Gargrave Divided – A Tale of Two manors

On 9 September 1452 Laurence Catterall of Little Mitton was attending a church service in St. Andrews, Gargrave, when he was suddenly seized, roughly dragged out of church and imprisoned by Sir Richard Percy.

Laurence Catterall was a Neville retainer and supported the Yorkists, the Percies were Lancastrians; on opposing sides in the bloody thirty year civil war that became known as the Wars of the Roses.

The rest of the tale is being uncovered.

The Barber And Moonshine!

IllicitStill_04Strange goings on in Bale Wood, West Marton grabbed the interest of Gargrave based Police Sergeant Jack Tattersall and his colleague P.C. Witcomb in February 1948. What they found was an assemblage of a milk churn, some large metal food cannisters, various bits of pipework and a sheet of corrugated iron. A hole had been dug in the ground and a small spirit burner had been installed beneath the construction of pipes and cans over which the corrugated iron was used to cover the hole. The milk-churn had been placed on top of the iron sheet connected by a pipe to the apparatus beneath. The whole assemblage was then covered loosely with ferns as camouflage. There was a rapidly fermenting liquid in the milk churn which turned out to be a 12% proof liquor, known as a wash, destined for further refinement into a very potent illicit spirit based drink.
IllicitStill_05What they had discovered was an ingeniously contrived still, designed to prod uce a strong drink from treacle, water and added yeast. So who was the moon-shiner? The two policemen together with officers of H.M. Customs and Excise kept watch on the apparatus and found one particular individual revisiting the site on three separate occasions. On the villain’s third visit, P.C. Witcomb apprehended him. It turned out that it was a German named Kurt Holz from the nearby Prisoner of War camp at West Marton.
IllicitStill_03Kurt had been at the prisoner of war camp for the past three and a half years, the latter two years of which he had the role of camp barber, and was looking forward to being repatriated to Germany. Having been shown how to make this particular potent brew the previous year by a fellow prisoner, who had recently been repatriated himself, Kurt had thought he’d produce a drink with which to celebrate the occasion.
IllicitStill_01He appeared before the magistrates court where the Counsel for H.M. Customs and Excise informed the court that Kurt Holz could be liable for a £1000 fine. The Magistrate took note of this advice but awarded a nominal penalty of £1, He also added that in this country the illicit distillation of alcohol was looked upon as a very serious crime. He emphasised that it was only due to the unusual circumstances that they were letting Holz off so leniently. He added “We want you to go back to your own country a free man.”
Bitmap1010I wonder if Kurt did have a going away party, and more importantly, what did he have in his glass that day?

From the files of

West Riding Constabulary C.I.D.

Craven Herald and Pioneer

Gargrave’s WW1 Casualties

A presentation showing some of the brave men from Gargrave who gave their lives during the Great War can be accessed by clicking here or on the image below. The original display was shown as a series of posters during the 2014 August and November exhibitions presented by Gargrave Heritage group in St. Andrew’s Church, Gargrave.

Click image to go to the presentation.

Robert Story the Gargrave Schoolmaster Poet

RobertStoryRobert Story was born in Wark-on-Tweed, Northumberland on 17 October 1795, the son of a peasant farmer. Up to the age of 11 he attended the village school in Howtel, where he was introduced to, and became interested in poetry. Employed as a shepherd boy he began composing his own verses during the long hours spent on the Cheviot Hills. He later became a minstrel boy where he acquired a rich knowledge of local folk music and legends.

He eventually became a pupil teacher which led to his appointment in 1820 as schoolmaster in Gargrave. The first schoolroom was in a cottage in South Street, later moving to the Wesleyan Chapel. In 1828, Matthew Wilson, owner of the Eshton estate, which included Gargrave and surrounding lands, built him the schoolhouse that bears his name in North Street.
Robert Story married Ellen Ellison in May 1823.

StorysHouseThey had six children, He became a well-liked figure in the parish, becoming the Parish Clerk and a Sunday school teacher. He was interested in politics and became a Tory at a time when Sir Robert Peel and others renamed the party ‘Conservative’. Robert Story wrote poems and songs which were published in Conservative newspapers. After the 1835 election he enjoyed a brief period of fame as the ‘Poet of Conservatism’.

StoryPoetryIn 1843, through the influence of his patrons – Matthew Wilson of Eshton Hall, John Coulthurst of Gargrave House, and the Duke of Newcastle — he was appointed by Sir Robert Peel’s government to a Clerkship post in Somerset House in London. He and his family then moved south to live in Battersea. Sadly, four of his six children died in London.

StoryPlaquePrior to the second world war, ‘Story’s House’ in North Street was owned by Mr. Harry Turner and it was he, along with the founder of the Craven Museum, who commemorated the poet by placing a plaque on the North Street house.

EPSON MFP imageRobert Story died in 1860 and is buried in the Brompton cemetery in London. His grave was not discovered until 1998 after John and Beth Tillot, who lived in Story’s former home, had spent four years tracing his final resting place.

