Biodiversity and Balne Beck

A couple of nature-related pieces about Balne Beck. The first is a curious letter from to the Wakefield and West Riding Herald from Thomas Walter Gissing, who took a keen interest in natural history. He kept a chemist shop in Wakefield and was the father of the Victorian novelist George Gissing. T W Gissing’s Materials for A Flora of Wakefield and its Neighbourhood was published in 1867.

Wakefield and West Riding Herald
Friday 26 September 1856


To the Editor of the Wakefield Journal and Examiner.

Dear sir, — I have much pleasure in announcing the discovery of some botanical rarities in the immediate vicinity of Wakefield.

My sister, walking from Balne-lane Mill towards Silcoates, discovered trifolium resupinatum (reversed trefoil), and on returning showed it me.

I immediately walked to the spot, found the plant, and in addition four others, viz, medicago falcata (sickle medick), melilotus arvensis (field melilot), medicago denticulata (toothed medick), and phalaris canariensis (canary grass).

Now I think it highly improbable that all these plants should be indigenous to that one spot of ground; but from their meagre and unattractive appearance they would never be cultivated in a garden; at least, with the exception of the canary grass, I never heard of their being used as ornamental plants. The probability, therefore, comes to me that these plants have been brought from adjacent fields with rubbish, and so sprung up in this locality. I would therefore strongly recommend all Wakefield botanists to closely inspect the neighbourhood of Balne-lane, &c.

– I am, dear sir, truly yours,

Wakefield, Sept 22, 1856.

And a not-so-constructive item. Wonder if the poor bird was kept in a cage or stuffed.

Leeds Times
Saturday 2 April 1853


On Good-Friday, a man, named Armitage, was walking along the side of the Balne Beck, when he observed a fine kingfisher on a stone in the water, attempting to gorge a fish which he held in his bill. The finny prey was too large for his majesty, however, and he could not well get off the ground with such an encumbrance sticking in his gizzard, Armitage made him an easy capture.

A lucky escape

Wakefield and West Riding Herald
Saturday 23 May 1891


Yesterday afternoon week, during the thunderstorm which then prevailed, the chimney of a house (in a block of buildings) occupied by a person named Haines, at the bottom of Silcoates Hill, was struck by the electric fluid and partly demolished, the bricks falling, some down the chimney and others upon the roof, and from thence sliding on to the floor, with a loud report. It was evident that the lightning had passed into the home, as not a vestige of soot could be found in the chimney, whilst the house floor was covered as with a “black carpet,” and the pictures had been ruthlessly torn from the walls and most of them smashed. Fortunately, Mrs. Haines had just gone across the road into a relative’s house with a few loaves of bread, and thus escaped what might have been a most serious injury.

As the 1891 census had only taken place six weeks earlier, it’s possible to find more details on Haines, including where he lived. His address is given in the Alverthorpe-with-Thornes census returns as at ‘Potovens Bridge’, so he must have lived in Pearson’s Buildings at the junction of Jerry Clay Lane and Wrenthorpe Lane (then called Potovens Road). James Haines was 49, married, and his recorded occupation ‘foreman/platelayer railway’. He was born in Macclesfield. His wife, Mary Anne (42) was born in Wrenthorpe. Their 19-year-old daughter was born in Ossett and worked as a ‘mill hand woollen weaver’, probably at the nearby Silcoates Mill.

A picture of life in 1880s Potovens

Although this article is primarily concerned with services at St Anne’s Church, its introduction contains a fascinating description of mid-1880s Wrenthorpe.

Wakefield & West Riding Herald
Saturday 1 August 1885


The annual dedication services in connection with the Church built for Wrenthorpe about ten years ago calls public attention to the labours of an indefatigable young vicar who works under great difficulties to promote the religious benefit of a poor population. It is not an extensive parish, reaching only from Carr Gate to Snow Hill and from Bradford Road to Alverthorpe Beck, but it embraces an area chiefly agricultural, and a village known by the not attractive title of Potovens. It is, however, a village that might well interest the curious, for it has features that are unique if not picturesque. Wrenthorpe is said to be a modification of Earl Warren’s Thorpe or village, and Potovens tells of a time that the historian has failed to chronicle, when the staple industry here was the making of pots and pans. All trace of the ovens has disappeared, but sometimes broken earthenware is dug up indicating the proximity of an oven, just as Roman urns sometimes lead to the discovery of a pottery bakery of the time of Julius Caesar; and just as the plough has turned up gold rings and sovereigns in the field where sixty years ago the Wakefield races were run [Lawns, Carr Gate]. To find an address at Potovens (which is literally in a hole) a guide is needed, for every ‘street’ seems to end in a piggery or garden. The stone-built cottages are not in the best repair, and, indeed, a stranger might think not a few of the little freeholds were in Chancery. The houses have been built at every angle to each other, and a journey, with the aid of a guide, will reveal some singularities in the habits of the villagers. If the collier section is badly off, the market gardeners would appear to be having a good time of it, for they live in a wealth of flowers; and their grounds are covered with fruitfulness.

