West Yorkshire market town of Pontefract
Pontefract Local History




At the start of last century the charming old village of Darrington, lying close to, yet slightly withdrawn from the Great North Road, presented a picturesque appearance. The twelfth century church standing on top of a ridge of the gently folding land, the manorial hall and the limestone cottages with their red pantile roofs and the softly curling smoke of the wood burning fires, epitomised the popular concept of idyllic rural life.

In summer season, numerous visitors were drawn to the village, particularly at weekends and holiday times when people from the nearby urban townships undertook leisurely perambulations or cycle rides to Smeaton Craggs, Stapleton Park and the Went Valley, breaking their journeys to take rest and refreshment at either the Crown Inn or the Ship Inn at Darrington.

The advent of the automobile and the consequent increase in the volume and speed of road traffic in the two decades following the end of the Great War contributed greatly to the social change of that time and presaged the motorway madness of today.

By the mid 1930s the increase in vehicular traffic on the Great North Road, the country’s principal north-south route, necessitated an improvement scheme, the adoption of which also reflected the desire of the government of the day to create work in order to alleviate the mass unemployment arising from the severe economic depression of the period.

The proposed intersection on the site of the Darrington crossroads, allied to the widening of the roadway, had considerable consequence for the directors of Carters’ Knottingley Brewery Co., as the roadworks necessitated the compulsory purchase and demolition of the two inns belonging to the company.

The Crown Inn, situated at the east side of the existing road, was a large detached building which had been a busy hostelry in the coaching era of the late eighteenth-early nineteenth centuries.  Close by stood the Ship Inn, both inns strategically located to catch the passing trade as well as catering for local needs.

The Ship Inn had been acquired in 1871 by George William Carter, grandson of the co-founder of the Knottingley brewery. Carter supplied ale, spirits and associated goods to the licensed owner of the Ship Inn who, having fallen into debt to Carter for goods supplied by the brewery (a common feature of the relationship between publicans and brewers following the rise of specialist brewing and the demise of publican brewers) settled his debt by admitting Carter to part ownership in 1876 graduating to full ownership thereafter. (1) The Crown Inn was offered to the company for the sum of £2,500 as late as July 1925 and was quickly purchased in order to ensure the monopoly of trade by the company on the stretch of road between Ferrybridge and Wentbridge. (2)

By the mid 1930s, at which time the Knottingley Brewery Co. was a public limited company having been sold by carter in 1892, both the strategically placed inns were well patronised despite their somewhat rundown appearance and dilapidated condition. The upgrading of the main road enhanced the potential for business but the company, faced with the loss of the two inns and the surrender of their licences, was pressed into action to nullify the impending loss.  The enforced action occurred at a disadvantageous time, for the general trade of the company had been hit by the recession which had caused a bitter schism in the boardroom and the take over of the company in 1935 by the Leeds based Bentley’s Yorkshire Breweries Ltd.  The newly formed subsidiary company embarked upon a policy of refurbishment of many of its derelict public houses and the closure of others and their replacement by premises of modern design affording up to date facilities.  Despite the financial strain imposed by the heavy ongoing capital outlay, the company decided to build a new hotel to replace the old inns, transferring the licence of the Ship Inn to the new premises and surrendering that of the Crown to the Licensing Justices.  Implementation of the plan was dependant upon obtaining a suitable site adjacent to the new road for both existing inn sites were to be swallowed up in the road widening scheme. To that end, the managing director of the company and sole survivor of the former directorship, Mr. T.J. Sides, a wily businessman with a long involvement in local politics and a myriad social and business contacts, took charge of the project. (3)

Lying adjacent to the western edge of the roadworks stood Darrington Hall and its surrounding grounds. The hall, a seventeenth century timber framed building with nineteenth century additions, stood on the site of the former manorial dwelling.  The home of the Savile family, the land had passed to the Southerons and then to a branch of that family, the Gloucester based Southeron – Escourts.  The latter preferred to reside on their Gloucester estates and consequently Darrington Hall was somewhat surplus to requirements. In the wake of the Great War the hall had been used as a hospital for sixty ex-servicemen under the aegis of the Ministry of Pensions and thereafter was leased to private tenants. (4) The combination of the war and the imposition of punitive death duties had hastened the declining status of the English aristocracy and the fragmentation of the estates of the landed gentry.  Mindful of the situation, in late 1935 Sides approached the trustees of the late T.E. Southeron – Escourt, and offered £2,000 for Darrington Hall and estate.  The offer was accepted subject to the brewery company’s agreement to honour the existing leasehold agreement which was not due to expire until Christmas 1937. (5)  As the plans of the company were dependant upon completion of the roadworks, the extant lease posed no problem.

