At the turn of the century, Great Britain was inevitably at war, this time with the Boers (settlers of Dutch descent) in South Africa. The Boers were making life difficult for British mining companies and settlers especially in the Transvaal and declared war on the 11th October 1899. The British in some respects precipitated the war and the Boers put up an unexpectedly good fight. They were gradually subdued by the powerful British and Empire Forces. The war finally finished in on the 31st May 1902 after 2 years and 8 months of very hard fighting..
During the war, 13,139 Commonwealth and British soldiers died of diseases, particularly dysentery and enteric fever. Another 7,582 men were killed in action or died of their wounds. Another 22,829 men were wounded but not killed.
It is known that at least seventeen Ossett men fought in the Boer War. The first batch of Ossett men to go to South Africa were all in volunteer service companies of the Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry or the West Yorkshire Regiment. They sailed to South Africa as part of a group of 1,020 men, embarking from Southampton in the 'Avondale Castle' on the 23rd February 1900. There was only one officer from Ossett on this voyage and this was 20 year-old Lieutenant Robert H. Ellis, the son of Samuel Ellis, woollen manufacturer of Green Mount, Ossett.
Above: Ossett Boer War soldiers from G Company of the 1st Volunteer Battalion of the KOYLI on their return from South Africa in November 1900.
Sadly, 22 year-old Private Samuel T. Cooke of Park Square, Ossett, who had been a coal miner before joining the army, died from enteric fever at Boshof in May 1900, just three months after arriving in South Africa on the 'Avondale Castle'.
25 year-old Private John Phillips of Westfield Street, Headlands was invalided home after completing 11 months service in February 1902. Likewise, 20 year-old Corporal Edward Wilcock of Healey Lane, Ossett was invalided home a few months after his arrival in South Africa in early 1900.
Private Harry E. Eastwood, a mason living in Dale Street and aged 25, was hospitalized in Bloemfontein during early fighting at Cape Colony in 1900 and his return home was delayed.
In 1901 Queen Victoria died on the 22nd January 1901 after ruling Britain for over 63 years. It is said that this period was at the absolute peak of the British Empire, which covered around 25% of the globe. Victoria was succeeded by her son Edward VII, Prince of Wales, who was King until his death on the 6th May 1910. The first monarch of the House of Windsor, King George V succeeded to the throne on the 3rd June 1910 until his death in 1936.
There was great excitement on the 10th of July 1912 when King George V and Queen Mary visited Ossett during their tour of the industrial towns of the West Riding, including Barnsley, Wakefield, Dewsbury and Batley. The King and Queen were welcomed in Ossett Market Place by the Mayor and Council members and they were greeted by crowds of Ossett people, with many precariously perched on the rooftops of buildings long since demolished.
The idea of Ossett having its own Town Hall or public building was first suggested in 1856 by Mr. W.W. Wiseman, then the President of Ossett Mechanic's Institute. Wiseman circulated a letter to Ossett's residents calling a public meeting to be held in the Church Sunday School on Easter Monday, March 24th 1856. Sadly, the idea didn't gain much traction with the local residents of Ossett, who were not keen to raise funds for a Town Hall by public subscription and the Ossett Board of Surveyors, the precursor to the Borough Council, lacked the statutory powers and funds to authorise the construction of a Town Hall.
Above: The old Ossett Grammar School, founded 1735, in the Market Place that was demolished in 1906 to make way for the new Town Hall.
The idea of Ossett having its own Town Hall lay dormant for another 20 years or so, and in 1877, the Local Board purchased a piece of land on Bank Street, Ossett for £3,000 with the intention of building a Town Hall or public offices. Nothing was done until 1882, when Dewsbury architect Henry Holtom was asked to draw up plans. In 1886, the Ossett Local Board applied to the Local Government Board to borrow £10,000 to build the Town Hall, but it was deemed that the Local Board had exceeded its powers and the scheme was rejected. It was eventually agreed that Bank Street was unsuitable for the location of a Town Hall.
During that half century of Industrial Revolution in much of Queen Victoria's reign from 1856, Ossett had developed into a dynamic powerhouse of industry, commerce with much civic pride in the town's achievements. Street lighting powered by gas from Ossett's gasworks had arrived; clean water supplies and proper drainage had replaced the 19th century disease ridden system of public wells and filth strewn streets. The town's population had risen from 6,266 in 1851 to 14,078 in 1911, with a corresponding increase in the number of schools and places of worship. Ossett received its charter to become a Borough in its own right back in the 1890 and by now had a mayor and a Borough Council. Trams had arrived in Ossett and Ossett had two railway stations. Business was booming, so that by the turn of the century and the start of new Edwardian era in 1901, Ossett and its inhabitants wanted to celebrate their achievements.
Following several false starts, but with pressure from the new Ossett Borough magistrates, who were unhappy with their cramped premises in the Technical School on Station Road, Ossett Borough Council agreed to proceed with the construction of a new Town Hall in Ossett Market Place on the site of the old Grammar School, which had been bought for £5,700 in 1904, with the Grammar School relocating to Park House, once the home of Philip Ellis, one of the principals of Victoria Mill in South Ossett.
A competition was held to select an architect and thirty-three plans were submitted to the assessor, Dewsbury architect John Kirk. The successful bid was made by the well-regarded firm of Walter Hanstock and Sons, who had already designed the Town Hall in their home town of Batley as well as the Council Offices in Horbury.
The weather could certainly be described as inclement on the day the foundation stone was laid for the new Town Hall; Tuesday 27th February 1906 saw intermittent snow showers throughout. None was heavier than during the ceremony itself when the Mayor, Cllr J H Nettleton carried out his duties. The Ossett Observer of Saturday 3rd March sets the scene:
"It is unfortunate that the climatic conditions were exceedingly unfavourable. The ground was covered with snow broth, the air was damp and cold and altogether the weather could hardly have been less suitable to the occasion. Under the circumstances it was complimentary to the Mayor that so many of the visitors whom he had invited to take part in the proceedings – which included a banquet at the Conservative Club – accepted the invitation and put in an appearance."
It went on to recap some of the background to the building taking shape:
“It will be remembered that, the site having been purchased from various owners at a cost of £5,600, competitive designs were invited and plans were sent in from 33 architects. Messrs Kirk & Son, of Dewsbury and Huddersfield, who acted as assessors, selected the designs of Messrs W Hanstock & Son of Batley (who shortly before had designed the Horbury Town Hall) and the corporation endorsed the selection.”
“The building will occupy a commanding position on what is regarded as the best site in the borough…a material improvement in the appearance of the centre of the town…”
Above: The Foundation Stone at Ossett Town Hall laid on February 27th 1906 by Councillor J. Hampshire Nettleton, Mayor of Ossett.
The paper published floor plans of the ground and first floors with the following description:
"…ample accommodation for the corporation officials is provided as well as a roomy council chamber, with Mayor’s parlour and committee room conveniently adjoining. The borough court, with magistrates’ retiring room and other rooms for solicitors and witnesses, is on the Town End side. The court will have a separate entrance. The public hall is placed at the rear of the municipal offices and the principal entrance in from Dale Street. In addition to the assembly hall, which will seat 1,300 persons, there are cloak rooms and artistes’ rooms. The large hall is to be finished in ornamental plasterwork, with a decorated ceiling. In the basement (not shown on the plans) there will be the weights and measures offices, prisoners’ waiting room, store rooms, a large gas showroom (under the Dale Street corner), cooking kitchen, heating vault etc."
It went on to list the contractors who would carry out the works as: Messrs Mercer & Robinson, masons, of Ossett; Messrs Akeroyd & Son, joiners, of Birstall; Messrs Lockwood Bros, plasterers, of Wakefield; Messrs Pickles Bros, slaters, of Leeds; Messrs Matthews & Yeates, heating engineers, of Leeds; Mr J H Wilson, plumber, of Outwood; Mr C Habergham, painter, of Morley and Mr F. L’Anson, carver, of Holbeck.
As to the ceremony itself, the Observer gave an extremely detailed account. I have attempted to give the highlights, as follows:
"The gentlemen who had been invited to witness the ceremony assembled at the Municipal Technical School and shortly before four o’clock, the appointed hour, walked from there in processional order to the site. The Ossett Borough Band, playing a lively march, led the way. The Mayor of Ossett wore his chain of office and the town clerk his legal wig and gown, as also did the town clerk of Pudsey. The Mayor of Batley likewise wore his official chain. A platform for the accommodation of the company had been erected over the main entrance to the town hall, at the right-hand side of which the foundation stone, suitably inscribed with a record of the proceedings, was in readiness. A number of ladies also witnessed the proceedings from the platform." (Note: the ladies were not officially part of the proceedings!)
"Alderman W Townend as chairman of the Town Hall Committee, requested the Mayor to lay the stone. He remarked that they had met to give effect to a long-felt want in Ossett – better accommodation for the transaction of municipal business and for the people of Ossett to enjoy themselves in various ways on neutral ground. There would be a large assembly room in connection with that magnificent building which would be believed to be second to none in the West Riding."
He went on to say that the Mayor had worked hard on the Town Hall question and he was to be congratulated upon the result. He then called upon the architect to present to the Mayor the implements with which to lay the stone.
Above: Rare picture of Ossett Town Hall under construction in the summer of 1906. The occasion was a Congregational Sunday School feast.
The "Ossett Observer" continues:
"Mr Hanstock, on behalf of the contractors and architects, presented the Mayor with a handsome gold trowel and an ivory mallet with which to perform the ceremony. He expressed the hope that his Worship would lay the stone well and truly and that it would be for the prosperity of Ossett. The trowel, which was afterwards greatly admired, was suitably inscribed and bore a well executed engraving of the Town Hall. The Mayor performed the ceremony in workmanlike fashion, superintending the lowering of the stone into exact position and declaring it to be ‘duly and truly laid’. In a cavity under the stone was placed a sealed bottle containing copies of the ‘Observer’ and other journals, photographs of the Mayor, town clerk and Alderman Townend, a copy of the corporation yearbook and a number of coins of the realm.
Addressing the assembly, the Mayor said that was one of the proudest moments of his life and a red letter day in the history of the corporation. Speaking of the long connection of the Nettleton family with this district, he said that it extended over 400 years. Observing that he was probably asked to lay the foundation stone because he was its nearest relation, he said he was born on the site and slept within 100 yards of it for nearly 40 years. He hoped that the property owners in the vicinity of the Town Hall would try to bring their property more up-to-date and more in keeping with the handsome building which would set them an example. One reason why he had gone in ‘tooth and nail’ for a Town Hall was that he thought it would induce gentlemen to become members of the corporation who would not under present circumstances. He thanked the gathering for their attendance. In conclusion, he trusted that the Town Hall would be a boon and a blessing for the present generation and all the generations that were to follow."
