Oulton Hall

A house party at Oulton Hall in November 1900. John Selwin Calverley is on the left of the back row. He died suddenly just over a month later. His wife, Sybil Isabella, niece of Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, is seated third from the left. From an autograph book kept by the family it’s possible to identify some of the guests. Amongst them was 28 year old Laura Louise Wyvill, the daughter of  Marmaduke D’Arcy Wyvill, who had been Conservative M.P. for Otley. Their family seat was at Constable Burton Hall in Wensleydale and they were related to the Calverleys by marriage. Laura Louisa’s grandfather was a famous chess master. After the First World War she did welfare work in the East End of London. Also there were electrical engineer Egerton John Glynn with his wife Constance and charity organiser Arthur Lawon-Smith with his wife Ethel, a retired concert director.

Shortly after half past seven on the evening of Friday the 28th of December 1900 John Selwin Calverley of Oulton Hall went upstairs to dress for dinner. After a brief conversation with his wife, Sybil Isabella, during which he said he felt cold, he went into his dressing room. About five minutes later his valet heard him fall and found him, partly dressed, lying on the floor. Sybil too rushed in and found her husband breathing heavily but unconscious. 

Francis Percy Roesh James, the Oulton doctor, was sent for and he was joined a couple of hours later by Dr. Barr from Leeds. They diagnosed an “apolopletic seizure” – what we we would now call a stroke where a blood vessel in the brain is ruptured or blocked by a clot – but from the start they honestly told the family there was little hope that John Selwin would survive. He died about an hour before midnight two nights later, without regaining consciousness. He was buried in the family plot in the graveyard at Oulton St. John’s church the following Friday, 4 January 1901. 

Selwin, or Sel as he was known in the family, was only 45 years old when he died. As the eldest son he had inherited his family’s wealth and become “lord of the manor” of both Oulton and Rothwell when his father, Edmund Calverley, died at the age of 71, also from a seizure, only three years earlier. Most of the time Selwin lived the life of a rich Victorian gentleman, enjoying hunting, shooting and sailing. He had trained as a barrister but had no need for paid work and lived off the income from his estate and investments. When he was in Yorkshire he would sit for one day a week as a magistrate in Leeds and he took part in county affairs as a Deputy Lieutenant of the West Riding.

On the afternoon of his stroke, as was his usual routine, he had gone for a walk through Oulton where he appears to have been well liked and respected, especially for his patronage of St. John’s school. The only sign that something was wrong came from his 15 year old nephew, Godfrey Leveson Brooke-Hunt, who said that his uncle “had seemed somewhat absent minded.” 

The death must have come as a big shock to the Calverley family who had all been invited to Oulton Hall for the Christmas holiday and to see in the New Year, although the celebrations were somewhat low key as Selwin’s two younger brothers were away in the army in South Africa fighting in the Boer War. 

Generous provision was made in his will for Selwin’s wife and three daughters, but with no sons of his own, the family tradition, or entail, meant the heir to Oulton Hall and the estate was the next youngest brother, Horace. 

Apart from short visits Horace chose to live most of the time at Down Hall in Essex, which he inherited from his uncle in 1901, and after Sybil Isabella moved out Oulton Hall was left empty in the charge of a caretaker. During the First World War it housed Belgian refugees and then army officers suffering from shell shock. In the 1920s it was sold and converted into a permanent “mental” hospital and after that closed it became derelict before being rescued and turned into a hotel which opened in 1993. 

They certainly wouldn’t have known it at the time but with hindsight it’s now clear that John Selwin’s short tenure at Oulton Hall was the high point of the Calverley family’s fortunes. His death was the beginning of the end of an association with Oulton and Rothwell which had started 400 years earlier. It would, however, take another century before the final curtain on the Calverley connection was drawn. 

So how did the Calverley family come to be the predominant family in the district, owners of Oulton Hall and its estate, and fabulously wealthy?

The obvious place to start is the village of Calverley, midway between the centres of Leeds and Bradford. It was first recorded in the Domesday Book, compiled in 1086 twenty years after William the Conqueror led the Norman invasion. The name, though, is thought to be much older than that. Experts from the West Yorkshire Archaeology Advisory Service believe its roots are in the Old English language used by the Anglo-Saxon invaders from the 7th century and is derived from two words meaning a “clearing with calves.”  There are thought to have been similar clearings of forest at Bramley, Armley and Rodley where the Anglo-Saxons worked hard to establish farmsteads on land not already used by the native Britons. 

An earlier explanation comes from Edward Parsons in the first volume of his grandly titled book: “The Civil, Ecclesiastical, Literary, Commercial, and Miscellaneous History of Leeds, Halifax, Huddersfield, Wakefield, Dewsbury, Otley and the Manufacturing Districts of Yorkshire,” published in 1834. He speculates that an Anglo-Saxon by the name of Calfere was the first occupier and that Calverley means the “field of Calfere.”

Parsons goes on to quote the Domesday Book: “In Calverleia and Ferselleia, Archil had three carucates of land to be taxed, and there may be two ploughs there. Ilbert has it and it is waste. Value in King Edward’s time twenty shillings. Wood pasture, half a mile long, and half broad.” A carucate was the amount of land a single plough, drawn by eight oxen, could cultivate in a season – about the size of 60 football pitches. 

Archil was the Anglo-Saxon who owned the land before the conquest and Ilbert was Ilbert de Lacy, the Norman baron who was granted a huge swathe of land across Yorkshire and into Lancashire as a reward for his part in the invasion. The “waste” is thought to refer to the destruction and de-population caused in the winter of 1069-70 when William the Conqueror put down a rebellion of the Anglo-Saxons which became known as the Harrying (or Harrowing) of the North. Historians disagree about the extent of the devastation and how many people were killed but it certainly was brutal enough to be talked about centuries later.

As to the precise way in which the Calverley family came to be named after their home village the genealogy is unclear. A comprehensive family tree published in 1874 by Joseph Foster in his “Pedigrees of the County Families of Yorkshire” starts with a man called John le Scot who “probably came into England with the Empress Maud.” According to the pedigree he married a woman called Larderina, “the daughter and co-heiress of Alphonsus Gospatrick, lord of Calverley, Pudsey, and several other manors.” 

No birth or death dates are given for John le Scot or his wife and there is no documentary evidence of a marriage. Joseph Foster simply seems to be repeating the work of Simon Segar who first noted them in the late 17th century. As the librarian at Gray’s Inn, one of the centres of the legal profession in London, he transcribed a large number of records, many of which were later lost, and he may have seen something on which he based his theory. 

The Empress Maud (or Matilda in Latin) was the daughter of King Malcolm III of Scotland. Their West Saxon ancestry can be traced back to Alfred the Great who died in 899. Maud is believed to have been born in about 1080 and was sent as a 6 year old to be educated at a convent in southern England where her aunt was the abbess. The period was a turbulent time in both England and Scotland and in 1100, shortly after Henry, the fourth son of William the Conqueror, became King of England, he married Maud, in what historians believe was a political marriage designed to bring peace and stability. 

If Simon Segar’s theory is to be believed John the Scot may have looked after Maud when she travelled to England as a girl or he was possibly sent from Scotland as a courtier when she became queen. 

Larderina Gospatrick’s ancestry appears to be a little clearer than her husband’s although it’s not absolutely certain. Modern historians, including Sheila Coe of Skipton, think she may be descended from Archil, the landowner of Calverley before the Norman conquest. He is mentioned in Domesday in connection with no less than 77 places making him the largest landowner in Yorkshire. He took part in the rebellion against William the Conqueror and then fled to Scotland leaving behind one of his sons as a hostage. This son was called Gospatric and, according to the Victoria County History, he “found favour with the king, and was allowed to keep his lands and even some of his father’s.” It’s possible he may therefore have become a sub-tenant of the Calverley land granted to Ilbert de Lacy after the Norman invasion. Gospatric is also known to have had a son of the same name and it’s this Gospatric junior who could have been Larderina’s father, although he may not have lived at Calverley. 