By December 1936 the West Riding County Council, agents for the Ministry of Transport, had offered the company £2,000 for the inn sites with provision for the licence of the Ship Inn to be transferred to the projected new hotel.  Following negotiation, the compensatory sum was raised to £2,750 plus the licence arrangement and almost simultaneously the conveyance of Darrington Hall and grounds was completed. (6)

The purchase of the Darrington Hall estate enabled the brewery company to use a section of the grounds lying adjacent to the realigned road as the site for the construction of the new hotel and in May 1937 plans with an estimated cost of £4,825 were submitted in respect of the new hotel by W. Barber, the Pontefract builder and approved by the company directors. (7) An estimated cost of between £12,000 and £15,000 submitted by S. Jackson & Son for the fitting out and decoration of the premises caused some consternation in the light of the company’s ongoing financial commitments and the alarmed directors therefore sought an amended costing on a more modest financial scale before submission to the licensing authorities. (8)  By the year’s end however, it was reported that the new premises, to be named as the Darrington Hotel, would be open for public use by the following March.  Arrangements were made to transfer the Ship Inn licence and a prospective tenant, Mr. R.T. Bennett, was appointed as the licensee.

To compensate the long-serving, outgoing tenant of the Ship Inn, the brewery agreed to forfeit several hundred pounds outstanding for goods received from the company and to pay a gratuity of £50 upon closure of the inn as a token of appreciation for services rendered. (9)  However, in May 1939, it was stated that the tenant was reluctant to vacate the Ship Inn premises and it was only the threatened withdrawal of the concessions that ensured the prompt evacuation of the inn. (10)

Meanwhile, during the hiatus between the purchase of Darrington Hall and the opening of the new hotel, the company continued to let out the Hall and gardens, first to Captain Harrison Topham and then to Major Henry Wills-Cole, the latter obtaining a clause enabling the lease to be terminated in the increasingly likelihood of his being called away for military duty in the event of war.  Following the outbreak of war in September 1939 the lease was surrendered and Mr. William Thompson (who had succeeded T.J. Sides as manager upon the death of the latter in 1937) wrote to the G.O.C Northern Command at York, suggesting the use of the Hall as a billet for the armed forces.  Simultaneously, efforts were made to sell the premises, the Leeds based agency Jackson, Stopps & Staff, being engaged to obtain a suitable purchaser. (11) The company was upstaged by dint of its own endeavour, however, when in May 1940 the hall was requisitioned by the Ministry of Defence for the duration of the hostilities as a billet for soldiers of Northern Command. (11)

Following the cessation of the war the hall was vacated and a claim for compensation lodged with the government on behalf of the company.  It was intended that money paid in settlement of the claim would be used to refurbish the Darrington Hotel, the condition of which had depreciated during the years of the war. (13) In March 1946 the sum of £1,328-4s-5d was paid to the company but due to the exigencies of war and the shortage of materials in the immediate post war period, the company was unable to obtain official authorisation for the work and the planned refurbishment was deferred of necessity. (14)

The wartime conditions had also affected the trade of the hotel.  In January 1940, less than a year after its opening, the tenant gave notice to quit.  Curtailment was clearly at the root of the problem for the tenant had gone to considerable personal expense to obtain carpets and accessories for his private accommodation, including the necessary purchase of anti-air raid blackout curtains. (15) A further indication of stunted trade is the appeal of the company against the original rates levied upon the premises and as a sop to the new tenant, Mr. G.R. Stephenson, excusal from payment of rent, rates and licence fee, for an initial period of six months to be followed by a review of the situation, the tenant only being responsible for such expenditure if sales averaged the equivalent of five barrels per week or more. (16)  Despite the criteria being met, the margin was so narrow that when the tenant was faced with the burden of the extra payment he threatened to quit and the company extended the concession for a further half year. (17) The status quo was broken in March 1941 when despite the tenant stating that he “could not see his way” to make the required payment, the board was adamant that he should and he assumed responsibility the following month. (18) One year on and little appreciable improvement in trade had taken place as restrictions on travel prompted by petrol rationing combined with that of foodstuffs to depress trade at the hotel.  Attrition between the licensee and the company concerning the additional payments arose and was only partly assuaged by the promise of the latter to reconsider the terms of the tenancy should a further fall in trade occur and in face of rising levels of rent the tenant submitted his notice in November 1948. (19)

Clearly, the high hopes entertained at the time of the construction of the hotel had been dashed by the onset of war but with the peace the company’s hopes revived. It was not until summer 1947, however, that consideration was given to need to make greater effort to attract passing trade. A decision was taken to install a neon sign and to floodlight the hotel only for the plans to be discarded on grounds of cost as well as the refusal of the local authority to sanction the work.  The diminished nature of the company plan arising from the conditions of the time and consideration of the cost involved is seen in the modification which occurred.  Owing to repeatedly rejected appeals by Osgoldcross R.D.C. for permission to undertake the work, the company’s vision declined from the initial concept of a brick pillar bearing a neon sign to a dual sided unlit, gold leafed aluminium grander being finally doomed by the severe and prolonged winter weather of 1947 which caused fuel shortages and lack of power. (20)

