Rothwell – A Short History

Below is the text of a “Short History of Rothwell And District” adapted from a transcript written by Edwin Robert Manley in the winter of 1954/55. Manley had been the headmaster of Rothwell Grammar School since 1933 and it seems he compiled the history with a view to publishing a book, illustrated with photographs, for use in local schools. It followed on from “Meet the Miner,” written during the Second World War and published in 1947.

As it turned out the history book was never published, possibly because Manley was elected to the Rothwell Urban District Council and he lacked the time to complete it. At some point the typed manuscript found its way to the local history collection in the “glass case” at Rothwell library. A box full of photographic negatives, believed to have been taken by Manley and others, was also deposited at the library and they have now been digitised and made available on the Leodis website. This page is illustrated with some of those photographs and is an attempt to make E. R. Manley’s manuscript more widely available.

It should be borne in mind that he was building on the work of previous historians including John Batty who published his “History of Rothwell” in 1877 and George Roberts whose two volume ”Topography and Natural History of Lofthouse and its Neighbourhood” date from 1882 and 1885. It’s also clear from the manuscript that Manley was assisted by others including John Henry Lamb, a clerk at the Armitage quarry in Robin Hood, and possibly by Geoffrey Hamish Mercer, the vicar of Oulton who amassed a great deal of detail about the history of Oulton and Woodlesford. The text is largely as Manley wrote it including contemporary references, but some words have been changed to modern spellings and some dates have been corrected. (Photographic caption details come from “Around Rothwell” in two volumes by Simon Bulmer, Albert Brown and Eric Wright.)


In simple outline the history of our neighbourhood is as follows. The ground on which we live and in the crust, in which the miners and the quarrymen work, was built up by a series of great movements. They raised and lowered the surface and enabled the rivers and the seas to lay down stratum upon stratum of different rock, often breaking and reforming them so that different kinds of rock appear at or near the surface – sandstones, shales, gravels, coal seams.

When man first lived here the surface had been stable for millennia. The rivers had been formed and had created floodplains and swamps, and the higher land had been clothed in forest. Our first ancestors had as yet no tools to clear the forests and lived by the rivers, using dugout canoes, as primitive dwellers by the Amazon still do today. Traces of them have been found at Stanley, where such a canoe was discovered and is now to be seen in the museum at York. Flint implements have also been found.

When the Romans came here in the first century A.D. the inhabitants were Celts whose names for the rivers are still in use. The strongest evidence of Roman occupation has been found at Lingwell Nook. Very little irrefutable evidence has come to light in the Rothwell area itself.

The Roman withdrawal was followed by the slow penetration of the district by Anglian peoples. They made their houses of wood and most of their implements were of wood or leather. Probably the clearest evidence of their way of life is to be deduced by applying our imaginations to the earthworks in the wood behind Rothwell Grammar School. All but the earthworks themselves have vanished; but we can picture to ourselves the stockade within which a wooden hall housed the thane and his followers. Doomsday Book gives us our first written record. It tells us that when the Normans arrived there were the five villages of Middleton, Thorpe, Rothwell, Carlton and Lofthouse. (Oulton and Woodlesford were not mentioned). Already something like half the land had been cleared of forest and there was an ordered society engaged in agriculture under the leadership of English thanes whose names were Alric, Stenulf, Barth and Harold.

The Normans devastated the whole area so that twenty years later it was worth less than half what it had been in 1066. It had now passed into the possession of a Norman, Ilbert de Lacy, whose headquarters were at Pontefract, but who had outlying fortified places of which one was at Rothwell.  Of this only a fragment remains above ground and is still to be seen in the Pastures near the church.

The de Lacys put their trusted followers in possession of parts of their estates as sub-tenants holding from them by knight-service. Thus the mixed population of Danes, Anglians and Saxons formed the basis on which was imposed a pyramid of knights and nobles. An example is the family of Hunts which held the village of Carlton doing military service to their lord and receiving agricultural service from their villeins.

An important feature of the feudal period was the growth of the monasteries as a result of lands and other rights granted to them by the great nobles. The de Lacys granted the church of Rothwell with its tithes to the Priory of Nostell which also acquired lands in the district.

The monasteries were dissolved by Henry VIII and their rights and lands transferred to a new class of country gentry. A wine merchant called Pymont acquired some of these rights in the Lofthouse area. The family built themselves houses there, two of which survive, the farm in Green Lane and the house opposite the Rose and Crown. They were energetic people and helped to develop the coal industry, so that they took as their coat of arms three miners picks and three bunches of grapes. The lintel of their house at Lofthouse bears the now almost illegible coat but one can still make out one pick and one bunch of grapes.

There was much building in the Tudor period, which suggests that there was considerable prosperity amongst the land owning class. Evidence of this can be seen in many places, and a good example of their taste in decoration is seen in the plastered ceiling of Miss Heaton’s house in Commercial Street.

Until the Industrial Revolution the people of the district grew all their own food. There were maltkilns in every village. The willow garths supplied the material for basket work; there were blacksmith’s forges, rope walks, etc. , and there were day holes for coal getting. Trade, however, was developing. In George Roberts’ history of Lofthouse he gives us a transcript of a memorandum dealing with a pack-horse journey through Lofthouse in 1749: a train of nineteen packhorses and one hackney was provided with oats and beans, probably at the Pymont Farm in Green Lane, for that was then a house of call for pack trains.

The Industrial Revolution brought many changes. New names begin to appear. In 1759 Mr. James Fenton died “at his house nigh Rothwell – a very eminent coal merchant by which he had acquired a very plentiful fortune”.

Ancient and modern. Rothwell manor house with Rose pit in the background.

As well as coal other industries arose. In about 1824 John Armitage came in to develop stone quarrying at Robin Hood. In 1828 the brewery at Eshald Well became big business under Henry Bentley from Huddersfield. There were also other industries including brick making, glass manufacture, pottery, match making, and cloth manufacture. Rothwell at one time looked as though it might be a considerable manufacturing area. Then many of the industries either failed or were removed. In the last few years there has been a revival of small scale light industry, for example engineering at Lofthouse, paint at Oulton, cloth at Jawbones etc. It is to be hoped that these will thrive.

The Industrial Revolution caused an increased demand for food. Before the coming of the refrigerator and steamships such food could only come from English land and from the near neighbourhood. As a result, there was a powerful demand for land and the last of the open fields and commons were enclosed. The areas to be enclosed were thoroughly surveyed together with all ecclesiastical and manorial rights upon them, and it is from the details of the awards made at that time that we can gather the most intimate picture of society as it then was. The Industrial Revolution did not begin in any particular year. The parish registers show that the days when coal getting was a mere seasonal occupation fitting into the agricultural year were already passing long before the development of large scale industry.

By the beginning of the eighteenth century the deaths are recorded of workers in many crafts and trades. This gradually increasing industrial population became opposed to the more feudal order of society, with its attachment to the established church, and was attracted to Methodism and other types of non-conformity. Then, too, some of the new capitalists started as industrial workers themselves and from them came part of the funds for the erection of chapels and temperance halls. Their names can be found on the foundation stones of many such buildings. By the middle of the nineteenth century industry and industrial society had fairly overlaid agriculture and agricultural society.

The last century has seen great changes. The Local Government Act of 1872 began to take the control of local affairs out of the hands of the country gentry and the new class of industrial capitalists, although it was from these classes that the first leaders of the new local government were elected. The new shape of local government was fully established with the County Councils Act of 1888 and the establishment of county district councils in 1894. A serious effort gathered way for the provision of piped water supplies, improved sanitation, better roads etc. At the same time the revolution in transport came to a climax with the installation of electric tramways.

It was the new ease of movement which gave the people of the district a new character. Until the early 1900s the bulk of the population was employed locally. The new industrial development was accompanied by the building of houses by the capitalist employers close to their quarries and mines. A good example of this (though only one of many) is Angel Row, at Rothwell Haigh. This row was built by the Charlesworths for the workers in the Lucky Pit hard by. It was then called Lucky Row, but when the little pit was closed, the Row remained and gradually the memory of the pit faded and its name was changed to that of the public house on the main Leeds and Wakefield road.

The tramway ended all that. Increasingly the people of the district began to find their livelihood in the cities of Leeds and Wakefield, and workers there began to make their homes outside the cities. Thus there has grown up a society largely divorced from knowledge of the countryside in which it makes its home. This divorce of the community from the traditions of its environment has been intensified by the incoming of teachers and clergy from outside the area, an excellent thing from some points of view, but bad by reason of its effect in helping to produce a restless society living only for the moment.

