Furze family

John and Clara Furze at Stewards’ Row in about 1905 or 1906. Back row from left to right: Hilda, Lily, George Henry, Gertrude and Jane. On the left of the photo Clifford is standing behind Annie. Oliver and his older brother John are behind Evelyn between their parents. Minnie is on her mother’s knee.

This is the fascinating story of the Furze family, and their descendants, who lived in Oulton, Woodlesford and Rothwell from the 1870s. It’s been pieced together from genealogy websites and other publicly available sources including newspapers and archives. It starts hundreds of miles away in Cornwall where family historians have traced the name back to a Peter Furze who married at St. Buryan near Penzance in 1711. Little is known about his descendants lives during the 18th century but they appear not to have moved far. 

More details begin to emerge with Peter’s grandson, Matthew Furze (1814 – 1853), described as a blacksmith in the 1841 census living at St. Just in Penwith which was a centre of tin and copper mining. Ten years later he was labelled as a “tin dresser” smelting tin from the mined ore. Two of Matthew’s sons, John and Matthew, also became tin dressers and continued to live with their mother after she was widowed and remarried to another blacksmith. The heads of all the adjacent families on North Row in St. Just in the 1861 census had occupations linking them to the mining industry. The situation was much the same in the early 1870s. Matthew, the elder brother, was still a tin dresser, unmarried and living with his mother who’d been widowed again. She earned money making baskets, presumably selling them to miners for carrying ore. John had married Harriet Oliver from Sancreed in 1863 and with young children to support he became a tin miner which would have brought in more money.

By 1871 John and Harriet Furze had had five children although the first died when he was only a few months old and a girl died when she was three. Then at some point in the next few years John brought his wife and surviving children to live in a house on Quarry Hill in Oulton, probably not long after his mother died in 1876. Matthew came too. Why they chose Oulton is a mystery but it may have been because of a depression in the tin and copper mining industry which was then facing stiff competition from abroad. Many new mines were opening up across the British Empire and the United States using migrant labour. In what’s been dubbed “The Great Emigration” 20,000 miners are believed to have left Cornwall to find work overseas in the first 6 months of 1875 alone. Presumably John and Matthew came to Yorkshire with a plan to use their skills to work in the coal industry either as miners or in some other capacity on the pit top. Curiously though when the 1881 census was taken after they had been “up north” for a few years they still gave their occupations as tin miners.

Just before Christmas 1880 the Furzes were still on Quarry Hill when Eliza Ann, the eldest daughter, was one of a number of local passengers who were injured when two trains collided head on at slow speed just outside the Midland Railway’s Leeds Wellington station. She was only 15 years old and seems to have been working as a domestic servant. It’s not known whether she was employed in Leeds or had been into town on a shopping trip, perhaps for Christmas presents. She was on the train to Woodlesford which had just departed in the dark about 5.40 p.m. when at slow speed it ran into an incoming train from Derby.

The locomotive of Annie Furze’s train home crashed into an incoming train from Derby just after it had crossed the Leeds and Liverpool canal. It had travelled on the line marked in red but should have been on the line coloured blue.

Badly shaken up Eliza’s left leg was crushed and her face bruised. Luckily no bones were broken and unlike others from Woodlesford, Oulton, Methley and Normanton she wasn’t taken to the Leeds General Infirmary. Her train was on the wrong line. Two other passengers died as a result of the collision which was blamed on a signalman, although the driver, a shunter and Midland Railway managers were also criticised in the official report. Also named as injured passengers were two local businessmen. Jabez Richard Seanor was the owner of the Rothwell match works and William Henry Kitson, who lived at Beech Grove house in Oulton, was an engineer and part of the family that owned factories in Hunslet making steam locomotives. He had patented a new form of railway wheel and founded the Leeds Wheel and Axle Company at Armley in 1866.

Eliza Ann still hadn’t fully recovered by the following April when the 1881 census was taken. It described her as a “domestic servant – out of employment.” The accident though doesn’t seem to have put her off travelling by train because she moved to London where in 1886 she was living at The Rookery near Clapham Common when she married a fruiterer called George Vale. He then became a fishmonger and poultry seller and with several children in tow they ran shops in Bristol, Cardiff and Birmingham before moving to Leeds so she could be closer to her relatives.

