Both nationally and internationally, the start of the century was a period of turmoil. The French stormed the Bastille and used the guillotine to despatch King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette in 1793. Napoleon Boneparte had declared himself Emperor of France in 1804 after his coup in 1799. The Napoleonic Wars (1805-15) brought great changes to Europe and the United Kingdom emerged as one of the most powerful countries in the world, effectively becoming the first real hyperpower. The British Royal Navy held unquestioned naval superiority throughout the world, and Britain's industrial economy made it the most powerful commercial country in the world. Meantime, other far-reaching changes were occurring in England.
Quietly, centred in Norfolk, but attracting little public attention, there was a complete change in farming methods. It took many years for the new methods to spread throughout the country, but gradually land was improved, root crops began to be grown and for the first time in the history of mankind, it became possible to keep animals throughout the winter and to refrain from killing off all but breeding stock each autumn. These fresh methods had many profound effects, most of them in the long run being beneficial. Ossett had no part in causing them, but was not isolated from them and they must be mentioned as part of the general background to life at a time when many changes were being made.
In the latter part of the eighteenth century, there was a growing realisation of the value of land, and mention has already been made of the changes in farming methods. In most parts of the country, there was still land that had not been enclosed or cultivated. Parliament passed laws authorising the allocation of such land to interested parties. An inquiry was authorised in Ossett, dated 8th August 1807 and a Commissioner was appointed to investigate the position and to make recommendations. Unfortunately, he died and another man had to make a fresh start. In total, these investigations took five years. The Award is in the form of a very large book, about 4.5cms in thickness and wholly hand written. In places, the definitions are difficult to follow, since there is some confusion between east and west, the two at times being transposed. The book is in the custody of the Local Authority.
Small awards of land in Ossett were made to a large number of people. The two largest appear to have been rather more than thirteen acres to the Revd. John Duckworth, the Vicar of Dewsbury, in lieu of tithes and fourteen acres to the Earl of Cardigan. Both these areas of land were off Manor Road.
An area of Ossett of some 4 acres and called 'Pauper Park' located in the Ossett Common area was awarded to William Ingham and Joseph Mitchell in the 1807 Inclosure Act. The name suggests that it was a socially deprived area.
The other great event in civilian life was the introduction of steam engines and all the amazing changes and developments, which resulted from them. The power of steam had been recognised throughout the eighteenth century but early efforts to use it were inevitably somewhat crude. James Fenton worked coal at New Park Colliery near Roundwood and installed some of the very first steam engines at his collieries near Rotherham. These engines pumped water, very inefficiently according to modern ideas, but they worked, although they had no rotary parts. Ossett was more directly concerned in an early venture when a device was constructed at Pildacre Mills, which endeavoured to use steam to increase the amount of power that could be obtained from the small stream that runs past the Pildacre site.
The real progress came soon after with the invention of the rotary steam engine by James Watt in 1787. The date when the first mill in the district was steam powered may be disputed, but according to the Dewsbury Corporation Handbook published in the 1930s, the distinction goes to Aldams Mill in 1807. Aldams Mill stood on the site in Dewsbury now occupied by Dewsbury bus station and the adjoining Police Headquarters.
One interesting snippet in Ossett's long history occurred at the height of the Napoleonic Wars in May 1802 with the arrest of an Englishman called Henry Dobson in Ossett on a charge of spying for the French.1 Dobson lived in Rouen in France and had in his possession, when arrested, the plans of machines used in the woollen manufacturing industry. He had acquired these plans with the intention of passing them on to the French whom we were at war with at that time. A serious charge and at Pontefract Sessions, Dobson was sentenced to be imprisoned for 12 months, fined £200 and kept in prison until the fine was paid. £200 in 1802 was the equivalent to £15,000 in 2009 on the basis of RPI inflation.
The successful introduction of steam power was not at first accompanied by general understanding of the basic rules of engineering. Despite Brunel's brilliance, even the Great Western Railway was at first planned on an unsound basis with wrongly designed engines and non-standard tracks. One mill in Yorkshire made an even bigger mistake. For more than fifty years, Ossett mills had delivered shoddy to William Starkey's Leafield Mill at Yeadon and there visitors were sometimes invited to look at the end wall of a large building. From this wall there projected a large circle of stones, the remains of the housing of a very big wheel. The mill had been built in the expectation that it would run by perpetual motion. This was to be provided by a very large wheel with hollow S-shaped spokes in which iron balls could roll. The notion of perpetual motion deceived many people in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, but at Yeadon, very fortunately, a steam engine was soon installed and in later years it helped process literally millions of pounds weight of Ossett-made shoddy.
When steam engines had been successfully installed, their owners became very proud of them and engine houses became show places. Some had ornamented woodwork, many had carpet on the floor and all were kept clean, polished and smart. A mill at Horbury in 1914 still had a picture painted on the wall and at Walter Walker's Highfield Mills, Ossett, painted on the wall there was a large pastoral scene, showing sheep in a meadow. It was still there in 1930 and looked very smart.
The making and improvement of roads, the making of canals and the enclosure of lands were indicative of the country's growing industrial activity during the eighteenth century and they helped its further growth when the Napoleonic Wars finally ended and when during the same period, steam power became available.
The Ossett Clothing and Rag Trade
Ossett, traditionally made plain woollen cloth known as "kersey" on its hand looms. Much of it being milled or fulled in the type of machine known as "stocks" at the fulling mill (Healey Old Mill), which was driven by water power. Spring End Mill at Ossett Low Common, built in 1780/81 by John Emmerson was an early example of a scribbling mill, replacing the laborious hand cards. The water-powered mill was almost certainly quite small, but created a precedent in Ossett with Healey Old Mill following on in 1786/7. Another small mill was opened in 1817 by William Whitaker who in 1817 paid a poor rate of £6 15s. 0d. But the coming of steam power made a big difference. One of the first large-scale mills in Ossett was Healey Low Mill and in 1817, under the ownership of James Briggs (and later in 1834 by Samuel Ellis), the business had turnover of £14,000, which in those days was a very big sum. The usual factory hours were 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. and wages were one shilling and sixpence to two shillings and sixpence per day. In 1820, Titus Smith was employed by Healey Low Mill to go round the town collecting horse manure for souring and milling cloth. For five days work, he was paid twelve shillings and sixpence, which may have included the use of his own horse and cart.
In the 1830s, cloth continued to be made in Ossett by weavers operating home-based hand looms from the woollen yarn produced by the joint-stock mills at Healey, established by enterprising Ossett clothiers, who sought to increase production by ensuring a constant supply of material for the hand looms as well as providing the means to have the cloth produced milled or finished. In February 1831, the cloth weavers and spinners in Ossett were unhappy with their wages and they actually came out on what must be one of Ossett earliest recorded strikes.2 The weavers were demanding an advance of two-pence per string of woven cloth, 3¼ yards long, which must have been a standard length? The increase would have given the weavers another 5d per day in wages and they demanded a "proportionate advance." It was expected that the weavers demands "would soon be complied with."
Another early mill was Healey Low Mill, which was sited on the bank of the River Calder before the river was diverted when the railway marshalling yard was made. Like other mills erected at that time, the buildings were low, machines were close together and working space was tight. In the early twentieth century, it had sixteen carding machines, but the space between them was so small that workmen had difficulty in cleaning them. The mill continued in use until 1930.
By 1830, there was much more money available in the industry and mills were being built which were far larger, more spacious and better constructed. The Victoria Mills at South Ossett and the Gartside Mill at Healey were much superior to earlier structures, but Ossett never had an example of the extravagant industrial architecture, which can be found elsewhere. In total, during the century, about twenty mills were built in the town. Many of them were engaged in some stages of yarn or cloth manufacture, but in about 1813, the first shoddy was produced and Ossett became more and more involved in processing rags.
One of the attractions of rags was that very little capital was needed to handle them and the skill needed was minimal. They had to be sorted according to colour and quality; the linings had to be removed and they were then ready for the shoddy manufacturer. This preliminary treatment was so simple and so widely understood that there were many cases of rag merchants delivering bags of rags to cottage houses where women sorted and cleaned them. They were collected and replaced by a fresh lot of rags and the household budget benefited accordingly. Active factory inspectors and present-day ideas of hygiene were very much in the future, but many poor families earned a few shillings weekly in this way. Until the later years of the nineteenth century, the demand for shoddy was almost continuously good and there were over a hundred firms of rag merchants in the town providing them with material.
Ossett's shoddy and mungo manufacturers received prepared rags from rag merchants and either ground them up as they were or processed them further. Cotton could be removed by treatment with hot hydrochloric acid gas and then the rags could be dyed and ultimately ground up. Shoddy, generally speaking is produced by grinding up knitted woollen goods. Mungo is made by grinding up woven and felted fabrics and so has shorter fibres than shoddy. The woollen industry has usually used them blended with other fibres, e.g. new wool, cotton or rayon or other man-made fibres.
Until the latter years of the nineteenth century, the industry was prosperous, but then foreign competition became keener and mills began to close. Even so, the industry carried on and was not in bad shape until about 1920 afterwards. Around 1970, the industry had almost ceased, but for over a century contributed to the town's well-being.
The Ossett Coal Mines
Ossett's other major industry was coal mining. There was considerable expansion in the coal mining industry during the eighteenth century, but until transport problems were overcome, the movement of coal was extremely difficult in winter. The turnpike roads, canals, and most of all, steam power completely altered this and by the end of the eighteenth century, coal mining had become big business.
There were mines in various parts of Ossett and in 1965, the National Coal Board (NCB) was aware of the location of twenty-six of them, but the principal sites of production were in the Low Laithes and Roundwood areas. The quantities produced may be thought as astounding. Smithson's Low Laithes Colliery in 1803 produced 25,000 tons from a number of small mines close to Low Laithes farm, but in 1908, after the pit had moved to a new site near Gawthorpe village, the output was 61,250 tons, all of it provided by muscle power alone. Old Roundwood Colliery with modern equipment produced 166,190 tons in 1960. Low Laithes colliery ceased production in 1927 and Roundwood in 1966.
