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

INIQUITOUS CHURCH-RATE

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.

1890s child neglect at Engine Fold

Leeds Times
Saturday 12 January 1895

THE CHILDREN OF TOTTY

At Wakefield, yesterday, Mr Wordsworth on behalf of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, made an application in respect of the custody of five children belonging to the Old Engine Fold, Kirkhamgate. It transpired that on Wednesday Inspector Smith visited the house of a man named Joseph Totty, who, it was stated, lived with a single woman named Emma Willoughby, and there found five children, who, as well as the house, were in a dreadfully filthy condition. There was very little food in the house, the mother was absent, and there was scarcely any fire. The three boys had nothing on but shirts and trousers, and the baby was rolling on the floor naked. Their clothing, as well as two beds upstairs, was very filthy. The Bench ordered the children to remain in the workhouse until Monday when the case has to be dealt with.

Leeds Times
Saturday 19 January 1895

CHILDREN OF SHAME
SHOCKING NEGLECT AT WAKEFIELD

On Monday, at Wakefield, Emma Willoughby and a man named Joseph Totty, who have lived together, were charged with neglecting their five illegitimate children.

It seemed that the house occupied by the defendants, at Alverthorpe, being visited in October last, and again last week, it was found to be in an indescribably filthy state. The children were insufficiently clad and covered with dirt, sores, and filth, and there was very little bread and coals in the house.

Each defendant was sent to prison for two months.

The Potovens philanthropist

Bristol Mirror
Saturday 19 October 1811

FANATICISM

At the Quarter Sessions at York, John Burnley, weaver, of Beeston, was brought before the Court on a charge of deserting his family, and leaving them chargeable to the township. When he was placed at the bar, he was interrogated in the following terms.

Court: What reason have you to assign for deserting your family?
Prisoner: I was called by the word God so to do.

Court: Where have you lived since, and what have you done?
Prisoner: I have lived at Potovens, near Wakefield, and have worked at my business as a weaver.

Court: What can you earn a week upon an average?
Prisoner: From 18 to 20 shillings per week.

Court: And how do you dispose of it?
Prisoner: After supplying my own necessities, I distribute the rest among my poor neighbours.

Court: But should not your wife and children be the first objects of your care and bounty?
Prisoner: No; unless they are in greater distress, than all others.

Court: The Scripture, which you profess to follow, says, speaking of the relation of man and wife, that they shall be one flesh; of course, you are under as great an obligation to maintain her as yourself.
Prisoner: The Scripture saith, Whom God hath joined together let man put asunder; but God never joined and my wife together.

Court: Who then did?
Prisoner: l have told you who did not, you may easily judge who did.

Court: We suppose you are as much joined together any other married people are? Prisoner: My family are now no more to me than any other persons.

Court: The laws of your country require, that should maintain your family, and if you neglect or refuse to do so, you become liable to a serious punishment.
Prisoner: I am willing to suffer all you think proper to inflict; I expect to suffer persecution for the Scripture says, that those who live godly in Christ Jesus must endure persecution. I regard the laws of God only and do not regard any other laws.

Court: You seem to have read the Scriptures to very little profit, or you would not have failed in so plain a duty as that in providing for your own household.
Prisoner: The Scripture commands me love my neighbour as myself, and I cannot do that if I suffer him to want when I have the power to relieve him. My wife and children have all changes of raiment but I see others that are half naked. Should I not, therefore, clothe these rather than expend my money on my family?

Court: But you family cannot live upon their raiment; they require also victuals.
Prisoner: They are able to provide for their own maintenance, and the Gospel requires me to forsake father and mother, wife and children. Indeed it was contrary to the Gospel for me to take a wife, and I sinned in so doing.

Court: Have you any friends here?
Prisoner: I have only one friend, who is above.

Court: Is there any person here who knows you?
Prisoner: Mr Banks knows me.

