by Michael Frankland

A History of Ossett

Ossett is a corporate town with a population of rather more than 11,000 souls. It stands in the West Yorkshire coal field; the carboniferous rocks are overlaid with glacial debris. The Grammar School, selected by the officers of the ordnance survey as the centre of the town, lies in longitude 1 degree 34 minutes 4 seconds West and latitude 53 degrees 40 minutes 46 seconds. The railway station is 9 miles from Leeds, 11 from Bradford, 3½ from Wakefield and 2 miles from Dewsbury.

Roughly speaking, the principal streets lie in the form of a horseshoe, stretching from Flushdyke to the eastern extremity of the Common. The greater portion of the town is built on a plateau whose surface is some 300 feet above the level of the sea. The area of the township is 3,105 acres and it is traversed by 15 miles of highway.

The town was lighted with gas in 1855; the sewering of the town was completed in 1878 and the water supply in 1877. Up to the middle of the last century Ossett consisted of four villages, Gawthorpe, Street Side, the Towngate and Southwood Green. The pack horse road from Rochdale to Wakefield crossed the Calder at Healey; the track in those days ascended the hillside and crossed the fields at the bottom of Kay Lane, where portions may still be seen trending to the Common. A Roman road ran 1600 years ago along Street Side from Wakefield to KIrklees.

The town forms part of the ancient parish of Dewsbury, of the Wapentake of Agbrigg, of the County Council District of Ossett and Soothill, and the Parliamentary Division of Morley.

The word Ossett means God’s Hall and Gawthorpe means Cuckoo Town.

From the Domesday Book compiled about A.D. 1086 we learn that Osleset contained 3½ carucates of land, 4 villanes, 3 bordars and 2 ploughs; Orberie, 2 carucates, 7 oxgangs; Ettone, 1 carucate; Morlei 6 carucates. Ossett, Earlsheaton and Horbury belonged to the king. In Osleset stood a wood half a mile long and half a mile broad. We may note that no church or chapel stood here, that there was no great local lord, and that the district escaped the devastation that fell upon the East Riding.

In the year 1379, when Richard II was King, and two years before Wat Tyler’s insurrection, we find that the Poll Tax levied that year: Ossett paid 27s 0d, Soothill paid 13s 8d, Dewsbury paid 14s 4d, Horbury paid 18s4d, Ardsley paid 19s4d, Thornhill paid 26s6d, Batley paid 39s0d, Morley paid 11s4d, Mirfield paid 48s8d, Wakefield paid 95s8d, Leeds paid 60s4d, Bradford paid 23s0d.

Ossett contained at that date 74 householders, representing a population of about 400, that of Leeds being between 180 and 200. In the list of names we find a merchant, two tailors, two shoemakers, a blacksmith, a joiner, and other trades. Below are a few of the names with the amounts they paid in silver pennies, which may be taken as the equivalent to eighteen pence or two shillings of our present money: Thomas de Westerton, marchaud – xijd. William, filius Hugoni, taillour – vjd. Johannes Bull, souter – vjd. Ricardus, filius Johannis, smythe – iiijd. Magota Scott – iiijd.

Thus, in 1379, Ossett was a considerable town for the middle ages. Handloom weaving had already been introduced, and also coal mining, alas also with its accidents. Thirteen years previously, Adam Adamson of Gawthorpe had fallen down a pit and broken his neck.

Ossett from the earliest times has been inhabited largely by middle-class people; I can find no record of any rich man living here; on the other hand the extremely indigent seem to have been equally absent.

A rate was levied in 1662 on the basis of an assessment made in 1568: Bradford paid 1s8d, Batley paid 0s7½d, Dewsbury paid 1s 0½d qr, Horbury paid 0s 10d, Halifax paid 1s7½d qr., Mirfield 1s1½d qr., Morley 0s10½d, Soothill 0s10d, Thornhill 0s10d, Wakefield 2s3d, Leeds 3s4d, Ossett 1s0d.

But in 1523, a tax had been levied on a principle somewhat resembling that on which income tax is now levied, and towards this: Bradford paid £4/2s/10d, Batteley paid £1/8s/8d, Mirfield £0/15s/10d, Morlay £0/6s/0d, Ardislaw £0/7s/0d, Wakefield £37/9s/10d, Dewysbury £2/1s/10d, Horburry £1/9s/8d, Sotehill £2/17s/8d, Ossett £0/9s/0d.

John Awdislay was the largest contributor; he owned lands valued at 40s. a year in rental. This return shows very plainly the marked absence of rich men in our township.

Insomuch as Ossett lay near the fortress of Sandal it has seen military operations. During the wars of the Roses, the Battle of Wakefield was fought in the Ings between Horbury and Sandal; bands of insurgents streamed through the township in the Pilgrimage of Grace. Fairfax passed Ossett on Sunday morning, May 21 1642. Thornhill Parish Church was bombarded by cannon planted at the foot of Runtlings Lane.