During most of the nineteenth century, the principal mines in Ossett were Low Laithes and Old Roundwood Collieries, while just over the Dewsbury boundary along Owl Lane, but still working under Ossett and employing many Ossett men was Chidswell Colliery, later to become Shaw Cross Colliery in 1903. All three were connected to the railway. Among the smaller collieries was Pildacre, which was troubled by water and was suddenly flooded in November 1910. In 1928, it became the source of Ossett's water supply and continued to be used in this way for around fifty years. Another small colliery was the Westwood family's Westfield Colliery in the Runtlings area of Ossett, which closed in 1908. The family also had, briefly, a small so-called day hole off Healey Road. This was a mine with a slightly sloping access and no vertical shaft. Naked candles could be used in it because of the natural ventilation.
In 1842, the employment of women and young children in mines was prohibited, but boys nine years old and over were classed as adults and continued to work below ground. This affected Stansfield & Briggs colliery at Emroyd, near Middlestown, which was 90 yards deep and worked a seam, only 40 inches to 45 inches thick. Both boys and girls were employed in the pit on haulage work instead of horses. The Royal Commission report of 1842 on children working in mines noted that 8 year-old Jane Dewhirst was employed underground at Emroyd. There were also two pits in Flockton Woods with shafts 60 yards deep in which boys and girls "hurried" or moved coal.
The owners of these pits were ardent members of the Unitarian Church who worshipped at Westgate Chapel in Wakefield and also paid pew rents for their employees. They also arranged for the education and entertainment of their adult employees. Along Hostingley Lane, not far from Emroyd, there was another colliery, which was called New Delight Colliery, presumably for the profits the owners made and not the appalling working conditions and low wages suffered by the employees.
The main sources of Ossett's income during the nineteenth century were farming, the woollen industry and mining. In addition, there were various small supporting industries such as building and contracting, joinery, plumbing, small engineering firms and similar occupations. Mark Wilson had established an iron foundry near to the site of the present Holy Trinity School in the 1840s. A number of Ossett people worked in neighbouring towns, some of them walking to and from Dewsbury or Batley each day.
Streetlights and Drainage come to Ossett
Ossett Gas Company was formed in 1854. Gas had been available in nearby Dewsbury for some 30 or 40 years, but Ossett had to wait, although some of the woollen mills made their own gas. At this time, Ossett like most towns, was more or less an unorganised community. In 1848, Parliament gave power to Local Boards of Health to light, pave and drain a town, provided that this was requested by ten percent of the township or by an existing Corporation.
Ossett was controlled by a local Board of Surveyors with 13 members, of whom 11 opposed taking any action and there was much controversy. The Ossett Observer, founded in 1864, assisted in the struggle for improvement, which was carried on by a small number of people, some of whom were connected with South Ossett Church. These included Dr. D.C. Neary D.D., (shown at the left) appointed curate of Ossett in 1847 and the first vicar of South Ossett in 1850. Opposition was fairly general, but came in particular from North Ossett and Gawthorpe who were strongly against the increase in rates to pay for the schemes. The rates in 1865 were 1s. 3d. in the £, and North Ossett said they should be kept down. Almost as a body, the people of Gawthorpe were the most stubborn opponents of any changes. So acute was the division and so despairing were the residents of South Ossett of converting the independent minded folks of Gawthorpe that there was at one time talk of a Local Board for the South Ossett area with the people in Gawthorpe being left to their own devices.
For five years, the fight raged for the formation of a Local Board and five times the the legal procedure was carried out whereby a public meeting was held and then a vote was taken of local inhabitants, after which the Home Office was petitioned for permission to form the Local Board. In September 1865, at a public meeting, Ossett's ratepayers voted overwhelmingly in favour of forming a Local Board of Health, but it was not until April 1866 that Dr. Wiseman, the chairman of the meeting, arranged the poll of local inhabitants that was mandatory. In the meantime many meetings had been held and many resolutions passed. Apparently, neither side had a settled policy. Both South Ossett and Gawthorpe embraced and then abandoned the idea of separation, but while South Ossett decided that a united town was best, Gawthorpe adopted a definite "no local board at any price" attitude. There was a majority of 525 votes for the adoption of the Local Government Act and a Local Board of Health, but the delay of several months proved fatal and the Home Office, having been petitioned by both sides, held a local enquiry and decided that the long lapse of time had rendered the whole proceedings null and void. So ended the first attempt.
A second attempt to get the Act adopted was made in 1867. This time each part put forward a chairman for the public meeting: Mr. H. Pickard for the pro-local board and Mr. John Cooper, of Gawthorpe, by the opponents. Each candidate claimed the right to preside. Each took a vote. Each declared a different result! Once more the Home Office held an enquiry and declared the proceedings as irregular and ineffective.
The third attempt, which also failed, was made in 1868 and the public meeting was held during the week ending February 15th 1868. Here is a quotation from the 'Ossett Observer' about the meetings:
"The Assembly Room, Ossett was crowded out on the occasion of a meeting to sanction the adoption of the Local Government Act. Inside were 700 or 800 ratepayers and an even larger crowd outside. Mr. John Cooper of Gawthorpe (and one of the main opponents of the scheme) presided, and after putting the motion for adoption to the meeting, declared it lost. The promoters demanded a poll, and were informed that fourteen days notice must be given. The Gawthorpe contingent, who strongly opposed the adoption, returned home with a brass band at their head."
After the contentious meeting, a poll was demanded and it took all of three weeks before a meeting was called to announce the results, which to say the least, were contentious. It was claimed that "certain votes erred on the side of generosity" towards the Gawthorpe anti-local board movement. Mr Cooper, was the presiding officer and one of the most stubborn opponents to the local board proposals. Despite, the voting irregularities being upheld by the Home Office, Cooper declared the result of the voting as 1075 to 1061 against the adoption of a Local Board.
The returning officer, Mr Joseph Thornton, acting on legal advice, flatly refused to recognise the poll. Amid suggestions of vote rigging and a plot by the Gawthorpe people to carry away the voting box, the Home Office, after holding another local enquiry, yet again threw out the proposals for Ossett's Local Board of Health.
The bitter arguments went on and the promoters of the Local Board scheme quickly organised yet another ratepayers meeting when a resolution in favour of adoption was carried. A certain John Lawson who demanded a poll was found to be disqualified for the simple reason that he hadn't paid his rates! The returning officer, Mr Joseph Ellis thereupon declared the Act adopted, but the opponents were by no means finished. The opponents disputed the validity of the whole proceedings at the meeting and appealed to the Home Secretary with numerous petitions for the result to be declared null and void. The vote was thrown out much to the surprise of the promoters and it was back to square one again.
Within three weeks a fresh start was made. In this time the bad feelings between the opposing factions had increased in bitterness. Anger had been aroused. The struggle had become a feud and friends had become enemies. Another ratepayers meeting was called with the purpose of passing the resolution for adoption, at which there were again rival candidates for the chairmanship from opposing sides.
The "Ossett Observer" described what happened next:
"The decision of the summoning officer was immediately followed by an uproar, and by the most disgraceful riot that has ever occurred in connection with the Local Government Act; it baffles the power of description. A desperate struggle for the vantage ground ensued, both parties assuming the most savage facial expressions and threatening attitude. The crowd swayed to-and-fro like an angry and furious sea and the platform or desk was alternately shoved backwards and forewards. The policemen (three in number) had by this time got near to the unruly spirits and endeavoured to pacify them, and establish the desk in its proper place, but they were utterly powerless to do so. Mr. Land mounted the table and attempted to say something, but the chorus of groans which greeted him completely drowned his voice. At the promoters' end of the room was a stove, with its pipe penetrating the ceiling, and the promoters lifted Mr. (Phillip) Ellis up and supported him upon it. Before Mr. Ellis (having declared the result of the vote) had time to descend from his perilous pedestal, a rush was made towards the stove and he was precipitated to the floor, but was not injured."
The usual poll followed and the usual petition and counter-petitions to the Home Office, the latter containing all sorts of allegations of irregular proceedings - two meetings at the same time; returning officer not qualified to take the poll; the poll itself invalid and the narrow majority of 87 being invalid because voting papers had not been delivered or collected. The Home Office, no doubt by now sick and tired of the whole business at Ossett, replied that the petitions were three days too late, but in any case that the contents were trivial and unworthy of consideration.
So, finally, in 1870, the Public Health Act was formally adopted in Ossett by order of the Home Office. This was at a time when the mortality rate for the previous ten years had been running at the appallingly high figure of 26 in the thousand. Once the Local Board of Health was formed and improvements in sanitation and a good piped public water supply was provided, the death rates fell quickly. By 1875, the death rate was 24 per 1,000. Then came nuisance inspectors, scavenging, water, sewers, etc. and the death rate gradually fell to 23.3 in 1878, 20.4 in 1880, 17.5 in 1883, 16.7 in 1885 and by 1914 it was down to 13 or 14. The results vindicate the decisions made and highlight and incredible level of ignorance by the opponents of the scheme.
The principal reason for the length of the struggle to get improvements in Ossett was probably the obvious high cost, but also public ignorance of the issues involved. The connection between bacterial pollution of water supplies and disease was only just becoming known to the well informed and locally, few knew of it and fewer still realised its importance. Dr. Wiseman was a highly esteemed Ossett doctor, who around 1850 built Springstone House for his own use, and provided it with a fine brick-lined well, 39 feet deep. But his stables were sited only ten yards away. Reference has been made to the burial ground of the Wesley Street Church. The church itself had a pump close to the burial area. Other wells were constructed in Ossett and one of them had a manure heap within four feet. There was also a well, known as the New Well, within the boundary of the Old Church Burial Ground in the town centre.
People were slow to realise how greatly their life could be improved and also prolonged by the installation of drains, piped water and regular sanitary conditions. When the new Local Board of Health came into being, it faced an immense task, without any organisation, to carry out its decisions. It had no Borough Surveyor or other officers and it had to create the different departments needed to run the town. Regular meetings were held very alternate Monday at 7.30 pm at its offices at No. 1, New Street. The Local Board was also saddled with a debt from the now defunct Board of Surveyors amounting to some £570, which was quite a large sum in those days.
