What follows is a potted history of the village of Earlsheaton, my family’s involvement in woollen manufacture there and my own memories of growing up in the village in the mid-20th Century.
Earlsheaton is situated 1 mile east of Dewsbury, but it had a mostly separate existence as a village until incorporated into Dewbury Borough and eventually Kirklees.
There is evidence of Bronze Age occupation of the area around Dewsbury, with the unearthing of a haft-flanged axe found at Ravensthorpe, just along the river from Earlsheaton.
After the Roman occupation of Britain, Earlsheaton was at the centre of the Celtic Kingdom of Elmet, whose principle town was Leeds, ten miles away. Elmet was eventually over-run by the Anglo-Saxons, then became incorporated into the Kingdom of Northumbria in the 7th Century and the lands now called Earlsheaton became part of the extensive Saxon Parish of Dewsbury, which covered 400 square miles. Saxon, Viking and Norman graves were found in the area and it is believed that, in 627, Paulinus, the first Bishop of York, brought Christianity to Dewsbury and preached at the crossing point of the Calder about a mile along the river from Earlsheaton.
The first written account of the village shows that its name was “Ettone” and the name of the village is thought to have arisen sometime between 750AD and 950AD. In common with other villages in the area that bore the same name, “ettone” comes from the Anglo-Saxon, meaning simply a high farmstead or enclosure. Whether it had a Celtic name before then is not known, or even whether it was inhabited at all during the Celtic occupation of Elmet.
The Domesday Book of 1086 refers to “Ettone” as having “one carucate of land” (a size that could be tilled with one plough and a team of oxen) and was described as “waste”, uncultivated and probably unoccupied. Much of Yorkshire had been laid waste and the occupants killed by King William’s army during the “Harrying of the North“, following rebellions by the Anglo-Saxons in the north against the Normans, in 1068 and 1069. Many villages were still unoccupied decades later.
As the population increased and villages became established, the different Ettones in the area eventually acquired a prefix. In about 1300, the prefix “Earls” was added to “Heton”, thought to mark the gift of the land by the King to the Earl of Warenne. “Earls Heaton” (later in the parish of Soothill Nether) and “Hanging Heaton” (later in the parish of Soothill Upper) together formed the township of Soothill.
Little more is known about Earlsheaton until a survey of 1525 describes a part of the village near Scarr End and Mitchell Laithes, as:
“Earles Heton Laithe, thirtye acres of Comon, it ys but a scarr and is not to be ploughed and an evill pasture”.In: Earlsheaton, a West Riding Village by the Earlsheaton History Group
However, by the 16th Century, the village was certainly of some consequence as part of the parish of Dewsbury.
Earlsheaton wouldn’t be a proper village without a Manor House. Earlsheaton Hall was a house in three bays at the top of the village, closely resembling the many substantial farmhouses built by the Yeomanry of the period. Eventually, it had became known as the Manor House and it was still there when I was a child, on Town Street near the top of Ossett Lane. It was in a poor state and was demolished, along with much of the heart of the village, in the early 1970s.
As a child, I assumed that the Lord of the Manor had lived at the Manor House. However, it seems to have acquired the name “Manor House” simply because of its connection with officials of the Manor.
Residents of the village were appointed to official positions as a result of their status qualifying them for the job. In Medieval England, the Manor Courts officiated in the matters of villages like Earlsheaton but, by the 16th Century, Tudor monarchs gave the parishes more powers in local matters, making them responsible for the upkeep of the roads, the care of the poor and policing the parish. Justices of the Peace were usually landowners from the county, who were appointed annually to the role but the Manor appointed Constables locally. William Speight and Robert Nettleton were two such Constables, and each at one time occupied Earlsheaton Hall. The Constable of the village was appointed from local men in good standing and remained in office, unpaid, for a year but often continued beyond. He had to maintain law and order and report to Justices of the Peace on the state of roads and on public houses, impound animals and punish petty crime. The person chosen to be Constable faced a heavy fine if he refused to serve, but he could pay someone to do the job for him, if he had the means.
