Archive for March, 2012

Knostrop Tour

March 1, 2012


                                          By Pete Wood

I’m an East Leeds lad born in 1937 at Knostrop Gatehouse – colloquially known as ‘The Humbug House’. I was lucky enough to enjoy an idyllic childhood with a dozen of the best playmates ever among the green and pleasant fields of Knostrop. My mother and her family, actually lived in Knostrop Old Hall itself at the beginning of the 20th century, I intend to take you on a guided tour, from the top of Knostrop ‘Hill’ to the location of Thorpe Stapleton Hall at the far reaches of Knostrop. It will be  a snap shot  tour of Knostrop in the 1940s.


THE GRAND HOUSES OF KNOSTROP: Knostrop had its share of grand houses. Beginning at the top of Knostrop and working down we come first to: Knostrop House (Ryders) a Georgian mansion built by Abraham Rhodes at a time when Knostrop, along with most of the lower Aire valley, formed part of his estate. In the 19th century the Leather family owned Knostrop House. I’m not sure at what date ‘Ryder’ himself owned the house but I understand that he was a doctor by profession. In our snapshot 1940s the house was the residence of a Mr Strothers, a short dapper gentleman who as I recall usually wore grey spats. He was the organist at St Hilda’s church, a librarian by profession and the widower of the late Dr Ryder’s daughter.  Knostrop House was sold to a chemical company in the late 1950s for £200 and finally demolished in 1962.

Moving further down the hill the next building worth a mention was St Saviours Home, marked on the old maps as ‘Knostrop Lodge’. Gillighan advises us in his: Scenes from East Leeds that ‘Mother Agnes Stewart’ (a Holy Sister from St Saviours Church) bought three houses in 1871 from the Rutland Armitage family. Mother Agnes joined and restored the buildings and opened them up as an orphanage complete with a school and small chapel[i].


Quite a few local girls – my mother included – were allowed to attend daytime classes at the school on payment of six pence per week. I still have a bible presented to her by the Sisters on the occasion of her twelfth birthday while she was studying at that little school.  A letter in the Yorkshire Evening Post by a Mrs Ellen Gray (date unknown) writes of her days at the

school in a letter headed: ‘40 Pupil School’

It makes me think about the small private school I attended attached to the St. Saviour’s Home, founded by Agnes Stewart in the villageof Knowsthorpe. There were only 40 pupils including the girls from the home. We were taught by nuns, Sister Francis Elizabeth was

headmistress and she had two assistant nuns.  Sister Catherine Maud and Sister Isobel were parish workers resident in St. Saviour’s Home. We always attended St Hilda’s Church on saint’s days, as it was nearer than St Saviours. [ii]

‘Mother Agnes’, whose real name was, Agnes Logan Stewart (1820 – 1886), opened the orphanage in Knostrop in 1872. A year later in 1873 she opened thefirst StHilda’s school, which was a school for girls inSouth Accommodation Road. We probably best remember this as the building with the pointed roof in Bayford’s yard. She also converted the old stables in the grounds of the orphanage at Knostrop for use as a night school for boys and as young men’s institute. On May

Day there was a maypole and local gala held in the grounds for the enjoyment of the orphans and Knostrop folk alike.

In 1880, Mother Agnes was instrumental in the building of the school for boys next to the church inCross Green Lane. She maintained both orphanage and schools at her own cost. A woman of boundless energy she tried to manage the schools and the orphanage in their entirety, herself.

The Rev John Starky Willimott, the fourth vicar of St Hilda’s, in his book: The Story of St Hilda’s, (1931),

describes her as one of the first and most generous benefactors of the parish and believes her name will ever be one of the foremost in the annals both St Hilda’s and St Saviour’s churches. The second building of the St Hilda’s school, the one furthest away from the church, was not built until 1904 – eighteen years after her death in 1886. In her will, she left the bulk of her remaining property as a legacy to maintain the orphanage and the schools. Her body lies in the churchyard at Seacroft. The school for girls at Knostrop was closed in 1921 and the orphanage itself in 1938. In the 1950s a large Church of England school was opened in Burmantofts and named Agnes Stewart C.of E. in her honour. Stephen Savage’s excellent book: St Hilda’s Cross Green Leeds, advises us that the alter, previously in the old chapel at St Saviour’s Orphanage at Knostrop, was relocated in the new school. St Hilda’s School itself ceased to function and was demolished shortly after its centenary in the 1980s.  References are also made in Savage’s book of a ‘Knostrop String Band’ playing at the consecration of St Hilda’s church. Possibly, they were based at the Knostrop Institute? Less savoury mentioning is of ‘prize-fights’ held in the Knostrop area. On one occasion this led to the fatality of one of the fighters.