The new 15-man Local Board of Health met for the first time in January 1871, after a hard-won election with no fewer than 42 nominations of whom 35 went to poll - the voting papers were nearly four feet long! Of the new 15-man team, eleven were supporters of the Local Government Act to bring sanitation and clean water to the town, but four were of the anti-local board party.
The first Local Board of Health consisted the following members:
Joshua Speight, Dale Street
David Pickard, Manufacturer, The Green
Mark Lockwood, Little Town End
Charles Thornes Phillips, The Green
William Dews, Manufacturer, The Common
Mark Wilby, Manufacturer, The Common
Ephraim Hall, Lower Street
John Whitaker, Little Town End
George Radley, The Green
Philip Ellis, Storrs Hill
John Harrop, Dale Street
Henry Castile Scott, Middle Common
Joseph Ward, Dale Street
John Hemingway, Horbury Lane
Joshua Ellis, Woollen Manufacturer, Intake Lane
The Board's members must have worked hard and Ossett's citizens have much to thank them for. One of the first things they did was to install street lighting using gas. On October 12th 1871, the first street lamps in Ossett, from Horbury Lane to Town End, were lit for the first time and by the end of the year, there were 170 street lights lit by gas. They had only flat flame burner in them, so the streets cannot have been brilliantly lit, but as Ossett people squelched through the deep mud of the roads at night, they had a far better chance of avoiding the rubbish, deep ruts and pools of sewage. However, as early as 1890, Ossett Corporation received a letter suggesting that they should try lighting the town with electric light.
In August 1891, Ossett Tradesmen's Association submitted a letter to the General Works Committee of the new Borough Council asking for better lighting of the Market Place, Dale Street as far as Church Street, Station Road as far as Ossett Station and Bank Street. They also wanted the lights to be switched on all through the year and noted that "in a short radius from the Market Place, there are over one hundred shops, which contribute considerably to the rates." The main complaint was that these shops were competing with shops in Dewsbury and whilst it was felt that Ossett shopkeepers could hold their own "they nevertheless feel that the striking contrast between the brilliant light of Dewsbury and the depressing darkness of their own Borough places them at a great disadvantage." Just imagine, in 1891 there were 100 different shops in an around Ossett Market Place. That is an amazing statistic and it seems that every commodity and service was available in Ossett at that time.
Above: Picture of Ossett Town Hall and three of the smart new gas lamps
The Local Board then turned its attention to a water supply. Ossett was still drawing water from wells and throwing sewage out of the house door. There was a project to join with Horbury in providing a water supply, but Ossett said "No." Eventually, it was agreed to take a supply from Batley or if necessary, from Dewsbury. If piped water is supplied then drains must be provided as well. That meant spending money, which must necessarily be borrowed and the requisite Act of Parliament was passed in 1875. This authorised the spending of £5,000 on street improvements, £24,000 on a sewage works, and £20,000 for a water supply. Huge sums of money in those days.
Ossett bought water from Batley at a cost of 8d. per thousand gallons and later from Dewsbury at a better rate of 6d. per thousand gallons. In May 1876, construction began of a pipeline from Staincliffe to a new reservoir at Gawthorpe, Opposition to the new schemes was very strong in Gawthorpe, and when the new reservoir was filled up, it leaked. Someone had maliciously placed two planks in the foundations.
The sewerage system was begun in 1877 and the main scheme was completed in 1879. But Gawthorpe remained true to its tradition, and the area was only drained in 1891 after the imposition of a Compulsory Order. Ryecroft was not drained until 1893. However, people's bad habits continued for much longer and it was not until the early years of the twentieth century that sewage disappeared from the sides of the roads in Ossett.
Ossett's record in these matters, whilst nothing to be proud of, is perhaps put in perspective by events in neighbouring areas. On the 2nd September 1889, the Horbury Local Board received a letter from a resident at Horbury Bridge calling attention to the insanitary conditions of that locality and to the state of the drainage, as having long been a scandal. On the 8th October 1889, the Wakefield Town Council was informed that there were in the city, 1,128 houses with no sinks nor drains. Conditions in Ossett were evidently similar to those elsewhere, but we must not lightly censure our ancestors. In June 1981 at Flockton, there was still a group of houses with earth closets at the bottom of the garden an no connection to a sewer (Yorkshire Post, 2nd June 1981.)
The effects of the activities of the Local Board of Health in Ossett's affairs were enormous. In the early part of the century around 1830, the death rate was about 22 per 1,000. As the population grew, the effect of contaminated water and lack of drainage also grew, and in 1870 the death rate was 26 per thousand. In 1882, after two or three years of piped water and proper drainage, the rate fell to 17 in the 1,000, a profound improvement. In Dewsbury in 1888, the death rate was 19.06 per 1,000 and in Wakefield 19.87.
The new Borough of Ossett in 1890
There was an audacious attempt by Dewsbury in 1889 to take over 155 acres of Ossett's territory in the Mitchell Laithes area at the bottom of Healey Road, so that Ossett effectively became part of Dewsbury. A public meeting was called in the town and it was proposed that Ossett should apply for a charter of incorporation as a means of preserving the individuality of the town. At the time of the application, Ossett was still growing fast and was already bigger than 283 existing boroughs with an 1881 population of nearly eleven thousand.
On the 3rd June 1890 Royal Assent was given to the Charter of Incorporation and the precious document arrived at Ossett station on the 16th August 1890. The streets were decorated and the Charter was borne in procession from the railway station to the Provisional Mayor, Mr. C.T. Phillips. There was great rejoicing and feasting and an assembly of 5,000 people finished the day off with a spectacular nighttime fireworks display by Riley's Fireworks of Flushdyke.
The new council rented the Temperance Hall for its meetings and took over the work and organisation of the old Local Board. Amongst its first acts were extensions to the sewerage system and extra lighting in the principal streets. It fitted three burners to each lamp instead of one and soon after thought about taking over the privately owned Gas Works Company. After a long campaign headed by Mr. F. Audsley to acquire the gasworks as the property of the Ossett ratepayer, negotiations were started in 1895 and took five years to be completed. Finally, in 1900, by Act of Parliament, the Ossett Gas Company was taken over for £97,000 plus various other expenses, which brought the total to £114,000.
The opening of Station Road in 1889 caused an alteration in the flow of traffic in the town and there was the erection of the various building which can still be seen on the new road. These included the Mechanics Institute, the Liberal Club and what is now the Yorkshire Bank. The Ossett Observer too, which previously had its premises scattered in three locations in the town built new shop premises and a printing works on the corner of Station Road and Prospect Road.
Since their construction, these buildings have changed their functions. The Yorkshire Penny Bank originally occupied only half the building and for some reason, over the door fronting on to Station Road, the word "Ossett" is carved boldly in the stone. On the Prospect Road sidewall, the initials J.W.C. are elaborately carved. The first occupant of the premises was the chemist, J.W. Cussons, who conducted the business, which was later taken over by Mr. S.N. Pickard. The Cussons' initials remain to this day, but the family left Ossett around the end of the nineteenth century to establish the company which has amongst its trade marks the name "Imperial Leather".
Ossett's Charter of Incorporation in 1890 was followed in 1893 by the grant of a Commission of the Peace, and Ossett's Magistrates' Court sat for the first time in 1894. The Court was held in the Mechanic's Institute (the present Public Library). The first case to be tried was that of a soldier who was charged with being drunk and disorderly. He was said to have had two pints of beer on a journey to Normanton. It was his lucky day! The Magistrates gave him a suit, a pair of boots and a good dinner, then sent him on his way to Halifax.
An old "Ossett Observer" describes the 19th century inhabitants of Ossett as "a sturdy, industrious people always, the residents of Ossett, as long ago as memory can carry were it seems, a rough and ready folk, boisterous in spirits, much given to sport, suspicious of strangers and fond of a practical joke."
The introduction of the steam engine, with the mechanisation of local woollen cloth mills and the virtual cessation of trading with Europe as a result of the Napoleonic Wars with France had a catastrophic effect on the livelihood of many Ossett people. The earnings of handloom weavers between 1790 and 1820 dropped from about thirty shillings weekly to about ten shillings and there was a considerable reduction in their numbers as local mills grew in number and size. Even so, handloom weaving continued in spite of difficulties and one loom was operated in Town End, Ossett by Mr. George Nettleton, until about 1910.
The changes occurring round the turn of the 18th century caused great distress. Flour was six shillings per stone in 1795, putting bread made from wheat flour far beyond the reach of most people. But the difficulties were not just local, the whole country was affected. There was an actual shortage of grain and the complaint was made that people ate more bread if it was supplied to them fresh. Consequently, it was suggested that to reduce consumption, all bread should be kept until it was stale. The idea gained favour and in 1800 Parliament prohibited the sale of bread, which was less than 24 hours old. The penalty for selling or offering bread, which was less than 24 hours old, was £5 per loaf.
In Ossett, it is doubtful whether many people were affected by this ordinance because few could afford any bread at all. The diet of the working classes was poor. Oat cakes baked on a "bacstone" as their fathers had done before them, oatmeal porridge sweetened with treacle, boiled potatoes and fried bacon formed the basis of the working man's diet. Mill workers rose at 5 am, made a pot of tea, walked to work and, after two hours, usually had time to eat breakfast, which comprised of bread with dripping, treacle or jam washed down with a pot of tea. Dinner often took on a similar form, although the better off ate sheep's head broth, or potatoes and vegetables, perhaps with meat and Yorkshire pudding. Tea time at the mill was identical to breakfast. But there were many in Ossett who could not afford even oatcakes, and in 1815, distress was very serious and the workhouse at Flushdyke was full. Some of the workhouse accounts are still in existence. From them, it appears that flour cost 5s. 3d. per stone, soap was 1s. 1d. per pound, sugar 11d. per lb, an ounce of tea cost 6d.; a lb. of hops 2s.
Wages were so low and food was so dear that many things we now regard as necessities were luxuries then. There was never a beast killed in Ossett except at Christmas and the time of Ossett Feast. Bread was baked nearly as hard as wall toppings such that people couldn't eat much. Children ran about barefoot and bare-legged and in summer amused themselves by burying each other in the dust on the roads. Robbery wasn't unsual in these difficult times, despite very harsh sentences of death or more commonly transportation to Australia. Typically in February 1807: 3
"Last Friday evening, Mr David Wilby of Ossett was stopped on his return from Wakefield Market, by two footpads, who robbed him of his pocket-book, containing bills and cash to a considerable amount."