All of this was looked at in detail in the late 19th century by William Paley Baildon, the son of a Southport iron-merchant who became a barrister at Lincoln’s Inn specialising in property. In his spare time he studied history and transcribed many early legal documents. He also edited records for the Yorkshire Archaeological Society and the Thoresby Society which in 1904 published what were known as the Calverley Charters, transcribed by amateur historian Samuel Margerison, a businessman who lived in Calverley. 

These were a large collection of family papers presented in 1866 by Sir Walter Calverley Trevelyan to the British Museum. They include deeds, pedigrees, marriage settlements, accounts, conveyances, wills and bonds; a veritable mine of information about the Calverley family dating back to the end of the 12th century. The papers had been kept in a wooden chest and were looked after by the Trevelyans after what’s known as the “senior branch” of the Calverley family ended with the death of Sir Walter Calverley in 1777. His only child, Elizabeth, had died 25 years earlier so his property went to his sister who had married Sir George Trevelyan of Nettlecombe in Somerset. 

Many of the documents in the Calverley Charters had been examined by Simon Segar but after deciding the information in the Charters didn’t match Segar’s pedigree William Paley Baildon set about creating his own. It was not an easy task as there were many Johns and Walters in the jumble of undated paperwork and also, under the medieval land tenure system, there were no official death records as the Calverleys didn’t hold their land directly from the king. 

In the end Baildon dismissed Segar’s theory about John le Scot’s royal connection as “absurdities.” He was less certain about Larderina and concluded that there must be “a germ of truth” in the marriage, knowledge of which had been handed down orally until recorded during the 16th century during the Heraldic Visitations when the coats of arms and pedigrees of the nobility and gentry were systematically documented. 

“The first of the Scots was clearly, from his name, a newcomer from the north, and his property in Yorkshire was most likely obtained by marriage,” wrote Baildon. “Calverley may well have been in the possession of the descendants of Archil in the middle of the 12th century, and there is nothing inherently impossible, or entirely improbable, in the tradition that an heiress of one of these married one of the Scots.”

Having accepted the existence of John le Scot Baildon then takes at face value the next generation in the Segar pedigree – a son of John le Scot, with the same name, who is said to have married a daughter of Sir John Luttrell from Hooton Pagnell near Doncaster. The Pagnell name is derived from a Norman baron, Sir Ralph de Pagnel, who, like Ilbert de Lacy, acquired land after the conquest. (In Foster’s 1874 pedigree this second John le Scot was allegedly alive in 1136 and also recorded with a connection to royalty, as a seneschal (steward) to King Henry I’s and Maud’s daughter, and, like her mother, known as Empress Maud, but Baildon makes no mention of this.)

The story becomes clearer in the third generation as Baildon found documentary evidence relating to three sons of the second John le Scot, although the Charters make no mention of their relationship and parentage. According to the pedigree there were six altogether; the eldest was William born in 1140 or possibly earlier, followed by Walter, John, Christopher, Jordan, and Robert. All the names, apart from Jordan, would continue to be be used in succeeding generations. 

As the decades and the centuries progressed the Calverleys continued as the dominant family in their home village, enlarging their property by buying up the freeholds of their neighbours. In each successive generation sons and daughters were married into other well-to-do families across Yorkshire and further afield. 

Those with the Calverley name don’t seem to have risen to great prominence in national affairs but several were given honours. As Samuel Margerison put it in his introduction to the Charters: “There were knights and county magnates among them, and later baronets, but though they were not prominent at Court, in politics or the Church, nor with possibly one exception as great warriors, they were useful men in their day and generation.“

“They did their share of solid work as squires and commissioners and magistrates; they and their tenants fought for the country when required; for many generations they kept and improved their substance; they wedded into some of the best families in the north, and were duly buried in their family vault in the Calverley Chapel when they died.”

The most famous, or rather infamous, descendant of the family was Walter Calverley who was executed at York in 1605. Trapped in an unhappy arranged marriage he was a heavy drinker and had gambled away his inheritance. In a drunken rage he murdered two of his young children and attempted to murder a third as well as his wife. The surviving son, Henry, was the last to live at Calverley Hall. The unhappy story was told in a book called “A Yorkshire Tragedy” allegedly by William Shakespeare, but his authorship has since been disproved by modern academics. 

The first of the Calverley family with a link to Rothwell parish was called Christopher. His grandfather, William Calverley, born about 1425, was the last where the alias Scot was used in any documents. He married Agnes, a daughter of Sir John Tempest of Bracewell, a village near Colne. They are believed to have had eleven children who grew into adulthood – 5 boys and 6 girls. 

In 1497, during the reign of the King Henry VII, two of Christopher’s uncles, distinguished themselves as part of an eight to nine thousand strong military expedition to Scotland led by Thomas Howard, the 2nd Duke of Norfolk and Earl of Surrey, the king’s lieutenant in Yorkshire. Whilst Henry was still in London fighting a Cornish rebellion, which broke out when he imposed a tax to fight a Scottish war, the Earl of Surrey and his men crossed the Tweed and had an easy victory. For their part in the campaign William Calverley and his brother Richard were knighted by the Earl of Surrey on the field of battle. 

According to the Foster pedigree, Christopher was the only child of William’s second son, John Calverley, named in his father’s will in 1488 who “held” or owned land at Cherwell in 1510. Five of Christopher’s aunts all married into other well established Yorkshire landowning families. The sixth, Alice, became a nun.

The precise location and acreage of Christopher Calverley’s estate in Rothwell parish isn’t known but a record of a court hearing held in 1531, during the reign of King Henry VIII, states that it was part of the Duchy of Lancaster. In other words it was part of the land which had once been granted to Ilbert de Lacy and which had reverted back to the crown when the de Lacy family died out. At the hearing it was decided that half of the land would go to Christopher’s son, Robert, and the other half to his grandson, Ralph. 

A few years earlier Christopher was named as one of about 30 people in Rothwell who had to pay an annual tax on the income from their “guds” and land. It was imposed by Henry VIII so he could pursue a war against France and when it was introduced in 1522 it was said to be one of the highest taxes ever granted by parliament up to that point. 

The largest payment from Rothwell, as recorded in the Subsidy Roll of the Wapentake of Morley and Agbrigg, was 40 shillings for Richard Grave’s 40 pounds worth of “guds.” Christopher Calverley’s contribution of 12 pence for “20 shillings lands” suggests he was one of the middle ranking landowners. Henry Hunt appears to have been the largest landowner paying much more – 13s. 4d. for “10 march lands.” Others with similar amounts to Christopher were John Foreman, Robert Mokson, Gilbert Moer, Antony Moer, John Clarburgh and John Gamyll. It’s possible that some, or all, of these men engaged in some form tax avoidance and pulled the wool over the tax collector’s eyes and these amounts didn’t reflect the true value of their wealth. 

It’s not clear if Christopher Calverley actually lived in Rothwell. The Foster pedigree says he died in 1546 but in the registers of Rothwell church, which started in 1538, there’s no mention of him being buried there. His son, Robert, who died in August 1588, was buried at Calverley indicating he was born there as well. 