The lengthy piece continues in great (too much) detail about church-related events. But it does give a striking impression of the poverty in the district and how a Church of England clergyman had been pragmatic in improving the lives of local people.

The object of the Church anniversary is to raise funds to meet the current expenses owing to the inability of the parishioners to make the offertories sufficient. The services commenced on Sunday, and will be continued on the 2nd of August. There was early Communion on Sunday, and a choral Communion service with sermon at the regular morning hour, the Rev. T. J. Puckle, the Vicar, officiating. At the floral service in the afternoon the Rev. J. H. D. Hill, vicar of East Ardsley, was the preacher. The children and their friends brought bouquets which were handed to the clergyman in the chancel, and will be sent to the Clayton Hospital and the Workhouse. The chancel screen, altar, and font were ornamented with flowers for the occasion, and altogether the services were most interesting, and attracted large congregations. In the evening the Rev. H. E. Alderson, assistant curate of Mirfield, was the preacher, and delivered an appropriate sermon before a full congregation. The number attending Communion and the amount of the offertories were an improvement upon last year. On Tuesday afternoon there was the annual sale of work at the school-room – a stone building out of repair, in a bad position – formerly the day school of the village, and now for the Sunday School [later Wrenthorpe Mission]. When the funds admit of a new school being built near the Church it will tend much to promote better order and decorum. But few persons attended the sale, and when the soiree followed in evening the pretty articles of needlework did not tempt the poor people to invest in them. About 100 persons sat down to a substantial tea, in charge of Miss Thomas, Miss Scott (Wakefield), Mrs. Parkin, Miss Jaques, and Mrs. Bland.

At the soiree the Rev. T. J. Puckle presided, when the, room was crowded. Before the entertainment commented he made a few remarks. He said they had rather a long programme, and therefore he would be brief. He wanted to say a little bit about the year and what they hoped to do in the coming year. They might remember that last year he spoke of their proposal to have one or two improvements. Among other things he mentioned a savings and a parish magazine. They had gained those objects. Mr. Joseph Marsland had had the chief work and merit in opening a branch of the Yorkshire Penny Savings Bank in November last, and up to Christmas, when the accounts closed, they had £92 9s. 7d. in the bank. Since then there had been paid in £158 4s. 9d, and altogether 186 accounts had been opened, of which 81 had been closed by people drawing out their money. They retained their books and could re-open the accounts whenever they chose. They had 107 accounts and £177 5s. 6d. in the bank. Considering that the times were so very bad he did not think that anything to be ashamed of; but he hoped that £177 would get much larger instead of smaller; if they went on at the rate of the last month they would he soon cleared out. When the pits were working longer hours they would no doubt have more money paid in. This year he should like to see that £177 doubled, and trebled next year… They had started the parish magazine, and no far they had 100 subscribers, which did not pay; if they had 150 they would just make the magazine pay the expenses, and leave a little at the end of the year…

He had been talking to some friends about whether they should not start a branch of the Church of England Temperance Society. He would mention it and leave it in their hands… Miss Scott had also spoken to him about beginning a clothing club. She had one at Westgate Common, with about 450 members, at one time. They might manage to get 200 persons to put in their pennies or shillings weekly in order to take out a useful sum at the year’s end for warm clothing. All depositors would get a bonus. They must not pay in for half the year and think to get a large bonus. The bonus was not so much per cent, but a certain sum to encourage regular savings. He wished them to continue collecting money for foreign missions because they believed that in giving to others they would be paid back, and if they wanted to raise money for the pariah purposes they must show a disposition to raise money for the Church outside the parish.

Wakefield newspaper titles now online

As archived editions of three Wakefield newspaper titles have been online at the British Newspaper Archive for some time, there’s really no excuse for not resuming posting on this blog.

The titles uploaded so far are: the Wakefield Express (1862-1918), and three titles no longer in circulation: the Wakefield & West Riding Herald (1839-1913), the Wakefield Advertiser & Gazette (1906-1925), and the Wakefield Free Press (1860-1900).

And there could be more titles to follow. According to J W Walker’s Wakefield Its History and People (1934), there were also the following local newspapers: the Wakefield and Halifax Journal, the Wakefield Chronicle, the Bradford and Wakefield Chronicle, and the Star.

I’ll try to publish a new blog each week until the end of 2022.

Gee! Lost plots and wet blankets

This one’s either atrocious reporting, bad typesetting or both.

Leeds Times
Saturday 1 May 1841


On Monday last, Gee was committed to take his trial for stealing a blanket, belonging to Mr Hill, of Wrenthorpe, near Wakefield. Last week, Gee’s period of confinement in Wakefield House of Correction for an offence, expired, and on his road to Bradford, he contrived to strip a hedge of the blanket in question. He was seen to come into Bradford with something suspicious tied up in a bundle, and was seized Charles Ingham, police officer, and the bundle searched, when it was found to contain a wet blanket, and after some inquiries the owner was found, and identified it by several marks.


Cyclists introduce Labour Party to Wrenthorpe

A seemingly odd piece from 1910, explaining how the Wrenthorpe branch of the Labour Party came about.