The general poverty, which must have meant real difficulty in keeping body and soul together, led to great resentment against the introduction of machinery, and the Luddite riots followed.There is no record of disorder in Ossett, but Fosters Mill at Horbury Bridge was wrecked in April 1812 by around 300 Luddite supporters who had entered the mill after first breaking into the Foster's house to seize the keys. They destroyed mill machinery including the frames, shears and looms then attempted to set the mill on fire. The Luddites then marched towards Wakefield and at Westgate Common they were met by a large contingent of Volunteers with loaded rifles. The sight of the Volunteers barring the route led the mob to quickly disperse. The trouble at Horbury was so serious that soldiers had to be sent to protect the other mills in the area and they stayed in Horbury for 29 weeks from July 1812 to January 1813.
The "Leeds Mercury" dated 9th March 1822 records the death, a couple of weeks earlier of John Harrap, late of Ossett, the husband of the "well-known Bet Checker", who at the time of her husband's death was serving time in the local House of Correction for passing "base coin", i.e. counterfeit coins. The Harraps had been supported by the parish of Ossett for the previous two years, so they must have been classed as paupers. However, when their house in Ossett was searched after John's death, a box was found containing 19 guineas in gold and a one-pound note (a large sum in 1822); eleven pounds and eleven shillings in silver coins; eight shillings in copper coins; 9lbs of superfine sugar and 11lbs 9oz of the best congou tea (black tea imported from China). There is no comment as to whether the this treasure chest was confiscated to pay the parish of Ossett's costs in supporting the Harraps or whether "Bet Checker" was later released from prison to enjoy her ill-gotten gains. Clearly, benefit cheats are nothing new!
By 1842, trade in the area had once again declined and working-class people were faced with famine. The area was blighted by lawless gangs called 'boiler-tappers' or 'plug-drawers', so named because they took the 'plugs' from boilers to render them useless. To quell the civil disturbance, about 100 special Constables were recruited, made up largely from local businessmen. The special Constables, along with the local Volunteers were very effective and the trouble-makers had little success in the area.
Ossett's 19th Century Public Houses
Some of the drinking establishments that existed in Ossett during the 19th century are now long gone, but it is believed that in 1821 there were only nine public houses or inns in Ossett and Gawthorpe and these were listed in Baines 1822 Trade Directory of the West Riding:
Cock & Bottle - landlord Edward Archer
Carpenters Arms - landlord Francis Harrop
Kings Arms (later the Bull's Head) - landlord Robert Waterson
Hammer & Stithy, Streetside - landlord James Naylor
Red Lion Inn, Streetside - landlord Joseph Shepherd
Hare & Hounds - landlord George Berry (closed 1873)
The Saw (later the Coopers Arms) - landlord John Kay
Shoulder of Mutton, Gawthorpe - landlord Percival Terry
Cross Keys, Shepherd Hill - landlord John Wilby (closed 1932)
All of these establishments brewed their own ale on the premises with water drawn from the town's wells.
No stringent or strictly applied licensing laws restricted the sale of alcoholic beverages and anyone who cared to pay excise duties could keep a beerhouse or public house. As a result, there were many public houses and "stiff-shackle" shops, the latter establishments at which "stiff-shackle", a sort of light beer was sold at three halfpence per quart. A popular drink, especially with women and children was called "small beer." This beverage was made from a second brewing of the malt and hops, which had already been used once in the making of ale and consequently, small beer was even cheaper, at three pence for a bucketful. All these varieties of beer were considerably safer to drink than much of the well water that they had been made from. Because of the need to boil the "mash" of water, malt and hops in the process of brewing the various types of beers, any bacteria lurking in the often polluted water was killed off.
Except on Sundays, when closing was compulsory during the hours of public worship, "closing time" was unknown and public houses were free to open from weekend to weekend, as indeed they sometimes did. The pubs were often kept open nineteen or twenty hours a day, closing only for a few hours through the small hours of the night. Men could get a pint of "breakfast" on their way to work or at lunchtime if they were leaving work. The Edwardian era at the very beginning of the 20th century was regarded as the heyday of the public house.
Public houses in the 19th century were much more places of amusement than they are nowadays. All sorts of games, from quoits, keys & brasses, to cock fighting and dog fighting were played about the premises of every public house, especially during the summer months.
Soon, many more public houses had appeared in Ossett and by 1870, there were thirty-two in the town. This number increased to a peak of thirty-four in 1914. There was significant opposition to the drinking culture in the town and the Ossett Temperance Mutual Improvement Society was formed in 1848 to encourage abstinence. There was a steady rise of membership, but after the Liberal and Conservative Clubs opened in the 1870s, membership dropped off somewhat. The Gawthorpe Temperance Society, formed in 1858 fared even worse and had disappeared completely by 1872. However, many people were opposed to what they perceived as the evils of drinking and 180 people attended a dinner held in Ossett's Temperance Hall on Illingworth Street in 1898 to celebrate 50 years of total abstinence by Jack Rhodes and Thomas Whitehead.
The Temperance Movement and the more religiously inclined Band of Hope carried out a vigorous campaign in 1894 against the opening of a new public house in Ossett, to be called The Empress. Local magistrates were obviously unhappy with the prospect of yet another drinking establishment in the town and they refused to grant a licence.
Sporting Activities in Ossett
Cock fighting, prize fighting, bull baiting and dog fights were all popular pastimes in Ossett before they were prohibited by law. The Hare and Hounds in Queen Street was a centre for these "sporting" activities, although cock fighting and dog fighting were common at every public house in Ossett during the summer months. At the old Hare and Hounds, prize fighting was particularly popular among the patrons, but when a fight could not be arranged locally, they closely followed all the prize fights in the country, no doubt with the obligatory sporting bet placed on a likely winner. On a Sunday morning, the best educated patrons of the Hare and Hounds read out aloud the latest copy of "Bells Life", a famous sporting journal that carried news and graphic descriptions of all the prize fights in the land.
The Cock and Bottle Hotel and the Old Hare and Hounds Inn on Queen Street appear to have been the chief places in the town used for cock fighting. This was made illegal in 1864, but continued secretly for a long time. Many a "main" between finely trained and steel spurred champions was fought at the Cock and Bottle, in the garden, which extended as far as Pickard's shop. Also, cock fighting took place in the fold of the Bull's Head. Matches were organised on a weekly basis with men carrying their birds in "pokes" to fight a main of usually five or six rounds and this was a common sight in streets of the town. There was a keen rivalry between Ossett and Holmfirth as to who could produce the champion fighting rooster and a match between birds from the two towns caused a great deal of interest and excitement. Most people in the town who kept poultry also had a game cock for fighting purposes.
Bulldogs were also trained for fighting purposes and these dogs were trained to fight to the death. Bull baiting took place in Ossett Market Place until 1811. Bare fist prize fighting was popular, particularly among patrons of the old Hare and Hounds. When Ossett Feast came round, during Trinity Week in June (the week after Whitsuntide), Ossett must have been a very lively place.
Rarely did the Feast come and go without several gory bare-fist prize fights taking place - sometimes for monetary stakes and sometimes to decide which was the better fighter of the two pugnacious individuals. Probably the last prize fight in Ossett took place in about 1866, between a man called 'Johnny Morning' from Wakefield and one 'Scrappy Curley' from Dawgreen, the scene of the fight being the river bank at Healey, where hundreds of people gathered. The police intervened before either man had been hurt too much and their appearance caused the crowd to very quickly stampede since prize fighting was by then illegal. An old Ossett resident said back in the early 1900s that "a cock in a poke, a dog in a band and a pair of black eyes were often associated together." The practices of dog, cock and prize fighting very much frowned upon by the more civilised inhabitants of Ossett, but it was a long while before these cruel pastimes disappeared altogether.
Ossett Soke Act
In 1832, Parliament passed a Soke Act, which soon affected Ossett. Certain townships were allowed to buy their Soke obligations to the Lord of the Manor. In 1832, Ossett obtained an Act of Parliament to purchase the Soke rights for £3,500, releasing them from their obligations of taking their corn to the Lord's Soke Mill to be ground. However, it wasn't until 1852 that Wakefield achieved the same freedom by means of a similar Act of Parliament at a cost of £18,000, paid on the 1st June 1854. For many years before these settlements, the smuggling of flour was quite common, most of it being brought ashore from ships at Hull. The flour was then sold in bags or small quantities to the houses in Ossett.
At this period, local government was still in a primitive state. From 1835, public affairs were controlled by a Board of Surveyors who were responsible for roads but did little about them and Ossett, as already mentioned above, had a Workhouse at Flushdyke. There were also churchwardens, who had considerable powers as a result of the strong position of the church. There were also overseers of the poor and a constable.
At a meeting of Ossett ratepayers in 1834, Thomas Harrop was granted £40 per annum as Workhouse Master plus three shillings per week per person in the workhouse. The Ossett workhouse was one of the largest in the district and could house up to 80 inmates. It was Harrop's duty, assisted by Benjamin Pickersgill, to keep the poor in the workhouse "clean, decent and orderly" and to see that they were properly fed with three meals per day "wholesome, good and substantial". These men also distributed poor relief and made out rate notes. This arrangement ceased when Dewsbury Poor Law Union was formed on 10th February 1837. Its operation was overseen by an elected Board of Guardians, 23 in number, representing its 11 constituent parishes. Ossett was represented by two elected Guardians and the workhouse at Flushdyke went out of use.
In the early 19th century, Ossett had a prison, which was located in the market place, adjacent to the old Grammar School. However, in 1833 it was knocked down and the stone given to the Grammar School for an extension. Prisoners were sent to the gaol in Wakefield instead. Primitive local justice prevailed and Ossett had a set of stocks in the market place as well as a ducking stool and pond on Ossett Green.