The compilers of this book have tried to give the people of the Rothwell district a knowledge of their own surroundings by showing it to them in the form of a photographic survey. It is not their intention to write a history of England or of this part of it, though they have had to spend many hours delving into the story of the past in order to give their work its true significance. It is their hope that a study of the pictures and of the purposely very brief notes which explain them will whet the appetites of their readers to do their own delving and to form for themselves a working knowledge of the growth and development of the society of which they form a part.


In this district of natural forest the first houses were constructed of wood. Suitably bent trees would be split and then reared up to form two crude arches which supported the roof tree. On this basis, a framework of smaller tree trunks was formed, the gaps being filled with wattles plastered with mud: the roof was thatched. In this area all such buildings have disappeared. There was, however, almost certainly such a primitive mansion enclosed by the stockade which defended the earthworks in the rear of the grammar school. At the time of the Norman Conquest it was probably occupied by one of the thanes mentioned in Doomsday Book. It was probably burned when William devastated the north.

Right down to Stuart times the same principle lingered on. Even when bricks came into use, the builders did not trust them for making corners and they were used to replace the wattle and daub for filling in the timber framework. This can still be seen in the house built by Edrus Taylor in 1611 at Oulton, now called the Nookin. It can be seen most clearly in the western gable of the Tudor house in Farrer Lane. The use of bowed timbers can still be detected in the upper story of the manor farm at Carlton. By the time that house was given its present form, it was usual to build the walls of the bottom storey in brick or stone and then to continue upwards with the old timber framework, placing a vast beam from side to side of the house bearing on the bowed uprights.

The Nookin at Oulton.

The Normans imported architects to build their stone castles. That at Rothwell was rendered pointless by the development of gunpowder, and in 1486 Henry VII granted the Manor Garth to “our trustye and wel-beloved Roger Hopton” on condition that he built “a certayne convenient houseing of less building more for our pleasir and hys ese”. It needs only a cursory glance at the manor house  Hopton built to see that in those days the art of building in stone was not understood in Rothwell. It is a hodge-podge of ill-constructed masonry and of the traditional timber framework.

The dissolution of the monasteries led to the dispersion of their wealth and to the rise of a new class of landed gentry and yeoman farmers, and there was much building. Except in castles and monasteries, chimneys had hardly been developed. Fires were lit on a hearth in the middle of the hall and the wood smoke escaped through a louvre in the roof. This newly prosperous class now adopted the chimney stack. It was usually built outside the house and became an architectural feature, as did also the chimneys. In the Tudor house in Farrer Lane, a house that has been frequently extended, such a chimney has been added to the west end, while the newer stone-built southern front has a chimney that was built as part of the extension and is, in consequence, much more satisfactory architecturally.

The adoption of the chimney stack made it unnecessary to leave a clear passage for smoke from the hearth to the roof and it became possible to insert a bedroom floor. Some houses were readjusted for this purpose. This was probably the case at Oulton manor house. In the farm house at Lofthouse now occupied by Mrs. Bowes there is a fine staircase which has been built almost independently of the original structure, probably on the site of the original hearth.

Another good example of the internal reconstruction of a pre-Tudor house is Carlton manor farm, in the under-drawings of which one can still see the early stone walls that were broken through, with the great roof beams somewhat precariously wedged into place.

Already by the time of Elizabeth restrictions were being placed on the use of the oak trees which were needed for shipbuilding, and James I issued strict orders against their use for building. This is, however, a county of good sandstone, and it was not long before the art of building with it was recovered. It was more easily worked than timber, and the mason could fashion from it the mullions for the windows in which men of Tudor and Stuart time delighted. The farmhouse in Aberford Road, Oulton, was built in 1696. The masonry is excellent and the windows with their square lintels are typical of a style that was in use for two centuries. Glass was still made in narrow panes, and, in consequence, larger windows could be achieved by increasing the number of mullions or by extending the windows upwards, as was done when Lofthouse Hall was built in 1800.

Many of the houses still occupied in Rothwell, Carlton and Oulton date from Tudor times, when the prosperous owners took pleasure in ornamenting their houses inside as well as outside. They particularly loved pargetry, ornamental plaster work, and there are fine specimens of this work at Carlton manor farm and in Miss Heaton’s house in Commercial Street.

Hollin Hall in Oulton. Manley refers to it as a farmhouse on Aberford Road.

There was little further change in architectural practice until the new industrial magnates arose. Then such houses as Haigh House, now occupied by Mr. Capewell, came into the tenancy of men with money to burn, and they either altered them extensively or built anew. Charlesworth’s mansion on Lofthouse Hill is now a ruin, but Lofthouse Hall remains. These houses were not convenient to work; domestic servants were easy to come by, and they were intended to provide grandeur rather than comfort. The most extensive of such houses was Oulton Hall, rebuilt by John Blayds (Calverley) in 1855. He was by far the wealthiest resident in the district, and he gave his house a portico with Corinthian pillars, which were repeated inside the building. It was the last great house to be built in the area.

Interesting smaller nineteenth century houses include that known as Chatham House. This is not a completely new building, but its front, with windows to the ground, is typical late regency in style. It incorporates two old stone cottages.

There is a lack of large Victorian style houses, for the Seanors and other rising industrialists of that period failed to make good. The taste of that period is best seen in the civic buildings and the schools, all of which have that imitation gothic look so dear to Victorian hearts. A considerable number of farm hands were housed in the farms themselves or in cottages attached to them. Working class housing generally consisted of one-storeyed cottages with a living room and bedroom like those the ruins of which can still be seen opposite Church Farm, Lofthouse.

One of the first moves of capitalists starting a new venture was to provide housing for their workers near that job. Examples of this are numerous. The Fentons housed their glass-workers at Stourton in the rows called the Goslems: Charlesworths built Lucky Row for the miners in the Lucky Pit at Rothwell Haigh; the Armitages built Stoneycroft beside the Robin Hood sawmills. These rows of cottages with their common yards and their outside conveniences look uninviting today; but, in most cases, they were superior to the homes the workers of those days had known before, and the first John Armitage himself lived in one of the back-to-back houses he built in 1842 in Copley Lane.

Since the First World War, the urban district council has built over 1,800 houses. This has made possible the demolition of nearly all the worst housing; but some very poor property still remains, including Pottery Fold, built about 1800 on the site of the Rothwell Pottery. Apart from council houses the bulk of the building since 1918 has been done by or for shop-keepers and others who have moved out from the centre of the village to such places as Park Lane. The houses are very similar in size, a house with four bedrooms being exceptional, and they all have gardens. The main ideas have been privacy, variety in external appearance, and an increasingly high standard of convenience for the housewife.

There has also been some speculative building of small houses. Open View, Penny Bank Street and others off Carlton Lane, Rothwell, were built in 1888, the Idas at Stourton in about 1900-1910, Bennett’s estate in Green Lane, Lofthouse, and the John’s Avenue and Lofthouse Park estates in the 1930’s. The triangle between Holmsley Lane and Oulton Hall is now being developed with good modern houses.


The West Riding County Council was formed in 1888 and the Rothwell Urban District Council in 1894. Before that local administration was divided between the Justices of the Peace and the parish overseers appointed by them. The county Justices of the Peace were almost invariably important landowners.

Roberts in his History of Lofthouse, describes how Mr. Daltry of Lofthouse Hall – the same Mr. Daltry mentioned in the enclosure award of 1837 – used to fulfil his duties: “As lord of the manor and a justice he used to hold a sort of baronial court in the hall. A person named Dawson was his clerk and gardener. On Mondays he had numerous cases to decide, principally cases of drunkenness, fighting, trespassing, distraints, arrears of rates and petty disputes, very many of which he decided satisfactorily without causing loss of time and money to indigent persons, as is now done by the present circumlocutory methods of administering justice. He was rash tempered, and frequently had little differences with his men. Once, whilst making some alterations in the park, one of his men felled a tree that ought not to have been felled. Mr. Daltry, on ascertaining the fact, went to him in great haste and blew him well up, ending by shouting, “Take a rope and hang thyself!”. “Aye”, replied the man, “but who’s to find t’rope?”.

The local influence of such men was overwhelming. In 1873 a survey shows that the estimated gross rent of the Blayds-Calverley estate in the parish of Rothwell was £8,334. 19. 0. at a time when income tax was 2d. in the pound and a collier working a twelve hour day was lucky to earn a guinea a week. Any of the farmers or other tenants on his estate could be given notice to quit without appeal; he could punish summarily anyone brought before him by the constable (often enough one of his tenants) in his own hall, and as in the case of Mr. Daltry, his clerk might be his own gardener. He even appointed the vicar of the parish. Added to this, the Justices of the Riding met quarterly and at the Quarter Sessions could try any case except one for treason. At these Sessions they carried out the entire administration of the county.

The following extracts from the West Riding accounts for the years 1834-38 show not only the sort of business that was done but the spirit of it.

