MAYORS OF PONTEFRACT
THE ELECTORAL SYSTEM
The Mayors, Councillors, Aldermen and Members of Parliament
of the Borough of Pontefract
until the end, 1974.
John O.E. Holmes, Printer, Pontefract.
Richard Holmes published his book on the Mayors
of Pontefract in 1882. Ninety-two years later the Corporation of Pontefract
was no more. Swallowed up by Wakefield Metropolitan District Council, the
It is thus possible to complete the record. The
Author has used some old family records and the old Minute Books in
Pontefract Library to compile the completion of the record. Because of the
time involved he retains copyright, but will be only too pleased to allow
its use by those interested, on request, for non-commercial use.
To identify “Pirate” copies, certain
errors – which are of little importance – have been introduced (of which the
author is aware and will identify to bona-fide researchers). Where these are
may be discovered by consulting the records, in which case the Author’s work
would not be needed!
It is intended that this study be a supplement
to Richard Holmes’ book, but for those who have no copy of the first part,
the Author has made a few photocopies which could be bound with this present
To appreciate the Pontefract story it is
necessary to take account of the evolution of the Electoral system.
The Charter of 1484 in effect changed the Manor
of Pontefract, a part of the King’s possessions, into a self-governing body,
still accountable to the sovereign for the “Fee Farm Rents”, but otherwise
making their own laws and collecting their own money as best they could.
Working alongside the Borough was the Church Vestry meeting. This was
responsible for levying the Poor Rate, and in later times this was extended
to cover Highways and all the other local assessments.
In Feudal times a Manor Court had a Steward who
was responsible for the running of the Manor. When the Manor Court met, all
tenants had to attend. Should they not do so or have good reason for not
attending, they were fined. From those attending were selected twelve
Jurymen who examined the witnesses and delivered their verdict.
On becoming a Borough, the Lord became the Mayor
and the Jurymen were the Aldermen. The Manor Court became the Town’s meeting
and often decisions were taken at this meeting. Reading the records of the
town it is very obvious that it was not always by choice that Aldermen were
appointed. They were appointed to office and fined should they not take the
necessary oath. Those declining the office of Mayor could also be fined and
in some cases were.
The Municipal Reform Act of 1835 added twelve
councilors to the Corporation. Previous to this the electors had been the
holders of Burgage Tenure and for this reason it was thought advantageous to
own the freehold of a Burgage Plot. In fact this led to the practice of
buying the Freehold and Selling Leasehold on a very long lease for a nominal
rent. Lord Galway, Viscount Winn and the Franks, over the years bought much
land, retaining the vote but virtually selling the land. After 1835 the vote
depended on being the occupier of a property so the leases became of no
This change in the law has a useful spin off for
the Historian, because it could be necessary to prove ownership of the
freehold, the old deeds were retained when the lease was granted. The land
then passed from owner to owner by assignment of lease, with a new
assignment for each owner. When the Freeholds became of no value, the deeds
were put on one side and remained a collection. Lord Galway’s are now with
the University of Nottingham Library, Viscount Winn has sent many to Leeds
Archives, the Frank muniments are at Sheffield.
In 1872 Pontefract had the first Parliamentary
election by secret ballot in a bye-election just before the General
Election. In 1875 the Borough took in Tanshelf, Monkhill and Pontefract Park
District. Tanshelf and Monkhill were Manors, Tanshelf being part of the
Duchy of Lancaster. Some of the land had been enfranchised or made Freehold,
but other parts were Copyhold – a system only finally abolished in 1922.
Some of the Court Rolls survive from Tanshelf and Monkhill but are much
damaged and faded.
In 1857 the Electors List for Parliamentary
members shows Pontefract Park District had only three houses and six
electors, while Monkhill had only four, Tanshelf had forty-one whilst
Carleton had fourteen.
After 1875 the new, enlarged Council had six
Aldermen and eighteen Councillors and the Borough was divided into three
wards, each with six Councillors of which two were elected every year. Three
Aldermen were elected by the Councillors every three years for a period of
six years. It is after this that our story begins.
A further ward division took place before the
1914 Elections when six wards, North, East, West, South, Central and Mill
Hill, were created. The last boundary revision was made before the 1938
Elections, when Carleton Park was taken in and the wards renamed Carleton,
Baghill, Central, Park, Tanshelf and Castle. In 1974 the wards were
amalgamated to give Pontefract North and Pontefract South, each electing
three councilors to the Wakefield Metropolitan Council.
This book commences in a year when there was a
considerable shake-up in affairs of the Corporation. A Mr. Lakeman was
called in to look into the finances of the Corporation and his report,
recorded in the minutes of 1st March 1883, is worthy of mention as it
summarizes some of the history of the Corporation and how their power and
influence had grown during the previous seventy years.
The report tells that originally the power of
the Council was merely to “watch and ward” the Borough. In 1810 there was an
Act of Parliament forming a Board of Street Commissioners who were
originally Commissioners for the Park. Their powers were added to in 1869
with a further Act, and they were responsible for paving and lighting the
streets of the Borough and also providing an adequate water supply. These
powers should have been handed over to the Borough in 1872 on the passing of
the Act but the transfer did not take place until 16th May 1873.
In 1875 the Corporation obtained at a cost of
£2,000, a Private Act of Parliament to extend the Borough and establish the
Borough as the Urban Sanitary Authority.
Mr. Lakeman found that the Corporation had kept
books of Account but to a large extent they had relied on the accounts of
their Banker. The Street Commissioners had only kept a Cash Account Book so
that it was very difficult to establish fully the state of the Borough
There was no suggestion of fraud or wrong doing,
but he found that it was almost impossible for the Council to be able to
tell the exact state of their finances as accounts were kept by different
people of monies used for different purposes.
The suggestions were that all accounting should
be done by the Borough Accountant, that cheques should first be approved at
the committee meeting and then signed, not as previously wherever the
Committee Chairman should happen to be. A further requirement was to set up
a Superannuation Fund for the Borough Police which had been required by the
Act of 1859 and in 1883 still not been commenced.
Assets of the Corporation were shown as £28,236,
the value of Freehold properties or of expenditure on them and £9,500 Cash
at Bank, while loans of £18,993 were outstanding, borrowed from various
sources. The Report was accepted and it was resolved to act on the
On the shelves of Holmes Printer rest various
blocks used at Election times for the printing of Election Addresses for
some of the candidates. Also, Mr. O. G. Holmes (Grandson of Richard) was for
a number of years a freelance reported in Pontefract as was Mr. F.H.W.
Holmes. Both had a cameras and collected pictures of public figures to be
held in readiness for publication should the subject do some public act (or
pass away) and not be available to be photographed. Unfortunately, the
Labour Party never came to Holmes Printer, so we accumulated few blocks for
John O.E. Holmes, 1993.
Mayors 1884 to 1973