Labour Leader
Friday 8 April 1910


An encouraging letter, full of fire and swing, has been sent by A E Stubbs, Secretary of the Scouts in Yorkshire. He opens thus:

I am glad to learn from the Labour Leader this week that we are to have a National Army of I.L.P. [Independent Labour Party] Cycling Scouts to convey the gospel of Socialism to our toiling brothers in the country, and I write these few lines to welcome its inception. The agricultural labourer is ignorant of Socialism and what it means to him, and the Scouts can do a great work. They have done some good work already in Yorkshire. Organised last May, we have had forty runs, held twelve meetings, established one new branch of the I.L.P., and there are two more in the making. Leaflets, Labour Leaders, and Pamphlets were distributed in the homes of the people, and some of the seed fell on good ground. The Yorkshire Scouts have commenced work already for the season, and are about to form a new branch at Wrenthorpe, near Wakefield. Several other places on the Yorkshire Coalfield are down to receive attention from the Scouts.

Stubbs concludes his letter as follows:

I am an old racer, but I never raced in such a hurry nor enjoyed any race so much as the race I am now engaged in, namely, the race to win converts to Socialism.

The idea of teams of cyclists spreading a political message has got lost in time. Before the First World War, ILP cycle scouts took socialism to English villages, distributing literature to households.* Local MP Frederick Hall (Normanton), had stood as a Labour candidate for the first time at the January 1910 general election, following the MFGB’s (miners’ union) political affiliation with the Labour Party the previous year.

* Griffiths, Clare V J, Labour and the Countryside: The Politics of Rural Britain 1918-1939, Oxford University Press, 2007, pp.110-111.

Church plans double tax for township

Ambiguities about boundaries again, in this intriguing paragraph from a London paper on the Vicar of Stanley’s attempt to impose a church rate on the inhabitants of Stanley-cum-Wrenthorpe township. Although the ancient township spread as far west as Foster Ford Beck/Balne Beck, Wrenthorpe was well outside of his parish.

London Sun
Monday 27 December 1841


Three persons recently met in the vestry of Stanley Church for the purpose of levying a church-rate, in addition to the one now attempting to be collected, for the Wakefield district, thus making a double close for the poor Stanley-cum-Wrenthorpe rate-payers. The three individuals present were the Churchwardens and the parson; and these three officials had the audacity and cold-heartedness to impose a rate on their starving neighbours, many of whom are now existing for days together on nothing but common Swede turnips. We know instances of some families who have been fed and life sustained by nothing but this beasts’ food. Shame upon the men who thus attempt to wring money from these poor wretches, to support the overfed and overgrown State Church; and who threaten all who do not, on a certain day, by them appointed, pay this iniquitous demand with the terrors of the Church ecclesiastic. Is there none in this large district to protect the poor from such a disgraceful imposition.

It’d be interesting to follow this story up using primary source material such as surviving churchwardens’ books and township records, to find out if the malicious scheme came about.

110 blog posts later…

The ghost story from a 1937 edition of the Yorkshire Evening Post was the last ‘Wrenthorpe in the news’ for now.

After 110 blog posts, 40,000 words, and 37 different newspaper titles, we’ve exhausted the more interesting Wrenthorpe-related material currently available online via the British Newspaper Archive. We’ll now have to wait until more newspaper titles, particularly the Wakefield-based ones are uploaded.

A Wrenthorpe ghost story

Yorkshire Evening Post
Saturday 11 September 1937


I am informed that the truth of the following story is vouched for by a miner’s widow living in Wrenthorpe.

Seven years ago her husband died after a pit accident, and went live an old stone house Wrenthorpe village to be near her father, whose health was failing. Often the early days of her bereavement she would sit the firelight when her days’ work was done, staring into the fire, and whenever she looked across to the armchair on the other side the hearth she could see a figure sitting in it. It was figure of an old woman, with white and rosy cheeks. On her head was white cap with heliotrope bow in the front. A white frill edged the neck of her bodice, and white trills showed at her wrists. She wore a little black satin apron edged with lace, and her hands were folded on her lap.

Every time the widow sat alone in the firelight the little old woman would appear in the armchair opposite. It naturally made her nervous, and she would get up and light the gas. When she told her father about the apparition, he only laughed, and set it down to her Imagination: but he was forced to admit that her description of the old woman exactly fitted the appearance his mother. It was just in that way she had been used to drees when her wort for the day was done.

Nine months after the death of the women’s husband her father died: and from that time the apparition of the old woman did not again appear.

The demise of the Outwood Grandstand

A short piece from just before the First World War on the theft of lead off a roof. Not just any old roof though, this was the former Grandstand building for the Wakefield-Outwood racecourse at Lawns, Carr Gate. Dating from the mid-18th century, the building was reputedly designed by architect John Carr.

Leeds Mercury
Saturday 13 December 1913


Wakefield, yesterday, John Winter, teamer, Outwood, was sent to prison for four months for having stolen a quantity of lead, value £6 10s. from the roof the old grand-stand at Outwood.

The theft left the old building open to the elements, leading to its demolition a decade later.