A friend of mine, Ged Haley, was involved in an archaeological investigation at the Manor House before it was demolished. He was credited with the discovery of the remains of an earlier timber framed house within the later stone built house. The timber framing was dated back another 100 years to the early 1500s. The photographs below show the Manor House in the process of demolition with evidence of the encased timber framing of the older house.
Photographs © G M Haley, used with permission.
Earlsheaton stands on the Yorkshire Coal Field, formed about 320 million years ago. At least from medieval times, were many small “day pits”, just holes dug in the ground, where coal was extracted for fuel. The holes were filled in once the coal ran out, but coal mining was only carried out in a small way compared to villages and towns nearby. (For example, in 1851 only seven men of the village were employed in cutting coal, rising to 54 in 1881.)
By the late 1500s, one of the main domestic industries in Dewsbury was cloth making. Clothiers would mostly have a smallholding of a few acres and share their time between farming and weaving woollen cloth, aided by their families. They would carry their cloth to sell at weekly cloth markets at Leeds and Wakefield. Dewsbury and the village of Earlsheaton became known for blanket weaving. Houses with weavers lofts were built on the hillside and weavers began to come in from outside the area.
Blanket Weaving at Lowside, Earlsheaton
As the 16th Century ended, my maternal ninth great grandfather Richard Hemingway (born 1577) came to Earlsheaton from Southowram (near Halifax), possibly to follow his older brother, Abraham, who had already settled near Earlsheaton, at Gawthorpe. The Hemingways were a family of yeoman farmers descended from the owners of Walterclough Hall in Southowram, a line that we can trace back to the early 1400s. Richard was in his twenties at the time of his move, which might have been precipitated by an outbreak of bubonic plague in Halifax at the time. His father had died and left Richard and his siblings a share of his wealth. In 1604, aged 27, Richard married Ffrauncis Archer at Dewsbury All Saints. Ffrauncis was the daughter of my paternal 10th great grandfather.
Richard may have settled in Commonside, Earlsheaton, later to be known as Lowside. This was the main part of the village in the 1600s…where houses were built in an irregular pattern on the steep hillside. Lowside overlooked what Patrick Brontë referred to as “the idyllic valley of the River Calder”, when he was curate of Dewsbury Parish Church.
There, on a piece of land called “Little Royd”, Richard and/or his descendants began to weave blankets. The family did well and Richard’s grandson, my 7th great grandfather, another Richard, who was a Yeoman Farmer, not only owned land at Little Royd, Lowside, but also owned a piece of land called “the Sands” further along the river, towards that “evill pasture” at Scarr End. His older brother Henry was Constable of Dewsbury in 1690, again giving some idea of the status of the Hemingway family at the time.
Two generations later, my 5th Great Grandfather, another Henry Hemingway, grandson of Richard, married into the Preston family, another significant textile family in Earlsheaton and their son Benjamin, my 4th GGF, wove blankets in the adjacent hamlet of Chickenley (Baines Directory 182). Benjamin’s eldest son, Thomas, my 3rd great grandfather, manufactured blankets on the family land at Little Royd. He is shown in the Pigot commercial directory for 1818, 1819 and 1821:…
Thomas Hemingway, Blanket manufacturer, near Church.Pigot’s Commercial Directory 1818, 1819, 1821
Thomas would be typical of the small manufacturers at Lowside at the time. By 1822, there were 38 blanket weavers listed at Lowside and by 1830, the number had risen to 40. However, maps from 1833 show there was little new development of Earlsheaton Lowside as a village.
The Industrial Revolution was changing how textiles were woven and new domestic industries were not being set up. Instead, families were forced to make a choice…set up a mill with power looms either alone or in a co-operative, try to compete with the new mechanised mills (impossible) or become an employee of one of your richer neighbours. Everything points to Thomas Hemingway being one of those richer neighbours.
In White’s Directory of 1837, Thomas is listed as a cloth maker. At the 1841 Census, Thomas was still weaving at Little Royd. In 1844, a proposal form was recorded by the Sun Fire Office, for fire insurance on Little Royd Mill, owners “Hemingway, Tong & Co.”
Some time afterwards, Thomas moved out of Little Royd. We know that, in the second half of the 19th century, the Preston family took over at Little Royd and developed that mill, which is still there today, in part, though it is a mixture of old and new.
