Olive Britton

Joe and Olive Richardson in about 1920.

The daughter of a miner, Olive Britton grew up in one of the rows of stone built terraced houses off Midland Street known as New Woodlesford. Little is known of her life apart from the fact that she’s thought to have married the son of a miner from Hunslet. However the discovery of a photograph bearing her and her husband’s names means its been possible to piece together some of her family’s history stretching back to the stone quarries of Oulton and Woodlesford in the early years of the 19th century.

The photograph, in the form of a postcard bearing the names of Olive and Joe in pencil on the back, was sent unstamped, probably in an envelope, in about 1920 to Esther Britton who lived at 24 Church Street in Woodlesford. From records on Ancestry it’s been possible to show that Olive was the niece of Esther’s husband, Walter. It appears that Joe was Joe Richardson, born in 1898, the son of a miner. In 1911 the Richardson’s lived in Hunslet and Joe was a 13 year old working on the screens above ground at a colliery.

That may well have been Water Haigh pit, so it can be reasonably assumed that Joe and Olive met in Woodlesford possibly through a friendship at work between their fathers. Olive’s father, Walter’s younger brother, Thomas Britton, was also a miner. In 1889 he had married Sarah Ellen Kilner, the daughter of a carter, and for many years they brought up a large family in New Woodlesford on Kitchener Street.

Joe and Olive married in 1919 but there’s no record of their address. The photo was probably taken at a studio in Leeds shortly after their marriage. A daughter, Frances, was born in 1920 and Harry followed in 1922. (There is a possibility that Joe was the son of a French polisher, born in 1900 at Headingley, but that seems less likely.) Nothing further is known of the Richardson family but the Brittons had long established roots in Oulton.

Olive’s granny, Thomas and Walter’s mother, Mary, appears to have had several children out of wedlock until she married a pottery labourer called Amos Henshall on Christmas Day 1873. He was 11 years younger and a widower after the death of his first wife, mason’s daughter Ann Owen, who had also worked at the pottery. In 1881 Amos and Mary lived on Pottery Hill (now called Pottery Lane) in Woodlesford. Living with them were his son George Henshall, Thomas and Walter, along with an 11 month old baby called Alfred Walshaw who was described as a grandson, possibly the illegitimate child of Mary’s eldest son, also called Alfred. Later Amos and Mary moved to live at Ford’s Row in Whitwood.

Before she married Mary was a pottery wheel turner which is how she would have met Amos. She was born about 1830 and was the daughter of Thomas Britton, an Oulton stone mason. He had been born in 1805 and had married Hannah Muff at Rothwell parish church in 1827.

As a young woman Mary was a servant in Rothwell working for Joseph Dobson, a wine and spirit merchant who lived at Bank House. Her first child was born in 1852 and when he was baptised at Rothwell no father’s name was recorded. He was christened Alfred Lindley Britton. The middle name suggests his father was in fact a Lindley and a family bearing that name lived at Stanley.

As well as Alfred, Thomas, (who had the middle name of Greyhound), and Walter, Mary had another child, Hannah Maria Britton, born in 1856. In 1871, when Mary was working at the pottery, and living nearby as an unmarried mother, all her children were with her:  Alfred was 19, a labourer at the pottery, Hannah, 15, went to Sunday school, Walter was 11, and Thomas was 6. Not far away lived a widowed bricklayer called John Britton, 66, who may have been Mary’s brother or uncle. In 1858 he had been robbed of a pocket watch by three highwaymen as he returned home to Woodlesford from Rothwell.

Again, when Alfred Lindley Britton had grown up and he too got married in 1875 his father’s name wasn’t recorded in the register. His bride was Ellen Collin, a 35 year old widow 9 years older than him. She was the daughter of Thomas Clayton, a blacksmith from Kippax. The marriage only lasted four years as Alfred died in 1879. With two children from her first marriage Ellen went on to make a living as housekeeper for Richard Clayton, the landlord of the White Hart in Woodlesford. In 1882 she married a miner called Edwin Dennison and they lived on Midland Street and then Eshald Place.

In 1876 a Mary Britton and a Walter Britton kept separate households as tenants in a row of ten cottages which may have been New Row off Quarry Hill in Oulton. Along with two nearby quarries, now the site of Cooper’s garage and Lidl, the cottages’ freeholds were put up for sale by auction. Its possible this may have been Mary Britton taking up the tenancy of her childhood home for a while after her parents died but the Mary and Walter mentioned in a newspaper advertisement for the sale may have been relatives. Indeed Thomas Britton, born 1805, probably had several brothers giving rise to further branches of the family and it’s known that three Britton brothers fought in the First World War. Only one of them survived.

But to return to Olive and Joe and the postcard they sent to Auntie Esther on Church Street. By the time it arrived in about 1920 she was a widow who had brought up 6 children. As Esther Higgins, the daughter of a labourer born in Rothwell in 1864, she had married Walter Britton on Christmas Day 1883 at Rothwell church. When the 1911 census was taken her sons, Alfred and Willie, were miners and her daughters, Mary Alice and Lilian, worked as dressmakers. The two youngest children, still at school, were Grace Maria and Walter. Living with them was Alf Walshaw who had grown up to become a canal labourer and was described as Walter Britton’s nephew. Alfred, the eldest, married miner’s daughter Polly Sharp from Rothwell in April 1912.

