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Bottomboat History

This page covers all aspects of Bottomboat history, if you have any information that we could use please contact us.

The majority of Bottomboat we see today was built for hard working miners in the 19th century. At one time nearly all of the men in this community worked at Newmarket Colliery, before this at the Bottomboat colliery or the older shallower workings. Life was hard for them and there families who occupied the many streets of terraced housing, probably non harder than the 1926 miners strike, it hit the lane hard, the miners were out for six months. A horse and wagon would come to the lane every day to distribute soup to children and women, the men would dig outcrop coal even from the lane itself leaving massive holes.

Some of the streets had peculiar names that matched the special humour of the residents. The Barracks, Casey Court , Holy Row named because all its occupants went to chapel on Sundays, Good Husband Street because the men folk were a wild hard drinking crowd. Also in the lane was the toad hole, the area of Bottomboat, where in the spring thousands of little frogs would march up from the marsh area into the lane, giving local kids hours of fun playing with them. Bottomboat boys looked upon the Stanley lads as outsiders, causing many fights between the two communities. Of the many small streets and rows only around a 100 houses survive today, the rest have been demolished since the 1950s.

Also gone is the chapel, it remained empty for many years before it was destroyed by fire several years ago. The infant’s school that was on the lane closed in 1979, it had served the community for over 100 years this has now been turned into a house. At one time there were four shops in the lane, the last one closed several years ago, a trend that has also hit the four pubs that once were in Bottomboat. Today there is only the Rising Sun, this is believed to be well over 200 years old, it is said to have a series of tunnels that run towards the River Calder in one direction and Lake Lock in the other. These tunnels are believed to have been used for illegal trade. It is also said the pub is haunted.

Still on the lane today is William Lamb footware, a privately owned business that has grown since 1887 to become the UK's leading footwear distributor, originally they were clog makers for local miners, and during the Second World War made boots for the War effort. The business has adapted over the last 100 years and continues to trade, the manufacturing side has now gone, cheap imports have taken over and the factory is just used for offices and the logistics side of the business importing over 8,000,000 pairs of footwear from overseasa year.The back of the railway line was Moorhouse, a large orchard up to the 1920s full of hundreds of trees and the old Hall, this was demolished before the large council estate was built.


View down Bottomboat 1950s

A Curious Name

One thing that stands out about the area is its curious name which over time has changed to become Bottomboat. There was a ford at this point on the Calder dating back before the Roman times, in 1202 the area was known as Stanlie Bothum, and between 1298 and 1307 it appears as Le Bothom in the Wakefield Court Rolls. By 1640 it had changed to Bothom House and by 1709 took the familiar name of Bottomboat. Bottomboat became known as the River crossing on the Stanley side of the River, whereas the Top Boat was on the Altofts side. A boat crossing was used to cross the Calder here as far back as the 1600s when records show the boat used to make the crossing sank killing ten people, a new one was paid for by the surrounding communities. The crossing was still in use in the 1920s, costing a penny to cross by ferryboat was kept by the boatman’s cottage which at the time was run by a Mr Mathews.

The Bottomboat canal cut

In 1821 Mr John Lee, a solicitor from Wakefield embarked on the construct of a canal cut at Bottomboat that was to be funded from his own money, with the intention of charging each vessel that used the new cut. It would bypass some 1.7 miles of river with a 0.7 mile canal cut that was to include a harbour. There was already a lock on the river in this area, which was built in the early 18 Century to increase the depth of the river allowing larger vessels to pass, but with this there were still many dangers.  

Some of the problems this cut would eliminate were the dangerous bends in the river that would have slowed down the passage of boats and allowed silt to build up, reducing the loads which could be carried. Other dangers would have included freshets (a flood resulting from heavy rain or a spring thaw) and shoal (a shallow gravel bed in the river). Work commenced on the canal without Lee consulting the Navigation Company, who, during the latter stages of construction, refused to allow water to be drawn from the river into the new cut.

Because of this over sight by Lee the project was abandoned, however Lee would have his revenge when the 1830s canal cut between Broad Reach and Methley was constructed. Lee employed a man to watch all the traffic which passed and re passed on this new cut, and then sued the company for diverting the traffic from Bottomboat, the greater part of which passed his property. From this Lee obtained £9000 in damages, he then offered the abandoned canal at Bottomboat to the company for £10,000. At first they refused, but on Lee refusing a lower offer they then accepted ending the dispute. Today parts of the canal are still visible at the back of William Lambs factory in Bottomboat running east to west; however some sections have been filled in.  


