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Chapter 15

Agriculture, Industry and Minerals

“I like work. It fascinates me, I can sit and watch it for hours.”

Jerome K. Jerome

Most of Rawdon, above the top of the Wood, is at least 400 feet above sea level, the soil is clayey and not particularly well drained. Apart from during the two World Wars, when everywhere possible was ploughed, there never has been much arable land1 and what there was would only be likely to grow oats or, in more recent times, roots.2

There is no record of a Rawdon enclosure act, though there were ones for Guiseley in 1796 and Yeadon in 1806. This is not of course to say that there was not enclosure. Relatively regularly shaped fields, especially on the Emmott land would indicate 18th century enclosure.

Pasture meant sheep, sheep meant wool and wool meant cloth. The history of the woollen industry, both nationally and locally has been dealt with in many books and I do not propose to repeat it at length. It is said that the spinning and weaving of sheep’s wool had been introduced to these shores at least by 3000 B.C. Be that as it may, we know that there are clear records of woollen manufacture as near as Calverley back to the 12th century.

The tradition was that generally women spun and men wove. The classic weavers cottage is thought of as three storeyed, the garret being reserved for the loom, but in many cases looms were worked in the bedrooms of two storey cottages, the family sleeping where they could under and around them. 3

By the second half of the 18th century simple forms of mechanisation began to appear. Fulling, the hardest physical work in cloth manufacture, was being concentrated in fulling mills, still water driven, and often combined with corn mills.4 Weaving was mechanised before spinning. Kay’s flying shuttle, pioneered in Lancashire for cotton, reached West Yorkshire by the 1760s and Hargreave’s Spinning Jenny capable of spinning up to 18, and later 40 threads at the same time came in the 1770s. Slater talks of 10 horse mills in the village, mainly at the rear of Rawdon Hall, at Low Green, at Ivy House, ‘Back o’Billing’, and two (one for cotton) at the top of Apperley Lane, operated by James Lawson. The others are now difficult to place from his description.

The first steam loom came in 1789 and the first mill in this region, as we now understand the word, though still water driven, opened at Addingham in 1780. Slater states that the Old Mill, Yeadon had a steam engine by 1793.5 The early history of the three mills in Rawdon is not well documented but what is certain is that all three of them owed their inception and development to the Thompson6 family. The mill family begins with James who had married Mary Adcock and who had moved from Wrose to Rawdon by the 1760s, possibly living in The Mount. The family were Quakers and displayed great entrepreneurial spirit. James and Mary had seven sons and four daughters. The only ones who can definitely be traced are William, possibly the eldest and Francis (1768-1834) the youngest. Of the four daughters, one died young, one married Joseph Smith and another married a brother of Smith (Christian names unknown).

Of the next generation were Jeremiah (1771-1835, son of William), James (no date, but married in 1811), Richard (1787 and still alive in 1865), Thomas (1760-1876), John (1791-1864), Joshua, Edmund, Samuel and another Francis (no dates and it is not possible to say who were their respective fathers). There was also the unusually named, Johnnywell Thompson who lived at, and may have built ‘Kent’. (See p. 57)

The younger William married Hannah Grimshaw of Calverley, the daughter of Benjamin Grimshaw and his wife Catherine (see p. 61). They had a son, William Grimshaw Thompson who married Christiana Gaunt and their eledest son, James Gaunt Thompson survived until 1919.

By about 1797 the family had built Low Mill (now called Woodbottom Mill) next to the river and Red Beck i.e. the Horsforth boundary. The Leeds and Liverpool Canal had got as far as Gargrave by 1777 and the existing bridge over the river at Calverley makes it obvious that transport facilities were important in siting the mill.

Park Mill followed in 1805. William Thompson leased 26 acres and 37 perches from the Emmott estate at a rent of £185.0.0. p.a. for a term of 10 years. In 1815 he surrendered that lease but took back the same land plus a further seven acres and 17 perches for a term of 12 years. The mill took its name from the fact that it occupied the bottom end of Layton Hall demesne, soon to be cut off by the construction of the turnpike road. It employed about 100 men.