Thomas then built a new mill at Scarr End south of Lowside, near to Chickenley and at the side of the River Calder. This mill is known to have burned down in the late 19th century, was rebuilt and burned down again 100 years later.
According to information at the Hemingway One Name Study website, Thomas Hemingway also owned Sands Mill, which was situated between the Little Royd and Scarr End mills, right down by the river Calder…I haven’t been able to confirm that as yet, but Sands Mill is certainly built on land that the family were known to have owned. The three mills are shown on the map below.
I must have seen them many times when playing on the Common as a child, but I never knew they had once belonged to my family.
Manufacturers who also became entrepreneurs were the Tongs, Greenwoods, Tolsons and the Lyle family. From the 1840s, the development of the village followed the development of the woollen industry. Blanket weavers who were unable to expand soon had no choices left and were forced to move out of their home workshops and into employment in the larger mills. As the top of the village expanded, Lowside began its long slow decline.
…only in the 1840’s, in the woollen industries, did the power looms in the factories compete fully and directly with hand-looms. Until that time the two existed side by side, with the hand-loom weaver reduced to being an auxiliary of the factory, but not yet driven out of existence by competition. His role was to take up the slack in bust times, and to bear the first brunt of recession. He also acted as a check on the wages of power loom weavers, most of whom were women.The Common People of Great Britain by J.F.C. Harrison
As Earlsheaton’s population increased with the development of the large mechanised mills, new housing was built on the top of the hill off Town Street and later off Syke Lane. This created a new village centre to the east of Town Green, requiring the building of many new shops along Town Street. The Street where I was brought up was built as a direct result of new mill development.
Thomas Hemingway moved to Batley before his death, which begs the question of whether he became engaged in shoddy and mungo manufacture, which was the principle industry there. He died in 1867 and a will summary reads:
The Will of Thomas Hemingway formerly of Earlsheaton in the Parish of Dewsbury in the County of York, Manufacturer, but late of Batley in the County of York, Gentleman, deceased, who died 12th January 1867 at Batley aforesaid, was proved at Wakefield by the oaths of Edmund Hemingway of Batley aforesaid, Bank Manager, the Son, William Audsley of Dewsbury aforesaid, Book-keeper and John Johnson of Dewsbury aforesaid, Cardmaker, the Executors.
With the passing of Thomas Hemingway, mill owning had come to an end in that branch of my family…his oldest son, my 2x great grandfather, Robert Merton Hemingway, was referred to, variously, as mechanical draughtsman, millwright and mill engine maker. Robert Merton Hemingway lived at Earlsheaton, Chickenley, Barnsley, Batley Carr and finally Hanging Heaton. Another of Thomas’s sons was a beerhouse keeper for more than 30 years, including at the New Inn (Later known as the Savile Arms) in Providence Street. My great grandfather Herbert Frederick lived in Hanging Heaton in the adjacent parish of Soothill Upper…Herbert was simply an employed man…a woollen spinner…the family wealth had now followed a different route and the family fragmented.
Back in 1842, Earlsheaton had formed part of a new parish separate from Dewsbury, called Soothill Nether. In January 1843, a meeting of the Earlsheaton parish council was held at the Lamb Inn to decide which residents who had fallen on hard times should have their rates reduced. Among the councillors present at that meeting was the same Thomas Hemingway (my 3rd Great Grandfather “of Little Royd”), who was serving as Constable for the village (and later served as Sheriff’s Officer in 1857 and 1861). These positions would be held in addition to his main occupation.
The village of Earlsheaton was run democratically at this time and all important matters were put to the villagers in the form of a referendum. It seems that relations between villagers and parish councillors were very good. For example, a poll was taken regarding the appointment of a surveyor in 1847 and another in 1851 on the question of installing gas lighting in the village, though it must be noted that there was not universal suffrage, so those eligible to vote would have been the more wealthy of the village and only men.
Earlsheaton was incorporated into Dewsbury Borough in 1909 and became part of Kirklees in 1974.
Worship – Church and Chapels
There is a history of early Christianity in the area and it is believed that St Paulinus, a Roman missionary who became the first Bishop of York, preached by the side of the River Calder at Dewsbury only a mile away from Earlsheaton. Dewsbury’s Parish Church of All Saints (now Dewsbury Minster) served Earlsheaton until it had its own church of St Peter.
