The Milton Ironworks Walton Hall Iron Bridge, 1828 – An Industrial Masterpiece

First posted at Waterton’s Walton.


The iron bridge that links the island, on which Walton Hall stands, to the ‘mainland’ is an impressive structure in its own right.

It would appear that the bridge was locally produced within Yorkshire. According to Grace’s Guide to British Industrial History (1), it was built in 1828 and the iron castings that make up the bridge were produced by Milton Iron Works (2) located near Rotherham.

The oldest iron bridge in the world  is ‘The Iron Bridge’ across the River Severn (3) in Shropshire that was built in 1781 (see image below posted here under GNU Free Documentation Licence – hover over image to see more details about this and the author). The bridge in Walton was therefore quite an early example of this new industrial technology. This is another reason to support the thesis of this blog that Walton was the village where nature and industry met.

The Iron Bridge (Aerial)

The demolition of the old medieval Manor House and its replacement with the current Palladian mansion and new iron bridge by Thomas Waterton typified some aspects of the new industrial technology that England was pioneering as the global leader. The subsequent ‘reaction’ to the negative sides of the industrial revolution implemented by his son Charles in the form of his pioneering nature park was the natural component of this confluence with industry.

Thomas was clearly a man who was willing to embrace the new age and the technology that were some of its earliest fruits. The work of his son Charles on his innovative sluice gate solution to the sedimentation  problems of Walton Hall lake shows how he continued the tradition of his father in embracing the innovations of science and technology.

Walton Hall was an innovative nature park but also a place that was technologically advanced for its time. As such it was pushing the frontiers of both environmentalism and Industry. This demonstrates clearly why the village of Walton is quite unique in historical terms.

Above – The Walton Hall Iron Bridge with the Hall and water gate in the background. The water gate was the site of the previous crossing point.

(1) Grace’s Guide to British Industry (1 March 2018)

(2) Wikipedia – Milton Ironworks (1 March 2018)

(3) Wikipedia – The Iron Bridge (1 March 2018)


The Unusual Door Knockers of Walton Hall

First posted at Waterton’s Walton.

Door Knockers of Walton Hall

If you ever visited home of Walton’s famous eccentric, naturalist, explorer and taxidermist – Charles Waterton, then on arrival had a choice. There were two door knockers to choose from at his home, Walton Hall in the village of Walton just outside Wakefield. They look very much like some of the masks worn at the Carnevale di Venezia, I wonder if that is where the ‘Squire’ got this idea for his front door?

I first became of aware of these interesting local artefacts while reading the book Squire Waterton by Gilbert Phelps. Phelps points out that the knocker with the smiling face doesn’t actually work and therefore is laughing at the guest who tries to use it. Phelps points out that what I call the grumpy face is one that is grimacing as if in pain from the knocking that it had just received (1). The knockers were designed by Captain Edwin Jones who was a good friend of Charles Waterton.

So in summary, we have a face that is laughing for perhaps two reasons, firstly that it is happy because it is not being knocked and secondly it is amused that someone has made the wrong choice. The face that is grimacing is the one that does the work and is perhaps, due to the nature of the work, not particularly happy about it. Perhaps the faces are actually encouraging the visitor to use deductive reasoning to determine which one to use. You can almost imagine Tom Hanks, in his role as Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon, in the Dan Brown novels, arriving at the door and making the correct choice and thus moving on to the next level in his puzzle.

The good thing is that the door is still there at Walton Hall, which is now Waterton Park Hotel which is named after Charles Waterton and the ground-breaking nature reserve that he created on his estate.

The following close up features the door knocker that is not designed to work.

Walton Hall Door Knockers - Happy Face

Here is the one that suffers due to the knocking.

Walton Hall Door Knockers - Grumpy Face

The following is a photograph of the entire doorway putting the faces in context.

Walton Hall Front Door

(1) Squire Waterton. By Gilbert Phelps, 1976. EP Publishing Limited. Page 109.

Walton, The Village Where Nature and Industry Met.


The George Boulby Sundial 1813

First posted at Waterton’s Walton.


Today I took a look at the sundial created by George Boulby that was mentioned in the recent lecture by Barbara Phipps. In my write up for that lecture I reported the following about the sundial:

Some time was spent looking at and discussing the unique Boulby Sundial (1813) that is located on the island behind the house. This was the creation of a talented local mason from Crofton called George Boulby. It contains 20 equilateral triangles and shows the time in different parts of the world. Many of the places labelled were the very places that were familiar to Charles Waterton from his travels so he must have had them inscribed. It also shows the compass points and marks the equinox. Unfortunately the sundial is becoming eroded and is in great need of protection.