At this time, the residents of Ossett had another official of importance. This was the pinder and every town had one. It was the pinder's job to take charge of all animals found straying on the roads and to put them in the "pinfold". Ossett's pinfold, located down West Wells is still in existence in 2010 and after a wall was demolished in a car accident, it is now in a good state of repair. The pinfold at West Wells dates only from 1871 and the original medieval pinfold was located somewhere in the area of Dale Street, opposite the Co-operative supermarket. On April 17th 1871, the local Board of Health agreed to exchange the original pinfold of 144 square yards with Mr. William Gartside, for another plot adjacent to the West Well (120 square yards). It was agreed that Gartside would pay £50 for the building of a new pinfold with pitch faced walls and an impressive 3 yards high.
In those days, many animals were kept by families living in Ossett and they frequently strayed. The pinder's fee for releasing an impounded cow was one shilling and for a sheep, four pence. He was allowed one pair of boots each year for which he was given an allowance of £1. One year, the Ossett pinder was criticised for only spending 14s. 7d. of his boot allowance and in 1877, the Ossett pinder, Joseph Wilby was fined 20 shillings or a month at Wakefield prison for assaulting Abel Jessop of Earlsheaton after a fight at the Carpenter's Arms in Ossett.
Above: Not Ossett's pinfold, but this is a typical of how they were constructed. This excellent example is in Morton, Nottinghamshire. A plaque reads “Here stray animals were impounded until a fine was paid."
In the first half of the nineteenth century, Ossett Market Place was a sea of mud and sewage ran down the roads in open drains in front of the houses. Cellars were undrained and often served as receptacles of evil smelling liquid a couple of feet deep. Wells were the only source of an imperfect and tainted water supply and there were no street lights. In the summer of 1858, Parliament had to rise early because of the stench of sewage in undrained London. When Victoria's husband, Prince Albert died from typhoid in December 1861, usually one man in three died from infectious fever. In Ossett, the smoke from mill chimneys was an additional complication. Boilers were crude and skills in steam raising had still to be acquired. It is generally agreed that "where there is muck, there is brass" and every mill chimney had a plume of thick black smoke. But food had become cheaper. In 1852, a letter sent from Ossett to Australia said: "good flour is 1s. 8d. per stone; lump sugar at 6d. per lb and as low as 2 1/2d. Good legs of mutton at 6d. and breasts at 6 1/2d. per lb. and beef in a like manner from 6d. to 3 1/2 d. per lb. "
Although there was much greater wealth at this time, it continued to elude the ordinary man and in 1866, 300 people were summonsed for non-payment of rates (which were 1s. 3d, in the £). By 1866, the County Police Force was in existence and in 1867, Ossett Police Station was built.
When Ossett's industry expanded, it was possible and customary for each family to be separately housed and during the nineteenth century this gave the town a large number of "one up and one down" houses, some of them back to back. In the larger houses of the better off, there were four poster beds fitted with curtains, which when drawn, gave a small degree of privacy and also protection from the cold. In the workman's "one up and one down" the custom was for the father and mother to sleep in the living room in a "shut up" bed. This was a bed, which folded up into a wooden case fitted with doors, which were kept closed during the day. The children slept, usually several to a bed upstairs, sometimes top to tail.
By the end of the century, there was a growing desire for more than one bedroom. Four poster beds gave way to metal framed beds with brass knobs and sprung mattresses, and shut up beds became scarce. A large house with four bedrooms was built in Headlands, Ossett around 1880 and it had the luxury of a well in the kitchen from which a hand pump would deliver water directly into the sink. Bizarrely, one of its bedrooms was only accessible by first passing through another bedroom.
On a poorer level, one family in Ossett until about 1910, regularly received bags of rags from a rag merchant and sorted the dirty rags in the living room. This was at one time common practice in Ossett. Another household in Little Town End, having a donkey but no stable for it, brought the animal into the living room at night and tethered it to the foot of the bed. These practices were not typical and they belonged firmly to the nineteenth century.
The material development in Ossett during the nineteenth century was great. The population of the town at the end of the nineteenth century was four times as great as at the beginning, and in all obvious material aspects, the town was in better condition and was far more wealthy than it was a hundred years before.
Above: A sketch of what the old Ossett Church in the Market Place was believed to have looked like. The sketch is by Mr. J.K. Garlick, who for many years was the Borough Surveyor of Ossett.
The Church of England was more fortunately placed in Ossett than the Methodist movement and the church occupied the traditional site in the town centre, i.e. in the Market Place and the Tithe Barn was in Illingworth Street, roughly where the car park is now. The authorities realised that the population was much greater than when the church was built and the first national census, taken in 1801, revealed that the population of Ossett was 3,424 persons. It was therefore decided to build a new larger church. The architects were the George Straffords, father and son, of Wakefield. They planned to knock down the existing church and rebuild on the existing foundations, plus the desired extension. Additional stone for the construction would be taken from the public quarry at Storrs Hill. The alterations were begun in May 1806 and the new church was roofed by the 1st of July, a speed of construction that would attract attention even today. Why they used the old foundations again is not clear, but a glance at some of the old property remaining in the town a few years ago indicated that it was normal practice at the time.
It was generally felt that the style of the building was influenced by John Carr's fine St. Peter's Church in Horbury. However, the general consensus was that the church was ugly and it was described in the "Wakefield Express" as a "very bad specimen of the Italian style."
Above: The remains of the old Ossett Church in the Market Place, built in 1806, about to be demolished in 1866. This is believed to be one of the oldest photographs of Ossett.
A considerable part of the expense of the rebuilding was borne by the curate of Ossett who had large private funds and who, it is reputed, spent more money on the parish than he ever drew from it. He was the Revd. Edward Kilvington, M.A. a fellow of Sidney-Sussex College, Cambridge and a graduate of Jesus College, Cambridge in 1787. Kilvington was a very heavy man and was only 39 years of age at the time of the rebuilding of the Ossett Chapel. He ultimately became so heavy and so big that he could not mount the pulpit steps. This led to the installation of a three-decker pulpit, which was in reality, a primitive lift. Before the service, he got into his chair at the bottom of the pulpit steps and then the sexton, by hauling a rope, slowly wound him up to the top level. Kilvington, the son of a Wakefield shopkeeper, lived in Ossett with his father and a Madam Powley, who was the widow of the late Vicar of Dewsbury and Kilvington's patron. A legendary figure, Madam Powley, it is said, took large quantities of snuff, which she sieved herself and was always carried to church in a sedan chair.
Kilvington left Ossett to become the first vicar of a new and much larger Trinity Church in Ripon from 1827 to 1835. The church, dedicated to the Holy Trinity, was erected by the Rev. Kilvington at an expense of about £13,000, of which £10,000 had been bequeathed for the purpose by his uncle, Dr. Kilvington of Ripon. Kilvington died at Ripon aged 68 "after a short but severe illness" in January 1835 and was fondly remembered there for his charity work on behalf of the poor.
Above: The Reverend Edward Kilvington, M.A. (1767 - 1835), Perpetual Curate at Ossett from 1799 to 1827.
Ossett born Benjamin Ingham (1784-1861), had first gone to Palermo in Sicily in 1806 to trade in cloth for the family firm of Ingham Bros and Co., Leeds, but he later set up in his own right and exported barilla (pasta), sumac (a kind of spice), rags, brimstone and wine. He was the founder of Ingham, Stephens and Co. exporting Sicilian marsala (a kind of fortified wine) all over the world, but especially to the USA and became a very wealthy man, reputedly the richest man on the island of Sicily by 1850. In March 1861, Ingham died and left his vast fortune to his nephews who had moved to Sicily to help him run the family business. In 1862, one of these nephews from Ossett, Benjamin (Ben) Ingham junior (1810-1872) subscribed £1,000 towards the construction of a church "more suited to the needs of a rapidly industrialising community". Also, Benjamin Wilson (1797-1881), the organist at the old Church in the Market Place, a wealthy Ossett mill owner and textile manufacturer also gave £800 towards the construction of the new church. The Whitaker family, who had a successful maltsters business in Ossett (and were also related to Benjamin Ingham) funded the construction of the stained glass West Window in the new church. Benjamin Ingham was also to fund the stained glass East Window.
Above: Benjamin Ingham of Palermo and Ossett (1784 - 1861)
Space constraints necessitated a wholesale relocation from the Market Place in Ossett: the new Church was to be erected alongside the new Anglican graveyard laid out on the edge of town on Field Lane in 1861. The architect in charge, William Henry Crossland of Halifax, was a pupil of Sir George Gilbert Scott, whose Gothic Revival influence is apparent throughout. On 30 June 1862, the foundation stone was laid by the Vicar, the Reverend Thomas Lee, who also placed the final stone on top of the steeple in May 1865. Though initially estimated at £8,000, alterations and additions to the original plans ensured that the final cost of construction amounted to at least £16,000, but more likely well above £20,000. Such was the scale of the project that, during the consecration service of 14 July 1865, the Bishop of Ripon made reference to ‘this miniature cathedral’.
As the century progressed, there was a massive expansion in the number of churches and chapels in Ossett. The special characteristic of the time was the religious dedication of ordinary people. They had unquestioning belief in their religion and were willing to accept any obligations or hardships of service. Many of them believed that every word of the Bible was divinely inspired and they disputed fiercely about the exact meaning of its verses. Some Ossett Chapels insisted that their members should attend as many as four services on Sunday and also two more during the week. The members not only did so, but did so eagerly. Their whole lives revolved around their church or chapel and there were many different flavours of Christianity in Ossett, including Baptists, Anglicans, Primitive Methodists, Wesleyan Methodists, Roman Catholics and Congregationalists.
A great dedication to religion was an almost nationwide feature of life, but it produced some very striking effects in Ossett, particularly during the ten year period between 1857 and 1867. In spite of low wages and the concentration of money in relatively few hands, during these years the following buildings were constructed:
1857 - Dale Street United Methodist Church
1858 - Zion Congregational Church, Gawthorpe
1863 - Primitive Methodist Church, Queen Street
1863 - Primitive Methodist Church, Dewsbury Road
1864 - Congregational Church, The Green (rebuilt 1883 at a cost of £5,500)
1864 - Congregational Church, Flushdyke
1865 - Holy Trinity Parish Church, Church Street
1865 - Primitive Methodist Chapel, South Ossett
1867 - Wesleyan Chapel, Wesley Street
1867 - Baptist Chapel, South Ossett
The building of these churches in this short period was achieved by an amazing outpouring of money and personal effort, which were only possible because of the fervour of people's religious beliefs. This is the only occasion during the long history of Ossett when anything of this kind occurred and it altered the life of the town until the drift away from religion, which occurred between the two world wars. Sadly, by 1983 only three of the ten buildings listed were still being used for their original purpose.