Larkfield Mills followed in 1825 and the dam was created about the same time. The two Smith brothers lived in the two surviving millhouses known as Larkfield Gardens or Old Larkfield and were involved in the business. The existing odd shaped cottage, somewhat like a tollbooth at the entrance to the millyard may have been where workers had to check in and out after the Luddites (see below) had made security a consideration. This mill was engaged in scribbling, combing and slubbing wool i.e. early processes before spinning. It employed about 50 men.

As is well known, the Farsley born Rev. Samuel Marsden7 (1764-1838) went to Botany Bay, New South Wales in 1793 as Chaplain to the penal settlement there. He returned in 1808 with some wool with which William Jnr. was very impressed. Marsden dined with William Snr. and then went to Low Mill and “made a piece of black cloth” which was made into a suit for Marsden. Marsden visited George III at Windsor and the story is that the King, then in one of his lucid intervals, was also impressed and asked to have a suit made of the same cloth. In due course it was made and sent to the King who in return made a gift of five or six of his best sheep which Marsden took back with him to Australia. However Mrs J. Guise, recently researching for the Quakers, has been in touch with the Royal Archives at Windsor and has been informed that they have no record of this, though they did admit that the records for 1808 were still not completely catalogued.

In March 1812 there was one or more attacks on the cropping sheds at Low Mill by Luddites.8 This movement had begun the previous year in the Nottingham area where hosiery frames had been attacked and destroyed by hosiery and lace workers concerned that the machines threatened their livelihood. No one seems to have been apprehended at Nottingham. By the spring of 1812 it had spread to the West Riding, especially the Spen Valley area. None of the books on Luddism in Yorkshire deal specifically with the Rawdon incidents other than in general terms e.g. “Alarming Luddite Actions occurred in the early months of 1812 when a dozen workshops were entered and machinery destroyed” and later “the unknown identity of those who had done the damage”.10 Slater refers to “several serious attacks by a formidable body of armed men who seized the watchman, placed guards on the doors and then smashed the cropping machines”. These had been invented some three years earlier by Enoch and James Taylor of Marsden, near Huddersfield to replace the hand cropping of cloth with heavy shears by skilled men. It was said to be the most skilled job in cloth manufacture. The remoteness of Low Mill must have made it easy to escape without detection.

In January 1813 at York Assizes 18 men were charged and 17 hanged on charges, including murder arising out of attacks on Rawfolds Mill, Liversedge but no mention was made of the attacks at Rawdon. Almost certainly it will now never be known who was involved.

Francis, the youngest son of William, born about 1768, went to New York in 1798 where he made contact with the already well established Quaker9 community there – (it included an Elam, see p. 39) and also with those in Boston and Philadelphia. He returned to Rawdon in 1801, enthusiastic about business prospects in the New World, but was soon back in New York taking with him his nephew, Jeremiah (born 1771 and the son of his eldest brother). Jeremiah returned to Rawdon in 1808 and joined his brother William in the business of Jeremiah and William Thompson, but it was not long before he was back in New York.

Due to economic problems caused by Napoleon’s Berlin Decrees, 1806 and Milan Decrees, 1807, and the British response by Orders in Council, US shipping was suffering from interference from both the British and French Navies. The US government imposed restrictions on the import of woollen goods invoiced at over 5s per square yard. However Francis was still able to import considerable quantities of woollens in 1808, between June and August 1809 and in the spring and fall of 1810. Further restrictions imposed late in 1810 and 1811 led to many bankruptcies though Francis seems to have survived until peace came in 1814.

In 1816 Jeremiah, by then a US citizen brought his brother, Edmund, his cousin, Samuel and some nephews to New York. Obviously the return of peace in Europe greatly improved trade prospects.

