Michael Popplewell's Storey Tales

Land Introduction
Batley Photos

Bagshaw Museum, Woodlands, Batley

July 2008

WHAT is the connection between Batley's Bagshaw Museum, Theodore Roosevelt, St Saviour's Church, Brownhill, the twin chapel in Batley Cemetery, Sir Marcus Fox, child labour and Maggie Land Blanck? Answer, the Sheard family.

This story actually began with photographs of 'Woodlands', the house in Upper Batley that is now known as the Bagshaw Museum, and George Sheard, the man who had it built, from Pike's West Riding Biographies - the source of much of my information on past Kirklees characters.

Sheard was born in 1835 the grandson of Michael Sheard, founder of the Michael Sheard and Sons' Hick Lane Mill in Batley and there is no doubt that he was born into privilege.

Batley was the centre of the Heavy Woollen District and in the 19th century the textile industry was the bread basket of that district. Hardly a street in the town existed without at least one household dependant on wool or cloth for it's very existence. But, there was no equality as men like George Sheard, a magistrate, a director of the West Riding Union Bank, a Commissioner for Income Tax and, above all, chairman of Michael Sheard and Sons Ltd, could afford to spend £25,000 on building a house.

Using the retail price index that sum equates to £1,663,000 in 2007, according to the 'Measuring Worth' website, and there's not too many folk about in Batley who could afford that sort of cash today.

Hick Lane Mill was a hive of activity and a cornerstone of the community around the urban village of Havercroft - the mass of houses that filled the area bordered by Commercial Street to the north and Wellington Road to the south in the heart of Batley.

From this area came Benjamin Law, credited as the inventor of 'Shoddy' - a process by which rags were ground down to create fibres which could be respun into yarn. In 1860, at the height of Sheard's business success, there are said to have been 130 shoddy manufacturers in the West Riding, 80 firms employing 550 people to sort the rags and around 7,000 tons of shoddy being manufactured a year.

With Law busy developing his new process and Michael Sheard manufacturing goods from the end product it should come as no surprise to find a marriage between the two family's and so it was that Michael's cousin Lydia married Benjamin Law at the turn of the 19th century.

It was a descendant of Benjamin and Lydia who subsequently married into the 'Land' family and when one Law Land, and his wife Elizabeth Sykes, decided to up sticks and sail to Canada in 1882, and on to the USA ten years later, an American branch of the family grew up and it was Maggie Land, who married Tom Blanck, who got the idea of tracing her Batley roots.

Maggie, a cousin seven times removed of Batley's George Sheard, saw her Land family eventually settle in Smithtown, Long Island. It was from here that she caught the family history bug a few years ago and has been responsible for creating a wonderful history resource through her family website, and her affection for Batley, which I don't think she has actually ever seen, is undisguised.

The Maggie Land Blanck website is a collection of information drawn from countless branches of the family around the world, and also includes a liberal use of material from Batley's own historian Malcolm Haigh, and it was through this site that I came across reports of children under 12 being beaten at work for slacking during their 12 hour working day. It was these sort of working conditions that ultimately led to people like Yorkshire's Richard Oastler campaigning against the use of child labour.

It is incredible to think of it in this day and age but it was 1869, after the death of Oastler, before The Factory Act finally reduced children's working day to a maximum TEN hours so it is hard to judge the politics or the principles of families like the Sheard's. They were business people and if profit was their objective they managed to make a huge success of the job.

Given the entrepreneurial spirit it should hardly come as a surprise to find that the arch Thatcherite Tory Sir Marcus Fox was a great great great nephew of George Sheard, his sister Isabell married John Fox, while the American political involvement was provided by Titus, the grandson of George's grandfather's brother, who was born in the America and became a member of the New York State Assembly and won the Republican nomination at the expense of Theodore Roosevelt in 1884.

As for the family links with those Batley landmarks - George's brother Michael was an architect and together with Arthur Walter Hanstock, who married into the family, their company were responsible for the design and build of St Saviours (1870-1), the twin chapels (1865) and the Town Hall (1899)* as well as the creation of Sheard's 'Woodlands' mansion in 1874.

George Sheard and his wife Ann raised a family at Woodlands. Fanny married Charles Port at St Saviours and moved down to Sussex, where she died in 1930, Charles Michael was born in 1859 but only lived a few weeks, Percy was born in 1861 and Florence married John Russell and lived at Oakwell House at one time but the mystery is how Woodlands could come to leave the family so easily.

George passed away in 1902 and his wife followed soon after but there seems to have been no claim on the property from the family despite still having 970 years to run on its lease from the Earl of Wilton. The property was put up for auction and Batley Corporation secured it for just FIVE POUNDS.

It was decided to make the building a museum and it was named after its first curator, Walter Bagshaw. It is stood in the grounds of Wilton Park as part of the town's cultural heritage for almost a century now but while the property has retained many of the features it had as a private residence it will be at least Spring next year before visitors can again access the facility.

Major renovation work is currently underway and though it is expected to open in the Spring it will be sometime after before the whole project is completed.


Photo by Michael Popplewell, 2008

Louis Hall

August 06, 2008

Louis Hall's involvement in Lord Hawke's Yorkshire County cricket team of the 1880's and 90's was something of an anomaly. Nobody could have stood out from the crowd more conspicuously than the the Batley born Woollen merchant.

