Any investigation into the history of any part of Leeds starts in the same place: Ralph Thoresby’s Ducatus Leodiensis (1715), the first written history of the town and its surrounding regions. In truth, however, Thoresby did not have a great deal to say about Rothwell and its district; most likely because the area, in those distant days, constituted its own Parish (encompassing Carlton, Lofthouse, Middleton, Oulton with Woodlesford, Rhodes Green, Rothwell, Rothwell Haigh, and Thorpe) and was, therefore, outside the proper boundaries of Thoresby’s topographical investigation into the Parish of Leeds. In his history, then, Thoresby’s only reference to Rothwell and the surrounding towns was a brief description of Rothwell Haigh.
Rothwell and its neighbours fared little better in Loidis and Elmete, an 1816 continuation of Thoresby’s masterpiece by Thomas Dunham Whitaker; other than some brief historical background, Whitaker’s main focus was the region’s involvement in the English Civil War. Both Thoresby and Whitaker’s histories were, however, adapted by a 19th-century Leeds antiquarian, William Boyne, who expanded the original single volume of each to a total of seven, by inserting into their pages a multitude of prints, maps, sketches, watercolours, original letters and other ephemera (a process known as ‘grangerising’ a book).
This additional material includes an 1851 sketch of Rothwell Parish Church by T.H. Brigg, and a Joseph Rhodes watercolour of Oulton Manor House, which Boyne identifies as the birthplace of the famed 17th-century classical scholar Richard Bentley (‘on the authority of John Blayds, Esq., the Lord of the Manor’).
It is testament to the historic place of Rothwell and its surrounding area that it has been the subject of works by several other prominent Leeds antiquarians, including, of course, John Batty – whose book The History of Rothwell remains the classic history of the town. As well as several copies of Batty’s book, the Central Library collections also include the manuscript of his personal diary, and collections of handwritten notes he compiled from the Rothwell Parish Registers. Other amateur historians who have concerned themselves with our region include the Reverend R.V. Taylor – most famous for his Biographia Leodiensis (1865), a collection of essays describing the lives and achievements of famous Leeds ‘worthies’. Taylor wrote a series of short articles for the Rothwell Parish Monthly Magazine in the 1870s, which were extracted and edited together by William R. Flint, to create a work now known as ‘Gleanings Towards a History of the Parish of Rothwell; or Historical Sketches of Rothwell Parish’ (1877-78)
Batty’s book was published in 1877 and his pioneering efforts to tell the Rothwell story were expanded on by three crucial figures in the 20th-century: E.R. Manley, W.H. Banks and Albert Brown – all no doubt well known to readers of this article, and all the authors of significant works and collections held at the Central Library. Manley – who was not only the Headteacher of Rothwell Grammar School, but also a keen writer and local historian (author of A Short History of Rothwell and District and a slim volume of poetry from 1946) – was the source for a major collection of Rothwell historical images, recently added to the Leodis website (www.leodis.net) by the team at Leeds Central Library.
Albert Brown – author of the classic Rothwell in the 900 years after Domesday and former Chairman of the Rothwell Local History Committee – collected four A4 folders of newspaper cuttings, journal articles and, fascinatingly, letters and other correspondence with people researching their Rothwell ancestry (including a descendant of John Batty!). W.H. Banks, who was the secretary of Rothwell and District Civic Society and the author of such works of local history as The History of Rothwell Cricket Club, was also the compiler of another four volumes of A4 folders, stuffed with a multitude of miscellaneous ephemera, including his own notes, copies of articles he had written, his memories of Rothwell life – and much more besides. Both collections are a mine of information about Rothwell’s history, and certainly worthy of further exploration in these pages at a later date. You can access both sets of material by asking staff in the Local and Family History department at the Central Library.
Perhaps the most interesting book held at the Central Library which covers our region, however, is an anonymous History of the Town and Parish of Rothwell. This is a handwritten manuscript of unknown dating, thematically organised by the various towns and villages of the Parish – in that sense it can be thought of as an expansion or addition to the aforementioned meagre sections in Thoresby’s Ducatus, to which the text has some stylistic similarities. The history is likely to have been written or compiled sometime after the 1760s (the latest year referenced in the text) but before Batty’s history in the late 19th-century. It is possible it is a compilation of material found in other sources, rather than a work of original historical research. Either way, it would benefit from a transcription and, potentially, publication. If any readers are sufficiently interested to take on that task, do please get in touch!
Article kindly provided by Antony Ramm.