After the St Saviour’s venture had ceased at Knostrop the building and grounds lay dormant for several years before being occupied by the firm of, Fielding: barrel and cask makers, this would have probably just after the war had ended. Barrels and casks were stacked high within the high walls. During the night the metal casks in particular, would make reports like rifle fire as they expanded and contracted in accord with the changing temperature. The Home is now demolished and a window producing company occupies the site. All that remains of St Saviour’s home is part of the high boundary wall.

On the right beyond St Saviour’s Home, Standing within its magnificent walled grounds was Knostrop New Hall, another Georgian building of grand proportions. The biggest weeping willow tree I ever saw dominated the Hall’s front lawn. The tree itself was so grand it would probably have been ‘listed’ itself in today’s more friendly environmental conditions. Folk who were elderly already in the 1940s could remember the sight of its resident, a Doctor Edgerton, driving through its gates in pony and trap. Knostrop New Hall like St Saviours boasted a supporting lodge.

Knostrop New Hall Lodge

But the fabric of the Hall itself had already fallen on hard times by the 1940s.

To the left of the New Hall, in its own wooded grounds stood ‘the jewel in Knostrop’s crown’: Knostrop Old Hall, a Jacobean mansion (early 17th century), designed by De Lacy of Pontefract. The first recorded occupants were the Stables family, who may have actually commissioned its building. Seemingly, the Stables were a Quaker family and their penchant for burying their dead in the grounds was not well received at the time.  Ralph Thoresby, the Leeds historian says of the Stable family: They became tainted with: Quakerism and turned part of their orchard into a burying ground – a procedure common enough in the 17th century.’[iii]      I can recall being told of the graves of two Quaker sisters being located just to the north of Red Road near the large rhubarb shed, but I never actually saw them for myself.

Later the Hall came under the ownership of the Baynes family who numbered a bishop in their ranks but even more famous: Captain Adam Baynes a dashing leader in Cromwell’s army who later spent two terms in Cromwell’s Parliament and was in fact the first ever MP for Leeds in 1654. He died at the Hall in 1670. Local folklore has it that ‘Oliver’ himself spent a night in the Hall but this I cannot authenticate.In the latter part of the 19th century Atkinson Grimshaw, the classical moonscape painter (and my special favourite) owned the Hall and was a regular entertainer of the gentry. His painting of the Hall and his two daughters named ‘Dulce Domun’ (home sweet home) sold for £159,500 in 1992 (Gilleghan p.71.). It is sobering to consider that this single stretch of oil on canvas proved to be worth more than the whole fabric of the beautiful building itself! Whitaker tells us:

During the tenancy of Atkinson Grimshaw this fine hall was in its pristine condition, decorated with antique furniture, old armour and the bric-a-brac of older times. One oak room beautifully decorated and an old oak staircase still remains to prove the artistic quality of old time craftsmen. At no time during its long career did the Hall witness such an array of talented men in art, letters and music as were from time to time seen here than during the tenancy of Atkinson Grimshaw and always found cordial welcome in this kindred spirit.  Its unique decorated gateway and old time gables and mullions inspired him with many a theme and laid foundation of that dreamy representation of the shadowy realm that lives in his work and of which he was famed as a master of unquestionable ability[iv]

His painting ‘Dulce Domum’ being shown at the Royal Academy Exhibition in 1885 received a mixed reception for its composition by the critic of The Times but he ended by stating: ‘but there is hardly to be found in the exhibition such a piece of sheer painting as the dress of the lady in the foreground’. The dress and the furnishings behind it are truly exquisite. Grimshaw started the painting in 1876 but it remained unfinished until 1885.

Grimshaw led a life that reached the heights of success with his paintings but tinged with the personal tragedies far too common in Victorian families. Fanny, his wife, gave birth to fifteen children but only six survived into adulthood. Three of his children died in the same year – 1874, while living at the Hall. Grimshaw himself died on the 31st of October 1893. He was 57.

To the right of the entrance there was an archway bearing the statues of two figures; a male figure to the left and a female figure to the right, both dressed in ancient costume. The male figure has his right arm cut off at the elbow and is carrying it tucked under his left arm. Some references remark only that ‘an arm is broken off’. However, I was told a more romantic account for the arm being lost, which goes: The youth wanted to marry the girl but her father forbade it until the youth could prove his bravery. So off he went to war where he lost his arm in the heat of the battle. He afterwards returned to the Hall carrying his severed arm. Having so proved himself to the father he was then allowed to marry the daughter. I don’t know if its true but I like my version best! If the right arm was sculptured under the left arm originally rather than tucked under the left arm after being broken, then my version of the story is supported. Less respectful locals tagged these two as ‘Dick and Liddy’ a contemporary music Hall turn.


