In the 1750s, there were many people in Elland who were poor, old or infirm and the principal men of the town decided that something needed to be done. The outcome of their deliberations was the North Dean Wood Charity. An Urban District Council book published in 1910 quoted from the deed establishing the Charity: ‘and the said tenants of Elland-cum-Greetland being burdened with very many aged and inform and other poor persons the said Sir George Savile at the request of the said freeholders, owners and occupiers within the said manor ….’.
Their motivation was partly altruistic and partly self-centred. In 1757 the tenants approached the lord of the manor, Sir George Savile with a proposal. There was an area of woodland to the North of Greetland which was part of the common land of the manor. The principal tenants suggested to Sir George that this woodland should be given over to a charity that would sell rights to the harvest of the woodland and use the money for the benefit of the poor. Sir George agreed and in October the deed was drawn up. By creating the North Dean Wood Charity which would earn income, the burden of supplying the poor from the Poor Rate (which had to be paid by these tenants) would be reduced.
Because all the tenants of the Manor were involved, all had to be listed. Amongst the many names were Dyson, Sunderland, Brooksbank, John Wilkinson and Musgrave Brisco (who was described as Captain, Mr and Esquire in the Baptism register of Elland Church). Also in the list were Thomas Thornhill, William Radcliffe, Joshua Horton, Richard Taylor, Abraham Firth and Solomon Pitchforth who lived at Old Earth.
North Dean Wood is an elongated piece of land that extends from the back of the Clay House at Greetland along the northern slope of Lindwell Bank. The Wood passes Copley and ends in a point south east of Norland.
The deed set out that there were to be 18 trustees of the Charity and that when their number had been reduced to 12 through death, the existing trustees were to elect 6 others to make up their number again. There was no quorum established and many times business was conducted with an average of six people present. On one occasion in 1852 it was noted that the meeting could not be held because no one had appeared ‘with the exception of Charles Pitchforth’. Some meetings were conducted with as few as three. Meetings were called by a notice at Elland Church on a Sunday and were often held at the Rose and Crown inn. Later meetings were held in the vestry and by the end of the nineteenth century, the council offices were used.
The first existent minute book has entries from December 1809 and I was delighted to find that Charles and his brother Solomon Pitchforth were signatories to the minutes of the meeting, (Solomon and Charles Pitchforth were the nephews of Solomon Pitchforth who was named in the 1757 deed) along with Benjamin Outram who was the treasurer. The matter under consideration was that one Jeremiah Carter had £205 that belonged to the Charity and the trustees demanded the interest with the capital to be paid in three instalments. The following meetings record that Carter did not comply with the demands and by April 1810, a solicitor was instructed. It is not clear what the outcome was.
The wood was divided up into five areas and in rotation these areas would be thinned of some trees to enable the remaining trees to grow and some of the mature trees would be felled. The trustees commissioned surveyors to assess the worth of the wood to be taken. There was then a bidding process in which interested people would make an offer to the trustees. These people agreed to carry out the work and remove the wood. They would then sell this on and keep the proceeds. The bidding was in three rounds and at each stage some of the bidders dropped out. In 1818 the contract went to Ignatius Brook and son for £190. By this time Solomon’s son Charles had joined the trustees. A year later John Brook had the contract for £295 but he was negligent and caused damage to the wood.
It was at this time that the lodge was built above Clay House. It would seem that the Charity embarked on the building without a clear idea of how they were to fund the project. Thus in the Autumn of 1819, having decided that the inscription over the doorway should read ‘erected by the trustees 1819’ and that the lodge should have sash windows, they discovered that they needed £120 to complete the work. At the end of the year the trustees borrowed £50 from John Pitchforth (not a direct relation to the Pitchforth trustees) at 5% and also £80 from a bank in Halifax.
Having completed the lodge, the trustees then looked for someone to oversee the woods and to live in the Lodge. Their first appointment was not a success as it was reported in February 1821 that the overseer was cutting new wood for his own use and they sent a reprimand. There was no improvement and in June they agreed ‘to examine the condition of the present occupier of the lodge and also to enquire for a proper person to fill the situation in case the occupier was dispossessed’. Two weeks later they noted that ‘the present occupier of the lodge has conducted himself in an improper manner and on that account is hereby dismissed’. Advertisements were posted in Greetland and at the end of July, James Firth was appointed. Unfortunately the previous occupier had not left so the deputy constable was asked to evict him. There was some negotiation to compensate the previous occupier for the ‘turned earth and potatoes planted’.
In 1824, the turnpike trustees approached the Charity and negotiated a supply of stone form quarries with the Wood.
Charles Pitchforth (senior) who was a trustee by 1809 died in 1819. His brother Solomon who was also a trustee by 1809 died in 1826. This Solomon was the father of the younger Charles who was a trustee by 1818 (when both the elder and younger Charles signed the minute book). The last Pitchforth to be a trustee was Abraham Crowther (son of Solomon and brother of the younger Charles) who was elected in 1826.
In 1831 William Wood met the trustees and presented the plans of the Leeds and Manchester Railway which would skirt the wood. The trustees gave the plans their approval. In 1845, Abraham Crowther Pitchforth met the directors of the Railway and negotiated an arrangement whereby the railway company could extract water from the streams in the wood for an annual fee of £25. The Company was none too careful and a year into the arrangement, there were complaints that the company was damaging the wood in its search for water. Charles Pitchforth was deputed to discuss the problem with the directors. Not surprisingly, the sparks from the steam trains in the railway caused fires in the Woods and one such fire in 1866 caused an estimated £240 worth of damage.
For a period between the end of 1846 and the middle of the next decade, Charles Pitchforth had a burst of energy in the work of the Charity. He was a forceful businessman quite prepared to ride roughshod over his acquaintances. Why he comes to the fore during this period is not clear, perhaps some of the powerful trustees just before this period had died or lost their influence. The minutes change dramatically in format and proposals are recorded with both proposer and seconded. The majority of proposals seem to come from Charles and his business acumen is evident.
In 1853, Charles persuaded the trustees that Cliffe Field should be set out in plots for houses that the Charity would rent and so derive income. He was also instrumental in the decision to sell of land at Broad Carr that was unproductive; a decision he undertook to implement.
So far, this article has looked at the management of the assets held by the Charity. But the purposes for which the Charity existed were also recorded. There seems to have been two methods of distribution of the money the Charity had at its disposal, firstly by handing money to the Overseers of the Poor of Elland and latterly by direct alms to the poor. Thus in 1828 it was recorded that £200 was paid to the overseers whilst in 1830 at least £120 was transferred. Later the method was to give 6 of the trustees £8-6-8 (i.e. a total of £50) which they distributed in amounts of half crowns or a bit more. From the lists is would appear that some people received money from more than one trustee. The change in procedure for distributing the alms may have come about with changes to the Poor Law in 1834.
The minute books continue to identify recipients until well into the 20th century. Unfortunately many of the entries are of the form Widow Pitchforth and later recipients were referred to as Mr or Mrs thus making identification difficult.
The Charity is still in existence. It leases the woods to Calderdale Council who provide public access to the woods as an amenity. In 2012 the woods are being managed by Blackbark, a local workers’ co-operative with four members. The charity’s resources are used to support people in the Elland and Greetland areas with costs such as school uniforms. Other people are helped to establish their home by assisting with costs associated with the delivery of furniture supplied by a scheme run by the Catholic Church. A third type of support is to school pupils to help meet the costs of school trips.
Black Bark has a website here. The woods are open to the public.
I am grateful to Michael Whitworth the current secretary of the Charity for making the minute books available to me.