Before the rec’ in Silcoates Lane

The site of the recreation ground at the bottom of Silcoates Lane was, for over a century, a mill complex consisting of factory buildings, a chimney, workers’ cottages, and small reservoirs filled with water from Balne Back. The mill opened in 1794. Much of its history can be traced using the British Newspaper Archive.

The first reference to Silcoates Mill dates from November 1828. Its owner, Joseph Rhodes has placed public notices in newspapers in the north and Midlands – including Derby, Leeds and Liverpool – trying to cash in on an innovative manufacturing process he’d recently patented and was demonstrating at the mill.

Leeds Intelligencer
Thursday 6 November 1828

TO SPINNERS OF WORSTED COTTON FLAX &c. His Majesty having granted his Royal Letters Patent to JOSEPH RHODES, the Younger, of Alverthorp, near Wakefield, Worsted Spinner, for an improved Plan of Spinning and Doubling the above Materials, he takes this Opportunity of stating some of the Advantages which his newly-invented Spindle and Spinning Frame has over the Frame now in general Use. – After a Trial several Months, he finds that owing to the Formation and Lightness of the Spindle, it will admit of much greater Speed, is less liable to wear itself untrue, makes a smoother Thread, will Spin with less Twine, to smaller Numbers and with less of Waste. The Operation of Doffing is also performed in less than One-Half of the usual Time.

J R solicits the Notice of Machine Makers and Spinners to this Invention, and is ready to exhibit a Frame, working on the above Principles, Silcoats Mill, near Wakefield, and any Application by Letter (Post-paid) will be duly attended to, and every Explanation given.

Drawing of his Frame may be inspected Application to Mr J A RHODES, Solicitor, No. 5, Upper Bean-Street, Liverpool.

Alverthorp, near Wakefield, 5th Nov, 1828.

Move forward 20 years, and the mill’s up for sale. This advert in the Intelligencer provides an inventory of its rooms and equipment.

Leeds Intelligencer
Saturday 7 September 1850

IMPORTANT SALE OF WORSTED MACHINERY, DYE WARES, and EFFECTS,at Silcoates Mill near Wakefield. – Mr Becket begs to announce that he has received positive Instructions from the Assignees of Messrs John Robinson & Co to SELL by AUCTION, on Wednesday the 18th Day of September, 1850, and Following Day, on the Premises at Silcoates Mil, near Wakefield, all the valuable MACHINERY as fitted with the most recent improvements, comprising, in the

PREPARING ROOM – Four 4-Spindled Finishing Boxes, with Creels and Frames complete; Four 2-Spindled Stubbing Boxes and Creels, One Sliver Box and Board, Two Open Gill Boxes, Two Gill Boxes with 2 Spindles each, Three Carding Engines, Seven 6-Spindled Roving Boxes with Creels, One 30 Inch Tenter Hook Willey, One Inch Do., Turning Laithe, &c., &c..
WILLEY ROOM – One Shake Willey, with Fittings complete; Skeining Machine, and other Effects.
SPINNING ROOM – Nine Spinning Frames with 96 Spindles each, Six Do. with 84 Spindles each, One Twisting Frame with 72 Spindles, Two 6-Splndled Roving Boxes with 6 Inch Traverse, One 2-Spindled Finishing Box with 11½ Inch Traverse, Two 2-Spindled Drawing Boxes, 14 Inch Traverse, One 1-Spindled Silvering Box, 14 Inch Traverse, One 15 Feet Reel with 40 Spindles.
DOUBLING ROOM – Three Twisting Frames with 64 Spindles, Two Do. with 72 Do., One Do. with 96 Do., One Reeling Frame with 56 Do., One Single Do. with 34 Do., One Do. 48 Do.
MILL ROOM – Two Pairs Mules, 800 Spindles each, Slubbing Skips, Skeining Machines, &c., &c.
SLUBBING ROOM – One 60-Spindled Billey, Carding Machine, (32 Inches), with 2 Swifts, One Scribbler, Swifts, and Breast 48 Inches.
Also, Nine 60-Spindled Jennies, Washing Machines, Soap Pans with Steam Pipes, Iron Vats and Dyeing Material, Copper Pans, Oil, Soap, and Dye Wares, Anvil, Bellows and Smiths’ Tools, Large Cisterns, Weighing Machines, Lead Water Pumps, Shafting and Steam Pipes, Sorting Boards, Hanking Machines, Bobbins, Cans, Wool Sheets, Combs, Canvass and Paper, Counting House Furniture.
Also, a Valuable GASOMETER, 12 Feet Diameter, with Three Iron Pillars, Retorts, Pipes and Fittings to the whole Premises, Two Strong Carts with Patent Arms, One useful Draft Horse, Gearing, and various other Articles
Descriptive Catalogues will ready in a few Days, and may be bad at the Intelligencer and Mercury Offices, Leeds, the Observer office, Bradford, the Auctioneer, Wakefield, and at the Place of Sale. May be Viewed Monday and Tuesday previous to the Days of Sale.
Sale to commence at Eleven am precisely.
N.B. The Owner of the Mill and Trade Premises at Silcoates, is ready to treat with the Purchaser of the Machinery, or any respectable Person desirous of becoming Tenant.

