Page created 31 December 2003

EDWARD LAW

HUDDERSFIELD & DISTRICT HISTORY

HISTORY OF THE GEORGE HOTEL, HUDDERSFIELD, TO 1900.

Edward J Law.

The George, Huddersfield's premier hotel for over 250 years, has officially been known as the George Inn or the George Hotel during its long existence, but has always been known to the inhabitants of the town and surrounding areas as simply 'the George'. If a rendezvous is arranged at the George there is no possibility of confusion; it is part of our heritage, our grandparents, their grandparents and their grandparents before them have all resorted to the George. Nor is such familiarity restricted to a purely local area, all who arrive in the town by train must be aware of its substantial and handsome presence.

The present building is the third to have housed the George, and the history of those buildings will take us back some three hundred years.

The First George.
When the second George was being dismantled in 1851 two date stones were found1, the first was inscribed RBA 1687, and it seems likely that that would have been the key-stone of the building which housed the first George.

The Ramsden family who were in the past the principal landowners of the district had, in 1671 been granted a charter to hold a weekly market in the town. Prior to that the town was but a small community, and the increased importance which would attend its emergence as a trading centre led in due course to a demand for new and improved property for housing, trade and commerce.

It is not known if the building of 1687 was erected as an inn, but we do know that it was so occupied by 1716 when James Murgatroyd paid 25-9-0 per annum for his tenancy of a croft, housing, stables etc., the largest rent for housing of any of the Ramsden's Huddersfield estate2. We know from a deed of 1718 that James Murgatroyd was an innkeeper3, and that he and his family were tenants of the George down to the 1760's.

The name of the inn is not as straightforward as might be imagined. Probably the obvious assumption is that it was named after King George I; as he ascended the throne in 1714, and the first firm indication we have of the existence of the inn is 1716 this seems reasonable. However, the very high rent which was being paid in 1716 would indicate that it was either the leading inn of the town, or a prestigeous new building. We know from an eye-witness description4 that the first George was housed in a single storey building, which it is believed had been erected some thirty years earlier. The inference, therefor, must be that the inn was a thriving concern, the most prosperous in the town, and it would be stretching credulity to imagine that such a status could have been achieved in a period of two years. We must then accept that the inn had been in existence some time, and that if it was named for George I there must have been a change of name. Such a happening seems unlikely; whilst it is not unknown for the names of inns to be changed it does seem improbable that the leading house of a town, with presumably a good reputation, should take the chance of adversely affecting its established trade. If the name 'the George' was in use prior to 1714 we must seek an alternative origin, and the likely answer is to be found in our country's patron Saint. A work on the history of signboards5 records that in 1866 there were sixty-six taverns called the George and Dragon in London, that the style was frequently abbreiviated to the George, and gives examples of that style in 1559 and 1676. Nearer to home there was a George Inn at Leeds in 1689. We need not therefor be surprised to find a George prior to the reign of our first Hanoverian monarch. What is perhaps surprising is the apparent lack of a signboard, there was a strong tradition for the display of inn signs, and although the George was well known and centrally situated one might have expected to be able to discern a sign in the illustrations of the second George. It is clear however that there was some oral tradition of the original name, for a bill head6 of 'Townsend, George Inn, Huddersfield' of c.1800 carries a finely executed engraving of the slaying of the dragon by St. George, a similar sculpted vignette of which is to be found on the present George Hotel.

The first mention of the George by name is found in the day-books of John Turner7, an attorney who practised in Huddersfield from 1736, prior to which he lived in his native Mirfield. He made frequent journies to Huddersfield, often on market days, to collect and despatch letters, and on 29th April 1733 he records "Went to Huddersfield, spent at George 3d." During the tenancy of James Murgatroyd the house seems to have been commonly known by his name rather than as the George. The diary of William Elmsall of Thornhill9, agent for the Ramsden family, has many references to the house, in June 1716 he "met …. at James Murgatroyds" and in December 1726 he records that he lodged at James Murgatroyds, showing that the George was providing accommodation for the traveller over 260 years ago. Turner also lodged at the hotel as shown by an entry at 16th April 1734 "Went to Huddersfield, expenses in staying all night at Murgatroyds 5/0d"; indeeed when he removed to Huddersfield he chose to lodge at the George "20.4.1736. Pegge Murgatroyd. came to be boarded at her house and brought a horse, to pay for self 11 yearly and 3/6d week for horse at hard meat, at 4/3d for self for week." The first conclusive evidence that 'Murgatroyds' and 'the George' were one and the same can also be found in Turner's day-book when in January 1736/7 he notes the purchase of a book at "auction at our house (George)."

The Second George.
We have previously noted that when the second building was being removed in 1851 two dated stones were found. The second of these stones bore the date 1787, and almost all the available evidence points to this as being the year of erection of the second George. The strongest confirmatory evidence is found in a letter9 written by the local agent of the Ramsden estate in 1851 when he reports "George Hotel shut up after 60 years. I ought to preserve the stone on which the date of completion of the building is engraved." Supportive evidence is also available in a paragraph which appeared in a local paper10 in 1856, reporting the death of a 78 years old lady, it records "Mrs Booth could tell of three George Inns …. The original George a one storied building at the Market Place end of the present John William Street which gave way for the late George Hotel on the same …. Site the erection of which Mrs Booth well remembered."

