Royston “Roy” Ellis had deep family roots in the stone quarries of Oulton and Woodlesford. His father and paternal grandfather both worked for Armitage’s and on his mother’s side he was descended from the Wrigglesworth, Burnill and Poole families who had many masons in their ranks.
Roy was born in January 1927 and by the time he left school in 1941, when he was 14 years old, most of the quarries had been worked out with just the Armitage quarry between Aberford Road and Eshald Lane still producing stone. Roy became an engineering apprentice at Henry Berry’s works in Hunslet and after serving in the army he moved to the Yorkshire Copper Works where he spent the rest of his working life.
Roy’s father, Arthur Dobson Ellis, born in 1893, started at Armitage’s as a stone dresser when he was about 12 years old. He was interested in engineering and by the age of 17 he was in charge of a traction engine, or steam wagon, hauling stone and bricks. One incident Roy remembered being told about was when the engine ran away whilst it was coming down the hill from Swillington.
Arthur Dobson Ellis’s father, also called Arthur, was a labourer and shot firer at the quarry. For 15 years from 1911 his family lived at Highfield House on Highfield Lane where he was the steward of Oulton and Woodlesford’s first working men’s club. The house had previously been lived in by colliery and civil engineer Issac William Hewitt White and his family.
Arthur Ellis and his wife, Martha, brought up four boys and four girls. The eldest, Maud, was born in 1889 a year after their marriage at Rothwell church. Before they moved to Highfield House they lived opposite the post office on Princes Street (later Church Street) and Arthur worked as a maltster at Bentley’s.
Before his marriage Arthur lived with his family in New Woodlesford in one of the streets which were later named after Boer War generals. When he was 16 he was a potter’s labourer and his older brother, Herbert, was a stationary engine tenter. His father, John Ellis, was a quarryman, the son of labourer Squire Ellis, who lived in a cottage at New Row off Quarry Hill.
Arthur and Martha’s sixth child, Hubert, was 18 years old and working as a butcher for Boyes and Drew’s on Commercial Street in Rothwell when he joined the 2nd Battalion of the Prince of Wales’s Own (West Yorkshire Regiment) towards the end of the First World War in October 1917. Tragically, on 29 May 1918, he was killed during the Third Battle of the Aisne when the Germans mounted a surprise attack. He had been on the front line for less than two weeks and it was just months before the end of the war. Hubert Ellis’s name, along with 63 other local men killed in “The Great War”, is recorded on the Oulton and Woodlesford war memorial and on a plaque at Woodlesford school.
The strongest engineering “gene” in the Ellis family probably came from Martha via her father, John Dobson, who was an engine “tenter.” He lived for many years at Dungeon Lane in Royd’s Green so its likely that he was employed to look after the stationary winding engine on the pit top at the Swithen’s Pit nearby. The pit was known as “Tattie Main” because its seams were supposedly so close to the surface that the miners could harvest potatoes underground!
After his marriage at St. Peter’s church in Leeds in 1847 to Mary Ann, the daughter of Rothwell miner Issac Ward, John Dobson lived on Town Street in Carlton where his first two children were born. His father, Elijah Dobson, was described as a basket man, or maker, in the census of 1841 and probably made the baskets used for lifting and carrying coal from the Rothwell pits.
At Rothwell church in 1914 Arthur Dobson Ellis married Annie Wrigglesworth, the daughter of stone mason George Burnill Wrigglesworth. They had lived for many years on the Oulton side of Hobb Lane which was later renamed Midland Street. The Wrigglesworth name can be traced back in the records of Rothwell parish to 1605 and some historians believe it goes back to Anglo Saxon times locally and that Woodlesford may have derived its name from the early Wrigglesworths.
By 1901 George was described as “living on own means” suggesting he was earning an income from houses he owned on Midland Street. When he died in 1903 he left over £1600 which translates to about £100,000 today.
For two to three years before her marriage, and like many young women of her age and background, Annie Wrigglesworth was “in service” as a children’s nurse. Roy Ellis remembered his mother telling stories of her living with a large wealthy family in London who employed a German born head nurse.
Annie’s oldest brother, John Henry, who gave her away at her wedding, was a rope and twine maker and lived in the Tong area of Bradford. She had two other brothers – William was a chauffeur and Fred worked at Bentley’s as a clerk.
