The Lagentian – Episodes from Castleford History is a project to research, record and publish the events and developments which contributed to creating the town as it is today.
It is, as yet, a long way from being a comprehensive 'History of Castleford' as such, because there is still much more research to be done and many more documents to be examined, but it is growing steadily as new evidence is brought to light.
As the spare time work of a local historian it is inevitably a slow but steady process – but keep checking back here for the latest updates and snippets from the developing story.
Did you know…?
In 1848, the Pontefract, Castleford and Knottingley Benefit Building Society was established to allow working class people (albeit mainly the better paid artisans) to save money to buy houses rather than rent from landlords. The first houses built with its funds were ready for occupation in 1851.
The first Methodist chapel in Castleford opened in August 1815, though followers of John Wesley had been meeting in private houses since 1786. The chapel stood on what is now a car park at the bottom of Wesley Street and was converted into a school in 1859.
The Riot Act was read in Castleford in August 1795, when hungry villagers seized a boat laden with wheat and armed militiamen were called in on horseback from Pontefract and Wakefield to remove them. Twelve people were arrested.
On Shrove Tuesday in 1855, which fell on 20 February, the cold was so severe that the traditional festivities still held in Castleford at that time took place on the frozen River Aire.
The ice was thick enough for stalls to be set up and fires lit on its surface.
In the great cholera epidemic of 1849, Castleford was the second-worst affected place in England in terms of deaths from the disease as a proportion of its population. 46 people died, plus another six in Whitwood Mere and four in Glasshoughton. Only Hull was hit harder..
In April 1854, the world's first 'celebrity chef', the Frenchman Alexis Soyer, visited Castleford, where he found it to be “composed of miserable cottages, let at 1s 6d per week, surrounded with mud and filth”.
On Christmas Day 1892, police were called to Wheldon Road where they found four men, including miner and Castleford rugby player Richard 'America Dick' Walton, brawling in the road, cheered on by a crowd of 2–300 people. Walton claimed he had only stopped to watch the fight but was attacked by another collier, Henry Robbins, who reportedly came off far the worst of the two…
Assessors for the Poll Tax of 1379 found two blacksmiths, two weavers, a joiner, a salt dealer, a grocer and a clothworker among the mainly agricultural peasants of 'Castelford', a village which probably had a population of little more than 100 people.
The government inspector who visited Castleford Wesleyan School in 1862 said of its pupils: “The ages vary from four to thirteen years, the large majority being more fit for an infant school than otherwise,” and also noted “the parents of these children work in the glass and pot manufactories, and take them to assist as soon as possible to secure remuneration for their labour”.
A government inspector enquiring into the causes of the 1849 cholera outbreak found a family of eight people – the parents and six children, including a son aged 24 and a daughter aged 19 – sleeping in one 13ft x 8ft room, and another family of five sharing a bedroom of dimensions 13ft 5in x 6ft 3in where they also had to keep the coal.
In 1890, Castleford was the first place in the world where bottles were made by machine rather than the time-honoured practice of manual glass blowing. The company concerned was Sykes, Macvay & Co which had two works on Albion Street: one where the bus station now stands, the other where CBR Engineering is located. Foundations of one of the plants were revealed by archaeologists in the spring of 2014, working in advance of the new bus station being built.