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Pontefract Local History

PONTEFRACT'S FORGOTTEN MAN


THOMAS JEFFRIES SIDES


by TERRY SPENCER

PART ONE | PART TWO

One occasion in which the hard-headed business persona pierced the carefully cultivated image of working class tribune was Sides’ appearance at the annual Knottingley Infirmary Sunday Demonstration in August 1920. Present in the multiple capacity of Mayor of Pontefract, Managing Director of Carters’ Knottingley Brewery and Member of the Local Hospitals Board, Sides was introduced by the presiding official, Mr. H.L. Lyon, as "one of the best Mayors that Pontefract has ever had or ever will have", and was received with rapturous applause from the assembled crowd. 

The hearty reception was reinforced when Sides announced his intention to stimulate funding for the local hospitals by donating a silver Cup (to be known as the Sides’ Cup) which was to be presented annually to the licensee of any public house owned by Carters Brewery which had collected most money for the cause throughout the year, the trophy to be retained if won in three successive years. Sides then forfeited all the goodwill by stating that the recent increase in wages had led him to the expectation that local workpeople would have given more than they had done. The crass comment, made at a time of deepening industrial recession to a crowd, many of whom had lost their breadwinners in the recent war or had returned maimed and disabled from that unparalleled conflict, would have been even more resented had it been known that the critic was earning in excess of £1,500 per year while the bulk of the accused were struggling to maintain a bare existence. Sides’ blunder drew a firm but restrained rebuff from Councillor G.W. Reynolds as President of the Hill Top Workingmens’ Club and Treasurer of the local Infirmary Committee. stating that while they should not be complacent the "workmen did well and [the Committee] ought to receive more from the other side." [i.e. the bosses]

More unerring was Sides’ intervention concerning the fate of the tank which following the conclusion of the Great War had been presented to the Corporation by the National War Savings Committee and placed in the entrance of Pontefract Castle grounds as a pseudo-memorial and visitor attraction. By the mid 1930s a combination of material deterioration and public indifference led to the decision by Pontefract Borough Council to sell the tank to the highest bidder. Two bids were received from scrap merchants when to the surprise of all concerned on the 4th July 1934, Sides outbid the bidders. Claiming to save the tank, which but for his intervention would have been scrapped, enabled Sides to present himself as a public benefactor. Following Sides’ death, the tank, having usefully served its purpose, was quietly disposed of, being sent for scrap during the Salvage Drive of World War II, thereby meeting the fate from which it had gained temporary reprieve by Sides’ beneficence.

Sides’ pose as the guardian of the public heritage rings somewhat hollow when consideration is given to the fate of a more historically significant object. For many decades the whereabouts of the unique and beautifully sculptured fireplace located within the Ingram Manor House (later the premises occupied by the White Swan Inn) Hill Top, Knottingley, has been the subject of speculation. It was feared that the fireplace had been dismantled and illicitly exported at the time of the demolition of the property in the early 1960s. A recent disclosure by someone resident on the site at the time the fireplace was removed reveals that the object was dismantled on the order of T.J. Sides, using his authority as the managing director of Knottingley Brewery Co., the owners of the Swan Inn property, in 1929, a fact recently confirmed by the writer who has uncovered evidence of the removal and sale of antique fireplaces and panelling from other Carters’ Brewery properties at that period. Once dismantled the Knottingley fireplace was then sold and ultimately sent abroad, its destination thought to have been America.

By the mid 1930s the strain of his hyperactive life had begun to effect Sides’ constitution as the nationally deteriorating economic situation constrained business opportunities, requiring greater effort for diminishing returns. A comparative decline in the profitability of the Knottingley Brewery Co., undermined Sides’ dominance of the Board and resulted in a power struggle for control of the company in 1933, triggering a protracted and expensive legal dispute which weakened the company leaving it vulnerable to predatory action by trade rivals. A take over battle between the Tadcaster Brewery Co. and Bentley’s Yorkshire Breweries of Woodlesford, Leeds, resulted in a victory for the latter company in 1935. The terms of the take-over agreement imposed the curtailment of the legal dispute upon the parties involved and enforced the resignation of Sides and his nephew, T.A.S. Whitehead, from the Board with immediate effect.

