ASPECTS OF OSSETT’S HISTORY
The sixth in a series of short articles about the town’s history written by our Secretary, David Scriven.
At the moment we do not know when meetings will resume. The Trinity Centre is currently closed, with a proposal to review the situation in January 2021.
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had been powered by a water wheel driven by the Whitley Spring Beck, but by the time of the Royal Commission it had been replaced by a steam engine of 15 horse power.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.
Articles by David Scriven:
“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.