Tragedy was to hit the family though three years later one dark and foggy Monday morning in January 1915. As Walter Britton walked to work at Savile pit in Methley along the canal towpath he missed his footing and fell into the water at Lemon Royd lock. He was just a few yards away from Walter Websdale from Beecroft Yard who’d met him at the door of 24 Church Street at 4.30 am. and they’d walked together down Fleet Lane.

The fog was so thick that Websdale didn’t see Walter fall into the water but he heard a splash and a shout. Despite the efforts of Websdale, his two sons, and a canal worker who lived in the lock house Walter Britton drowned and it took nearly three hours to recover his body. It was normal practise for miners to walk along the canal tow path and some tramped all the way from Hunslet and East Leeds to work in Woodlesford, Swillington and Methley. For many years the Aire and Calder Navigation had charged them 3d or 4d a year for the privilege.

At the inquest, held at the Two Pointers, Alfred Britton identified his father’s body and explained that his mother was too ill to attend. The coroner also heard from W. G. Thompson, an Aire and Calder manager, about miners paying to use the towpath but he said the engineer had recently banned them after complaints they were breaking down fences. The coroner said the men now had no right to use the path and it was very unwise to do so in thick forg, especially when they were only saving about a minute on their journey. He recorded a verdict of accidental death.

Walter Britton walked down Fleet Lane and along the footpath under the railway before meeting his death at Lemon Royd lock in 1915.

HIGHWAY ROBBERIES IN THE BRADFORD DISTRICT. Leeds Intelligencer. Saturday 24 July 1858.

On Thursday, at the West Riding Court, Bradford, the three men, named William Knapton, alias Old Jones, Edward Moss, alias Paper Ned, and Zaccheus Greenwood, were again brought up on the charge of being concerned in several garotte robberies the Bradford district.

On the night of the 13th June, Mr. John Britton, bricklayer, of Woodlesford, was returning from Rothwell to Woodlesford, and, when near the Leeds and Pontefract Road, at the latter place, he was stopped by three men, who garotted and robbed him of a silver watch and guard. He identified Moss as the man who seized him by the throat, and who, in a struggle after the robbery, kicked him severely in his side. Knapton had sold the watch to a person, named Moses Milnes, at Bradford.

Greenwood had made a confession of the fact of his having, with the other prisoners, robbed Mr. Britton; and, as this had been taken down in writing, it was put in evidence against him. As another robbery could be proved against him, it was not deemed expedient to admit him as an approver.

They were all committed to York Castle for trial at the assizes. We may mention that three of their number, who were committed for other highway robberies last week, have been tried this week at York, and been each sentenced to twenty years’ penal servitude.

YORKSHIRE GAOL DELIVERY. Yorkshire Gazette Saturday 18 December 1858.

EDWARD MOSS, ZACCHEUS GREENWOOD, and WILLIAM KNAPTON, convicted of highway robbery at Rothwell, were sentenced, Moss to six years, Greenwood three years, and Knapton to five years’ penal servitude.


Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer. Tuesday 4 July 1876.

TO BE SOLD BY AUCTION, by Messrs LANCASTER & SONS, at the Railway Hotel, Oulton, near Leeds, Thursday the Thirteenth day of July next, at Three o’clock in the Afternoon, in the following or such other lots as may be determined upon at the time of sale, and subject to conditions to be then and there produced,

Lot 1. ALL those TEN COTTAGES, with the Gardens and VACANT LAND appurtenant thereto, containing, with the site of the Cottages, 2027 superficial square yards or thereabouts, and in the respective occupations of Benjamin Moore, Rowland Johnson. Mary Ingham, Mary Britton, Mrs Burrel, Frederick Morley, William Frost, Sarah Ellis, Walter Britton, and Joseph Smith.

The chamber in the cottage occupied by Joseph Smith extends over the ground floor of an adjoining house, the property of Edmund Calverley, Esq.

Lot 2. All that PLOT or PARCEL LAND lying on the northwesterly side of the Wakefield and York turnpike road, and let on lease to Mr. Robert Whitehead, containing 10,912 superficial square yards or thereabouts.

In this lot there remains about 7531 yards of unquarried stone, besides what is requisite be left as a barrier against adjoining property.

Lot 3. All that other PLOT or PARCEL of LAND lying and being contiguous to the south-easterly side of the Wakefield and Aberford turnpike road, leased to Mr. Silas Abbey for a stone quarry, and containing 7042 superficial square yards, or thereabouts.

In this lot there is about 3943 superficial square yards of stone yet inquired besides what is necessary to be left for barriers All the valuable Beds of Coal underlying the respective lots will be sold therewith. The stone is of first-class quality.

The estate is within half-a-mile of the Woodlesford Station on the Midland Railway, and has extensive frontage to the turnpike road by which it is intersected. For further particulars apply to Mr W. J. Hindle, Architect, Barnsley; the Auctioneers, Barnsley; or to NEWMAN & SONS, Solicitors, Barnsley.