We know, however, that on 29 July 1548, at Rothwell, Robert married Joanna Dobson, the daughter of a local gentleman and land owner, possibly Gilbert Dobson mentioned in the Subsidy Roll paying 5 shillings tax each year. According to the Foster pedigree Robert and Joanna had six children, four boys and two girls, although, the first son, Ralph, and the second, Stephen, allegedly baptised in 1543, appear to have been born out of wedlock. There’s no record of a baptism in the registers for either of them, so it’s possible they were the sons of a first wife of Robert who died. Another son, Gilbert, was baptised at Rothwell in April 1549. It’s claimed in the pedigree that he died “as an infant” in 1555 but again there’s no record in the registers. 

The pedigree states that Robert and Joanna’s fourth son, named after his father, was born in  Rothwell (in 1550 according to one researcher on the Ancestry website) and was buried there in 1613. Foster is precise about the date of his death – 23 February – although again there is no record in the church register. He is reported to have made a will a year earlier and it is from him that a direct line to the wealthy Oulton Calverleys can be traced with some accuracy.  

Throughout the 17th century this “junior branch” of the family went on to multiply in and around Rothwell, much as their ancestors had done previously at Calverley. With their increasing wealth both sons and daughters were attractive marriage prospects to families from further afield. For instance in 1600 Robert’s son, William, took as his bride Elizabeth Cryer from Grantham whilst his younger sister, Barbara married into the Armytage family from Kirklees.

The first Calverley to be connected to Oulton was William’s son Robert, born in September 1613, a few months after the death of his grandfather and named after him. In the pedigree he is described as “of Oulton” with a wife called Anne but there is no mention of her surname. 

Robert was 12 years old when King Charles I succeeded to the thrones of both England and Scotland in 1625. The rest of his life would be dominated by the political and religious upheavals of the time including the English Civil War from 1642 to 1651, rule by Oliver Cromwell’s Protectorate government and then the Restoration of Charles II to the throne in 1660.  

Despite the turmoil Robert and Anne had a total of eight children, four boys and four girls. We know more about them than previous generations because in 1642, as the Civil War unfolded, Robert, along with other landowners in the Rothwell area, was caught between the opposing factions of Cavaliers and Roundheads amongst the Yorkshire gentry.  

After the king fell out with Parliament he moved to York and for a while there were attempts by supporters of both sides to keep Yorkshire neutral and find a peaceful solution. Indeed in late September 1642 about half a dozen leaders from each side met at a house on Rothwell Haigh to negotiate. 

They came up with what became known as the Treaty of Rothwell. It’s summed up by its ninth article which reads: “It is agreed that a general amity be made betwixt all the gentry and others of this county of all former unkindnesses and differences that have been bred by these unhappy distinctions, and that we hereafter will be as one man to defend one another, according to the law, against all others, leaving all offences to be punished by the law of the land, and not by force and violence.”

Initially there was support for the treaty but within a few weeks fighting broke out at Bradford leading to other violence and disorganisation throughout the rest of the West Riding. In Oulton Robert Calverley appears to have been forced into supporting the Royalist cause by Sir William Savile of Thornhill who made him supply arms to the garrison at Pontefract Castle. 

At some point when the parliamentarians gained the upper hand locally Robert Calverley’s land was apparently taken from him and handed over to somebody else. This would have been for a number of years so the family probably went through a tough time. Eventually in 1646 Robert was allowed to appeal to Parliament to what was known as the Committee for Compounding the Delinquents during the Commonwealth. 

Sitting at Goldsmith’s Hall in London this committee, set up because Parliament was short of money, allowed Royalists whose estates had been sequestrated to pay a fine and get them back as long as they pledged not to take up arms against Parliament. They did this by taking what was called the National Covenant and swearing the Negative Oath. The appeals were meticulously recorded and were later transcribed, edited and published in 1895 as the Yorkshire Royalist Composition papers by historian John William Clay for the Yorkshire Archaeological Society. 

From the transcript we learn that Robert Calverley was a yeoman farmer who owned a house and land in Rothwell, and two cottages in Oulton inherited by his wife. He paid an annual rent or tax to the Crown, much as we pay council tax today. He may also have been involved in making cloth or linen and had considerable debts. 

As part of his appeal he had to describe the “particulars” of his estate: “I am seized (own) in right of my wife of two cottages in Oulton of the yearly value before these troubles of 10 pounds out of which I pay a yearly rent of 14 shillings to the Crown for ever. I am seized in a messuage (house) and lands in Rothwell of a clear yearly value of 10 pounds out of which is a rent of 8 shillings 1d to the Crown. I have a personal estate of 42 pounds 1 shilling. I owe 300 pounds.”

An inventory and valuation of his property was taken an 16 January 1644 by four local parliamentary supporters – R. Hopkinson, Marmaduke Reyner, John Casson and Thomas Walker.

In the main room of the house there was “one range (a stove), one long table, one little table, one form, 4 buffet stools, and 2 chairs.” In the parlour there was another range along with “one table, one livery cupboard, one stand bed, one trunk bed, one rug, one coverlet, 2 short coods, one feather bed, a pair of sheets and a mattress.” In the chambers (bedrooms) there were “2 stand beds, one range, and a chist (chest).” In the kitchen there was “one range, one pot, one pan, one saltinfatt, one chist.”

Out in the barn there was barley, wheat, and rye. He also owned four oxen, three kine (cows), a calf and one wain (farm wagon) along with 2 wheels and husbandry gear. Also valued was barley, wheat and rye growing “at his farm in the Royds” (probably Royds Green). The total amount came to 42 pounds, 1 shilling and 8 pence.

Robert Calverley’s petition to the parliamentary committee was recorded as taking place in June 1646. He made the difficult journey to London, by sea from Hull or by horse along the Great North Road, to present it. It reads: “That your petitioner about 4 years since was compelled by Sir William Savile, Knight; then Colonel of the Trained bands to send unto the garrison of Pomfrett a “Picke and Coslett” which he could not avoid being much threatened by the enemy to ruin him and his family in case he refused for which his estate is sequestered.”

Further details emerge in a section labelled the Report: “His delinquency for adhering unto the forces raised against the Parliament and for sending arms unto Pomfrett garrison to maintain it against the Parliament. He hath taken the Covenant before William Barton Minister of John Zacharies June 22 and the Oath here June 23, 1646. He is seized in fee in lands and tenements in Rothwell for which he payeth 8 shillings 1d yearly to the Crown and was of the yearly value 9 pounds 10 shillings 11d. He is seized in other lands the inheritance of his wife in Oulton out of which 14 shillings yearly rent is paid to the Crown of the yearly value 9 pounds 6 shillings. He hath personal estate 43 pounds 1 shilling.” This was signed on the 25th of June 1646 by Jerome Alexander and D. Watkins who were probably lawyers working for the committee. Two days later a fine of 46 pounds against Robert Calverley was recorded in the minutes.

Several other men from Rothwell parish petitioned the committee at roughly the same time. All had had their inventories taken within a day or two in January 1644 and all had similar stories, that they were forced to help the Royalist side by Sir William Savile who had “sole command of these parts.” Edward Scoles, a husbandman in Carlton, was accused of being “an assessor” for raising money for the King’s army. He claimed he’d been compelled to do so, had never left his house during the troubles, and would have faced ruin for himself and his ten children if he’d refused. 

Scoles’ property inventory was similar to that of Robert Calverley, although he possessed more animals – 6 oxen and 4 swine – and had a total of 3 farm wagons. The valuation was over 69 pounds but he had to pay a lower fine of only 20 pounds. 

William Hemsworth had a cottage and farmland in Rothwell and had been a chapman or merchant for 20 years. He was even richer with a personal estate valued at 83 pounds. He was accused of leaving home and living in “the enemy’s quarters.” He petitioned that he had to travel to continue his trade of selling goods made in Manchester and Norwich to maintain his family and it was wrong to suspect him of having “gone into the King’s quarters.” He was fined 50 pounds.