Wakefield, 6th September, 1850.

Between this sale and the mill’s closure, there are many references in the press to new ownership, dissolved partnerships and sales notices. An unexpected find however, was a short piece relating to working conditions at the mill, a prosecution under the Factories Act for employing women on a 12-hour night shift.

Huddersfield Chronicle
Saturday 22 November 1856

INFORMATIONS FOR INFRINGEMENT OF FACTORY ACT

At the Wakefield Court House, before the bench of magistrates, on Monday last, J Bates, Esq, factory inspector of this district, laid the following informations, to which the parties pleaded guilty: George Conyers, of Silcoates Mill, Wakefield, 13 cases, only four of which were pressed, for keeping women at work from six o’clock at night till six o’clock in the morning. A fine of £15 was inflicted, with expenses, which amounted to £3 7s.

The Mill is advertised for sale in 1886, 1887 and 1894. Here’s the advert from October 1887.

Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer
Saturday 8 October 1887

TO LET, SILCOATES MILL, near Wakefield, with good House, Garden, and Orchard, Stabling, Mistal [cow shed], large Barn, Nine Cottages, and 17 acres of Land. Machinery, which is in good working order, consists of two sets scribbling and carding engines, with condensers to follow: 1 pair mules and little mules (in all 1,090 spindles), 19 dandy looms and 12 box looms, milling machines, &c., &c., which will be sold at a valuation. Water, coals, and hands plentiful. Rates low. Full rental £300 per annum, £l50 of which can re-let. For further particulars apply to Haigh & Haigh, 8 Park Place, Leeds.

By the turn of the 20th century, Silcoates Mill was trading as Lister and Glover. By now it was described as ‘rag merchants and mungo manufacturers’ (the the production of recovered wool cloth made from rags, known as mungo), a far cry from the days of Joseph Rhodes and his cutting edge machinery in the 1820s.

Lister and Glover’s partnership was dissolved on 31 December 1902 and the mill seems to have closed down shortly afterwards. As a last throw of the dice, the mill was put up for sale in May 1906. The sales particulars even tell us the surnames of the tenants in the mill cottages. Unfortunately some of the words in the advert are obliterated.

Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer
Thursday 17 May 1906

SILCOATES MILLS, POTOVENS, NEAR WAKEFIELD.
VALUABLE FREEHOLD MANUFACTURING PREMISES AND DWELLING HOUSES.

Messrs BEAUMONT and GLOVER will Sell by Auction, at their Sale Rooms, King Street, Wakefield, on Friday, 18th May, 1906, at Seven o’clock in the Evening, subject to the general conditions of Sale of the Wakefield Incorporated Law Society, and to such special conditions as will be then read, and which may be inspected at the office of the Vendor’s solicitor seven days prior to the sale.

Lot 1
The Valuable FREEHOLD MANUFACTURING PREMISES, formerly used as a cloth mill, but recently as a rag mill, known as SILCOATES MILL, situate on the south side of Silcoates Road, at Potovens, near Wakefield, consisting of a substantial stone-built three-storeyed building, 84ft long and 31ft wide; a small store room adjoining, 36ft by 12[?]ft; engine and boiler house; drying place [?] by [?]; blacksmith’s shop, 17ft by 12ft; shaking place, 23ft by 25ft; grinding place 19[?]ft by 24ft; and shed 3ft by 7ft. Also a two-storeyed building formerly used as a storeroom, sample room and offices; and also a two-storeyed building 48ft by 30ft; the ground floor formerly used as stores and stables, and the upper floor as stores and offices; and also all that MESSUAGE or COTTAGE, situate in the mill yard.

All which said premises, including the sites of the said building and reservoirs, contain 1a. 2r. 38p., or thereabouts, and are surrounded (except one reservoir) by a substantial stone wall. The engine, boiler, pumps, and shafting are included in the sale. A supply of water can be obtained from Balne Beck. The buildings are conveniently arranged, and vacant possession may be had at once.

