This interesting article on the history of Normanton was originally written in the late 1940s by John Mackinnon, who was a lecturer in History at Stanley College. John Mackinnon later became a Councillor for the Normanton Urban District Council and served as Chairman of the Council in 1970-71. After Local Council reorganisation nationally in 1974, John Mackinnon became a member of Normanton Town Council and served as Mayor in 1978/79. As Mayor, John Mackinnon was instrumental in setting up the Normanton Talking Newspaper for the Blind after a local resident approached him. A campaign was launched by the then-mayor, and the service is still operating to this day. This article has been used many times over the last 60 years and has been amended slightly to reflect the changes and important occurrences in Normanton and Altofts. We do hope that you enjoy reading the words of John Mackinnon, which have stood the test of time and continue to be as informative as when they were first penned.
History, Heritage and a Changing Face By John A Mackinnon, Lecturer in History, Stanley College.
Normanton, together with the ancient village community of Altofts, with which it is now united for purposes of modern civic administration, formed part of the Kingdom of Elmete destroyed by King Edwin of Northumbria in the first quarter of the seventh century. Nearly 300 years later the Northmen or Scandinavians settled in this place, giving it the name of Northmannatun, and during the reign of Edward the Confessor there were two manors, held of the King by two thegns named Godric and Chenicete. It was not, however, until William the Conqueror caused his Domesday Book to be compiled in 1086 that any description of the place was recorded, “…In Normetune,” according to this ancient survey… “There are six villeins there, and three bordars, a priest, and a church…”
The community described in the foregoing statement was, in the turbulent early Norman times, enclosed by a great earthen work barrier surmounted by a stockade or vantage point from which the approach of an enemy could be seen at a great distance. The remains of these fortifications can be seen to this day in and around Haw Hill, which now forms the central point of a particularly beautiful public park. In the 12th century, Normanton was held by the Morkers, from whom Roger Le Peytevin, a Norman baron of Altofts Hall, inherited the advowson or patronage of the Church. In 1256, Roger granted the aforesaid advowson to the prior and brethren of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem or Knights Hospitallers whose dwelling was at Newland, adjoining Normanton. In the 14th century, there was evidently a desire to make Normanton an appropriate benefice, and in 1413, the first Vicar, Sir Roger de Castleford, was instituted. A century and a half later the advowson of the Vicarage was granted by Henry VIII to the Master and Fellows and Scholars of Trinity College, Cambridge.
It was in the 16th century, too, that there lived within the parish two of its most famous sons. John Freeston of Altofts, who was born in 1512, was admitted a barrister of Grays Inn in 1544. Further details of his life are scanty, but he died without issue and was buried in Normanton Church, where his tomb is prominent today. During Freeston’s life, there had been a Grammar School in Normanton of which the teacher was known to have been, in the year 1548, one Richard Johnson, a Chantry priest. By his will, however, John Freeston, evidently seeing the necessity of an adequate provision, founded and endowed Normanton Grammar School, now Freeston Academy, which has continued throughout the ages to hold its head high in the educational life of the North of England, giving thanks at all times and especially at its annual Founder’s Day service for the righteous spirit that inspired its original endowment.
The other great Elizabethan has come to be known to succeeding generations as Sir Martin Frobisher. He, too, came from an Altofts family, having been born there in 1538. When he was about 34 years of age, he made a declaration before the Queen’s Commissioners, which he superscribed Martyn Ffurbussher. In 1592 Her Majesty wrote to her “trusted and well–beloved Sir Martin Furbissher: and in the same year, he signed himself Froobisher. Despite this inconsistency in the spelling of his surname, Martin made his way in the world. Leaving Altofts on horseback for London, he joined, in 1554, a vessel bound for West Africa, and thus, early in his teens, Martin Frobisher had found his vocation. Knighted for his prowess in the Spanish Main, Admiral Sir Martin Frobisher died in 1594, leaving his name inscribed on the way to the North West Passage, where now stands a refuelling station for aircraft en route between the larger cities of the American West Coast and the capitals of North Western Europe, and recently visited by the second Elizabeth.
Despite industrialisation, there are still a number of farm steadings within approximately a mile of Market Place, and it is interesting to note that Hill House Farm and Woodhouse Grange, standing on either side of Wakefield Road, were built in the 16th century. The fine old Hill Top House on the farm of that name on Birkwood Road, Altofts, dates back to 1645 and there is a good example of Tudor architecture in Hanson House.
