Ossett - the history of a Yorkshire town



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Ossett Today

In 1971, Ossett had a population of just over 17,000 and thirty years later there were 21,000 people living in the town. Located just off junction 40 of the M1 motorway, Ossett's convenient position has attracted industry and resident commuters working in the major cities of the West Riding. Following three decades of gradual decline, Ossett has seen unprecedented growth in recent years. House prices increased from an average of £50,000 in 1998 to £130,000 in 2003, one of the largest in the U.K. and only rivalled by some parts of London and Cheshire.

In the 1970s, a forty acre site, adjoining the A638 Dewsbury-Wakefield road at Flushdyke, a feeder road off the M1 was zoned for industrial use. Longlands Industrial Estate has attracted many new businesses to the town, providing jobs and increased affluence, although it has to be said, ruining the residential nature of the area. Software company Team 17 are based in Ossett and their most famous game "Worms" contains a Hell level with a sign saying "Welcome to Ossett".

One of the reasons for the influx of people to Ossett is the excellent performance of Ossett School and Sixth Form College, a specialist Technology and Sports College, which has some of the best academic results in the area. Ossett School was created in September 1969 when Ossett Grammar School, which was originally founded in 1735, became a comprehensive.

After recent boundary changes, Ossett is now part of the Wakefield constituency and the local Labour M.P. is Mary Creagh who is the Shadow Secretary of State for Transport. Within the town, local elections are usually closely contested between the Liberal Democrats and Labour, although the British National Party took 18.5% of the vote in 2003.

Ossett has strong sporting traditions with two semi-professional football clubs (Ossett Town and Ossett Albion), Ossett Cricket and Athletics Club, Ossett Rugby Union Club, Ossett Trinity Rugby League Club, Ossett Sports Badminton Club, Low Laithes Golf Club, a Martial Arts Academy and a Pool & Snooker Club. There was an Ossett Football Club in the 1890s, they played in the original West Yorkshire League, but the oldest current football club in Ossett is Ossett Common Rovers, formed in 1910 and currently playing in the modern West Yorkshire League. Other football clubs in Ossett include Ossett Wanderers, Ossett United and Ossett Panthers. Little Bull FC, Ossett Two Brewers and AFC Two Brewers play in the Wakefield & District League.

A thriving market town, Ossett holds a market on Tuesdays and Fridays. There is a Community Centre that hosts local hobby groups, a first-class Public Library and one very crowded central Post Office following the mindless closure of Ossett's sub-Post Offices in the outlying districts. The Gawthorpe Maypole Feast and Procession has been held each May since 1874.

Under the Local Government Act of 1972, Ossett lost its Borough status in 1974 and became an unparished area in the Metropolitan Borough of Wakefield.

Calder Vale Mill, Healey

The Healey area of Ossett in 1888

From Mayall's Annals of Yorkshire 1734 - 1736
"The inhabitants of Ossett, a village three miles from Wakefield, have been employed in making broad woollen cloth from time out of mind. In this year the weavers, etc., employed in that trade, had to work 15 hours every day for eight pence. A horn was blown at five o’clock in the morning, the time for beginning, and at eight at night, the time for leaving their work. The clothiers had to take their goods to Leeds to sell, and had to stand in Briggate in all sorts of weather.

About the year 1736, Richard Wilson, a resident of Ossett, made two pieces of broadcloth; he carried one of them on his head to Leeds and sold it. The merchant being in want of the fellow piece, he went from Leeds to Ossett, then carried the other piece to Leeds, and then walked to Ossett again; he walked about forty miles that day."