Lot 2

All those five FREEHOLD MESSUAGES or COTTAGES, with the yards or gardens in front, on the south side of Silcoates Road, in Potovens, aforesaid, adjoining Lot 1, on the east side [?], in the occupations of Messrs Carr, Cole, Asquith, Newby and Cottam. The gross rental is £32 10s.

The Minerals under all the above Properties are reserved.

For further particulars application may be made to the Auctioneers, King Street, Wakefield: to Messrs Claude Leatham and Co, Solicitors, Wakefield or to Basil S Briggs, Solicitor, King Street Chambers.

The mill remained disused for 30 years not being demolished until 1936. Its site was left as wasteland until the mid-1950s when the National Playing Fields Association offered a grant of £210 to Stanley Urban District Council, as part of the Association’s campaign to address the lack of playing fields across the Yorkshire coalfield.

Atrocious road conditions at Carr Gate go back a long way

Leeds Intelligencer
Saturday 17 March 1860

YORKSHIRE ASSIZES

NISI PRIUS COURT – Monday
(Before Mr Justice Hill)

THE QUEEN v THE INHABITANTS OF WRENTHORPE

This case was resumed this morning, when a number of witnesses were called to prove that the Lawns Road had always been considered a public highway, and had been repaired by inhabitants of the hamlet of Wrenthorpe. Mr Overend, defence submitted that the road question was set out under the Act of Parliament and the commissioners’ award as a private road, and had never been dedicated to the public by the lord of the manor, the Duke of Leeds. The allottees and inhabitants of various townships in the neighbourhood ought to keep the road in repair by a rate; but instead of this, an endeavour was made by bringing this action, to throw the whole expense of the repairs upon the hamlet of Wrenthorpe, which was a place where poor colliers resided, and it would be a great hardship upon them. The learned counsel denied that any public user had been proved. The road had only been used privately by persons on horseback and foot passengers, and for the conveyance of coal and lime, and its wretched state was strong evidence that it never had been a public highway. Verdict for the defendants.

1890s health and safety litigation

Accident compensation claims against local authorities are nothing new.

Bradford Daily Telegraph
Wednesday 20 July 1898

DAMAGES AGAINST THE WAKEFIELD RURAL DISTRICT COUNCIL

At the Wakefield County Court yesterday Mr Charles Poole sued the Wakefield Rural District Council for £50 damages for injuries sustained in falling off a footpath upon some dross at Potovens, near Wakefield. The plaintiff alleged that the absence light and a projecting kerbstone was the cause of his downfall. The defence was that although the repairs were incomplete the footpath was really in a better state than had previously been. His Honour held that the Council were liable, and awarded the plaintiff £25 damages.

Wrenthorpe Colliery 5: summer of strikes and enlisting

The colliery closed in 1900 but reopened seven years later, trading as part of the Low Laithes Colliery Company Limited.

Shortly before the outbreak of the First World War the mine was called which lasted for much of the summer. It’s traced in the Yorkshire newspapers.

Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer
Saturday 6 June 1914

STRIKE AT A WAKEFIELD PIT

The employees, numbering between 1,200 and 1,300 at Wrenthorpe Colliery, Wakefield (Low Laithes Colliery Company), have now been out strike over week, and the pit ponies have been drawn out. The sudden cessation of work arose through the men at the coal face being requested to hew coal to the depth of one yard six inches instead of one yard ten and a half or eleven inches, as before. This, the men contended, was contrary to the existing agreement. The management, on the other hand, confess that they are somewhat a loss to understand the attitude of the men below ground. It is understood that a deputation of the Yorkshire Miners’ Association will interview the management on Monday with the view of arriving at a settlement of the trouble.

Sheffield Daily Telegraph
Saturday 13 June 1914

STRIKE WRENTHORPE PIT

At an adjourned meeting, yesterday, of the employees of the Wrenthorpe Colliery, Wakefield, who have been strike about a fortnight, the question of returning to work on the old conditions in accordance with the offer of the management was further considered. In the course of the meeting, however, it was stated that the deputies had gone on strike for an increase in wages, and this practically broke up the meeting. Deputies’ pickets were afterwards put out in the neighbourhood of the pit. It would thus appear that the settlement of the trouble is now as remote as ever.