Reference: The Life of Robert Story (1862), by John James, one of Story’s literary circle in Bradford (held by only four UK Libraries).

The Brontes and Gargrave: Miss Currer

Miss_CurrerAs a landowner and proprietor of Eshton Hall near Gargrave, Mary Richardson Currer (1781-1861) exercised considerable influence in the old West Riding of Yorkshire. Although she never met the Brontës, both families were on visiting terms with the Revd. Theodore Dury (1788-1850), Rector of St Andrew’s Church, Keighley, through whom, apparently, she negotiated a gift to Patrick Brontë (1777-1861) of fifty pounds (£50) following the death of his wife Maria, née Branwell (1813-1821) in September 1821. This made good the Brontë family’s loss of her annuity of a similar amount. Although it had been intended as a gift, in due course, Patrick returned the amount through the charitable clergy channel that had conveyed it to him.

In the decades surrounding the Reform Acts (1832 and 1866), the responsibilities of the clergy and their associates, the landowning gentry, among them Miss Currer, included among their responsibilities the management of schools, roads, drainage and other services that have subsequently passed to elected local government bodies. Charlotte Brontë (1816-1855) recognised Miss Currer’s eminence in the region by adopting her name as her nom-de-plume, ‘Currer Bell’. In addition, Charlotte drew on Miss Currer as a role model in her village activities, notably the Haworth Sunday School, where she acted as instructor.

Indirectly, too, Charlotte’s extraordinarily wide reading would have been encouraged by the example of Miss Currer’s local celebrity as the collector of a formidable private library. Although Charlotte’s portrayal of Shirley Keeldar, the heroine of Shirley (1849), is mainly an expression of admiration for the strong, managing character of Emily Brontë (1818-1848), whose death left the Parsonage desolate, Charlotte seems to have drawn on the image of Miss Currer for her literary portrait of a forceful, kind-hearted, landowning character.

Both sisters had reason to admire this local landowner, who maintained a strong presence in the affairs of the old West Riding, not least in her gift of books and shelving to the Keighley Mechanics’ Institute Library. Despite contrary suggestions, many of the Institute’s books are echoed in the Brontë sisters’ writings.
C. H
Further reading:
Juliet Barker, The Brontës (1994)
Robert Barnard and Louise Barnard, A Brontë Encyclopaedia (2007)
Winifred Gérin, Charlotte Brontë. The Evolution of Genius (1987)Angus Taylor, The Websters of Kendal: a North-Western Architectural Dynasty (Kendal, 2004)

Craven Golf Club 1893-1896 – Gargrave Times Past

Craven Golf Club 1893-1896

Golf Links Gargrave

By Dennis French

Gargrave had a golf club ?

Well yes it did way back in 1893. This old photograph (above) from my parents collection is simply entitled “Golf Links, Gargrave” and shows land known to older Gargravians as Stoney Butts. It is the area enclosed by the river Aire, the Leeds-Liverpool canal and the Anchor Road. The river bank on the left is now the gardens of houses on Riversway and the building in the distance on the right of the picture is that of Milton House.

The undulations of this site appear to owe more to the course of the old river bed rather than anything man made.

On April 25th 1893 the first inaugural meeting of the Craven Golf Club was held at the Victoria Hall, Gargrave. Mr R.B.Barret who resided at Skipton castle and was Lord Hothsfield’s agent, presided. Sir Mathew Wilson was elected as President; Mr C.J.Turner, Hon Secretary, and Mr J.H.Bramwell, Hon Treasurer.

The first committee consisted of Captain Preston, the Rev L.B.Morris, Mr R.B.Barrett, Mr A.H.Bracewell, Mr M. Amcotts Wilson and the Rev J.R.Leigh.

Preceding the meeting the course at Stoney Butts had been opened with an interesting exhibition of the game by prominent members of Ilkley Golf Club, including Tom Vardon, the professional. It was reported that there was a bright future for the club.

Subscriptions were one and a half guinieas for family members and one guinea for single members. The membership totalled 29 and the first year’s profit being over £9.

In March 1896 all was not well. The committee suggested a new course at Smipton. A decision influenced by the fact that the ground was not suitable for good golf, it was nearly impossible to play in summer and was not sufficiently central to the district.

On September 3rd 1896 the decision to transfer to Skipton was taken. The membership was then 60.

Why the change ? Well, membership was by invitation only and was made up by the titled and county families of the surrounding district. It has been suggested that the gentry invited to membership regarded the invitation to be one of honorary membership and that very few paid their subscriptions. Whatever the real reason it was the end of an era.

A century later, a walk over the old course shows no indication of tees or greens, but the setting on the banks of the River Aire must have been a pleasant one. And no doubt with coachman or footman as caddy, the members enjoyed the new pursuit.