Banks stated, that he should suppose, from the recent conduct of the Prisoner, that his mind was not in a sane state. Formerly he was an industrious man; of late he had understood that he had read the Bible with uncommon assiduity and fervency. He would absent himself whole days together, and retire into woods and fields for the purpose of reading it. After some time spent in this manner, he went away from his family, and refused to contribute to their support. His family contrived to carry on the business, and he I bought of them what pieces they made. He understood that what the prisoner had said of giving away his earnings to objects of distress was correct. After some consultation with the Bench, the Recorder addressed him to the following effect:-

“John Burnley – the Court are disposed to deal leniently with you, in hopes that better consideration will remove the delusion you labour under. For this purpose I would advise you to read your Bible with still greater attention, and ask the advice of some intelligent Friends, particularly the Minister you attend upon. I would also beg of you seriously to consider, that all the rest of the world think it their duty to provide, in the first place, for their families; and you, surely, cannot suppose that they are all neglecting the care of their souls, and in the road to eternal destruction. This consideration should induce you distrust your own judgment, and if you have any humility, and humility is a Christian virtue, you will conclude that it is more probable that you should be mistaken than that all the rest of mankind should be wrong. Your wife has strongly expressed her wish that no severity should be used towards you. influenced by these considerations, the Court has ordered that you should be discharged.”

Prisoner: The Scripture saith, that darkness covers the earth, and gross darkness the people. And again, in another place, that the whole world lieth in wickedness. I know that the way of duty is in the path of suffering; but it is this path in which our Leader trod, and we must follow his steps.

Wrenthorpe Colliery 10: false hopes in desperate times

Within six months of closure of Wrenthorpe Colliery – and two months after it had failed to sell at auction as a going concern – hopes were raised that the pit might be reopened. The horrors of the dole was so awful that miners were prepared to forego a proportion of  their wages until the pit was self-supporting.

Ironically, the article even states the colliery would be capable of producing coal well beyond the year 2000.

Leeds Mercury
Monday 22 October 1928

WRENTHORPE PIT MAY RE-OPEN
WAKEFIELD DISTRESS
COLLIERS GUARANTEE FUNDS FROM THEIR WAGES

(From Our Own Correspondent)
WAKEFIELD, Sunday.

The closing of the Wrenthorpe Colliery at Wakefield has caused much distress in the district, but there are hopes that it will be re-opened soon.

A sub-committee, which was appointed to inquire into the possibility re-opening the colliery, report that they can see no reason whatever why the colliery should not be able to carry on, and produce from 5,000 to 8,000 tons of good quality coal per week, at economic rates, for at least a further fifty to eighty years. The conditions at the moment are such that in two or three weeks’ time from 1,000 to 12,000 tons per shift could be wound on the second or third day.

Workmen’s Guarantee

Providing the necessary working capital can be found, the sub-committee have a unanimous resolution from the general body of workmen, guaranteeing contributions from their wages until the pit becomes self-supporting.

The sub-committee state that they are fully aware of the fact that much of this coal could at some future time be got by neighbouring collieries, but they state that this would not help the 1,000 Wrenthorpe workers and their dependants, many of whom are now becoming destitute.

Sadly, any such recommendations came to nothing and by January 1929, colliery equipment is being dismantled for auction.

Sheffield Daily Telegraph
Wednesday 23 January 1929

DISMANTLING WRENTHORPE, GAWTHORPE. and SOOTHILL WOOD COLLIERIES and COKE OVENS

The unique opportunity occurs to purchase first class, up-to-date Colliery Plant, Electrical Plant, and general Power Plant, from the above pits astonishingly low prices. Several Brand New Items, including steam-driven Winding Engine, 34in. r 66in., and electric-driven Compressor, 2.500 cu. ft. Ask for Catalogue.
GEO. COHEN, SONS, and CO., LTD.,
11, INDEPENDENT BUILDINGS, FARGATE, SHEFFIELD.

