West Riding Manufacturing Districts

Here the works of the early 1900’s show the greatest difference to the situation and expectations of the present. Then the “Manufacturing Districts” were used to refer to every town and city from Selby in the east to Keighley in the west; from Leeds in the north to Sheffield in the south - in other words most of the original West Riding.

Major towns were not mentioned and even Leeds was covered solely by Kirstall Abbbey. Victorian civil and industrial architecture was ignored. “From hell, Hull and Halifax may the Lord deliver us” was a familiar quotation and sentiment of the time.


“It is not easy to understand how a massive structure such as that of Selby Abbey can catch fire and become a burnt-out shell, and yet this actually happened not many years ago.

It was before midnight on October 19, 1906, that the flames were first seen bursting from the Latham Chapel, where the organ was placed. The Selby fire brigade with their small engine were confronted with a task entirely beyond their powers, and though the men worked heroically, they were quite unable to prevent the fire from spreading to the roofs of the chancel and nave, and consuming all that was inflammable within the tower. By about three in the morning fire-engines from Leeds and York had arrived, and with a copious supply of water from the river, it was hoped that the double roof of the nave might have been saved, but the fire had obtained too fierce a hold, and by 4.30 a correspondent telegraphed:

'The flames are through the west-end roof. The whole building will now be destroyed from end to end. The flames are pouring out of the roof, and the lead of the roof is running down in molten streams. The scene is magnificent but pathetic, and the whole of the noble building is now doomed. The whole of the inside is a fiery furnace. The seating is in flames, and the firemen are in considerable danger if they stay any longer, as the false roof is now burned through.

'The false roof is falling in, and the flames are ascending 30 feet above the building. Dense clouds of smoke are pouring out.'

When the fire was vanquished, it had practically completed its work of destruction. Besides reducing to charred logs and ashes all the timber in the great building, the heat had been so intense that glass windows had been destroyed, tracery demolished, carved finials and capitals reduced to powder, and even the massive piers by the north transept, where the furnace of flame reached its maximum intensity, became so calcined and cracked that they were left in a highly dangerous condition.

Fortunately the splendid Norman nave was not badly damaged, and after a new roof had been built, it was easily made ready for holding services. The two bays nearest to the transept are early Norman, and on the south side the massive circular column is covered with a plain grooved diaper-work, almost exactly the same as may be seen at Durham Cathedral. All the rest of the nave is Transitional Norman except the Early English clerestory, and is a wonderful study in the progress from early Norman to Early English.

On the floor on the south side of the nave by one of the piers is a slab to the memory of a maker of gravestones, worded in this quaint fashion:
'Here Lyes ye Body of poor Frank Raw
Parish Clark and Gravestone Cutter
And ys is writt to let yw know:
Wht Frank for Othrs us'd to do
Is now for Frank done by Another.
Buried March ye 31, 1706.'

A stone on the floor of the retro-choir to John Johnson, master and mariner, dated 1737, is crowded with nautical metaphor.
'Tho' Boreas with his Blustring blasts
Has tos't me to and fro,
Yet by the handy work of God I'm here
Inclos'd below
And in this Silent Bay
I lie With many of our Fleet
Untill the Day that I Set Sail
My Admiral Christ to meet.'

The great Perpendicular east window was considered by Pugin to be one of the most beautiful of its type in England, and the risk it ran of being entirely destroyed during the fire was very great. The design of the glass illustrates the ancestry of Christ from Jesse, and a considerable portion of it is original.

Although Selby Abbey suffered severely in the conflagration, yet its greatest association with history, the Norman nave, is still intact. At the eastern end of the nave we can still look upon the ponderous arches of the Benedictine Abbey Church, founded by William the Conqueror in 1069 as a mark of his gratitude for the success of his arms in the north of England, even as Battle Abbey was founded in the south.


Going to the west as far as Pontefract, we come to the actual borders of the coal-mine and factory-bestrewn country. Although the history of Pontefract is so detailed and so rich, it has long ago been robbed of nearly every building associated with the great events of its past, and its present appearance is intensely disappointing. The town stands on a hill, and has a wide and cheerful market-place possessing an eighteenth-century 'cross' on big open arches. It is a plain, classic structure, 'erected by Mrs. Elisabeth Dupier Relict of Solomon Dupier, Gent, in a cheerful and generous Compliance with his benevolent Intention Anno Dom' 1734.'