The 1881 census also shows that the Furze family had moved from Quarry Hill round the corner to what was then a recently built terrace off Midland Street. Their four roomed house was on what was later to become Kitchener Street but in the 1880s and 90s it was rather clumsily known as 7th Block, New Woodlesford. When the census was taken Harriet Furze and her son John were back in Cornwall on a visit to her parents in St. Just. There her father, George Henry Oliver, at the age of 61, was still working as a copper miner. John, born in St. Just in 1869, is the man with the moustache in the photograph. In the first few years after coming to Yorkshire he had attended St. John’s school on Calverley Road. It was a so-called “National” school established much earlier in the 19th century by the Calverley family of Oulton Hall giving an elementary education to poor children and closely allied to the Church of England. Even though there were paid headmasters and headmistresses the Oulton vicar acted as school manager and attended weekly to teach compulsory religious lessons in the separate boys and girls classrooms.

When the Furze family moved from Quarry Hill to the other side of Midland Street they crossed the border from Oulton parish into Woodlesford so John became eligible to attend the new “board school” in Woodlesford. Built as a result of the 1870 Education Act, and after lobbying by the brewer Henry Bentley, it was funded by the rates and controlled by an elected committee. Readings were made from the Bible but an Anglican religious education wasn’t imposed, as at Oulton, and as a result the Woodlesford school attracted children from the many Methodist families in the area. John Furze’s name, dated 2 March 1880, was the second entered in the boy’s admission register by the headmaster John Longbottom when the school opened and started to enrol pupils. This may indicate that John’s parents were indeed chapel goers and may have moved house deliberately so that he could go to the new Woodlesford school even though he wouldn’t have been expected to stay very long. 

Up to 1893 children were permitted to leave school at the age of 10 but John Furze stayed on until he was nearly twelve just before his trip back to see his maternal grandparents in Cornwall. A few weeks earlier, at the end of February, he’d been awarded a prize for passing the Standard III examination in reading, writing and arithmetic. Only two other boys in the school achieved higher grades in Standards V and VI. It was also recorded that John had the best attendance having been present on 335 days out of a possible 336. He even beat the headmaster’s son by a day! The prizes were presented at an evening event by the clerk to the school board committee, architect Robert John Smith, who’d supervised the erection of the school buildings and headmaster’s house in 1879 and early 1880. Also there was Henry Bentley who gave what was described as an “entertainment” to all the 200 or so children using a magic lantern which projected coloured slides onto a screen.

Nothing is officially recorded about John Furze in the next few years until his marriage, at the age of 19, at Rothwell’s Holy Trinity church in September 1887. His bride was Clara Taylor, the daughter of a bricklayer living at Swithen’s Street in Rothwell. She was also 19 and had been born in Hunslet before her parents moved back to her mother’s birthplace presumably to be close to relatives to help with childcare. Clara was heavily pregnant when she married and her and John’s first son, George Henry Furze, was born just three weeks later. It was common for couples to marry after a pregnancy was confirmed and often the wedding didn’t take place until months after a birth. However this meant the child had to be registered with its mother’s surname which could cause difficulties later in life so it looks as though John and Clara made every effort to tie the knot before George Henry arrived. Both of them signed their names in the register showing that Clara too had had a good school education. One of the witnesses was John’s younger sister Annie who was only 17 when she married coal miner Arthur Webster from Methley at the same church a few months later. The other witness was Joseph Learoyd, a coal miner who had married John’s aunt Constance. She’d also come with the family from Cornwall. Joseph worked in one of the pits owned by the Gascoigne family near Garforth.

Clara Furze.

John Furze was living in Rothwell and working as a telegraph clerk when he married, a skilled job where he would have had to operate a machine sending words and numbers by code. To receive messages he had to be able to read the machine and write down the messages in longhand on slips of paper. He may have been employed at the post office on Commercial Street run by Andrew Marshall where the town’s first telegraph office was opened in 1878. This was after a branch line had been installed running down Woodlesford Lane, now Park Lane, from a junction with a circuit along the main road from Leeds through Oulton and Methley. Previously a telegraph service had been available since at least the mid-1850s at the post office in Woodlesford as it was close to wires by the side of the Midland Railway. By 1887 there may have also been telegraph equipment at some of the Rothwell pits as the Charlesworth company had underwritten the installation of the branch line. It’s possible therefore that John was working in a pit office. His occupation in the 1891 census as a colliery weighman appears to back up this theory. With an address at Edmonson’s Yard near the centre of Rothwell there’s no doubt he was by then working for Charlesworths, an association that lasted until the First World War. His position as weighman, weighing tubs of coal as they came to the surface, suggests he was responsible directly to the Charlesworth management. He would have worked alongside a  checkweighman, elected by the miners to make sure John’s calculations of the coal mined by each group of men or “motty” were correct. The checkweighman was usually a trade union activist and John wouldn’t have lasted long if he had been found to have been fiddling the scales in favour of the company.   