In addition to the image at the top of this post, I took the following photographs today during my visit:

The name of the creator is inscribed on one of the triangles.


The sundial gives times for different places in the world. In the photograph below you can see the name ‘Madrid’ etched into the stone. Quite ingenuous, makes you think that George Boulby was Crofton’s version of Leonardo Da Vinci.


Compass directions etched onto the plinth.


Some more detail on this photograph.


The sundial with a rather civilised and pictureque backdrop.


I suppose Charles Waterton’s acquisition of this interesting and unique piece makes him a patron of both the arts and sciences. It is incredible that a Yorkshire village like Walton can have such an artifact in its midst. Thanks to Charles Waterton, Walton was not just the village where nature and industry met, it was also the meeting place of art and science. It looks almost if it has been left in the garden at Walton Hall by visiting extra terrestrials.

If you are ever at Charlie’s Bar at Waterton Park Hotel then it is certainly worth taking the time to take a look at the sundial.

Walton The Village Where Nature and Industry Met


Walton Hall Sluice Gate

I would not have know the location of the Walton Hall Sluice Gate if not for the Barbara Phipps lecture on Charles Waterton. I visited the site today to record the sounds and atmosphere of the site. You can just hear the power of Charles Waterton’s engineering in this video.

I do remember when my cousin’s house on Elmwood was flooded, and the alleged cause was the opening of these sluice gates. Must have been like a tsunami running down the beck past Brooklands.

Walton The Village Where Nature and Industry Met


Potential Transport Links Between Walton Hall & Nostell Priory – Reflections of the Phipps Lecture About Charles Waterton

One of the interesting things about the lecture that I referred to in my previous post was the matter about the upper gateway from Walton Hall. It had been suggested that it was potentially a gateway to a route to Nostell Priory. I looked at the potential route on Google maps and plotted a potential route on My Maps. The thing is, it looks incredibly plausible. There is no other reason that I could suggest for having a prominent gateway in that location.

If you look at the Google Map you can see a farm track going part way to the top gate at Walton Hall. It would only be a short distance between these two points, and would not take much for a nineteenth century track to be created to connect these points. Farm paths still reach Hare Park Farm, and a short distance from the wall and you are on Hare Park Lane.

You would have then followed Hare Park Lane to its end at which you would turn right into High Street in Crofton which then becomes Santingley Lane. You would then turn left of Santingley Lane into Spring Lane. There is a lane at the end of Spring Lane that takes you right to Doncaster Road. Turning right into Doncaster Road and travelling a short distance before turning left into Nostell Priory.

The distance of the line I drew on covering the above route using My Maps on Google Maps is 5.91km. This shows how very close the two houses were. If they were friends then this would be the perfect route. They were less than half an hour apart even if the parties moved at a very leisurely pace. With a decent horse at full gallop, the travel time would be quite low.

Here is the MyMap I drafted to illustrate the point, hope it works: 

This is the route from the Iron Bridge of Walton Hall to the front door of Nostell Priory. This route via the top gate would remove considerable travel time from the journey. The website shows how fast the distance of 5.91 km could be traversed given world class horses at world record speeds.

Walton The Village Where Nature and Industry Met


Barbara Phipps Lecture About Squire Charles Waterton – Walton Methodist Church, Thursday 15 February 2018


I attended an excellent presentation by Barbara Phipps about Walton’s most famous son, Charles Waterton of Walton Hall. I decided to write a brief account of the event for my blog – I hope I have not misunderstood anything, any errors here are my own. I hope this is a fair account and summary of the presentation.

The event was extremely well attended and as a result was moved to the bigger venue of Walton Methodist Church. There were at least one hundred people present, showing that Charles Waterton is still a man of profound interest to the people of Walton. The presentation was divided into two parts. The first addressed Charles’ ancestry and the second Walton Hall and its park.

Part 1: Ancestry

This part of the lecture discussed his parents and siblings and how provision had to be made for the economic futures of his brothers and sisters because only Charles, as the eldest son, would inherit the estate. The prospects of all Catholics were limited after the English Reformation which made it difficult for Catholics to earn a living. It was explained how the continued Catholicism of the Waterton family hampered its prospects and expectations. This led to discussion of how the family became slave owners when his father bought two plantations in British Guyana in South America to provide livings for Charles’ siblings.

Charles was against the slave trade and argued against it in print – he wrote that slavery could never be defended. However, he felt there was not much he could do about it. He did what he could under the circumstances showing kindness to the slaves when he was running the plantations after he contracted pneumonia and was dispatched to South America to recover.