Cllr. J. H. Gibson then moved a hearty vote of thanks to the Mayor for laying the foundation stone. He described the Ossett he came to nearly 20 years previously as:
"…a town of ginnels and back yards. There were no architectural pretensions, except those of the parish church and the Wesleyan Chapel. Something was now being done to alter that. Good buildings had been erected and Ossett was becoming as fine a little commercial town as any of its size in the West Riding of Yorkshire. He hoped that the Town Hall might be built without any accident to the workmen engaged upon it."
The resolution was seconded by Cllr. Joseph Brown, chairman of the Thornhill Urban District Council. He congratulated the Mayor on his efficiency in laying the stone and said that he hoped that on a more auspicious occasion and in better weather he could congratulate the people of Ossett on having a grand Town Hall. The Vicar of Ossett, Rev. H. C. Cradock, also spoke in support. He said that the Mayor was a great friend and member of his congregation. He believed, he said, that:
"…Ossett had a life of its own - a greater and grander life than that of individuals and on a day like this they could not help feeling, pulsing within their veins this wider life, the municipal life of the borough."
The Mayor responded by telling those assembled that the Nettleton family had taken part in two of the most important improvements to the town.
"The late Mr Oliver Nettleton cut the first sod of Station Road, one of the finest streets in Ossett, or even in Yorkshire and now he had laid the foundation stone at the home of the corporation. Over the last twenty years, the Nettleton family had provided four mayors: Mr Peter Nettleton, Mayor of Melbourne; Mr Oliver Nettleton, his brother, Mayor of Ossett; Mr B P Nettleton, Mayor of Batley and now their humble servant."
At the conclusion of the ceremony, it had been intended that there be an inspection of the building works, but owing to the bad weather an immediate adjournment was made to the Conservative Club, where the Mayor entertained over 100 guests at dinner.
A sumptuous banquet was provided by the caterer, Mr. C. Hagenbach of Wakefield. The menu consisted of:
Hors d’oeuvre: oysters with brown bread
Soup: clear gravy soup, chicken puree
Fish: turbot with tartare sauce
Entrees: sweetbread patties, fillets of veal, velonte sauce
Roasts: saddle of mutton, roast beef, rolled fowls with York sauce Game: pheasants
Sweets: fruit jellies, velvet creams, iced puddings
Cheese & biscuits
Wine list: champagne, hock, claret, whisky, beer, aerated waters
Afterwards, the Mayor gave a toast to the health of the King, "the best ruler the world ever produced." A toast to the neighbouring authorities was given by Alderman G. H. Wilson. The Mayor of Batley responded. He said it was the duty of neighbouring authorities to become closer. He went on to say how delighted he was that Mr Hanstock had been chosen as architect, as he had already designed Batley Town Hall and public baths. Cllr. G. R. Simpson, chairman of the Soothill Upper Urban District Council also responded, saying it was desirable that there was good understanding between local authorities and alluded to the proposed amalgamation between Dewsbury and its surrounding authorities. He spoke of his acquaintance with past and present public figures in Ossett and that he closely followed the business of the corporation. He concluded that Ossett "generally came out right side up."
Cllr. T. W. Phillips gave a toast to the West Riding County Council. He congratulated them on the highways and their attempt to purify the rivers. He said if the public wasn’t sympathetic to them it was because of their extravagance. County Councillor Westwood responded and at once agreed that the County Council was indeed extravagant! But even so, he did not feel ashamed of them. In the absence of the Mayor of Morley (who was indisposed), the toast to the host was made by Mr Bransby Greenwood, who said:
"If the amount of cement used in laying the foundation stone for the Town Hall corresponded with the kindness and goodwill extended by the Mayor to all the inhabitants, that stone was well and truly laid."
The Mayor expressed his thanks and "…prophesised that the building of the Town Hall was the beginning of a period of progress in the borough."
Cllr. A. Horsfield, chairman of the Horbury Urban District Council, proposed a toast to the Ossett Corporation. He said:
"Many years ago, Ossett and Horbury were like two hostile countries. The late Canon Sharp often used to say that when he first came to Horbury any inhabitant who ventured into Ossett was welcomed with a shower of stones and a similar reception awaited any resident of Ossett who was bold enough to cross the boundary into Horbury. He was pleased to say that this spirit had passed away long ago and that they were on the most friendly and neighbourly terms. His old friend, the late Mr Abraham Pollard, used to say that Horbury was three weeks before Ossett in growing anything. They had been three years before in growing a Town Hall and evidently they had spurred on their Ossett neighbours. Ossett had not only followed their example but had taken their architect, of whose success he was glad to hear."
Alderman Stead and Cllr. Bentley responded. Alderman Stead said he had always been a supporter of building a Town Hall. However Cllr. Bentley admitted he had been the only member to disagree with the project. He did though now wish to be proved wrong. A number of other toasts followed and much pleasure was derived from several musical performances, notably Mr. G. W. Riley of Leeds, tenor, and Mr. H. Ward Kemp of Dewsbury, baritone, accompanied by Mr. A. Wilby.
A grand occasion indeed, despite the weather. Just over two years later it would be surpassed by the eventual opening of the new building itself.
Tuesday, 2nd June 1908 was described as a red letter day in the history of the borough. The "Ossett Observer" was on hand to record the events, which took place over three days.
Above: The Yorkshire Film Archive have provided a 5 minute, black and white, silent film of the opening of Ossett Town Hall in 1908 on their web site. If you click on the picture above, a new window will open and you can view the film of the event. Many of the people mentioned in this account of the Opening Ceremony can be seen in the film as well as Ossett's great and good back in 1908. The film is highly recommeneded viewing in conjunction with this article.
"The occasion marked a further stage in the municipal development of the borough and gave rise to a demonstration of public enthusiasm and rejoicing that had never been equalled in Ossett, with the exception of that on Charter Day, August 13th 1890."
It went on to list all the achievements of the borough since that day: its area had been extended and its population substantially increased; a separate commission of the peace obtained; the gasworks had been acquired by the corporation; a tram service provided, which was preparing to extend; electricity would shortly be available to consumers; control of education with a new grammar school acquired and a new elementary school built; a new smallpox hospital; thousands of pounds spent on sewage works; a number of street improvements carried out and, last but not least, a fine new Town Hall.
The festivities over three days were a resounding success.
"…for this the greatest honour is due to the Mayor Cllr J T Marsden, who by his lavish hospitality and his care that in some way or other all classes of the population should share in the festivities, at the same time deservedly increased his popularity and justified the conferring upon him the privilege and duty of declaring open the building which will be the future centre of municipal life in his native borough."
The whole town had entered into the spirit of the occasion and Tuesday afternoon had been declared a public holiday. The Town Hall had been decorated by Messrs. Womersley Ltd. Over the main entrance and on each side of the building was displayed the Royal Arms. There were Union Jack flags and banners; on the walls were fixed thirty trophies. Around the building was a blue valance and, over the entrance, paper flowers were strung. There were also streamers from the front of the Town Hall to two Venetian masts either side of the Hannah Pickard Memorial fountain, and across Town End and Dale Street. Almost every building in Market Place was decorated and indeed every street along the routes taken by the scholars taking part in the ceremony. The weather was in stark contrast to when the foundation stone was laid. Bright sunshine took the place of heavy snow.
Above: Stone to commemorate the opening of Ossett Town Hall on the 2nd JUne 1908 by Councillor J.T. Marsden, J.P. the Mayor of Ossett.
The "Ossett Observer" set the scene:
"After the scholars, surrounded by several thousands of others, had assembled in the Market Place, under the glare of a brilliant sun, the sight was one long to be remembered. There were present probably twelve thousand persons, some of whom had been daring enough to climb the roofs of adjoining buildings, there to enjoy an uninterrupted view of the proceedings below, while every available window was utilised for the same purpose, in many cases substantial sums being paid for the use of them."
The St. John Ambulance Association, as well as being on first aid duty, even erected a platform on one side of the Market Place so that a number of “invalid and crippled” individuals, who had been conveyed in the horse ambulance, could witness the event. The only mishaps for them to deal with were, a lady fainting in the crowd and a “contentious gentleman who having seized upon the fountain as his coign of vantage, lost his foothold while in the midst of an eloquent denunciation of high rates and fell into the drinking trough below, which proved an effective application for the closure.”
Above: Large group of Ossett people at the front of the Town Hall during the opening ceremony in 1908.
Shortly before 2 o’clock the official procession arrived at the platform, which had been constructed at the main entrance. Then an estimated twelve thousand voices, conducted by Mr. J. F. Taylor and accompanied by one of the brass bands, sang the hymns, “Old Hundredth” and “Onward Christian Soldiers.” Alderman W Townend, as Chairman of the Town Hall Committee, presided over the ceremony. In his speech he said they were all united in bidding goodbye to the old offices. He congratulated the Mayor and the corporation and praised the architect for his magnificent design. Mr A W Hanstock, the architect, came forward and presented the Mayor with a gold key. The town clerk read the inscription: “Borough of Ossett. Presented to his Worship the Mayor, Councillor John Thomas Marsden, on the opening of the new Town Hall, June 1908.” On the reverse was a miniature colour sketch of the Town Hall. The key was supplied by Mr R M Brown.
In his address, the Mayor gave some background on the choice of site:
"The matter had been before them on various occasions and they had some stiff contests as to where they should build the Town Hall. At the time they held a site in Bank Street, that had been purchased for the erection of local board offices. Ossett’s development into an incorporated borough and its natural growth made it absolutely necessary, in his opinion, that they should abandon the old scheme, in favour of the site that was admitted by, except a few of the then members of the town council, to be the only site for the Town Hall.
Things were allowed to lie for a period until the borough justices, in 1903, gave notice to the town council that, if the latter did not provide a suitable court room, they would apply for power to build one and of course the ratepayers would have to bear the expense. That had the effect of awakening up the town council again, with the result that they set about purchasing the various properties that were on that site and to apply for borrowing powers. The Local Government Board would not grant the powers without a definite promise that the town council would go forward with the scheme. From that period the town council went ahead and did the right thing. The site and the old buildings upon it cost about £5,650; the Town Hall, including the furnishing, would cost from £15,000 to £16,000, so that for £22,000 they had the building completed."
The Mayor then formally unlocked the iron gates at the main entrance and announced, “I have great pleasure in declaring the Town Hall open.” Three cheers were raised to the Mayor and the bugle band of the Church Lads Brigade joined in.
The new clock was then started. It had been paid for by the Misses Ward who had done this in memory of their father; he had been a businessman in the town for many years; indeed an alderman and former Mayor.
Cllr. W. T. Phillips, the Deputy Mayor moved a vote of thanks to the Mayor and paid tribute to his desire to make the ceremony thoroughly representative, involving all classes. He also moved a vote of thanks to the Misses Ward for their generous gift of the clock.