To start with he was much taller than his colleagues and his overall demenour was more sober - literally!

Hawke's team were a highly talented and colourful group of players and with came a certain amount of indiscipline, carousing and insobriety. Bobby Peel, for example, was frequently warned about his alcohol intake and was even sent off by Hawke and suspended for the rest of the season after one incident during a game when, apparently the worse for drink, he 'relieved' himself on the pitch.

In the midst of all this was Hall. The only teatotaller in the entire team, a staunch Methodist - and lay preacher to boot, and a man of such circumspection at the crease he would have made even the most cautious of Geoffrey Boycott's look positively frivolous.

Hall's name is alongside the incomparable, and legendary, WG Grace, as one of only three players to have carried his bat (ie opened the innings and still been not out when the last wicket fell) on 17 occasions in first class cricket. His defence was as sound at it could be and if runs were coming at the other end he didn't rush. In fact it is recorded that he once batted for 157 minutes - and collected only 12 runs in the process!

However, his value to Yorkshire was immense for while he did not have an immediate impact, after his first appearance in 1873, he was to play consistently from 1878 to 1894 scoring 11,095 runs in 315 games, completed 12 century opening partnerships with George Ulyett and even stood in for Hawke to captain the side on occasions.

Yet, despite all this, Louis Hall's contribution to Batley life was anything but one dimensional. Cricket, either for the County or the Batley town club at Mount Pleasant, was only a small part of his life.

He came from a family of Woollen Manufacturers with his grandfather Henry establishing the Clerk Green Mill and his father Thomas later owning Purlwell Mill. The family lived in the Clerk Green and Purlwell areas throughout the 1800's and n 1891 Louis and his brother Oliver were living side by side at numbers 25 and 27 Purlwell Lane.

Today Purlwell Lane is a focal point of Batley's 21st century Muslim community, with the Medina Mosque and Mount Pleasant Islamic Centre dominating the skyline, but, a century ago this was an area that typified the town's flourishing woollen industry.

But, while middle class industrialists became increasingly economically distant from the labouring classes, at the same time, some threw themselves into working for the betterment of their society's disadvantaged and Louis Hall was one such person.

It is interesting to see that, despite the apparent cultural differences that have developed over the past 100 years, there are still some uncanny similarities.

The practice of arranged marriages that is prevelent in Muslim Society is often castigated by Westerners yet the whole process of 'meeting and mating' in Victorian Society - from royalty to the middle classes - was often more about the 'merging' and 'protection' of assets than it was about the relationship between two people. And, as such, the families of the young couples were heavily involved in the 'negotiations'.

It seems very likely that Louis' courtship with Amelia Dean might well have followed just such a path.

Amelia's family, like Louis' were entrenched in Batley life. Her grandfather had been Batley's first policeman, even before the organisation of a national police force, and her father was a Mill owner like her future father-in-law Thomas.

The Hall's incidentally were involved in many aspects of business life in Batley and one of Louis' cousins was Dixon Hall who founded a hardware company that is still going today in the town.

Although Louis was heavily involved with cricket, both at the Batley club and with Yorkshire, he also had a part to play in the rugby club at Mount Pleasant and when they big change from Rugby Union to the Northern Rugby Union came about in 1895 he was actually club secretary and connected with the Northern Union itself.

Above all this Louis was a man of the people. He became a Liberal councillor, serving for nine years, and also a loyal member, and steward, at Hick Lane Methodist Church where he often preached as part of his work on the Batley lay preacher circuit.

Although the congregation has long gone the Hick Lane Chapel remains as a testament to a different age and, as a listed building, might well do so for years to come.

Louis passed away in Morecambe in 1915, still only 62 years old, but his memory is preserved in many ways thanks to the wonders of the internet. What is remarkable is the fact that Maggie Blanck, the New York woman who provided so much information on the Sheard family for the recent feature on Bagshaw Museum in these pages, actually relied on the same source that was flagged up when my 'search' for Louis began.

Vivien Tomlinson, daughter of one time Mirfield and Kirklees councillor Brian Eley, is a keen local historian and family history research enthusiast who is fascinated by her Batley heritage. Her website outlines all the interconnections between the various Woollen 'barons' in the town through marriage, including her distant relationship to Louis Hall, and much of Maggie's information is a direct link from Vivien's site.

The two women are distantly related and through the same tree it appears that the Hall's the Sheard's and the Law's, Maggie's direct ancestral line, are also loosely linked. The websites for Vivien and Maggie are unquestionably very personal but the amount of work that has gone into the construction of these sites, and the pictorial and written information accompanying the stories of their extended families, makes them a very valuable source of information for anyone with Batley connections.

*In November 2009 Malcolm Haigh wrote:
"Just come across a piece by Mike Popplewell into the multi-connections of the Sheard family. At one stage he credits Walter Hanstock with designing Batley Town Hall in 1899. He's not the only one to do this, I find it happening all over the place.

In fact Walter did create a very ambitious design for a Town Hall but it was never built. It was far too expensive and Batley had so many other projects to consider at that time. In the event a fire occurred in the Town Hall in 1902 and Walter went on to supervise the renovation of the fire-damaged building and design extensions to the Town Hall which were opened in 1905."

If you have any suggestions, corrections, information, copies of documents, or photos that you would like to share with this page, please contact me at maggie@maggieblanck.com