Despite his negative opinions about slavery, the Waterton family benefited financially when slavery was finally abolished by Parliament. Around £31,000 was received by the family for 592 slaves and much of the money may have eventually have filtered down to Charles. Nevertheless, Charles was identified as an awardee but not an owner – the actual owners would have been his siblings.

The presentation then addressed the ancestry of Charles’ wife, Anne Edmonstone, who was the daughter of a close friend, Charles Edmonstone, that he met while in Demerara in South America. She was the descendant of an American Indian princess. Due to her father’s work in capturing runaway slaves her family also had the stain of slavery attached to it. Anne was obliged to convert to Catholicism on marrying Charles and she became a devout Catholic, as indeed did her other sisters. They were married in a convent in Bruges. She died shortly after giving birth to their son, Edmund, and this was something that Charles dwelt on and blamed himself for the rest of his life.

Charles’ ancestry from the earliest times was then outlined, starting with ‘The Ancients of Deeping Waterton’ (1159-70) which was the first historical reference to the Waterton family. The presentation went on to refer to the Waterton that fought at the battle of Crécy (1346), Sir Robert Waterton who was governor of Pontefract Castle during the imprisonment of Richard II, who died there in 1400, and Thomas Waterton who fought and died for Charles I at the battle of Marston Moor (1644). This last reference led onto the story of how Thomas’ wife confronted the roundheads who fired on the old Walton Hall and how she returned fire with a swivel cannon injuring one of the besiegers. It also led to the story of how Charles’ father gave him the cannonball that was used as a present.

If it wasn’t for the Reformation the Watertons would probably have enjoyed great prestige within the country, but their Catholicism prevented this. Indeed, the lecture referred to how at one-point Charles Waterton’s grandfather was actually imprisoned for Jacobite sympathies.

Part 2: Walton Hall and Park

The second part of the lecture moved away from the history and pedigree of the Waterton family and onto details about Walton Hall and the surrounding park.


It was noted that the original fortified medieval house that was located on the island was demolished by Charles’ father who then built the current Palladian mansion (c1767). It was a common activity at the time as wealthy families began to replace their draughty fortified dwellings with more comfortable homes. The age when fortification was needed for defence had passed from English history.

The Hall itself was discussed and some interesting titbits of information revealed that I previously did not know about. I will now outline these:


  1. That the arches at water level where the hall meets the lake were actually where supplies, including coal, were brought to the hall by ferry (Charles named this Charon’s ferry in reference the ferryman of Hades who transported the dead across the rivers Styx and Acheron in Greek mythology) across the lake. Currently the room above the area is the dining room though in Waterton’s time it was explained that this was the location of the kitchens.
  2. That, if I heard correctly, Charles Waterton’s sleeping quarters were located on the top floor at the same side of the house as the kitchens mentioned above. Next to this was the room where the Waterton’s priest lived. A personal priest was necessary because at the time it was illegal for Catholics to publicly receive Mass so it had to be done privately behind closed doors. The audience was informed that on the other side of the building on the same floor was a private chapel where the Watertons would receive Mass.
  3. That Charles Waterton was kind to the poor of Walton who could come to the kitchens and receive food. It was explained that the title ‘Squire’ was not an official title but one bestowed upon him by the people of the village as recognition for his local philanthropy.
  4. That the last remains of the old house, The Watergate, had a swivel bridge to allow people to move to and from the hall on its island. Near the Watergate, Charles Waterton grew a yew hedge and sited a starling tower to attract starlings.


Some slides were displayed showing an outline of the hall, islands in the lake, the park and the location of some key features. Some of the key features that were identified included the restored bird hide, ‘Waterton’s Watchtower’ as well as a derelict bird hide on the other side of the estate, the location of Charles Waterton’s grave, the route of the canal next to part of the perimeter wall, and the site of the ornamental and vegetable gardens.

The location of the gates in the wall were indicated. Barbara speculated that the gate on the far side of the estate was likely to have marked the start of a carriageway from the Walton Hall estate to another great Palladian mansion in the area – Nostell Priory. The Watertons and the Winns of Nostell were apparently very good friends.


Some time was spent looking at and discussing the unique Boulby Sundial (1813) that is located on the island behind the house. This was the creation of a talented local mason from Crofton called George Boulby. It contains 20 equilateral triangles and shows the time in different parts of the world. Many of the places labelled were the very places that were familiar to Charles Waterton from his travels so he must have had them inscribed. It also shows the compass points and marks the equinox. Unfortunally the sundial is becoming eroded and is in great need of protection.

