ASPECTS OF OSSETT’S HISTORY
This is the eleventh in a series of short articles about the history of Ossett, written by our Secretary, David Scriven.
NITS AND BAD TEETH: THE HEALTH OF OSSETT’S SCHOOL CHILDREN 1909-1914
The Boer War (1899-1902) revealed not only weaknesses in Britain’s army, but also the poor state of health of many of the men who volunteered to serve in the conflict. As a result, the Liberal governments of Campbell-Bannerman and Asquith carried out reforms to modernise the army and to improve the health of the working classes. One of these reforms was the introduction, thanks to the 1907 Education Act, of school medical officers of health.
Ossett’s borough council was the local education authority for the town and it appointed, as its first school medical officer of health, a general practitioner, Dr George Symers Mill. Mill had worked as an assistant to Dr JG Wiseman and had succeeded to his practice. Unlike Wiseman, he was not a local man, having been born and educated in Scotland.
Mill’s annual reports to the borough council covering the period 1909-1914 were summarised in the pages of the ‘Ossett Observer’ and they provide an interesting insight into the health of the town’s children in the early twentieth century.
Among the subjects covered by Mill in his reports was the children’s clothing. He found that although there were very few children who wore too little, there were a lot who wore too much. In some cases, he had to remove as many as eight items of clothing to examine a child. Mill also commented on the cleanliness of the children. In 1912, for example, he noted there had been a marked improvement in this respect, but two years later he found that of 842 children examined 96 had ‘verminous’ heads while a ‘large’ proportion of children had nits in their hair.
Apart from clothes and cleanliness, Mill also reported on teeth and eyes. Unfortunately, the children’s dental health was poor, with a large number having decayed teeth. Poor eyesight was also common, with many unrecognised cases of defective vision and some children wearing unsuitable glasses.
Overall, Mill thought that Ossett’s children were not undernourished, but there were some who were not fed properly. He blamed this on working mothers, whose offspring ate bread and fat, pastry or fish and chips for lunch rather than a proper dinner. One consequence of this improper feeding was a large number of small children in the town. In general, Ossett’s children both weighed less and were shorter than the national average for their age. Another result of an inadequate diet was the existence of rickets: in 1912, 33 children out of 837 Mill examined were suffering from this disease of poor nutrition.
Although Ossett had suffered a bad outbreak of smallpox in the first years of the century, Mill found a large number of unvaccinated children. This was perhaps not surprising as Ossett was a town where the anti-vaccination movement had many sympathisers.
Mill also commented on accommodation available in the town’s schools. Poor ventilation of classrooms was a point he returned to on several occasions, while he was particularly critical of the overcrowding and lack of space for play at the Gawthorpe infant and mixed schools. Gawthorpe had to wait, however, until the 1920s before its antiquated schools were replaced.
With the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, Mill joined the Royal Army Medical Corp (Territorials) and served in France until November 1915 when he was invalided home. This was not the end of his war service as he later worked at the military hospital in Dewsbury. When he died in Ossett in 1925, he had only just retired as the school medical officer of health.
A FORCIBLE PEOPLE: WILLIAM STOTT BANKS VISITS OSSETT
The Wakefield solicitor William Stott Banks (1820-1872) was a keen walker and in 1866 published ‘Walks in Yorkshire’ and in 1871 ‘Walks About Wakefield’. The latter book includes a wealth of information about the places Banks visited and it still makes fascinating reading.
Among the towns Banks wrote about was Ossett. He describes it as ‘a thriving place, inhabited by a forcible people’ who made their living from the woollen industry. In spite of its apparent prosperity, it was not a town where ‘artificial refinement of manners’ was valued, but nevertheless the people combined ‘sterling good qualities’ with ‘hard and plodding’ work. Banks was interested in dialect - he wrote a book about the words used in common speech in Wakefield - and thought that Ossett’s dialect and accent reflected the character of its inhabitants: it was ‘far rougher and more vigorous’ than that of Wakefield.
Banks noted the many ‘good dwellings’ of Ossett’s manufacturers, some of which, such as Park House, survive today. He was also favourably impressed by the recently completed Holy Trinity Church. This ‘beautiful structure’ with its tower and spire was ‘a little cathedral’ which was ‘quite a surprise to any one seeing it for the first time’. Its architect, W.H Crossland, of Leeds, had chosen the early decorated style of gothic for the church which, so Banks was informed, had cost £14,000 - £17,000. Banks was less impressed by Ossett’s other Anglican place of worship, Christ Church, which he dismissed as ‘small and plain’. He did, however, praise the architecture of the nearby church schools as being ‘good’.