John Bland, a years salary for care of Rotherham Courthouse, Straw for the Prisoners etc.  £7. 14 shillings 6 pence. Mr. Sheppard for conveying 20 male convicts to the hulks at Portsmouth.  £104. 6. 9. Constable of Rothwell for conveying prisoners to gaol. £2. 2. 6. Constable of Leeds for surveying weights and measures. £21. 9. 0. Mr. Dunn for his extra attendance at the House of Correction during the prevalence of the Cholera. £18. 18. 0. Mr. Hartley on Account for repairs of roads and bridges. £300. 0. 0. Overseer at Leeds for conveying paupers to the depot at Huddersfield. £4. 12. 10. Mr. Sheppard for conveying Edith Wrath from York to the pauper lunatic asylum.  £1. 19. 0. Mr. J. W. Clark for a strong spring cart and harness to convey the Riding books and papers to and from the different Sessions. £30. 0. 0.

The medieval manor court still continued to be held in Rothwell down to the 1920’s, then meeting at the Coach and Horses in Commercial Street, but it had long been little more than an interesting survival. The business of the parish was actually done by the churchwardens and overseers subject to the influence of the local justices. It was they who looked after the destitute, gave rewards for the killing of vermin, and took the initiative in village life. Some of their records survive, of which the following are representative items.

1772. Paid to Dr. Gisburn, of Morley, for curing Sam Brooke of a broken leg. £3. 3. 0. 1773. Milk, 4 gallons @ 4d. per gallon for the workhouse. 1787.  2 Matts for 2 apprentices. 2. 6. 1792. Paid for moles. 15. 8. 1836. By midwife, for Mary Ann Tindale. 5. 0. 1849. Man carrying Thomas Leather. 12. 0. 

The overseers also paid for the labour for building the Sunday School in Churchfield Lane in 1814. The system of justices, churchwardens and overseers was not adequate to the increased problems arising from the industrial revolution. Boards of Guardians, Highway Boards, Sanitary Districts, School Boards came into existence piecemeal from 1834 onwards. Then, too, there was a growing revolt, which found national leaders in men like Joseph Chamberlain, against the power of the landed gentry. These and other influences combined to produce the Acts of 1888 and 1894 which set up an elective system of local government.

Rothwell’s council offices were opened in 1895.

For Rothwell, Rothwell Haigh and Royds Green a Local Board had already been set up in 1873 which, under the energetic leadership of Joseph Charlesworth, provided Rothwell with its first supply of piped water and its first sewerage system. In 1892, Lofthouse-with-Carlton and Thorpe were added. When the Urban District was established in 1894 immediate steps were taken to build the Council Offices which were opened the next year. Health remained the first consideration. A fever hospital was built on Stye Bank; then Rothwell combined with the Hunslet Rural District Council to provide the isolation hospital on the Haigh and later the excellent clinic in Oulton Lane. Rothwell owes much to the vision and energy to the Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Hugh Stevenson, and his voluntary workers who conducted a health propaganda week annually till the outbreak of the Second World War. So successful was Rothwell ‘s health administration that the isolation hospital became redundant, and was closed in 1947.

Apart from less spectacular work in connection with street lighting, water, district roads etc. the major undertakings have been the provision of and development of the park, the construction of Lemonroyd Sewage Works, and of the Central Library. Much of the administration, which used to be under the local control, is passing to the county and the state. School Boards were abolished in 1902, Boards of Guardians in 1928. Health administration has been nationalised, more and more roads are becoming the responsibility of the county and Ministry of Transport, and housing is now much the most important function of the urban district council. Reorganisation of local government is due for a complete overhaul, but, so far, no government has produced an acceptable scheme.

(N. B. Confusion arises in reference to the Blayds and the Calverleys due to the fact that the estate of John Blayds who died in 1804 passed to John Calverley on condition that he took the name of Blayds. This John Calverley, then John Blayds, died in 1827. His son, another John Blayds, resumed the name of Calverley in 1852. The first of these John Calverleys was already a wealthy man when he changed his name. He had extensive business interests in Leeds, of which city he had been Lord Mayor in 1785 and again in 1798). 


The area of Rothwell was at first included in the parish of Morley. The Doomsday survey made no mention of a church at Rothwell. One of the De Lacys secured the separation of Rothwell from Morley and was probably responsible for the erection of the first church, which he granted with its tithes to the Priory of Nostell. The parish then included Rothwell, Rothwell Haigh, Lofthouse-cum-Carlton, Oulton-cum-Woodlesford, Thorpe and Middleton. There was then no village at Stourton. The vicars were at first appointed by the priors of Nostell, who owned the right to collect the great or rectorial tithe. At the dissolution of the monasteries the rights of the priory were sold off. The advowson, or right to appoint the vicar, was valuable as it enabled the possessor to choose whom he would. In 1862 this right was sold by Charles Brandling of Middleton to John Calverley Esq. of Oulton. I well remember a conversation with the late Reverend Branscombe, in which he deplored the fact that he had to pay tithe on the vicarage to Mr. Calverley.

The vicar at the time of the dissolution continued in his benefice, but the changes of the Protestant Reformation were not accepted without a struggle. William Legh of Middleton was executed for his part in the Pilgrimage of Grace in 1541, which was intended to secure was the restoration of the monasteries, and another Legh was concerned with the Revolt of the Northern Earls in 1569 against Elizabeth. A Hunt of Carlton was executed by  Elizabeth. He was a Jesuit missionary who came back from France to defend the old faith.

Roman Catholicism was practically rooted out in this district. Apart from any religious motive as such, there were too many who had secured wealth and importance from the acquisition of monastery rights and lands; for example, the family of Pymont at Lofthouse. The new church finally established by Elizabeth held its own. It was the intention of Charles I and Archbishop Laud to increase the power of the Crown over the Church at the expense of the new country gentry. This made the church one of the principal bones of contention during the Civil War. The Parliamentarians won the struggle; the Vicar of Rothwell was excluded from his living, which was held by a series of ministers, marriages being performed by the magistrates under an Act of 1653. In 1660, Jerimiah Milner was minister. He was ejected for not using the Book of Common Prayer and a conforming vicar appointed, the evicted vicar, the Reverend Kaye, having died in 1657.

The Church of England fell on evil days after the Restoration, largely due to the way the owners of the advowson exercised their right of selection. For many years the vicar drew tithe but did not live in the parish. William Wharton was vicar from 1702 to 1739, being appointed by Gervase Pierpoint Esq. During his tenure, he had a curate called Wyatt who pretended he had secured an order from the Ecclesiastical Court at York to collect the tithes due to his absent master. He rounded them up with any arrears and de-camped with them, leaving Rothwell without either vicar or curate. The petition of the churchwardens to the Archbishop of York made in order to get matters cleared up makes interesting reading.

It is not to be surprised at that Methodism made great headway in Rothwell. It began in the district as early as 1747. John Wesley preached in Rothwell several times over a period of twenty years. The first regular meeting place was in a house on the site of the present Butcher Lane Chapel which was built in its present form in 1878. Apart from Methodism, the only type of non-conformity which seems to have made ground in the district was that of the Quakers. Of them all that remains is the disused burial ground at Oulton. Of late years, Roman Catholicism has gained ground in Rothwell and district and immediately before the Second World War a chapel was constructed at the junction of Styebank and Park Lane.

Butcher Lane chapel built in 1878.

The nineteenth century saw a great revival of the Church of England. The parish of Rothwell was divided up, new parishes being formed at Woodlesford, Oulton, Lofthouse and Stourton, all of which were provided with newly built churches in the space of less than fifty years. New parsonages were also provided, including the one at Rothwell now used as a Home Office school. This spate of building for the Church of England went on at the same time that Methodist chapels and schools were being constructed. Oulton St.John’s church was built in 1827, Lofthouse in 1840, Middleton in 1847, Woodlesford in 1870 and Stourton in 1898. Holy Trinity at Rothwell was also extensively reconstructed and renovated in 1874, the same decade which saw the erection of the new vicarage, the National school in Commercial Street, and the Marsh Street and Butcher Lane chapels. At Lofthouse, the church, parsonage, National school and Wesleyan chapel were all constructed within five years (1840-45).

Such an extraordinary activity shows how strong was the interest in religion and also what wealth there was available in the district. A study of the industrial development of the area shows that many industries were then thriving which have now disappeared. Even mining was seriously declining before the National Coal Board took over. How far the resentment against the payment of tithes helped the growth of Methodism is difficult to estimate. It was certainly resented. Down to 1838 tithe was collected in kind – the tenth sheaf, etc. – and placed in tithe barns. After 1838 this was changed into a money payment, and even now, under the Tithe Redemption Act of 1935, tithe redemption annuities are being paid.

