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.

Time finally called on Royal Oak pub

Standing on a site later occupied by Wrenthorpe Health Centre, the Royal Oak pub was at the heart of Potovens village life throughout the 1800s. Clubs and associations held their dinners and formal events there, and it was also the venue for most coroner’s inquest proceedings.

Despite its popularity, the pub’s owners couldn’t counter the force of the early 20th century Temperance Movement, nor was it deemed necessary to have so many pubs following the opening of Wrenthorpe Working Men’s Club in 1901. There were three pubs in the village centre in close proximity – The Malt Shovel, New Wheel and Royal Oak – one of them had to go.

Leeds Mercury
Tuesday 5 February 1907


The annual licensing meeting for the Lower Agbrigg Division of the West Riding was held at Wakefield yesterday, Mr Percy Tew presiding over a large attendance of members.

The Chairman observed that they had about an average number of public houses in the division, compared with other parts of the West Riding, but there were districts in the division where there were far too many public houses in proportion to the population.

The Justices were sorry to notice that whilst they were intrusted with very much larger powers of reducing the number of public houses there was a marked increase in the number of clubs, and there was not much encouragement to try to reduce facilities for drinking by a reduction of licences when they found the number of clubs increasing.

Apart from that question, however, they were of opinion there was a good number of public houses in the division which could be spared, and which were not required for the needs of the district. They were not in a position to deal with the question that day, but there were fourteen public houses, chiefly beerhouses, concerning which they had decided to consider at the adjourned Sessions a month hence whether or not they should be referred to the compensation authority.

The houses be considered at the adjourned Sessions are –Floating Light, Flockton Moor; Little Bull, Flockton; Farmer’s Boy, Flockton; Moulders’ Arms, Middlestown; Foresters’ Arms, Stocksmoor; Travellers’ Rest, Lofthouse Gate; Royal Oak, Potovens; Lord Nelson Inn, Carlton; Prince of Wales Inn, Carlton; Miners’ Arms, Ouchthorpe Lane, Stanley; Garden Gate, Stanley Lane End; Commercial Inn, Horbury; Ring o’Bells Inn, Horbury; Spotted Cow Tavern, Horbury Junction.

At the adjourned licensing meeting on 18 March, the Royal Oak was one of four pubs magistrates decided to refer to the Compensation Authority.

By early June the pub was among those publicised as having their licences refused and seeking compensation claims. Its landlord at the time was Thomas Walker, its owner The Tadcaster Tower Brewery.

The Sheffield Daily Telegraph of 10 July 1907 briefly reports the conclusions of the Compensation Committee, which was to pay the hefty sum of £1,608 for the loss of the Royal Oak’s licence. I wonder how the compensation was shared out between the brewery and the landlord.

Striking miners opencast coal protest

In the early 1990s as many deep coal mines were being closed, opencast coal workings at Kirkhamgate and off Jerry Clay Lane whipped up controversy. Something similar was happening in the 1920s, just a month after the General Strike when the coal miners hadn’t gone back to work.

Opencast sites in the area were being used to produce coal during the national miners’ strike. Local unemployed men were coerced into working at these sites or they forfeited their dole money. And opencast work paid a much lower rate than a typical coal miner’s wage.

Sheffield Daily Telegraph
Thursday 24 June 1926

Wakefield Demonstration

Another demonstration by miners in the Wakefield district against day hole and outcrop coal workers was made yesterday at Kirkhamgate, a village three miles out of the city. Miners on strike turned up several thousand strong, and paraded past each working headed by a brass band. The day hole workers, however, were missing for the time being, and the demonstration was a peaceful affair.

After the march round, the miners gathered in the old quarry on Lindle Hill, and were addressed Mr Walter Dyson JP and Mr Tom Smith, ex-MP for Pontefract [and later MP for Normanton]. Mr Dyson, in opening the meeting, said they objected strongly to the working of day holes, not that the amount of so-called coal produced was of any great consequence, but they stood out against the principle the thing, and protested also against the Government affording the men police protection. The Labour Exchanges were sending men to day-hole work under the classification of “navvying” and such men were practically compelled to take up the work or lose the dole.

The Potovens philanthropist

Bristol Mirror
Saturday 19 October 1811


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


(From Our Own Correspondent)

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


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.

What became of Daley?

One of those news in brief stories which leaves the 21st century reader wondering what happened next. There’s nothing further in the 1860s papers.

Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer
Saturday 5 October 1867


Two tramps were passing through Potovens on Thursday, and O’Neil, the police officer, seeing them put their hands over a wall and take a few onions, apprehended them. On one, named Thomas Daley, he found several Manchester pawn tickets, and suspecting that he was a Fenian, he asked the magistrates yesterday to remand the prisoner, in order to afford the opportunity of making inquiries. The court acceded to this request.