Intimate knowledge of the business affairs of the Knottingley Brewery Co., allied to an extensive circle of social and business contacts rendered Sides invaluable to the new regime and in June 1936 he was re-engaged by the newly constituted company on a temporary basis. Sides, offered employment as a consultant or as a member of the board, chose the latter option and although the appointment was initially subject to quarterly renewal, proved so indispensable that he was appointed the permanent manager of the company at an annual salary of £500.

Despite the fact that on site brewing had ceased at Knottingley following the take over by Bentleys, Sides undertook many responsibilities he had formerly executed in his much more remunerative role as managing director. It is unsurprising therefore, that having proved his worth Sides stated that his salary was inadequate. The company responded by suggesting that Sides write a letter to the directors suggesting an appropriate figure. However, no further detail is recorded concerning the subject, which may perhaps be explained by the fact that within a few months Sides suffered a serious incapacitating illness followed by a second and fatal one the year following, hence the hiatus.

The accumulative strain took its toll on Sides and towards the end of his period of office as mayor in 1935 he suffered the breakdown in health which necessitated a serious operation. It was while recovering in a Leeds nursing home that Sides was informed of his re-election as mayor. Following a three week convalescence in a Pontefract nursing home, Sides returned to civic duties, appearing to be fully recovered. However, Sides’ underlying condition belied outward appearance and August 1937 saw a recurrence of his illness, culminating in his death the following month, leaving a wife, Lily, who was a J.P., and continued to reside at ‘Fernhill’ until her death in 1951.

At a specially convened Council meeting a genuine sense of loss was palpable as Sides’ fellow councillors led by the Deputy Mayor expressed their sorrow in fulsome tributes to a man whose,

"..innate ability brought him to and carried him through a life of frequent leadership such as falls to few who have to make their own way in the world."

Few doubted that Sides’ "..public service had hastened his end", and in adopting the resolution for the adjournment of the proceedings the councillors stood in silence as a mark of their respect. The Monday following the Borough Court also adjourned in deference after tributes had been paid, as did the West Riding Magistrates Court a few days later.

On the day of the funeral, Monday 6th September 1937, the muffled bells of All Saints Church, Pontefract, rang 5088 changes of Kent Treble Bob Major in anticipation of the service which preceded interment at North Featherstone cemetery. Flags flown at half mast adorned public buildings throughout the town, including the churches of both parishes. The names of the dignitaries who assembled to follow the cortege as it processed along the route through town from ‘Fernhill’ to All Saints Church filled three columns of closely typed print in the local newspapers and thousands of members of the public lined the streets.

The church was crowded to overspill, necessitating attendance in the churchyard by those unable to obtain entry into the church as the Reverend A.G. Shipley, the Mayor’s Chaplain, assisted by Reverend C.C.T. Naters, Vicar of St Giles’ Church, conducted the service.

Yet, despite the fulsome tributes to a man who, loved or loathed, was a remarkable man, Sides today goes unremembered and unremarked. Why should this be?

One reason may be found in the outcome of the dramatic events which had already begun to unfurl by the time of Sides’ demise and culminated in the outbreak of the war of 1939-1945. The advent of the war was to fully occupy the daily life of all sections of the local population leaving little or no time for sentiment or reminiscence which mark the process by which myths are created. The war also wrought profound changes upon the psychological attitudes and behaviour of post war society removing barriers based upon social status and its concomitant deference for those in authority. Increased social mobility made the achievements of men such as Sides more commonplace and therefore less remarkable in public perception while technological developments allied to changed social attitudes meant that at both national and local level corruption and dubious practices in political circles were subjected to media examination which bred contempt for its practitioners. The advent of the welfare state made the poverty and hardship experienced by the working class in the pre war era passé, nullifying Sides’ achievement in overcoming poverty and class barriers while simultaneously removing the opportunity to pose as the benevolent and bountiful champion of the poor and needy, an image which Sides had carefully nurtured during his public career,

Thus, as Sides' contemporaries followed him to the grave, so memories of him faded and died. Those few who in the youth of the writer occasionally recalled him, often with a degree of admiration and even awe, have now departed the scene so that today about the only remaining vestige of his former prominence is Sides Road, the name of which few associate with that of the man. Truly, Thomas Jeffries Sides is the forgotten man of Pontefract.

Sic transit gloria mundi

©2006 Dr. Terry Spencer.

PART ONE | PART TWO


Also by Terry Spencer:

Darrington Hotel: Origins and Early History
Willow Park Dog Track
The Hope and Anchor Inn, Pontefract
Priming the Town Pump
A Very Gallant Gentleman: Percy Bentley


 

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