It was in the 17th century that the Parish Church acquired part of its Communion Plate, including the “Normanton Cupp 1674” and a two-handled porringer with domed cover, inscribed “The Gift of Mrs Henry Favell of Pontefract to the church of Normanton forever 1699.” The three bells also bear dates of this same century while several buildings still standing in the vicinity in the Church owe their origin to this period.
Just after the middle of the 19th century, Normanton ceased to be an entirely agricultural village and began to assume the character of a small industrial town. The objections of several Wakefield landowners resulted in an alternative route being found for the Leeds to Derby railway, and the line by Altofts and Normanton was surveyed under the direction of George Stephenson in 1835. The first train on the new line passed through Normanton on the 30th of June 1840, and in the following month, the York to Normanton line was opened, thus creating the beginnings of an important North–South and East–West junction. A considerable iron and steel foundry was established, and the population, which in 1861 numbered 563, rose within a decade to 3,448. In 1872, a properly elected Board of Health was sent up as a governing body in both Altofts and Normanton to be followed in 1895 by the Urban District Councils. The most important phase of Normanton’s industrialisation was the development of the coal industry, which surrounded the township. Pope and Pearson, Don Pedro and Newland began their coal workings in Normanton and Altofts from 1851.
A notable addition to local architecture was the Church of St. Mary Magdalene, Altofts, built at a cost of £10,000 in 1878 by Mrs Meynell Ingram, ancestress of the Earls of Halifax. The building is of freestone, in the Gothic style of the 14th century.
The reredos is elaborately worked in Caen stone and extends across the east wall and returns along the walls of the sanctuary on the north and sound sides, the central compartments immediately over the altar being filled with a representation of the Crucifixion, with on either side the figures of the Blessed Virgin and Saint John, the whole being beautifully executed in mosaics by Salviati of Venice from the famous paintings by Perugino.
William Edward Garforth, who was appointed Agent at Pope and Pearson’s collieries in 1879, became nationally and internationally famous for his inventions and endeavours towards safety in mines and was knighted in 1914. He designed the Safety Lamp, which was used by miners underground. After being three times Chairman of Normanton Urban District Council, George Sylvester was the first Townsman to represent Normanton in the House of Commons. His widow, Councillor Mildred Sylvester, also three times Chairman, was awarded C.B.E. for political and public services. Yet another citizen to go to St. Stephens, Alice Bacon, daughter of another ex-Chairman of the council, Councillor Ben Bacon, became Chairman of the Labour Party, a Minister of State, a Privy Councillor and a Peeress, taking the title, Baroness Bacon of the city of Leeds and Normanton, in the West Riding of Yorkshire. Alice Bacon was born in Normanton and lived in Normanton until her death. Baroness Bacon was very well known in the community and was regularly seen shopping in the town. At the beginning of her career, she was a teacher and then became a Member of Parliament for Leeds before becoming a Government Minister. On her death, she left a few personal items to family and friends and the remainder of her estate was divided. Two-thirds went to Leeds City Council and one-third to Normanton Town Council to be used as they wished for the benefit of senior citizens in the Normanton and Altofts area. Normanton Town Council set up a Committee to deal with the matter, which had an independent Chairman who was the executor of the will. The Committee is still active, and many, many people have benefitted from the outings and attractions arranged. The Committee regularly fundraise in order to keep the Trust going so Baroness Bacon’s legacy is still providing many older people with trips out to the theatre or the coast. Mrs Dagma MacKinnon was known to almost everyone in Normanton and Altofts, and she was the wife of John MacKinnon, who is referred to elsewhere in this booklet. Dagma was born in Scotland, and although she was settled and happy in Normanton, she made an annual trip to Scotland each August along with her husband to see family and friends. Dagma was a nurse for many years and was very busy in the community. She was an active member of many Committees in the town and helped lots and lots of people on an individual basis without anyone knowing. Dagma was a regular reader for the Talking Newspaper for the Blind and was a member of the Normanton Old Peoples Welfare Committee and the Alice Bacon Trust. Dagma always helped at the Drop-In Centre at the rear of Normanton Baptist Church, which provided coffee and lunch for senior citizens and the disabled. Mrs MacKinnon was awarded the British Empire Medal for her work in the community, and she was also a Justice of the Peace for many years on the Wakefield bench. On her death, most of Mrs MacKinnon’s estate was left to local charities. The basic industries of the past have died and left only their scars, but Normanton Town Council and Wakefield Metropolitan District Council are making determined efforts to remove these. New developments have been attracted to the town and the old colliery workings and spoil heaps have been cleared and replaced by grass and modern buildings to produce a better Normanton.