West Yorkshire market town of Pontefract
Pontefract Local History



Reproduced from:
The Mayors, Councillors, Aldermen and Members of Parliament
of the Borough of Pontefract
until the end, 1974.
John O.E. Holmes, Printer, Pontefract.


Richard Holmes published his book on the Mayors of Pontefract in 1882. Ninety-two years later the Corporation of Pontefract was no more. Swallowed up by Wakefield Metropolitan District Council, the story ended.

It is thus possible to complete the record. The Author has used some old family records and the old Minute Books in Pontefract Library to compile the completion of the record. Because of the time involved he retains copyright, but will be only too pleased to allow its use by those interested, on request, for non-commercial use.

To identify “Pirate” copies, certain errors – which are of little importance – have been introduced (of which the author is aware and will identify to bona-fide researchers). Where these are may be discovered by consulting the records, in which case the Author’s work would not be needed!

It is intended that this study be a supplement to Richard Holmes’ book, but for those who have no copy of the first part, the Author has made a few photocopies which could be bound with this present volume.


To appreciate the Pontefract story it is necessary to take account of the evolution of the Electoral system.

The Charter of 1484 in effect changed the Manor of Pontefract, a part of the King’s possessions, into a self-governing body, still accountable to the sovereign for the “Fee Farm Rents”, but otherwise making their own laws and collecting their own money as best they could. Working alongside the Borough was the Church Vestry meeting. This was responsible for levying the Poor Rate, and in later times this was extended to cover Highways and all the other local assessments.

In Feudal times a Manor Court had a Steward who was responsible for the running of the Manor. When the Manor Court met, all tenants had to attend. Should they not do so or have good reason for not attending, they were fined. From those attending were selected twelve Jurymen who examined the witnesses and delivered their verdict.

On becoming a Borough, the Lord became the Mayor and the Jurymen were the Aldermen. The Manor Court became the Town’s meeting and often decisions were taken at this meeting. Reading the records of the town it is very obvious that it was not always by choice that Aldermen were appointed. They were appointed to office and fined should they not take the necessary oath. Those declining the office of Mayor could also be fined and in some cases were.

The Municipal Reform Act of 1835 added twelve councilors to the Corporation. Previous to this the electors had been the holders of Burgage Tenure and for this reason it was thought advantageous to own the freehold of a Burgage Plot. In fact this led to the practice of buying the Freehold and Selling Leasehold on a very long lease for a nominal rent. Lord Galway, Viscount Winn and the Franks, over the years bought much land, retaining the vote but virtually selling the land. After 1835 the vote depended on being the occupier of a property so the leases became of no value.

This change in the law has a useful spin off for the Historian, because it could be necessary to prove ownership of the freehold, the old deeds were retained when the lease was granted. The land then passed from owner to owner by assignment of lease, with a new assignment for each owner. When the Freeholds became of no value, the deeds were put on one side and remained a collection. Lord Galway’s are now with the University of Nottingham Library, Viscount Winn has sent many to Leeds Archives, the Frank muniments are at Sheffield.

In 1872 Pontefract had the first Parliamentary election by secret ballot in a bye-election just before the General Election. In 1875 the Borough took in Tanshelf, Monkhill and Pontefract Park District. Tanshelf and Monkhill were Manors, Tanshelf being part of the Duchy of Lancaster. Some of the land had been enfranchised or made Freehold, but other parts were Copyhold – a system only finally abolished in 1922. Some of the Court Rolls survive from Tanshelf and Monkhill but are much damaged and faded.

In 1857 the Electors List for Parliamentary members shows Pontefract Park District had only three houses and six electors, while Monkhill had only four, Tanshelf had forty-one whilst Carleton had fourteen.

After 1875 the new, enlarged Council had six Aldermen and eighteen Councillors and the Borough was divided into three wards, each with six Councillors of which two were elected every year. Three Aldermen were elected by the Councillors every three years for a period of six years. It is after this that our story begins.

A further ward division took place before the 1914 Elections when six wards, North, East, West, South, Central and Mill Hill, were created. The last boundary revision was made before the 1938 Elections, when Carleton Park was taken in and the wards renamed Carleton, Baghill, Central, Park, Tanshelf and Castle. In 1974 the wards were amalgamated to give Pontefract North and Pontefract South, each electing three councilors to the Wakefield Metropolitan Council.

This book commences in a year when there was a considerable shake-up in affairs of the Corporation. A Mr. Lakeman was called in to look into the finances of the Corporation and his report, recorded in the minutes of 1st March 1883, is worthy of mention as it summarizes some of the history of the Corporation and how their power and influence had grown during the previous seventy years.

The report tells that originally the power of the Council was merely to “watch and ward” the Borough. In 1810 there was an Act of Parliament forming a Board of Street Commissioners who were originally Commissioners for the Park. Their powers were added to in 1869 with a further Act, and they were responsible for paving and lighting the streets of the Borough and also providing an adequate water supply. These powers should have been handed over to the Borough in 1872 on the passing of the Act but the transfer did not take place until 16th May 1873.

In 1875 the Corporation obtained at a cost of £2,000, a Private Act of Parliament to extend the Borough and establish the Borough as the Urban Sanitary Authority.

Mr. Lakeman found that the Corporation had kept books of Account but to a large extent they had relied on the accounts of their Banker. The Street Commissioners had only kept a Cash Account Book so that it was very difficult to establish fully the state of the Borough Finances.

There was no suggestion of fraud or wrong doing, but he found that it was almost impossible for the Council to be able to tell the exact state of their finances as accounts were kept by different people of monies used for different purposes.

The suggestions were that all accounting should be done by the Borough Accountant, that cheques should first be approved at the committee meeting and then signed, not as previously wherever the Committee Chairman should happen to be. A further requirement was to set up a Superannuation Fund for the Borough Police which had been required by the Act of 1859 and in 1883 still not been commenced.

Assets of the Corporation were shown as £28,236, the value of Freehold properties or of expenditure on them and £9,500 Cash at Bank, while loans of £18,993 were outstanding, borrowed from various sources. The Report was accepted and it was resolved to act on the recommendations.

On the shelves of Holmes Printer rest various blocks used at Election times for the printing of Election Addresses for some of the candidates. Also, Mr. O. G. Holmes (Grandson of Richard) was for a number of years a freelance reported in Pontefract as was Mr. F.H.W. Holmes. Both had a cameras and collected pictures of public figures to be held in readiness for publication should the subject do some public act (or pass away) and not be available to be photographed.  Unfortunately, the Labour Party never came to Holmes Printer, so we accumulated few blocks for them.

John O.E. Holmes, 1993.

Table: Pontefract Mayors 1884 to 1973


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