Please note that this area is not on a public footpath

Fore some of the additional information I am indebted to Skipton Golf Club’s Centenary Brochure.

via – Gargrave Times Past.

Wooding – a memory of childhood

Wooding, a memory from childhood

(by Mrs Wyn French)

When the spring and summer weather came creeping into our midst, Mother and Mrs Bradley, Who was a good friend of our family, would set off up our road towards the open fields to go wooding. During the autumn and winter months if it had been very windy there would have been many loose branches dislodged from the great trees. These two good friends both pushed their prams in front of them with at least two children in each pram. If it was a very good day we sometimes took a bite to eat and a bottle of pop or failing that water. We could spend all day together out in the open air collecting wood for our fire. The children could spend their carefree time swinging on the low bough of a wonderful oak tree or picking flowers to take home. We didn’t have or need any fancy vase to put the flowers in when we got home. Mother always kept a good stock of jam jars. All too soon it was time to head back home. Our prams would groan under the weight of all the wood. We might have two or three long thick branches to be hooked around the pram handle and dragged along.

The smallest children could be given a lift on top of the wood in the pram, but not before we reached the gate onto the main road home. We didn’t like having to walk home because after playing out in the open air all day we were quite tired. We loved it when there was room for us on top of the pile of wood. When we got going along the road for home the first bit was quite flat and then everyone who could, would help to push the load up the hill to the canal and over the bridge we went. Then it was downhill all the way. When we got home Mother would get out the saw and set to work sawing up the thick branches. The logs were then stacked in our coalhouse all ready for the winter time. It only seemed to be the poorer families who went wooding. In the Autumn when there were horse chestnuts falling from the trees we loved to collect them. We called them conkers. At home we found some string and made a hole through the nuts to thread the string through. Then we had battles to see who had the strongest conker. Some people went to great lengths, even soaking their conkers in vinegar to help make them take the heaviest blow. They might go as far as putting the conkers in the oven or on the fire hearth to dry then out.

via Wooding – a memory of childhood.

The River Aire at Gargrave – Gargrave Times Past

The River Aire at Gargrave

Gargrave high green Pre 1968

The river and the village greens have always been Gargrave’s pride and joy and a great attraction to the many visitors who come to enjoy its amenities.

Few villages can boast unlimited access to a major river along almost 90% of its course through the village. It has always been a playground for the young where parents could sit back and watch the kids paddle to their hearts content. Sadly with the exception of the area around River Place, this is no longer the case.

Gargrave river bridge 1998

Access on the High Green this summer has been limited to a couple of yards around the stepping stones, the rest of the river bank being a forest of wild rhubarb and long grass labelled by some as “wildlife areas”. Similarly the area below the bridge is also inaccessible due to the wilderness. Far from being scenic these days it is an eyesore.

Not only that but by effectively raising the river bed on either side of the central stream by up to a metre the risk of severe flooding is now a serious concern. The right hand arch looking east is virtually half blocked by silt and vegetation. The river bed has narrowed to half its original width below the bridge, it used to run alongside the walls of the old stone ford but they now sit in splendid isolation.

Gargrave river flood to plantain wall october 98

The floods of 1998 and 2000 were probably the highest for many years, at one stage the water was level with the top of the plantain wall. Another few feet and the village could have problems.

An abortive attempt was made more recently to deepen the river bed above the bridge but the stones removed were deposited a hundred metres upstream and promptly returned on the next flood.

Gargrave river flood above bridge october 98

The Environmental Agency, on their flood risk map, do not appear to worry about this part of the village but they do add that in these days of climate change there is always the chance that the next flood will be higher than the last. It was not always like this.

Gargrave river bridge and duck island in middle arch pre 1968

Prior to 1968 the river ran through two arches on a shallow flat bed. A small stone area above the bridge deflected the main flow through the centre arch but in practise this had no effect. The only problem was that by using two arches a narrow island, particularly after a flood, gradually built up behind the central pillar of the bridge extending half way down to the ford at the Gofa Mill. Affectionately known as the “duck island” for obvious reasons, it did get untidy but was removed on the odd occasion. The river banks however remained tidy and accessible.

Gargrave river bridge 1970 just after reworking

The Parish Council in their wisdom, in conjunction with the River Board decided in 1968 to channel the stream through the centre arch “to minimise the risk of flooding and to enhance the scenic amenity of the village.”

Where the risk of flooding came in is difficult to visualise but the result was that 500 tons of limestone were used to guide the water through the centre arch. Top soil was added to the banks to level the build up but within weeks most of this had gone downstream with the first flood. Many of the stone blocks have also followed.

Gargrave high green flood 1998

Thirty odd years on the result is exactly the opposite. The risk of flooding is now a possibility, nature has taken its course and sadly our greatest asset is no longer an attraction to villager or visitor alike.

Dennis French. Nov 3 2005.

via The River Aire at Gargrave – Gargrave Times Past.

