On 14th August 1805, when England feared a Napoleonic invasion, Colonel Walter Stanhope, commander of 600 Yorkshiremen known as the Staincross Volunteers was informed by clergyman and magistrate Mr Dixon from Woolley that the beacon at Pontefract was lighted. Dixon was giving orders for lighting the one standing upon Woolly Edge, a wild, bleak height which dominated the surrounding country for many miles. Instructions had previously been given by the General of the district that upon the lighting of this beacon the regiment was to march to Pontefract immediately, and Stanhope realised that not a moment was to be lost.
They commenced their march to Pontefract, in orderly fashion, with their Captain at their head, and they had already got to Hemsworth, a distance of about twelve miles, when they were overtaken by a messenger bearing the following note: —
To Colonel Stanhope.
I have sent a Servant to the Beacon at Pomfret this Morning as I could learn nothing here, and find that the Pomfret Beacon was not lighted & that the Woolly People were deceived by the burning of a Brick Kiln placed near the Beacon. You are sure I am truly sorry to have occasioned you all the Trouble you have had.
I remain, dear Sir,
Very truly yours
Although summoned on a false alarm, the troops received an ovation at Hemsworth, where the populace collected to cheer them and they were feted and offered the loan of waggons for their return journey. The readiness of these sturdy Yorkshiremen to devote themselves to the defence of their county, with such excellent leadership which could produce such a prompt muster and perfect organisation, roused popular enthusiasm, while the news sped through the country and the March of the Staincross Volunteers became famous. Stanhope recorded in his journal: ‘A most gallant muster, the whole Regiment turned out; ate at Hemsworth, got home to tea.’
On 18th April 1803, 42 magistrates at Pontefract in Session passed the following resolution:’ not to apprentice parish children to the owners of cotton mills where they had to engage in night work, or work for an unreasonable number of hours a day.’
A ‘Report on the Sanitary Condition of the Malton Urban Sanitary District for the Year 1900’ recorded that the first case of smallpox in Malton had been traced to a tramp from Pontefract on 27th January 1893.
‘The Chemist and Druggist’ reported that on 24th January 1897 ‘A fire broke out at Pontefract on Sunday, January 24 (1897), resulting in the complete destruction of a liquorice-factory belonging to Councillor A. Taylor White. A large quantity of machinery for the making of ” Pontefract cakes ” was destroyed, and also a few tons of finished cakes, as well as a considerable weight of raw material.’
On 17th September 1898, ‘The Builder’ magazine reported:
‘WORKHOUSE EXTENSIONS, PONTEFRACT. — The vagrant wards, a new lunacy block, and a new laundry department added to the Pontefract Work- house are now rapidly approaching completion. Altogether the additions will cost something like £10,000 (£1.3 million in today’s money). The new vagrant block contains twenty- seven bed-cells, connected with which are apartments for stone-breaking, and a large shed. Stone- breaking is carried on to a considerable extent in Pontefract Workhouse, owing to the fact that the Corporation takes the material for road- mending. There are also spacious association wards, in which the casuals who remain more than one night in the house may spend their time when their task is done; and the block is fitted with lavatories, baths, disinfector, &c., as well as heated by hot water. The new wards for casual females are pretty much on the same plan, all being roomy, light, and airy. In the newly-erected block there are eight cells. The alterations include a new committee-room for the guardians, for which the old tramp ward has been called into service; an extensive laundry; new porter’s lodge; and new offices for the Master, the latter commanding a view of the entrance-gate and the task sheds.’
On 10th January 1814, Irish poet Aubrey de Vere was born. In 1896, his sonnet about Pontefract Castle was published and although a frequent visitor to the Lake District in veneration of Wordsworth, it is not known if he toured Pontefract Castle:
‘PONTEFRACT CASTLE; OR, TREASON’S TWOFOLD REQUEST
WIND-WASTED castle without crown of towers!
Dread dungeon keep, watching the dying day!
A crownless king, great Edward’s grandson, lay
Wasting in thee, and counting prisoned hours:
A century passed: the Faith’s embattled Powers
Thus far advanced; here stood, a stag at bay:
The eighth Henry trembled in his blood-stained bowers:-
Thou saw’st that’ Pilgrimage of Grace’ decay!
Two Woes thou saw’st; the fall of England’s Crown,
That drowned in blood her old Nobility;
Then, baser plague, the old Temples trampled down
I mark of that Red Sea which rolls between
England that is, and England that hath been!
On 15th May 1896, the ‘Engineering’ magazine reported: ‘Colliery Disputes. —The trouble in the Yorkshire coalfield becomes more acute. The employees at Rylands Main, near Barnsley, have been served with notices by the management, and 400 hands are affected. At the Birley Collieries, near Sheffield, a strike is threatened, and the Kiveton dispute has not yet ended. In addition to these troubles, a dispute has occurred at the Prince of Wales’ Colliery, Pontefract, and 400 men threaten to send in their notices at the time of writing. Taken altogether, the situation in the coal trade appears to be somewhat strained. There is not much hope of better times, for values are declining and competition is on the increase.’
On 2nd August 1819, Thomas Armitage an American clergyman was born at Pontefract. He died on January 21st 1896. He was an important influence in the Baptist Church in New York City, and the prime mover in the establishment of the American Bible Union in 1850 being president of that body from 1856 to 1875. Among his works were’ Jesus, His Self- Introspection’ and ‘History of the Baptists’ (1887).
On 6th March 1896, ‘The Telegraphic Journal and Electrical Review’ noted: ‘Pontefract. —March 6th. The Guardians are inviting estimates for fitting up the new infirmary with electric bells. Particulars on application to Messrs. J. Holmes Greaves & Co., architects, 38, Albion Street, Leeds, and Corn Market, Pontefract.’
On 15th April 1896, the ‘Victoria Daily Times’, British Columbia, reported the death of the last of the pot-wallopers Richard Atkinson, at Pontefract at the age of ninety-seven. ‘The Antiquary’ noted in May that year: ‘A break with the past of a curious kind is announced from Pontefract in Yorkshire. It is the death of the last “ pot-walloper” in that town a short time ago. A “pot-walloper” was another name for a pot-boiler, and signified a person who was entitled to the Parliamentary franchise by virtue of owning a free-hold hearth on which to “ wallop” or boil his pot. The “pot-wallopers” were a numerous class before the passing of the Reform Act of 1832. They claimed to vote for a member of Parliament because they had boiled their own pot in the parish for six months. The Doncaster Chronicle supplements this information with further particulars. “ ‘The pot’,” we are told, “was an iron pan with three legs, and it was suspended by a chain from an iron bar fastened in the chimney. The pot was familiar enough twenty or thirty years ago in remote parts of Yorkshire, where the ‘ pot-walloper’ and his vote would suggest the idea that, in days gone by, it was considered an accomplishment for a man to have a knowledge of the culinary art, since the contents of the pot consisted of huge pieces of beef and bacon, with carrots, turnips, potatoes, onions, and the now almost forgotten dumpling, but erstwhile a favourite dish in Yorkshire.” The “ pot-walloper,” however, was not confined to the North of England, but existed in varying numbers all over the country. The race has now become extinct by the recent death of the last of them at Pontefract..’