The Wall was the next feature that was considered. This is perhaps Charles Waterton’s most famous construction. It was not designed to keep animals in his nature reserve but to keep predators out. The height of the wall was designed to exceed the ability of foxes to jump into the park. It was also designed to exclude poachers. Waterton also made the point of not allowing guns within the walls. The wall was built at a cost of £9000 which Waterton said was the money he had not spent on wine, owing to his commitment to be a teetotaller. Construction took place intermittently when the necessary money was available.


The location and nature of the Grotto was pointed out. This structure was part of Walton Hall’s pleasure gardens and located on the Brooklands side of the estate. In keeping with the attitudes that made him well liked in the village, Waterton made this area open to the public, by appointment, and allowed picnics to be held where local people could enjoy the fresh air.

‘Waterton’s Watchtower’ a bird hide restored in 2005 was the next feature of the park to be discussed. This is located near a creek that has since dried up. It was explained that all the hides had a design fault in the roof. This is why the restored conical roof of the restored hide is located on the ground next to the hide itself.


The next part of the grounds to be outlined was described as ‘the working hub of the estate’. This consisted of the stables, Blacksmiths shop and forge, and there was a pigeon cote with 666 nesting holes in the courtyard. The pigeons themselves were, interestingly, bread as food source and source of income.

Barbara then turned peoples’ attention to the lake, which is man-made, and referred to the time when the lake was drained after Waterton became concerned about the quality of the water. As it turned out there was a great accumulation of mud in the lake due to it emptying from the top.  It was while the mud was being removed that the swivel cannon, presumably the one used to fire on roundhead soldiers during the civil war, was found. To correct the mud accumulation problem, Waterton built the sluice gate that is near the current carpark. This drained water from the bottom of the lake and took it underground across the estate emerging near what Waterton referred to as the ‘John Bull’ tree and then on into the beck that now runs past Brooklands.  This solution to the problems of the lake was a magnificent, though unseen, engineering achievement.

The final point of interest in the park that was discussed was the final resting place of Charles Waterton himself. The position of Waterton’s grave was pointed out at the far side of the lake. It was noted that the cross in front of the grave was made of concrete, the original stone cross had been stolen many years ago. When he died a Requiem Mass was held at the hall before Charles Waterton’s coffin was conveyed, quite poetically, on the ferry Charon to his Grave.


The lecture concluded with a discussion about Waterton the man, and what sort of person he was.

The lecture was well worth attending and if it is held again I would recommend people to attend.

Walton The Village Where Nature and Industry Met


Teamwork at the Mine – The Winding Arrangements at Walton Pit’s Shaft 3

First posted at Waterton’s Walton.

Albert Knowles and Gwyn Sadler banksman and winder at shaft number 3

The gateway to the mine was the winding house and all the miners passed through a building like this on their way to their jobs at the coal face. This building was where the process of getting coal to the surface was coordinated and managed. Without the winding house and the crew that ran it, there would effectively be no mine and no coal to sell.

The photograph below shows the location of Walton pit’s three mine shafts, marked 1, 2 and 3. Each shaft had a winding house (marked ‘WH’) and winding equipment – the towers housing the wheels that can be seen clearly below under the shaft numbers. An engine, called the winder, was in the winding house and powered the movement of the ropes that ran around the wheels to facilitate the vertical motion of the cage to give access to the pit bottom and the coal face. Another part of the colliery of relevance to our story was the screening plant marked SP, but we will return to this later.

Winding Wheels 1 2 3 WH SP

A team of three key men worked in this part of the pit and their roles were Onsetter, Winder and Banksman. The above ground part of the team for Walton Pit Shaft 3 can be seen in the photograph, at the top of this article, with the cage in the background. The man on the left is Albert Knowles who was the banksman and the man on the right is Gwyn Sadler who was the winder.

The winder was the man who operated the winding equipment after receiving signals from the banksman. The onsetter was the man in the pit bottom who was responsible for putting the coal safely into the cage. The coal was put into large tubs and placed in the cage at the pit bottom.  When the coal was safely stowed in the cage the onsetter would send a signal to the banksman to indicate that it was ready to bring to the surface. The banksman would then send a signal to the winder to raise the cage.

On arrival, the banksman would open the cage and guide the tubs on the two rails visible on the photograph at the top. The level of the cage in the photograph is too high for moving the tubs. The floor of the cage would need to be level with the surface so that the tubs could be pushed onto the rails from similar rails that were located in the cage itself.