The directors were also aware of the deficiencies in the services offered by the hotel and as the restrictions caused by shortages and rationing gradually eased a determined effort was made to boost trade.  In 1948 the company decided to introduce evening meals. (21) To facilitate the new service, minor structural alterations including the construction of serving hatches and improvements to ventilation and lighting preceded decoration. (22)  New cutlery, crockery and table linen was purchased and also a refrigerator, together with a lawn mower to enable the tenant to keep the exterior of the hotel presentable. (23) When the already disgruntled licensee objected to the proposed innovations, the company proposed an exchange of tenancy between Stephenson and Mr. William Liversedge of the Royal Hotel, Norton.  Having visited the Royal Hotel, Stephenson declined to exchange and in 1948 quit the Darrington Hotel, the tenancy of which was then taken by Liversedge. (24) Any improvement in trade was minimal, however, and while consideration was given in 1949 for the provision of extra bedrooms and architectural plans prepared, the directors ultimately decided to defer action. (25)

Meanwhile, although still nominally under the control of the War Department, Darrington Hall was standing unused by 1944 thus enabling the company to re-advertise it for sale at £4,000. (26) In 1945 the property was provisionally transferred to the control of the Ministry of Works as potential accommodation for German prisoners of war awaiting repatriation but was never used for that purpose. (27) Following derequisition in 1946, the house and grounds were placed on the market at £2,500 or near offer, the company reserving to itself future compensation payments.

In an effort to secure a sale, the company secretary wrote to Sir Bernard Kenyon, Clerk to the West Riding County Council, in May 1946, pointing out the suitability of the hall as a maternity hospital and offering to sell as a reasonable price. (29) Following an inspection a report was produced showing the unsuitability of the premises and in July 1946 the company’s offer was formally declined. (30) Interest was shown by the Police, Youth Hostels Association but the premises were judged to be unsuitable in each case. (31) In December 1946, however, the Womersley based farmer and lime merchant, Mr. David Alderson Scott, made a formal offer of £2,000 for the hall, grounds and two cottages situated within the grounds. (29) By February 1947 a compromise price of £2,250 was agreed, subject to the continuation of the existing cottage tenancies and a clause in the terms of sale prohibiting the sale of liquor on the site at any future date. (32) The sale was completed in October 1947 and the property remained in Scott’s possession for until his death some years later. (33) In 1988 the house and estate were offered for sale at which time the residence comprised the nineteenth century west wing of the old hall, the more ancient element having been demolished shortly after the war. (35)

If the purchase of Darrington Hall by the brewery company had been a sprat to catch a mackerel, the Darrington Hotel which the purchase facilitated proved to be something of a white elephant for under Carter’s ownership it never fulfilled its true potential.  While the effect of the war and its austere aftermath were factors inhibiting trade, other elements also played a part.  By the 1950 when recovery from the constraints of the previous decade was slowly talking place, the social attitudes and architectural practices which had informed the design and construction of the Darrington Hotel were somewhat outdated.  The layout of the premises was to an extent inimical to efficient service. Technical difficulties in the system of ventilation created problems and particular difficulty was experienced in keeping the beer cellar cool, largely due to the fact that the boiler for the hot water system had been installed there. An inadequate communication system was not remedied until 1951 when a new telephone service was installed. (36) As late as 1957 some bedrooms lacked hand was basins and hot and cold water and were affected by inadequate lighting and it was stated that the hotel even lacked a lock on the door of the public toilet. (37) Even when such deficiencies received consideration by the directors there was a reluctance to spend sufficient money to fully rectify the problems.  A survey of the ventilation problem in 1950 recommended the installation of a refrigerator system costing £452 plus installation costs. The directors balked at the cost and settled for the cheaper and less efficient option of making ventilation shafts and the lagging of the boiler and hot water pipes. (38) While some minor structural improvements were undertaken in the hope of facilitating more efficient service, amended estimates were demanded with regard to light fittings and bedroom accessories, but when presented, further action was deferred indefinitely. (39)

Quite apart from deficiencies of design and under-funding an additional factor concerned the location of the hotel. In a more leisurely age, inns such as the Crown and the Ship provided facilities for travellers to take a short break for rest and liquid refreshment. The advance of automobile technology made travellers more inclined to undertake longer periods of travel, selecting more prominent hotels offering enhanced facilities as places of choice. The clientele of the Darrington Hotel was therefore of a more casual nature, random travellers and local businessmen stopping for drinks and occasional meals as opposed to predominantly prearranged bookings.