Railway Terrace Rothwell.

With pretty much clockwork regularity John and Clara had 11 children between 1887 and 1905, four boys and seven girls. If it had been a “shotgun” marriage it was a lasting one. During the 1890s they lived on Alpine Terrace off Spibey Lane and then in about 1900 moved to Railway Terrace on Wood Lane, sixteen houses occupied by Charlesworth employees and those working for the railway running though Rothwell. The 1901 census details 13 family members living at 15 Railway Terrace including John’s widowed father who was working as a fish merchant, possibly in connection with his son-in-law. It must have been a pretty packed house!

Ten years earlier “grandad” John had moved from New Woodlesford to a house at the bottom of Quarry Hill on the short terrace known as West View opposite the Oulton Institute. At the time he was employed as a labourer at Bentley’s brewery. After his wife died in 1900 he moved in with his son. Later still he moved to Foxholes Terrace at Methley where he was a colliery lamp cleaner. He moved again to Nettleton Street in Bottom Boat before he died at the age of 76 in 1920. His older bachelor brother Matthew, who had come with him from Cornwall in the 1870s, finally married at the age of 56 in 1895. His wife, born Jane Myers, had been widowed twice. In 1901 he was employed as a labourer at the Lemonroyd sewage works and was living with her in the same house on West View acting as step father to her children from both her previous marriages. He was buried at Oulton in 1904 after passing away whilst a patient in the hospital ward at the workhouse on Rothwell Haigh. It was later renamed St. George’s Hospital. Jane was 65 when she died in 1917.

The eldest of the Furze children at Railway Terrace was George Henry who was 13 when the census was taken in 1901. He’d already left school and was employed at the station just across the road as a messenger boy. His job probably involved running around the district informing business owners that shipments had arrived for them at the goods shed. He may also have delivered small parcels using a bicycle. Probably as a result of his father’s occupation as weighman he then left the railway and became an apprentice fitter for a company making weighing machines or scales. He was still doing this when, like his father, he married young at the age of 19 in 1907. His bride was Annie Boulton from Lands Row at Lee Mount near Stanley. Her father, Thomas Henry Boulton, was also a fitter and George Henry may have worked with him. The marriage took place at the Wesleyan chapel on Mount Road in Stanley. The couple moved to York and then Scarborough where he had his own business as a scale maker. In the 1930s they had moved back to live on Waterloo Lane in south east Leeds but he retired early due to ill health.

One of the shafts at Newmarket Silkstone colliery as John Furze would have known it.

In 1902 John Furze moved his family to Stewards’ Row at Patrick Green or Royds Green Lower as it was marked on Ordnance Survey maps. Administratively the terrace was in Oulton and appears to have been built for the families of men working at Newmarket colliery which dates from the 1820s. A steward was the old name given to a senior miner in charge of a whole pit or part of one. It looks therefore as John Furze moved to Stewards’ Row because he had been promoted. The family were still in the same house for the 1911 census when John gave his occupation as colliery surface foreman. Further evidence that he was part of the Charlesworth management comes from a newspaper report of an inquest held at the Ship Inn at Lee Moor in November 1911. It was into the death of  a 40 year old Methley born miner who had worked in the Silkstone pit at Newmarket for about ten years. John Furze represented the Charlesworth company along with the pit’s “certified” under manager, Squire Robert Chadwick.

Alfred Leonard had died at home on Canal Lane in Stanley during the night but his wife Clara believed it was a result of two accidents at the pit including the latest when he had trapped his left hand which had turned septic. James Milne Hermon, a Wakefield doctor, carried out a post portem. This showed Alfred had been suffering from heart disease for several years, the doctor believed his death was unconnected to the accidents, an opinion accepted by the coroner. This would have meant that Clara was unable to claim an accident benefit from the miners’ insurance fund although she probably received a basic widow’s payment.

