Jubilee History of the Corporation of Huddersfield (1918) - Chapter I

This transcription has been made available in partnership with the Huddersfield Local History Society to mark the 150th anniversary of the Incorporation of Huddersfield as a Municipal Borough. For details of events and research resources relating to Huddersfield 150, please see the society's web site.

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Table of Contents for Jubilee History of the Corporation of Huddersfield: 1868 to 1918 (1918) by Owen Balmforth:



We sleep, and wake and sleep, but all things move;
The sun flies forward to his brother sun;
The dark earth follows wheel'd in her ellipse;
And human things returning on themselves
Move onward, leading up the golden year.

In order to estimate at its true value the important work accomplished by the local Municipal Authority, it is necessary to glance at the conditions which prevailed prior to the Charter of Incorporation being granted in the year 1868. Such a review will also show that just in proportion as the basis of representation upon municipal bodies has been widened, so the conveniences and improvements in modern town life have progressed and developed.


Down to the year 1820 the town was governed by a "Court Leet," which was granted to the Ramsden family, as Lords of the Manor, by the Crown in the seventeenth century, though it had been in existence for hundreds of years previous. Among the duties performed by this Court Leet was the appointment of various officials, including the Chief Constable and Inspector of Weights and Measures; also the Pinder, whose duty it was to impound stray cattle; the Bellman, to "cry aloud" for the missing inhabitants; and the Collector of dead cats, dogs and vermin from the rivers and streams. A practical blow was given to the Court Leet when the inhabitants of Huddersfield resolved to appoint a Constable of their own. Mr. Hobkirk, in his History of Huddersfield, says:— "In the church books of vestry meetings it is recorded in the minutes that a resolution was passed on May 22nd, 1812, that 'a Standing Constable, to act as a Police Officer, is highly necessary, and shall be elected for this township; and that John Fernaby, late porter of the Leeds Infirmary was then elected.'" Again, four years later, on January 9th, 1816, there appears the following entry:— "In pursuance of legal notice having been given in the Parish Church, of the 28th December last, a general meeting of the inhabitants of Huddersfield was this day held for the purpose of taking into consideration the present alarming state of the country and the more effectual preservation of the peace ... When, after duly deliberating on the enormous burglaries and other depredations recently committed, we have thought it necessary to advertise for and engage an active and experienced man who will devote the whole of his time to the discharge of his duty as an assistant constable, &c." In 1816, therefore, Huddersfield had one Chief Constable, appointed by the Court Leet, and a force of two elected by the inhabitants in vestry meeting assembled. What a contrast to the Police Force of the present day!

The Ancient Court Leet, and Church Vestry also, were found eventually to be out of harmony with the requirements of the inhabitants. Accordingly there followed the reign of the


In the year 1820 an application was successfully made to Parliament for an Act for the better "Lighting and Watching of the town of Huddersfield." For twenty-seven years, down to 1848, the town continued under the jurisdiction of the Commissioners appointed under this Act. But as early as 1841, dissatisfaction with this new method of government began to manifest itself. And no wonder, when we remember the narrow and exclusive basis of its constitution. It appears the "Lord of the Manor" possessed the right to appoint three of the Commissioners, and all the rest were self-elected or nominated.

The Lighting and Watching Act received the Royal Assent on June 30th, 1820, the first year in the reign of King George IV. By the Act, power was granted to appoint such number of able-bodied men as the Commissioners shall judge proper to be employed as watchmen, and as a patrol, under such regulations, and subject to such orders as the Commissioners shall make from time to time. Power was given, also, to provide proper watchhouses, watchboxes, or places for the reception of such watchmen and patrol, and to impose a fine not exceeding 20s. on any watchman or patrol for neglect or misbehaviour.

The Commissioners met at the Old George Hotel, which stood near the Kirkgate end of John William Street, and by the Act were required to meet every twenty-one days. The Commissioners appointed to carry out the Act were named in the first clause, and were fifty-four in number. Among the names are found Sir John Ramsden, Benj. Haigh Allen, Wm. Walker Battye, Richard Clay, Thomas Firth, Ed. Hawksby, Joseph Kaye, Joshua Lockwood, Henry Nelson, Joseph Scholefield, Wm. Rhodes, John Riley, Geo. Starkey, Wm. Wigney, and others.

Each Commissioner had to take an oath that he was possessed of a personal estate of the value of £1,000 over and above what would pay his just debts. They were each appointed for life, and it was "further enacted that when any of the Commissioners herein named shall die, or shall for the space of one year refuse or neglect to act, such death, refusal, or neglect, being declared at a meeting of the said Commissioners, then and in every such case, the surviving or remaining Commissioners, or any five or more of them, ... shall nominate, elect or appoint fit persons ... to be Commissioners in their place, providing they be approved by the Lord of the Manor of Huddersfield." One peculiarity of the Act was that all dwelling-houses and other property below the annual value of £6 were exempt from paying all rates levied by the Commissioners.


About the year 1840, there also existed a Board of Surveyors which met at the Pack Horse Hotel, in Kirkgate. This board was appointed by the inhabitants in vestry meeting assembled. Its duty was to keep the roads in good repair, and collect rates to defray the cost of same. If this duty was neglected, complaint might be made to the magistrates, who had power to grant a summons thereon, and if it was found that the highway was not in thorough repair, they might convict the surveyor in a penalty of five pounds, and order him to repair it within a limited period. A case is on record of a ratepayer residing in Thomas Street, who refused to pay his rate when Mr. Aquilla Houghton, the collector, demanded it, alleging as a reason that the road was in very bad condition. He also threatened to indict the board for their neglect of duty. This threat had the desired effect. Thomas Street was repaired, and the rate was duly paid. The right-hand man of the Old Board of Surveyors was Mr. Sam Sykes, who for many years was the working Surveyor.