Just before the First World War, Mr. Fred Hirst, acting for the firm of John Farrer of Oulton, was sitting in the Unicorn at Carlton receiving tithe payments when a youngish man brought in his notice and said, “Ah weant pay”. An old man who had paid and was drinking his customary bonus pint said to him: “Thee pay.  I remember when I wor a lad, parson’s cart come to the Three Tailed Acre (a field in the angle of Matty Lane and Leadwell Lane) for his sheaves. Farmer refused to let him have them. Parson’s man turned everyone out of the field, shut the gate, tied it up with red tape and sealed it. “Corn mun rot”, he said. “Brak seal who dares”. If they could seal field up then, they cans seal thee up nah. Thee pay”. The young man paid.

A march along Marsh Street.


In the Middle Ages the education of the nobility and gentry, such as it was, was provided for in noble households, while the monasteries provided for the poorer boys who attracted the attention of the monks, and who themselves became some kind of clerk in holy orders. Then in Tudor times, members of the new class of merchants founded “free schools” which they endowed with lands in order to give opportunity to poor scholars. Some of these schools languished and died out. Others became the educational centres of large areas, while a few became institutions of national renown, such as Eton and Winchester.

The free grammar schools at Leeds and Wakefield continued to draw pupils from their own neighbourhoods, but their endowments were applied to reduce the fees of the better-off classes rather than to provide education for the poor. They drew, and still draw, large numbers of pupils from the Rothwell area.

In 1722 John Bromley endowed a school at Rothwell which was situated opposite the Black Bull. This started as a school for boys who had been bound apprentice to some trade, but was further endowed and became a public school for the parish. It finally disappeared in 1869 when its endowments were used to provide funds for the enlargement of the National School. This had its origin in the Sunday School still to be seen in Churchfield Lane.

The Sunday School was founded in 1814 as a non-sectarian school for the teaching of English and arithmetic, to take the place of one held at the old workhouse in Springfield Street. The stone was provided by Mr. William Fenton of Rothwell Haigh from his own quarry, and the ground by Mr. William Smith, a maltster, while the labour was provided for by the parish overseers. It soon ceased to be either secular or non-sectarian. The Churchfield Lane school became the Church Sunday School, while the Wesleyans built themselves a school on the Marsh which they occupied until the Butcher Lane Sunday School was built in 1872. The Churchfield Sunday School was too small for a day school. The Vicar wished to add a storey to it, but the overseers objected, so in 1827 Mr. Blayd’s coach house near the church was enlarged and converted into a school. This building became inadequate, so funds were collected, partly drawn from the endowments of the old free school, and supplemented by a government grant, for the erection of the present Church School in Commercial Street. The site was that of the former vicarage, which had fallen into complete decay, and of which the old chimney breast on the right of the entrance way is the only visible reminder.

There was a similar demand for education at Lofthouse. The materials were provided and carted free by local farmers, while subscriptions were raised to pay for the labour and to purchase a small amount of land. As late as 1879 a school was still held in this building, but there were numerous day schools held in cottages, as was also the case at Carlton, Rothwell and elsewhere. The teachers were often injured miners and other unqualified people, but they met a real need which was not sufficiently provided for until after the passage of the Education Act of 1870. This was not intended to destroy the old but to fill in the gaps.

The new school boards rapidly provided schools, paid for by an education rate supplemented by government grant. They were erected at Robin Hood, Carlton, Rothwell, Woodlesford and Stourton. At Lofthouse, the National School erected in 1845 was sufficient for local requirements. It is now leased for day-school purposes to the West Riding which took over the work of the School Boards under the Act of 1902.

It was this act which gave the local education authority, in this case the West Riding County Council, the power to provide for secondary education and in 1933 to build the grammar school at Lofthouse, which draws its pupils from the urban districts of Rothwell and Stanley, and also to a lesser extent from those of East Ardsley and Garforth. The Education Act of 1944 extended the field of secondary education, and the West Riding is now building another secondary school in Pennington Lane.


In the Middle Ages people lived by farming. The village consisted usually of a street of small farm houses each standing in its small enclosure, but each farmer’s holding consisted of strips of land scattered about in several (usually three) great open fields and not separated from the strips of his neighbours by hedges. His pasture however, was not in his separate possession; all the pasture of the village was in one great stretch on which each farmer had the right to turn out a limited number of horses, cattle etc. This system was not efficient; but there was far more land than was strictly necessary for the production of food, so that it was only slowly changed. Over the centuries different farmers paid fines to the lord of the manor for the right to enclose and in this way the open fields and the common pastures were gradually reduced in extent.

When the monasteries were dissolved their right to collect tithes of farm produce was often transferred to laymen. In 1786 the owner of the Rothwell tithes was Charles Brandling Esq. and it is fortunate that, wanting to know just what his possession was worth, he had a survey made of several of the townships. The map of Carlton as it was before enclosure is now in the strong room at the Council Offices. It shows the village street with its houses and closes; it shows the old enclosures with the names of their holders and it also shows the strips in the open fields. At one end is the Manor House, then in the occupation of Thomas Oliver.

The final enclosure of the lands in Carlton was not made until 1837. The preamble to the Act of Parliament reads as follows: “Whereas there are in the Hamlet of Carlton in the towns ship of Lofthouse-cum-Carlton in the Parish of Rothwell in the County of York, divers Open Fields containing by estimation, three huhdred acres or thereabouts; and whereas John Blayds, John Dodgson Charlesworth, Joseph Charlesworth, Samuel Stocks and William Wylde Esquires, are or claim to be lords of the manor of Carlton aforesaid and Benjamin Daltry is or claims to be seised in Fee of the Rectorial or Great Tithe of the Commons and Waste Lands within the Hamlet of Carlton aforesaid; and whereas the said John Blayds, John Dodgson Charlesworth, Joseph Charlesworth, Samual Stocks and William Wylde, and Joseph Hartley, William Hartley, Squire Bland, and divers other persons are the Owners and Proprietors of or interested in the said Open Fields within the Hamlet of Lofthouse aforesaid; and whereas the said John Blayds, Benjamin Daltry, John Dodgson Charlesworth, Joseph Charlesworth, Samuel Stocks, William Wylde, Joseph Hartley, William Hartley, Squire Bland and John Harrison, and divers other persons, are owners and Proprietors of or interested in ancient Messuages, Cottages, Frontsteads, Lands and Hereditaments within the said several Hamlets and Manors of Carlton and Lofthouse aforesaid, and in respect thereof….. And whereas the several lands …are much intermixed and dispersed…. and might be greatly improved if the same divided, allotted and enclosed…May it therefore please Your Majesty that it may be enacted…”

This Act terminated all rights of common. All the manorial, rights except as concerned minerals were abolished, the several lords of the manor being allotted one sixteenth of the land between them. The tithe was also given up in return for one ninth of the land. It will be noticed that Charles Brandling had sold his right to the tithes, which had passed to Benjamin Daltry, who built Lofthouse Hall in 1801. He was an incomer who obtained his Lofthouse estate by marriage with a descendant of Metcalf Proctor of Thorpe, himself a descendant of the Gascoinge family which held Thorpe. William Gascoinge of Thorpe, who at the age of 23 was killed fighting for the Royalists at Marston Moor, is credited with the invention of the micrometer screw gauge.

The remaining commons of Rothwell, Oulton and Woodlesford were enclosed by Acts passed in 1785, 1793 and 1809. Under the first of these acts 552 acres of Rothwell Haigh were enclosed. The freehold of this great tract had passed into the possession of Lord Stourton subject to certain rights of pasture held by the Earls of Westmoreland and Mexborough, Lady Irwin, Metcalf Proctor, John Blayds, William Burnell, John Stocks and others. The enclosure of so large an area made it possible for the commissioner who carried it out to arrange for straight roads to be laid out across it. These contrast sharply with the winding lanes which pass through areas which were enclosed piecemeal over the centuries.


Before the Industrial Revolution, the normal country dweller lived in a house of wood, mud and wattle or stone with a thatched roof. He wore clothes of leather or wool homespun from the village sheep. His platter was wood as was also his spoon; his drinking vessel was horn and he drew his water from the well in a wooden bucket by a rope of locally grown hemp. His entire food supply came from the village fields. Apart from salt and very small quantities of iron, all his material needs were satisfied from sources within a mile or two of his home. In the Rothwell district even iron was at hand. The monks of Kirkstall smelted iron at Thorpe and ironstone was also worked on the Haigh near Low Shops.