By 1911 there was a bit less pressure on bed space in the Furze household. The eldest daughter, Gertrude, married a wool washer in 1907 and moved to live in Bradford with him, although her three year old son was staying with his grandparents when the census was taken. Another daughter, Lily, had also spread her wings and was a kitchenmaid at Clayton Hospital in Wakefield. A year later at the Stanley chapel, she married a market gardener from Kirkburton near Huddersfield. He was nearly 20 years older than her and later became a tax collector. In 1921 her younger brother Oliver was living with them and working as a coal miner at Lodge Mill colliery near Lepton not far from today’s National Mining Museum. Later he went to live in Nottinghamshire and worked as a machinist in a ball bearing factory. After giving birth to six children Lily was widowed in 1923 and sadly passed away just a couple of months later, apparently from an infection she caught at a dentist’s surgery. She was only 31 years old. Her children were split up and cared for by relatives. One of them had Down’s syndrome and was a patient at Oulton Hall hospital until his death in 1943. Another departure from Stewards’ Row in 1911 was Jane, known as Jennie, who was born in a house on Swithen’s Street in 1890. Two weeks after the census she married miner William Sydney Hartley from Lee Mount at the Stanley chapel. They lived nearby for the rest of their lives.

Hilda Furze, at the age of 17, was also away from home in 1911 employed as one of four servants by a distinguished surgeon, Walter Smith, who carried out pioneering operations at the Leeds General Infirmary. His wife was one of the first women to qualify as a doctor in England and joined the health department of Leeds Corporation. In April 1915 Hilda married Robert William Haynes who had worked in a shoe factory in Burmantofts with his father. A daughter, Hilda, was born a few months later but Robert was killed on 3 May 1917 whilst serving with the 18th Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment during the Battle of Arras. A year later she married George Hutchinson Maltby, a Leeds tram conductor who later became a tram driver. A romance may have started as she was travelling between Leeds and the tram terminus outside the Black Bull in Rothwell before the long walk to her family home along Royds Lane.

In 1914 John Furze’s name was connected to a serious legal case known as “Leaf v Furze” which had long lasting implications for workers’ compensation funds and which is still quoted in textbooks today. Several court hearings took place and they reveal that he was general secretary of the Charlesworth company’s miners’ compensation scheme for all it’s collieries in and around Rothwell including the Fanny, Rose and Beeston pits, the Jane pit at Robin Hood, and Newmarket Silkstone.

Martin Henry Leaf and his wife Elizabeth Ann nee Wilkinson at a family wedding.

The case was brought by Martin Henry Leaf, a 49 year old miner with eight children who lived at New Scarborough near Tingley. He had contributed to the Charlesworth fund for eleven years but had left in January 1912 for a job with another colliery company. When he was examined by their doctor he was rejected because he was diagnosed with miner’s nystagmus, a form of rapid eye movement brought on by working in poorly lit conditions underground. Other symptoms included headaches, anxiety, insomnia and depression. Martin applied for his old job back but they wouldn’t take him on again. Subsequently, probably with help from the union – the Yorkshire Association of Miners – he claimed £100 compensation from the Charlesworth scheme because he had developed the nystagmus whilst working for them. His claim was rejected so he took them to court in Leeds and the judge awarded him £50. 

Not content to pay up the Charlesworth directors decided to appeal and the case of “Leaf v Furze” was heard in July 1914 by two judges sitting in the the King’s Bench Division of the High Court. The only newspaper locally to report it was the Yorkshire Factory Times which supported the trades unions. Leaf’s barrister argued that nystagmus was a recognised industrial disease under the Workmen’s Compensation Act of 1906 and therefore he should be given compensation. The judges agreed and dismissed the appeal.

Taking the case to appeal must have cost J. & J. Charlesworth Ltd. a significant amount of money, probably more than the claim itself was worth. The directors must have been fearful of opening the floodgates to similar claims from men who had left who could prove that their disease had begun at a Charleswoth pit, with the 1906 act stating they coud make a claim within twelve months of leaving. The result was that the company would have had to increase its own and its workers’ contributions to the insurance scheme to cover the extra liabilities.

John Furze is believed to have left his job at Newmarket around the time of this episode but it’s not known if he took the blame for mishandling the claim. He was only 45 so wasn’t old enough to retire and take a pension. One possibility is that the court hearings took their toll on his own health. The electoral register for 1914 shows that he lived in two separate properties in the Royds Green area in the same year, probably meaning that he and Clara, and their remaining children, moved out of Stewards’ Row which would have been tied to the Charlesworth job. One story passed down the generations says he became an oil works foreman. It’s pretty certain that the oil works was the one not far away at Ouzlewell Green which manufactured a greasy substance called oleine for the woollen industry. A small factory had been built in about 1908  next to the branch line of the Rothwell railway which led to the Newmarket pits. Some of its shareholders were railway officials and directors. In early 1915, when John Furze may have worked there, there is a report of councillors complaining that effluent discharged from the works was polluting the beck as far away as Oulton. 

