Herbert Rhodes was a general dealer and licensed hawker who operated from 6 Calverley Road in Oulton for the first four decades of the 20th century. Using a horse drawn wagon, built on Rothwell Haigh by the gypsy caravan maker William “Billy” Wright, Herbert carried on a business he inherited from John Robert Favill who first came to Oulton in the 1880s.
The Rhodes family history in Oulton can be traced back to the early years of the 18th century and for most of the 19th century they were heavily involved in the stone trade. James Rhodes, born in 1781, married Sarah Craggs at Rothwell church in 1805. He was one of seven stone masons or stone merchants in Oulton listed in Pigot’s 1841 trade directory. The village which had quarries of “excellent stone” was described as “a genteel and agreeable place, with some pretensions to trade, having two tanneries, four maltings, and as many corn mills.”
James and his family lived at Mount Pleasant, the only house on Hollow Balk Lane which was later renamed Holmsley Field Lane. The house stood on a narrow strip of land which is now the entrance to Holmsley Field Court. Earlier it had been part of a much larger plot, known as Little Field, which was divided up under an enclosure act in 1809. Holmsley Field was on the opposite side of the road.
By the 1840s James was sufficiently wealthy to own his land and it appears that he had built the house himself as it’s not shown on a map made in 1816. His strip was sandwiched between much larger plots, one of which was owned by the lord of the manor, John Blayds, who also owned the quarry immediately to the east of Quarry Hill which James Rhodes worked. After it was worked out the quarry was filled in and Claremont View was built on that plot in 1911, the same year as the sinking of the Titanic after which it was nicknamed.
The Blayds name had been adopted by John Blayds’ father who had changed it from John Calverley in 1807 after he inherited the property of John Blayds, his friend and business partner who had been a wealthy cloth merchant and banker in Leeds. Both men had been Lord Mayor of Leeds. James Rhodes and other local masons would have helped build Oulton St. John’s church which was commissioned by John Calverley/Blayds shortly before his death in 1827. In 1852 his son changed the name back to Calverley.
James Rhodes worked another quarry to the west of Quarry Hill on land known as Long Croft owned by John Wing Walker. He had been in the clothing trade and had a substantial amount of land in the Rothwell area. Until his death, at the age of 60 in 1844, he lived next to the Old Masons pub in a house on Manor Lane which he owned along with stables and a cottage. They were part occupied by James Rhodes who was also the tenant of Walker’s large field and cherry orchard adjacent to the Long Croft quarry.
James’ eldest son, Israel, trained as a mason and married farmer’s daughter Elizabeth Brook from Kippax in 1836, after which Mount Pleasant was enlarged or divided into two. James was in one part with his wife, Sarah, and younger sons William and James, both of whom were masons. Israel was next door and by the 1841 census had two daughters. His first child, John Rhodes, had died in 1839 when he was just three years old.
James Rhodes died in 1850 and Israel took over the running of the business which employed four men, although it’s not clear if that included his two brothers. Israel’s first wife died in 1852 leaving him with six children to look after. Within a year he married another farmer’s daughter, Phillis Sayner from Barwick in Elmet, who had been a housemaid for the Wilkinson family at Potterton Hall. With her he had a further six children.
The matriarch of the family, Sarah Rhodes, died in 1857 at the age of 77, having survived her son William by three years. Israel and his brother James and their families continued to live next door to each other. In 1860 Israel was appointed an Overseer of the Poor for Oulton-cum-Woodlesford. His fellow overseer was Robert Farrer who was a corn miller and farmer. The workhouse they controlled was on Quarry Hill just to the south of the present day medical centre.
Although they were probably much better off than most villagers the Rhodes family appear not to have made a fortune from the stone trade and by 1861 Israel’s eldest daughters, Hannah and Mary Ann, had left home to work as servants. Their employer was the colliery proprietor Richard Pope who lived at Springfield Villas in the Hyde Park area of Leeds and probably had a business connection with their father. He was one of the founders of Pope & Pearson Ltd. which owned the West Riding pit at Altofts and went on to develop collieries near Rotherham
By the 1880s Mount Pleasant had become too small to contain the growing family. Israel’s eldest son, John William, continued the family tradition and became a mason but by the time his family had grown up he had become a miner. He married Henrietta Wilkinson, the daughter of a butcher from Thwaite Gate. They moved to a new house at the top of Hobb Lane on what is now Midland Street. His brother Richard lived next door at the end of Claremont Street and ran a butcher’s shop with his wife, Margaret Foulding, the daughter of a gardener who had lived at Kirk Deighton near Wetherby. Before her marriage she had been a lady’s maid at Bowden Hall in Gloucestershire, the home of wealthy Leeds born cloth merchant, John Dearman Birchall.
Israel Rhodes died suddenly in January 1886 two months short of his 73rd birthday. A death notice was placed in the Leeds Mercury inviting his friends to the funeral at Oulton church. In his will he left £286 1s. to his wife, worth about £17,000 today.
None of John William Rhodes sons seem to have worked with stone. Percy, born in 1874, was a shoemaker and later became a bricklayer’s labourer. His youngest brother, Ernest, became a general labourer. Herbert, the middle brother, was born in 1879. Destined to became a hawker a family story relates he joined the army briefly but was bought out by his former school master and the vicar.