The connections to a long tradition of stone quarry working came through both sides of Annie Wrigglesworth’s family. Her grandfather, Henry, was a mason in Oulton, although his father, Benjamin, was a grocer and had been a waterman on the canal when Henry was born in 1821.
When he was 23, at Leeds parish church, Henry married Sarah Burnill, the daughter of another Oulton mason and stone merchant, George Burnill. He was born in 1798 and baptised at Rothwell church. The register from there indicates that his father, John, was a mason in Oulton.
In his History of Rothwell, published in 1877, John Batty refers to George Burnill sinking a well to get at the better quality “blue” stone which was much deeper underground than the “free” stone which was closer to the surface. Blue stone was more fine grained and could be polished to a smooth surface. Large sawn slabs of it were sent by railway or canal to London.
Apparently George Burnill used a windmill to power his water pumps and sometimes teams of men worked all night to raise the water using wooden spouts and channels. Unfortunately the pumps weren’t strong enough to get rid of the water and he wasn’t able to open the well out into a larger quarry.
Later William Owen was the first in Oulton to use steam to power a pump followed by Thomas and Robert Whitehead who installed an iron sawing frame. In the 1850s Joseph Slater improved on their methods and put in more powerful pumps. “He was thus enabled to more completely bare the valuable bed of blue stone and obtain from it immense quantities. Under his management a great impetus was given to the stone trade generally, and large orders followed,” wrote Batty.
George Burnill married Hannah Moore at St. John the Baptist church in Wakefield in 1823. Sarah was their first daughter followed by four more until the youngest, Eliza, born in 1835. George died in 1836 and the 1841 census records that his widow Hannah was living on Hobb Lane with her girls and Sarah Taylor who was 80 years old.
The tithe maps, which were made at roughly the same time, show that Hannah owned substantial land and property, so George must have had some success. There were four plots of land in the vicinity of Hobb Lane including four cottages in a terrace, gardens and an orchard. She was also the tenant of quarries on land owned by Jacob Dobson and Martin Westmoreland.
It’s reasonable, therefore, to conclude that through his wife, and the laws of inheritance, Henry Wrigglesworth became the beneficiary of the the Burnill wealth.
On the other side of the family Annie Wrigglesworth’s mother was Sarah Anne Poole, the daughter of quarryman, William Poole. He had a large family, most of whom were still living locally in the years before the First World War. The eldest sons were stone masons: John became a verger at Oulton church, whilst Joseph ended up as the publican at the Three Horse Shoes. Two sisters, Emma and Annie, were never married and were carting agents whilst running a smallholding from Porch Cottage on St. John’s Street in Oulton.
After leaving Armitage’s Arthur Dobson Ellis went to work at Temple Newsam pit, part of the Waterloo Main Colliery Company owned by George Edward Stringer. Arthur was responsible for the pit’s gas engine which generated electricity and eventually became the chief engineer. During the 1926 miner’s strike he had to work to to keep the machinery serviceable and received threats from striking miners.
His first son, Eric, was born in 1915, followed by Rex in 1925, Royston in 1927 and Burnill Dobson, known as George, in 1932. Initially they lived with Annie’s mother in one of the houses on Midland Street but when Roy was about four years old they moved to 3 Holmsley Lane, one of four stone houses built in 1892 by brewer’s traveller and landlord of the Two Pointers, Joe Newsome. Leonard Taylor, a manager at Henry Berry’s, lived in the same row and that led to Roy’s apprenticeship at the firm. Coincidentally the founder also had a Woodlesford connection having lived at Eshald House in the 1890s.
Roy Ellis joined the Black Watch in 1944 before transferring to the 2nd Battalion of the Highland Light Infantry where he played in the pipe band and served in Greece during the civil war until 1947. He returned to finish his apprenticeship at Henry Berry’s and then moved to the Yorkshire Copper Works where he was a turner in No. 2 mill. In 1949 he married Rosamund Holtby, the daughter of railway platelayer, Eli Hotlby.
After being apprenticed at Greenwood and Batley’s in Leeds his brother Eric emigrated to Canada to work for an aircraft manufacturer, and then went to California where he was an engineer in the space industry. Rex became a welder for the National Coal Board at Rothwell’s Fanny pit and then at Lofthouse. After serving his time as an apprentice at diesel engine maker J. & H. Mclaren in Hunslet, George worked for his father as a fitter at Temple Newsam and then he too went to the Copper Works.
Click on the links below to listen Roy and George Ellis talk about their family and working lives.