According to the material standards of today such people would be extremely badly off; but food abounded except when the harvest failed. After such a summer as 1954, they would have had a lean winter to look forward to. Specialisation developed slowly and even towns like Leeds and Wakefield were little more than country villages. The Wakefield Burgess Court in 1553 ruled as follows:-“Item yt is agreed that the pinder shall take all swyne that cometh into the church yard and impond them and to take of the owners for every head two pence”. Yet John Leland who made a tour of Yorkshire about 1540 speaks thus “Wakefield apon Calder ys a quik market toune, and meately large, well served of flesch and fische from the Se, and by ryvvers, whereof dyvers be thereabouts at hande. So that all vitaile is very good chepe there. A right honest man shal fare wel for 2 pens a meale. It standeth all by clothyng”. Leland’s description of Leeds, “Ledis, 2 miles lower than Christal Abbay, on Aire Ryver” –  sounds delightfully rural.

Trade nevertheless grew and in 1250 was sufficient to justify the following charter which Edward de Lacy, Baron of Pontefract, obtained from Henry III. “The King hath granted for the ease and profit of the lieges and tenants of our town of Rothwell, within the Honor of Pontefract, at their request, a certain market within the town aforesaid, upon the Wednesday, and two fairs there, to wit one of them on the eve and day of St.Thomas the Martyr and the other on the eve and day of St.Matthew the Evangelist”. Rothwell, at that time as important as Leeds or Wakefield, did not stand on a river or on a main highway and it was gradually overshadowed by them. It developed no merchant or craft guild, and its market and fairs died out without record; but for the survival of the charter granting them, we should not know they had existed.

There was, however, a steady increase in cottage and small scale industry throughout the area, as we can tell from the parish registers which often give the trade of the deceased. There were weavers of wool and also of linen at Oulton and Rothwell. John Batty records that “John Ely and Matthew Ely, of Rothwell, worked at this business, and latterly cotton weaving. Matthew can be remembered carrying his manufactured load to the Leeds market on his shoulders”.

There were shoe-makers, hatters, glovers, stay-makers, wig-makers, breeches-makers, skinners, tanners, saddle-makers. There were wire-drawers, cutlers, riddle-makers, sieve-makers, basket makers, potters, glass-makers, paper makers, millers, ropers, glaziers, tinkers, butchers, blacksmiths, carpenters, joiners, nail-makers, tailors. Deaths of men in all these crafts are recorded in the registers during the half century before the Industrial Revolution.

It is interesting to follow what happened then. A weaver would satisfy the needs of his neighbours and then take the surplus for sale to the town, a time-consuming operation when one had to walk. It might even be dangerous as this news item from the Leeds Intelligencer of November 12th 1764 shows: “On Tuesday last, betwixt the hours of 5 and 6, as one Craven, a cloth maker, who lives at Horbury, was returning from Leeds market, he was stopped on Rothwell Haigh by two men on horseback, one of which brandishing a sword before his face and demanding money, took from him 2 guineas in gold and in silver”.

Then a clothier from, say, Leeds, would start to make a round of the village weavers distributing raw materials to them and collecting the finished article. The next stage was the attraction of the weavers into the town, where no time would be lost in travelling and, after that, it was discovered that water and then steam power could be harnessed to the looms. The transition from water power to steam is illustrated by an advertisement which appeared in the Leeds Intelligencer on 27th October 1793: “To be sold by private contract. Situate near Balm Beck in Hunslet in the Part of Leeds All that Scribbling Mill consisting of Five Machines and a Welley turned by a Fire Engine, also a Scribbling Machine and a Carding Machine turned by a Beck or Rivulet called Balm Beck, together with two Balleys. Thomas Rainforth of Hunslet will shew the premises”.

Village weaving was soon over then. Much the same applied to other crafts. There was a maltkiln in every village and sieve-makers made sieves for the home brewing of ale. Improved transport led to brewing being concentrated in fewer places. The Rothwell brewery still stands at the junction of Leadwell Lane and Stainton Lane but it is derelict, as are the numerous maltkilns, but Bentley’s Brewery which drew its water from Eshald Well at Woodlesford is a thriving concern.

The mill pond at Rothwell. The manor house and church are in the background. The mill was to the right of the picture.

Water power had been used for centuries for the grinding of corn before it was applied to industry. The pottery which stood where Pottery Fold now is was provided with flint ground in a mill driven by the beck in what is now Rothwell Park. The Fleet Mill on the Aire near Lemonroyd did not finally close till a disastrous fire in 1923. It is an impressive ruin with its two great wheels still in position.

By and large, the nineteenth century saw the destruction of Rothwell industry other than mining and quarrying. The two most notable attempts to develop large scale industry were the Cloth Factory at Springhead and Seanor’s Match Factory. The Cloth Factory built in 1806 used the water from the spring which flows into the fiddle pond in the Park, which was exceptionally soft and save the cloth an excellent finish. It throve but limited liability companies were then not known and at the death of the owner it was offered for sale. It was bought by Mr. John Blayds and closed down by him, Batty says because he did not like the smoke which blew across Oulton park. He pulled it down and used much of the stone for building the wall along Oulton Lane. The last of the stone was used quite recently to make the wall of the border in the flower garden beside the fiddle pond.

Richard Seanor started to manufacture matches in Shaw Ditch near the mill dam in 1840, but was burned out in 1841. He re-opened in 1862 but was burned out again in 1867. He then moved to premises beside the Ebenezer chapel, but had a third fire in 1875. Once more the factory was re-opened but it failed to meet the competition of larger firms and slowly languished.

There had been rope-works , locally known as band-walks, at Lofthouse, Ouzlewell Green, Carlton and elsewhere. These were steadily reduced in number until only two survived, both at Carlton. With this exception, manufacturing, industry seemed to be over in the district when the match works closed. There were a few trades surviving subsidiary to mining, such as riddle-making and harness making. Messrs. Charlesworth had massive stabling at Lofthouse Town End and this probably accounts for the continuance of harness-making there. When the stabling was abandoned, the last harness-maker, Mr. Dixon, became a postman and is now retired, living in Temple View, Lofthouse.

The industrial history of Stourton is quite distinct from that of the rest of the district. The 1852 ordnance survey map shows the whole of the triangle enclosed by Leeds Road, Pontefract Road and what is now Queen Street as the extensive grounds of Stourton Lodge. The forlorn looking area over which the Yorkshire Copper Works is now expanding was Haigh Park, containing a fishpond and pleasure gardens surrounding a fine house, the home of the James Fenton who founded the fortunes of the Fenton family and who died in 1759. The only other buildings were two blocks of cottages called Upper and Lower Goslem, the HaighPark home farm and Thwaite mill.

Present day Stourton grew up as the result of the expansion of Leeds. Haigh Park House has gone; Stourton Lodge is now a light engineering works. The former parklands are covered with inferior housing – the cramped rows of houses known as the Idas were built about 1910. The modern industrial development in what is still administered as part of Rothwell but is indistinguishable from Leeds include the Yorkshire Copper Works, the Yorkshire Tar Distillers, and Messrs. Concrete Ltd.

Just before, during and since the Second World War a number of, as yet, small industrial concerns have started in the Rothwell Urban District – engineering works like Pelapone at Lofthouse Gate and Pelican in the old tramway sheds at Jawbones; a weaving shed with about twenty looms at Jawbones; paint works in the Methodist Chapel at Oulton, grate polish in the Ebenezer Chapel at Rothwell and the chemical manufacturing firm of F. Hulse Ltd. on the site of the old paper mill at Woodlesford. Important oil works have grown up at Woodlesford and there is a works at Ouzlewell Green for the extraction of lanoline from Bradford wool waste, and the two rope works at Carlton are in a thriving condition. Some of these may have better luck than the Springhead Cloth Factory and Seanor’s Match Works, and expand into works as impressive as the Yorkshire Copper Works with its three thousand employees.

Surface workers outside the pay office at Fanny pit in 1911.


Coal was got in the old parish of Rothwell at least as far back as the fourteenth century; but it was of no little importance commercially that, when Nostell Priory was dissolved in 1536, its tithe of coal was valued at only 13s 4d a year, although it included that of the parish of Rothwell. In Elizabethan times such families as the Pymonts and Gascoignes began to expand the industry and the former included three miners’ picks in their coat or arms. Some idea of the small scale of the industry can be gathered from the fact that in 1801 the total male population of Lofthouse-with-Carlton was only 492, but a survey made there in 1805 shows that there were no less than thirteen pits there. As land was fully cultivated and such industries as tanning and rope-making were being carried on, the number of miners at each of these pits must have been very small. The pits were no more than day-holes: the basic problems of mining – pumping, ventilation, propping, haulage below ground and the raising of coal to the surface – were still so little advanced that only the upper beds could be tackled and these for only short distances from pit bottom.