Of the several Nonconformist places of worship in Ossett, Banks thought the most striking was Wesley Street’s Methodist chapel. Built soon after Holy Trinity, the chapel was in the classical style and its façade was dominated by two large Corinthian columns.
Commenting on the link between religion and politics in the industrial West Riding, Banks wrote, ‘speaking generally, we may say that liberal politics and dissent from the established church are the rule’ but ‘in no part do conservatives and churchmen work with more earnestness’. As regards politics, Banks was right about Ossett as the town’s leading Liberals tended to be Nonconformists and its most important Conservatives were often Anglicans.
Banks admired the view over the valley of the River Calder from Storrs Hill, a view we can still enjoy today, and also visited the now vanished baths at Ossett Spa. When he walked through the spa one of the two rival bath keepers told him that in Ossett people could ‘have Askern and Harrogate baths without the need of further travel’.
More information about Banks can be found in ‘Worthies of Wakefield’, (Wakefield Historical Publications, 2004). ‘Walks Around Wakefield’ has been digitised by Google Books and was reprinted by Wakefield Historical Publications in 1983.
OSSETT AND THE 1821 CENSUS
On Monday 28 May 1821, Great Britain’s third population census took place. In England and Wales it was carried out by the overseers of the poor and in Scotland by schoolmasters. By today’s standards the census enumerators had to answer only a limited number of questions about the people, their housing and occupations in their districts, but the answers were nevertheless important. When, for example, the results of the census were published they showed that Great Britain’s population was growing rapidly: since 1811 it had risen by 1.8 million taking it to 14.4 million.
Among the many places recording an increase in its population was Ossett-cum-Gawthorpe. In 1811, it had been 4,083 and ten years later it was 4,775, an increase of 17%. There were 933 inhabited houses in Ossett in 1821, giving an average of 5.11 people per house. Unfortunately, no information about the number of rooms in each house was requested in the census, but just over thirty years later most houses in the village had only one or two rooms. In 1821, some 51 % of the population was female and females outnumbered males in Ossett for the rest of the century. Unlike today, most of the town’s population was young: 54% was under the age of 20.
The overseers were asked to categorise families by occupation. In Ossett, there were 1089 families and of these 145 (13%) were mainly occupied in agriculture and 936 (86%) were mainly involved in trade, manufacturing and handicrafts. Manufacturing in Ossett at this time meant the making of woollens, and, to a lesser extent, worsteds and cottons. Although there were several mills most of the work, particularly weaving, was still done by hand, often in the homes of the workers.
The answers to the census questions had to be returned by the overseers on an official form, but how they collected the information was their responsibility. Some overseers used forms supplied by enterprising printers, while others made their own record sheets. As these records were of no value once the information they contained had been processed and forwarded to London, they were usually thrown away. In over 200 cases, however, they were kept and survive today in libraries and archives. Fortunately, among these survivors are the records kept by Ossett’s overseers of the poor and they are preserved today in the History Centre in Wakefield.
Ossett’s overseers in 1821, Thomas Mitchell and Joseph Smith, made two enumerators’ books in which they recorded in tabular form not only the information requested by the census but some additional information as well. In some cases, for instance, they gave specific occupations such as ‘surgeon’, ‘wool comber’ or ‘servant’ to individuals and they also noted when someone was an apprentice. They also recorded when men were absent because of militia or military service. Also, although there was no question about disabilities in the census, the overseers also made the comments ‘infirm’ or ‘deaf’ in some entries.
In addition, the overseers noted which children were illegitimate. The total was 124 out of 2,068 under 16s, which was probably in line with national trends in illegitimacy. Of the 83 unmarried mothers in the census, 30% had more than one illegitimate child and two women had 5 illegitimate children each. As the overseers’ duties included the maintenance of children born out of wedlock, the figures were of obvious interest to them.
The 1821 census was summarised by Brian Smith in his ‘Census of the Township of Ossett including Gawthorpe 1821’, (Ossett, 1995), a copy of which is available at the Local Studies Library, Wakefield. Part of the census is available at Joan Smith’s website https://horburyandossettfamilyhistory.net Ann Barnes, ‘Bastardy in Ossett in the early nineteenth century’, in K. Taylor, editor, ‘Aspects of Wakefield’, (Barnsley, 1998), provides a fascinating insight into this aspect of the town’s history.