Leeds Mercury
Thursday 18 June 1914

WAKEFIELD MINERS’ STRIKE

The strike at Wrenthorpe Colliery, near Wakefield, still continues. Yesterday pickets of the miners met the surfacemen on their way to work and endeavoured to persuade them to stay away and throw in their lot with the strikers. In some cases they were successful. Out of the sixty-one top men who went to work Monday, fewer than a score remain.

By mid-June the colliery’s owners came up with a tactic to break the strike. They issued summons to about half the pit’s workers, suing them for breach of contract, as they left work without giving 14 days’ notice.

Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer
Monday 22 June 1914

THE COLLIERY STRIKE: NEARLY 600 SUMMONSES

Arising out the strike at the Wrenthorpe Colliery of the Low Laithes Colliery Company, several weeks ago, through which between 1,200 and 1,300 men and boys have been rendered idle, summonses have been served 583 of the employees for breach of contract, and these are returnable before the county magistrates to-day.

Our Wakefield correspondent learns that as the strikers allege the management have been guilty of a breach of agreement requesting the men hew six inches less coal than formerly (thus throwing wrong the prices list agreed upon), it is the intension of the Yorkshire Miners’ Association to make it a test case for the whole the county.

The Yorkshire Evening Post describes the scenes as the miners marched from the Colliery Newton Bar to the Court in Wood Street. And the union’s trump card – to file a counter claim.

Yorkshire Evening Post
Monday 22 June 1914

MINERS’ PROCESSION TO POLICE COURT
WRENTHORPE STRIKE SEQUEL
OVER 500 COLLIERS SUMMONED AT WAKEFIELD

Strange scenes were witnessed at Wakefield to-day in connection with the prosecution of 583 miners, employees at the Wrenthorpe Colliery, where a strike progress. As early as eight o’clock the summoned miners, with their womenfolk and children, and other sympathisers, gathered the gates the Wrenthorpe Pit, which is owned by the Low Laithes Colliery Company (Limited).

Two hours later several thousand people had assembled. The men passed the time by cheering and enthusiastically greeting various prominent “deputies” and leaders as they arrived on the spot, and subsequently a brass band attended, and a procession was formed, and headed by the band and the branch banners of the Yorkshire Miners’ Association marched into the town via Northgate.

Interested crowds of people lined the route, and when the procession reached Wood Street there was soon a crowd of many thousands outside the West Riding Court House. A large force of police officers was in the vicinity, but there was no disorder. The miners cheered lustily, and then the procession broke up, the summoned men filing into the Court House in an orderly manner.

By the time the defendants were accommodated the court was crowded. Mr Percy Tew, the Deputy-Lieutenant of the County, presided on the Bench, and among those present the well of the court was Major Atcherley, Chief Constable of the West Riding.

Mr G E Blakeley, solicitor, of Dewsbury, prosecuted; and Mr A W Willey, of Leeds, appeared for the defence.

Mr Blakeley said the summonses had been issued under the Employer and Workman Act of 1875 against 583 workmen, and the claim in respect of each was a sum of £3 for damages sustained by the company in consequence the breach of contract by the various defendants leaving work without giving the necessary fourteen days’ notice.

OBJECTIONS TO THE SUMMONSES

Mr Arthur Willey submitted that the summons and the claims were bad, because they were deficient, not giving the date of the alleged breach of contract. It was true, he was informed, the contract was broken by notice not having been given; but some of the men had worked at the colliery for fifteen or twenty years.

How could he file a counter-claim on behalf of any one of those men? Any counter-claim filed two days before the hearing the case, and it was impossible to do it on particulars which he had not got.

“I am,” he added, “acting for nearly 600 men in regard to a dispute which has been going since May 21. People who bring 500 people here indiscriminately ought to let me have full particulars. These men work in different shifts. Thirty of them have prodded me with medical certificates to prove their inability work on certain dates, but how can I produce them when I do not know the date on which they are accused of breaking the contract?”

QUESTION OF COUNTER-CLAIM

The claim was too general, he added, and was entitled particulars and an adjournment to give him an opportunity of counter-claiming.

“With regard to the men having broken a contract,” he observed, “the plaintiffs have broken theirs, but I cannot yet frame my counter-claim, etc. As a matter of fact, one man who is summoned has not worked at this pit for two years. (Laughter.) Another man has never worked there in his life.” (Loud laughter.)

The gist of the claim, Mr Willey also said, was for damages. The plaintiffs were asking for fifteen or sixteen hundred pounds’ damages, and these would have to be proved because the magistrates could not give them “moral and intellectual” damages. (Laughter).