The Black Ball Line

Francis had married the daughter of Isaac Wright and in 1807 together with his father-in-law and William Wright (likely another in-law) he had built the sailing ship ‘The Pacific’ (384 tons) which sailed between New York and Liverpool. In 1811 she made Liverpool in 19 days. Raw cotton was brought from the US and woollen stuffs returned. ‘The Amity’ followed in 1816, ‘The Courier’, ‘The James Munro’ and ‘The Yorkshireman’ in 1817. The Black Ball Line is still said to be recalled in a sea shanty, but I have been unable to find it. Update 2010 The Black Ball Sea Shanty

By 1822 they also ran a service to Le Havre and doubled it the following year. They were also sailing to London by 1824 and about this time Jeremiah was described as the largest ship owner and possibly the largest cotton broker in the US. However, the price of cotton was to crash dramatically and no doubt he was in an exposed position. In October 1827 he called his creditors together, but they were not willing or able to give him further time and in 1828 he was declared bankrupt. It is more than likely that his problems added to the problems of William in Rawdon (see p. 62). Jeremiah was released from his debts shortly before his death in 1835, Francis having died in the cholera epidemic of 1832. By 1838 William is shown as trading only at Larkfield and Park Mills but John, Joshua, Richard, Thomas and another William are shown as textile manufacturers.

By the 60s and 70s of the 19th century the Thompsons were dying. William in 1860, John and William Grimshaw Thompson in 1864 and Thomas in 1874. By 1853 the company had become Gaunt, Thompson and Co. If the comma is correct the implication is that the Gaunts (maybe of the Farsley family) were in a senior position.

By 1860 Samuel Gray and Co. were at Low Mill and later it became C.W.Wade, Dyers and Finishers. It is now occupied by a firm of yarn processors and it is difficult to see how much of the 1790s buildings survive though there is still a fine mid-19th century mill house.

Outhwaite and Lofthouse (bleachers) were in part of Low Mill by the 1857. By the end of the century it became part of the bleaching group of Sir William Duncan D.L., J.P. (1834-1908)10 who had extensive interests in that trade in both Britain and Germany. By 1911 Park Mill became J.L. Booth and Co and is now occupied by a firm making air conditioning equipment.

From about 1870 Larkfield Mill was occupied by W.C. Forrest and Co. (originally Forrest and Brayshaw) Woollen Manufacturers. William Croft Forrest11 was a prominent Wesleyan and lived first at Dial House, Leeds Road and later in Pudsey. Both Croft and Forrest are old established names in the area, the Crofts going back to the 17th century. In 1900 the mill was offered for sale and by 1911 Storey, Evans and Co. were in the front part and W.B. Cartwright & Co., Patent Medicine Manufacturers in the rear, (now the site of a housing estate). There was some comment in the 1930s when Sir William Cartwright,<12 having made his money in patent medicines turned to Christian Science as a religion! Storey Evans has recently moved to Greengates and the site is now being redeveloped for housing.

As for minerals, Rawdon being on the very edge of the coal measures, mining was never a major industry. The Thompson family certainly owned their own pits for their mills. Hunt’s ‘Mineral Statistics’ (1855) refers to William Woodhead and Co. having pits in Rawdon and in Calverley and they had certainly been in Rawdon as far back as 1838. It is likely that the pits had not been dug until the mills came. Hunt refers to 11 shafts including one near the lodge of Woodleigh Hall, one in what is now Knott Lane estate, one near Park Mill dam, one near the end of Layton Avenue, one near Larkfield dam (no doubt the one Palliser remembered as a boy) one to the east of Layton Lane (which, with the approval of the Green-Emmott estate, the council filled with household rubbish in 1934), one to the left (west) side of Intake Lane etc. There could have been others but by the 1860s they were becoming uneconomic as the railway was bringing cheap coal from deep pits.

For centuries one of the biggest costs of building was leading stone from the quarry to the building site and therefore it was essential to quarry as near as possible. In Rawdon it was not necessary to look far or delve deep to find ample supplies of both hard grit stone and a softer sandstone.