In 1845, the new Parochial Constables Act came into operation, which provided for the nomination and election of Day Constables by the inhabitants in public meeting assembled. In that year the late Wm. Townend (well-known to many now living) was appointed a Day Constable at a town's meeting, held in a room in the old Ramsden's Arms Yard, Cross Church Street, before the present hotel was built. A committee of ratepayers was also appointed at that meeting, which included Joshua Hobson and Laurence Pitkeithly, and this committee also appointed Mr. Sedgwick as a second Constable. Both Townend and Sedgwick were under the orders of the Chief Constable appointed by the Court Leet, viz.: Jonathan Leech, tinner and brazier, who had a shop in King Street, and who filled the office for several years.


As already intimated, dissatisfaction arose with the system of local government then in operation, and in the year 1841, a committee of influential inhabitants was formed and public meetings were held in favour of applying for a Charter of Incorporation. A petition in support of the scheme was signed by 2,505 inhabitants representing a rateable value of £23,021. There was, however, considerable opposition raised by a wealthy minority, and a counter petition was organised with only 133 signatures, but representing a rateable value of £18,885. The application came before the Privy Council in due course, but the Charter of Incorporation was refused. It is believed the charter was on the eve of being granted, when, unfortunately, a change of government took place. The town had, therefore, to wait other twenty-seven years before receiving incorporation. Who can estimate the loss sustained by the inhabitants in various ways by this long interregnun?


The failure of the above attempt to obtain a charter was very discouraging to many people, and led them, a few years afterwards to make application for a new Local Improvement Act. In 1848, Parliament granted the Act which gave much greater powers for local improvement than previously existed, although its application was confined to the old boundary comprised in the Lighting and Watching Act of 1820. The Board of Improvement Commissioners, constituted under the Act of 1848, consisted of twenty-one members. Sir John Ramsden — as under the previous governing body — had the right of appointing three members; the remainder were elected by the ratepayers annually, six retiring each year by rotation. The Commissioners' qualifications were either £30 ratal, or to be possessed of £1,000 personalty. The electors' qualifications were: Under £50 rating one vote, over £50 and under £100 two votes, and so on up to six votes if rated at over £250 per annum.

For twenty years this was the local governing body having jurisdiction, however, in that portion of the township only which is within a radius of 1,200 yards from the centre of the market place, and including a population of 24,100, with a rateable value of £100,108.

The Improvement Commissioners performed many useful acts. They opened the Cemetery and the Model Lodging House; they constructed new streets, laid down over eight miles of main sewerage, leased the market tolls from Sir John Ramsden, and provided an effective Police Force.


In 1867, the movement in favour of applying for a Charter of Incorporation was renewed, not because of any dissatisfaction with the Commissioners, but because the town was increasing in importance and population. It should be remembered that in the area included in the present County Borough there were prior to its incorporation no less than eleven governing bodies:— The Huddersfield Improvement Commissioners, and the Local Boards of Marsh, Deighton, Bradley, Fartown, Lindley, Lockwood, Moldgreen, Almondbury, Newsome and Longwood. Each of these had separate and independent jurisdiction, and it will be readily understood that it was impossible under such circumstances to secure that harmony and unity of action on subjects of common importance which the public welfare required. For such purposes as increasing the water supply, and improving the drainage, and methods of local government generally, it was felt desirable that the outlying populous districts should be joined to the existing borough.

Accordingly, in May, 1867, the Improvement Commissioners unanimous]y adopted the following resolution:— "That, having regard to the position of Huddersfield and adjoining districts, with respect to population, unity of commercial and public interests, and necessity of increased water supply, for which, and for other purposes, a more united system of local government would be advantageous, it is, in the opinion of this Board, desirable that a Charter of Incorporation for Huddersfield and the adjoining districts should be applied for."

On May 29th, a public meeting of ratepayers was held in the Theatre, Joseph Turner, Esq., in the chair, at which the foregoing resolution was confirmed with only five dissentients. Petitions were signed by ratepayers resident within the districts proposed to be incorporated for and against the charter with the following results:—

Signatures Rateable Value
£ s. d.
For 4,933 106,782 1 2
Against 2,049 16,750 10 11
Majority in favour 2,884 90,031 10 3

On November 18th and 19th, 1867, Captain Donnelly, the Commissioner appointed by Her Majesty's Privy Council, held a public enquiry at the new George Hotel, St. George's Square, at which evidence was tendered for and against the proposed incorporation. At this enquiry the case for the petitioners was presented by Mr. Joseph Batley, the Clerk to the Improvement Commissioners, subsequently the first Town Clerk of Huddersfield. The petition was supported by Sir John Ramsden.


Ultimately, on July 7th, 1868, the Charter was granted, and Huddersfield became a Municipal Borough. At that date the population was estimated at 72,455, rateable value, £199,477, acreage 10,436. There were twelve wards, with fourteen aldermen and forty-two councillors.

In closing this chapter, the reader may be reminded that on the eve of the Charter of Incorporation being granted, the area of the Huddersfield township was very limited in extent, containing a small population. The water and gas supply were of a very restricted nature, and owned by private companies. There were no tramways, no electric light, no parks, no Town Hall, no public library, nor any publicly-managed schools wherein to educate the rising generation. How all these undertakings and other amenities were established by the enterprise and public spirit of successive Town Councils will be outlined in the following pages.

Continue to Chapter II...