Another great problem was the carriage of coal to the towns. The Aire and Calder Navigation Act of 1698 was a big step forward. Daniel Defoe who wrote an account of Yorkshire in 1727 said: “There is another Trade in the part of the County, become very considerable since the opening of the above Navigation, which is the carriage of coals down from Wakefield and Leeds. These are carried right down into the Ouse, and then either up that River to York, or down to the Humber.”

There remained the difficulty of carrying the coal to the rivers. Batty records that “A Sally Armitage used to have a lot of asses carrying coal in panniers” from the Haigh. The solution to the problem was the building of special wagonways, and in 1758 Charles Brandling of Middleton obtained an Act of Parliament to enable him to construct one from his pits there to the staiths at Leeds. Similar wagonways were constructed till they formed a network over the area. One of these started from Robin Hood, crossed Longthorpe Lane and met one from East Ardsley just across Castlehead Lane. It then followed the present road across the Lofthouse recreation ground, crossed the Leeds-Wakefield road, and so on via Patrick Green and Bottomboat. Later a branch turned off sharply and ran parallel with the Leeds-Wakefield road as far as Canal Lane. There it was joined by yet another wagonway from pits at Lawns and in the neighbourhood of the present Lofthouse station. At that point the wagons, which had been drawn thither by horses or oxen, were run down-hill to the Calder, the full ones pulling the empty ones back by their own weight. The sharp incline from beside the present Moor Bridge up to Patrick Green required the use of additional horses, and that stretch of the wagonway was named after a carter called Jerry. The name Jerry Run is still used for that hill by older people.

The Fentons were the first family to apply steam power in mining. In 1750 Thomas Fenton installed a pumping engine at Carr Lane at the foot of Bell Hill, the cottages at which point are still called the Old Engine. In 1760 he secured the lease of the Haigh coal from Lord Stourton and sunk the first deep level pit (deep for those days) at Low Shops, where he installed a Boulton and Watt engine which was recently removed to the museum at Halifax, as was also the horse gin that well into the nineteenth century continued to be used for raising coal. The Fenton’s extended their activities as far south as Lofthouse, and Brandling’s map shows a fire engine at one of their pits there in 1786.

Fitters at the top of one of Low Shops shafts, part of Charlesworths’ Rothwell Haigh collieries in about 1909. In the background is the beam of a steam engine used to pump water out of the mine. The two men standing at the back looks though they may be twin brothers.

The Fentons became prodigiously wealthy, members of the family occupying such houses at Thorpe Hall, Haigh House and Haigh Park House. Meanwhile the Charlesworths were moving in from Kettlethorpe. In 1805 Joseph Charlesworth had seven pits in Lofthouse-with-Carlton and about 1810 he built Lofthouse House, a fine mansion now in ruins at the top of Lofthouse Hill.

In 1820 the lease of the Haigh coal expired. Lord Stourton raised his price: Fenton demurred and Charlesworth secured it over his head. From that date the connection of the Fentons with the district declined and the Charlesworths were leaders in the industry right down to 1939. Working conditions in the pits from the first development of deep level mining were, by our standards, appalling.

Poverty and  unemployment were, however, so serious that there seemed an unfailing supply of labour. The haulage roads were extremely low and narrow, and the coal was dragged in little sledges, often by women who had the chains fastened round their waists and passing between their legs to the sledge behind. There were constant accidents due to falls of roof, faulty ventilation, and the use of candles with naked flames.

The tale of disaster is reflected in the parish registers. Fenton’s Carr Lane Pits were killers. There is a steady flow of deaths from Carr Lane, the reason for which is only occasionally recorded but entirely out of proportion with the numbers actually living there. From time to time the reason is given:

January 31st. 1779. William Robshaw a colyer slaine at Mr. Fenton’s coal pitts. Matthew Chadwick a colyer slaine at the same pitt, Carr laine.  January 3rd. 1780. Jeremiah Todd, of Rothwell, aged 42 years. Thomas Holms, from Carr laine, aged 62 years. Thomas Holms son of the above Thomas Holms aged 17 years. Those three were slain in Mr. Fenton’s pitts with five more ye 1st. instant. Sometimes the exact reason is given. November 26th. 1745. Alixander Rotherforth ye, from Sow laine head, minor, kild by ye fire damp. July 4th. 1779. George Oulden, from Carleton, killd by coal damp.

The invention of the Davy lamp in 1815 came as a boon to miners; but conditions were not seriously tackled until 1841. It was a disaster at the Silkstone colleries at Barnsley that aroused the conscience of the nation and led to the appointment of a Royal Commission. Of this disaster the Yorkshire Herald reported, “When the water burst in, there were in the mine 44 children, of whom eighteen escaped and twenty six were drowned; of these, 11 were girls. Nine of the 26 were under 10 years of age”. In this area the youngest child recorded as having been killed in a pit accident was five years old. That was in 1825. In January 1840, seven miners were killed at the Victoria pit, of whom four were children, the youngest being nine. The act which followed immediately upon the commission report forbade the employment of women and children in coal mines.

One of Messrs. Charlesworth’s pits was called the Lucky Pit because of its freedom from accident. The name is significant. The row of houses built to accommodate the miners there was called Lucky Row: but the name is now forgotten and the name has been changed to Angel Row.

It is only just to record that accidents in the pits were sometimes caused by underground workers themselves. Long after the invention of the Davy lamp, candles were often preferred by the miners, and after lamps were introduced, a disaster at Middleton in 1825 was ascribed to one of the men taking off his lamp to light his pipe. An inspector reported in 1840 that he went some distance along a subterranean passage: “the overman going before with a Davy lamp in one hand, and as if to neutralise the precaution, a lighted candle in the other.”

In 1816 colliers could earn as much as 18s.0d. per week of six days, but hours might be as much as twelve a day. Tea was then as much as 16s. 0d. a pound and flour up to 7s.Od. a stone. Even so they were better off than farm hands who, in this area, were receiving 13s. 0d. a week working from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. It is not surprising that miners began to combine to strike for better conditions. A strike at Middleton is recorded in the Leeds Mercury of 2nd. June 1787; but such action was made illegal by the Combination Laws of 1797 and remained so until they were repealed at the instance of Francis Place in 1825. During that period miners nevertheless made efforts to help themselves, and in 1811 a Friendly Society covering this area was formed at Wakefield, the constitution of which had to be approved by the justices in quarter sessions. Article 27 in consequence reads as follows: “If any Member shall be guilty of cursing, swearing, lying or using bad language, tending thereto; or shall raise any Dispute about Religion or Politics in the Society or shall speak disrespectfully of His Majesty the King or of the State and Laws of the Nation: or of either of the Houses of Parliament or of any public Officer or Magistrate or shall do any other Act or Thing to disturb the good Order of this Society he shall be expelled the Society, and lose all the Benefits thereof”.

Further to this, Article 25 lays down that any member in any Court of Justice “of combining with any convicted other Person or Persons illegally to raise wages” shall be immediately expelled. 

The only element of self-protection permitted is in clause 19, which says: “If any Member of this Society, after having received his Wages earned at his Colliery, shall in a boasting manner, publish to other people the amount of his Earnings in a short time; (Which hath been done to the great injury of Coal Miners in general;) such Member so offending, shall forfeit two shillings to be paid to the Delegate of the Colliery at which such member shall be employed”.

The Mineral Ordnance Survey map, of 1854 shows no pit in the township of Lofthouse-with-Carlton. The day of the small day hole method was over. Underground haulage and other technical difficulties had been overcome sufficiently although surface tramways were still in use.

Pits still active in the old parish of Rothwell are the Fanny, Water Haigh and Newmarket Silkstone. Others, the shafts of which are in occasional use include the Beeston at the top of Bell Hill, the Robin Hood pit, and the Rose Pit at Rothwell. All sign of many of the earlier pits has disappeared but some can still be clearly identified and their shafts are in some cases used still  for ventilation.


Quarrying goes on in the district to obtain sandstone for building and grinding; shale for brick making; sand for concrete making, and gravel for concrete making and road surfacing.

Sandstone has been got here from time out of mind. It is to be found throughout the area, and the early practice was to site a building near easily won stone, do the building, and leave the cavity to become an unexplained hollow in a field of the future. Specialist masons begin to appear in the parish registers and, in the eighteenth century, masons got, cut, dressed and laid their own stone. The master mason who built Oulton church in 1827 was James Verity assisted by Joseph Verity and by Henry Stainer. The master charged for his labour 3s. 6d. a day for six days a week and his assistants had 3s.0d. a day. The era of such small masters was passing however. The industrial revolution was making increasing demands for building material for houses and factories and firms were developing to meet them.