Another yeoman, Richard Bubwith, used exactly the same form of words as Robert Calverley in his petition. He lived at Royds Hall in Rothwell parish but also had land at Ferry Fryston and had a personal estate of 32 pounds. As well as paying rent to the Crown in cash he had to give “a pound of pepper worth 2 shillings” for each property. Unlike Calverley, who was only accused of sending arms to Pontefract, it was claimed Bubwith had also gone there “to help maintain a garrison against the Parliament.” He allegedly had debts of 260 pounds but wouldn’t tell the committee who he owed the money to. 

Richard Bubwith’s Report was signed on the same day as that of Robert Calverley and his fine of 60 pounds was minuted two days later suggesting both men had travelled to London together.

Finally there was the case of Roger Swift, another Rothwell yeoman who was too ill to make the journey. Accused of sending arms to the Earl of Newcastle his son, William, deposed that he was “a very weak and infirm man so that he cannot with safety of life make repair to London to solicit his composition.” He owned a house, a cottage and land in Rothwell and Carlton and had a personal estate worth 51 pounds with a debt of 300 pounds. He was allowed to take the Oath at home certified by Thomas Darcy, clerk to the committee in the West Riding. The Covenant was certified by Robert Radcliffe, “minister of the parish where he lived.” He was fined 66 pounds.

After they were fined the “delinquents” were expected to pay half their fine immediately and were given time to pay the rest. If they failed they were threatened with having their estates sequestered again. Despite his debts Robert Calverley managed to find the money and just under two years later, on the 28th of March 1648, the House of Commons passed a resolution accepting the “the Sum of 46 pounds, for a Fine, for the Delinquency of Robert Calverley.”

Several other West Riding men were acknowledged to have also paid their fines that day and Calverley along with two Leeds merchants, Henry Roades and George Banister, Thomas Pullein, a yeoman also from Leeds, and Richard Dolliff of Wakefield were pardoned: “An Ordinance for granting a Pardon for their Delinquencies; and for taking off the Sequestration of their Estates, was this day read, and upon the Question, passed; and ordered to be sent unto the Lords for their Concurrence,” was the formal statement as recorded in the Journals of the House of Commons.

Robert Calverley seems to have recovered well and prospered after the Civil War. When his name appeared amongst a total of approximately 430 households in the Rothwell parish for the West Riding Hearth Tax in 1672 he was recorded as having 4 hearths placing him amongst the middle ranks of the parish. 

Most houses had only one or two hearths whilst a few of the larger properties had as many as seven or eight. Unlike Robert, and most of the others who were not given any title, the names of the owners of the larger houses were prefaced with “Mr.” noting their status as “gentleman.” Amongst them were Mr. Francis Laburne, two Mr. Graveners (probably an early spelling of Grosvenor) and a Mr. Hopkinson.

When Robert Calverley died, on 18 April 1674, his eldest son, William, was left to advance the family’s fortunes. He was born in 1642 at the height of his father’s problems but grew up to marry well and eventually became the Lord Mayor of Leeds, the first of several members of the family to hold the office. 

Probably because of his father’s bad experiences with the law William became an attorney carrying out similar work to that of a modern day solicitor. It’s possible he was sent to London for a legal education but it’s more likely he would have been apprenticed to a member of the profession in Leeds. His father would have had to pay a premium for a five year apprenticeship with an existing attorney.

As he became established dealing with the conveyancing of land, drawing up marriage deeds, wills and other documents William would have become one of the elite members of Leeds society. It was dominated by merchants who bought the cloth made from wool which had been spun, weaved, and dyed by clothiers who worked with their families on their small farms in the villages around the town. Once a week they travelled to Leeds Bridge and later Briggate to sell their “pieces” to the merchants who employed skilled men to finish the cloth before storing it in their warehouses. It was then sold at a substantial profit to other parts of the country and abroad.

In 1676 William Calverley became one of the 24 assistants, or council men, on the Leeds Corporation which governed the town under a royal charter. It was led by an annually elected mayor and 12 aldermen who served for longer than the assistants. They mainly concerned themselves with regulating the woollen industry but by all accounts they also had plenty of time for eating and drinking as part of their duties.

According to historian Joan W. Kirby, writing for the Thoresby Society, William’s law business meant he had little time for civic committee work although he was a regular attender at council meetings and special sessions admitting new members. Apparently, because of his lack of support for allowing James, the Catholic brother of King Charles II to succeed to the throne, he was dropped from the council by the Tory majority in 1684. After Charles’ death in 1685, and James II’s short reign until the Glorious Revolution of 1688, William Calverley was reinstated to the council in 1689.

In 1690 he was promoted to be an alderman and in 1691 made a failed attempt to become mayor. He tried again the following year and was successful. The merchant and chronicler of Leeds history Ralph Thoresby took part in the mayoral dinner after the election and wrote that he found the company so congenial that he lingered “until late in the afternoon.”

In her survey of Leeds aldermen from 1626 to 1700 Joan Kirby says the legal profession was generally disliked amongst the merchant community and as with others William Calverley attracted his share of adverse comment. For instance in 1699 one man was charged with defaming him by claiming he was a “Rogue upon Record.”

Kirby states that as the eldest son William inherited land from his father scattered over a number of parishes. Oddly Robert Calverley’s will doesn’t reflect this and William only appears to have been given 5 shillings. Another son, Robert, was given parcels of land totalling 10 acres in the Royds Green area, along with a house called Brayshay, two acres near Leadwell Lane and an acre near the church containing 10 bulls. Matthew Calverley inherited several fields close to the centre of Rothwell including Silcroft not far from the church. His land amounted to about 6 acres, approximately the size of three football pitches. He was also given several 660 feet long strips, or selions, in one of the large “open” fields which were farmed by the community.

Another son, Samuel, didn’t inherit any land but was to be given £100 by his brother Robert. Four daughters – Jane, Deborah, Dorothy and Anne were to be given smaller amounts. Jane was married to a man called Collitt, possibly from Barwick-in-Elmet, and their sons Ralph and William were given a legacy of 20 shillings each.

In total all this property in Robert’s will amounted to a substantial amount confirming he had made a full recovery after his trials and tribulations during and after the Civil War. If Joan Kirby is correct it’s possible that William had arranged the transfer of other land before Robert made his will in 1672. She says he also acquired houses and their associated outbuildings and land in Briggate, Meadow Lane, Woodhouse, Gledhow, Holbeck and Hunslet, and the leases of a number of fulling mills.

In 1666 William Calverley married Mary, the daughter of Bryan Kitchingman who had done well as a merchant after the restoration of Charles II to the throne. The Kitchingmans owned Allerton Hall at Chapel Allerton as well as property in the town centre on Meadow Lane. According to Edward Parsons in his “Miscellaneous History” they, like the Calverleys, could trace their pedigree back to the Norman invaders and had originally lived near Carlton Husthwaite in North Yorkshire. Bryan, says Parsons, was very religious and towards the end of his life spent much of his time and money providing clothing for the poor. Two of Mary’s cousins, Thomas Kitchingman and his brother, James, were also merchants. Thomas was additionally lord of the manor of Beeston and a colliery owner with other interests in iron and timber and was reckoned to be one of the wealthiest men in Leeds in the years before his death in 1713. He and his son, also Thomas, were amongst the original investors or “undertakers” responsible for the Aire and Calder Navigation, authorised by an Act of Parliament in 1699.

The installation of locks and the cutting of short lengths of canal to bypass shallow stretches of river was designed to make it easier for vessels to reach Leeds and Wakefield thereby increasing trade. When the first boats reached Leeds Bridge, after the works were completed in November 1700, Sir Walter Calverley of Esholt was invited to the celebrations by the mayor: “I dined at one Craven’s and had a fine entertainment, and there was a great many gentlemen amongst whom were my Lord Irwin, Lord Fairfax, Sir John Kay, and many others,” he wrote. 