John Furze in about 1915.

Within a couple of years John and Clara moved to the centre of Leeds. Their address in the 1918 electoral register was 73 Vicar Lane and this may have been where he was a grocer and tobacconist, as passed down in the family history. A year later they were at 2 Nelson Street just across the road. This was the address of Tate’s Temperance & Commercial Hotel where he had taken over from the previous proprietor, a man called Fred Tate, formerly a mechanic, who’d run it for at least a decade. The name of the hotel, which had rooms overlooking Vicar Lane, suggests there was a link to John and Clara’s teetotal Wesleyan Methodist background but he was probably the leaseholder rather than freeholder. No alcohol would have been served. There were many similar hotels around the country designed to attract commercial travellers who moved from place to place gathering orders for their firms. There was even a Commercial Traveller’s Christian Association which had a monthly magazine “On The Road”, funded in part by advertisements from the hotels.

Clara Furze died at the age of 52 in February 1921 and John had to run the hotel alone with the help of his 16 year old daughter Minnie. His grandson John Fisher, who was still at school, also lived there. There were four female employees – a housekeeper, a cook, a chambermaid and a general servant. Occupying rooms on a long term basis were a piano tuner, an accountant’s clerk and a chemist. They all had jobs in Leeds. On the night of the census in June there were 34 other guests, all of them men apart from one married woman. They came from all over the country and had a variety of occupations ranging from electrical engineer to brush maker, railway porter and freelance journalist. There was even a town crier! Thirteen of them had connections to organisations for the blind. With occupations making mattresses, baskets, skips and brushes they would have been mainly ex-soldiers who had been blinded by gas during the First World War. Some of them were unemployed and they were probably in Leeds for a conference of their trade union, the National League for the Blind, which had campaigned for better wages and working conditions since 1893.

The County Hotel occupied the site of Tate’s Temperance and Commercial Hotel.

Most of the properties on Nelson Street were pulled down in the 1930s to make way for Eastgate and the temperance hotel was either demolished or became part of the County Hotel on the same site. That building still stands occupied by apartments today. A few months after the death of his first wife John married Clara Pullan Holmes, a spinster who was about four years older than him. The daughter of a Hunslet forgeman she’d lived most of her life at home helping her widowed mother run a small dairy and may have met John whilst delivering milk to the hotel. They married in October 1921 but before that John had invested £3,800 (worth over £110,000 today) by buying the freehold of a pub, the Fox and Hounds Inn at Bramhope. Previously it been owned by members of the Lawson family, Victorian industrialists who had made their money making machinery for spinning flax, hemp and jute. The pub was put up for sale by them in March 1921 when it was said to have a large local trade as well a lucrative income serving holiday customers on their way to Otley and Ilkley. It was sold on the 5th of April according to a short report in the Leeds Mercury. John was still only 52 and probably bought the pub in consultation with his future second wife with the intention that they would spend the rest of their days there close to the countryside rather than in the drab and smokey centre of Leeds. 

The details of the transaction come in a report in the Yorkshire Evening Post of a court case at Otley at the start of May 1922. What appears to have happened is that the licensee and landlord, Joseph Harrison, who’d been there for about 15 years, was refusing to budge. With the help of a lawyer John Furze then used provisions in the Rent Restrictions Act, brought in during the war in 1915 to prevent landlords from exploiting and overcharging tenants, to enable him to evict the landlord. It involved an esoteric interpretation of the rateable value of the pub’s outbuildings. During his evidence John said he’d had to take lodgings in a back-to-back house on Galway Terrace in Hunslet and had to put his furniture in storage. The judge sided with him but allowed an appeal. Harrison lost and the West Riding alehouse records for the Otley division show that John became the licensee in August 1922. This is backed up by the electoral register for 1923 which shows John and Clara living at the Fox and Hounds. However they were only there for about a year because they then sold the pub to Tetley’s brewery in August 1923 and a new licensee took over.

It was passed down through the Furze family that John ran the Brown Cow in Whitkirk for a while before he was sacked. He also had a shop at 223 Harehills Lane in Leeds where he died from a brain haemorrhage and heart failure in January 1924. He left £566, worth about £24,000 today. His second wife passed away in 1928 and was buried with other members of her family at Beeston.

John Furze junior is believed to be the man standing in front of a Foden steam wagon at some point between 1920 and 1923.