The Leeds Mercury 27th July 1816 carried the following quote;

In the first decade of the 19th century tea gardens became fashionable in places of resort. One of the most ambitious ventures was based at Knostrop Hall where visitors would call to enjoy tea, Harrogate water, ginger beer and cheesecake in the house garden where antique curiosities proliferate. The more discernable customers would arrive on the river by barge and enjoy their tea whilst listening to glee singers.[v]

At the time of the above article the railway embankment, which did not arrive until 1899, would not have been there, so there would have been uninterrupted access to the Hall from the river.  My mother’s family who occupied the hall in the 1920s would tell me of the resident ghost: ‘Marcia’. Ghosts no doubt being a prerequisite for all ancient houses. In our time the Benn family lived in the Hall and at Christmas when the hens were slaughtered for the table we would beg and be given the feathers, which we made into Red Indian chief’s headdresses. In 1959 at a time when the Hall was claimed to be the oldest inhabited house inLeedsit was sold for £50 (£159,450 less than Grimshaw’s painting) and in 1960 disgracefully demolished to eventually make way for the Cross Green Industrial Estate.

David Owen, in his: Heritage of Leeds page 43 quotes: In the late 15th and 16th centuries the population ofLeeds increased as the town expanded. Houses and mansions went up in Mabgate, Quarry Hill and Knowsthorpe.

As there were no apparent remains of 15th and 16th century mansions that we knew of in 1940s Knostrop (Thorpe Stapleton Hall was 13th century), could it be that the ‘grand houses’ of Knostrop described here were built on the foundations of even earlier mansions?

Continuing alongKnostrop Lanethe road passed between high walls, colloquially known as ‘The Corners’. On the right was the curiously named ‘Humbug House’,

which was in fact my earliest, fleeting abode, but apparently considered by my parents to be too damp for the welfare of a young child, hastening their removal to Jaw Bone Yard. The name ‘Humbug House’ comes from a time (surprisingly within recent living memory) when an old lady made and sold home made humbugs from the cottage, ten for a penny. Another Yorkshire Post article, reproduced below remembers the Humbug House:

Past Mother Agnes’s Orphanage and round a bend we came to the ‘Humbug House’. In those days it was entirely covered by ivy. How we loved that house and its humbugs.  A favourite walk in those days was along the lane around the back of the Humbug House, till we reached the bank of the river. Here we could cross by ferryboat (costing a halfpenny) to the opposite bank. There was a chain across the river. On one occasion my sister fell off the chain into the river but was well recovered, I think by the lock keeper. Keeping to the towing path till we reached the old Suspension Bridge (of which I have seen a model in the Art Gallery), up the steps and over the bridge, we used to try and climb the bows and so back home. There used to be a string of iron boats coming up the river. What a clanging there was when they reached the locks.[vi]


(Mrs. L Nugent Leeds 9.   Date Unknown)


In fact the proper name of the Humbug House was; Knostrop Gatehouse. I can still recall a gate alongside the building but permanently open and in a state of decay. In bygone times Knostrop Lanehad been private from this point and a toll had to be paid to the gatekeeper to allow travellers to proceed. There was a similar gate three miles distant at Newsam Green that formed the other end of this private road. At our snap shot period, this road, along with the whole of the hamlet of Knostrop formed part of theHalifax estate. Mrs Emily Charlotte Maynell Ingram, daughter of the first Viscount Halifax, who lived atTempleNewsam, was another generous benefactor to all denominations in the district

Behind the ‘Humbug House’ stood ‘Valley House’ a fine building that was home base for the market gardeners themselves who were responsible for the administration of the local agricultural area and rhubarb sheds. Over the years I can remember three such families residing in Valley House: the Allinson family,Marshall’s foreman, Albert Johnson and later the Tillotson family.

Running behind these two houses, before cutting through a bridge in the railway embankment, to allow access to garden allotments on the riverbank was the dirt road referred to by Mrs Nugent in her letter to the Yorkshire Post. We called it ‘Lover’s Lane’. Its correct name was, I believe, ‘Gibraltar’ and some of the new estate roads on the south side of the river carry this name.