William and Mary Calverley probably spent a good deal of their time living in Leeds but they also acquired a small country property. It was called West Hall and was located just south of the present day junction of the M62 and the A642 Wakefield Road. It consisted of a substantial house with 2 barns, a kiln, oxhouses, two orchards and a garden. Technically it was in Methley parish but it bordered Rothwell and couldn’t have been far from the house and land farmed by William’s father. In his history, “Ducatus Leodensis,” Ralph Thoresby says that in the 17th century the house belonged to the Yonge family. He noted that between 1688 and 1670 John and Andrew Yonge mortgaged their estates to William Calverley.

West Hall was also close to Newmarket colliery which opened much later but, given the nearby coal pits at Hunslet and on the Lowther estate at Swillington at the end of the 17th century, it’s an intriguing possibility that William may have acquired the property with a view to exploiting what was underground rather than on the surface. 

The four children of William and Mary Calverley who married all seem to have found well-to-do partners. A fifth child, Mary, died unmarried in 1700. The family’s relationship with the Kitchingmans was further enhanced when their second son, also called William, married his second cousin, Thomas Kitchingman’s daughter, another Mary. The eldest son Theophilius, and the eldest of their three girls, Elizabeth, married a sister and brother from the Armytage family of Netherton. The middle sister, Anne, married Edmund Barker, Lord Mayor of Leeds in 1704.

Little else is recorded about them apart from a deed which shows that in 1683 William and Mary sold one of the cottages in Oulton that had been inherited by his mother. It was bought for £95 by a Robert Corner. In the 1940s the Oulton vicar and local historian, Geoffrey Mercer, concluded that it must have been one of the two properties with the address 12 – 14 Aberford Road.

Seven years after his stint as Lord Mayor William Calverley died in March 1699. He was buried at Leeds parish church on 23 March with his distant cousin, the diarist Sir Walter Calverley, there to record the event: “Was at the funeral of Alderman Calverley and had a scarfe and gloves given.” Reflecting the charitable actions of his father-in-law, William bequeathed £100 to be invested with the interest to be distributed by the mayor and aldermen to the poor of Leeds.

Curiously the Foster pedigree notes that Theophilius Calverley lived at West Hall in Stanley parish. It may well have been a completely separate property but it’s also possible that for some reason the parish boundary was redrawn. Theophilius doesn’t seem to have become a merchant or businessman. Perhaps, because of his marriage, he was wealthy enough, to live the life of a country gentleman. 

Theophilius had no sons and left his estate to his two daughters. The eldest, Grace, married Paul Perkins, a Methley gentleman. Elizabeth married John Atkinson, originally from Beeston, and he took over West Hall. Mercer says that in 1818, the property was sold by Leonard Atkinson, possibly their grandson. He was apparently very extravagant, losing £11,000 in one night in gambling.

William, Theophilius’s brother had three daughters and one son, another William. He died unmarried at the age of 24 in 1728 whilst two of the daughters, Mary and Elizabeth, married men from Leeds. The third, Anne, became Mrs. Henry Wickham, wife of the Rector of Guiseley. 

With the family name extinct amongst William Calverley’s descendants the focus now shifts to his younger brother, Matthew, born on 9 May 1649. As mentioned above he  was left a plot of land called Silcroft in Rothwell by his father which he presumably continued to farm whilst his brother William went off to make his mark in Leeds. He married a woman called Elizabeth and they appear, from Foster’s pedigree, to have only had one son, yet another William, born in November 1683. 

Luck was on this William’s side though as he managed, again through marriage, to bring capital into the Calverley coffers. His wife was the second daughter and “co-heiress” of John Grosvenor, a landowner in Rothwell parish who, according to the church registers, lived at Lofthouse. 

However, according to a pedigree by Geoffrey Mercer, it looks as though he was born in Oulton and possibly married and raised his family there. The name Grosvenor is another of Norman origin with one branch still successful and one of the wealthiest in the country. The first Grosvenor recorded  with an association to the Rothwell area was called Thomas. He died in 1587 and Mercer’s analysis of deeds and other documents goes on to show a marriage between his son, William, and Mary Dobson from the family which was to become one of the largest in the area.  

Their eldest son, Richard (1612 – 1664), is described as a “gentleman” of Oulton with their second son, William (1615 – 1672), being given the title “Mr.” of Oulton. He was John Grosvenor’s father. 

John had four sons and three daughters. Two of the sons left the area and did very well for themselves. John, born in 1677, moved to London and was knighted, whilst Seth, born in 1679, joined the Royal African Company and was sent to the Gold Coast in West Africa in 1702. There he became the British Agent General from 1711 to 1719. With James Phipps he was effectively joint-governor of the coastal settlement which became part of modern day Ghana. Living at Cape Coast Castle he would have made a small fortune trading in gold and ivory and overseeing the brutal export of men, women and children who were crammed onto ships and sent across the Atlantic as slaves. 

Back in Yorkshire the success of his sons may have prompted John Grosvenor to settle his estate on his daughters who were all still quite young when he died in 1703. The eldest Sarah, married James Feather (or Ffether), an Oulton yeoman farmer and cloth maker. His family had owned land in the village since at least 1590, possibly earlier. Then came Frances who married William Calverley on 3 September 1714. The youngest, Mary, born in 1692, became the wife of Thomas Jackman, a Leeds merchant.

William and Frances Calverley only managed to have one son, John, born in 1718, before William died in 1729 and was buried at Rothwell. Frances, who was three years younger, lived a long life though and her and her son’s circumstances were to be radically altered in 1739 by bequests made in her brother Seth’s will. The money they were left would lay the foundations for the Calverley family’s future prosperity.

After his return from the Gold Coast Seth became a ship builder based in Lewisham on the River Thames. In 1731 he was appointed a corn meter for the City of London. This was a role measuring the supplies of wheat arriving on board ships and Seth may also have derived a significant income from it. Later he retired further up the river to a house in Richmond and there in 1736 he made his will. He left the majority of his property to his son, also called Seth, and small amounts of 20 shillings to other relatives, most of whom had Oulton connections. The most substantial amounts though went to his sister, Frances and her son John. She received £20 whilst John was awarded £100, worth today well over £11,000. 

John Calverley was 21 years old when he inherited the money and he appears to have invested it in a grocery business in Leeds. His mother stayed in Oulton and was 79 when she died in 1765. Four years earlier, along with John and his wife, she was party to the sale of part of the large Holmsley Field in Woodlesford and Oulton to William Hollings of Oulton for £70. Perhaps the land was sold to raise further cash to care for her in her old age? 

Like his great uncle William, John Calverley did well amongst the woollen merchants of Georgian Leeds and was eventually elected Lord Mayor in 1772 at the age of 54. His grocery establishment was no doubt much bigger than that of the traditional corner shop and was probably one of the main stores in the town, although its location isn’t known. 

In 1756 for instance, from a prominent advertisement in the Leeds Intelligencer, we know John Calverley was selling wine to the merchant community who were known to enjoy the pleasures of life after their daily round of buying cloth in the halls, or markets, which had replaced the street selling on Briggate. Labelled as “English Mountain Wine” in colour, smell and taste it “nearly” resembled foreign mountain wine. It was sold for 3 shillings per gallon “with a discount to those who wanted to buy wholesale quantities.” This raises the possibility that there may have been a vineyard in Rothwell or Oulton producing a wine similar to that of modern day Leventhorpe.