THE CHILDHOOD OF ALFRED KITSON
Victorian working-class autobiographies are something of a rarity, which makes that of Alfred Kitson particularly valuable. He was born in Gawthorpe in 1855, the son of John and Elizabeth Kitson. His father was a coal miner whose poor health made it difficult for him to support his large family and consequently his mother worked as a hand warper in a local mill. As a child, Alfred was well aware of his family’s poverty and was eager to find a job. When he was nine, he was taken on as a hurrier in a local coal pit by his uncle, Joshua Kitson, and he went on to fill the same role for his grandfather and for his father in other local collieries. His job was to fill trucks or corves with coal and then to push them from the coal face to the pit bottom. It was when he was hurrying for his grandfather that he learned how to hew coal and to timber roofs. These skills enabled him to become a miner when he was 16, two years earlier than the usual age.
Kitson describes vividly working life in the local coal pits – the inadequate ventilation, the flooded underground roads and the risk of explosions from fire damp. Miners who pressed their masters for improved conditions were likely to be victimised. One man who suffered in this way was Kitson’s great-uncle who drowned himself when he found that no coal master would employ him.
When Kitson began work, it was a condition of his employment that he attended a day school two afternoons a week and he therefore went to the school in Gawthorpe run by Benjamin Harrop and his eldest daughter, Tabitha. Apart from the day school, he also attended the Sunday school attached to the Primitive Methodist chapel in Gawthorpe which, like most Sunday schools at this time, taught reading and writing.
The Methodist chapel, where his father was a class leader and lay preacher, played a large part in Kitson’s life. He learned to ‘live in the fear’ of the Lord, a fear which put him in continual dread of displeasing God and then being consigned to the fires of hell. At times, he even thought It would have been better not to have been born.
When spiritualism was introduced into Gawthorpe by George and Sarah Ann Swift in 1867, John Kitson was among the many who were sceptical about ‘table rapping’. He was, however, persuaded to attend spiritualist meetings and was eventually converted, becoming a medium himself. This conversion led to a breach with some of his relatives, but it was followed by a remarkable improvement in his health, something the Methodists said was the work of the Devil.
Alfred Kitson followed his father’s example and became a spiritualist himself. He found spiritualism more comforting than Methodism, being particularly impressed by the idea that there were more places for the dead than heaven and hell. Later, he went on to play an important role in the British spiritualist movement and most of his autobiography is devoted to this topic.
Alfred Kitson published his life story under the title of ‘Autobiography of Alfred Kitson General Secretary of the British Spiritualists’ Lyceum Union from its formation in 1890 to June 30th 1919’. It is still available today.
THE ‘OSSETT OBSERVER’ 23rd DECEMBER 1876
For over one hundred years from 1864 the ‘Ossett Observer’ reported on events in the neighbouring towns of Ossett and Horbury. Available on microfilm at the local Studies Library at Wakefield One, the newspaper now provides an invaluable source for the history of the two towns. A few editions have also been digitised by the British Newspaper Archive and among them is the issue for 23 December 1876 which gives an interesting insight into the run up to a Victorian Christmas.
Much of the ‘Observer’ was devoted to advertisements for businesses in Ossett, Dewsbury and Wakefield. One of those eager to attract customers was the grocer G.S. Farrand whose shop was on Ossett Green. He had received his Christmas stock of cheese, fruits and spices and his special offer of 2lbs of loaf sugar with every pound of his ‘celebrated tea’ was still available. Another local businessman who wanted to capitalise on the Christmas trade was Gamwell Cudworth of the ‘Commercial Hotel’. He was offering Christmas hampers made up six bottles of spirits of the ‘best quality’ for 21 shillings and was also offering Bass’s Ale at 2s 6d a dozen.