Mr Blakeley said one knew better than the defendants, the date on which they deliberately “threw down”, and that it was the unvariable rule and law to give 14 days’ notice, and when the notice was not given that it was open for the colliery company to sue for damages. The defendants also knew that the damages meant 5s. a day for twelve days following May 26th, the date on which they struck work. There was no reason at all why, if they had any, the defendants should not have put in counter-claims, without single date.

AN ADJOUBNMENT GRANTED

Mr Willey said he expected the date to have been June 8, because there was a week of negotiations after May 26. There was also a settlement after that, but other circumstances arose and the negotiations came to nothing.

The Chairman said the magistrates did not think the summonses were legally bad. The Court could amend them and give leave to the defendants to put counter-claims, but, under the circumstances, they thought it would seem fairer to allow an adjournment.

Mr Willey: It is extremely probable I shall have 500 counter-claims to file and that means good deal of clerical work and time.

After a consultation between the solicitors the case was adjourned until Thursday, July 2nd.

A further adjournment was agreed in court in early July and by the 10th of that month, it was reported that the miners had gone back to work.

Sheffield Daily Telegraph
Friday 10 July 1914

RETURN TO WORK

The miners at the Wrenthorpe colliery, Wakefield, who have been on strike for about six weeks are to resume work. They complain of the very little financial support they have received from miners in other districts.

After a consultation between the solicitors the case was adjourned until Thursday, July 2nd.

Less than four weeks later Britain was at war and Wrenthorpe Colliery miners were keen to enlist.

Leeds Mercury
Tuesday 8 September 1914

MINERS TO THE FORE

Eighty-four miners from Wrenthorpe Colliery, near Wakefield, have joined the colours, and about 100 have gone from Park Hill Colliery.

Another dispute over a well

Leeds Intelligencer
Saturday 5 June 1858

A CHARGE OF ASSAULT AGAINST “PROPHET” WROE

At the Court House [Wakefield], on Monday last, Mr Wroe, better known as “Prophet Wroe”, was charged with having assaulted an old woman named Jane Ramsden, at Carr Gate, on the 18th ult. The affair arose out of a dispute which exists between Wroe and some of the persons in that locality regarding their right to take water out of a well situated on his property. On the day in question the complainant went to the well, and got a pitcher of water, when Mr Wroe went up to her, seized hold of her, “shook” her, and took her pitcher from her and poured out the water. Witnesses were called who stated that they were in the habit of getting water from the well for the last 15 years. Mr Shaw, who (instructed by Mr Barratt), appeared for Mr Wroe, said all that the defendant had done was done in the bona fide assertion of his right. A man had as much right to order another out of his field as out of his house. In the present instance, Mr Wroe had only, after repeated warning, used the necessary force to turn the complainant off his property. Witnesses were called who stated that Mr Wroe had only ordered the woman off, and that no unnecessary violence was used. The case was dismissed.

More trouble at Wrenthorpe WM Club

Yorkshire Evening Post
Friday 22 September 1905

A WAKEFIELD CLUB OFFICIAL AND THE FUNDS

To-day, at Wakefield, Eli Bateman, miner. Wrenthorpe, and Albert Moorby, also a miner, of Wrenthorpe, were summoned for withholding or misapplying the sums of £29. 10s. 2d. and £11. 14s. 6d. respectively, the moneys of the Wrenthorpe Working Men’s Club. The hearing of the case lasted some hours.

Mr J R Green prosecuted, and asked be allowed to withdraw the case against Moorby, who had repaid the money due from him as secretary the club.

The magistrates agreed.

Bateman was fined £1 and £1. 5s. 6d. costs, and an order made upon him to pay the deficiency, £31. 15s. 8d. in all, or two months’ imprisonment.

Magistrates give James Wroe the needle

Controversies involving immunisation campaigns are nothing new. Around 120 years before the MMR arguments in the late 1990s, ‘Prophet’ John Wroe’s heir, James, is up before local magistrates for not vaccinating his child, presumably against small pox.

Edinburgh Evening News
Saturday 1 February 1879

THE BAD EFFECTS VACCINATION

Four persons in well-to-do circumstances, residing in Wakefield and the district, were summoned yesterday before the burgh and West Riding magistrates by the vaccination officer for neglecting have their children vaccinated…

Mr Wroe, of Melbourne House, Carr Gate, and son [sic] of the late “Prophet Wroe,” the leader the followers of Johanna Southcotte, was charged with a similar offence. Mr Wroe said that vaccination was contrary to the law of Moses, and as he had religious and conscientious, objections to it, refused to obey the law. He was ordered to have his child vaccinated, and to pay 15s. for costs.