenance contracts for local authorities including the Hunslet Rural District Council which had responsibility for Oulton and Woodlesford.
William Minett was born in 1848 near the village of Claines about three miles north of the city of Worcester. He was the eldest surviving son of an agricultural labourer who had ten children, two of whom died when they were young. At some point the family moved about 15 miles north to Stone near Kidderminster where one of William’s brothers, George, was born in 1850.
In 1866 William married a girl called Eliza when he was just 17 years old and working as a farm labourer. In 1870 they had a son, Arthur, but a few years later, possibly in childbirth, she died, and William was left a widower.
It’s known George Minett married in Rosedale in North Yorkshire in 1874 so it’s likely that William followed him from Worcestershire. In time they both became involved with steam engines and set up their own separate businesses.
By 1879 William was sufficiently well established to get married again. His second bride, who he married at Holy Trinity church in Huddersfield, was also called Eliza and perhaps it was her name that had brought them together. Her surname was Jackson and she was six years older than him. She was born at Hartwith-cum-Winsley, north of Harrogate, the daughter of a linen weaver, who by the time of her marriage was a gardener.
When she left home Eliza was a domestic servant for an ironmonger and draper in Pateley Bridge but for several years before the wedding she had been a housemaid for a German born wool merchant, Louis Lowenthal, living at Belle Vue House on New North Road in Huddersfield.
At the time of his second marriage William was already living in Woodlesford and working as an engineer, although it appears that he was illiterate as he signed the register with a cross. Two years later, in the 1881 census, he was described as a stationary engine “tenter” and lived with Eliza and Arthur close to the toll keeper at Swillington Bridge, so he had probably worked at Bentley’s and they may have lived in or very close to the brewery.
William bought his first traction engine in December 1880. It was newly built and was a 7 horse power single agricultural from Marshall, Sons & Co. Ltd. of Gainsborough. Over the next eleven years he purchased four more engines, all of them made in Leeds. One came from the John Fowler company on Leathley Road in Hunslet, and three from John and Henry McLaren’s Midland Engine Works nearby. Two were new and two were secondhand, the oldest having been built in 1872.
Business must have been good because by 1888 William, Eliza and Arthur, had moved into a substantial house, Harewood Villa, at the top of Midland Street on Oulton Lane, and they were listed in Kelly’s Directory of Leeds as “private residents.” By 1901 they were employing a domestic servant, Sarah Coates, who had been born at Fleet Mills.
As well as the traction engines William Minett acquired six steam rollers over the years. The first was an 8 horse power single roller bought new from McLaren’s in 1892 followed by a much larger 15 ton machine from Fowler’s in 1897. Later, in the ten years between 1901 and 1911, four secondhand rollers were acquired.
The business traded under the name Minett & Jackson which was painted on the back of the steam rollers along with the number 25, believed to be their telephone number, one of the earliest in the Rothwell district.
It’s not known for sure if the Jackson referred to William Minett’s wife, who may have been heavily involved in the business doing the paperwork and keeping the books. She may also have contributed money to help establish the company and buy the first traction engine. Another possibility is that William’s partner was one of her relatives, or possibly John Jackson, the corn miller at Fleet Mills, which was quite a large concern.
From 1865 a man with a red flag, or lantern at night, had to walk in front a traction engine and warn horse riders and horse drawn traffic of its approach. The flagman had to be 60 yards in front of the engine but this rule was relaxed to 20 yards in 1896 when the road laws and speed limits were changed to accommodate the invention of the motor car. Just a few weeks after the new rules came in one of William Minett’s crews were caught up in an incident which led to him being fined by the magistrates.
It happened on Monday 7 December when an engine was at Lofthouse on its way to Wakefield. Edward Wilson, a carter for a soap works on Kirkgate in Leeds, was driving his wagon pulled by two horses in the opposite direction. He pulled up behind a wagon of straw which had stopped to let the traction engine go by. Unfortunately Wilson’s horses took fright when the engine put on steam and they turned around and bolted back towards Outwood dragging Wilson with them causing his right arm to be run over by one his wagon’s wheels.
In court it was claimed that the flag man was only 4 or 5 yards away from the engine and could have stopped the horses if he’d been in his proper place. Despite the driver and flagman giving evidence saying he was at least 25 yards in front the magistrates believed the prosecution and William Minett was fined 5 shillings and 38 shillings costs.
An indication of the work Minett & Jackson did comes from an invoice discovered years later in an old industrial property at Scholes in Leeds. It showed threshing work carried out over several months in 1903 for Anne Gould, a widowed farmer’s wife of Thorpe House Farm at Lofthouse.
Meanwhile, George Minett is thought to have worked as a labourer in ironstone mines in Rosedale near the Teeside blast furnaces. He then became a traction engine driver travelling around the north with his family and is known to have worked in Methley, Ardsley, back up at Saltburn in North Yorkshire, and over at Lymm in Cheshire. Eventually in 1890 he established a similar business to William’s at Cutsyke near Castleford and bought a six horse power traction engine from Richard Hornsby of Grantham.