Meanwhile two of John’s sons had been in the army during the First World War. Clifford, born in 1898, served with the West Yorkshire Regiment and then became an attendant in a mental asylum. In 1919 he married a woman from Southwell in Nottinghamshire and moved to live near Kirkburton where he was employed at the Fourth West Riding Lunatic Asylum at Storthes Hall between Penistone and Huddersfield. It was later renamed the West Riding Mental Hospital and Clifford was still there as a “male mental nurse” in 1939. His daughter worked in the kitchens at the same hospital.

The third son, also called John and born in 1899, was a soldier with the Lincolnshire Regiment and Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Regiment, known as the Sherwood Foresters. A report in the Yorkshire Evening Post in May 1918 indicates he was with the Lincolns at the time and had been promoted to lance corporal but had gone missing. An address at 13 Vicar Lane was given and it was stated that he had previously been employed at I. Goldman, a tailoring or shoes business on Lady Lane. His full military record seems to have been destroyed so it’s unclear what happened. Undoubtedly he survived and was awarded the British War and Victory medals.

John Furze junior pictured in the Yorkshire Evening Post in 1918.

After the war, at Leeds register office in 1920, John Furze junior married Olive Smith who’d been born at Kippax in 1895. In the 1921 census he was a haulage contractor working on his own account from home at 42 Beckett Street in the St. James district. Olive’s occupation was given as “home duties” although she may have been involved with John’s business. They were boarders, with their 10 month old baby Arnold, in the home of James Hopkinson, a boot maker and repairer, and his wife. The haulage business may not have been much of a success which perhaps explains John Furze’s glum expression in the photograph of a steam wagon. Records show it had works number 10038 and was built by the Foden company at their factory near Sandbach in Cheshire. It was bought new by Furze and Smith in 1920 and had registration number MA 3805. They sold it to a firm in Driffield three years later but it’s not known if they acquired another vehicle. Descendants of the family believe the man sitting in the cab was William Smith, possibly Olive’s brother, who married John’s sister Annie in 1917. They had two children but he died in 1926. A few years later she married a bricklayer and lived with him at Lower Mickletown.

By 1939 John Furze junior had become an employee at a shoe factory as a “clicker” cutting leather for shoes and boots. His eldest son was a bus conductor, whilst Maurice, born in 1924 was an apprentice fitter. They lived at Doris Grove which backed on to the Burmantofts works of the Leeds Fireclay Company, well known for its terra cotta materials known as “marmo” used for facing buildings. They also made a variety of household fittings including baths, lavatories, sinks and drainage pipes. It’s possible therefore that John’s haulage business could have been connected to the works in earlier years.

Rothwell’s Railway

An ageing saddle tank locomotive climbing away from Newmarket colliery with loaded wagons in 1960. Photo by Derek Rayner.

Put simply Rothwell’s railway was built to move coal. Millions upon millions of tons of it.

The grandly named East and West Yorkshire Union Railway was first proposed in 1881 to run from a junction with the existing Great Northern Railway at Lofthouse. Plans showed a route north of the centre of Rothwell following a line roughly parallel to Park Lane before turning south in a cutting in the direction of Holmsley Field Lane in Oulton.

Crossing Aberford Road, close to today’s Lidl supermarket, the line was proposed to go under the Midland Railway between Woodlesford and Methley. It would have then continued about 22 miles to Drax to join a new line from Barnsley to Hull docks.

The intention was to provide a cheaper route for coal from the Rothwell pits as the existing railway companies were charging what were considered to be exorbitant rates which suppressed trade. In the end not enough capital could be raised to build the long section to Drax and it took ten years before a goods station in Rothwell was opened. After that a U shaped section was built connecting to the main line at Stourton in 1895.

The guard looks back as his train passes the sidings of Robin Hood coke works in 1960. Photo by Derek Rayner.

By 1900 there were three branches – to Newmarket colliery via Patrick Green; to Beeston pit at the end of Wood Lane; and to the Armitage quarries to the west of Robin Hood from where stone was sent all over the country. The company used “railways” in its official name because the various sections were built under different acts of parliament. After being absorbed into the London & North Eastern Railway in 1923 the line was nationalised as part of British Railways in 1948 and eventually closed in 1966.

Coal mined locally was hauled by horses on wagon or tram ways to wharves on the Aire and Calder Navigation from about 1735. Old maps show many lines crossing Rothwell Haigh and another network on the other side of the river to the south west of Temple Newsam.