There were quarries off Micklefield Lane, one just below the Baptist Chapel known as the Dingle (at one time owned by George Foggitt), one in Salisbury Street,13 one to the North of London Square, (see p. 63), one on the Billing belonging to the Barrett family and one towards Plane Tree Hill (said to have been the source of stone for the church). The quarries to the Yeadon side of Apperley Lane belonging to the Hirds, and which may have made a substantial contribution to their wealth, gave a softer sandstone.

Most quarrying had finished by the 1920s when lorry transport made it cheaper to build with brick even in traditional stone areas.

Red Beck, the Horsforth boundary, from its very name and colour indicates the presence of iron ore but it is not sufficient to have been been commercially exploited.


1. The 1838 Tithe Map shows less than a fifth of the fields and closes as arable as against meadow and pasture.


2. An unusual line of horticulture in Rawdon since 1895 and by the present firm of Mansell and Hatcher since 1909 has been orchid growing in a sheltered mini climate below the Wood.


3. There are good examples in Lombard Street, Gladstone Street and Cliffe Lane. Hand-loom weaving had died out generally by the 1860s and the last surviving hand-loom weaver in West Yorkshire was said to have been Timmy Feather of Stanbury, near Keighley, who died in 1910.


4. There was one in Yeadon by 1596.


5. Although Newcomen and others were experimenting with steam power early in the 18th century, the first effective steam engine was that of Watt in 1774. It is said that there was a steam driven mill in Morley in 1790.


6. There have certainly been Thompsons in Rawdon since the end of the 16th century, but it is a very common name and quite impossible to get a full picture. As Quakers do not practise infant baptism, they do not maintain baptismal registers and the traditional brevity of the standard Quaker tombstone does not help. I am much indebted to the notes of the late Eddie Mercer and also to those of Barbara Dawson, but would welcome more information.


7. Marsden is not well regarded in Australia today, where he is remembered as the ‘Flogging Parson’.


8. See ‘The Luddites in Yorkshire’ (1970) – J Berry. Luddites have been claimed as early Radicals but in reality were reactionaries. They were skilled men struggling against progress, which they saw as threatening their living. They had no more success than stage coach drivers against railways or small shopkeepers against supermarkets! Mayhall also refers (p. 236) to the burning of a ‘gig mill’ at Oaklands near Leeds and a corn mill at Hawksworth in 1812, but qualifies it by adding “committed or attributed to the Luddites”, so these could have been non-political crimes. Slater also talks of a cropping shed in Henshaw Lane, Yeadon being attacked after 1807.


9. By this time there was a strong Quaker community in New York. The Thompson link will explain the street names of ‘New York’ and ‘Mount Vernon’ (George Washington’s home) and Philadelphia (cottages on Larkfield Road in front of the Mill, demolished between 1900 and 1914).


10. Duncan was in part of the mill by 1858. From 1880 he lived at Horsforth Hall as a tenant of the Spencer-Stanhopes. An Anglican he was much involved with St. Margaret’s Church, Horsforth and as a Conservative fought parliamentary elections unsuccessfully for the party. He was made a baronet in 1905 and is buried in Rawdon churchyard. The pulpit in Rawdon Church was given in his memory, as was the reredos in St. Margaret’s church, Horsforth.


11. His son also William Croft Forrest, sometime Mayor of Pudsey and much involved with food control duting the 1914 war was knighted in 1919.


12. He had served as Chairman of Rawdon U.D.C. in 1918/19 and later of the West Riding County Council. It should be said that his knighthood was for public services and not services to pharmacy. Amongst other things Cartwrights pioneered ‘Rennies’. Although these are now made in France, they preserve the name of a Rawdon pharmacist, John Rennie, a director of the company.


13. Said to be the source of the old millstones still to be seen in the Wood, but who put them there, when and why?