Almost nothing is known of who may have been living in Woodlesford and the surrounding the area before the Norman conquest in the 11th century.
One theory is that two Roman roads met at a river crossing at Woodlesford. One route was possibly along Pickpocket Lane, Church Street and Pottery Lane and the other from the Wakefield direction running along Eshald Lane. If that is true then it’s highly likely there was some kind of settlement in the Roman period.
Fertile land near the river also suggests there may have been people living along it stretching back to prehistoric times. If so they would have built their dwellings on the higher ground in Woodlesford above the level at which the river flooded.
One of the Normans who fought with William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings in 1066 was Ilbert de Lacy and as a reward for his role in the pacification of the local population, in what was known as the Harrying of the North between 1069 and 1070, he was granted a large block of land stretching across Yorkshire and into Lancashire.
Ilbert built a castle at Pontefract and became its first baron and he may have granted land at Woodlesford to one of the soldiers who had fought with him. However in the Domesday Book survey in 1086 only four manors are recorded in the Rothwell area and there is no mention of Woodlesford or Oulton so it’s likely that manors associated with the two villages were created much later.
A century after the Normans took over a man called Samson de Wridlesford was the steward to Ilbert de Lacy’s descendant Robert de Lacy, the 5th Baron of Pontefract. Samson’s name appears in about a dozen documents dated between 1177 and 1210 where he witnessed the granting of land in places like Lofthouse and Ledston.
Little else is known about him except that he was also in a position to make a grant of land he owned at Fixby near Huddersfield and that he died in about 1210. It has been suggested that he acquired the Fixby land through marriage.
Given his name its pretty certain he was lord of the manor of Woodlesford but whether others had the title before him isn’t recorded. Three hundred years later, in the Rothwell parish registers which started in 1538, the village is described as Wrigglesford, Wriglesforth and Wriglesworth or Wrigglesworth after the family of the same name.
The use of Woodlesford appeared first in 1640 but parish clerks also continued to use the “wrigle” variations after that.
Another early spelling was Wridelesford. Language experts believe the name to be derived from “wrid” which was old English for a bush or thicket, and “ford” from the crossing over the River Aire. The ford was eventually replaced by Swillington Bridge but its location was probably further to the west on a redundant bend in the river between the present day Woodlesford lock and the site of the old paper mill. Maps of the area show the field next to that stretch of the river with the name “Fordingworth.”
After Samson there was a Walter de Wridlesford and a Sir John de Wridlesford although the documentary evidence doesn’t prove their relationship. Walter could have been Samson’s brother or his son.
What is known is that in 1246 Sir John witnessed a document giving an annual rent from the mill at Farnley to the monks at Kirkstall Abbey. He was also involved in a dispute over land in Swillington and granted all his remaining property at Fixby to his sister Maud and her husband, Michael de Bertwys.
It’s thought that Sir John died in about 1249 and after that in 1254 there is a reference to an Isabella de Wrydelsford who was renting land at Farnley. She may have been his widow. Sir John’s son appears to have been another Walter who sold all his land in Yorkshire to Edmund de Lacy in about 1251. One suggestion is that he migrated to Sussex where there are mentions of Walter and Ralph de Writlesford or Wrytelford at Cuckfield and Bolney.
Another branch of the family seems to have moved to Haddlesey near Selby. There a John de Wrigelesford witnessed a grant of land in 1308, the earliest date when the letter “g” was used.
Intriguingly there are also references to a Walter de Ridelisford in documents referring to the Norman invasion of Ireland which started in 1169. Walter was a follower of the Earl of Pembroke, Richard de Clare known as Strongbow, and after Hugh de Lacy arrived with King Henry II in 1171 Walter was given a large amount of land in Wicklow. The circumstantial evidence of his name and connection to de Lacy possibly indicate he was related to Samson de Wridlesford and was perhaps his younger brother.
After the Woodlesford land was sold back to Edmund de Lacy it’s not clear what happened to it. He died in 1258 and because his son Henry was a minor all his land were taken over and administered by the crown until he came of age. It is known that Henry’s widowed mother, Alice, had been given Rothwell manor as part of her dowry when she married and she lived at the castle there for about 40 years after her husband’s death.
Eventually the Rothwell land fell into the hands of Thomas, 2nd Earl of Lancaster, who married Henry’s daughter, also called Alice. When Thomas was executed in 1322 by King Edward II it again reverted to the crown but it’s not not clear whether Woodlesford and Oulton were included.
(For more see John Batty’s “History of Rothwell” and the Reverend Geoffrey Hamish Mercer’s “Notes on A History of Oulton.” In print there are: “Rothwell in the 900 Years After Domesday” by Albert Brown and “The History of Rothwell Castle and Medieval Life” by the Rothwell and District Historical Society. Also Thoresby Society, Miscellania Vol. 26 p 243 by Charles Travis Clay.)