In about 1745 John Calverley married Mary, a daughter of Thomas Walker of Dewsbury who may have been an attorney. They are recorded as having only two children. Their first, Frances, named after her paternal grandmother, was born in 1749 but died when she was only 25 during the winter of 1775 at York House in Battersea on the south bank of the River Thames. A brief report of her death in Say’s Weekly Journal said she had recently returned from Bristol where she had been for the “recovery of her health.” It’s possible she may have been suffering from an illness of some kind and was sent to London and Bristol for treatment.

John and Mary’s son, another John, was born on 9 June 1753 and it was he who was destined to build on the family’s good luck and inherit a fortune which was to be the foundation for the wealth they enjoyed during the 19th century. 

It’s at this point that the Blayds family join the story. Sometimes spelt as Blaydes or Blades, they were amongst the elite in the Leeds woollen trade which by the 1750s had overtaken the ancient cloth industries in the West Country and East Anglia. Described by Professor Richard G. Wilson, in “Gentlemen Merchants” published in 1971, the men at the top were mainly descended from “upwardly mobile” families from outside Yorkshire who had acquired land after the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII. They were joined, as apprentices, or by marriage, by the younger sons of the established local gentry and some foreign merchants. A few, but not many, had worked their way up within the woollen trade itself, starting out as cloth dressers, dyers or retail drapers. 

For about 130 years from the turn of the 18th century, when there were about 30 merchant houses, through the 1780s when there over 70, they controlled the trade and export of cloth and dominated the social, religious and cultural affairs of the town. 

In 1781 the Blayds were one of the six families whose involvement could be traced back to the previous century. The other five were Cookson, Denison, Dixon, Lee and Oates. Another seven had by then prospered as merchants and invested their money in country estates or diversified into other industries. Their names were Lodge, Fenton, Ibbetson, Kitchingman, Milner, Preston and Rooke. 

“These 13 dynasties controlled the town’s life down to 1780,” says Wilson. “They were the legends of Leeds. It was their houses visitors noted for their opulence, their fortunes that the newspapers speculated about. They dominated the export of Yorkshire cloth. Their sons and son-in-laws followed in their footsteps, filling all the chief positions in the town, serving as justices also in the county and acting as the leading spokesmen of the most important sector of the country’s chief industry.”

Very little is known of Bartholemew Blayds who died in 1685. His only son, James, was elected to the Corporation of Leeds in 1710 but died five years later. With his wife, Esther, James had three children. The eldest, John, became Mayor in 1729 but also died shortly after his period in office. A daughter, Mary, married a York doctor, William Clinch.   

It was James Blayds’ third child, Francis, along with his two sons and two daughters who prospered and enjoyed great wealth through the 18th century. Francis was born in 1699 and it was through his marriage to Anne, the eldest daughter of James and Sarah Feather in about 1729, that the Blayds were first linked to the village of Oulton and the Calverley family. 

As we’ve already seen James Feather was a yeoman farmer and clothier in Oulton, with his wife Sarah Grosvenor bringing her inheritance into the marriage. They had two children, both girls, which meant that after the death of her younger sister, Elizabeth, in 1728, Anne Blayds became the sole heiress, with the law stipulating that whatever she inherited would become her husband’s property.

However, from research by Geoffrey Mercer into the Calverley documents, it appears that in 1707 James Feather had bought land valued at £190 from Edward Thomas, a tanner. This land was either the whole or part of a farm, including a house, once belonging to a Quaker family called Lupton. Some of it was called Ashroyd or Eshroyd, probably referring to the trees that had grown there. It’s not clear from Mercer’s notes whether this became James Feather’s main residence and it appears that he may have rented it out and lived on other land elsewhere in the village. 

James Feather stipulated in his will, dated 1715, that when he died his own land was to be sold to pay his debts. Unfortunately the sale didn’t raise enough so his widow, Sarah, had to take out a mortgage on Lupton farm and Ashroyd from her brother, Seth Grosvenor, a wealthy man by now from his adventures on the Gold Coast. Two years later he transferred the mortgage to his brother-in-law, William Calverley, theoretically Francis Blayds’ uncle by marriage, although William died in 1729 just before or after Francis married Anne Feather.   

Eventually in 1742 Francis Blayds, by then a widower with four children, paid off all of James Feather’s debts of £246, part of which went to William Calverley’s widow and only son, John, the Leeds grocer. In return Sarah Feather conveyed to Francis four acres of land and buildings at Ashroyd along with a plot, 69 feet by 40 feet, which had been enclosed from the “waste” or common land at Oulton Green. Mercer suggests that this was the nucleus for the future Oulton Hall estate with Francis Blayds building a new house there in about 1750.

It’s clear then that, probably from the 1680s and certainly from 1729, there was a close link between the Blayds and Calverley families, underpinned by marriage and by their financial affairs.

Francis and Anne Blayds first child, John, was born in 1730, followed in 1732 and 1733 by sisters Anne and Mary. Finally came James in 1735 with his mother dying in childbirth or shortly afterwards. Perhaps to overcome his grief Francis threw himself into the merchanting business training his sons in the trade. He had been elected to the Corporation in 1725, resigning two years later, and John was to follow him serving as Lord Mayor on three occasions, with James also being elected to the Corporation in 1761. 

Between them father and and sons established a substantial base of operations on a triangle of land close to their house bordering Woodhouse Lane near the centre of Leeds. The estate eventually included a press and dressing shops for the cloth, a counting house, cottages for tenants, gardens, and at some point a house and stables built bordering Park Lane. In the 1850s it was sold to the Corporation, demolished, and the site used for the grand edifice of Leeds Town Hall, opened by Queen Victoria in 1858. 

As well as prospering in trade both John and James Blayds married well, bringing further capital into the business. A considerable amount came in December 1760, just after Christmas, when John married Esther, the daughter of fellow merchant John Brooke, another Lord Mayor of Leeds, in 1736 and 1754. The wedding, and its financial significance, was announced in the Leeds Intelligencer on December 30th: “Yesterday was married at the Parish Church, John Blayds Esq., Merchant, to Miss Brooke, only daughter of John Brooke Esq., of this town, an agreeable young lady, with a fortune of £40,000.” Today that would be roughly equivalent to three million pounds. 

Ten years later, with “tumultuous rejoicings,” James married another heiress, Sarah, the eldest daughter of Peter Birt of Airmyn. The Intelligencer reported open house was kept for three days for the Blayds’ cloth dressers and there was “firing of cannon, ringing of bells, and other demonstrations of joy.”  A former merchant and colliery owner Birt became even wealthier through the contract he had, along with Sir Henry Ibbetson, as “farmer” or collector of the tolls along the Aire and Calder Navigation. One of the richest men in Yorkshire, in 1774 he bought Wenvoe Castle in Glamorganshire, had it completely rebuilt, and retired there. 

Despite their success in trade and marriage there was sadness though for the Blayds brothers. Neither had children, nor did either of their sisters. John’s wife died in 1769, nine years after her marriage, and James’ wife passed away in 1772 only two years after her’s. 

It was around this time that grocer’s son John Calverley became closely connected to the Blayds business activities, probably joining them as an apprentice when he was 15 years old in 1768. With the brothers having no children perhaps, as their young relative, he naturally became their heir apparent?

As well as continuing the cloth merchanting business in 1776 John Blayds and John Calverley became two of the six partners in Beckett’s Bank. It had been founded in the 1750s although John Beckett, the merchant son of a Barnsley grocer, didn’t become a partner until 20 or so years later. 

The bank was also home to the Leeds Fire Office which issued insurance policies. A notice dated 18 March 1777 declared: “The public are hereby informed that an office is this day opened at the Leeds Bank, where houses and other buildings, goods, wares and merchandise, may be insured from loss or damage by fire; and persons already insured, may transfer their insurances into this office, without any expense for the policy. Proposals at large may be had at the said office, or at any of the proprietors houses – Thomas Wilson, John Blayds, John Arthington, John Beckett, William Walker, John Calverley, junior. Agents will be speedily appointed in most of the principal towns in this county.” 