The ex-Mayor, Cllr. J. H. Nettleton seconded. Referring to the clock, he said that the only stipulation the Misses Ward had made in giving the funds was that the chimes shouldn’t cost the ratepayers anything. The money had then been raised for the chimes in only two weeks.
Mr. J. H. Fearnside replied on behalf of his aunts. He said they were very pleased to give something for the benefit of the public and hoped others would follow their example. The Rev. J. H. Kirk, vicar of South Ossett and the Mayor’s chaplain, then brought the outdoor ceremony to a conclusion with a prayer. The company then entered the Town Hall and made a tour of inspection.
It was now the turn of the assembled scholars from all the Sunday Schools. Over 5,500 people represented the various churches and chapels of the town. The scholars, teachers and church officials took their places in a very well organised display. Each church contingent gathered behind their banner, with decorated carts provided for the youngest members. The spectacle was overseen by Superintendent Midgley, Messrs. F. Fawcett, A. Jessop, G. A. Pollard, D. B. Broadhead, H. Nettleton and B. Pawson.
Above: Crowds of people in Ossett Market Place at the opening ceremony for Ossett Town Hall.
The plan had been for those assembled to split into two processions. One would march to South Ossett, led by Gawthorpe Victoria Brass Band, while the other would head to Church Street via Dale Street and Dewsbury Road, led by the Ossett Brass Band, shedding members as they passed each school. However, as with the best laid plans, the weather intervened and rain began to fall. A decision was taken to abandon the processions. Nevertheless those who were to have tea in the Gedham field did so, with the others having refreshments at their schools.
Following this, a luncheon was hosted by the Mayor in the public hall. About 210 guests attended. Five tables were arranged the length of the hall with a sixth table across the top in front of the platform. At the top table were seated the Mayor, the visiting Mayors and Mr A. E. Hutton M.P.
The catering was undertaken by Mr C Hagenbach and the menu was as follows:
Clear gravy soup, chicken pate
Salmon & mayonnaise sauce
Chicken a la Bechmel
York ham Roast chicken, beef, ox tongue, pressed beef Pigeon pie, veal & ham pie Lamb with mint sauce
Terrine de foie gras
Sherry jelly, trifle, Bavarian creams, Paris torte
Sherry, port, champagne, claret, whisky, brandy, liqueur, aerated waters
After luncheon, no less than nine toasts were drunk. Interestingly, these were listened to, from the balcony, by a number of ladies, the wives of the members and officials of the corporation. (There is no mention in the newspaper report of any ladies being at the luncheon itself). The Mayor began by toasting the King and Queen. Cllr. J. H. Gibson followed, proposing a toast to the naval and military forces of the Empire. Surgeon-Captain Mill responded. Then the Mayor of Brighouse gave a toast to the Houses of Parliament. Mr. A. E. Hutton MP responded.
The Mayor of Wakefield invited the company to drink to the borough and trade of Ossett. He said that Wakefield wished to live with its neighbour, Ossett, which had realised the responsibilities that followed incorporation. Mr. J. E. Glover JP, President of the Ossett Chamber of Commerce, undertook the response. Next, Mr. G. Smith JP, proposed a toast to the health of the Mayor. That was, he said, “decidedly a red letter day in the annals of Ossett.”
The Mayor acknowledged the hearty reception of the toast, adding that he had been determined to make the occasion “as broad as possible.” Then Mr. Joshua Harrop CC gave a toast to the Municipalities of the West Riding. He remarked that he remembered the time when they had received their charter. “That was the chrysalis of Ossett as a municipality and that day she had emerged as a beautiful butterfly and was taking foremost place among the municipalities of Yorkshire.”
The Mayor of Pontefract, along with the Mayors of Dewsbury and Pudsey, replied to the toast. He told the assembled that Pontefract had been incorporated 420 years ago and he was “proud to be among so many Mayors, especially the Mayor of Ossett at the opening of that unique building.”
The Mayor of Dewsbury referred to the building as “palatial.” The Mayor of Pudsey reminded them that his was the youngest borough and that he believed this new building would increase interest in municipal life. Cllr. T. W. Bentley invited a toast to the visitors, alluding to the distinguished gentlemen assembled before them. In response, the Mayor of Morley joked that, in Ossett, they had preserved the art of toast drinking!
Cllr. W. Sykes of Horbury expressed the respect which Horbury had for Ossett He said he “knew the large amount of grit which was characteristic of Ossett men.” Alderman W. Townend proposed a toast to the architect and contractors. He expressed sorrow that one of the contractors had met with his death during construction. Mr. A. W. Hanstock, the architect, replied that he was able to say there hadn’t been the least bit of friction throughout the work. He hoped the people of Ossett would consider the Town Hall a success.
Mr. Mercer, the son of the contractor who died, said he was able to look upon that building as partly due to the efforts of his firm. It had been his father’s great ambition to see the Town Hall finished. The company had been entertained by Mr. F. Fallas, the popular tenor of Horbury, and Mr. M. Williams, a tenor from York. They were accompanied by Mr. A. Wilby at the piano.
Above: Ossett Town Hall one hundred years after it was first opened.
In the evening there was entertainment for all in the Gedham field. The "Ossett Observer" commented:
"…the entertainments were excellent. Caudler’s Punch and Judy, as this evergreen form of entertainment always does, attracted a large crowd and created much merriment. Brown’s trio of entertainers, for whose performance a platform was provided, were equally laughter provoking, whilst Monsieur Ducarel, besides being a clever ventriloquist, performed many conjuring feats which created general amusement. The brass bands were also in attendance and played for dancing, for which however the dampness under foot was not favourable. Besides the scholars, the Gedham field attracted hundreds of visitors in the evening and the place presented the appearance of a huge gala."
At 9pm the Market Place again became the focus, as “gas devices” on the Town Hall were lit. They revealed the Royal initials and Prince of Wales feathers. The following day, Wednesday 3rd June, a general invitation was extended to the residents to an “At Home” with the Mayoress. The "Ossett Observer", as ever, was on hand to report:
"…the Mayoress received nearly 1,000 guests, mostly ladies, for whom the occasion afforded the opportunity of inspecting the building and admiring its furnishings. Tea was served in the assembly hall, where Mr. A. Wilby’s band played light music and there was some excellent singing by Miss H. Tomlinson of Leeds, a really gifted soprano, and Miss Elsie Bradley of Leeds, contralto."
On the third and final day of celebration, it was the turn of the “old folks and widows” to be entertained by the Mayor and Mayoress. The age of sixty had been set as the threshold to qualify for this event and care had been taken to ensure that no-one was left out. No fewer than 930 people attended for tea in the assembly hall, where a splendid meal was served by Mr. Hinchcliffe Sharpe. Afterwards, the assembled audience were treated to a programme of entertainment described by the "Ossett Observer."
"…the services had been secured of Miss Lucy Nuttall, of Manchester, the young contralto, whose nature’s gift of a magnificent voice and the artistic use which she makes of it are bound to win her a place in the front rank of vocalists; and those of Mr. G. W. Nicholson of Leeds, the well-known humorous singer. Miss Nuttall’s singing was delightful and her selection of songs well suited to the occasion. They included “The Lost Chord”, “By the banks of Allan Water”, “The better land”, “Pretty creature” and the most popular of all, “Home sweet home.” Her beautifully mellow and full voice gave manifest pleasure. Of Mr. Nicholson, it goes without saying that where he is there is laughter. He created great merriment."
Earlier in the afternoon, the Mayor had welcomed them all to the celebration, saying he had been anxious to make the rejoicings as widespread as possible. He went on to say that:
"…many present would be able to recall a very different place from the Ossett of today. Though not an old man, he could remember a ditch running through the main streets and when for water they had to go to Cave Well, Dimple Well, West Well or some other well, returning with a pail in their hands. Since then there had been tremendous alteration."
He also recalled the old church and stocks in the Market Place, the improvements carried out in the town centre and Station Road. He finished by hoping that the new building would be useful to the townspeople and expressed kind wishes to them.
The Rev. J. H. Kirk spoke later in the evening. He called the gathering “unique”. He said it was without precedent in the town, a gathering without distinction of position or class.
One of the other speakers was Mr Bennett Brook who had been a member of the old Local Board and Corporation. Himself an octogenarian, he described the assembled as “all merry and bright as sixteeners. They could all say in truth that they had never had a more cheerful week in their lives – except perhaps the person who fell from the top of the fountain into the water.”
The proceedings were brought to a close by the assembled heartily singing “For he’s a jolly good fellow” and giving three cheers for the Mayor and Mayoress. The Mayor replied that if they had enjoyed the evening’s entertainment, then he was enormously pleased.
Finally, they all sang “God Save the King”, led by Miss Nuttall.
Here are a few pictures taken by Helen Bickerdike of Ossett Town Hall in August 2016.
Above: The front door into Ossett Town Hall.
Above: The Main Hall.
Above: The main staircase, with a portrait of Ossett's first mayor, Edward Clay.
Above: Stained glass window detail showing Ossett's coat of arms. The Latin transcription, "inutile, utile ex arte" is 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.
Above: A feature of Ossett Town Hall not commonly pictured is this light well with white faced bricks, designed to bring more light into the building.
The day after war was declared on Tuesday the 4th August 1914, a group of 83 Ossett men were on their way back to Ossett from a Territorial Army training camp at Whitby. That same evening, after they had received their mobilisation papers, these men marched from the Drill Hall in Station Road to their new billet at the Town Hall in Wakefield. A large crowd gathered to give the men a hearty send off and local tradesmen showed their support by giving the men sandwiches, tobacco and cigarettes.
Later that evening, the ringing of bells at Ossett Town Hall attracted several hundred people to the Market Place where the Mayor of Ossett, Councillor H. Robinson, read eleven royal proclamations from the town hall steps regarding the declaration of war on Germany. At the end of the twenty-minute reading, the crowd reacted enthusiastically to the mayor's request for the singing of "God Save the King".
Later in August, Wednesday was the first day that the shops were open in Ossett after the Bank Holiday. Fear of food shortages led to panic buying and prices rose sharply with flour increasing from 1s 6d (7.5p) to 3s (15p) a stone. A special meeting of the Ossett and Horbury Trades and Labour Council condemned the increases as unpatriotic. Meantime, the Ossett Observer accused hoarders of creating problems for the future and official assurances in the daily newspapers that food supplies were sufficient for several months had a calming effect. By the end of the week, prices had fallen, and the cost of flour had dropped to 2s (10p) a stone.