Putting the ‘petty’ in petty sessions

Ossett Observer
Saturday 1 April 1876

A CAUTION TO DANDELION GATHERERS

[At the West Riding Court, Wakefield, on 27th March before W H Leatham Esq, R B Mackie Esq, and Dr Holdsworth], Charles Haigh was charged with committing damage to grass to the value of 10s., the property of Edward Barrett, at Stanley on the 21st ult. Complainant is the owner of a close of land at Potovens, and on the previous Monday he found the defendant who is an elderly man and a seller of watercress and dandelion roots, sitting there. He was cutting the leaves from dandelion roots, and had a spade with him. On looking round, Mr Barrett found he had cut the swaithe in about a hundred places in getting roots, of which he had about a quarter of a sack-full by his side. When spoken to he said he had only taken two or three roots from a pit hill in the field, which Mr Barrett said was nonsense, as there were none get. He also became abusive. Defendant said in defence that he felt in pain and went into the field to sit down a little while, and that he had been unable to do a day’s work for fifteen years, having both hands crippled. The complainant said if defendant had expressed his regret he should not have summoned him, he only wanted to warn others, and did not wish to press the case. Defendant was fined 1s. and 9s. costs, the fine to be remitted if the costs were paid within a fortnight.

Harsh times

Shields Daily News
Saturday 7 March 1903

A WEEK WITHOUT FOOD

A single middle-aged woman, Mary Ellen Buckley, who lived by herself in Jerry Clay Lane, Wrenthorpe, near Wakefield, was yesterday removed to the Clayton Hospital under singular circumstances.

As the woman had not been seen by the neighbours for several days, the house was forcibly entered, and she was found lying on a bed upstairs in a very weak condition. She was conscious, and said that she had been in bed since Sunday without food.

She also admitted having taken a quantity of laudanum, and two small bottles were found on a chest of drawers.

It is stated that the woman has been in straitened circumstanced for some time, and as she was in arrears with her rent she was afraid of being ejected from her house.

Wrenthorpe Colliery 4: union officials take swipe at Bishop of Wakefield

Less than six months after the presentation of the silver tray to colliery owner, W T Marriott, local miners are embroiled in the first ever national miners’ strike. Colliery owners had passed on falls in the price of coal to their workers’ by slashing wages. Lock-outs took place as miners’ rejected this erosion in living standards.

The first of these two pieces from September 1893 is about a strike breaker at Wrenthorpe. It was published only a couple of days before the Featherstone Massacre.

Yorkshire Evening Post
Tuesday 5 September 1893

AN INDISCREET NON-STRIKER

To-day a large number of people made their way towards Wrenthorpe Colliery (Mr W T Marriott’s), expecting that there might a scene consequent upon the action of a byeworkman employed at that pit. It seems that it was arranged when the lock-out took place that two of the byeworkmen should continue working in order to attend to the pumps. The miners, we are informed on good authority, thoroughly approved of this course, but one of the individuals in question has acted in a very indiscreet manner. It is said that he has not only jeered at those who are out work, but has gone [to] the length of exhibiting in the window of his house piece of beef with words attached to the effect that they could strike who liked, but that was going provide for his wife and children. The result has been that has been accompanied to and from his work by an improvised concertina band and a large crowd of women and children. Affairs became so threatening last night that a number of policemen were sent escort him home, and the feelings of the people have been so aroused that the individual in question deemed it advisable to absent himself from work to-day.

Finally, a great piece of journalism from the London Daily News (republished in the Irish Independent). It not only gets to grips with the hardships caused by the pay reduction and strike but also the factors behind the glut of coal and drop in productivity of the skilled miners. And three union officials from Wrenthorpe Colliery heavily criticise the Bishop of Wakefield for interfering in the dispute.

Irish Independent
Saturday 16 September 1893

THE COAL STRIKE

(FROM THE DAILY NEWS SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT)
Wakefield, Thursday Evening

In so far as I have been able to judge from a visit to Featherstone, Newtown [sic], Stanley Village, Outwood, Wrenthorpe, Castleford, Normanton, and other places in the district of which Wakefield is the centre, Normanton, Featherstone, and Castleford are those in which the pressure of poverty is the most severe. No more in this than in other districts are there are any signs of what one understands by excitement. The scores of collieries that one passes are silent and deserted. The men are, as they call it, at “play”. In outward appearance the strike region is as dull and decorous as Gower Street. There is no picturesqueness about it. A stranger forgetting the day of the week would imagine it was Sunday. That is only the outward show, but in every miner’s house I have been in to-day there is either great poverty or all but positive starvation. The families that suffer most are naturally those to which no strike pay comes.