Of these the most successful in our area was that founded by John Armitage, who was an incomer from Drighlington. He settled at Robin Hood in 1824 and built the first stone saw mill almost on the site of Robin Hood’s Well shown in Brandling’s tithe map. The house beside it was built by his sons in 1848 and his wife Nancy died there. It is now occupied by Mr. Tipple, who uses the old mill for keeping pigs and calves. The stone was got in the field known as “Owd Bob’s Cloise” between the Leeds-Wakefield Road and Milner Lane to the south of the railway.

The attitude of the early Armitages towards work and education is indicated in this letter to their son Abraham, then a boy of thirteen at boarding school at Gildersome: “Robin Hood Quarry, Lofthouse, March 18th. 1861. Dear Abraham, It gives us much pleasure the improvement  you have made in your writing, and we feel confident that you will use your best endeavours to improve in the studies as it will be for your future good, and we have also to say that so far as we have seen we are quite satisfied with Mr. &  Mrs Sargent and your teachers, and we hope that the opportunity we have given you for your education will prove a blessing to you and give credit to Mr. Sargent. We are not in favour of much holiday (sloth like rust destroys more than labour wears) but at the same time we should be glad if Mr. Sargent would let you come home after your school duties are over on Easter Saturday and you shall return on Easter Monday morning if all is well. Give our kind regard to Mr. and Mrs. Sargent and your teachers and accept the kind love of grandmother, father, mother, brothers and sisters. We are glad to hear that you and your schoolfellows are all in good health as this leaves us at present. We remain, Yours affectionately, George & Elizabeth Armitage.”

The Armitages worked and throve. Two of the first John’s sons were killed in the quarries. The first, Abraham, not the little boy of the letter, fell off a plank on which he was pushing a barrow-load of stone on a frosty day and broke his neck; while Henry was killed in 1875. By that time, cranes were in use for raising deep level stone. He reached out to take hold of a hook, lost his balance and fell.

George Armitage 1813 – 1891.

The first George (1813-1891) separated from his brothers in 1864 and founded his present firm of George Armitage and Sons. He himself had three sons, James (1845-1931), Abraham (1848-1931), and George (1856-1938), all very shrewd men who worked hard and lived long. Of James’ two sons, James Flockton died in 1949 and Arthur was killed in France in 1916. Of Abraham’s children, John died in 1907, George and Herbert are still with us, as is also their sister,  Mrs. Corden, whose son Geoffrey was manager of Lofthouse Colliery. Of George’s sons, Harold died in 1900, Leonard, is still in the firm, and George is a surgeon well known throughout the North of England and a director of the firm.

Looking down into an Armitage quarry.

By 1850, the best of the stone at the Armitage’s Robin Hood quarries had been got. In that year, George Armitage (1814-1891) began to use the blue band shale, that had been been rejected during stone cutting operations, for making bricks, the kilns being besides the Leeds-Wakefield road opposite the coke works, which were opened in 1899. In 1851 he opened up a new stone quarry to the right of Thorpe Lane, still clearly to be seen, and it was in a further quarry to the left that his son Henry was killed in 1875.

The name Robin Hood Colliery then applied to the pit the only relic of which still above ground is the brick ventilation shaft beside the present Robin Hood recreation ground. It was one of Charlesworth’s. The Armitages appear to have decided that they wanted their own coal for they took the lead and were principal directors and shareholders of the company which opened the Lofthouse Colliery in 1875.

The next step was to get the coal in, and the bricks and stone away, by rail. The Armitages promoted the East and West Yorkshire Union Railway which linked up the Lofthouse Colliery with the Great Northern main line at Lingwell Gate and with Robin Hood and Rothwell. It was not carried on to Stourton till 1899, the date of the opening of Charlesworth’s coke ovens. The transport of stone is costly and down to about 1906 Armitages sent stone to London by boat from a wharf on the canal at Woodlesford. The boats used to belong to William Sayner and his son Longstaff Sayner. Mr. John  Henry Lamb, to whom we are indebted for such information about  the firm, remembers well carrying letters to the top of Bell Hill before there was a post office at Robin Hood and posting them to Longstaff Sayner, Ketch Lily, Nr. Cherry Tree Inn, Knottingley. (Born in 1857 Longstaff died at Hull in 1926.)

The ketches were towed down stream from Woodlesford by horses as far as Goole; then they hoisted sail and, in fine weather, would be in London in a fortnight with 120 tons of stone, returning with loads of broken glass for re-fusing in the glass works at Castleford.

The Armitage spirit was affronted by not owning its own transport and George Armitage (1856 -1938) bought the ketch Brilliant. It was too late in the day for such a mode of carriage; steam wagons and then petrol and now diesel engines would render such slow journeys intolerable. The Brilliant did very little stone carrying but managed to pick up some general cargoes. It was lost at sea in 1911.

The best of the stone in the Robin Hood-Thorpe area was got by 1897, either by Armitage or Pawson, who started up in 1841 on the site of the present coke works. At this point they decided to revert to brick making and bought a large field between Thorpe Lane and Longthorpe Lane. This led to unexpectedly satisfactory results. Not only was the shale of excellent quality for bricks but the Haigh Moor coal outcropped there and, in addition, there was natural gas. Armitages were therefore able to burn their bricks with fuel got on the site and light the works with free gas. As the clay hole extended, the gas was released and now has almost gone. An amusing incident is told by Mr. George Armitage (known as young George long after his uncle’s death in 1938). The gas began to escape from a seam in the vast clay pit. A quarryman lit his pipe and found he had started a conflagration. He ran for Mr. George and stammered alarm, “Eh, mester, Ah’ve set clay-oyle afire!”.

In 1893, the Armitages bought Langstaff’s quarry at Oulton and again, when building stone grew scarce, turned to bricks, and when the Oulton clay ran out, developed new works at Swillington, not yet in production. In 1910 they bought Cookson’s brick works at Lofthouse Gate; but the shale there has proved very faulty and the works are not likely to expand.

Firms incorporated in Messrs. Armitage & Son are the Woodkirk Stone and Brick Company (in 1915), the New Howley Park Quarry Co. Ltd. (in 1924), the Normanton Blue Stone Quarry Co. (in 1929) and Thomas Clough and Sons (in 1937).

Though building with stone is much less usual than in Victorian days, there is still a big demand for stone for sharpening and grinding tools, knives, machetes etc. The top beds of blue sandstone at Oulton are particularly suitable for this and, before the stalemate over the price of Argentine beef and Senor Peron’s restrictions on imported goods, 200,000 rubbing stones 18″ x 3″ x 2” were exported there by Armitages in a normal year.

There was also for some years a big trade in rubstones employed in Brazil to sharpen the knives used in tapping rubber trees. The slump in Brazilian wild rubber which followed the development of plantation rubber in Malaya meant a slump also in the demand for Oulton blue rubstones.

In the early days of stone quarrying, only the upper beds could be got, and some of the brown stone then obtained was rather soft and deteriorated much more rapidly than the harder stone found lower down. It was the invention of the steam guy crane which made deep quarrying possible. Heavy blocks could then be raised right from the bottom and loaded direct instead of being dragged up long slopes by winches.

The stone used to be cut in the quarries by steel wedges driven in a few inches apart by sledge hammers. It was the intelligent observation of inferior workmanship which led to improvement. Blasting was used to break up inferior stone, but powder was not used to get good commercial stone for fear of damaging it. A clumsy driller made angular holes instead of neat round ones. It was noticed that when the charge was exploded the stone cracked cleanly along lines from the apexes of such angles. This method was extended to the cutting of high grade stone and now does in seconds what perhaps a dozen wedges driven laboriously home by hammer failed to do as well in a much longer time.

Like stone getting, brick making is a comparatively simple operation demanding skill and experience, but with basic principles which remain fundamentally unchanged over the centuries. It would appear that the position built up by Messrs. Armitage is primarily due to the continued personal control of management and marketing by four generations of men of industry and acumen who have known every inch of their quarries and brickyards, every machine in them and most of the men who in some cases for generations have grown up with the firm. lt is exceptional for four generations of a family to be equally successful.


The Romans were methodical road builders. Their road from Lingwell Nook to Castleford crossed the present Leeds-Wakefield road at the bottom of Lofthouse Hill into Lofthouse Park. Its course could till quite recently be clearly traced for a hundred yards or so after leaving the park. It is likely to have passed by Roman Station farm and so on to Methley Junction and the Castleford river bridge, which, of course, did not then exist. When the Romans withdrew, about 410 A.D., the art of road making was lost. The old Roman roads were regarded with superstitious reference by their barbaric successors.

During the Middle Ages and well on into the nineteenth century the responsibility was largely left to the parishes and their overseers but, although there was an obligation upon them to see that the parishioners did their duty, dwellers in the countryside had little desire to spend their time making things easier for travellers.