The outlook for the town's staple industry, reclaimed wool, was poor in the first days of the conflict. War cut off continental supplies of rags and led to the cancellation of orders for reclaimed wool. Faced with a rise in unemployment, the mayor called a meeting of employers to consider ways of minimising hardship. The difficulties of Ossett's businessmen was compounded by the closure of the banks. When the banks re-opened, the Ossett banks had enough gold and silver coinage to meet local needs, but none of the new £1 and 10s notes. The Post Office reminded its customers that postal orders could be used as currency during the financial difficulties.
Volunteers and Conscription in WW1
Until 1916, the Government depended on volunteers to fill the ranks of the armed forces. As described above, the local Ossett territorial detachment, part of the 4th Battalion of the Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (KOYLI), was mobilised during the first week of WW1. The Territorials were only committed to home duties, but by September 1914, the entire Ossett detachment had volunteered for overseas service. Whilst the Territorials were being mobilised, the army and navy reservists in the town living in Ossett also received their call-up papers.
A national recruiting campaign to raise volunteers for Kitchener's New Army began in August 1914. In Ossett, the Mayor H. Robinson, started the local campaign with an article in the Ossett Observer. Appealing for men to enlist, he called upon employers to keep open the job of volunteers and to top up their army wages so that their families did not suffer any hardship. As an example to others, he stated that the Borough Council would make weekly payments to any of its employees who volunteered. For single men this would be 7s 6d (37.5p) and for married men 12s 6d (62.5p) with 2s 6d (12.5p) extra for each child.
The mayor's appeal was followed during the next year by meetings, rallies and newspaper advertisements publicising the need for volunteers. Men who had already volunteered put additional moral pressure on those reluctant to join up by expressing their contempt for the 'shirkers'. This stage of the recruitment campaign culminated in August 1915, when a detachment of the 11th KOYLI held manoeuvres in Gedham Field (roughly where the Co-Op car park is now at the end of Kingsway) and there were recruiting meetings at works throughout Ossett.
The aim of the campaign was to raise two platoons, a total of 128 men, in Ossett and Horbury. Not surprisingly, the results were disappointing, despite the lifting of the upper age limit from 38 to 40 in May 1915. Nevertheless, the Ossett Observer believed that over the year that the town had contributed its fair share to Kitcheners New Army. This view was dispelled when the paper later used official figures to calculate that only 500 men in Ossett had joined up, a figure far below the 630 it thought should have enlisted. The Ossett Observer did not give an explanation for the disappointing figure, but it is likely that the boom in local industry in Ossett as a result of WW1 deterred men from enlisting because work was plentiful and wages were high.
Conscription was the solution used to deal with the lack of volunteers. A National Register was compiled in 1915 to give the Government an accurate picture of the country's manpower resources. In Ossett, the local register was compiled by the Borough Council in August and September of 1915. All men, aged between 15 and 65 were obliged to register, with details of their employment. The register showed that in the town there were 2,000 men of military age; 600 of them were classed as "men vital to the industrial effort" i.e. starred and the remaining 1,400 classified as suitable for conscription i.e. unstarred. However, before the National Register was used to conscript men, one last effort was made for voluntary enlistment in the form of the Derby Scheme.
In October 1915, Lord Derby was appointed Director-General of Recruiting by the Government and five days after being appointed, he instituted the "Derby Scheme" for recruiting additional men. Under the Derby Scheme, men registered their readiness to serve when called upon. Men aged 18 to 40 were sent a letter from Lord Derby and told that they could continue to enlist voluntarily, or attest with an obligation to serve if called up. In Ossett, the postal authorities delivered 1,400 of these letters in November 1915. It was also decided to canvass all eligible men in the town. Unfortunately, the local Committee in charge of the canvassing did not have enough volunteers to carry out. Instead, it invited men to attest at the Town Hall. At first, there was some confusion about the position of 'starred' men, but Major Smith, the area's chief recruiting officer, made it clear that they should attest as well as 'unstarred' men. As a result Alderman Robinson and Edmund Lund visited all the farms, munitions works and collieries in Ossett and Horbury to make sure that 'starred' men did attest. In January 1916, the Ossett Observer concluded that the Derby Scheme had been a success in the town since 64% of single men and 66% of married men eligible for the scheme had enlisted, attested or had offered to do so, but had been rejected on medical grounds.
However, nationally, the Derby Scheme was judged a failure and so, on the 27th January 1916, conscription was introduced by the Military Service Act. All voluntary enlistment was stopped and all British males were now deemed to have enlisted. All unmarried men between the ages of 18 - 41, residing in Great Britain (excluding Ireland) and were unmarried or were widowers on the 2nd November 1915 were automatically conscripted. Conscripted men were no longer given a choice of which service, regiment or unit they joined, although if a man preferred the navy it got priority to take him. This Act was extended to married men on the 25th May 1916. A further extension of the Act on 10 April 1918 increased the maximum age for conscription to 51.
Conscription had been discussed by the Ossett Chamber of Commerce and the Trades and Labour Council in 1915. Neither body had seen the need for compulsion then, but once it was introduced, neither opposed it. However, there was a suspicion among some workers that the real purpose of conscription was to lower soldiers' wages and to bring industry under military control. The increasing power of the military certainly worried the Trades and Labour Council and also some Liberals. J.A. Rushby, then secretary of the Liberal Club, said in January 1916 that "unless they guarded their rights there was a danger of militarism being fostered in England."
At the beginning of the 20th century, the town still made a little woollen cloth, but most of its activity centred on rags, shoddy and mungo. There were dozens of rag merchants, but the rapid expansion of the middle of the nineteenth century had ceased. Then the Great War between 1914-18 brought great activity, followed by dreadful unemployment and the permanent closure of many factories. The period since the 1939-45 Second World War has seen many more changes. The woollen industry has almost ceased, all the coal mines have closed and the railway has disappeared from the town.
In 1927, the outlook was still optimistic, despite the difficulties of the Great War. The Borough of Ossett printed a handbook called "The Town and Trade of Ossett" and it is interesting to look back at the state of Ossett in the 1920s. It is hard not to feel the pride expressed in this document:
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 Chickenley Heath, became a separate parish for ecclesiastical purposes in 1901, but the area is still included within the administrative borough. The town is divided into four wards for electoral purposes: - central, north, east, and west with three councillors, representing each ward.
During the opening years of the present century, the Town Council undertook the erection of a Town Hall, which was destined to serve a number of practical purposes in addition to being an outward symbol of the growing importance of the town. Centrally situated on a good open site, and built to a design, which is by no means lacking in architectural value, the Town Hall constituted an important addition to the public buildings of Ossett. It is the meeting-place of the Town Council, and provides office accommodation for the various Corporation departments. In addition to this, the building includes a large public hall, capable of seating twelve hundred people. The cost was about £23,000 - a big scheme for Ossett at the time, but one which has been thoroughly justified by the usefulness of the building in many ways.
A Well-Equipped Town
Of the gas and water supplies, both of which are in the hands of the Corporation, some details are given on other pages. Sewage works have been constructed at a cost of something like £60,000, and the Corporation has an isolation hospital at Storrs Hill. A Bench of Magistrates for the Borough was created in 1893. As already mentioned, tramway powers are held by the Council but leased to a company. Ossett has its own Education Committee. For Higher Education the Committee works in conjunction with the West Riding County Council. The Borough has its own Municipal Technical School, Grammar School, and Public Library It will, therefore, be seen that the town is well equipped with modern facilities and has not lagged behind other Northern towns in the development of its civic life.
Railway and Canal Connections:
A glance at the map of the district is sufficient to show that Ossett lies in a part of the country that is particularly well served with means of communication. The nearness of Ossett to such important railway centres as Wakefield (3½ miles), Leeds (7½ miles), and Bradford (13 miles), gives local residents and business men excellent facilities for making connections with other railway systems and reaching quickly any other part of the country, while Huddersfield, which is the manufacturing’ centre making the largest use of the material produced by Ossett’s staple industry, is but a dozen miles away. Other approximate rail distances from Ossett are as follows:
The town’s two railway stations - Ossett Town and Flushdyke are both on the Wakefield, Batley, and Bradford branch of the Great Northern Railway, and the main line of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway passes close by the town and provides a goods station at Healey, while passengers desiring to make use of that line for journeys into Lancashire can easily reach one or other of the neighbouring stations on the system.
Anyone familiar with the West Riding of Yorkshire knows that whatever may be the case in some other parts of England, canals in that area are not mere picturesque survivals of a bygone age, but take an important place in the scheme of things commercial, winding their tortuous ways through the almost continuous mass of industrial towns, sometimes climbing a hill by means of a string of locks. One of the chief constituents of the West Riding Canal system is the Aire and Calder Navigation, and one of the canals of this group comes close up to Ossett. The facilities for water transport thus afforded are of much more than local character, for the Aire and Calder Navigation, travelling east via Wakefield and Selby, links up the most westerly parts of industrial Yorkshire with the great ports on the East Coast - Hull, Grimsby, and Immingham, as well as making contact with the Lancashire canals in the opposite direction. It so happens that Ossett has scarcely any need of one of the chief functions of the canals - coal transport because the town has collieries within her own boundaries which supply the needs of local industry, but in other ways the presence of a canal counts as an industrial advantage.
Modern Gas Production - The Corporation Gas Undertaking
In 1901 the Corporation of Ossett purchased the local gas works, which had up to that time been owned by a private company. The purchase price was a heavy one, and had the effect of more than doubling the standard charges on the undertaking. In addition, the plant was out-of-date and of insufficient maximum capacity, while the distributory system was also in pressing need of improvement. This was the formidable combination of problems, which had to be faced by Mr. Arnold E. Mottram, whom the Council appointed as engineer and manager of the newly acquired service. Mr. Mottram had gained his experience of gas engineering chiefly at the Hyde Gasworks, in Cheshire, of which he had become, assistant manager. At Ossett, there was really no alternative to a bold and drastic policy, and this was initiated and pursued with complete success. The retort house was re-constructed, the mains were practically re-laid, and not only were the maximum capacity and actual output of the works increased, but the quantity of gas produced from each ton of coal was considerably improved.
In 1913 the growing requirements of the district made it imperative that the gas works should be ex¬tended, and a scheme involving an outlay of something like £26,000 was launched. In December of the following year, the new carbonizing plant was formally opened in the presence of a large gathering. Those who at¬tended included many gas engineers from various parts of the country, who were keenly interested in the event on technical grounds, as the manufacture of gas by vertical retorts was a comparatively recent introduction in this country. The execution of this scheme was another piece of bold forward policy, which has been fully justified by results. Under the old system of production coal was carted to the works, stacked there by manual labour, and shovelled into the retorts by hand. After the coal had been carbonized the coke had to be drawn out by hand, wheeled away by workmen, and slacked, stacked, and finally loaded into carts all by hand labour.