Ariel view of the River Calder at Bottomboat today


Same ariel photo as previous, but with the old canal cut added, had the project been completed this is how it would have looked. Note the 1830s canal between Broad Reach and Methley to the bottom of the photo

Swimming at Bottomboat

Before the pit stacks from Newmarket were deposited at the bottom of the road, there was a lake known to the locals as the Gringlesworth, the water was clean, shallow and habituated by fish including pike. In the summer time many of the local kids would swim here, many teaching themselves how to swim. This unfortunately disappeared under the familiar sight of the pit stacks today. In the winter it would freeze over allowing the locals to ice skate, even if the ice cracked the water was so shallow it was not dangerous. Since Newmarket closed the pit stacks are slowly being claimed back by nature making a nice quiet reserve like area. During the Second World War it is said the stacks would glow red in the night, so much so that German bombers used them to navigate their way to Lancashire.

William Lamb Footwear

The company formed in 1887 as a clog manufacturer for the West Riding woollen industry, over the coming years the company became well established in the area. Most mine workers and farm workers wore clogs to work; they had a wooden sole that were fitted with irons around the edge. In 1919 William Lamb formed a limited company with other local businessmen to finance the building of Stanley Picture House.

Lambs sold footwear from a shop at the entrance to the cinema, back then a pair of clogs cost 10d per pair. Some miners even wore clogs for special occasions, they were much more expensive than work clogs, and they had decoration on them and were highly polished. In 1923 William Lamb junior becomes Managing Director, under his leadership the company started to make work boots. During the Second World War the company manufactured army boots for the war effort. After the war the company moved into making football boots and in 1967 they had began making trainers.

Between 1970 and 1977 the company grew from having 35 employees to having over 800, the company’s success allowed them to open two new factories in Rothwell and South Kirby. In 1983 Gola sports was acquired and the company began its restructuring process, importing a large amount of footwear from Italy and the Far East. The next 20 years saw manufacturing at Bottomboat decline until it ceased all together due to fact it was far cheaper to import than manufacture. In 2004 the company was importing over 8,000,000 pairs of footwear from the Far East, operations being managed by their offices in Bottomboat. Today the company imports over 10,000,000 pairs of shoes and owns brands such as buckle my shoe and gluv amongst others.

Problem of “Bottomboat Broads”

Whose “baby” is this watery waste?

Below is an article from 1954 about the serious problem of flooding in the Bottomboat area;

Because nobody bothered to repair a 90ft breach in the bank of the River Calder at Bottomboat 23 years ago, and because nobody seems inclined to do anything about it today, well over 80 acres of what is described as “the best agricultural land in the West Riding” is lying yards deep in flood water for the greater part of the year. alarmed by the periodic extension of the flooded acres during wet weather, and facing the prospect of financial loss, farmers and market gardeners in the district feel that it is time the period of neglect came to an end, and on of them has petitioned Whitehall with a “save our land” appeal.

You can see the floods at Bottomboat from the main Wakefield – Aberford Road at Stanley; you can see them from parts of Altofts; you can see them from miles around. Because to be frank, there seems to be little else down Bottomboat way but floods. Part of the inundated area is called “the klondyke”which is a misnomer, because (according to local residents) there never has been any gold there. The rest remains damply anonymous, which is surprising, for if ever an area shrieked out to be called the “Bottomboat Broads” this is it. A few houseboats are all it lacks!

Half their holdings sunk

Hardest hit of all farm folk is Mrs C Muskett, a 68 year old widow, who with her two sons Charles and Arthur, runs Bottomboat Farm (overlooking the broads). They have 80 acres of pasture land (practically half their holding) under water and can’t do anything about it. It was in 1931 (five years after Mrs Muskett came to the farm) that the River, who’s meandering course marks the boundary of their land, breached its bank. Water rushed through into the low lying pastures, ruining a field of oats and washed away agricultural machinery. And since then the land has rarely been free from flood water – the only variation being in the extent of the inundated area, which fluctuates according to the state of the weather.

Dead Cattle

Whenever the River is in spate (which is pretty often in “summers” like these” it pours through the torn bank, bringing with it an incredible amount of debris, tree trunks, timber, pit props, dead cattle and old rags – which it eventually deposits on the Musketts land. Often the two brothers have had to go out in a boat, retrieve the carcase of a pig or sheep, and bury it in the interests of hygiene. Sometimes the River comes through so quickly that cattle grazing on the banks of the Broads are trapped and drowned before assistance can be brought to them. An extra 16 Muskett acres then go under water. Last week was a grim one for the Musketts, for the swollen River gushed through the 23 year old breach in the bank like a torrent. “It was through like a flash” declared Charles. Their cattle were trapped on a strip of land between the River and water logged pastures, and the mother and two brothers were out most of the afternoon coaxing the cattle to make to take to the water and swim to safety. Eventually led by a young bullock, the eight frightened cows plunged into the water and swam to the safety of higher ground near the farm. Throughout the afternoon the Broads continued to get broader and at the height of the floods the orchard was a six feet deep swimming pool with the tops of apple trees standing in strange and splendid isolation just above water level.