The ‘Observer’ also had advertisements for the Christmas bazaars of the Dale Street United Free Methodists and the Flushdyke Congregationalists, both of which promised a selection of ‘useful and ornamental articles’. The three-day Methodist bazaar started on Christmas Day, while the two-day Congregationalist event began on Boxing day. Meanwhile, South Ossett Church School was going to hold its annual soiree on 27 December. Its attractions included ‘talented Artistes’ from York Minster, and Mr. J. Hicks, ‘the Great Comedian and Comic Vocalist’. On the following day, the Wesleyan Methodist School Room in Wesley Street was going to be the venue for a temperance comedy, ‘Suits at the Brewster Sessions of Sotville’. Among the characters in the drama was a temperance attorney, Faithful Hatewrong, and a publican, Fleecem Ruinall.
Further afield the Leeds Varieties Music Hall advertised its new programme, which started on Christmas Day, and included the War Arabs, Garto, the Musical Wonder, Harlow’s Minstrels and the Star Troupe.
Among the ‘Observer’s local news items was a long report on two meetings of Ossett’s Local Board of Health, held at its office in New Street. The members spent some time discussing the improvements the Board was carrying out to drain, sewer and water the town and also to widen Healey Lane. Another matter which came before the Board was its dispute with its former clerk, the solicitor Joseph Stringer, over his failure to return official papers. In correspondence with the Board, Stringer, a man whose temper was not improved by his gout, labelled his successor, Thomas Burton, as a ‘pompous scribe’.
Other local news included two reports from the West Riding Courthouse at Dewsbury. Thomas Hopkins appeared before the magistrates accused of begging at the Flying Horse on Dewsbury Road in Ossett. Hopkins said he was walking from Sheffield to Oldham in search of work and the magistrates dismissed the case. In the second case, two railway porters at Ossett Town Station were fined 10 shillings each and costs after being found guilty of assaulting Jarvis Broadhead, a Batley Carr woollen manufacturer. Broadhead had bought a 1d ticket to travel from Dewsbury to Earlsheaton, but the train had failed to stop at Earlsheaton. When he had alighted at Ossett, one of the porters had demanded an excess fare of 1½d, which he had refused to pay, and the assault had then followed.
A report of Green Chapel’s Young Men’s Mutual Improvement Society’s meeting, the subject was the United Kingdom Alliance, an influential temperance organisation which wanted to outlaw the sale of alcohol. Another item covered the annual distribution of prizes to the local Rifle Volunteers, the forerunners of the Territorial Army, at a meeting in Dewsbury. The Ossett Company of the Volunteers was well represented among the prize winners with Sergeant Ellis Wilson, a good marksman, winning several awards. The ‘Observer’ also reported that Ossett Cricket Club’s concert in the Old Church School Room had attracted a good attendance. The most popular parts of the concert were the comic turns by Mr W.T. Greener who had met with a ‘hearty reception’ and who had been ‘loudly encored’.
At the Local Board’s meeting one member drew attention to the poor state of the causeway or pavement on South Parade which, he said, was ‘nearly impassable’. The state of the pavements was also on the mind of one of the ‘Observer’s correspondents who urged the Board to adopt the use of tarmac on pavements in order to provide a ‘clean even footway’. A ‘Ratepayer’ called on the town’s inhabitants to follow the example of Morley and form a league to press for the introduction of an elected School Board to provide a nondenominational education to the local children. Another correspondent, ‘J.W.’, was highly critical of the recently published anti-smallpox vaccination jottings of Mr W.R. Fox, which he called ‘wild assertions and illogical statements’.
THE CHILDREN OF SPRING END MILL
One of the mills investigated by the 1833 Royal Commission into child labour in textile factories was Spring End Mill at Ossett Spa. Built at the beginning of the 1780s, Spring End was Ossett’s first textile mill and by 1833 it belonged to the firm of Wheatley, Overend and Collett which made yarn for cloth and stockings. Originally the mill had been powered by a water wheel driven by the Whitley Spring Beck, but by the time of the Royal Commission it had been replaced by a steam engine of 15 horse power. From the Commission’s report, we know that among the machines at the mill were slubbing billies which were tended by workers called slubbers. These machines converted wool which had been carded into rovings, slivers of wool with a slight twist, which were then spun to make yarn.
The mill employed 39 people exclusive of those working in the counting house and the warehouse and the workers included both boys and girls. The Commission’s report categorised the 39 as follows.