In addition to the ten churches listed above, Christ Church, South Ossett had been completed in 1851 after South Ossett was made into a separate ecclesiastical parish on the 27th November 1846 after separation from Dewsbury. In connection with Christ Church, South Ossett is St. Aidan's Mission church, the foundation stone of which was laid on the 16th April 1900.
Ossett did not become a separate parish until 1858. It had been subject to the Vicar of Dewsbury ever since the Archbishop of York licensed it on June 13th 1409, and members of the Anglican Church in Ossett had to be buried in Dewsbury until a burial ground was made in Ossett on Church Street in 1861.
Above: Christ Church, South Ossett completed and consecrated in 1851.
Construction of churches and chapels did not stop and other religious establishments were subsequently built in the town. On the 26th January 1884, the Methodist New Connection Church, Bethesda was opened in Gawthorpe.
In December 1884 another Wesleyan Chapel was opened in Dewsbury Road, Gawthorpe, perhaps anticipating the earlier growth and development of the Wesley Street Chapel. The ' Ossett Observer' dated 13th December 1884 noted that "a three day Bazaar is being held to raise funds for the new Wesleyan Chapel. The new stone building, off Dewsbury Road possesses few external embellishments, is of copious neatness and seems well calculated to supply the needs of the local society for a number of years to come. The ground floor has six rooms for classes and upstairs one large room, which will seat 500 persons and be used for Sunday School as well as chapel. When this shall become insufficient, the trustees have ample property between the building and the road on which to erect a spacious building for chapel purposes solely. The new Chapel was opened by Mr. Joshua Wilson who had left Ossett 15 years earlier said he was glad to come and open the bazaar. J.W. Swithenbank (from whom they had purchased the land) donated £25, but when Joshua Wilson, G.H. Wilson and Josiah Wilson donated £100, Mr Swithenbank increased his donation to £100 also. Gawthorpe Hand Bell Ringers provided entertainment." Joshua Wilson was my Great Grand Uncle (see Ossett Wilsons to Leeds), but brothers G.H Wilson and Josiah Wilson were from a different clan entirely, who originated in Norfolk.
I recall this Wesleyan Chapel, which was derelict and falling into disrepair when I moved, as a small child, from Station Road to the top of Kingsway in 1958. I think it was demolished in about 1961 and all the hopes of the Trustees for expansion came to nothing.
The Catholic Parish of St. Ignatius, Ossett was founded from St. Austin's, Wakefield in 1876. It comprises the Borough of Ossett along with the districts of Horbury, Netherton and Middlestown. The present beautiful Church, built in brick in Romanesque style with vaulted roof, was opened by the Rt. Rev. J.R. Cowgill, Bishop of Leeds in 1934.
During the century, there had been great changes in people's beliefs, their customs and their ways of life, and their ideas of what was right and proper. References have been made to the dominant position of the Established Church in earlier centuries and how people were compelled to believe, or rather acquiesce, in its teachings, but the rise of the Non-conformist Churches during the eighteenth century, reaching full vigour during the nineteenth century was evidence of great change. This change was very much in evidence in Ossett. The Non-conformist Churches - Congregational, Baptist, Methodist, etc. were founded, expanded and maintained by ordinary people whose religious enthusiasm was boundless. They did not normally collaborate with other Churches and in fact were usually jealous of them. During the nineteenth century, no Protestant would be willing to be friendly with a Roman Catholic and there was even hostility between school children. This continued into the 20th century and was evident with the matter of fact relationship between the children attending St. Ignatious Roman Catholic school and those attending nearby Ossett Grammar School.
The general belief in literal divine inspiration of every word in the Bible had peculiar effects, and one of them was the extensive use of Bible names. The Fothergills in Ossett Common, having three sons, christened them Shadrack, Meshach and Abednego (who according to the Bible, survived a night in King Nebuchadnezzar's fiery furnace when God protected them), and there were many other examples.
An attempt to define or explain religious beliefs would be out of place here, but it is worth mentioning some general effects. One of the most commonly accepted ideas was the belief in Heaven, Hell, the Day of Judgement and the resurrection of the body. The latter belief led to a man at South Ossett around 1890 insisting that his coffin should be buried upright so that, being already on his feet, he could the more quickly jump out on the morning of Resurrection.
A similar idea may have been in the mind of Miss Hannah Pickard, a wealthy lady who lived at Green Mount, Southdale Road, Ossett. She left money for scholarships (for two Ossett boys) at Ossett Grammar School and funds for poor people at several Ossett Churches. She died in 1891 and was buried in the private burial ground of the family in an airtight coffin, which had in its lid a small window opposite her head.
Belief in a burning fiery hell disturbed the later years of many who had led colourful lives and it also led to the hurried baptism of ailing new-born babies.
Eight years later, there was rejoicing when Napoleon had been sent to Elba and it was decided to build a Sunday School in Ossett in thankfulness for the ending of the Napoleonic Wars with France that had lasted over 20 years. The new school was built at the end of Old Church Street, most of the site now being part of Ventnor Way. The building will have been familiar to most Ossett folks as the Shaw Peace printing works. There was a bold inscription over the main entrance saying "Church of England Sunday School. In Commemoration of Peace. A.D. 1814." Peace actually lasted only a few months following Napoleon's escape from Elba and then the Battle of Waterloo, fought on June 18th 1815. The lower half of the original headstone is displayed in the boundary wall of the Methodist Church abutting Ventnor Way, which faces the former site of the Sunday School.
We only meagre information about the use of the new school. Sunday schools were a relatively new development. Dewsbury Parish Church established one in 1783, the first in Yorkshire. Schools were not numerous, since they had to be provided out of public funds, but they were valuable. There was no system of public education and they were virtually the only means by which working people could learn to read and write. The schools, of course, gave priority to religious instruction, but they also taught simple arithmetic and gave whatever other general education they could. Later in the century, the Sunday schools had classes for "Mutual Improvement", Debating Societies, and before there were public libraries, they established small libraries of their own. Instruction was given during Sundays and weekday evenings.
A little is known about the sessions of the new Anglican Sunday School as they conducted by the Vicar on Sundays. The scholars occupied the main part of the buildings, boys on one side and girls on the other side, with a partition down the middle of such a height that they could not see each other. The Curate occupied a raised position at the Kingsway end of the building, so placed that he could see everybody as he put them through the Catechism. Steps were taken to ensure discipline and this was done by stationing the verger or sexton on a high stool at the Wesley Street end of the building. He was equipped with a very long rod or cane and it was his duty to give a sharp tap on the head of any youngster who was not concentrating properly.
For the privilege of attending school, a charge of one penny was made and if any child was missing from the school on the Sunday, the Curate called at the child's home during the week to collect the missing coin.
Few particulars are available about the change of the Sunday schools to day schools, but there is some information about the Wesleyan School in Wesley Street. The premises erected on the original plot of land was bought in 1781 and continued in use until new premises were built in 1825. These were the premises that were used as an elementary scholl by generations of Ossett children until the opening of Southdale Council School on August 22nd, 1908. The Southdale School was the first in the town provided by the Local Authority.
The building of the new Wesley Street premises was a considerable achievement for the Wesleyan Methodists in Ossett. The two storey building had an upper storey consisting one large room with an elaborate pulpit at the end furthest away from Wesley Street and a sloping gallery with a cloakroom underneath at the Wesley Street end. This large room was used for Church services and then during the week, it became an elementary school, accommodating 150 children divided into five classes. Downstairs, there were several small rooms, which held two classes from the Senior School above and also accommodated the Infants School.
It wasn't long after completion of this ambitious new building that it began to be used as an Elementary School. The Church Trustees maintained control, but they let the building for use as a school, every day but Sunday, to a man named Lucas at a rent of one shilling and sixpence a week. He then charged each child up to sixpence a week for the privilege of attending.
Though the Anglican and Wesleyan Schools were the biggest, there were other schools in the town, which operated in the same way.
At Wesley Street, when the new premises had come into use, the smaller original premises erected about 1781 were sold to John Senior, a joiner and undertaker, who, followed in later years by his son, used them for 40 years. He paid the Wesleyan Trustees £200 for them, living in one half and doing his joinery in the other half. When the big, fine chapel was to be built during the 1860s, the Trustees bought back their original humble premises for £440 and promptly knocked them down to provide a fitting site for the fine church they then proceeded to erect and which stood at that site until it was demolished in 1961.
But there is one other matter, which must be mentioned about the 1825 building. The Church decided to provide it with a burial ground and this was done. It was used chiefly in its earlier years, although there was an internment as late as 1879. However, some details are important. In total, 360 people were buried there and details are known of 342 of them. Their average age at death was 30.6 years; the life expectancy of a newly-born child of white ethnicity in 2004 was about 76 years for a male and 81 for a female. The bodies were not disturbed during the building and road-making works of recent years. Many of those interred in the burial ground are believed to lie under parts of Wesley Street and Ventnor Way.
It was not until 1904 that education became a responsibility of the Corporation. Prior to that year, the only schools in Ossett, apart from the Grammar School were private schools. Most of these as mentioned above were run by the various Churches in the town. When the Corporation became responsible, there was a great religious outcry since religious views were strongly held and there was acute jealousy between the different sects. The Passive Resistance Movement campaigned against the use of public money for schools where sectarian religious instruction was given. Many Ossett people refused to pay their rates and were duly summonsed. Some of them carried their opposition to the point of having some of their goods seized by the bailiffs, but eventually their resistance died down and the public education system came into being. The first school to be built in Ossett out of public funds was Southdale Council School, which was opened on August 22nd 1908.