In 1960 a concentrated effort was made to improve the status of the hotel with the installation of a new cooking range and better kitchen and service facilities. The extent to which the belated improvements increased trade is not recorded. The extension to the car park the following year may be a positive indication or equally, an expression of optimism for future business. (40)

The seeming complacency of the directors doubtless arose from a myriad financial commitments with regard to more than sixty licensed properties belonging to the company and the somewhat outdated attitude concerning the locational monopoly enjoyed by the hotel. Concerning the latter, an alarm was sounded in May 1963 when the company failed to persuade the Licensing Justices to dismiss an application by a rival group for a licence to enable them to open a new restaurant within three miles of the Darrington Hotel.  Fortunately for the company an appeal to the magistrates at Wakefield in July was successful. (41) However, a further blow was suffered late in 1965 when in the initial course of upgrading the road to motorway status the County Council Highways Department proposed the compulsory purchase of 670 square yards of land belonging to the hotel forecourt for the erection of a footbridge directly in front of the premises. Following protracted legal negotiations, a compromise designed to safeguard trade ensued, but the company was unable to prevent loss of some land and the construction of the bridge. (42)

By this time the company had been fully merged with B.Y.B Ltd., as a preliminary step to the take over of the latter by the giant brewery company, Whitbreads, with whom it had signed a trading agreement as early as November 1959. (43) As an integral element of B.Y.B. Ltd., the Knottingley Brewery Co. was voluntarily wound up in the spring of 1972 leaving Whitbread plc as owners of the somewhat ill-fated Darrington Hotel. (44)

In recent years the Whitbread Company has undergone comprehensive restructuring, divesting itself of the bulk of its tied houses. The fate of the Darrington Hotel, the once proud flagship of carter’s property empire, has been involved with such change the vicissitudes of which await a chronicler.

Terry Spencer
August 2007

(1) Spencer T. ‘A History of Carters’ Knottingley Brewery, Volume 1: The Private Company 1800-1892.’ (1998)  p108.
(2) West Yorkshire Archive Service, Wakefield, WYW 1415-2 p27.
(3) Spencer T. ‘Thomas Jeffries Sides – Pontefract’s Forgotten Man’ in Pontefract Digest. Michael Norfolk (ed), Issue No.16, June 2006, pp5-7 & Issue No. 17, July 2006, pp 5-6.
(4) Pontefract & Castleford Express 26-5-1988. I am indebted to Mr. Richard Van Riel, Curator, and Mr. Michael Wadsworth, Pontefract Museum, for this information.
(5) WYW 1415-2 pp249-50
(6) Ibid pp270-71 & p284
(7) Ibid pp299-300
(8) Ibid pp330-31
(9) WYW 1415-3 p31 & p47
(10) Ibid p47, pp51-2 & pp57-8
(11) Ibid p69 & p72
(12) Ibid p94
(13) Ibid p352
(14) Ibid p354
(15) Ibid p83
(16) Ibid p84 & p89
(17)Ibid p107
(18) Ibid p127
(19) Ibid p175 & WYW 1415-4 p123. In 1946 the rent paid by the tenant was £125 pa. The rent was increased to £250pa in October 1957 WYW 1415-4 pp18-19 & p135. By September 1965 it had reached a staggering £1,500pa. WYW 1415-5 p332.
(20) WYW 1415-3 pp58-59, pp68-69, p79 & p84
(21)Ibid p119
(22) Ibid p149
(23) WYW 1415-4 p133
(24) WYW 1415-3 p123 &p127
(25) WYW 1415-4 p154
(26) Ibid p283
(27) Ibid p315
(28) WYW 1415-3 p364
(29) WYW 1415-3 p357
(30) Ibid p370
(31) Ibid p272, p277 & p310, p365 & p368
(32) WYW 1415-4 p21 & p26
(33) Ibid p29
(34) Ibid. Copy of the content of sale inserted between pp57-58. Also c.f. p49 & p56.
(35) Pontefract & Castleford Express 26-5-1988
(36) WYW 1415-4 p221
(37) WYW 1415-4 p127 & p131
(38) WYW 1415-4 p200 & p202
(39) WYW 1415-5 p140 & p151
(40) Ibid p221 & p274
(41) Ibid p310
(42) WYW 1415-6 p28
(43) West Yorkshire Archive Service, Kirklees. Copy of announcement dated 17-11-59. Also c.f. ibid p83.
(44) W.Y.A.S. Kirklees 228-11 p 208.

Also by Terry Spencer:

Pontefract's Forgotten Man: Thomas J. Sides
Willow Park Dog Track
The Hope and Anchor Inn, Pontefract
Priming the Town Pump
A Very Gallant Gentleman: Percy Bentley


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