Age Male Female
Under 10 3 2
10 under 12 5 5
12 under 14 2 2
14 under 16 1 6
16 under 18 1 2
21 and up 10 -
One of the advantages of child labour for mill owners was its cheapness in comparison to adult labour. At Spring End, the children under 14 were paid a set wage of 3 shillings (15p) a week, while those under 18 received 4 shillings a week. Of the workers over 21, the six male slubbers were paid by piece work and earned from 3 shillings to 3 shillings 6 pence a day. Asked about what sort of work children were capable of, the mill’s owners replied that children aged between 7 and 10 could join cardings or help a slubber and this was the work they did at Spring End.
By modern standards, the hours worked at the mill were excessive – 70 hours a week. From Monday to Friday the working day started at 6 am and finished at 7 pm while on Saturday it began at 6 am and ended at 5 pm. Each day one hour was allowed for lunch. There was, however, no overtime. Apart from Sundays, the mill holidays were two half days at Whitsun, two half days at Easter and two half days at Christmas. Unlike some factories, Spring End had no rules as regards fines for absence or disobedience and there was no corporal punishment for children. Also, unlike some other mills, there was no shift work.
The Royal Commission had been appointed in response to the campaign by the Ten Hours Movement to limit working hours in mills to ten a day and among the Ossett supporters of the movement were the Rev O.L. Collins, minister at Holy Trinity, and the solicitor J. S. Archer. In 1833, a well-attended meeting at the ‘Horse and Hounds’ chaired by Frank Tolson agreed to petition Parliament to abolish ‘factory slavery’ by approving the Ten Hours Bill. Instead, Parliament passed the 1833 Factory Act which disappointed reformers by not making a ten hour day compulsory for all children. Under the Act, children under 9 were banned from working in most mills, while the hours of work for children under 13 were restricted to 9 per day and 48 per week and young people aged between 13 and 18 were limited to 12 hours a day and 69 a week. However, the appointment of full-time inspectors made the measure the first effective Factory Act.
OSSETT’S FIRST COUNCIL HOUSES
“What is our task? To make Britain a fit country for heroes to live in”. David Lloyd George’s famous declaration, made during a general election campaign speech in November 1918, followed hard on the heels of the signing of the Armistice. He was anxious not only to win the general election, but also to stave off the unrest which would result if servicemen returned to find there were no jobs and no decent homes for themselves and their families. Having won the general election, he put his programme of reconstruction into action. One result was the 1919 Housing Act which led to the building of Ossett’s first council houses.
Ossett was like many industrial towns in that most people lived in small terraced houses which often consisted of no more than a cellar, a living room and a one bedroom. Although some houses had water closets, the majority were furnished with outside privies which were condemned by Ossett’s sanitary inspector as “undoubtedly offensive, repulsive and insanitary”. During the First World, few new houses were built and the state of the existing housing stock deteriorated as landlords found it impossible to maintain their properties because of war time shortages of labour and materials. Consequently, by 1919 Ossett faced a housing crisis.
Under the 1919 Housing Act, Ossett borough council had to submit plans to the government for a programme of council house building. It decided that the town needed 200 new houses and that the first of them would be built at Manor Road, Northfield Avenue and Sowood Avenue. The houses were designed by the borough surveyor, whose plans had to be approved by the government, and were built by private contractors. Those at Manor Road, for instance, were built by a London company, E.T. Small. Brick was used in their construction, although at least one councillor suggested that it would be cheaper and quicker to use concrete.
Money to build the houses was raised by borrowing including the sale of Ossett housing bonds. These were heavily advertised in the ‘Ossett Observer’, the advertisements not only stressing that the bonds were an excellent investment but that it was a patriotic duty to subscribe to them. Improved housing would, it was claimed, would “make a more united and contented BOROUGH, COUNTRY and EMPIRE”.
The builders faced multiple difficulties, among them rising costs and shortages of labour and building materials, which delayed their progress. Eventually, in November 1920, Alderman George Frederick Wilson opened the first of the completed houses on the Manor Road estate. The semi-detached dwellings, each with a front and back garden, living room, scullery, three bedrooms, W.C. and bathroom, represented a revolution in housing standards for the town’s workers. They were laid out on garden city principle with a cul-de-sac named after Wilson himself.
Unfortunately, the high hopes raised by the 1919 Housing Act were not fulfilled. The post-war boom, which pushed up the cost of house-building, was followed by a slump and the government decided to save money by ending the housing programme. The 77 houses built in Ossett under the 1919 Act remain today a memorial to Lloyd George’s enlightened policy.