Good Water Supply
Under the new system inaugurated in 1914 the coal arrives at the works in railway wagons along a specially constructed siding. A hydraulic ram tips up the wagons, the coal slides into a hopper, and after passing through a breaker for the reduction of large lumps to suitable size, travels up a long bucket elevator to the top of the high retort house, where a mechanical conveyor running the whole length of the building drops it into storage bunkers placed directly over the retorts. After the coal is carbonized the coke is also dealt with by mechanical conveyance. The effect of this revolution, stated in 1914 figures, was a reduction in the cost of gas production from 2s. 9d. to 9d. per ton of coal used.
These details are worth giving as an example of the true economy, which may be effected by a courageous municipal policy involving, possibly, high initial expenditure. As engineer and manager, Mr. Mottram has steered the undertaking through a series of difficult periods, and now has the satisfaction of seeing the works thoroughly up-to-date and with a reserve of power to meet future requirements
Water Supply and Sewage Works
Water is bought in bulk from the Dewsbury and Heckmondwike Waterworks Board, under contract for 30 years from June 1st, 1907. The minimum quantity to be taken is 2,000,000 gallons per week, with a maximum supply of 4,000,000 gallons per week. The water is conveyed from the Staincliffe Reservoir through a 10-inch cast iron main three miles in length to the covered-in Storage Reservoir at Gawthorpe, which has a capacity of 1,000,000 gallons. Staincliffe Reservoir is 484 feet above Ordnance datum and Gawthorpe 428 feet.
The water is distributed into the town by service mains varying in diameter from 9 in. to 3 in. Originally 14¼ miles of mains were laid; these have been extended from time to time to a total length of 31 miles. Schemes for increasing the water supply are being considered by the Water Engineer. The price charged to consumers by meter is 1 shilling per 1,000 gallons.
Dealing with Trade Effluent
An example of the progressive policy of the Corporation is afforded by their sewage disposal scheme. Practically the whole of their sewage gravitates to two outfalls: the Southern Outfall at. Healey, and the Eastern Outfall at Spa. The latter works were completed in 1875, consisting at that time of three settling tanks and two acres of land. Extensions were carried out in 1896 and 1907.
The Local Government Board sanctioned a further addition to the works in 1913, which necessitated the reconstruction of the Main Outfall Sewer. Two new Screening Chambers and a Storm Overflow Chamber were constructed, also two new Settling Tanks with a joint capacity of 103,500 gallons. The. Percolating Filters were increased in number from three to seven, each 100 feet in diameter. Since the new tanks and filters have been at work the effluent has gradually improved.
Under the Ossett Corporation Act (1914) the Council obtained powers to make a charge for the treatment of Trade Effluent, which is dealt with at both the Spa and Healey Works. These charges in May 1921, varied from 2d. to 4½d. per gallon, according to the trade.
The Spring End installation is a miniature undertaking, complete in itself, comprising detritus pit, continuous flow settling tanks in duplicate, and auto dose valve to regulate the dosing of the filter. Many costly schemes had been tried from time to time to solve the difficulty of dealing with the Spring End Outfall by experts who failed to see that it could be worked by gravitation.
The whole of the works, with the exception of the Engine House, were carried out by direct labour, without friction or mishap of any kind. The new works were designed on the simplest lines, having due regard to efficiency and economy, and are expected to be capable of meeting all requirements for many years to come.
The Engineering Trade
This tremendous revolution of development would, of course, not have been possible without that wonderful instrument, the rag-grinding machine. It is natural, therefore, that in a district which depends so much on the rag machine there should arise firms which, in addition to the trade of millwrights, make a speciality of manufacturing especial machinery required in the town. The firm of Messrs. J. Halstead & Son, machine-makers, Highfield Works, is one of long-standing, which has paid special attention to the construction of the rag-pulling machine and also to rag-shakers and to the re¬covering of worn-out “swifts” or cylinders. Like ordinary humans, the teeth of rag machines are apt to degenerate with age, and this firm devotes special skill to the re-covering of the swifts with new teeth. They have invented many improvements to the rag machine and the shaker, and make a speciality of cleaning them. It is an interesting fact that at least 75% of the rag machines used in Ossett have been constructed by this and another firm. Machinery for the curling of horsehair, etc., for making mattresses is also made by this firm, which supplies many Glasgow firms with it. Woodworking lathes, circular saws, etc., are also made by a firm in the borough.
The woollen industry flourishes when it is near a coalfield, and for generations Ossett has been a coal-producing area. There are to-day several pits of importance in the township, viz., Roundwood, Low Laithes (Gawthorpe), Westwood’s Greatfield and Flushdyke pits, and they employ about fifteen hundred men in all. They produce house, gas, and steam-producing coal, and it is said that one of these collieries exports from 60,000 to 70,000 tons of gas and steam-producing coals annually. Ossett factories are supplied from these local pits, which also do a good trade with the gas and electricity works of the district.
An Interesting Ossett Industry - Fireworks
For nearly eighty years the firm of Messrs. M. Riley & Sons, of Wakefield Road, Ossett, have been supplying successive generations of schoolboys with that most delightful of possessions, a stock of capital fireworks, and the firm to-day is reputed to be the third largest and one of the most efficient makers of fireworks in the country. The firm was established by the grandfather of the present proprietors, Mr. Michael Riley, an Ossett man, in 1844, and he was succeeded by his son, Mr. Solomon Riley, who continued the business until his death in 1897, when Mr. Mark Ellis Riley, his brother, who was the organist and choirmaster at Ossett Parish Church, took up the principalship until his death in 1904. The present proprietors, Mr. A. V. S. Riley and Mr. S. B. Riley, have taken up the family business with an energy and enterprise, which have brought the firm right to the forefront.
The firm has been responsible for the pyrotechnic displays in some of the best-known galas in the North of England. Messrs. M. Riley & Sons provided the fireworks displays in the Coronation festivities in the principal Northern towns, and during the peace rejoicings in 1919 the firm was equally prominent. In 1913 and 1914 the firm secured the contract for the seasonal fireworks displays at Bridlington Spa. They have a big reputation for their spectacular displays, which illustrate Niagara Falls and the Taj Mahal, and include many comical devices, which are exceedingly popular with the Northern crowds. Messrs. Riley & Sons are well known throughout the Midlands and the North for their admirable provision for the November trade, which now includes not only the Guy Fawkes’ Festival but also the celebration of Armistice Day. It is scarcely credible, but it is nevertheless true, that they manufacture between 250 and 300 different kinds of fireworks, and their manufactures are popular wherever youth foregathers.
Their war service deserves special mention. From August 1915, to the end of the War they were fully employed by the War Office and the Admiralty, and their special knowledge of explosives was extremely useful. They filled as many as between eight and nine million grenades, made red and green square cartridges to the extent of a quarter of a million, and 100,000 parachute cartridges; they were responsible for 6,000 smoke boxes for the Admiralty, and for three thousand deck flares which were used as smoke screens, especially by merchant and passenger ships. That is a war record to be proud of. Since the Armistice the firm has gone back to the normal pyrotechnic and fireworks trade.
However, despite the optimistic words above, disaster was to ruin this Ossett business and cause it to close overnight. The 'Ossett Observer' for August 20th 1927, had the following story:
"Terrible Explosion at Ossett Fireworks Factory"
"A terrible explosion resulting in three deaths occurred shortly after seven o 'clock last (Friday) evening (19th August 1927) on the premises of Messrs. Riley and Sons, firework manufacturers of Wakefield Road, Ossett.
The explosion, the cause of which cannot at present be explained, took place in the chemical shed, one of the several detached buildings where the firm's work is carried on. Four persons were working at the time, these being Messrs. Arthur Victor Sheldon Riley (the proprietor); Fred Ward and F. Bottomley (employees), all married men and residing in Springstone Avenue and Mr. Harvey Sheldrake.
Mr. Riley was alive when picked up, but died before his removal. The two others were dead when found outside the building, which was completely shattered by the explosion. Mr. Harvey Sheldrake was in an adjoining shed and escaped personal injury, though he was obviously suffering from shock. The effects of the explosion were felt in various parts of the town and windows were smashed in the Fern House Working Men's Club, in Wakefield Road, opposite Messrs. Riley's works.
Ossett Fire Brigade and Ambulance were quickly on the scene after the alarm, one length of hose being sufficient to prevent the possibility of fire. We understand that the injuries were of a terrible nature and two of the bodies (those of Ward and Bottomley) being practically dismembered. Death was obviously instantaneous in their case. Mr. Riley, whose injuries appeared to be in the lower part of the body, lived 10 or 15 minutes after the occurrence.
The explosion was so terrific that people in all parts of the town immediately rushed into the streets to inquire the cause, and when the fire 'buzzer' was heard shortly afterwards, people wended their way, as if by intuition, in the direction of Riley's factory. Within a comparatively short space of time a huge crowd had gathered on the scene, regardless of the danger of close proximity to buildings of that nature and it was with some difficulty that they could be induced to stand clear. It was fortunate that there was no outburst of flames, but as a precautionary measure, the brigade saturated the remains of the wreckage. The building was practically razed to the ground, and the contents were scattered in all directions. The force of the explosion can be imagined from the fact that two of the bodies were found outside the area of the building, whilst windows were broken in a house in Tumbling Close, some 600 yards away.
The tragedy cast a gloom over the town, all the victims being well-known and highly esteemed. The deepest sympathy is felt with the families of the deceased men in their sad bereavement. Each of the victims leaves a widow and one child."
A tour of the wire mattress works of Messrs. V. N. Wilson & Co. is a distinctly interesting experience. From the timber conditioning shed one passes to a machine which automatically cuts timbers to the required lengths; another machine rips it up, and it is passed forward to a third machine which smooths all four sides at one operation, and makes a pleasing mould down the outer side. Then the pieces are bored, and passed forward to the varnishing room, from which they emerge the familiar golden yellow.
Next comes the wire mattress weaving department, where highly ingenious machines swallow large coils of wire, specially treated to withstand atmospheric action, and turn out beautifully woven meshes of all sizes, the best of which require several miles of wire for their manufacture. In the assembling room they are cut to length and secured to the frames, and then packed and despatched by rail and motors to their destinations, which are as far apart as the South Coast of England, North of Scotland, Liverpool and Hull.
This firm also make all classes of wool, hair, and fibre mattresses, as well as flock and feather bed sets, box spring mattresses, etc. Being situated in the heart of Heavy Woollen District of Yorkshire, they have special facilities for securing ample supplies of Woollen Flocks and Mattress Wools of all grades, which are guaranteed to be cleansed and purified to the Government standard. During the War large numbers of beds, mattresses, etc., were made for hospital and Red Cross requirements.
