23 OCTOBER. DAVID SCRIVEN: A WORLD WE HAVE LOST: OSSETT AND HORBURY IN THE SEVENTEENTH CENTURY
Neither Ossett nor Horbury escaped the impact of the English Civil Wars. Not only was there fighting around both places, but local men fought for either the King or Parliament. The communities they came from were small, their populations numbered in the hundreds rather than the thousands. Periodically both suffered from epidemics and from harvest failures which caused a sharp increase in the number of deaths. 1623 was a particularly bad year, and not just in Ossett and Horbury but across the whole North of England. Farming was the principal occupation of the inhabitants: wills and inventories mention the crops, livestock and equipment such as ploughs and wains. Next to farming in importance was the making of woollen cloth. The key figures in the woollen industry were the clothiers who bought the wool, had it spun and woven and then sold their cloth to merchants at Wakefield’s weekly market. In both Ossett and Horbury there were deep divisions between the richest and the poorest inhabitants. Among the richest was Dame Sarah Monson, whose home was Horbury Old Hall. She left monetary bequests amounting to £500 in her will and set aside another £100 for the cost of her funeral in Wakefield. Among the poorest inhabitants was Mary Oxley of Ossett who was excused paying the 1672 hearth tax because of her poverty. There were also religious divisions in the two communities. After the restoration of Charles II some inhabitants refused to conform to the Church of England. One was John Issott of Horbury who was a member of William Marshall’s Independent congregation at Woodkirk. Another was John Bradford of Ossett who became a member of the Society of Friends. Like other Nonconformists, Bradford suffered for his faith. Arrested at a religious meeting in Wakefield, he was imprisoned in York Castle. Only with the Toleration Act of 1689 did the persecution of Nonconformists cease.
25 SEPTEMBER 2017 – ERIC JACKSON: THE BARNBOW LASSES
Mr Jackson’s interest in the Barnbow munitions works was aroused when he found the names of two women, Jane Few and Helena Beckett, on the war memorial at All Saints Church in Pontefract. They had been among 35 women killed in an explosion at the works on the night of 5 December 1916. Today there is little to see of the works, but during the First World War 16,000 people were employed there, 93% of them women. Barnbow was opened in 1915 as a shell filling factory in response to the British army’s massive demand for munitions. Working there was dangerous, not only because of the risks of explosions, but also because of the damage exposure to explosives did to the long term health of the women. However, wages at Barnbow were high – on average £3 a week – and free rail transport was provided to the works and this attracted women workers from York, Pontefract and Castleford as well as Leeds. Although the site was cleared after the First World War, the memory of the Barnbow lasses has been revived in recent years in a number of ways among them several memorials, streets named after some of the victims of the 1916 explosion and a play.