KATE PHELAN AND ST. IGNATIUS SCHOOL by DEBORAH SCRIVEN
The Roman Catholic parish of St Ignatius was founded in South Ossett in 1877, with a primary school opening six years later. Under the 1902 Education Act, responsibility for managing the school was shared by the new Ossett Local Education Authority (LEA) and the Catholic Church, which appointed the local parish priest, Father Ignatius O’Gorman, followed later by Father William Gough, as the Manager. They were responsible for religious instruction in the school, over which the LEA had no control. Funding for staff and buildings in Ossett schools was provided from the rates and local ratepayers were always keen to see economies, particularly in staff salaries.
In June 1905, Miss Kate Phelan was appointed as the headmistress, on an annual salary of £85. She was born in Ireland, had been a pupil teacher at St Austin’s School, Wakefield and later became a qualified teacher. After teaching in both Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Normanton, she came to Ossett. Unfortunately she quickly came to realise that St. Ignatius school was experiencing problems as the two supplementary teaches lacked suitable experience and the pupils were somewhat backward and indisciplined. Her conclusions were reinforced early in 1907 when a Government Inspector found that the school “has deteriorated, and is on the verge of inefficiency”. The Managers blamed Miss Phelan for this adverse report and recommended her dismissal. Father Gorman wrote to the Board of Education in London, complaining that, among other failings, she had frequent outburst of temper; used insulting language; excessively punished the pupils and inserted false statements in the school log book.
However Miss Phelan could not be dismissed without the consent of the LEA, which, after lobbying by the National Union of Teachers, decided in April 1907 to hold an inquiry. After deliberations in private, it was publicly announced that Miss Phelan had answered all charges satisfactorily and so consent for her dismissal was denied.
Unfortunately relations between Miss Phelan and Father Gough continued to deteriorate, as can be seen from entries in the log book. On 7 May 1907 she complained in one entry that the children had to be silent when he examined their books, so he retaliated by writing that he had made no such request. The Managers changed tack and resolved to dismiss her on the grounds of failures in religious instruction. Both the Managers and the LEA complained to the Board of Education, which, worried by the conflict, decided to hold a local inquiry. Mr Whitmell, a senior inspector, reviewed the evidence, concluding that “I think it is unquestionable that it is Miss Phelan and not her unfortunate staff who must be held mainly responsible for the very unsatisfactory nature of the school” and “The school results seem to show her failure as a teacher and her faults of temper are such as to make it almost impossible for others to work with her”. As a result the Ossett Education Committee capitulated and agreed a new headmistress could be appointed.
It is quite likely that as a strong-minded and determined woman Kate Phelan had unfortunately become involved in an intemittent but long-running conflict between the school’s Catholic Managers and the Ossett Education Committee. However, although she left Ossett, she remained in the teaching profession. In 1911 she became the headmistress of St. Francis RC elementary school in Abersychan, South Wales, a position she held for 13 years, perhaps testifying to more cordial relations with her school managers.
“WHITE MAD” – POLITICS IN OSSETT IN 1837
1837 was a turbulent year in Ossett’s political life. The village’s parliamentary voters were divided between Whigs and Conservatives, the former including many of the Nonconformists and the latter many of the Anglicans. Among the issues concerning them were church rates, a local levy used to maintain Anglican places of worship but payable by Anglicans and Nonconformists alike, and the Whig New Poor Law, a measure seen by some as an attack on the poor and by others as necessary means to discourage the poor from idleness. Church rates had long been a local concern, while the New Poor Law was being introduced into Yorkshire in 1837. Some Ossett residents were among those who petitioned Parliament against the New Poor Law at the beginning of the year, but with no success.
The death of King William IV and the accession of Queen Victoria in June resulted in a general election. Ossett was in the West Riding constituency which had been represented by two Whig MPs, Lord Morpeth and Sir George Strickland, who both stood for re-election. They were opposed by a lone Conservative, John Stuart Wortley. All three candidates published addresses or manifestoes in the local press setting out their views on the major political issues including, of course, the position of the Church of England and the New Poor Law.
On the candidates’ nomination day on 31 July Wakefield’s Wood Street was crowded with Conservative and Whig supporters wearing their parties’ colours, blue for the Conservatives and Yellow for the Whigs. Unfortunately, violence broke out during which an Ossett woollen manufacturer, William Carter, was fatally wounded. In Ossett itself, a crowd of Whigs stoned ‘The Red Lion’, breaking all of its windows, when its landlord, Joseph Norcliffe, refused to lower his blue flag. Polling in Wakefield took place over two days, 3 and 4 August, and passed off without trouble. The majority of Ossett’s votes went to the two Whig candidates who also retained their seats in the West Riding. Nationally, the Whigs won the general election.