The cases and bed-ticks are made by experienced machinists on high-speed power sewing machines, which attain a speed of 3,600 stitches a minute. The old-fashioned straw palliasses are rapidly being displaced by woven wire spring mattresses, but large numbers are still being made, for certain districts, which necessitate the use of scores of tons of straw annually.
The workshops are light, roomy, all on the ground floor, and built especially for the mattress and bedding trade. Their layout eliminates unnecessary handling, and secures maximum out¬put at minimum cost. Raw materials enter from rails passing direct to machines, and from one department to another, emerging as the finished product, never having passed over the same ground twice. The machinery is up-to-date, efficient, and well guarded on “safety first” methods. The staff, experienced and skilful, includes many with good War records, and the best of feeling exists between men and masters.
Large stocks are held, and delivery is prompt, being carried out if within 50 miles, by the firm’s own motors. The quality of the product is very high: only finest quality pitch pine and wire are used. Mattress wools, flocks, etc. are cleaned and purified to Government standards, and tickings are obtained from best English, Irish, Scottish and Belgian makers. All wire mattress frames are double varnished with special varnish. The firm’s manufactures find ready markets with leading house furnishers, hospitals, sanatoria, etc., throughout the country.
Sadly, it was reported in the 'Ossett Observer' 16th July 1927 that Vincent Wilson's business had failed:
"The creditors of Vincent Norman Wilson, trading as V.N. Wilson and Co., mattress and bedding manufacturers of Prospect Works, Ossett met at Huddersfield on Friday. The statement of affairs showed that there were liabilities of £3,463-17s-0d and assets of £1,525-12s-6d, leaving a deficiency of £1,938-4s-6d. The assets as estimated should be equal to 8s-10d in the Pound, subject to realisation and costs. There are trade creditors £2,261 and cash creditors of £578. The debtor started business on his own account in 1914 with capital of about £350 and he attributed his position largely to a lack of capital. The debtor was asked to pay 7s-6d in the Pound within a week, failing which he would be asked to execute a deed of assignment in favour of Mr. Fred Sheard, Accountant, Huddersfield as trustee."
The late Eli Townend, under whose management the firm soon built up a good name for high-class shoddies for Home and Export trade, commenced this business nearly 40 years ago. In 1900 the firm became a branch of the Extract Wool & Merino Co. Limited. The Director at this branch is Mr. J. H. Townend.
Telegrams: Eli Townend, Ossett.
This firm was established some 30 years ago by the late Mr. W. S. Jessop and Mr. Arthur Jessop, and was an offshoot from the firm of Fawcett Firth and Jessop. In 1900 the business was incorporated as a branch of the Extract Wool & Merino Company Limited. The branch has a good reputation for all classes of mungoes and shoddies. The Directors at the branch are Mr. Arthur Jessop and Mr. Leonard Varley.
Telegrams: Jessop Bros., Ossett.
The late Mr. James Fitton established this business in the year 1878 and the firm quickly acquired a reputation for reliable shoddies and mungoes. In 1896 the business was converted into a private limited company, which was in 1900 incorporated as a branch of the Extract Wool & Merino Company Limited. The Directors of this branch are Mr. James Fitton, Mr. Edgar Fitton, and Mr. J. H. Fitton.
Telegrams: “Pildacre, Dewsbury.”
Telephones: 62 & 65 Dewsbury.
This business was commenced in 1890, at Chapel Fold, Staincliffe, Dewsbury by Mr. Henry Phillips, father of the present proprietor. Later on premises were secured in Halifax Road, and the carbonizing and dyeing of mungo and shoddies was undertaken. It was for the continuance and development of this side of the business that the Spa Mills at Ossett were subsequently purchased, and at considerable cost were brought up to a high state of working efficiency. Here commission carbonization, pulling, etc., are done under the personal supervision of Mr. T. M. Phillips, who was for a period of twenty years with the late Major Chaley and Mr. Duke Fox, of Messrs. E. Fox & Sons, Dewsbury, and with the late Major Stockwell, as dyer and manager.
Telephones: 140, Ossett, and 888, Dewsbury.
The late Walter Walker, J.P., founded this old-established business at Watergate, Dewsbury, with a branch at the above-named address, and, owing to the largely increased business, it was found necessary to extend. This was not possible at the Dewsbury premises, so Highfield Mills were considerably enlarged and specially adapted for modern machinery and larger output. Upon completion of the extensions in 1918 the Dewsbury premises were closed, and the whole of the business is now conducted from Highfield Mills, Ossett.
The firm is now equipped with all the latest machinery for the spinning and dyeing, etc., of Woollen and Worsted Yarns for Carpets, Rugs, Fringes, Blankets, and Hosiery, etc., for home trade and export. The premises are situated on the main road mid-way between Dewsbury and Wakefield, within easy access of both the Ossett and Dewsbury trams and the G.N. Railway (Ossett or Flushdyke Stations).
Telegrams: “Spinner, Ossett.”
This business, which has its headquarters at 15 York Place, Leeds, was established in 1899. The Whitley Spring Mills at Ossett are devoted to the manufacture of plain and fancy cloths in cotton warps.
Telegrams: “Elegant, Leeds.”
Telephone: Leeds 26680; Ossett 45.
The founder of this firm was Mr. John Wm. Smith, who died at the end of 1915. He commenced business in partnership with the late Mr. Eli Townend about 1871. This partnership dissolved about 1883, and the business was then carried on as John Wm. Smith, at Calder Vale Mills for about eight years previous to purchasing the present premises, and was formed into a limited company in 1904.
The firm are makers of shoddy both pulled and carded. Specialities are made of all shades of dyed Merinoes, Serges, and Worsteds. The principal part of the trade is export, which is done indirectly through Bradford merchants. Messrs. John Wm. Smith, Ltd., also do commission carbonizing, dyeing, pulling and carding.
Telegrams: “Shoddy, Ossett.”
Telephone: No. 52.
Joseph Illingworth, Fellmonger, Spa Street, Ossett.
This business was commenced by Mr. Albert Illingworth, father of the present proprietor, in 1896 and continued by him until 1916. After the interruption caused by the War Mr. Joseph Illingworth re-opened the-business at the same address in 1919, concentrating his activities exclusively on the treatment of English skins. The wool is prepared for sale to wool merchants, and the pelts are disposed of to leather dressers. Mr. Illingworth deals in wash-leathers of various grades as a speciality.
Telegrams: Illingworth, Spa Street, Ossett.
Gill Bros., Engineers, Ossett.
This business was founded in 1913 at Victoria Mills, Ossett. It was found necessary to build new and larger works in Park Square, in 1919, and again to extend and build still larger premises in 1920. Both Iron and Brass Castings are made on the premises, and every class of engineering work is carried out.
This firm specialize in woodworking machines of about 100 different patterns. One branch of the works is devoted to mill repairs, and quick despatch in any mill repairs is thereby easily accomplished.
The plant consists of brass furnace, iron furnace, planing, shaping, milling, gear cutting, dividing, drilling, boring and sawing machines, and a number of turret and turning lathes. A Smiths’ shop with a 60-lbs. forging hammer and a pattern-making and joinery plant combine to make these works capable of dealing with any branch in engineering, from pig iron to the finished product.
Telegrams: “Gill Bros., Ossett.” A.B.C. Code 5th Edition.
The partners in this business are Mr. Arthur H. Marsh, formerly Chief Electrical Engineer to the Askern Coal & Iron Co. Ltd., near Doncaster, where he was engaged for eight years, and Mr. John W. Sanderson, Shift Engineer with the Fulham Electric Light and Power Co. The present partnership was formed in January 1920. All classes of electrical work are undertaken, including installations for motors, complete plants, accumulator batteries, lighting power, telephones and bells. The firm are patentees of the “Victory” bell push for mines, dye houses and dangerous and gaseous places, and also of the “M. & S.” switch covers for protecting switches from shock and mechanical damage. These specialities are manufactured by Messrs. Marsh & Sanderson.
Rhodes and Halmshaw, Sheet Metal Workers, Ventilating and Constructional Engineers, Wesley Street, Ossett.
The firm of Messrs. Rhodes & Halmshaw has been established in recent years and is carried on under the most model and progressive conditions. The activities of the firm are widespread, and the progressive policy pursued has every indication of placing this business among the leading ones in Yorkshire for sheet metal work and ventilation work. Elevators for the conveyance of bulk, general merchandise, etc., are designed and constructed, and a speciality is made of ventilation of cinema theatres and other large buildings. The firm has accumulated an extensive experience in the scientific handling of problems of ventilation, and their constructional methods are based upon thoroughly up-to-date ideas.
The business of Textile Machine-making was commenced at Highfield Works, Dewsbury Road, Ossett, by the late Mr. Benjamin Burton, and attained considerable dimensions. After his death, in 1876, a good part of the plant was dismantled and another firm carried on business for a short time. In 1878 the small amount of business which was left was taken over by Mr. John Halstead, and he at once began to make the special machinery used locally, such as Rag Machines, Rag Shakers, etc., also re-clothing or re-covering the swifts out of the rag machines. Owing to the expert knowledge Mr. Halstead possessed and the great care and attention given to details, the business soon became successful, and this firm has played a great part in fitting up most of the Shoddy Firms in Ossett. Since Mr. John Halstead’s death, in 1918, the business has been carried on by his son, Mr James E. Halstead, under the style of John Halstead & Son. Some years ago the firm took over the old-established business of manufacturers of Curled Hair Machinery, Coir Fibre, etc., founded by Jonas Haley & Sons at Dewsbury, and now do a considerable business in supplying special machinery, such as Teasers, Shakers, etc., for this trade, which of course takes them outside Ossett.
They have always made a speciality of Rag Machines for the-local trade, and for some years now have made a special study of the machinery necessary for cleaning and shaking rags.
M. Riley and Sons, Pyrotechnists, Illuminators and Decorators, Wakefield Road, Ossett, Yorks. Contractors to His Majesty’s Government.
This firm was established in the year 1844 by the late Mr. Michael Riley (grandfather of the present proprietors), who commenced the manufacture of fireworks in a very humble way at home. Later the work was carried on, on a bigger scale, in a few sheds, which were, from time to time, considerably extended, with the result that the factory gradually became one of the largest of its kind in the Kingdom. The outbreak of the Great War in 1914 necessitated the factory being remodelled on an extensive scale, in order to cope with the-consequent demand for all classes of munitions of war, large quantities of which were successfully manufactured by the firm to the requirements of the Government. The industry consists chiefly of the manufacture of fireworks for the 5th-November trade, including many new and striking novelties, which have been introduced within recent years. Fire¬work displays, illuminations and decorations are also undertaken on any scale. The firm have, therefore, over 70 years’ reputation for all classes of work, coupled with the best of workmanship, and at reasonable prices.
Telephone No. 150, Ossett.
Telegraphic Address: “ Explosive, Ossett.”