Originally the lines were made from wood but as technology improved iron was used for the rails. To the west the Middleton Railway to the centre of Leeds opened in 1758 and to the south, from 1798, the Lake Lock Railroad ran from Outwood across to the Navigation near Bottomboat.

Rose Pit close to Rothwell station was sunk between 1847 and 1853 and was in production until 1925. After that the shaft was used for ventilation of the Fanny Pit workings. It’s believed the buildings were demolished in 1947. The body of an 18 month old baby girl from Leeds was found on the pit’s slag heap in 1955. Clarence Walter Ward who had connections to the area was sentenced to death for her murder but was reprieved by the Home Secretary three days before he was due to hang.

Despite all these routes the town of Rothwell was bypassed by two major railways into Leeds from the south – the North Midland through Woodlesford opening in 1840 and the line from Wakefield through Lofthouse in 1857. A proposal by Rothwell business owners was made in 1839 for a branch from the town to connect to the North Midland near Fleet Mills. It would have run roughly parallel to the Rothwell/Oulton beck.

The idea was discussed in parliament but because of opposition, most likely from John Calverley of Oulton Hall who didn’t want noisy and smoky steam trains spoiling his view, the plan was dropped. It took another 50 years before the town was connected by rail to the national network.

A passenger train from Leeds arriving at Rothwell in 1904. The 0-6-0 loco was built by Manning Wardle in Hunslet.

In the early 1900s the railway’s directors went to great expense to equip the line with a safe system of signalling to enable a passenger service to Leeds. It started with much fanfare on Monday 4 January 1904 with four trains a day in each direction including Sunday.

The advent of the passenger trains was chronicled in the Rothwell Times which published a short poem celebrating the occasion. It was penned by Charles Gibson, a native of the town who had migrated to work as a carpenter at Lambeth in London. He regularly sent back his thoughts on local history to the paper and the long awaited service had caught his attention: 

A new era for Rothwell is hopefully launched, Its striving for progress is further advanced, From a hut to a hamlet, a village, a town, The place of my birth has a widespread renown. The era in question, I stoutly maintain, Is wholly and solely the passenger train, Years of expecting are over and past, And hours of suspense have been broken at last.

The trains departed from the station at Robin Hood situated on an embankment between Leadwell Lane and Matty Lane. It took them about five minutes to reach Rothwell where the departures for Leeds were at 8.13 am, 12.28 am, 4.13 pm and 9.23 pm. After calling at Stourton station, an island platform just before the Rothwell line’s junction with the main line as it crossed the Pontefract Road, they then stopped at Hunslet station before terminating at the Midland’s Wellington station in the city centre. From Rothwell they were timetabled to take 17 minutes for the journey to the terminus. The return journeys started from Leeds Wellington at 9.30 am, 1.5 pm, 5.20 pm and 10.20 pm.

The trains normally consisted of five compartment carriages leased from the Midland Railway which were lit by gas lamps. They’d originally been used on the main line and are believed to have had upholstered seats rather than wooden benches. Four of the carriages were “third class” whilst one, in the middle of the set, was “first class” for the use of Rothwell business owners and wealthier citizens who could afford it. The locomotives used were mainly the East and West’s own saddle tanks. An additional train was later added on Leeds’ market day. 

Initially there was a great deal of enthusiasm for the service and it was “well patronised.” On the first Saturday there was such a heavy demand for the 12.28 pm and the 4.13 pm that four extra carriages had to be added. Three carriages of the 4.13 pm were already full when the train left Robin Hood. At Rothwell there was such a last minute demand for tickets that departure was delayed by ten minutes. 

Many of the passengers stayed in the city through the evening drinking in pubs or visiting the music halls. As the Rothwell Times reported “a record number” returned to Wellington station for the last train home.

“Soon after ten o’ clock “Rodillers,” and Robin Hooders too, began to crowd into the station for the Rothwell train, the nine coaches of which were soon filled. Two other coaches were speedily added to accommodate the latecomers and with loud voiced comments on the “new experience” and mutual congratulations on the opening of the new line the numerous passengers sped homewards at a rapid pace. Eleven coaches, well filled, made a bold show, and if such a traffic is kept up the service of the future, I should think, is well assured.”

The optimism was misplaced. For generations those wishing to go into Leeds had either walked or taken uncomfortable rides in horse drawn “wagonettes” along the rough unmade roads. At Thwaite Gate, from 1874, they had been able to jump on a horse drawn tram to the city centre. That line was electrified in 1900 and was connected to a new line via Lofthouse to Wakefield in August 1904. A branch along Wood Lane to the Black Bull was also being built.