The rails ran to a point where the coal was tipped from the tubs and transported by conveyor belt to the screening plant, the place in the colliery where the coal was sorted and graded by size. They then looped back in a circular path to the rear of the cage where they were returned to the cage so that they could be taken down to the pit bottom and filled again.

In addition to his role in transporting coal from the mine, the banksman was also responsible for transporting the men to and from the mine. It was to him that miners would give their metal tokens to be kept by him until they returned to the surface. This was a safety measure to ensure that all men who had entered the mine were accounted for. They did not always return from their day’s work. Banksman Albert’s own father, George had been crushed in a roof fall at the pit and died from his injuries. Albert was therefore acutely aware of the perils of the mine and what the tokens represented.

When the men returned to the surface, the banksman would lift the gate that allowed the miners to leave the mine and return to their families.


In addition to the three men already mentioned there were also Shaftmen who were responsible for maintaining the shafts. Some of the men involved in that role can be seen in the photograph below.


Above photo: From left to right: Fred Ashby (winder, shaft 2), Albert Knowles (Banksman, shaft 3), Doug Bradley (shaftman), Joe Richardson (shaftman) and Ernest Wilkinson (shaftman).

Walton The Village Where Nature and Industry Met


Walton’s Home Guard – A Story from World War Two

Originally posted at: Watertonswalton


This is a photo of men from Walton’s Home Guard during those perilous years during World War II when Hitler’s armies stood poised to overrun and enslave the United Kingdom.

Notice how these men do not look like they belong in Dad’s Army, made famous by the BBC television series. These were not doddering old men or even young ‘private Pike’ types. They were young hardened men of fighting age in the prime of their lives.

In peacetime they risked their lives to deliver the fuel of the Industry that helped maintain the pride of the nation. In wartime they did the same to support the war effort. Many of them would much rather have been serving in the armed forces, but they were not allowed to. They were forced to continue their dangerous peacetime jobs whether they liked it or not! However, their wives and children would, at least, have been pleased to have their menfolk close by during such difficult and uncertain years.

Perhaps, if German paratroopers had made the unfortunate decision of invading Walton they would, undoubtedly, have received short shrift. A gang of armed and dangerous Yorkshire miners with an axe to grind would have been a formidable force. The soldiers of a hostile Wehrmacht would have been greeted by a band of hardened fanatics, desperate to defend their hearth and home.

Walton Pit produced raw materials that were of great importance in the fight to defeat Hitler. The Germans did make an attempt to bomb Walton Pit, but ‘they missed’. There was a bomb crater in the field across the road from the Woodyard, near ‘the quarry’ – an old clay pit that in the 1950s was filled with water. They missed  by quite a bit – terrible shots.

After doing hard shifts to bring a critical and important strategic wartime resource, coal, to the surface – these men of the Home Guard did their duty to their country. They must have been absolutely knackered, but they turned out in uniform for the duration of the war.

The men in the picture from left to right are: Albert Knowles, Jack Williams and Tommy Williams.


Please note, the story above is a bit tongue in cheek in parts as the Home Guard, according to many of those who were part of it, was indeed very much like the way it was portrayed in the BBC sitcom Dad’s Army. I add this point in order to clarify the situation from the point of view of historical accuracy. If Germany had actually invaded in 1940 we would more than likely been in very serious trouble.

The Dangers of the Mine

Originally posted at: WatertonswaltonAlbert in drag with sister Elsie

The following account was written by my Great Auntie, Elsie Hebden in 1986. In it she reflects of her life in Walton and Crofton. I was lucky to go to her house with my grandma when I was a kid. The photo above might seem unrelated to this story but that is her above on the right dressed as a man, next to her brother, my grandad – Albert Knowles, dressed as a woman. I don’t know the story behind the picture, it must have been a fancy dress party or something; they never dressed like that when I knew them! It does demonstrate the wonderful sense of fun that those growing up and living in our local mining communities often demonstrated. They lived tough and often difficult lives, but that did not mean they had to take themselves seriously.

While the family lived in Ings Cottages (“The Spike”) near Walton Pit, tragedy struck when their father died in a mining accident. Indeed, my grandad recalls seeing a body being brought from the mine but had at the time did not know that it was his own dad.

The following account is quite moving in parts, though that might be due to my personal family connection. It brings me back in a kind of spiritual contact with people that I once knew and loved. It also gives us all an insight into how people viewed their local area, how they lived their lives and the how they responded to the challenges that fate threw their way.

I will now leave Elsie to give you an insight into the world of her own past.