Situated on the main road between Wakefield and Dewsbury, these works are equipped with modern machinery for the execution of mechanical and constructional engineering work and repairs. The firm are specialists in colliery and mill repairs, and give prompt service by day or night in cases of emergency. They are makers of all kinds of colliery plant, including steel pit corves; tip wagons, coal screens, elevators, conveyors, hoppers, and “ Reliance “ haulage gears, driven either by electricity or compressed air.
Shafting pulleys for rope or belt, gearing pedestals, roof trusses; stanchions and girder work to any design are among other lines of production undertaken at the “Progress” Works, while surplus mill and other plant is dismantled or purchased.
Another branch of the business is devoted to shoeing and general smiths’ work of all kinds.
Telegrams and Telephone: 226, Ossett.
World War II
War was declared on the 2nd of September 1939 and the Ossett Observer reported the following emergency measures:
"The following cellars in the town centre will be public shelters for the accommodation of those persons caught out in the street during an air raid: The Public Library, The Liberal Club, Ossett Co- Operative Society (Drapery Dept and Furnishing Dept), Horse & Jockey, Royal Hotel, Carpenters Arms, Cock and Bottle, Trades and Labour Club, George Hotel, Great Northern Hotel [later becoming the Thorn Tree], Mr W Lonsdale (Streetside), Ossett Co Operative Society (Streetside), The Old Flying Horse Hotel, Red Lion, and the Commercial".
"The first warning of an air raid will be an intermittent blast sounded on the sirens in the town, which will be no longer used for industrial purposes. If gas is used, special warnings will be given by the air raid wardens and special constables, by the sounding of hand rattles. When the gas has cleared, hand bells will be sounded. "
The 'Ossett Observer' for the 21st September 1940 reported that bombs fell in Ossett on Monday evening.
"The first high explosive dropped in a garden against the cricket ground, the second on a lawn in a nearby terrace, the third on the exterior premises of a well known plumber, the fourth across the road in the grounds of a well known doctor, against his private underground shelter. The fifth and sixth in a field over the brow, about 200 yards away, the seventh in an adjacent allotment, the eighth about 300 yards farther on at the entrance to a nursery, the ninth about 200 yards lower down by the pavement side against a mill entrance, and the tenth and last 200 yards further still in the garden of a house abutting a main road running to an old time spa. It was reported that another, apparently unexploded, had buried itself in the back garden of a bungalow in a well known drive, but this was found not to be the case. There was not a single direct hit. It is not known if one or two aeroplanes were involved in the raid, the flight path was from west to east. 30 incendiaries were carried by a strong breeze and landed in a direct line from a colliery in the northern part of the borough to the boundary of a neighbouring city. The ten high explosives were all of about 2 cwt calibre. These also landed in an almost direct line, along a distance of about half to three quarters of a mile."
Note the terse nature of the report, which attempts to disguise places and names.
In 1940 after the Battle of Britain had raged in the September sunshine over southern England, the Spitfire fighter gained legendary status. In response to a national appeal for funds towards the war effort, the neighbouring towns of Ossett and Horbury joined together to raise funds to buy a Spitfire fighter for the war effort.
Above: The "Ossett and Horbury" Spitfire IIB, P8346
Money was tight, and in 1940, rationing was already happening, but the people from both towns worked hard to raise the £5,000 needed. In Ossett, a Spitfire Fund Committee was set up and Barclays bank in Horbury High Street had a huge fundraising thermometer in which money could be deposited, to show pictorially how much money had been raised.
There were many striking instances of sacrifice for the common cause and one notable example was the poor OAP who took all his old age pension after drawing it at the local Post Office to the secretary of the fund committee. It took just four months to raise the £5,269 3s 8d and on October 9th 1940, the Mayor of Ossett and the chairman of Horbury Urban District Council made a joint announcement in the “Ossett Observer.”
They said: “At last the Spitfire can be bought, thank you to everyone involved,” demonstrating the huge commitment and close co-operation of the two communities of Ossett and Horbury.
An unnamed local businessman donated 200 models of Spitfires for every class of schoolchildren involved in raising money, with a larger model to be given to the class which raised the most cash. As a reward for the people involved in raising the money, Councillor Ralph Hirst organised and paid for a celebration dinner at Terry Mills in Horbury.
Subsequently, the order for the new aircraft was placed and Spitfire IIb, P8346 with its powerful Rolls Royce Merlin engine rolled off the factory floor at the Castle Bromwich Aircraft Factory on the 26th April 1941. When the aircraft were completed, they were towed across the main Chester Road to the local airfield and checked by test pilots before being delivered to the RAF by Air Transport Auxiliary pilots. Spitfire P8346 was delivered to RAF Northolt, near London, the home of the Polish (303) Squadron on the 19th June 1941 from 37 Maintenance Unit.
A young Polish pilot, Jozef Bondar (shown left), born July 8th 1916, in Treze, Bialystok Province, was a veteran of the Polish campaign against the Germans in September 1939 at the start of WW2. He had completed 9 sorties with a total of 16 hours combat flying time in that struggle. He was hit three times during his air battles over Warsaw by the more experienced German flyers and he was lucky to survive. When the Germans occupied his country, Bondar escaped Poland via Romania and eventually made his way to England to join the Allied war effort against the Nazis. After completing some flight training in England between March and May 1941, mainly to familiarise himself with the controls of British fighter planes, which were different to Polish and French made fighters, he joined the Polish (303) Squadron on the 18th May 1941
After further familiarisation with the Spitfire, Pilot Officer Bondar’s first sortie with the Polish Air Force in England was on the 16th June 1941. This was just a sweep over occupied territory in France to try and force up Luftwaffe fighters into combat. He returned safely without seeing any action. The next day, Bondar was in action again in the skies above southern England. He was shot down in battle between Dover and Folkestone, but managed to survive by baling out as his Spitfire crashed, suffering only minor injuries.
At this point, Bondar was allocated Spitfire IIb, P8346, “Ossett and Horbury” and on June 23rd, 24th and 25th June, he took part in the “Circus” operations escorting Blenheim bombers on operations over occupied France. There were usually 100 fighters accompanying 20 bombers. The objectives of these bombing raids were Chocques, Comines, St. Omer and Hazebrouck.
On the 23rd June, at 10:30 am at Desvres, Bondar reported the likely shooting down of a Messerschmitt Bf 190E that was preparing to attack a Spitfire. Bondar shot at the Bf 109E from behind at a distance of about 200 yards, which resulted in small explosions. The German fighter went into a vertical dive with little manoeuvrability evident from the pilot. The enemy plane was seen close to the ground, but Bondar didn’t see whether it crashed. The allied mission was to bomb a power plant at Chocques and despite the heavy fighter escort, two Blenheim bombers were lost.
On the 28th June 1941 in another “Circus” operation, Bondar was flying Spitfire P8346 as was now usual. His group of Spitfires were attacked by five Messerschmitt Bf 109E fighters. The Spitfires broke away from the enemy after a brief air battle and headed west. Lead Pilot Kolaczkowski saw that Spitfire IIB, P8346 “Ossett and Horbury” piloted by Bondar was trailing white smoke and gradually falling behind the rest. Flying from the east, the Spitfire was losing height, until it crashed into a field near Gravelines, south-east of Calais at 08:30. At the time local children were going to school and many of them witnessed the Spitfire crash into the ground, killing Pilot Officer Jozef Bondar.
German fighter pilot Emil Babenz claimed the “kill” of Spitfire P8346 on the 28th June 1941. Babenz was credited with 24 victories in 335 missions. All his victories were recorded over the Western front. On the 8th of April 1944, Babenz was shot down and killed in aerial combat with P-47 fighters of the 361st Fighter Group, USAAF over the Zuider Zee in Holland. His Fw 190 A-6 (W.Nr. 470 046) “Black 1” crashed vertically into the ground near Bentheim.
Above: Bondar’s memorial plaque is situated near the village of Neuve Chapelle. The plaque reads "Remember Pilot Officer Jozef Bondar, Polish Pilot in the Royal Air Force (303 "Kosciuszko" Squadron) who lost his life in aerial combat near this location on the morning of the 28th June 1941."
It isn’t clear if the people of Ossett and Horbury who worked so hard to raise the £5,000 to build the “Ossett and Horbury” Spitfire were ever made aware that it only lasted nine days in active service and that its Polish pilot died in combat.
Boer War Tribute Medals
In addition to the official medals, Boer War veterans were also issued with Tribute Medals from the towns or districts where they had come from. Ossett was one of the 40 towns in England to honour returning soldiers from the Boer War with such medals.
Edwin Westwood (1875 -1963) who lived in Westfield Street, Headlands, a member of the well-known Ossett Westwood family served in South Africa between 1901-1902, in the Transvaal, Orange Free State and Cape Colony. He then went on to serve in the Great War, serving in Palestine and Egypt.
Above: Edwin Westwood's Boer War campaign medal with a picture of him (inset)
Edwin Westwood was one of three brothers who later ran several Ossett collieries including Greatfield (the others were Harvey and Thomas Westwood). They were the sons of Henry Westwood J.P. an ex Alderman of Ossett, and a much respected local man who had earlier run Westfield Colliery.
World War One
After a settled period in Edwardian England and relative prosperity, Britain was drawn in to the Great War when war was declared on Germany on the 4th August 1914. Germany had declared war on France and invaded neutral Belgium with the result that previously neutral Britain felt obliged to support France by declaring war. What followed changed Europe forever and left the British and Empire forces with over a million men killed or missing and over two million wounded. The trench warfare in Belgium and France on the Western Front resulted in absolute carnage as full-on infantry charges were repulsed by deadly accurate machine gun fire and artillery. Eventually, the Allies got the upper hand after the Germans made a final push in 1918 that overstretched them. The armistice was signed on the 11th November 1918 after four years of terrible fighting.
The WW1 story of Ossett soldier Willie Chappell provided by John Sullivan
William Chappell was born in 1896 in Batley Yorkshire, son of Arthur and Hannah Maria Chappell. The Chappells lived in Ossett, near Wakefield with William, known as Willie, his brother Joe (b. 1894), sister Mary (b. 1905), and his cousin Bertram Allsopp (b. 1891), adopted son of the Chappells. By 1911, the Chappell household also includes Arthur's mother Mary Chappell, 75. Ossett was principally a cloth making town, but also employed many in the local coal mines around Wakefield. Arthur was a Stationary Engineer and had married Hannah Maria nee Green in July 1892. Willie's brother, Joe, was an apprentice blacksmith, and Bertram was a Mill Worker/Rag Maker, whilst Willie and his sister Mary were at school in 1911.