Wheeled traffic was rare and it was extremely slow even in summer. In 1648 during the civil wars, Nathan Drake noted in his diary the presence amongst the besiegers of a coach drawn by fourteen oxen and a horse. Wounded soldiers were carried in wagons but a wounded officer enjoyed the much greater comfort of a horse litter. Goods were normally carried on packhorses and the trails were no wider than was necessary for their passage. Such pack trains used to be provided for at Pymont farm in Green Lane, Lofthouse, and Roberts gives details of one which must have called there on 25th. August 1749.

19 pack horses, 1 Hagney, 6 nights’ hay £3. 0. 0. Beans, 3 loads and half a peck £1. 7. 4. Man Dyet, and looking to ye horses and going to Wombil 11. 0. Had at Lofthouse 4 stroaks of oats and 2 stroaks of beans, Paid at London. £2. 0. 0. Calld at Mr.Turner’s, at Blackamore’s Head Chandler’s shop, Hidpark corner, and saw an apleyard at Lord Dormer’s, uper Grovner Stret. Thomas Rycroft.

The course of some of these trail roads has been covered by roads but that from York to Manchester crossed the ford at Woodlesford, passed along Pickpocket Lane, then behind the John O’ Gaunts Hotel across the Haigh (then unenclosed), then the Hundred Acre, following the line of Middleton Lane and Clapgate Lane to Morley. The old road from Oulton through Rothwell to Leeds crossed Oulton Park and came out into the present Oulton Lane opposite the gates of Springhead Park behind Sam Jackson’s cottage, up Town street (now Commercial Street), across the ford by the mill and up Wood Lane to Bell Hill. There was, and still is, a foot-bridge beside the ford; not till 1772 was the Church bridge built capable of taking wheeled traffic. Gillett Bridge followed in 1791. In September 1772 the Parish Register records the burial of “Benjamin Grave, riddlemaker, the 8th. day, from Rothwell first dead man brought over the New Bridge.”

The Jacobite Rebellion of 1745 was followed by a thoroughgoing subjugation of the highland clans by General Wade, who found, like the Romans of old, that roads were a military necessity. It was one of his officers, John Metcalf, traditionally known as Blind Jack of Knaresborough, who first engineered the Leeds-Wakefield Road. The vital discovery was made by Macadam who found that limestone and similar rock broken up into small angular fragments would bind together to make a durable road surface. It was he who engineered the Leeds-Barnsdale road in 1822.

The government was so inactive that the initiative in road making was taken by turnpike trusts composed in general of country gentry and businessmen who recouped themselves by levying tolls, for which purpose gates were set up across the roads. The gates on the Leeds-Wakefield road were at Pepper Road, in Hunslet; at the junction of Sharp Lane and Copley Lane; at Lofthouse Gate; and at Newton Bar. Many of the trusts in this part of the Riding, after employing engineers to make the roads, handed over the administration to John Farrer of Oulton; but Mr. Fred Hirst, the present head of the firm, says that all their turnpike trust records have been destroyed.

The turnpike trusts secured private acts of Parliament giving them compulsory powers which enabled them to take the land needed for straightening roads. For example, the road from Wakefield through Oulton to the ford at Woodlesford used to wind round in front of Royds Hall. Although the owner objected strongly, the trust, in 1790, drove a straight road from Newmarket House to Oulton across his land. Macadam, too, was able to build his road straight from Hunslet to Oulton instead of following the old route up Bell Hill and across the Haigh. It was then that the John O’Gaunts Hotel was built at the top of the hill. The enclosure awards helped. The commissioners regularly plotted straight roads of good width before any fields were enclosed, as can be seen in the present Wood Lane, and Leeds-Wakefield Roads; both of which were plotted by them. They did not, however, provide satisfactorily for making or maintaining the roads. The responsibility for the main roads across the Haigh was left to Lord Stourton, the principal allottee; lesser ones, like Howl Gutter Lane, were left to the overseers.

Even so, road transport was not adequate to the needs of the new industry. In 1760 the Duke of Bridgwater’s steward, Joseph Brindley, engineered a canal from the Duke’s pits at Worsley to Manchester. The reduction in cost was phenomenal. One horse with panniers could carry little more than one hundredweight; while one horse with a barge could draw 60 tons.

In this area the consequent canal boom was not so important because the Aire and Calder Navigation Company, formed in 1698, had been steadily improving the waterways. There was, however, much increased activity and, in 1834, a new cut was dug, bypassing the Aire from Fleet to Thwaite. As late as 1906, Messrs. Armitage were sending stone to London by this means.

By the early 1830’s the country was covered with a network of inland waterways carrying almost all its goods traffic. So profitable was it that the Loughborough Canal in 1834 paid a dividend of 197%, while the Leeds-Manchester Canal was quite prosperous with 15.%. At the same time passenger traffic was catered for by stage coach companies using the turnpike roads. For about twenty years roads and canals  enjoyed a wave of prosperity. Inns were built, stabling was provided, the farmers bred horses and grew fodder. Then came the railways, an appalling calamity to this newly developed wealth.

In 1810 John Blenkinsop, whose grave is in Rothwell churchyard, as agent of Charles Brandling at Middleton, invented the rack railway to take coal to the staiths at Leeds. It was slow, noisy and dirty; but improvements were steadily made, and, in 1825, the Stockton-Darlington railway opened to carry both goods and passengers. The North Midland Railway from Leeds to Derby was opened in 1840; the Wakefield-Leeds line in 1848. The mails were transferred from coach to rail in 1840 and within a few years other coaches on the Leeds-Wakefield route stopped running. The turnpike trust companies were ruined for they depended mainly on the tolls paid for coaches; and for half a century, the roads were without long distance traffic whether for passengers or goods.

The village of Rothwell had been by-passed by the turnpikes and had no canal. In 1839 a town’s meeting approved the idea of a railway but local influences behind the scheme were too strong. The East & West Yorkshire Union Railway from the Great Northern at Lingwell Nook was not continued past Rothwell till 1899. A passenger service from January 1904 via Stourton was soon paralysed by the installation of a tramway service from Leeds to Wakefield via Robin Hood followed by a branch to the centre of Rothwell along Wood Lane. The Armitages, who had promoted the railway also swung over to steam road wagons so that it was mainly used for the transport of coal. (There were plans to extend the tramway from the centre of Rothwell to Oulton, Methley and Castleford, but these were abandoned.)

The trams, too, had a short life. At the end of May 1932 the last tram ran from Rothwell to Leeds and at the same time they ceased running between Leeds and Wakefield. The tramway sheds at Jawbones were abandoned; only the building restrictions of the Second World War made them desirable and they are now occupied by the Pelican Engineering Company.

Quarter sessions had for centuries had an over-riding authority in highways matters; the turnpikes only dealing with certain main roads. When the turnpike companies went bankrupt the magistrates and overseers could not cope with the increased responsibility. When the county councils were formed in 1888 they became the highways authorities. Even they failed to meet the needs of the main roads and these have now been taken over by the Ministry of Transport.

The Aire and Calder Navigation Company is now absorbed into the Docks and Inland Waterways Board, and still carries considerable quantities of coal to Goole. Coal is also carried by rail from Newmarket Colliery to the Coke Works at Robin Hood. Apart from that, passenger and goods traffic alike is carried almost entirely by road. Two very large commercial garages, that of Messrs. Hargreaves and that of Messrs. Smith & Robinson have expanded rapidly and are still expanding.

One of Richard Fox’s carriages.

Motor transport was at first provided for by a number of individual operators. Mr. Fox, of Rothwell, whose business is now almost limited to taxis, used to run a bus service to Ardsley but this has been taken over by the West Riding Automobile Company, which has also recently absorbed Messrs. Bullock’s bus services as well. There is still, however,  room for the small operator. Mr. Albert Ward, Mr. James Rayfield, Mr. Clifford Lunn all run coach servicee, and garage proprietors like Frank Cooper at Oulton are doing expanding business.

The effects of the developments in transport on every phase of life in the district is illustrated by the following incident in family history. The village of Ouzlewell Green was, till recent years, populated by Robinsons, Ashtons, Wards and Hardwicks. The work of cutting canals, at first generally called navigations, was carried out by “navvies” who went on from one undertaking to another in a nomadic life. A young navigator employed in digging the cutting which crosses below Green Lane married a Betsy Ashton, who joined him in his wanderings. Their son, George Robert Hood, is now a winder at Newmarket Colliery.

Messrs. Whitaker of Leeds obtained the rights in this country of the first steam diggers and these were used in making the cutting between Lingwell Nook and Robin Hood. Mr. John Henry Lamb’s elder brother was the first engineer to assemble and work the new machines. Mr. Lamb remembers as a small boy carrying his brother’s lunch to the cutting. The elder Lamb went all over the country assembling steam diggers and training crews to work them.

The tram terminus between the Black Bull and the Empire cinema in Rothwell.