It’s a scandal

“We had to stop cropping on this land years ago” Mrs Muskett told me. “Then we turned it into pasture land, and very fine land it was too. We have had some wonderful cattle from it, and now it is being ruined like this through flooding, it’s a scandal” When the Musketts took over the farm it was their intention to breed Red Poll cattle but the Calder (and the hole in the bank) put paid to that idea. Now they haven’t grazing land for more than a dozen beasts. “If only this land wasn’t flooded, it is some of the best in Yorkshire” said Mrs Muskett sadly.

NCB the new owners

A short while ago the National Coal Board bought this land to use as a tipping site for the spoil from Newmarket Colliery. At this moment a long, low slag heap is pushing a grimy finger along one side of the Broads, but local people say it will be years before the colliery stack eats its way across all this land. And the Musketts who rent it from the coal board, say it’s a shame that such a grand agricultural land should eventually be scheduled to disappear beneath slag heaps. In the meantime, if only somebody would do something about the flooding they would be satisfied. Mrs Muskett has been trying to get action for years, and is still trying. Beyond being told the breach was “an act of god” nothing happened. There was the same story to tell when she sought the aid of the Ministry of Agriculture during the war (at a time when agricultural land was almost as important as shells and guns) – again nothing happened. Meanwhile the land remained useless and the cattle continued to drowned (last year they lost a calf, the year before a white heifer) Looking out from the farmhouse across the wide expanse of reed fringed water, Mrs Muskett commented; “ I haven’t seen a seaside holiday since I came here, and after seeing this lot every day do you blame me for saying I don’t want one. Threes enough water here for me, never mind the sea.

Cauliflowers and Mint

A step nearer Bottomboat village is the 30 acre holding of Mr Stanley Howe, a market gardener, who lives at 60 Bottomboat Road. Mr Howe is young and hardworking, and isn’t going to yield “the best growing land” in the district to flood water without a fight. “You just put the stuff in and it shoots up” But he has got a tough job on his hands. Last weekend the floods claimed three acres of his cauliflowers and covered five acres of mint. Mr Howe is particularly worried about that mint, because it won’t be until next spring that he knows whether the water has damaged the roots. “You can sometimes smell the River when you turn over the soil after the floods have gone2 he said.

Penbank Weir

Mr Howe pointed out that in addition to the gap in the River Bank; there was also a smaller one thurther along through which the water escaped when the River was high. He claims however that another factor which leads to the flooding in Pen bank Weir, which holds back the flow of water and causes the River to “back up” If the Weir was dropped , he was confident that the flooding would be reduced in severity. He estimated that, through the twin evils of the gaps in the bank, and the height of the Pen bank Weir, as many as 500 acres of land in the Bottomboat and Methley areas were flooded when the River was in spate. And when the floods came, water was washing at doorsteps of three cottages below road level near his holding, the homes of Mrs Butterfield, Mr and Mrs Abbott and Mr and Mrs Senior. Land belonging to farmer A. Lindley, over on the other bank, also went under.

MP consulted

After consultations with farmers and small holders whose land is affected by the floods, Mr Howe asked Mr A Roberts the local MP to see if he could get some action in high places about the holes in the bank and about Pen bank Weir. As a result a Rivers board official has been to examine the bank and the Ministry of Agriculture have looked into the matter. But while the leisurely wheels of officialdom are turning the flood waters have been continuing to flow. And from the tone of a letter sent to Mr Roberts by the Ministry (and subsequently forwarded to Mr Howe) they will be turning for quiet a while before anything is done.

Two months have already elapsed since Mr Howe received this letter, in which the Ministry pointed out that the Ouse River Board was in touch with the N.C.B about the possibility of Pen bank Weir being lowered. Bit the negotiations may take some time.

The letter also explains that British Waterways are being consulted too, but that, as the Calder was a statutory navigation, “it may be that they have n power to lower the Weir” The writer agreed however, that the lowering of the Weir would improve drainage conditions upstream, although in a major flood it would not make any appreciable difference.

Commented Mr Howe; “The River is nine feet higher this side of Pen bank Weir than at the other, and what about the holes in the bank? We stand to loose an awful lot of money through these floods”. Said Mrs Muskett “Years ago when we came here there were just a couple of small ponds in our pastures. Even after the first floods the land used to dry up in summer, but it doesn’t now. We have to keep a close watch on the River to see if it’s rising and an equally close watch on the children playing near the floods.”

