Rothwell and the whale bones – an unlikely pairing

“Jaw Bones” has been the local name applied to the junction of Wood Lane and the Leeds-Wakefield Road, Rothwell, for many years. You may say this is a peculiar name — that is, unless you know the area. But there is an explanation.

There has been a whale’s jawbone in the locality of the present arched jawbone seat ever since 1835. when the original bone was brought from America by a member of the Fenton family. Replacements were obtained in 1903,1935 and 1967. According to Batty’s “History of Rothwell” the first set of jawbones to occupy the position on Wood Lane previously stood as gate-posts at the house occupied by one of the Fenton’s at Woodhouse Hill. The Fenton’s were the first family to start coal mining in the district.


In 1903, when the Tramway Depot was built, the bones had to be replaced through decay. Then, in 1932, the bones were smashed to splinters “through being knocked down by a motor car in which bandits were escaping from the police.- A search followed for a new bone, and in 1935 the Council bought one from a Mirfield merchant for £3 10s. The Clerk of Rothwell Urban Council at that time commented: “Unless wilfully damaged, these bones should last at least another 100 years.” But again, in 1964, the bones were damaged beyond repair and a long and difficult search ensued to find replacements.

The Whale Bones – circa 1970


There followed many communications with a man at the National Institute of Oceanography in Surrey because the jawbone of a whale is filled with grease and this had to be removed. Whitby Council erected a similar jawbone structure just before Rothwell, and they didn’t remove all the grease. Its Engineer and Surveyor gave this warning: —”This degreasing wants doing well, because otherwise after erection a hot sunny day can set the oil running. This happened with our bones two months after erection and I would never have believed that bone could hold so much grease. Fortunately, no-one applied for compensation for damage to clothing!” So Rothwell U.D.C. took note and cleaned its jawbone thoroughly with a steam gun, having previously approached many local firms with a view to soaking the bone in a degreasing tank. There was no tank big enough. So, next time you are passing, do take notice of the celebrated seat in Wood Lane. Now you know, there’s much more to a whale’s jawbone than meets the eye.

The Whale Bones in modern times.