Proceeding further along Knostrop Lane brought the rhubarb sheds on the left, then the pond field, where we spent a lot of our time and on to ‘Dolly’s field’ (Dolly was a horse) on the right, she had a small pond of her own. Farmer Bickerdike’s field was on the left where we would sometimes pick mushrooms early mornings. Those mushrooms had a sweet aroma you don’t seem to get with the mushrooms you buy today. Later the LMS Railway football team played its matches on that field. Across the paddy lines were located the ABC Houses themselves (Knostrop Terrace. Down the ‘paddy’ lines to the right, it was possible to cross the locks to Stourton for a one-penny charge. In fact when certain items were required it was nearer for Knostrop Terrace folk to cross the locks into Stourton than to go all the way to the top of Knostrop. I understand that kids sent that way for cigarettes or a newspaper would sometimes spend the penny intended for the lock keeper on sweets and cross the river by the huge railway swing bridge (that never swung) instead, which was a dangerous venture as well as being illegal.

While Stourton was quite close as the crow flies, being on the other side of the river it was a bit of a different world for us and normally outside our patch. The Stourton lads anyway took exception to our crossing into their domain and I can recall them showering us with half bricks from a high vantage point on one occasion when we tried to cross the river. The Stourton lads had a proud legacy of their own, in that their school, tiny by today’s standards, were acclaimed school football champions of allEnglandin the 1930s.

Carrying on past the filter beds would bring Skelton Grange farm, which was demolished to make way for the power station built in the late forties and demolished itself by the early nineties. On the south side of the river, ‘DandyIsland’ (now the home ofThwaiteMillsMuseum) was ours to explore. The island could be reached either by crossing the rickety old ‘paddy’ line bridge across the river, or if you were brave enough the island could be reached by crossing the weir itself when the water was running low. This was quite a dodgy proposition because the weir was controllable and sometimes there would be a surge across the weir when the water was released. I never tried it myself but know of those who crossed over by the weir and then became unable to return by that avenue when the water level rose.

Thinking about DandyIsland, I recall seeing a picture in the Yorkshire Evening Post newspaper showing a huge pylon sitting onDandyIsland with the Skelton Grange Power Station looming in the background. The article was highlighting the plight of a row of cottages featured in the picture; all this electricity was passing across their island yet they were not connected to the service.

At just about the furthest extent of our patch we come to Thorpe Stapleton; which is mentioned in Domesday Book. We would play in the ruin of Thorpe Stapleton Hall better known as ‘Thorpe Hall’ without realising its great antiquity, for this is by far the oldest pile in the area.  Thoresby in his Ducatus Leodis (1715) writes:

Thorpe Hall in the beginning of the reign of King Edward I (1272) belonged to the Stapletons. (Hence, the likely origin of the name: ‘Thorpe Stapleton’). Later it passed to the ancient family of Scargill, and there is mention of   John Scargill, whose will was published in 1472. [vii]

It was Thoresby too (1658 – 1725) who likened the land about Knostrop to that described by Job (in the bible) ‘As for Earth’, he wrote. ‘Out of it cometh bread and under it were fire.’

Mattison says: little corn grown today but the evidence of the use of coal cannot be overlooked[viii].


Edmund Bogg in his Round About Leeds writes:

Thorpe Hall is a semi castellated structure early 14th century. It stands on the northeast bank of the Aire about 4 miles below Leeds. By deed witnessed near the end of the 12thcentury Sir Robert De Stapleton had licence from the Templers to build a chapel at Thorpe Stapleton. Standing away from the main road the castellated ruin of Thorpe Stapleton Hall itself (the only remnant of the Edwardian period remaining in the vicinity of Leeds) appears to be comparatively unknown. Even people living in the immediate vicinity have no idea of its former significance.[ix]


 Bogg’s book was initially written in 1904 and the Edwardian period of which he refers is not the Edwardian period we recognise today – Edward the VII 1901 –1910. His Edwardian period is of Edward I and II i.e. 13th and 14th century. The ruin we knew as Thorpe Hall has now completely disappeared but there is no doubting, this really was ‘an ancient pile’! It was already around three hundred years old when Knostrop Old Hall was just about to be built.





 The whole of old Knostrop as we knew it was demolished to make way for the Cross Green Industrial estate in the 1960s. But I have much more to say about Knostrop if anyone is interested and puts a comment on this site 


[i] John Gillighan, Scenes from East Leeds (Leeds: Kingsway Press, 1992), p.25.

[ii] Yorkshire Evening Post. (Undated letter)

[iii] Edmund Bogg, (Round About Leeds: and the Old Villages of Elmete (Burton Salmon: re-print Old Hall Press, 1987), P.107.

[iv] Bogg p.109.

[v] Burt and Grady p.119.

[vi] Yorkshire Evening Post (undated)

[vii] Ralph Thoresby Ducatus Leodiensis 1715 (Leeds Thoresby Society, reprinted Dewhirst 1816), p.224.

[viii] Alfred Mattison and Walter Meakin, The Romance of Old Leeds (Leeds: 1ST print1908 reprint Rigg Pubs: 1987), p.77

[ix] Bogg, p.109.