The Blayds were enabled in their business dealings by John acting as a deputy receiver for land and other taxes in the West Riding. After it had been collected he was able to keep the money for several months before passing it on to the Bank of England, a system which allowed him to make money on short term loans to other merchants or to pay cash for cloth from the clothiers, passing on the tax to the authorities when he had made a profit.  

A small hiccup occurred though during the War of American Independence when there was a downturn in the export trade. In May 1777 John Blayds was holding “an enormous balance” in the name of William Stanhope, the official West Riding Receiver. As Professor Wilson discovered: “It was so large that the tax office threatened that the renewal of Stanhope’s appointment would be delayed if the large amounts of money in his hands were not remitted quickly. Blayds agreed to pay £11,500 into the former’s account within seven days. These large balances which Blayds leisurely remitted to the Bank of England undoubtedly aided the growth of Beckett’s Bank in these difficult years between 1778 and 1783.”

Meanwhile in Oulton, Woodlesford, Rothwell and Methley, Francis Blayds and his two sons had been busily acquiring large and small plots of land, along with the associated houses and cottages, to add to the original Feather estate. 

One method they seemed to have used was by giving mortgages to the owners of existing property and then claiming the land when the mortgagees died. In 1757, for instance, Isabel Clareborough and her son Henry along with Ann Clareborough borrowed £170. From the inscriptions J A C 1688 and H C on Croft House and Ivy House on St. John’s Street in Oulton, Mercer concluded these must have been part of the Clareborough estate. The mortgage document also refers to plots at Stubble Garth, Near and Far Low Laith Closes, Holmsley Field and Lower and Upper Shutt. 

Four years before his death in 1764, Francis Blayds bought Hollin Hall outright for £2950. The previous owners had been Richard Brooke, a clerk of Chelsea, his wife Frances, along with James Brooke of Killingbeck near Leeds, no doubt related in some way to Esther, Francis’ deceased daughter-in-law. As well as the farm’s barns, included in the deal were several closes of land listed as follows: “Mid and Far Croft, Nutter Royd, Eller Close, Quarry Close, Oak Close near Croft, Ireland Royds, Pasture Close, Far and Near Rhodes (Royds) Closes, all in Oulton. Also two cottages in Rothwell, Bentcliffe Close, and lands in Barley Banks and off Fleet Lane.” 

As with their merchant contemporaries the Blayds’ prime motive for all this land acquisition was to build for themselves a country estate where they could emulate the long standing landed aristocracy.

In the middle part of the 18th century we don’t know how much time they spent at their Oulton house and perhaps they only came at weekends and holidays returning to Leeds during the working week. In those days they would have had to take the road through Rothwell, up the hill past Rothwell church and over Rothwell Haigh before joining the Wakefield to Leeds highway via Thwaite Gate. An alternative route was over Swillington Bridge and then along the Pontefract or Black Road which ran between the bridge over the River Aire at Castleford and Leeds. 

It must have been the lack of good roads which encouraged John Blayds to join a number of turnpike trust committees in Leeds and Wakefield. They were set up to build new highways and it’s no coincidence that the route chosen for the Wakefield to Aberford turnpike ran past his property and that of fellow trustee Sir William Lowther of Swillington House. They were among the 16 men who first met in Wakefield under the chairmanship of Sir Thomas Gascoigne on 24 April 1788 “to consider the propriety of an application to parliament for an Act to authorise the making of a turnpike road from Wakefield to Tadcaster or to unite near Tadcaster with some of the roads leading to that place.”

Saintforth Wroe was appointed to make a survey of the the existing road as far as Aberford and another of “a road built in a straight line.” He was asked to come up with an estimate for “the making and finishing of each route.’’ A compromise, widening the old route with the building stretches of new road, seems to have been decided on and just over a year later, on Monday 25 May 1789 “at ten in the morning,” the trustees appointed by an Act of Parliament met at the White Hart in Wakefield. Their task was to elect a permanent “surveyor” to build and manage the road and decide where to put turnpike gates for collecting tolls. 

The road appears to have been fully opened a couple of years later with a mile and a half of new highway built through Oulton and Woodlesford. A toll bar was installed near Swillington Bridge which was rebuilt at a cost of £2000 at about the same time. The precise location of a toll gate in Oulton is unknown. The modern A642 still takes largely the same route.

John Blayds held the office of Lord Mayor of Leeds in 1761, 1774 and 1794, a role he must have at least enjoyed in part as some of his contemporaries disliked the job so much they were willing to pay fines to avoid it. 

First established in 1626 the Corporation had its Royal Charter renewed several times. During the 18th century there were 24 assistant or common-councilmen and 12 aldermen presided over by the mayor. They only met three or four times a year and could pass by-laws to regulate the woollen industry. They were also responsible for roads, bridges and the collection of rubbish. 

Aldermen served on a rota dealing with criminality as justices of the peace meeting daily. They joined a judge, or recorder, and the mayor to sit every three months at Quarter Sessions. There they dealt with the more serious criminal cases, took decisions about the collection of the poor and highway rates, and appointed overseers of the poor, constables, road surveyors and officials to inspect cloth and leather. 

One of the mayor’s functions was to regulate the weight and price of bread. A notice published in the Intelligencer in 1775, following John Blayds’ second term as mayor, reveals the most expensive item he authorised was a three penny rye loaf weighing 2 pounds 12 ounces. The cheapest was a penny brick white bread weighing 6 ounces.

As an important industry woollen manufacture had been subject to national laws since medieval times and by the late 18th century there were over 70 acts of parliament. Some of them related to the conduct of masters and labourers. Others controlled the making and selling of cloth. Some limited the number of looms in a clothier’s house and also prevented the use of certain types of machinery. 

In the West Riding the laws were applied by the justices of the peace sitting at the Rotation Office in Leeds. In the first three months of 1785 John Blayds was amongst a number of magistrates dealing with cases under the Worsted Act of 1776 to prevent fraud and abuse by workers in the industry. From a list of those convicted it looks as though it was also used to exert control over unruly or disrespectful workers. On 12 February, for instance, John Beckett and John Blayds dealt with Abraham Lumb from Elland who was “wilfully refusing or neglecting the performance of his work.” He was committed to the House of Correction for one month. 

Evidence that cloth making was still going strong locally comes with the names of several of the others who were tried. Elizabeth Beckwith, of Rothwell, and Dinah Chadwick from Oulton were among nine women who appeared before John Beckett and Edmund Barker on 7 January, although the charge against them isn’t given in the report in the Intelligencer published on 15 March. George Heiserah of Rothwell, Elizabeth Rushforth of Thorpe and Hannah Dawson and Hannah Marshall, both from Methley, were amongst a group fined 5 shillings for “reeling false or short yarn.” They appeared before the Wakefield merchant Pemberton Milnes who owned land adjacent to the Aire and Calder Navigation in Oulton.

Across Yorkshire justice was administered by a Grand Jury which met quarterly at the Assizes at York Castle. In March 1791, from a list of the 22 jurors appointed by the High Sheriff, Sir George Armytage, John Blayds is described as of “Oulton” suggesting that by then he had moved his main residence to the village. Other men from prominent merchant families were also on the list including Pemberton Milnes and Robert Denison of Kilnwick.

James Blayds had died in 1772 but it’s not clear from the records whether John Calverley then worked with John Blayds in the cloth merchanting business or whether the relationship continued only via Beckett’s Bank where they both remained as partners. Calverley served as Lord Mayor of Leeds in 1785 and 1798 and appears to have had an independent income by that period. 