Swans and Pike

Looking over the broad expanse of water, covering what was once good grassland, one cant help sensing the performance of these floods – they look as if they are here to stay. Everything about them seems part of a fixed picture – three majestic swans were gliding placidly over the surface (I was told there was as many as 20 not so long ago) and fussy little convoys of smaller water fowl kept darting from reed patch to reed patch. This, I am told is a perfect sanctuary for wild birds – you can see almost every variety of British bird there, from moorhen and sand martin to the curiew and wild duck. And if you choose to go fishing over the flooded fields, you probably won’t come back empty handed – even pike have been caught there. A boat incidentally is part of the equipment of the farmer whose land lies within these watery wastes. But the farmers and small holders aren’t particularly interested in pike and wild duck – they would sooner have dry pastures and security against floods. Whether they will ever get it or not is a matter of conjecture, for Bottomboat Broads seems to be nobody’s baby.

On the road that ends at Bottomboat

Yorkshire Evening Post, March 12th 1964

Now and then it catches the eye of motorists driving between Leeds and Wakefield. “Bottomboat” it reads its finger pointing across the road below the Stanley ring sign. Occasionally a motorist slows down with a puzzled stare, but few follow the finger to the rows of red brick cottages that straggle along a cul-de-sac in the hollow. This isn’t a place you would visit without purpose. You wouldn’t drive down these dusty rows for a picnic or to while away an idle hour. Bottomboat wasn’t built to attract tourists, but to house hard working miners. At one point 99 per cent of the male population worked at the neighbouring Newmarket Colliery. A lot of the men still work there.

The Hard Life

In these grim rows in years gone by life was hard for the men and tough for their wives. Bottomboat humour was a product of those times, a special brand spiced with a touch of malice to give it a point. One street was called Holy Row because its occupants went to chapel on Sundays. Another was called Good Husband Street because the men folk there were a wild hard drinking crowd. There was a Toad Hole and a Casey Court, but the court has been pulled down and nobody mourns it. Today about 100 houses are left, brooding over a distant view of slag heaps and low lying marshland. There is also a Methodist Church, two pubs, an infant’s school, three shops, a working men’s club, and a footwear factory. All very ordinary except the name, that curious name that fascinates strangers and gives a clue to the history of this very ancient spot.

On 1817 maps

There was a ford here before the Romans conquered Brittan. In 1202 it was called Stanlie Bothum. Between 1298 and 1307 it appeared as Le Bothom in Wakefield Court Rolls. By 1640 the name was Bothom House. In Wakefield Manor book in 1709 it had become Bottomboat, bringing us to more familiar ground. By 1817 Bottomboat Ferry was on various maps. The word Bottom is said to derive from an old English word meaning “valley bottom.” The Boat refers to the ferry that once plied from here across the River Calder. Most of the old fords were done away with as rivers were made navigable. Another suggested origin of the name appears in Hewitt’s The History and Topography of the Parish of Wakefield and its Environs (1862). A passage describes how, when the Aqueduct at Stanley Ferry was built in 1835, a canoe hollowed out of a tree trunk was discovered at a depth of 16ft.

The other Boat

The passage continues “ The place where it was found has been denominated “The Top Boat” Some suppose it to be one of the old ferry boats, as from time immemorial there was a ferry across the river at this place, and also one at another spot a little farther down the Calder. “This proves the great importance of this particular locality when there was employment for a couple of ferry boats centuries ago, near each other in Stanley and Altofts townships. “The other boat was called Bottomboat; and a hamlet on the Stanley side of the river where the boat was used is still called Bottomboat.” At one time there were four public houses in Bottomboat. The Ship Inn & Ferry Boat have vanished, leaving The Rising Sun and The Masons Arms to hold the fort. “ Things aren’t what they used to be”, said 74 year old Nelson Smith, landlord of The Masons Arms, his birthplace. He can remember when pubs boomed in the hamlet, when people came over the river from Altofts to drink with the men of Bottomboat.

The tripe man

“In the old days a hot pie and peas man used to come into the village every Saturday.” he said “A tripe man came too, and pot man from Leeds used to set up a small stall on the pavement. They all did a roaring trade and that was a roaring , lively place.” Now the good old days are over. With a bus every two hours and Wakefield less than four miles away, people can get out to seek their enjoyment. “But there’s no bus on Sundays.” said Mr Smith “This is a dead end road to nowhere. I don’t know what it will be like in another few years, times certainly change, and not always for the best!”

Thank you to Mr & Mrs Muskett for the above article

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