Anglicans unlikely success in Potovens exasperates Nonconformists

As with setting up the first school for locals in Wrenthorpe (Potovens National School) in School Lane in 1844, a few years later the Church of England is beating its Wesleyan (Methodist) rivals when it comes to Sunday School attendance. This despite there only being a Wesleyan Chapel in Potovens at the time (St Anne’s Church didn’t open until 1874).

Was mid-19th century Potovens more of an ‘established’ community than previously thought? Or were local children being ‘encouraged’ to attend the Anglican school?

Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser
Wednesday 29 December 1847

SUNDAY SCHOOL DISTURBANCE

Lately, at Alverthorpe, the spirit of Dissent [Methodists/Wesleyans] and the principles of the Established Church have been fairly pitted against each other. The dissenters, having proved successful in maintaining their predominancy at the Town’s school at Alverthorpe, feel great chagrined at the success of the Church Sunday School at Potovens, which on Sunday last had 130 scholars, whilst the dissenters’ school of the same place had only about 40, being about 70 less than attended the school short time age.

On the above day, we understand, a row took place at the dissenters’ school, in consequence of a gentleman from Silcoates coming to the school to ask the teachers to give up, if they could, the name of the individual who had reported that he would turn off such of his factory children as did not go to the Church school! All the people of the village were astir, and much amusement was caused by the gentleman hastily closing the shutters of one of the windows in the face of a person on the outside who was making an harangue, with his head stuck through one the squares. A constable was then sent for, who, on his arrival, good humouredly patted the enquiring gentleman on the shoulder, shook hands with him, and wisely wished him to retire. The misunderstanding seems to have arisen from the circumstance of one of the girls who works at a certain mill in Silcoates, having stated, without foundation, that if she did not attend the Church school she would very likely lose her work.

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.

Silcoates School fire

The Leeds Mercury’s take on Silcoates fire, 1904. Interesting that the paper starts its news coverage with a paragraph on the famous Silcoates alumni.

The article also sheds lights on the problems in dealing with the fire. Not only the Wakefield Fire Brigade’s refusal to attend a fire outside its boundaries, but also the inadequate water supply in the vicinity of the School. The ‘Stanley main’ referred to was Stanley Urban District Council’s mains water supply which ended in what’s now Wrenthorpe Lane, at the bridge over Foster Ford Beck, the boundary between Stanley UDC and Wakefield Rural District Council.

Leeds Mercury
Friday 15 April 1904

THE DESTRUCTIVE FIRE AT SILCOATES SCHOOL
SOME DISTINGUISHED FORMER PUPILS

The Northern Congregational School, which situate at the top of the hill at Silcoates, near Wakefield, and which was destroyed by fire early yesterday morning, was established on 24th August, 1831; and is well-known for the education many men who have made their mark in the world.

Amongst them we may mention names of Mr Godkin, editor of the “New York Evening Post”; Mr W T Stead, of “The Review of Reviews”; Mr T C Taylor MP, Sir George Newnes MP; Mr John Stubley, Batley; Mr Gerard Ford, Manchester; Mr John Ely, FRIBA, Manchester; and a number of well-known Congregational ministers. Since the school was established, about eight hundred sons of Congregational ministers have been educated there.

During the Easter vacation the school was thoroughly renovated, and the buildings would have presented a most attractive appearance when the pupils, numbering about eighty, returned from their holidays.

The fire was first discovered near what is known as the Juvenile Dormitory, and it had then got a firm hold. The appliances at hand were not sufficient to cope with the flames, which spread with great rapidity; and notwithstanding the efforts of many willing workers, the school building was soon doomed.

About one o’clock the Dewsbury Fire Brigade was sent for, but when they arrived they found they had not sufficient piping enable them to pump the water from the mill dam [Silcoates Mill] and the Stanley [water] main, a couple of fields away, their impression being that the building was situate near the main road. The only supply they were able to obtain was from a 3-inch main near the school, and the force was not strong enough to reach the topmost part of the building.

Before the Dewsbury men arrived, however, it was obvious that all chances of saving any portion of the school building had gone, and the efforts of the workers were concentrated on saving the house of the headmaster (Mr J A Yonge), who was spending his holidays in Switzerland. Sergeant Barraclough, of Dewsbury, handled his men splendidly, and he himself worked like a Trojan, with the result that they bad their efforts rewarded in seeing Mr Young’s house and furniture probably saved.

Soon after the fire was discovered, the Wakefield Fire Brigade were requested to attend, but the request was not complied with owing the fact that a couple of years ago a resolution was passed by the Wakefield Corporation to the effect that the brigade should not attend any more fires outside the city, as the rural authority declined to enter into an agreement to contribute towards the maintenance of a second engine and increased staff.

Painters and decorators have been busily at work since the school “broke up”, renovating the interior of the school building; and at first it was thought the fire was due the carelessness of the workmen. From the position of the fire, however, first discovered, the supposition is that it was caused through the overheating of a flue.

The damage, which roughly estimated at about £12,000, is only partly covered by insurance.

Scars on the industrial landscape

Some vestiges of Wrenthorpe’s industrial past were left abandoned for many years. These included old mine workings and the woollen mill at the bottom of Silcoates Lane. Each were the sites of suicides. The first, in the mill dam, a couple of year after the factory closed.

Sheffield Daily Telegraph
Saturday 1 October 1904

COUNTY NEWS

Emma Parkin, aged 71, wife of Joseph Parkin, gardener, Potovens, near Wakefield, was found drowned in Silcoates Dam on Thursday. It is supposed to be a case of suicide.

Thirty years later, a disused mine shaft on the site of Coleridge Crescent, was the site of a gruesome discovery. Swaine was a former landlord at The Wheel.

Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette
Monday 29 July 1935

DEAD IN SHAFT

A verdict of suicide while temporarily of unsound mind was returned an inquest held at Outwood on Tom Swaine (59), Robin Hood Farm, Wrenthorpe, near Wakefield. He was found dead in a disused pit shaft [Bragg Lane Pit] at Wrenthorpe after having been missing for 12 days. He had been suffering from debility and depression.