A few years later he owned three engines and from a cottage near the “King Billy” pub George and his sons travelled to work on farms around Castleford. Tragically in 1897, while they were coming down Mary Pannal Hill on their way back from a threshing trip to Kippax, George fell off the traction engine and was killed when he was run over by one of the wheels of the threshing machine which they were towing.
After marrying twice more George’s wife, Sarah Ann, eventually sold the business, auctioning off two traction engines and two threshing machines in July 1914, when she was 60 years old.
Back at Woodlesford Minett & Jackson continued to prosper, although in the summer of 1901 business may not have been as good as usual, as they advertised the services of their 10 and 15 ton steam rollers in the classified section of the Yorkshire Evening Post. Also available for hire was a “road scarifier”.
This period saw a breakdown in relations between William Minett and his son which led to Arthur being taken to court in 1902 for being drunk and disorderly and using threats. Precisely what happened between them isn’t recorded but a report in the Wakefield Express clearly indicates that Arthur had “gone off the rails.”
On Saturday 20 September Arthur, who was described as a labourer with no fixed abode, had turned up drunk at his father’s house and was refused admission. In court William said that he had “considerable trouble with him, and had often tried to get him to be respectable.” When he refused to let him in Arthur had pulled out a packet-knife and threatened to “do” him.
William said he was afraid and went back into the house. Later he heard Arthur break a window. He said he had been threatened on a previous occasion and his wife was also afraid of Arthur. It had cost 2s 6d to repair the window.
Next door neighbour Margaret Wilson said she had seen Arthur break a window with his foot. Also quickly on the scene was P.C. Fred Tinker who lived on Quarry Hill. After breaking the window he said he’d seen Arthur put his hand in, open the catch, and then walk into the house. He followed him in and found him in the cellar.
The magistrates fined Arthur 32s 6d for being drunk and breaking the window. On the charge of using threats he was given the choice of a 6 months prison sentence or being bound over for 12 months if two £10 securities were paid.
It’s not clear whether Arthur went to prison but by 1905 he seems to have mended his ways because he was back working as an engineman for his father when he married an Oulton woman from just round the corner on Quarry Hill. Rhoda Mitchell was the widow of a labourer who had died two years earlier. Her father, Foster Clapham, had worked at the brewery but had died when she was young. She was brought up by her mother who also took on Rhoda’s two young girls after her marriage to Arthur.
William’s wife died in August 1910 and three months later a limited company, William Minett Ltd., was formed with a nominal capital of £3000 to take over, as a going concern, the assets, work and other miscellaneous activities of Minett’s threshing and road rolling business. The shareholders were each allocated 50 shares. They were William Minett, Gladstone Oxley, a boilermaker from Beeston in Leeds, and Hanby Gooder who was an accountant in Normanton. The registered office was also at Normanton.
By the time of the 1911 census William described himself as a “retired” contractor and was being looked after by Annie Armitage, who had witnessed his son’s marriage, and and a much older housekeeper, 72 year old Mary Birch.
William Minett died in November 1915 when he was 68 years old. He was buried with his wife at Oulton. He left effects of £782 1s 1d and probate went to belting manufacturer John Bramham, solicitor’s clerk Patrick Crotty, and Thomas Dalton who was a baker.
A statutory company declaration showed that 125 shares each had been transferred on 26th July 1915 to Hanby Gooder and Thomas Bright Parker who lived at Midland View in Oulton. Parker had been a painter and paperhanger in Normanton but became the manager of the company and continued in that role until at least 1927 when the last records were filed with the Companies Registry. The firm was subsequently dissolved on 9th December 1930.
It’s not clear how long Arthur stayed with the company. He was 58 when he died in at Thorne near Doncaster in 1926, and was described as a general labourer of no fixed abode. It’s possible he was out of work through the economic situation of the time. His wife died in Oulton, aged 75, in April 1954.
Despite William’s death, the threshing business of William Minett Ltd. continued through the First World War and after. Two McLaren traction engines were sold to John Robert Patrick of Haigh House Farm at Rothwell Haigh in 1921, but West Riding vehicle registration records show they were registered in the name of William Minett Ltd. and kept at the Woodlesford yard. The engines continued in use for several years. One was sold in 1926, the other in 1929.
The precise nature of John Robert Patrick’s relationship with the William Minett company isn’t known but the 1911 census shows he was a fruit, potato, corn and hay merchant with a house in Harehills in Leeds so he may have acquired the engines as a way of investing in the company. He was associated with another traction engine which was sold to Young & Doggett in 1921 and a road locomotive, which also went to them. It was bought in 1925 from the owners of Water Haigh colliery, Henry Briggs Son & Co. Ltd..
The content of this page is based on articles by Derek Rayner for “Steaming”, the magazine of the National Traction Engine Trust, Vol 47 No. 2 and No.3 published in 2004. He was helped in his research by local historian Nellie Minett of Methley, the wife of Walter Minett, a grandson of George Minett, and by his great grandson, David Neale of Essex.