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

ST ANNE’S DEDICATION FESTIVAL AND PAROCHIAL SOIREE

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.

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