The Yorkshire Birdman – Gargrave Times Past

The Yorkshire Birdman

Harry Ward, The Yorkshire Birdman

by Dennis French.


Harry Ward the Yorkshire Birdman

Air Shows were the “in thing” in the late twenties and early thirties and attracted large crowds all over the country.

Harry Ward was a daredevil parachutist who had perfected his skills in the Royal Air Force teaching pilots the new art of self-preservation and a regular performer at these exhilarating events.

However on to the scene in 1936 came an American, Clem Sohn, who in a blaze of publicity claimed that he could glide from 10,000 feet using a set of wings strapped to his body. At 500 feet or so above ground he would float gracefully to earth by parachute. The crowds flocked in their thousands to witness such a spectacular display.

Harry Wards manager alarmed at this intrusion by a foreigner suggested that he did the same. Harry in a weak moment agreed. But where did he start and who should he consult about the design and manufacture of his “wings”.

He turned to his friend Cecil Rice, of Rice Caravans, whose factory was at that time in the Low Mill on the Middle Green at Gargrave. Cecil had made a caravan for Harry’s use and the two became good friends. Cecil too was interested in flying and had made his own glider at the mill and Harry had helped in the launching on numerous occasions.

So who better to turn to?

Cecil decided to see Clem Sohn in action. Now what goes on at 10,000 feet is anybody’s guess but Cecil Rice saw enough to confide in Harry that “Clem Sohn is going to kill himself”.

Cecil had realised that Clem Sohn’s wings could not be jettisoned if anything went wrong. He was proved right when Clem Sohn nearly came to grief at a show at the opening of Gatwick Airport. He got into a spin and spiralled down to 300 feet before he managed to get his parachute to open. A close shave indeed.

Cecil produced two sets of “wings”, one with a span of nine feet and the other eleven feet, but if problems arose in mid-air, they could be jettisoned immediately and the emergency parachute used. They were covered in linen on a wood and stainless steel frame, and were hand sewn in the village by Mr Harry Howard and his wife, the local Sadler and Boot maker.

Harry’s suit was made of the same material, as he said if he was going to be a Batman he might as well look the part. And Cecil Rice also made the suit baggy in order to give more flying surface, an idea well in advance of its time that is used by today’s skydivers outfits.

Birdman testing his wings in Gargrave Station yard

Apart from actually jumping the only way they could see the finished article was to suspend Harry from the Gargrave station yard crane, much to amazement of a passing train. News of that soon spread with the result that Harry and Cecil had to repeat the exercise a few days later for the Yorkshire Post.

All his friends forecast disaster but Harry persevered and eventually mastered the technique. But lack of publicity meant that Harry never achieved the same following around the circuits as Clem Sohn had done.

In 1937, Clem Sohn, as Cecil Rice had predicted, was killed near Paris when his wings fouled both of his parachutes. He plunged into the ground at over one hundred miles an hour. His death brought him the biggest headlines of his brief career. Such is fame.

The day of the Air Circus was over. Harry on one of his last jumps misjudged the wind and drifted out to sea and only quick thinking by his friends saved his life. Harry Ward was lucky. He had lived to tell the tale. By 1940 he was back in the R.A.F and became one of the pioneering instructors in charge of training the newly formed Airborne Division.

In 1997, I was contacted by Mr Alan Copley of Hutton Cranswick, near Driffield, for information about Cecil Rice and the Rice Caravan Company of Gargrave. He unfolded the fascinating story of Harry Ward and subsequently I borrowed Harry’s biography written in conjunction with Mr Peter Hearn called “The Yorkshire Birdman” from North Yorkshire Library in Gargrave. Harry, still alive and kicking, was then 94 years of age.

We were contacted by Harry Ward’s son who informed us that Harry died in Knaresborough in 2000 at the ripe old age of 97. If anyone can add any further information as to the ending of the story I would be extremely grateful. The book makes fascinating reading.

via The Yorkshire Birdman – Gargrave Times Past.

Gargrave Fair 1849

Gargrave’s Great Cattle Fair

Weather is not all to be depended upon in December but an extract from the day book of Eshton Hall, the seat of the Wilson family reads :

“Tuesday 11th December 1849 – A very fine day. A great many persons at the Fair, also a great quantity of lean cattle.”

December 11th was the day of the Great Cattle Fair. Before the opening of the Little North Western Railway in 1849, all the chief graziers of the locality used to show off their Christmas fat stock down South Street and on the village greens. Then there were the dealers, with droves of Scots plus a large collection of other animals from the surrounding countryside.

W. Gomersal wrote in 1889 in his book “Hunting in Craven”…

There are few such picturesque fairs at the present day, for besides the bustle and bravery of so large a cattle fair, the principle street was set out with a double row of stalls by the traders in blankets and flannels, cloths and fustions, together with the ever noisy vendors of nuts and oranges, and a variety of inferior spices.