I was one of a family of seven, and lived in a mining village. The houses we lived in were quite close to the colliery. I should sway there would be about sixty-four houses.

We hadn’t much of this world’s goods, but we were healthy and happy, there were good times and bad, and even as children we knew well the dangers of that mine. We knew all about the accidents that happened almost daily, fathers, uncles, brothers, cousins and friends were brought up from underground minus limbs, blinded or even killed outright by heavy falls of rock or coal, or gas explosions. You will of course have heard how they took down a canary in a cage to test for gas after an explosion. If the canary wilted or died, then the place was unfit for men to work there for a while. They have only recently stopped making that test, it had been going on for a lot of years.

In all cases of death through the Mine, there would be a collection from house to house, but the money collected would not go on flowers, it would be given to the widows or orphans as the case may be. Everyone helped each other in that little community in sad times or glad times. One thing we had plenty of, and that was coal. It was free in those days, and still is I think to anyone who works at the Mine.

If anyone was ill in bed, a fire would be lit in the bedroom. There were three bedrooms in our house, and all contained a small fire grate. I can well remember as a child getting undress in front of a lovely coal fire in the cold weather, as that was in those days the only form of heating. No-one thought of the extra work or dirt that the fires caused, electric kettles, fires or blankets were unknown to us.

The living room fire was only let out once a week and that was for cleaning, as it was the only means of boiling water. It had to be banked up at night and kept lit all through the working week. The man of the house had to be up at 4.30a.m., stir the fire into a blaze, then put the iron kettle which had been on the hob all night onto the fire to enable him to make a pot of tea. I would have his breakfast, then fill a glass bottle with tea from the pot to take down the mine with him, which helped to sleck the dust in their throats. The sandwiches had to consist of jam or dripping, as it was too warm for meat to be taken down the mine.

They were down the mine for as many as ten or twelve hours a day; you see, some had a long way to walk underground to reach the coal face where they worked, some as much as three miles. They only had a small pit lamp for light, so you can understand what the strong sunlight did to their eyes as they left those dark conditions.

A miner’s life was not easy in my childhood days. It is all mechanised now of course, but then the coal had to be got by pick and shovel, put into the pit tubs, then pulled away to the cage by pit ponies. These ponies only saw the light of day on Bank holidays, and my word it was lovely to see them galloping around and kicking up the grass, they were truly happy, so were we with all our titbits we had saved for them.

Dangers of the Mine 1

Now, when I was twelve, my father was killed at work, the roof caved in. The men my father was working with had time to get clear. The rescue party quickly came, but my father was dead by the time they got to him. Now my mother who was 39 years old was allowed a widow’s pension of 10/- per week, a little from the colliery to help with the pension until we reached the age of fourteen and able to work, so to keep us tidy and well fed, she did sewing or papering for other people. She was a good living woman, and she saw that we all went to Sunday school in the next village. Our Sunday clothes were brushed and put away every Monday until the following Sunday. I am proud of my mother, it must have been a hard time for her. When I was fifteen, we left those houses and came to live in the village I have just left.

I helped mum until the age of seventeen, when I was sent into domestic service. I went to live in a doctor’s house in Wakefield about four miles away. The doctor and his family were not church people, so didn’t care where I went in my spare time. I tried several churches and chapels, but didn’t seem happy at any but my own. I was only allowed home every alternate Sunday, so one Sunday evening (Summer time of course), I made up my mind to find out what the town had to offer one, so I powdered and rouged my face with materials previously bought from the newly opened Woolworths store (remember nothing in these stores was over sixpence), something my mother would not have allowed, but I was thrown on my own resources and could so easily have gone on the downward path, but God thought otherwise or so it seems, because as I walked along hoping to find something better than church, I heard a band playing. Thinking it was in the park close by, I went that way but lost the sound, so turned around and went the opposite way and came upon a crowd of people. I pushed my way to the front, I have never seen or heard Salvationists before, or heard public speaking, but I did enjoy the songs, choruses and prayers, I even marched down to the Citadel with them.

The hall became my place of worship for the next four years, along with my own church in between, but I do say here and now that God led me that Sunday as I could easily have gone the opposite way. I thank Him and pray that the desire to serve him will remain with me all my earthly life.