In 1785, at the Cathedral in Manchester, he married Mary, a daughter of the Reverend Charles Downes. She was five years younger than him and also had an Oulton connection as she was the granddaughter and named after the third daughter of John Grosvenor who had married a man by the name of Thomas Jackman. This meant they were cousins and their marriage may have reunited some of John Grosvenor’s dispersed fortune.  

As a banker and shareholder John Calverley became closely involved with the Aire and Calder Navigation which opened an account with Beckett’s Bank in 1774. According to Dr. William N. Slatcher, who looked extensively at the Navigation’s records for his 1971 thesis, in 1789 Calverley inherited £100 worth of stock in the Leeds section of the waterway from his uncle, Thomas Walker.  

Three years later he gained an additional £200’s worth with the death of his maiden great-aunt, Ruth Dover, and in 1794 received £100 Leeds stock following the death of another great-aunt, Elizabeth Stainton. Some of these investments had originally been held by his maternal great-grandfather, George Dover, a Leeds merchant and mayor, who had bought £600 of stock from one of the first Navigation investors, William Wombwell, a landowner from near Barnsley. George had married Hannah Milner, daughter of “Alderman Million” – William Milner of Nun Appleton, another Leeds “legend” and the driving force behind the creation and early years of the Navigation. 

Slatcher suggests Calverley also used his “business acumen” to buy up smaller amounts of stock which he then consolidated into one holding. This would have been a “nice little earner” as by 1781 the Navigation profits were 100 per cent and within 15 years had increased by half again.

Probably as a representative of the bank, John Calverley first attended Navigation committee meetings as a visiting undertaker in 1783 and was a regular participant after he was elected a full member in 1787. As Slatcher states: “Thereafter, and especially in the year of the Barnsley Canal promotion, his attendance on Aire and Calder business was assiduous. Like a well-to-do steward, he looked after the interests of those who paid his salary.” 

Between 1788 and 1796 John and Mary Calverley had eight children. The first were twins – Frances and Mary. Three boys died young – William when he was 8, Charles at the age of 14, and James when he was just a baby. Five survived into adulthood and married and it was their descendants who would go on to perpetuate the Oulton Calverley dynasty. 

As suggested above it was probably the long term intention of the childless John Blayds and his sisters to make John Calverley the heir to their century old business and growing estate in Oulton. It appears though not to have been quite as simple as some previous accounts of the history of Oulton Hall have suggested as both sisters were still alive when John Blayds died in 1804. 

He had made his will a few years earlier on 6 March 1798 when he was 68 years old. The principal beneficiary and sole executor was the youngest sister, Mary, who stood to inherit all his houses, cottages, land, furniture, money and personal possessions, as well as the income from the many mortgages he was holding. The older sister, Anne, was to be given £200 immediately after his death followed by an annual amount of £400, half of it paid on 1 June and half on 1 December. 

Two friends or business partners were to receive cash. £3000 went to Barbara, the wife of Robert Dyneley a London gentleman and £100 was bequeathed to Thomas Gomersall of Birstal, a cloth dyer.

Samuel Denison, described as “my servant,” probably John Blayds’ butler, was given an annuity of £25. Other household members received a smaller lump sum: “I give and bequeath unto such of my servants as shall be living with me at the time of my decease the sum of ten pounds apiece to be paid immediately after my decease.” An annuity of £25 also went to John Blayds’ gardener, who, coincidentally, had the name John Calverley. He was probably a descendant of one of the lesser branches of the family unrecorded in Foster’s pedigree.

No mention is made of anything being left in this will to the banker John Calverley, although he was one of the three men who witnessed it. The others were attorney John Smith and his apprentice clerk David John Gordon.  

However, there must have been some kind of agreement between John and Mary Blayds as just two days after his will was passed, by the probate court in York in December 1804, Mary made her will and in it she was quite clear that John Calverley was to be the main beneficiary of the estate. Her sister was still alive when this will was made so when Mary died Anne would inherit the houses and land in Leeds and Oulton along with the household furniture, plate, china, linen, horses and carriages. Anne could do what she wanted with the horses and contents but it was clearly stated that on her death the houses, land and everything remaining should then pass to John: “Immediately after her decease I give and devise the same unto the said John Calverley his heirs and assigns forever.”

Two other clauses reveal that on Mary’s death all the rest of the Blayds holdings of land, cottages tenements, goods, cattle, chattels, mortgages and securities went straight to John who was made sole executor of the will. As well as settling her debts he was to be responsible for administering several bequests. Anne was to receive another annuity of £1600 over and above that given to her by her brother. Mrs. Ann Jackman was given £50 and Edmund Earles, a cloth dresser, received £100. Mary’s coachman, George Grundwell, got an annuity of £25 whilst her other servants were given £10 each. Finally, £200 went to the Trustees of the Leeds General Infirmary. This will was witnessed by John and Edwin Smith along with Frederick Oates. 

Both Mary and Anne Blayds were over 70 when their brother died and in the event they both passed away two years later within a few weeks of each other in the winter of 1806. Mary died on Saturday 22 November and Anne on Christmas Day. Both had lived in a house at Lydgate near St. John’s church in Leeds where their burials were recorded in the register. Many of the others who died in the same period were victims of smallpox but the cause of death of both Blayds sisters went unrecorded. In her will Anne had also made John Calverley the sole executor and “universal legatee.” From her he received 4,576 pounds 7 shillings and 3 pence, although he didn’t pay the tax due on it until 1817. 

Mary Blayds’ will was passed by the probate court on 27 December 1806 two days after her sister’s death. Despite what must have been his grief at the recent loss of two women who he would have been been close to, for the grocer’s son turned banker, it must have been a memorable day. He was now one of the wealthiest men in Leeds with an estate at Oulton where he could live the life of a country gentleman like many of the others who had made their fortunes out the Leeds woollen trade.  

(The only note of contention comes in John William Walker’s History of Wakefield, published in 1939, in which he suggests that Francis Ingram, a distant relative of the Blayds, was “somewhat peeved” not to inherit Oulton in 1804.) 

Nowhere in either of the wills of John and Mary Blayds is it stipulated that John Calverley should change his name to theirs in order to inherit, but in very short order he had applied to the authorities in London to make the change and be given the right to bear the Blayds family’s arms. It may have been part of the unwritten agreement between them or, as stated in the official announcement, it may have been simply to honour their memory. Another explanation could be that the name of the bank, by then known as Beckett and Blayds, would not need to be altered. 

With the personal approval of King George III the proclamation was published in the London Gazette in late February 1807 and reprinted in the Leeds newspapers a few days later. The full text reads: “The King has been pleased to grant unto John Calverley, of Leeds, in the County of York, Esquire, His Royal Licence and Authority, that he and his issue may take and use the surname, and bear the arms of Blayds only, out of affectionate regard to the memory of his kinsman, John Blayds, late of Leeds aforesaid, and of Oulton, in the said County of York, Esq., deceased. Such arms being first duly exemplified according to the laws of arms, and recorded in the Herald’s office. And also to order that His Majesty’s concession and declaration be registered in His college of arms.”

to be continued

The ladies of the district, and some gents, in all their Edwardian finery on the steps of Oulton Hall before the First World War. The man with the beard on the right of the back row is believed to be the Calverley family’s land agent John Farrer. He was 70 in 1911 which suggests this photo was taken a few years before then. It was in the collection of Faith Jewitt, the daughter of William Henry Jewitt, the foreman horse keeper at Bentley’s brewery. Faith was born in 1889 and is believed to have worked at the hall as a domestic servant before she moved to become a housemaid at Moortown in Leeds.
The main sitting room in the hall.
Another view of the sitting room.