Napoleon brought most of Western Europe under his rule (a feat not seen since the days of the Roman Empire), a state of constant warfare between France and the combined other major powers of Europe for over two decades finally took its toll. By the end of the Napoleonic Wars, France no longer held the role of the dominant power in Europe, as it had since the times of Louis XIV.
During the Napoleonic Wars with Great Britain, severe hardship was experienced because of Napoleon's economic blockade. Food prices rose and people suffered greatly.
After his forced abdication in 1814, Napoleon was exiled on the island of Elba, off the coast of Tuscany in Italy. He escaped after nine months and returned to France where he raised a large army. After 100 days rule as Emperor, he was beaten at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 by the Duke of Wellington and the Prussians. After attempting to flee to the USA, he was recaptured and this time, Napoleon was exiled to St. Helena in the South Atlantic. Napoleon died on St. Helena after a long illness in 1821, allegedly from arsenic poisoning.
The nineteenth century was dominated by the reign of Queen Victoria Victoria was born in London on 24 May 1819, the only child of Edward, Duke of Kent, and Victoria Maria Louisa of Saxe-Coburg. She succeeded her uncle, William IV, in 1837, at the age of 18, and her reign dominated the rest of the century. In 1840 she married her first cousin, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg Gotha. For the next 20 years they lived in close harmony and had a family of nine children, many of whom eventually married into the European monarchy.
On her accession, Victoria adopted the Whig prime minister Lord Melbourne as her political mentor. In 1840, his influence was replaced by that of Prince Albert. The German prince never really won the favour of the British public, and only after 17 years was he given official recognition, with the title of Prince Consort. However, Victoria relied heavily on Albert and it was during his lifetime that she was most active as a ruler. Britain was evolving into a constitutional monarchy in which the monarch had few powers and was expected to remain above party politics, although Victoria did sometimes express her views very forcefully in private.
Victoria never fully recovered from Albert's death in 1861 and she remained in mourning for the rest of her life. Her subsequent withdrawal from public life made her unpopular, but during the late 1870s and 1880s she gradually returned to public view and, with increasingly pro-imperial sentiment, she was restored to favour with the British public. After the Indian Mutiny in 1857, the government of India was transferred from the East India Company to the Crown and in 1877, Victoria became Empress of India. Her empire also included Canada, Australia, India, New Zealand, and large parts of Africa. During this period, Britain was largely uninvolved in European affairs, apart from involvement in the Crimean War (1853 - 1856).
In 1887, Victoria's Golden Jubilee and, 10 years later, her Diamond Jubilee were celebrated with great enthusiasm. Having witnessed a revolution in British government, huge industrial expansion and the growth of a worldwide empire, Victoria died on 22 January 1901 at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight.
The Fenton family (referred to elsewhere) had become extremely wealthy and powerful. At the turn of the nineteenth century, their New Park Colliery, on the hill, north of Roundwood, was producing considerable amounts of coal and William Fenton dammed a stream in the valley bottom making two huge ponds. The idea was to use flat-bottomed boats to take coal down to Wakefield for loading into barges. The place where he loaded the coal can still be identified, but the plan met various troubles and ultimately he built a railway down to the point near Kirkgate Bridge where the coal could be loaded into barges. One of his competitors was Robert Smithson who also had a mine in another part of the New Park area and who also built a railway down to the Calder. For some years there were thus two competing railways carrying coal from Ossett down to Wakefield along the same narrow valley and doing it without the use of steam.
William Fenton was a very well educated man, a bachelor and in some ways eccentric. He particularly liked bullocks and used them on his railways to pull the wagons, for ploughing and even for his own carriage. Steam locomotives replaced the bullocks in 1838 after his death.
Typical costs at his collieries were:
Getting - 4s. 1/6d. per ton
Filling - 2 1/2d. per ton
Hurrying - 2d. per ton
Total cost, excluding rents and provision and maintenance of machinery, one shilling and five pence per ton.
Some idea of the vast profits made by early industrial leaders is given by the fact that when William Fenton, who lived at Carr House in Rotherham, died in 1837 he left £1,500,000 a truly huge sum in those days.
The centuries old antagonism towards Roman Catholics was still very strong and sometimes found peculiar expression. The famous eccentric, Squire Waterton of Walton Hall, Wakefield, who rode on a crocodile and tied up the mouth of a boa constrictor with his braces was born on the 3rd June 1782 into a Roman Catholic family. His mother, wishing to drive to Leeds was refused passage on the main road because it was illegal for a Roman Catholic to drive four horses on a turnpike. The lady remained seated in her carriage while the horses were replaced by bullocks and she then continued on her journey.
Towards the end of the nineteenth century, Ossett became nationally known because of a business making fireworks, which covered an area of several acres off Wakefield Road, owned by the Riley family. Riley's Fireworks was established by Michael Riley, an Ossett man in 1844. He was succeeded by his son Solomon Riley, who continued the business until his death in 1897, when Mark Ellis Riley, his brother, who was the organist and choirmaster at Ossett Parish Church, took over the business until his death in 1904.
Michael Riley started the manufacture of fireworks in a very small way at his Ossett home. Later, the work, on a bigger scale, was carried on in a few sheds, which over the years were extended with the result that the fireworks factory gradually became one of the largest of its kind in the United Kingdom.
There were several accidents at the factory and in 1901 a report was presented to both Houses of Parliament "on the circumstances attending an explosion which occurred during the operation of forming coloured stars at the factory of Mr Mark Ellis Riley, at Longlands, near Ossett, on the 26th September, 1901". Almost prophetically, their telegraph address at the time was “Explosive, Ossett." and in the 1920s, the factory was destroyed completely by a huge explosion, which killed the proprietor and ended the Ossett works.
The Great Reform Act 1832
The electoral system had never changed and those in power worked to ensure this continued despite the obvious abuses in the system. Conscious of what had happened in France, the new King, William IV facilitated the passing of the Great Reform Act in 1832, the first political change in centuries.
56 rotten boroughs such as Old Sarum, which had 15 people yet returned 2 MPs, were removed as constituencies and the large industrial cities were given more MPs in keeping with their size and importance. The number of those who could vote rose from 435,000 to 652,000, but these were largely the middle classes and only one in seven men could vote. There were still no secret ballots and women were not allowed the vote.
Some people at the time saw this act as the start of a great new age of democracy while others saw it as a great lost opportunity. However, what no-one denied was that it was a start and that there was no going back. In fact, after 1832, the 'new' type of Parliament passed more reformist acts than any before it, including numerous factory and mines acts which forbade the abuse of child and women workers.
The movement for change could not be resisted and in 1867 the Second Reform Act was passed. This act gave better-off workers from the industrial cities the right to vote and the number who could vote increased to 2.5 million. However, no women regardless of their wealth could vote and there were still many poor men who were denied the right to vote. By 1867 there were 30 million people in Britain and 2.5 million still represented just a small percentage of those who could vote.
Standards were different 150 years ago, given the recent comments about Saddam Hussein's 2006 execution. In July 1859, an excursion was provided on the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway. The train started at Accrington and picked up passengers on its way to York, stopping at local stations en route. The reason for the excursion was to allow people to see a man being publically hanged at York. The next day, the Manchester Guardian published an account of the hanging with a description of the crowd and the man's death struggles.
In the Parliamentary Election of 1865, only 193 votes were recorded in Ossett. It was only possible to actually place your vote in Ossett from 1869 and before then, those in the town who were actually allowed to vote had to travel to Wakefield because there were no polling facilities in Ossett.
In Westgate, Wakefield there was until 1909 a Common Lodging House called the "Round Robin" that containing a large circular bed, which held 30 people, who slept feet to the centre! The cost for staying in this unusual lodging house was 2d. per night
LIfe in Ossett at the end of the nineteenth century can be visualised to some extent by examination of the Ossett Observer of those days. The prestige of the Churches was far higher than it is now and the newspaper regularly printed reports on the sermons being delivered. Nearly everyone attended church or chapel, and no man would have dreamed of working in his garden on a Sunday. Ladies wore dresses so long that they trailed on the ground, and they had brush braid fitted to them. They all had long hair, and those who were really old, which in those days meant fifty or so, wore poke bonnets, which were held by ribbons under the chin.
Men who wished to be smart wore a black frock coat and a tall hat. Everyone wore boots - they had to. There was so much mud in the streets that the Corporation employed men with long scrapers whose job it was to rake the mud to the side of the road, let it dry, then cart it away for re-use, along with broken stone, wherever the road needed repairing.
During the 18th century, there was a considerable improvement nationally in communications. Better roads were made and the famous stage coaches began to run. Around Ossett, there was a similar improvement. Under the guidance of John Metcalf, the famous Blind Jack of Knaresborough, the Wakefield and Halifax turnpike road was made, passing through Flushdyke on its way to Dewsbury.
And this was the age of canals, which enabled heavy materials like coal to be transported far more easily than ever before. The canal through Healey came into use around 1770 and for over a hundred years carried considerable traffic between Yorkshire towns, Lancashire and further afield. During the nineteenth century and probably soon after 1830, a lock was made near Horbury Bridge linking the canal with the River Calder. From then, until 1914, coal was carried, sometimes from Ossett and sometimes to Ossett depending on market demand. A plateway road had been established down to Healey. In 1914, coal was being brought to Healey from Wakefield and was being unloaded by means of a steam-driven crane sited near Healey Old Mill. The trade came to a sudden end about that time when a barge broke loose from its moorings whilst the river was running bank high. A man trying to secure it jumped clear without injury, but the barge was carried away by the river. It struck Horbury Bridge, causing a partial collapse and revealing that the bridge originally had been of very narrow width. At some time an additional part had been built on, more than doubling its width. This newer part was on the up-river side, and so received the blow from the barge and this was the part that collapsed. Traffic continued to use the older, very narrow portion, until the whole bridge was replaced by the present structure some time after the end of the 1914-18 war.
Though coal was the principal commodity carried to and from Healey, other goods were sometimes moved and two of the mills had facilities for loading or unloading. Rags were received and shoddy despatched. Occasionally, hydrochloric acid arrived from Castleford. It came in loads consisting of 500 glass carboys, each holding ten gallons. It is thought that all usage ceased in 1914.