St Peter’s Church was built in 1827 overlooking Lowside, which was then still the centre of Earlsheaton’s population. Many of my early Hemingway family were buried in St Peter’s graveyard or at All Saints in Dewsbury.
The Wesleyan Methodist Chapel was built on High Road, just a little way further down the hill, replacing a smaller building, which became its schoolroom. I passed both church and chapels every day on my way to share a family dinner at my Gran’s house in Wakefield Road. The early churches and chapels provided some very basic education for children before the building of the schools in the mid to late 19th century.
In the second half of the 20th Century, I was sent to Sunday School at Highfield Congregationalist Chapel, an imposing building with a separate Sunday School…built on land just above St Peter’s Parish Church. Prior to the building of the Methodist and Congregationalist chapels, Non-Conformists in the village had to walk two miles to the Ossett Green Independent Chapel for Sunday services, or meet at the house of John Hemingway, a prominent non-conformist. When I was about 9 years old, Mr Gregory, the Minister at Highfield, who was a bit of an artist, painted a portrait of me in oils. The painting used to hang in my parents’ house but it is now long gone…which is a pity…it was a decent likeness.
I’d come out of Highfield on a Sunday afternoon to find my grandfather sitting outside the Spangled Bull Public House, where he’d been for a pint or two and was waiting to see me, with a few sweets, in paper twists, for my pocket. The Spangled Bull was one of the oldest houses at the top of the village and had been a farmhouse in the past.
Whitsuntide was a special time of the year, when we children were decked out in new clothes and joined the congregation in the Whit Walks, which I seem to remember marched to a band along Town Street and down the steep cobbled Providence Street to the bottom, when it rested, turned around and walked back and we sang hymns on the Town Green. Our new clothes and new shoes had to last a whole year until next Whitsun, when we were decked out again. Luckily, my mum was a machinist at a factory behind the co-op on High Road, so she could obtain a variety of cotton school dresses for me at a knock down price.
My father’s family were baptised, married and buried at St Peter’s Anglican Church and Dad attended there as a child until he joined a football team at the local Congregationalist chapel and changed allegiance…however, I reversed the trend by getting married at St Peter’s only months before it was demolished!
When I was a child, much of Lowside’s housing seemed to be clusters of old and decaying buildings scattered on the hillside. The group of houses called “Tidy Row” were not tidy at all, the streets and alleyways were steep and cobbled or just tracks snaking between the houses above and below Middle Road. Many of the houses were dilapidated…most would only have had a cold water tap and an outside shared privy.
The houses where I lived, that had been built at the high end of the village in the mid to late 19th century, were not much better though…they were destined to soon become slums too…mostly “one up one down” stone back-to-back cottages, with no room for a family to grow.
We had a cellar and coal shute. Many times my mother had to slide me into the cellar down the pile of coal, so that I could let her into the house when she was locked out. We had shared toilets in a back yard which was accessed through a ginnel (like a tunnel) between the houses. Luckily we shared our toilet with my aunt and uncle, who lived the other side of the ginnel, and at least it was a WC, unlike those of some friends who had what we called “tipplers”, where the waste in the toilet was washed away deep underground and wasn’t flushed from the sides. Some people apparently called them “long drop” toilets or “whistle and drop” because the pipework was several feet underground…enough said!
Our bath had to be carried up from the cellar and filled with buckets of cold water and hot water from the kettle…it was never really hot, but baths were taken in front of a roaring coal fire so it wasn’t too bad in the end. Dad often used the public baths in the town.
I seem to remember gas lighting in the house when I was very young but we must have become “electrified” by the time Queen Elizabeth was crowned, as we were the first of our neighbours to have a television and all our friends came in and crowded round to watch the ceremony. That day was when I first heard the word “Catholic” when my friend from the next house up said she was a Catholic…my Dad had to explain that her family were from Italy, where the Pope lived (hadn’t heard of the Pope either) and that all Italians were Catholics…I still didn’t understand though! Catholics had to attend St Paulinus RC Church in West Town, Dewsbury.