Very soon after it started the novelty of the train ride into the city wore off and the East and West began to lose about £200 a month with only about a dozen or so passengers on each train. The coal trade was also depressed in 1904 so the directors decided to cut their losses and abandon the “disastrous” passenger service after only nine months. The trams ran until 1932 when they were superseded by buses.

Excursions by train to the seaside, organised by a friendly society of miners working for J. & J. Charlesworth’s Rothwell Haigh and Newmarket collieries, had become annual events by 1880. The men and their families walked all the way to Woodlesford to catch specially organised trains to go to places like Blackpool and Morecambe.

Mrs Cotton’s excursion in August 1961 loading the all important crates of ale at Rothwell station. Photo by Derek Rayner.

Then, after the stations opened at Robin Hood and Rothwell, it was possible for the excursion trains to start from nearer to home. One of the first of these ran on Saturday 1 October 1904, the day after the short lived daily timetabled service ended. It was for the Carlton Temperance Band, their conductor Joseph William Stamp (see below), and their supporters to visit London for the annual brass band competition at the Crystal Palace. The first part of the journey, using carriages from the scheduled service, was into Leeds where the excursionists joined a Midland Railway express to London St. Pancras. 

Excursion ticket from 1904.

Between the wars Bridlington and Cleethorpes became popular destinations. In the 1950s and early 1960s the tradition was carried on by Alice Cotton, wife of the Rothwell stationmaster.

Over the years there were several accidents on the line. One of them near Robin Hood station in May 1952 resulted in a dramatic photograph looking like a scene from a Thomas The Tank Engine story. One of the locomotives was named “Joe” after one of the owners of the Charlesworth company which in 1947 had been taken over by the National Coal Board.

The accident in May 1952. Joe is the loco on its side.

Joe’s driver was Sylvester Todd who lived on Butcher Lane in Rothwell. He was born in Rothwell in 1899 but both his father and grandfather came from Oulton. His father, Dixon Todd, worked as a bricklayer’s labourer and married Mary Elizabeth Farrer, the daughter of a miner from Methley, at Oulton church in 1894. By 1911 they were living at 5 Whitworth Yard in the Mill Hill area close to the centre of Rothwell.

At the age of eleven Sylvester was delivering newspapers for a Rothwell newsagent. Later he joined Charlesworths and by 1939 was employed as a shunter dealing with the railway coal wagons leaving the Rothwell and Robin Hood pits. In 1931 at Woodlesford church he married Lilian Doris Weale, a miner’s daughter who came from Gloucestershire. After the crash in 1952 he scrambled out of his cab unhurt. The driver of the other engine was William Farnsworth from Ardsley. 

Sebastian Meyer

Sebastian William Meyer was a manager and director of the railway between 1884 and 1923. A Quaker, he was born in London in 1856, moving north in 1881 to join the Hull and Barnsley Railway. He was also involved with a number of “light” railways which operated with less stringent rules than those of the main line companies.

Issac W H White

Isaac William Hewitt White was a director of the railway and its civil engineer. Born in Somerset 1852 he came to Yorkshire in about 1870. Living at Highfield House in Woodlesford he became the manager of the Waterloo and Woodlesford Colliery Company before moving to be the engineer at the Bower pits near Swillington and owner of a quarry at Kippax. He was also a director of Bentley’s Yorkshire Breweries.

Click on the links below to read more about Rothwell’s railway.

The Making of A Modern Mineral Railway August 1900

East & West Yorkshire Union Railways by D. L. Franks

Map of the line through Rothwell in 1905

One of the East and West Yorkshire Union Railway locos near Robin Hood.

A poster advertising the Charlesworth collieries and coke works.

(The brass band conductor, J. W, Stamp, was born at Leaholm near Whitby in 1866 where his father was an ironstone miner. After his family moved to Lofthouse he became an engine driver and then a coal miner. He conducted a number of bands from the West Riding in competitions between 1896 and 1925. After moving to Castleford he lived with his married sister and in November 1924 performed in the first ever radio programme from a working colliery. It took place from the bottom of the shaft at Whitwood where he conducted the colliery’s silver prize band. The programme was heard nationally via the Leeds studio of the British Broadcasting Company. It also also featured mining expert Professor James Ritson from Leeds University and Yorkshire comedian George R. Lister.)