In 1935 I married a young man I had known most of my life, then in four years’ time came the war. My husband joined the R. A. F. in 1940 and stayed in for the next five years. In my village at that time of 1940 if you had room you were expected to take in evacuee’s. I had a house with three bedrooms and just me at home. As they had just brought about 100 or so people from London to our village to be housed, a lady with two babies was brought to me, she came from Plaistow and was very sad a having to leave her home in London, but it was God who sent her to me, having these children and their mother, as I had just taken a job as post-lady, so we got on well together, her with her babies and me having someone to come home to at the end of my day’s work (we still write to each other).

Now, to my job as post-lady I had to use a bicycle which I already possessed. I had to be at the post office at 6a.m., there were three of us sorting letters until 7.15a.m., then each of us off on our different routes. My job was less letters to distribute, but father to go. I loved the open air part of it. I had to face all weathers of course, my letters were for the outlying farms, colliery houses and lonely railway house, also amongst my letters was the daily paper which had to be posted as they didn’t have paper deliveries out there, so it meant going to most of the farms every day. I had quite a number of farms, sometimes as many as six fields between each, so it meant getting off my big, opening gates, even lifting my cycle over styles, and more over than not, cows would come to meet me, I was scared of them at first, but you got to know they wouldn’t harm you.

Dangers of the Mine 2

But one day there was such a lot all bunched together, I hid behind some dry walling, my bike, my letters and me. A gamekeeper came to my rescue as he had seen me then lost me, he thought I had fallen off my cycle. I mastered that fear and had many a pound of mushrooms from those fields. I was also given lots of farm produce which was very acceptable in those days of rationing. One farmer’s wife made me promise to call every day, letters or no letters, she could see me coming from the top farm down to hers, and she would have a pot of tea and poached eff on the toast all ready for me, and wasn’t I grateful as I was really hungry after all that fresh air.

All the dogs were very good, but did a lot of barking, but that was their job, once they got to know you their tails were wagging to greet you. I have almost been thrown into the duck pond trying to ride past duck and hens, and I have been chased by the geese, they were nasty sometimes.

On very heavy snowy days I was excused delivery at the farms as it was impossible to tell the roads from the fields. That only happened twice in my times as post-lady. I didn’t have to got the same way back as my round took me through a private estate known as Nostel Priory, something like your Addington Palace. The people who owned Nostel Priory had gone abroad for the duration of the war, and it housed about 100 soldiers, but their letters were all in a sealed bag, unsealed later by an Officer. This estate had a lake, a home farm, a riding school and a park for landing a private plane.

I usually reached the post office around 12 noon, then home for a meal, then back at 3p.m until 4.30p.m., I did enjoy the work. It was a happy job just to see people’s faces when they saw you making for their door (not many letter boxes in those days). I took glad and sad news of course, but they would confide in you, the next day you would have to listen to either good or bad. Of course I occasionally received an air mail letter from my husband who was abroad, I’d keep it unopened until I found a quiet lane or field to read it quietly to myself.

Then the years between then and now I’ve learned with the help of God to live a reasonable good life. I’ve left many friends in the two villages I’ve lived in most of my life. I’ve very two dear friends who have had to give up an active life through illness, quite sorry really, but they are fighting the good fight, their tremendous faith is upholding them and to visit them is a joy. You leave with the feeling that you must never grumble again.

I forgot to mention at the beginning of my story that amongst us seven that was left fatherless through the mine was a little baby sister just five weeks old. I am now living here in the South, something I never dreamed of, but we don’t know the plan God has for us; They way I look at it is this:-

Just where he needs me

My Lord has placed me

And where he has placed me

There would I be

And Since He has found me

By love He’s bound me

To serve him joyfully

Dangers of the Mine 3

By Mrs. Elsie Hebden 1986


Woodyard Cottages, Walton – Home Of A Mining Community

In this short article I aim to capture at least some of the essence of what it meant to live at Woodyard Cottages in the days of the old Walton colliery. I do this through the eyes of members of my own family and the photographs they took of themselves and their surroundings.

Woodyard Cottages were built for the miners and their families and were immediately adjacent to the colliery site. While there was more housing for mining families in the form of the Ings Cottages, known locally as “The Spike”, at the other side of the pit, I am going to concentrate on the Woodyard, because that is where my ancestors lived. The housing of working people was close to the work back in those days. Physically demanding work and long shifts meant that there was no time to waste on commuting.

Today the Woodyard Cottages are located next to the serene and peaceful nature reserve in a highly desired location. The photograph below is from the present day, taken from the road that was used as the thoroughfare for coal trucks.

This now secluded and peaceful spot was once the centre of a great deal of hustle, bustle and industry. These were the homes of miners who worked hard for modest wages. They lived and loved and brought up their families in this place they called home.