Lowside had its own shops and pubs and the Co-op, which was at the junction of High Road and Wakefield Road. The “top o’town” part of the village had a post office, bank, garage, decorator, dressmaker, cobbler and lots of shops; stationer’s, draper’s, hairdresser’s and barber’s, Jack Leak’s grocery, a greengrocer’s, newspaper’s, chemist, Richardson’s butchery, fish and chips and confectionery.
Of course there were ice cream vans…the best ice cream was Caddy’s, followed by Crossley’s.
But the strangest thing was the existence of “House Shops”. At any reasonable time, you could knock on the door of a neighbour who sold goods from home…be invited into her kitchen…Mrs Kilburn sold cigarettes and pop from her house in Providence Street, Mrs Cotton also sold pop, Mr Wilder sold kippers of all things, or you could go round to the back door of the Savile Arms to buy pop or crisps…and there were several other “home” outlets. I don’t know if these were traders who had a shop elsewhere or whether they sold goods just to raise a bit of extra cash…whether they were official or quietly illegal.
For a time, my Mum worked at a general grocery shop called the “Barhouse” down Wakefield Road…the building had been the toll house when the new Wakefield Road had replaced Old Bank Road as the main Dewsbury to Wakefield Road…it was still within the boundary of Soothill Nether although it was almost in Dewsbury. I used to put up orders with her for customers after school.
School and Play
Both of Earlsheaton’s schools had originally been built to house both an infants and a junior department and both took boys and girls.
The Junior school that I attended had been the first school in the village and had been called the “National School”. The Factory Act of 1833 limited the working hours in mills, for the under-12s, to eight hours a day, and twelve hours a day for those aged 13-18. It also guaranteed all children at least two hours schooling a day. Built in 1845, the National School was a Church School and it would have been the school attended by some of my Earlsheaton Hemingway ancestors. It was the only school in the village until 1875. Therefore, the children of non-conformists of the Wesleyan Methodist or Congregationalist persuasion, had to content themselves with their children attending the Church of England school or pay for one of the village’s several private tutors, who were listed in Trades Directories at the time.
A report after inspection of the National School, in 1852, stated:
This is a mixed school with a very small proportion of girls; it is self supporting so far as the master’s salary is concerned who is consequently, I fear, too much disposed to consult the wishes and caprices of the parents. The mechanical arrangements are fair and the knowledge about equal to average schools in the neighbourhood; but the tone is not quite satisfactory to me…a great want of seriousness on religious subjects.Report of the Committee of the Council on Education 1852-53
Of course education wasn’t compulsory (or free), so many children had to get by with the very little education provided by their church or chapel and many adults were illiterate, simply “making their mark” on their marriage certificates. The Elementary Education Act of 1870 at last required school attendance to be compulsory between the ages of five and thirteen and put an end to very young children working in the mills.
In 1875, the Council School was built in Commercial Street. Non-conformists could now send their boys and girls to a school that was not under the influence of the Anglicans. The two schools were rivals until, in 1930, the National School became the Juniors (Still called Earlsheaton C of E Junior School though, when I was there, but also had the name Earlsheaton Junior Mixed at some time) and the Council School became the Infants and is still used as the infants school for the village today.
When I was at the Junior School, I had the Channel Swimmer, Eileen Fenton as my teacher and she was a great influence. The last two years at that school, we had to walk from assembly at the school, in twos, down past the park, across Town Green, to the top of Headland Lane, where the old Council Offices had been converted into a school room…because the number of students had outgrown the size of the school.
Headland Lane was at the top of the Common and that provided a steep grassy bank where I could play with school friends. We had great times there in total freedom and our parents had no anxiety about our safety…we also had the local park next to the Junior School, which had swings, roundabouts and the notorious “witch’s hat” which I was totally scared of. Once home, we could play in the old tenterfields behind our house, though there were no longer any tenters there.
Or we could play ball in the ginnels or hoola-hoop or scoot down the cobbled street.
We were the first generation of children to grow up with television and I still remember some of the old programmes, like “Muffin the Mule”, “Rag Tag and Bobtail”, “The Flowerpot Men” and “Andy Pandy” and the first ever episodes of “Blue Peter” and “Coronation Street”…Happy days!