The castle stood at the northern end of the town on a rocky eminence just suited for the purposes of an early fortress, but of the stately towers and curtain walls which have successively been reared above the scarps, practically nothing besides foundations remains. The base of the great round tower, prominent in all the prints of the castle in the time of its greatest glory, fragments of the lower parts of other towers and some dungeons or magazines are practically the only features of the historic site that the imagination finds to feed upon. A long flight of steps leads into the underground chambers, on whose walls are carved the names of various prisoners taken during the siege of 1648. Below the castle, on the east side, is the old church of All Saints with its ruined nave, eloquent of the destruction wrought by the Parliamentary cannon in the successive sieges, and to the north stands New Hall, the stately Tudor mansion of Lord George Talbot, now reduced to the melancholy wreck depicted in these pages. The girdle of fortifications constructed by the besiegers round the castle included New Hall, in case it might have been reached by a sally of the Royalists, whose cannon-balls, we know, carried as far, from the discovery of one embedded in the masonry. Coats of arms of the Talbots can still be seen on carved stones on the front walls over the entrance. The date, 1591, is believed to be later than the time of the erection of the house, which, in the form of its parapets and other details, suggests the style of Henry VIII's reign.

Although we can describe in a very few words the historic survivals of Pontefract, to deal even cursorily with the story of the vanished castle and modernized town is a great undertaking, so numerous are the great personages and famous events of English history connected with its owners, its prisoners, and its sieges.

The name Pontefract has suggested such an obvious derivation that, from the early topographers up to the present time, efforts have been made to discover the broken bridge giving rise to the new name, which replaced the Saxon Kyrkebi. No one has yet succeeded in this quest, and the absence of any river at Pontefract makes the search peculiarly hopeless. At Castleford, a few miles north-west of Pontefract, where the Roman Ermine Street crossed the confluence of the Aire and the Calder, it is definitely known that there was only a ford. Pontefract-CastleThe present name does not make any appearance until several years after the Norman Conquest, though Ilbert de Lacy received the great fief, afterwards to become the Honour of Pontefract, in 1067, the year after the Battle of Hastings. Ilbert built the first stone castle on the rock, and either to him or his immediate successors may be attributed the Norman walls and chapel, whose foundations still exist on the north and east sides of the castle yard.

The De Lacys held Pontefract until 1193, when Robert died without issue, the castle and lands passing by marriage to Richard Fitz-Eustace; and the male line again became extinct in 1310, when Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, married Alice, the heiress of Henry de Lacy. Henry's great-grandfather was the Roger de Lacy, Justiciar and Constable of Chester, who is famous for his heroic defence of Chateau Gaillard, in Normandy, for nearly a year, when John weakly allowed Philip Augustus to continue the siege, making only one feeble attempt at relief. Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, who was a cousin of Edward II, was more or less in continual opposition to the king, on account of his determination to rid the Court of the royal favourites, and it was with Lancaster's full consent that Piers Gaveston was beheaded at Blacklow Hill, near Warwick, in 1312. For this Edward never forgave his cousin, and when, during the fighting which followed the recall of the Despensers, Lancaster was obliged to surrender after the Battle of Boroughbridge, Edward had his revenge. The Earl was brought to his own castle at Pontefract, where the King lay, and there accused of rebellion, of coming to the Parliaments with armed men, and of being in league with the Scots. Without even being allowed a hearing he was condemned to death as a traitor, and the next day, June 19, 1322, mounted on a sorry nag without a bridle, he was led to a hill outside the town, and executed with his face towards Scotland.

In the last year of the same century Richard II died in imprisonment in the castle, not long after the Parliament had decided that the deposed King should be permanently immured in an out-of-the-way place. Hardyng's Chronicle records the journeying from one castle to another in the lines:
'The Kyng the[n] sent Kyng Richard to Ledis,
There to be kepte surely in previtee,
Fro the[n]s after to Pykeryng we[n]t he nedes,
And to Knauesburgh after led was he,
But to Pountfrete last where he did die.'

Archbishop Scrope affirmed that Richard died of starvation, while Shakespeare makes Sir Piers of Exton his murderer.

During the Pilgrimage of Grace the castle was besieged, and given up to the rebels by Lord Darcy and the Archbishop of York. In the following century came the three sieges of the Civil War. The first two followed after the Battle of Marston Moor in 1644, and Fairfax joined the Parliamentary forces on Christmas Day of that year, remaining through most of January. On March 1 Sir Marmaduke Langdale relieved the Royalist garrison, and Colonel Lambert fell back, fighting stubbornly and losing some 300 men. The garrison then had an interval of just three weeks to reprovision the castle, then the second siege began, and lasted until July 19, when the courageous defenders surrendered, the besieging force having lost 469 men killed to 99 of those within the castle. Of these two sieges, often looked upon as one, there exists a unique diary kept by Nathan Drake, a 'gentleman volunteer' of the garrison, and from its wonderfully graphic details it is possible to realize the condition of the defence, their sufferings, their hopes, and their losses, almost more completely than of any other siege before recent times.