There used to be speed bumps in the road painted in broad black and white stripes to slow down the Hansons coal haulage lorries that hurtled down the hill to the colliery. I used to watch the lorries with my grandad, Albert Knowles, from the wall on the opposite side of the road, as they came down the road empty and went back up fully laden with dust sheets covering the top of the load to prevent coal dust getting into the air.

The wall opposite the Cottages was also a popular site for the taking of group photographs like the one pictured below.

Woodyard wall opposite group photo 2

The lorries would continue down the road and cross the canal that ran through Walton and then on through the pit site. This route comes as no surprise as coal was one of the main canal cargoes. The photograph below shows the road bridge over the canal on the left of the view. Woodyard Cottages are just behind the photographer. The building at the right hand side of the photo is the beginning of the brickyard. The structure above Albert Knowles’ right shoulder are the bunkers (more on that shortly).

Woodyard Albert Knowles with canal road bridge in background

There is an alley at the front of the cottages. A wall and railing and the alley are all that separate the homes of the miners from the road and the coal laden wagons that went up and down it day after day. The alley is where George Knowles is having a go on his young nephew’s tricycle in the photo below and appearing to have be having a really good time. In the pit, George’s role was to look after the hard working horses in the stables in the pit bottoms.

Woodyard George Knowles

The wall is still there today, but the railing is gone. However, there are traces of the railing embeded into the surface of the masonry.

There was another alleyway to the rear of the cottages. This ran between the cottages and the gardens of each house. The alleyway can be seen in the photos below that also show me at a young age with blonde hair, decked out in the latest 1970s fashions. The gardens can be seen on the left hand side of each photo below. On the horizon you can see the banking of the railway line that runs past Greenside, Oakenshaw Lane and Walton Common. The other railway line that runs to London runs beyond the bottom of the gardens and goes under the line mentioned above.

Woodyard Cottages Gardens

In the photo below my dad and auntie, in younger years, are having their photograph taken just as the local rooster is sneaking up behind them. The building behind the rooster is the detached cottage that is still there, further up the hill. To the right of that can be seen a bungalow that has since been pulled down. Between each of these buildings a stable once stood but has since disappeared.

Woodyard Siblings - Jean with young Albert Knowles

My grandad had a pigeon loft in his stretch of garden. He is pictured below with prize pigeon that he called ‘Little Hen’. It won a number of races for him. There is an amusing story about this bird after he sold it to a bloke in Outwood. In true homing pigeon style it kept returning to its Woodyard loft even after the sale meaning that its new owner had to keep coming back to retrieve it. What do you expect when you buy a homing pigeon!

Woodyard Albert Knowles with pigeon

The photograph below is another view of the rear alleyway. However, this time there are a few other features visible in the background. On the middle left at the side of the alley you can see the back of the bus shelter. Next to that is the building that managed the weighbridge that was immediately in front of it. This was used to measure the coal loads coming out of the pit in the lorries. On the far right of the photo you can again see the start of the brickyard mentioned earlier. To the right of the black vehicle at the top of the road in the centre left are the bunkers. These were used for the direct sale of coal to coal merchants. As part of this structure there were four coal shoots to feed into bags for coal wagons. Coal was brought here via a rail line from the pit.
Woodyard Albert Knowles snr with the bike of Albert jnr

The back of the bus shelter is seen closer up in the next photos. In the first photo (in colour) the ice cream man had just been and a miner awaits his ice cream from his wife at the top of the hill.

Bus Shelter and Weighbridge

The back of Woodyard cottages are faced with stone in contrast to the ordinary brick in the front. The following photo shows the family standing on the step at this side of the house with the stone visible behind them.

Woodyard doorway Albert Knowles Martha Knowles and Jean

The following photos show the inside of number five Woodyard Cottages in the 1960s. In the background of the first photo you can see a cooking range that was fuelled by an open coal fire. Before the appearance of bathrooms this would also be where baths were taken in a tin tub.

Inside Woodyard Cottages

In the following photo, my grandma, Martha Knowles, stands in front of the brickyard, kilns and chimney. Again, the bunkers are visible at the left hand edge of the photo.
Woodyard Martha Knowles with Walton pit stack in background

The final photograph, below, shows the view of the pit complex from the wall that separated the alley in front of the cottages from the road. The cooling towers, the chimney, three winding machines, and the screening plant are all visible in this photo. The two ponies in the field were called Royal and Boxer (which had a white blaze on its forehead). These horses did not go down the pit but pulled loads on the surface. The banking at the far end of the field is that of the canal mentioned previously.

Walton Pit CUT ENH