Ossett was strongly Royalist during the Civil War. William the Conqueror granted the government of Osleset to William de Warrene, and this caused our town to be ruled from the Manor Court in Wakefield, remnants of whose jurisdiction remain in the testing of weights and measures by that court and in the “copyhold” of the land. The lordship reverted to the Crown in 1315; in 1362 Edward III gave it to his son Edmund de Langley. After passing through various hands, the Duke of Leeds purchased the lordship of the manor in 1700. In 1816, William Ingham, Charles Adams and Joseph Smith made an attempt to rid the township from the galling burden of the soke, but failed. In 1853 Wakefield, Ossett and Sandal purchased exemption at a cost of £18,000.

The year 1834 saw the formation of a Select Vestry, followed in 1836 by the Board of Surveyors, by the Local Board in 1870, and the Charter of Incorporation in 1890, Alderman Clay being the first mayor. A borough bench was granted in 1894.

During the present century Ossett has made steady progress. In 1801 the population was 3,424, in 1811 it was 4,033, in 1821 it was 4,775, in 1831 it was 5,325, in 1841 it was 6,077, in 1851 it was 6,265, in 1861 it was 7,950, in 1871 it was 9,200, in 1881 it was 10,952 and in 1891 it was 10,984.

To come to matters ecclesiastical, Sir John Gillott emerges out of the darkness in 1538 as the probable curate-in-charge of Ossett, and Sir George Mawde with more certainty in 1557. The first three entries in the parish registers of Dewsbury are Robert Longley, Richard Nettleton and John Audsley; all these names are strongly suggestive of residence in our town. In 1572, Richard Bowman, “reder” of Ossett, was buried at Dewsbury.

The year 1729 saw a gallery erected in the Chapel-of-ease, which stood in the Market Place; this chapel was rebuilt in 1806. South Ossett was made a separate ecclesiastical district in 1846; North Ossett in 1858, and Gawthorpe in 1894. South Ossett Church was consecrated in 1851, Holy Trinity Church, the pride of Ossett and a beautiful edifice, in 1865, the foundation-stone having been laid by Mr. B. Ingham of Palermo in 1862. The Rev. H.C. Cradock, M.A. is the present vicar.

The history of the Non-conformist Church at the Green has been told in an admirable manner by Mr. E. Pollard. Itself a branch from Westgate, Wakefield, and organised in 1717, the first meeting being held in a dry-house, it became the mother of seven other churches. The present handsome chapel was opened in 1883.

Wesleyanism dates in this town from 1758; the first chapel, situate in Land’s Fold still remains. Mr. John Phillips was an enthusiastic supporter of the movement; in fact, the denomination has had a Phillips as its most prominent member for 140 years; the fine chapel in Wesley Street was opened in 1868. Horbury introduced Primitive Methodism into Ossett in 1822; the denomination now owns chapels in this parish which have cost in the aggregate £4,900; the Rev. B. Haddon, an author of ability, is the present minister.

The pretty chapel in Dale Street is the home of the Methodist Free Church; this body dates from 1849.

Altogether there are 20 separate congregations in Ossett, most of them possessing handsome places of worship; the number of “sittings” exceeds the population of church-going age. A feature of all these churches and chapels is their excellent organs – the Ossettonian loves music.

Ossett Mechanics’ Institute was commenced in 1850; the present building. “The Ossett Mechanics’ Institute and Technical School,” dating from 1890; County Councillor H. Westwood is the president; it contains a reading room, library, chess and committee rooms, a lecture hall, seven classrooms, a laboratory, and is well supplied with the requirements for instruction in science, art and handicraft. The Reference Library, presented by Mr. C.M. Gaskell, is noteworthy for its collection of Ruskin’s works. There is also a small Grammar School, founded as a Town’s School in 1745, and five excellent elementary schools.

The compiler’s space is more than exhausted; still mention must be made of the staple industry of Ossett, namely, the manufacture of mungo, introduced into Ossett by Mr. D. Phillips in 1845; it gradually supplanted cloth weaving; one hand-loom, however, is still to be heard; when that is silent, the craft, which dates in Ossett from the days of the Magna Carta, will be extinct; “power-loom weaving” is a rapidly declining industry. In other towns, “rags and poverty” go together; in Ossett, “rags and riches.” This trade suggested the Borough Motto –Inutile utile ex arte.

In Ossett we find Liberal and Conservative Clubs, a Temperance Society, Band of Hope, a Benevolent Society, the Choral Union (1837), two Brass Bands, a Chamber of Commerce, a Tradesman’s Association, a Cricket Club, a Football Club, with numerous auxiliaries. The writer has already collected enough information on Ossett’s past and present to fill a book instead of a leaflet, but the publication of this material must be reserved. This curtailed account is written to furnish an ephemeral description of our township for the convenience of the delegates to the Annual Meeting of the Union of Yorkshire Institutes in 1895, and to assure our visitors of the hearty welcome which Ossett has from time immemorial given to its friends.

M. Frankland. 1895

Sourced by: Anne-Marie Fawcett 2022