Besides these were the long and closed stall, or as its owner, taking a step in advance of the smaller fry, designated it “The Bazaar”, under whose shade were set out tier upon tier, in great variety, tea pots and tea caddies, work boxes and work baskets, and to adopt the advertisement jargon, a variety of other articles too numerous to mention.

A homely feeling and a kindly sympathy pervaded the place then, for the ladies in the neighbouring halls mingled in the scene to make their annual purchases of blankets and flannels and other comforts for the poor.

And so Gargrave has lost one more of its old attractions for the fine shows of fat Christmas cattle had long ago been discontinued, and the stalls of the various traders had dwindled down to nuts and oranges.

Gargrave’s Hunting Day

W. Gomersal wrote ……

The day after the Cattle Fair was observed as a sort of hunting holiday by all the inhabitants who were neither too old or too young to take part in the pleasures and sports of this annual hunting day.

No inconsiderable numbers from the surrounding district who could “muster a mount” joined the mounted portion, and an interesting cavalcade they were; on frisky cobs, on racing ponies, on carriage horses, on cart horses and on any other whether duffer or donkey, it mattered not, they all helped to make an interesting and amusing spectacle.

The meet on Gargrave Green was more than picturesque, it was handsome for many reasons; the town itself is one of the prettiest in the country, with the clear river streaming past, spanned by an handsome bridge, a tall Church tower, too, rising above wide streets and spacious roadways.

It was a cheering sight to witness the hilarity of the crowd that gathered at 11 o’clock on the top of Kelber Hill.

Sadly the year 1881 was the last time the hounds hunted round Kelber Hill, their withdrawal being necessitated in consequence of the greatly number of trains on the Midland line that runs at the foot of Kelber.

Although the annual meet on December 12 has long since passed into history, we still have today the traditional and colourful spectacle of the meet of the Pendle Forest and Craven Hunt on the Low Green on Boxing Day, which attracts hundreds of sight-seers from all around the district.

As from February 2005 hunting with hounds has been banned by parliament so we must hope that the meet will continue in some form or other. We are sure it will.

via Gargrave Fair 1849.

Anne Greene – The Gargrave Witch – Gargrave Times Past


Anne Greene – The Gargrave Witch


Extract from “Witchcraft in Yorkshire” by Patricia Crowther

One case in Yorkshire shows how a white witch, or wise woman, tried to do good and landed herself into trouble.

This was Anne Greene of Gargrave who was examined by John Asheton and Roger Coats in 1853.

John Tatterson testified, and this is how the clerk of the court reported it.

Being disabled in body he, was troubled with ill spirits. He asked Anne’s advice for pain in the ear. She told him that black wool was good for it, whereupon she crossed his left ear three times with her garter and got some hair out of his neck without his consent. When he got home he suffered more pain than before, and returned to her and said “ to look to it or he would look to her”.

Having crossed his ear three times again, she said it would mend, and, with corruptible matter running out, it did.

The accused herself explained that she, knowing a charm for curing earache, twice used it on Tatterson by crossing her garter over his ear and saying *Boate help” (this was the name of an old god). For a pain in the head she required the patients water and a lock of hair, which she boiled together, and threw into the fire.

The verdict of the jury of life and death was not guilty.

Research by RE Kirkbright.

via The River Aire at Gargrave – Gargrave Times Past.



The following quote is taken from

Relating to Offences Committed in
in the Seventeenth Century’

Published by the Surtees Society in 1861.

(The spelling is that used in the document.)

Feb. 16, 1653-4. Before John Assheton and Roger Coats, Esqrs. John Tatterson, of Gargreave, saith, that, about a forthnight after Christmas last, he was disabled in body; and one night in his father’s house hee was troubled with ill spiretts, who would have advised him to worshippt the enemye.  Whereof all were invisable, saveinge Ann Greene.  Butt this informant replied, “The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh awaye, blessed bee His name.” for he would give noe waye to their perswasions, though they tormented him att least foure times. Whereuppon this informant went to the said Ann, tellinge her that hee was perswaded thatshe could helpe him, beeinge pained in his eare. The which disease shee told him that blacke wooll was good for itt, but he said that that was not the matter. AVhcreuppon she loosed the garter from her legg, and crossed his left eare 3 times therewith, and gott some heire outt of his necke, without his consent. And he askeinge her what she would doe therewith, shee tould him what matter was that to him, shee would use it att her pleasure; goe his waye home and care nott. But, goeinge home, hee was more pained then beefore, and returneinge to her he told her to looke to itt or hee would looke to her. Where uppon shee crost his eare 3 times againe, and promised hee should mend. And, accordingely, hee did, some corruptible matter runinge outt of his eare as itt did amend.

Jenett Hudson, of Gargreave, saith, that Ann Greene told her that Thomas Tatterson was overgone with ill tongues, and that hee should have one side taken from him.