Parliamentary elections were just one aspect of the struggle between the Whigs and the Conservatives. They also competed against each other during the annual revision of the electoral register, each party attempting to increase the number of its supporters on the register and diminish the number of its opponent’s voters. In October, Ossett’s Whigs celebrated their recent revision court victory over the Conservatives with a dinner at the ‘Flying Horse’. William Tiler, Ossett’s Congregationalist minister, presided and made a speech in which he accused the Conservatives of using bribery in the general election, a charge dismissed by the Conservative press.
Later in the month, an Ossett vestry meeting called to approve a church rate was disrupted by what its enemies dubbed ‘the no church party’. One of its leaders, Abraham Archer, was described as ‘white mad’. Yet despite his vocal opposition, the meeting passed the rate. The chairman, Ossett’s curate, Oliver Collins, then left. Archer then took the chair and a motion was passed to adjourn the meeting for a year.
Archer was the constable elect of Ossett, the local officer responsible for law and order. His appointment had to be confirmed by the court leet of the manor Wakefield and when the court met soon after the vestry meeting, there was strong opposition from some Ossett residents, including Oliver Collins, to his confirmation. The manor’s deputy steward, Henry Lumb, expressed his own view quite bluntly: ‘I tell you again, sir, that the man who is opposed to a church rate is devoid of principle’. Lumb then made Abraham Greaves constable in Archer’s place.
THE GREENWOODS OF OSSETT
The Greenwoods were remarkable because between 1795 and 1911 four generations of the family were medical men in Ossett. The first to set up a practice in the town was John Greenwood, a surgeon and apothecary, what today would be called a general practitioner. His income from his practice was sufficient for him to marry a cousin, Jane Greenwood, in 1799 and the family ramifications of the marriage caught the attention of ‘The Gentleman’s Magazine’ which reported, ‘The bride and bridegroom’s fathers have been married twice, and each time to sisters; their cousins are brothers, and brothers and sisters are cousins’.
John and Jane’s son George was born in 1805, qualified as a surgeon and apothecary in 1825 and after his father’s death in 1831 took over the family practice. The formation of Poor Law Unions in the 1830s provided surgeons such as George with new job opportunities and he became the Dewsbury Poor Law Union’s medical officer of health for Ossett, a position later held by his son, John William. Both of the Greenwoods, George and John William, gave evidence when William Ranger held his public health enquiry in Ossett in 1857, and both mentioned a recent outbreak of typhoid in South Ossett. The prevalence of water-borne diseases in the town is hardly surprising as George said that he had only to look out of his window to see a privy within a few yards of a public well.
George married Sarah Barker of Pontefract in 1832 and their son John William was born in the following year. He was educated at Bramham College and undertook his medical training at a medical school, in his case at Leeds, unlike his father and his grandfather who would have served apprenticeships to surgeon-apothecaries. Joining his father in his medical practice in 1855, John William took it over when George died in 1868. His genial nature no doubt helped him to succeed in the practice and like his father he was medical officer of health for the Ossett district of the Dewsbury Poor Law Union. In 1874 Ossett Local Board appointed him its first medical officer of health. His annual reports provided the Local Board with an accurate, and sometimes unflattering picture, of public health in the town. Among the problems he highlighted was the high infant mortality rate, something he attributed in part to the misfeeding of infants. In the 1880s he had to report on the epidemic of smallpox which prompted the Local Board to build an isolation hospital at Storrs Hill. John William retired from the family practice in 1892 and moved to Scarborough where he died in 1904.