Back at Mount Pleasant Israel’s son, James, continued as a stone merchant into the 1890s but ten years later he gave his occupation as a cow keeper indicating that the Rhodes quarries had been worked out with the focus of the industry moving to the other side of Aberford Road and the deep quarry being developed by George Armitage and Sons.
Although she was nearly 80 years old Israel’s widow, Phillis, described herself as a farmer in 1891. Another of her sons, Edward, was a butcher. Next door Israel’s brother was retired by 1891. One of his sons, Alfred, carried on as a mason but another son, Robert, was also a butcher. It’s not known whether all the butchers in the family worked together or had separate businesses.
At the turn of the 20th century there were still two households at Mount Pleasant but by then both their incomes came largely from milk sales. Unmarried sisters, Sarah Ann and Emily Rhodes, the daughters of Israel’s brother James, were cow keepers and milk dealers. Next door the younger James Rhodes, who described himself as a farmer, had married Annie Kay from Woodlesford whose 80 year old father, James, lived with them. Latterly he too had been a cow keeper. He was born in Kippax and had moved to Woodlesford to work at as a labourer at Bentley’s in the “tun” room where the beer was brewed.
The small community at Mount Pleasant continued through the First World War and when James died in 1922 his wife Annie moved in with the sisters next door. Through the 1920s the house and land were slowly surrounded by council houses built on Holmsley Field Lane, North Lane and Green Lea, to replace the overcrowded old stone cottages in Oulton and Woodlesford many of which were demolished. With their small rooms and unsanitary outside toilets or “middens” where ash from the fires was mixed with human waste, few people liked living in them and they were only too happy to move to new houses with electricity, warm water, indoor toilets and bathrooms.
Eventually Emily Rhodes died in 1935 finally severing the link with the stone quarry trade which had been in the family for over a century. Mount Pleasant survived until after the Second World War but was eventually demolished to make way for the development of Holmsley Field Court.
After his time in the army Herbert Rhodes went to work for John Robert Favill who was a licensed hawker and general dealer using a horse and cart to deliver items such as paraffin and soap to households and farms in the area. Favill, who came from Holton Le Moor in Lincolnshire, had been a quarry labourer in Headingley. He and his wife, Mary, who hailed from Kirkham near Malton, had first established the dealership in Holbeck before moving to 6 Calverley Road at some point in the 1880s.
In 1903 Herbert Rhodes, at the age of 25, married Ann Ellis, the daughter of a Rothwell Haigh miner, and the relationship with his employer was sufficiently strong for them to christen their first child Robert Favill Rhodes after his birth in 1904. A second son, George, followed in 1907.
It appears that Herbert took over the hawking business and house on Calverley Road in about 1905 with Mr. Favill and his wife moving to Wood End farm in Woodlesford where they also appear to have owned property on Applegarth. He died in 1910 by which time they had moved again to 9 Quarry Hill on what was known as Chadwick’s Row or Terrace. It’s possible a deal may have been struck for Herbert to look after Mrs. Favill in her old age with some of the proceeds from the dealership.
Herbert Rhodes brought up seven children. It’s thought he went back into the army during the First World War fighting with an artillery unit in France where he was wounded but no records have so far come to light. His fourth son, also called Herbert, was born in 1917 possibly after his father had been on home leave recovering from his injury. Herbert had no memory of being told about his family’s connection to the stone trade and even though he had relatives at Mount Pleasant he didn’t believe he ever visited them.
Young Herbert Rhodes grew up in semi-rural surroundings in Oulton which still had many of the characteristics that his forebears would have recognised. There was little road traffic and it was quite safe for him to walk two hundred yards along Calverley Road at the age of three to the infants’ class at Oulton St. John’s school.
In the days before television his social life centred round the church choir, the scouts, and the dances and events at the Oulton Institute. After he left school when he was 14 he served an apprenticeship in the brass fittings department at John Fowler’s works in Hunslet. His interest in printing then took him to the Yorkshire Evening News in Leeds where he was a mechanic mending linotype machines. At the start of the Second World War he was made redundant as the paper made cutbacks due to the shortage of newsprint.
Herbert enlisted in the Royal Artillery and was posted to 233 Battery 68 Medium Regiment. After training in High Wycombe he went on the Oropesa from Liverpool to fight the Italians in the Sudan where he was injured in a battle at Keren in 1941. After recovering in Cairo he was captured by German officers from Rommel’s Afrika Korps at the fall of Tobruk in June 1942.
He was taken to Tripoli and then by boat to Brindisi in Italy. From there he travelled in railway trucks to a prison camp near Modena before being sent to another camp at Fara Sabina north east of Rome. Along with several other prisoners he managed to escape taking advantage of confusion in the camp when the men were being counted. The others made for the coast but Herbert went into the hills and spent the rest of the war with Italian partisans. After the war he married and moved away from Oulton and spent the rest of his life living near Middlesborough working for ICI and as an insurance agent.
Click on the links below to listen to Herbert Rhodes talk about his father’s business and growing up in Oulton.