That sturdy and forcible spirit is what has made Ossett the flourishing place it is today. The incident we have quoted is characteristic of the old-time industry of the place. At one time Ossett could boast of well over a hundred manufacturers - chiefly handloom weavers who worked at home. Most of the houses had looms in them, and Ossett was musical with the sound of their working, whilst a manufacturer who had a small mill and employed from ten to twenty people was considered to be in a big way of business. When a person could buy a bag of wool and a bit of mungo - the local name for rag-wool and had a family to assist him, he became a manufacturer. These small manufacturers carried their pieces to Leeds; either - like the aforesaid Richard Wilson - on their heads or backs, or on the backs of donkeys. In the Cloth Hall at Leeds the pieces were displayed on stalls for the inspection of the merchants. These forerunners of the woollen industry of today traded in a very small way, and to receive an order for half a dozen or a dozen pieces was doing business on the grand scale. Frequently these humble people had to sell their pieces fresh from the loom in order to get supplies of money for the purchase of wool for the next piece. Wool at this time was brought from Leeds to Bradford by road. There was no standard rate of wages as there is now, and when a certain manufacturer had an order in a time of depression, he called his men together and told them he could not accept the order unless they agreed to take 3d. per string less. The men would hold a meeting in the fields and agree to the reduction rather than face a further period of idleness. Wages were very low as compared with recent earnings. A fettler or woolyer would earn from 9s to 11s. a week, while, in the words of an old manufacturer,them that piecened billy - the youngsters would earn 4s. 9d. a week working full time. There were few workpeople who averaged a pound a week sixty years ago. The old hand loom system died hard; indeed, it lingered on until the early years of this century, when the last of the Ossett handloom weavers passed away at the patriarchal age of ninety. The old order had given place to the power loom - an innovation that was long and sorely resented by the old weavers. How many and radical have been the changes wrought in and by the power loom! - from "The Town and Trade of Ossett" published 1927

This Richard Wilson referred to above was one of the founders of the Green Chapel (later Ossett Congregational Church) in Ossett with his brother Robert Wilson who was my direct ancestor. At this time, in the early part of the 18th century, Ossett had a population of about 2,000 and many were self-employed cloth weavers like Richard and Robert Wilson. With this web site, I hope to share some of the history of Ossett that I have been able to collect over the last few years as I researched my Wilson family roots in the town. I have gathered a good selection of pictures and information about Ossett from a number of sources and I have tried to acknowledge those sources wherever possible. I hope none of the pictures on this site are copyrighted, but if they are, do please let me know and I will remove them.

Ossett Map

Although Ossett doesn't have an official coat of arms, the design above has been universally accepted as the unoffocial coat of arms. It has been widely seen over the years on various Ossett keepsakes such as Silver Jubillee mugs, postcards and some official Town Hall documentation. The design features the three principal industries of the town: wool and shoddy mills, coal mining and agriculture. The sheep signifies the importance of wool and the white rose is the symbol of Yorkshire. The Latin transcription, attributable to Ossett Grammar School headmaster Mr. M. Frankland who joined the school in 1881, means roughly "useless things made useful by skill". It is a reference to turning rags into mungo or shoddy - one of Ossett's major industries in the 19th and 20th century.


Site updated: 23.10.13


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Mayall's Annals of Yorkshire was published in three volumes in about 1862. It contains, to quote "A most fascinating everyday history of the people of Yorkshire with accounts of the events relating to the "ordinary" people of the county."

The following extract is from "The Town and Trade of Ossett" published in 1927:

"The Municipality of Ossett is of comparatively recent creation. The great increase in population which accompanied the industrial progress made by the town during the 19th century justified application for incorporation as a borough, and a Royal Charter giving effect to this natural ambition was granted on July 16th, 1890. It provides for the administration of the Borough by a mayor, four aldermen, and twelve councillors. The original borough comprised the parish of Ossett-cum-Gawthorpe, but in 1900 part of Alverthorpe was added by an Act of Parliament confirming a Provisional Order of the Local Government Board. Gawthorpe, with Chickenly Heath, became a separate parish for ecclesiastical purposes in 1901, but the area is still included within the administrative borough."

On the 1st April 1974 Ossett ceased to be a Borough and became part of the Wakefield Metropolitan District ending 84 years autonomy.

Asteroid

The South African astronomer Cyril V. Jackson, who was born in Ossett,in 1903, honoured the town when he named asteroid 1244 Deira. The citation he submitted to the IAU was meant to represent the ancient name of Ossett. However, that is something of an exaggeration: the ancient Kingdom of Deira actually encompassed (at its height) most of modern Yorkshire. Jackson emigrated to South Africa in 1911 with his family.

Anguline

If you are doing family or local history research, Anguline Research Archives are based in Ossett and have a catalogue of almost 500 CDs of old and rare family and local history books.