John William married Mary Thompson of Upperthorpe near Sheffield in 1860 and two of their sons, George Spencer and William, carried on the practice after their father’s retirement. They were both educated at Silcoates School near Wakefield, a private school in Nottingham and George, and possibly William, also studied in Germany, before attending Leeds College of Medicine. George succeeded his father as Ossett’s medical officer of health and in the ‘Ossett Observer’s opinion his annual reports were models of their kind. Like his father, he faced a smallpox outbreak in the town and the results of the investigation he carried out with Dr Kaye, the West Riding’s medical officer of health, were published in the ‘British Medical Journal’ in 1905. The report demonstrated the effectiveness of vaccination at a time when anti-vaccination feeling was particularly strong in Ossett. George died the same year as the article was published when he was only in his mid-forties. His brother William succeeded him as the town’s medical officer of health and as head of the practice. Like his father, William was noted for his genial character and extensive practice, but like his brother he died in his forties. William’s death in 1911 brought to an end the Greenwood medical dynasty in Ossett, although the practice was continued by Dr Wood at Sowood House, the Greenwoods’ home from the early nineteenth century. More can be found out about this house on Ossett Green, and its owners, from www.ossett.net
OSSETT IN 1853 - WHITE’S TRADE DIRECTORY
“OSSETT-CUM-GAWTHORPE form a large and straggling village and township, from 2 to 4 miles E. and S.E. of Dewsbury and W. of Wakefield”.
These are the opening words of William White’s entry for Ossett in the fifth edition of his ‘Directory and Gazetteer of Leeds, Bradford and the Whole of the Clothing Districts of the West Riding of Yorkshire’. Published in 1853, the directory provides a snapshot of one of the country’s major manufacturing areas at a time when Britain was the workshop of the world.
Ossett was part of the clothing districts, the West Riding’s textile area, and its major industry was woollen cloth manufacturing. The directory lists six businesses under the heading of blanket manufacturers and no less than 79 firms under the heading of woollen manufacturers. Although weaving was still done by hand, some other cloth making processes, including scribbling and fulling, were being carried out in mills and among the 11 businesses listed as scribbling and fulling millers are Healey Old, New and Low Mills. Also at Healey were the dyeworks of Joseph and William Gartside who were successfully carrying on the business founded by their father, John, earlier in the century. Cloth finishing, perfecting the surface of cloth, was a vital part of woollen production and this was the trade of Joshua Swallow whose works were on Ossett Street. Although Ossett was best known for its woollen cloth, the directory also lists three firms involved in worsted and yarn manufacturing. One of these, John Rowley and Sons of Owl Mill, was to carry on until the 1880s. Worsted yarn was used in carpet making and Ossett had a carpet factory, Whitley Spring Mill, at Flushdyke, owned by a Dewsbury businessman, Thomas Tolson.
Later in the nineteenth century the place of woollen manufacturing as Ossett’s staple trade was taken by the reclaimed wool industry. Already, in 1853, there were 26 firms in the town dealing in rags and shoddy, five of them also grinding rags. One of the dealers and grinders was John Speight, who had recently built Northfield Mill in what is now Church Street. The textile industry depended on skilled machine makers to construct and repair its machinery and two Ossett firms, Benjamin Burton’s and Joshua Moss’s, are named in this category.
Far less important than the textile industry in Ossett at this time was coal mining. Under the heading ‘coal owners’ the directory lists six businesses. Of these, the most important in the long term was Dawson, Terry and Greaves. Dawson soon dropped out of the firm and Terry and Greaves went on to open Roundwood Colliery which in the twentieth century became the largest coal mine in the town. Two of the more unusual businesses mentioned in the directory are the spa baths on Ossett Common which gave rise to the place-name Ossett Spa.
Serving the recreational needs of the town, or at least the male population, were 22 inns, taverns and beerhouses. Among them are some which still exist such as the ‘Cock and Bottle’ and the ‘Red Lion’. The religious needs of the town were served by Trinity Church, where the Reverend Oliver Levey Collins was the incumbent, and by Christ Church, where the Reverend Denis Creighton Neary was the recently appointed vicar. Apart from these Anglican places of worship, the directory mentions an Independent chapel, which stood on the Green, and a Wesleyan chapel in what is now Wesley Street. Among the schools are the Free School, also known as the Grammar School and several ‘academies’ including the one belonging to David Lucas, a teacher later remembered as a good disciplinarian.
Although not always accurate or complete in its information, White’s ‘Directory’ is an important source of information about mid-Victorian Ossett.
OSSETT AND HORBURY LOCAL AND FAMILY HISTORY NETWORK
The network meets monthly with the aim of bringing together both beginners and more experienced local and family historians in order to exchange advice and information. Meetings are held on the second Friday of each month, in Horbury Library from 11.00am to 12.30pm. We hope to resume meetings when the library is able to fully open again.