Willie joined the Church Lads Brigade sometime around 1909 at the age of 13, and the boys were disciplined locally in rifle drills and various military style exercises. In 1911 the small movement became recognised by the War Office as part of the Territorial Cadet Force and when the call to arms came in the summer of 1914 they formed the 16th (Service) Battalion (Church Lads Brigade) of the King’s Royal Rifle Corps under Field Marshal Lord Grenfell at Denham in Buckinghamshire. In early September 1914 the 18-year-old Willie Chappell left his family and travelled first to London's King Cross, and then to Denham. Willie writes to his mother as soon as he arrives in Denham, on a postcard he bought at the Swan Hotel on the Village Road:
"Dear Mother, Arrived London 2pm. Came straight here. Can't say where or what we shall do. This place Denham is near Weybridge. Don't worry shall be all right. Don't know my address yet. Love from Willie." He adds one more line: "Am in this hotel on the photo while writing".
Willie spent the next six months in Denham undertaking training and guard duties at local bridges and reservoirs, and two further months in Rayleigh, Essex. In June 1915 the Lads moved to Clipstone Camp in Mansfield and attach to the 100th Brigade in 33rd Division and that summer on to Perham Down, a village near Salisbury Plain, and Andover. In November the Division received a warning order to prepare to sail for France, and the Brigade moved by train to Southampton with a total contingent of 30 officers and 994 other ranks, 64 horses and mules, 19 vehicles and 9 bicycles. Willie and the 16th Battalion (Church Lads Brigade) of the King’s Royal Rifle Corps ended their journey into war with a night Channel crossing and landed on 17th November 1915 in the Haute-Normandie region of France at Le Havre.
The following is an account from records of the 16th Battalion:
"From Le Havre, the battalion moves first by train via Abbeville to Thienne on 19th November and then after a few days in Boesegham it marches on to Annezin by the 30th November. Various courses and training continue while different parts of the battalion are giving some trench familiarisation in rotation. Others are attached to the 180th Tunnelling Company R.E. as working parties for mining activities. They move to St. Hilaire on the 12th December, where they remain until the 28th December. Christmas Day 1915, passes without any special note and 28th/29th December they move to billets in Bethune. The Battalion gets the bath house on New Year's day, but there is no clean kit available. On the 2nd January 1916, the first Sunday of the New Year, the battalion moves into the firing line for eight days in trenches near Bethune. The battalion's position comes under an intense bombardment that lasts for hours. As the firing and shelling dies down, the damage has to be repaired. This work, together with digging out the buried men, goes for the next few days while the enemy continue to snipe, shell and machine gun. The battalion is relieved on the 10th January. Their losses for that first Sunday alone were 9 killed and 27 wounded."
It was at, or shortly after, this battle in Bethune that William 'Willie' Chappell was wounded and died of his injuries. He was buried on 31 January 1916 in Bethune Town Cemetery, Pas de Calais, and a headstone marks his burial. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission record his passing: "Chappell, W. Age 20. Son of Arthur and Hannah Maria Chappell of 6 Groudle Place, Broadowler Lane, Ossett, Wakefield."
The Most Important Ossett Trade
The really characteristic industry of Ossett is not cloth manufacture, but those most important subsidiary processes which are grouped under the misleading term of “rag trade.” In common with Dewsbury and Batley, the discovery of shoddy and mungo and the utilisation of what is known as rag-wool in the heavy woollen industry, revolutionised the industrial life of Ossett. In the middle years of last century the rag and mungo trade began to make headway and to take the place of cloth making. Like the Waverley pen, shoddy and mungo came as a boon and a blessing to men, and Ossett took a leading part in making their value known and in giving the world the inestimable benefits that have flown from them.
Mungo and Shoddy
What is mungo and shoddy? This is nothing but wool in another form! Years ago cast-off garments were given to the poor, or thrown to the refuse heap; today discarded garments are collected, sent to the West Riding, thoroughly cleansed and purified by an ingenious process, converted again into cloth, and made into smart, “ dressy “ clothes at prices well within the means of those with modest incomes. The ingenious process of extracting and recovering wool from discarded garments is known as rag grinding, and the result of the process, an article scarcely to be discriminated from dyed wool, is known as shoddy or mungo. The business of collecting rags from all over Great Britain and the Continent, of sorting them into the many hundreds of different shades and qualities required by the manufacturer, the further business of converting these rags into rag wool is the main occupation of the people of Ossett. There are probably more rag merchants in proportion to the population in Ossett than in Dewsbury or Batley; their businesses vary from the employer of scores of rag pickers to the employer of half-a-dozen; they occupy premises, as it was picturesquely phrased the other day, ranging from a Crystal Palace to a rabbit-hutch. It is a wonderful trade. The cast-off clothing of the farmer from Norway, the vine dresser from France, the peasant of Austria - before the War all come to Ossett. These are sorted according to colour and quality, cleansed and carbonised - in which process any cotton in them is destroyed then sent to the rag machine, which “pulls” them fibre from fibre and converts them into a substance resembling wool.
“Renaissance Wool ”
This - called mungo and shoddy is then sold to the manufacturers of Morley, Colne Valley, Huddersfield, Dewsbury, Batley, Guiseley, and a score of other places in and around the Heavy Woollen District, re-woven into cloth, re-made into overcoats or mantles, men’s or women’s costumes, and sold either to the butcher at home or to the foreigner far afield. And the wonderful thing is that when these cloths reach the end of their second “lives” they will probably find their way back to Ossett once more, to undergo the same process again. Ossett is the principal centre of the early processes of rag sorting, and particularly of the processes which convert the discarded garment into rag-wool. The leading mungo and shoddy works in England are to be found in Ossett. They employ some thousands of workpeople and own some hundreds of rag-grinding machines. Much of the product of these machines is consumed by the manufacturers of Batley and Dewsbury, but this “renaissance wool,” as it has been called, goes from Ossett to take its part in the manufacture of the tweeds for which Huddersfield and the Colne Valley are renowned, the serges, Meltons and vicunas of Morley and the townships about Leeds, and, with bated breath, it may be whispered that the aristocratic West of England cloth, the tweeds of the Scottish border, and the hosiery of the Midlands are not quite innocent of the rag-wool which comes “fra Ossett.” It is estimated that the weekly output of this rag-wool is not less than 3,500 packs of 240 lbs. each, and that at a fairly moderate price per pound it represents a money value approaching at least to one million sterling.
New Roads in Ossett
Mar 12 1927: Names have been given to three of Ossett's new streets. Kingsway, Queens Walk and Westwood Road.
June 4th 1927: Building operations on the Queens Drive site are continuing apace, and some of the houses are already occupied, while many others are rapidly approaching completion. The row which faces onto Queens Drive is set 80ft back. It was originally intended to be much nearer the road, but has had to be set so far back because of the colliery workings underneath. (This is the row opposite the Queens Drive fish & chip shop. The colliery workings would be from Roundwood Colliery.)
Aug 25th 1928: Kingsway was officially opened on 21st Aug by Alderman G F Wilson. On March 31st there had been a motorcycle speed trial on the road, a grandstand had been erected. 6000 people attended. The track was half a mile long, and contestants went up in pairs.
Aug 17th 1929: A new postal letter box has been placed in Queens Drive in the shop premises of Mr J Gibson, who has taken out a stamp licence. It will be of great convenience to the new colony which has sprang up in that part of the town.
An interesting industry that has emerged in Ossett at the end of the 20th Century is the Ossett Brewery
Ossett Brewery History
The story of Ossett Brewery starts with Bob Lawson; a brewer for over 40 years who began his care working for Beverley Bros. Brewer in Wakefield. From there he moved to Matthew Brown’s in Blackburn and then in 1969 on to Joshua Tetley & Son in Leeds where he spent almost 25 years before moving to the Kelham Island Brewery in Sheffield where he stayed for a further 3 years.
After all this time spent brewing beer for other people, Bob and a partner decided to start their own business and in 1997 a small micro brewery was built at the rear of the Brewers Pride public house in Ossett. The first beer aptly named Bobby Dazzler was brewed in August 1998 and was an instant success. Brewing was carried out on a 5 barrel brew length plant and for several months all of the beer produced was retailed through the Brewers Pride pub. It wasn't long before several local free-houses were demanding Ossett beers and sales started to increase week by week.
As the beers were sold further afield Ossett Brewery began to win awards at festivals up and down the country; and as the reputation of the business grew so did its customer base. Within three years further expansion took place raising its brewing capacity to 40 barrels per week.
Ossett beers continue to win awards with Silver King proving a real favourite at beer festivals up and down the land. Perhaps our greatest achievement to date was in 2003 when Excelsior was voted National Champion Beer at the prestigious Society of Independent Brewers Beer Awards.
Old Gurner’s Ale (a crisp Pale Ale) the first Ossett bottled beer appeared in 2003 and was brewed initially for export to Tokyo but can now be found in selected pubs and speciality off-licences around the U.K. The brewery now sells two bottled beers, Excelsior and Treacle Stout.
With the departure of his partner early in 2001, Bob became sole owner of Ossett Brewing Co. and in late 2002 Bob’s son Jamie who was a successful investment banker in Japan decided on a career change and joined Bob, turning Ossett Brewery into a family business.
Ossett Brewery Pubs
After a short time working in the brewery, Jamie took on the responsibility of finding suitable pubs as tied houses for Ossett beers. The Black Bull in Liversedge having been a 'local' for over 300 years, was bought, refurbished and reopened in May 2003. The 'Bull was followed in October 2004 by the Rat & Ratchet in Huddersfield and then by the Three Pigeons in Halifax in March 2005. The fourth and fifth additions to the estate are the Shepherds Rest in Sowerby Bridge which opened in October 2005 and the Travellers Inn at Hipperholme nr Halifax which opened in December the same year. The Shepherds Boy in Dewsbury was completely refurbished during a two week closure opened its doors on 17 February 2006. Our most recent acquisition the Drop Inn, Elland (formerly the Oddfellows) opened to the public on 7 April 2006.
By 2004 the original brew-house was producing almost 40 barrels a week and was operating at a level way beyond its initial design specification. Bob made the decision to look for bigger premises to allow the company to expand. Amazingly a suitable property less than 80 metres away was available and so, late in 2004 work began on building a new brewery. The first beers were brewed on the new plant in April 2005 and then finally in August all production moved to the new site.
In October 2005 an additional new 40 barrel fermentation vessel and two new 25 barrel conditioning tanks were delivered and these have increased our overall capacity to approximately 120 brewer’s barrels per week.
Ossett Brewery Beers
All Ossett Brewery beers have a very distinctive house style. The beers are all generally; light coloured, hoppy, flavoursome and have a citrus or floral aroma. Rather than this house style being a particular philosophy of Ossett Brewery, it has simply been driven by customer feedback and demand. There are five permanent beers and each month two 'specials' are brewed, so customers can choose from a line up of seven different beers at any time.