Margaret Wade saith, that her doughter Elizabeth, beeinge laid uppon her bedd, fell a loughinge, and this informant runeinge to her took her upp, and she said that she saw a great bitch with a dish in her mouth, haveinge two feete, and that she sate one the bedstoope. And afterwards she said shee saw three doggs that came and scrapt aboute her bed, and said that Ann Greene was one of them, and Mary Nunweeke the other.

Ann Greene saith, that she sometimes useth a charme for cureing the heart each, and used itt twice in one night unto John Tatterson of Gargreave, by crosseinge a garter over his eare and sayeinge these words, “Boate, a God’s name,” 9 times over. Likewise for paines in the head she requires their water and a locke of their heire, the which she boyles together, and afterwards throwes them in the fire and burnes them ; and medles nott with any other diseases.

Anne Greene was not the first  woman from the North of England to be accused of witch craft.  Jennet Preston of Gisburne is allegedly the first unfortunate. One of the well known Pendle Witches, she was the only one to be held in York Castle and tried in York.  At the time Gisburne was in the county of Yorkshire. The rest of the so called witches were tried in Lancaster.  Of the twelve who were accused of  practising witchcraft one died in prison, ten were hanged and only one found not guilty.

Woodcut from Thomas Potts’s
“The Wonderfull Discovery Of Witches In The County Of Lancashire


For a detailed account of the Pendle Witches trial, consult “Thomas Potts’s DISCOVERY OF WITCHES  in the County of Lancashire….”  Thomas Potts was was an associate clerk on the Northern Assize Circuit in the summer of 1612, when the Lancashire witch trials took place.  A digital copy of Potts’s pamphlet can be accessed here.



Bostock and Woombwell’s Menagerie – Gargrave Times Past

Photograph taken in 1912 by Tom Airton whose studio was at what is now 6 High Street (Hidden behind the wagon).

Bostock and Wombwell's Menagerie

Original photograph loaned by Mrs Dorothy Hudson. The three boys on the left are Walter Hudson, Maurice Hudson and Rufus Bradley though the correct order is not known.

Bostock and Wombwells In Action

People rarely ventured far from home in those days and relied on entertainment being brought to them by travelling shows. Often for one night only in the smaller towns. Bostock and Wombwell’s Menagerie was probably one of the best known and travelled the length and breadth of the country giving many people their first glimpse of wild animals at their “Wild Beast Show”. They had lions, tigers elephants, camels and giraffes amongst their twenty nine different animals. One of the favorites being Billy the Pelican. Star of the show was Captain Fred Wombwell, one of the most famous animal trainers of all time.

Bostock and Wombwells on the move The other heavier wagons would be drawn by up to six horses depending on the loads. The one pictured being used purely for publicity purposes.   via Bostock and Woombwell’s Menagerie – Gargrave Times Past.


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Tree Nails on the Railway – Gargrave

The letter heading above shows the railway bridge on Marton road and the tree nail works at New Brighton.The New Brighton cottages on the left which are still there today. The tree nail works are shown extending as far as Marton road but it may just be artistic license as it probably never extended quite that far. In small words just below the sketch it says “The largest treenail manufacturer in the kingdom“.

Tree Nails

by D.French.

On the 29/30 May, 1919, much of the Eshton Hall Estate, for years the seat of the Wilson family, was sold by auction in the town hall, Skipton. Looking through the brochure for the “Sale of Gargrave” as the locals called it, part of the opening statement reads as follows…..

The Airebank Mills are surrounded by the estate and the New Brighton Treenail Works is a short distance away.

The Treenail works, operating as New Brighton Sawmills, was on the site now occupied by the New Brighton caravan site.

Light railways sprang up in the latter part of the 19th century, very few made a profit, and their very existence relied on the elimination of all non-essential expenditure, especially on the permanent way.

Instead of the chairs which hold the rails being held down by four metal bolts to the sleepers, treenails were substituted for two of the four bolts and simply driven through the chair into the sleeper.

My father worked at the mill in those days and described the method of manufacture….

“Trees of all shapes and sizes were shipped in by rail and brought to

a tree nail as used on light railways

New Brighton by wood wagons drawn by two strong horses. Once unloaded they went through a series of saw benches ending up as pieces six inches long by two inches square.They were turned in a lathe to the profile as shown in the photograph.

After drying out they were put in a tank full of “black lead”, sealed by a lid, and left to soak for some time. (Well known local man, Robert Nuttall, once had this job.)

Soaking in black lead was followed by a visit to the drying shed, and finally, having been given a coating of oil, the treenails were put in a press to give them their final shape. As they were ejected from the press, two men would count them into bags of two hundred and fifty for final dispatch. Any spare wood was heated in kilns to form charcoal and also bagged for dispatch.”

Short and sweet, I only wish now, with hindsight, that I had asked more questions.

So far only we have found only one mention of Treenails and that is extracted from “The Basingstoke and Alton Light Railway” which gives details of the preparation required to stage a rail crash for the silent film “The Wrecker” in which a train hits a traction engine on a level crossing and comes off the track.