In the third and last investment of 1648-49 Cromwell himself summoned the garrison, and remained a month with the Parliamentary forces, without seeing any immediate prospect of the surrender of the castle. When the Royalists had been reduced to a mere handful, Colonel Morris, their commander, agreed to terms of capitulation on March 24, 1649. The dismantling of the stately pile by order of Parliament followed as a matter of course, and now we have practically nothing but seventeenth-century prints to remind us of the embattled towers which for so many months defied Cromwell and his generals.

Liquorice is still grown at Pontefract, although the industry has languished on account of Spanish rivalry, and the town still produces those curious little discs of soft liquorice, approximating to the size of a shilling, known as 'Pontefract cakes.'


The ruins of the great Cistercian Abbey of Kirkstall, founded in the twelfth century by Henry de Lacy, still stand in a remarkable state of completeness, about three miles from Leeds. With the exception of Fountains, the remains are more perfect than any in Yorkshire. Nearly the whole of the church is Transitional Norman, and the roofless nave is in a wonderfully fine state of preservation. The chapter-house and refectory, as well as smaller rooms, are fairly complete, and the situation by the Aire on a sunny day is still attractive; yet owing to the smoke-laden atmosphere, and the inevitable indications of the countless visitors from the city, the ruins have lost much of their interest, unless viewed solely from a detached architectural standpoint. We do not feel much inclination to linger in this neighbourhood, and continue our way westwards towards the great rounded hills, where, not far from Keighley, we come to the grey village of Haworth.


More than half a century has gone since Charlotte Brontė passed away in that melancholy house, the 'parsonage' of the village. In that period the church she knew has been rebuilt, with the exception of the tower, her home has been enlarged, a branch line from Keighley has given Haworth a railway-station, and factories have multiplied in the valley, destroying its charm. These changes sound far greater than they really are, for in many ways Haworth and its surroundings are just what they were in the days when the members of that ill-fated household were still united under the grey roof of the 'parsonage,' as it is invariably called by Mrs. Gaskell.

We climb up the steep road from the station at the bottom of the deep valley, and come to the foot of the village street, which, even though it turns sharply to the north in order to make as gradual an ascent as possible, is astonishingly steep. At the top stands an inn, the 'Black Bull,' where the downward path of the unhappy Branwell Brontė began, owing to the frequent occasions when 'Patrick,' as he was familiarly called, was sent for by the landlord to talk to his more important patrons.

The churchyard is, to a large extent, closely paved with tombstones dating back to the seventeenth century, laid flat, and on to this dismal piece of ground the chief windows of the Brontės' house looked, as they continue to do to-day. It is exceedingly strange that such an unfortunate arrangement of the buildings on this breezy hill-top should have given a gloomy outlook to the parsonage. If the house had only been placed a little higher up the hill, and been built to face the south, it is conceivable that the Brontės would have enjoyed better health and a less melancholy and tragic outlook on life. An account of a visit to Haworth Parsonage by a neighbour, when Charlotte and her father were the only survivors of the family, gives a clear impression of how the house appeared to those who lived brighter lives:

'Miss Brontė put me so in mind of her own "Jane Eyre." She looked smaller than ever, and moved about so quietly and noiselessly, just like a little bird, as Rochester called her, barring that all birds are joyous, and that joy can never have entered that house since it was first built, and yet, perhaps, when that old man married, and took home his bride, and children's voices and feet were heard about the house, even that desolate crowded graveyard and biting blast could not quench cheerfulness and hope.'

Very soon after the family came to Haworth Mrs Brontė died, when the eldest girl, Maria, was only six years old; and far from there having been any childish laughter about the house, we are told that the children were unusually solemn from their infancy. In their earliest walks, the five little girls with their one brother - all of them under seven years - directed their steps towards the wild moors above their home rather than into the village. Over a century has passed, and practically no change has come to the moorland side of the house, so that we can imagine the precocious toddling children going hand-in-hand over the grass-lands towards the moors beyond, as though we had travelled back over the intervening years.


The purple moors so beloved by the Brontės stretch away to the Calder Valley, and beyond that depression in great sweeping outlines to the Peak of Derbyshire, where they exceed 2,000 feet in height. Within easy reach of this grand country is Sheffield, perhaps the blackest and ugliest city in England. At night, however, the great iron and steel works become wildly fantastic. The tops of the many chimneys emit crimson flames, and glowing shafts of light with a nucleus of dazzling brilliance show between the inky forms of buildings. Ceaseless activity reigns in these industrial infernos, with three shifts of men working during each twenty-four hours; and from the innumerable works come every form of manufactured steel and iron goods, from a pair of scissors or a plated teaspoon to steel rails and armour plate.

More to follow ....


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