A miner’s wife told me in her house to-day at Newton Hill that she had only had four fires in the last fortnight. “It is fortunate for us,” she said, “that this is not the winter time. If it were winter we should perish of cold.” At several of the collieries which I have passed grown-up people and young children were searching the pit rubbish for fuel. “There is none to be had if we had money to buy it with,” says a miner’s wife, who tells me that she has just been compelled to sell foe fifteen shillings a sofa which not long ago cost three pounds. She and her family have for the last two or three days been reduced to a little dry bread once a day. Every family in the little street where she lives depends on the strike money doled out once a week. I find that, as a rule, this dole runs out one or two days before the weekly distribution.

In their treatment of their poor customers the small shopkeepers display not merely much forbearance, but a great deal of self-sacrificing at charity. The mistress of a small shop tells me that 15 miners’ wives who in ordinary times are fairly well off and free from debt, have called open her within the space of three hours for relief. Many of these small shopkeepers are very badly off in consequence of the continence of the strike. “This strike has stopped my business,” says a miner’s widow, who in London would be called charwoman. She used to assist her neighbours in various household duties, earning in this way 7s or 8s a week. Bat now, as all the families are idle, there is nothing for her to do, and she depends for her scanty subsistence on the kindness of her neighbours, who are themselves in sore straits.

Near Wrenthorpe Colliery I met miner who was carrying two loaves rolled up in a napkin for the relief of his daughter, a widow with five children. “They ate their last meal yesterday,” he said and I am going to let them have this,” tapping his parcel. Two of the worst cases I have come across are in Newton village. Two houses in it have twenty-three inhabitants between them, counting parents and children, and the weekly dole of “strike brass” is their only means of living.

I have spoken with many miners whose worst hardships began long before the strike – men who, though willing to work, could not get more than one day’s or two days’ work out of the six. One man tells me that several times during the last sixteen weeks he has come home at the week’s end with less than six shillings. “And I am not man,”’ says he, “to spend a farthing in drink.” Says another miner – “I have not seen the colour of a sovereign in my pay since Christmas, and I could tell you many who could say the same thing themselves.” The miners as a class declare that they are not better off now than they were in 1888 [five years before], before the rise began.

I have had a conversation this afternoon on this particular matter with three miners who hold official positions at the Wrenthorpe Colliery. “What,” they ask, “is the good of the higher rate if our chances of earning it are so small? There are too many hands after the 40 per cent rise since 1888. Since that year 40,000 new hands have come to work is the mines of a few counties, and there is not enough for us all.” One the three condemned very strongly what the miners call “indirect reductions” and the unfairness of compelling skilled miners to take unskilled hands into their “partnership”. Work with a man not fully skilled means, to his skilled mate, loss of time and earnings; and if the skilled man refuses to work with the new comer the manager is as likely as not to order him to bring in his tools and to walk off. If he does walk off, he may have to tramp the country for weeks in search of work at some other mine. A man will rather submit to injustice rather than ran that risk.

The three representative miners agreed in saying that the Federation [miners’ union] never would agree to arbitration. In whatever way the strike might come to an end, it would not be by arbitration. “The Bishop of Wakefield is jawing away about arbitration. Let him mind his own business. How would he like if we arbitrated about his wages? Would he wipe away a tear with the corner of his apron, or would he flare up like any other sinner? I wish the Bishop had to depend on me for his wages. I should see to it that he got something more useful to do than to arbitrate about other people’s wages. If I am only worth 26s a week (when I can get it), is the Bishop of Wakefield worth all them thousands a year? I say no man in England is worth a thousand a year. I don’t care who he is, but he is not, and he can’t be worth a thousand a year if we miners are worth no more than what we get.” Who will dare deny that the miner who spoke in this way was right? They are religious men, these three representative miners but I fear they have a poor opinion of the Episcopal Bench. “The bishops are a useless lot. Their faces don’t get worn as ours do from poverty. I don’t want to starve ‘em but I’d like to knock 40 per cent off their pay.”