“All fastenings on one side of the track were faked, the treenails were shortened so as not to engage the sleepers.”

With nothing to restrain it the train left the track in spectacular fashion.

The Wrecker 1928

by D.French.

Our article on the use of TREENAILS  (above) in the railway industry has aroused a certain amount of interest locally.

A recent enquiry to the National Railway Museum in York for any information on treenails was disappointing in that despite the evidence we gave they were adamant that treenails were never used on the railways, only in shipbuilding.

In fact the treenail illustrated in the previous article was found in the old goods yard at Gargrave station.

Apart from possessing a 9.5mm film of the 1928 film, “The Wrecker” our main interest in the film lies in the detailed preparation of the famous crash on a level crossing and the mention of TREENAILS.

This was a Gainsborough Film, produced by Michael Balcon and directed by G.M. Bolvary, starring Carlyle Blackwell, Benita Hume and Pauline Johnson.

Its theme was the rivalry between a bus company and the railway, in which the former did its best to wreck several trains.

The highlight of the film was a spectacular crash staged at Salter’s Ash crossing, Hill Farm, Lasham on Sunday August 18th, 1828, for which a complete train consisting of a Stirling 4-4-0 locomotive No A148 and six bogie coaches was bought from the Southern Railway.

This crashed into a Foden steam lorry left broadside o the crossing by one of the villains, the wreckage being set on fire for further scenes. The locomotive was painted grey and the tender lettered “United Coast Lines”. The lorry was supplied by Wrights Contractors of Alton, and driven on to the crossing by Mr Fred Turner, who was seen in the film making a dash for it.

In order to make the crash as spectacular as possible, five tons of ballast, with a charge of dynamite, was placed in the lorry, and the track immediately after the crossing undermined in order to make sure of derailment.

Mr Percy Goddard, one of the railway gangers on duty that day, recalls in detail the procedure.

“We undermined the track on the lower side to a depth of two feet, each sleeper being kept to a true level with a wooden support. All fastenings on every chair that side were faked, the TREENAILS were shortened so as not to engage the sleepers, spikes were cut off to match and dropped in the holes. The fishplates at either end of the thirty-foot length of track were in the normal position but held in place with very fine wire. The original bolts were cut in half, put in their proper positions and fixed with tar. Fine wire mesh netting was spread over the cavity to support a thin layer of ballast.”

After rehearsing for several hours up and down the track with the train and across the level crossing with the steam Foden wagon, everything was ready for the final masterpiece.

The Foden wagon was placed on the track. The engine of the doomed train was in charge of driver J.Brown and fireman Goodwright, both of Guildford.

At about 1p.m., the director gave the signal – “let her come”. The regulator was opened up with full steam ahead. The driver shouted to his fireman to jump, and then he himself left the footplate. In sixty-five seconds it was all over. Rushing down the incline on a gradient of 1 in 50 the train reached the point of impact at 45 mph. There was a terrible explosion which could be heard a mile away. Smoke and sparks shot fifteen feet into the air. After ploughing up the track for 120 yards the engine fell on its side – a perfect wreck, the whole train had left the track except for the last pair of wheels.

The above account of the crash was extracted from the booklet “The Basingstoke and Alton Light Railway” written by Edward Griffiths in 1982.

“The Wrecker”, an Anglo- German production, has been found and restored. A sound track was added in 2009 and the film is now available on DVD. Here is silent a copy of the film I discovered on

Don Slaven August 2017

If anyone has any information on the use of TREENAILS in the railway industry please get in touch with us .

via Tree Nails on the Railway – Gargrave.


In the dim and distant past Tree Nails were frequently used in ship building to fasted timbers. The Biblical Ark was supposedly held together with these multi-sided or round pieces of wood.  They varied in length and thickness, as do modern wooden dowels used in furniture manufacture. The favoured wood was from the Locust tree as it was hard and not prone to rotting in the sea water. The tendency for the tree nails, also known as trenails, to swell up when submerged in water helped in making a tight and waterproof joint. To help with the tightening, sometimes a wedge was driven into the end of the trenail. Long after the introduction of metal fastenings, trenails were favoured in wooden ship building because they were not subject to corrosion. I  had the opportunity to see these ancient fastenings being fitted to boats during my time in Southern Yemen in the late 1960’s where they were still used in the construction of dhows. These traditional vessels still can be seen in the coastal waters of the Red Sea, the Arabian Gulf and the Indian Ocean.

Similar wooden trenail fastenings were used as alternatives to metal spikes to secure rail-support “chairs” to wooden sleepers in early Victorian  times especially in North American rail-roads.