The Wakefield - Dewsbury - Halifax turnpike road still had toll-bars at Ossett and these were finally removed on the 14th May 1866.
In 1822, 'Baines Directory' noted that there was some stagecoach traffic through Ossett, along the turnpike road. Leaving the Strafford Arms in Wakefield, which was the main coaching house in the city, the 'Hark Forward' left each day at 5pm for Halifax via Dewsbury travelling along the turnpike road through Flushdyke and Ossett Streetside.
In 1834, the 'Accommodation' coach was advertised to run from Mr. Magney's at the White Hart, Wakefield every morning at 8 a.m. via Dewsbury and Mirfield to the Pack Horse Inn, Huddersfield, arriving there at 11 a.m. in time to meet the Leeds and Manchester coaches, and to return in the evening, on the same route, on the arrival of the 'Accommodation' coaches from Manchester. The Fare to Huddersfield was five shillings.
From the White Horse, Westgate, Wakefield ran the 'Stag' coach to Dewsbury every FRiday at 4pm.
All these coaches travelling from Wakefield to Dewsbury would have passed through Ossett on the turnpike road. Coaching was the only form of long distance transport before the coming of the railways. The progress of coaches was only at 10 miles per hour and in winter, the roads were treacherous and sometimes blocked with snow drifts, which if the coachman couldn't charge through, brought his coach and all its passengers to a standstill until labourers could be collected with spades and shovels to clear a passage. Fog was another hazard and then it was necessary to lead the horses on foot and blazing torches were carried by the side of the coach.
In 1869, the receipts from the rates in Ossett were £792, most of which was spent on the roads.
The growing prosperity of the district attracted the railways and the first railway to be built near Ossett was the line from Leeds to Derby, passing through Normanton. This was built in 1840 by George Stephenson himself, and the Lancashire - Yorkshire line quickly followed. The Leeds - Manchester line through Dewsbury was built in 1846. There was no line in Ossett until 1860, and then only as far as Flushdyke. By 1880, Ossett had three stations at Flushdyke, Ossett and Chickenley Heath on a direct line to Batley. On the 1st May 1874 a new branch line of the Great Northern Railway from Ossett to Dewsbury, via Earlsheaton was opened for goods traffic. The line from Ossett to Dewsbury was about two and a half miles long,and at Dewsbury terminated in a spacious new station adjoining the Market Place. The line went on to link Ossett to Batley Carr, Batley, Bradford and then on to Leeds.
The Local Board in Ossett did good work in improving roads, but it insisted on making them 30 feet wide instead of the national standard of 36 feet. The Local Government Board in Whitehall authorised the spending of £1,000 for widening Church Street, but refused anything further until roads were made to the national standard. This trouble continued when it was decided to make a road from the Market Place to Park Square, which became Station Road. There was a lot of argument about this. The old railway station from and goods yard site, which is now occupied by York House was felt to be inadequate in 1880. The Great Northern Railway Company said it would only build a new station if the new road was built. The various people involved would only agree to a ten-yard strip of land for the road, but eventually James Wheatley gave a strip of land two yards wide and five hundred yards long so that a 36 foot wide road could be built. The Railway Company, however, having already made their plans for a 30 foot wide bridge would not change their plans. To this day, we have a 36-feet road, which narrows to a 30-feet wide bridge. However, the work was completed. The new road cost £7,000 and the estimated cost of the railways station was £17,000. The new station's island platform was 160 yards long, with a maximum width of 31 feet. It was approached by covered passage from Station Road, but access to The Green was not made until later. The new Ossett Station was opened on the 21st July 1889.
All travel depended on the railways and roughly one hundred trains passed through Ossett Station every day.
The headmaster of Ossett Grammar School, Mr. M. Frankland who had come to the school in 1881 was the author of the new Borough of Ossett's motto "Inutile Utile Ex Arte" or "useless things by skill made useful. It is said that this reflects the town's gain from the manufacture of mungo and shoddy from old rags.
Ossett's population in 1861 was 7,950, by 1871 it was 9,200, by 1881 it was 10,957, there was a small increase to 10, 984 in 1891 and by 1901, the population had reached 12,903.
Smallpox Prevention in Ossett - 1807
In the early 19th century, smallpox was a common and debilitating disease and this alarming article describing a crude method of vaccination appeared in the "Hampshire Telegraph and Sussex Chronicle" on August 31st, 1807.
"The inhabitants of Ossett, a village near Wakefield have inoculated all their children who had not had the smallpox with the cowpox, to the number of about 1,000. The incision was made with a needle and the matter transmitted by means of a penknife point. This method proved successful, but we would advise those in our vicinity who cannot afford the advice of medical men, to enquire if it is not done gratuitously by some friend to the poor."
The report above proved to be optimistic and the "Leeds Mercury", Saturday 5th September 1807 had an article describing the aftermath. The report also reveals the long association of the Greenwood family to the town of Ossett in their capacity as surgeons:
"A medical gentleman at Ossett informs us that about 1,000 children have been inoculated lately for the Cow Pox in that place by persons not possessing sufficient information to distinguish betwixt the spurious and the genuine matter. And that, in consequence of the spurious kind having been used, a number of them have now contracted smallpox. To obviate this evil in future, Mr. Greenwood, of that place, Surgeon, has generously vaccinated many hundreds of poor children gratis, not one of whom has taken the natural smallpox, though several of them have come in immediate contact with patients labouring under that irksome disorder."
Prior to 1881, Ossett's smallpox patients were sent to the Dewsbury Union workhouse for treatment. In 1881, following a serious outbreak of smallpox in the town, the Local Board decided to build an isolation hospital for ten patients "in a breezy location" at the top of Storr's Hill. The temporary, second-hand building, 80ft x 38ft, was made from iron with a wooden roof and had been purchased for £315 from a firm in London. After the hospital was opened in February 1882, five fresh cases of smallpox were reported, four of whom were moved to the hospital with two or three others joining them later.
Ossett, January 1893 - Two weeks previously a boy of six died at the Storr's Hill hospital from smallpox. On Thursday evening, January 5th, his mother was admitted suffering from the same. Another man, Thomas Shaw (36) of Greatfield was also admitted. Next morning at 6:40am Shaw left the hospital and ran out in front of a train, near the bridge, at the bottom of Storr's Hill. His body was removed to the Railway Hotel at Horbury Bridge. One of the people who had been searching for him entered the hotel and identified him. When it was made known that the deceased had smallpox, a number of persons in the hotel made a speedy exit.
Wakefield September 1893 - Police Constable William Sturgeon (40) of the City Police Force has died in the Wakefield Infectious Hospital from a virulent attack of smallpox, after an illness of about six days. He is said to have contracted the malady while on duty outside the hospital, police having lately been stationed there in order to keep the relatives of patients going near the gates.
In 1894, Ossett Corporation applied to borrow £3,000 for the construction, on an adjoining 2 acre site, of a new isolation hospital for 22 beds, to meet the joint requirements of Ossett and Horbury. The Local Government Board refused to sanction a smallpox hospital on the site. Instead, Ossett Corporation went ahead and built a hospital for sixteen beds for Ossett alone. The new hospital being paid for out of local rates under the supervision of local architect, Mr. W.A. Kendall. In May 1896, the old hospital building was demolished and burned at 3am in the morning.
The owners of adjoining properties, including the executors of Mr. George Harrop, of Rock House, appeared to regard the decision of the Local Government Board as condemnation of the decision by the Corporation to build the new isolation hospital. As a consequence, they instituted proceedings claiming an injunction of £3,000 in damages for alleged depreciation of the value of their property. During a long hearing, conflicting evidence was given by eminent experts and the result was that the action failed. The plaintiffs were ordered to pay the costs of an expensive law suit, the said to be much more than the cost of the hospital.
1904 Smallpox Epidemic in Ossett
The new Storr's Hill hospital had been rarely used, but during the severe Ossett confluent smallpox epidemic of 1904 (which cost the Ossett ratepayers a one-shilling special rate), its accommodation was so overcrowded that the Corporation acquired Park House, the home of the late Philip Ellis of Victoria Mills, for use as a hospital for convalescent patients. Park House, with several acres of land was purchased for £2,500, which was only a tenth of its original cost.
The 1904 smallpox epidemic was so bad in Ossett that a tent, 40ft x 20ft, equipped with another ten beds had to be bought and erected next to the Storr's Hill hospital for the expected large influx of patients. A smaller tent was also erected to accommodate three extra nurses. As an additional precaution, the Corporation ordered the fumigation of all the schools in the Borough. Ossett Corporation also purchased 80 gallons of disinfectant, which was supplied free of charge to members of the public, on application at the depot in Illingworth Street.
In September 1904, it was reported that nine new cases of smallpox had been admitted to the hospital at Storr's Hill, but one person had been discharged. There were 17 patients under treatment, but there had been one death; that of George Arthur Longbottom (24) of West Wells Road, Ossett, who had been the first patient admitted to the hospital at the start of the epidemic and who had been dangerously ill for two weeks. All the other patients were progressing favourably and there were no critical cases.
Also in September 1904, a youth at Flushdyke was reported to have contracted smallpox and it was discovered that his father was just recovering from a mild attack, but hadn't realised that he had contracted smallpox. The youth was removed to the hospital, and the father, who had been following his employment as a mill-hand, was placed in quarantine.
Smallpox is the most deadly disease in human history. Variola virus causes this disease and humans are the virus’ only natural host. It is transmitted person-to-person, most commonly through the air. Infected people exhale the virus from blisters in their mouth, and anyone who comes within 10 feet of a smallpox victim can inhale the aerosolized virus and catch the disease. There are no currently available anti-viral measures that doctors can use to treat smallpox. Antibiotics don’t work. Vaccination, however, protects a person from contracting this disease. More than 300 million people died from smallpox from 1900 to 1978, when the last case in the world occurred.
How was smallpox eradicated?
Smallpox could spread by air, by face-to-face contact, or by contaminated clothing, blankets, etc. The challenge was to find every case quickly and prevent each patient from infecting others. Prevention was achieved by isolating patients and by immunizing persons who were in contact with them, and sometimes by mass vaccination.