Screw dowels, also called trenails are described in the 1904 Proceedings of the American Railway Engineering & Maintenance-of-Way Association:

“Attention has been called to a method developed abroad, whereby the wear under the rail or at the spike in a soft wood tie can be materially decreased.  This consists of the insertion of a hardwood trenail, so-called, being a wood screw of two or three inches diameter, having a spike hole bored in the center.  This trenail is screwed into a hole tapped in the tie, and a spike driven or screwed into it.  This method has been followed for the past six years in France, with very satisfactory results, the trenails being applied either to new ties or to old ones which had begun to make trouble through failure to hold the spike.  It is understood that several of the railroads in the United States have agreed to test these trenails, and it is hoped some valuable results may be derived therefrom.”  (page 76)

An illustration of screw dowels for both cut and screw spikes, from p. 52 of The Elements of Railroad Engineering by William G. Raymond (1917).

Here is another quote from the same volume:

“The upper part of the dowel is somewhat larger than the body.  A hole somewhat less than the diameter of the screw or spike is bored through the center of the dowel.  The dowel is heavily creosoted.  The dowel is put into the tie in the following manner:  A hole is bored somewhat less than the diameter of the dowel, and by means of a threading device a thread is cut in this hole.  The dowel is then screwed in either by hand, when there are a few ties to be provided with dowels, or by machinery, when a large number are to be provided.  In France and Germany the dowelling process is usually carried out in connection with the treating plants.  The dowel makes a perfect fit with the tie…Should any of the wood around the spike wear out, the dowel is removed and another is screwed in its place.  The body of the tie is thereby saved from destruction.  The tops of the dowels at the same time act as tie-plates, preventing the wearing out of the wood of the tie, and in many cases have rendered the use of expensive steel plates almost unnecessary.  A further advantage of the dowel consists in the very much increased holding power which the dowel gives to the spike or screw, principally in the matter of resisting the lateral pressure.” (pages 96-97)


Trenails can also be seen in hand built furniture of today, antique furniture and ancient timber frame buildings.

The tree nails produced in Gargrave were probably a modification of the traditional nail and designed specifically for the light railway industries.

Donavon Slaven 


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John Thomas Airton (1855-1914) A Short Biography

John Thomas Airton (1855-1914) A Short Biography

Gargrave Church (2001)Half way down the churchyard on the right of the path you will find a gravestone recording the passing of “John Thomas Airton, died 27.9.1914”. The inscription underneath “In the midst of life we are in death” has a very tragic story to tell.John Thomas Airton was originally a signalman on the Midland Railway at Gargrave. But his passion in later life was photography. Early photographs of the village are not uncommon, but when Thomas Airton set up his studio at what is now no 6, High Street, things began to change.

Elephants-in-HighStreet-Gargrave-1912He recorded every aspect of village life, from personal and family photographs, football, hockey and cricket teams, to groups of people on street corners and village scenes in general. His output was prolific particularly around 1912 when he covered events such as the Wesleyan Sunday School procession, the arrival and departure of the Manchester Regiment to its summer camp above the Anchor Inn, and the best of them all, the camel and elephant hauling Bostock and Wombwells circus wagon past the old Chapel.

James Preston and Family
James and Patty Preston with their eldest son, Herbert. Photograph Attributed to J.T.Aiton

As the war approached he photographed many of the local men in uniform, along with their families, now possibly the only memory of many of those who failed to return.

Sadly the story has a very unhappy ending. For some time, Tom had been unofficial caretaker of the Liberal Club situated above the small newspaper shop, now closed down, on the High Street. The lighting was provided by an Acetyline Gas system which had given problems on a previous occasion. Months earlier, the then caretaker, Mrs Rhodes, had struck a match in the vicinity of the gas plant and had been hurled across the room by an explosion. Luckily she was only “scorched and shaken”, but the warning went unheeded.On the night of the 27th of September, Tom opened up as usual, but when he attempted to light up, disaster stuck for the second time. He too was caught in the blast and was hit by flying debris and seriously injured. Dr Cameron was immediately on the scene but there was little he could do. Tom was carried home and sadly died the same evening.

The village mourned the loss of one of its most foremost and respected citizens. On the day of the funeral,shops were half shuttered and blinds were drawn on the route to the village church. The cortege was led by members of the Liberal and Conservative Clubs, the coffin attended by four uniformed signalmen, and followed by family mourners and personal friends and a large attendance of villagers.

Such was the sense of loss at his death that John Hyde, a life long friend, wrote these lines……

And Airtons gone
It cannot be
Cut off at 59, like 88 was he.
So blithe, so free.

Oh, tragic end,
How can it be,that he
Who always did the bright side see
Should come to this.

Oh, dreadful night,
That robbed us of a friend,
Both yours and mine,
Hard fate was his,.
Called from us in his prime.

Within that hallowed ground,
With mourners gathered round,
Their last respects to pay,
The sun shone bright with radiant light,
Emblem of Coming Day.

So, we laid him there
In that deep down grave,
With eyes that were full of tears:
Twas a lesson for all, both great and small,
To redeem the coming years.


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