Philip Ahier in an article written some forty years ago11 stated that the second George was built in 1766, and that a tablet inscribed "Erected by Sir John Ramsden, Bart., 1766" was built into the pediment. Whilst he notes that the tablet was preserved at Longley School, he does not give his authority for the assertion that it had been part of the fabric of the George. I had imagined that there had been some confusion with the tablet removed from the Cloth Hall, which commences with the same inscription. However, that is built into the shelter in Ravensknowle park, which was erected from cloth hall relics in 1931, whilst the other tablet is stated to have been at Longley in 1948. On balance I believe that we have to discard Ahier's statement in favour of the alternative evidence presented above. It would be interesting, however, to know which other building, presumably of some importance, was erected in 1766.

The second George is depicted in prints of the Market Place which have previously been dated to c.1780 but which we must rather place c.1790, not only on the evidence relating to the George, but also on that of the building depicted at the northern end of the east side of the square which in 1787 was described12 as "Mr William Walker's new buildings opposite the Market Cross." Whilst most of the buildings depicted have the excellent proportions of the Georgian era, the George has that extra style, with its pediment topped break-front, which might indicate the talents of a professional architect rather than the solid capabilities of a local mason. In this connection we may note that the Ramsdens had sometime previously commissioned John Carr, the York architect, to design their country house at Byram, and it is not impossible that when they came to rebuild their prestigeous Market Place hotel, he was again engaged.

When the second George was removed in 1851 it was to allow John William Street to be formed, leading from the Market Place to the new railway station, and not because of any deficiency in the building itself. Indeed when it was known that the building had to be demolished a firm of local merchants arranged for its removal and re-erection as their warehouse and showrooms in St. Peter's Street, a part of the town then being newly developed by the opening up of John William Street. The building still stands, on the south side of St. Peter's Street at the junction with Byram Street, but lacks the imposing presence which it displayed in its original, open position in the Market Place. The two date stones which have been discussed, together with a third dated 1852, for the re-erection of the building, have been preserved by incorporation high in the south elevation of the building, and only discernible now with great difficulty.

The Third George.
Whilst we know of no evidence to support suppositions as to the architect of the second George, there is detailed correspondence relating to the design and erection of the third building, the present George Hotel.

It was the coming of the railway to the town which concentrated the minds of the Ramsdens and their advisers on the direction which the development of Huddersfield should take, and one of the first points which received consideration was the future of the George. In September 1845 the Ramsden's local agent, Alexander Hathorn, wrote to George Loch, the agent to the Trustees of Sir John William Ramsden, warning that the railway company might wish to build an hotel at the station, and suggesting that if the George was to be re-built it should be close to the station, and that it should be open at the same time as the station13

The following report14 of the period, still preserved amongst the Ramsden archives, gives an interesting insight into the town at that time, and of the objectives of the Ramsden estate:-

  • Report upon the proposed removal of the present George Hotel, stabling and other buildings in connection with it, the erection of a new hotel in front of the railway station, the formation and laying out of a number of' new streets with a view of appropriating for building purposes a large extent of valuable land now occupied only for farming purposes, and upon the general necessity and advisability of removing other old buildings interfering with such projected improvements.
    The town of Huddersfield has increased very considerably within the last ten years and extensive buildings have been erected upon lease, and on holdings from year to year, the erection of warehouses and other buildings for commercial purposes has increased to such an extent that all the vacant building land situated in what may be justly termed the business part of the town, has been taken, for the erection of buildings adapted chiefly for the increasing wants and accommodation of the woollen trade of the district.
    The Huddersfield and Manchester section of the London and North Western railway passing thro the town will certainly tend to increase its trade, and that of the district generally, and cannot fail to add to the value of the building land, especially in the immediate neighbourhood of the railway station.
    The only vacant land available for the erection of new buildings such as woollen warehouses, shops and banking houses etc. etc. is that situated in front of the railway station and behind (to the north of) the present George Hotel. Unless this hotel be removed for the purpose of opening up for such building purposes, all the land behind it, and of affording a 'Main Approach' to the railway station and also to and thro the Bay Hall and Newtown. Estate, very little or no improvement can be effected, and the estate of the Trustees of Sir John William Ramsden, Bart., can be benefitted only to a limited extent. There is at present no approach to the railway station except by means of a very narrow and unimportant street, which can never by any possibility afford a proper or convenient approach to it.
  • The perceptive advice of Hathorn was acted upon, and William Wallen, an architect who had been in practice in the town since 1841 prepared plans for the new hotel. William was the son of John Wallen a London architect, and was born in the capital in 1807. The comment of Sir William Tite15, a distinguished London architect who acted for the Ramsden estate at a later date, that the majority of architects in Huddersfield had not been bred to the profession, with the exception of Messrs Wallen and Pritchett, indicates that Wallen had had a formal training, probably with his father.

    It has been said that Wallen was assisted in the design of the George by Charles Child, a Halifax architect, but a perusal of the extensive correspondence for the period 1844 to 1852 preserved by the Ramsden estate has failed to uncover confirmation of any such collaboration. In November 1848 Wallen forwarded amended plans for the new hotel to Loch, and by February the following year he was able to submit the following list16 of those tradesmen who had submitted the lowest tenders, all of whom, he was able to add, were tenants upon the estate:-

    Mr Joseph Kaye, mason.
    Mr Thomas Hayley, plumber & glazier.
    Messrs Jowitt & North, plasterers.
    Messrs Shaw & Rushforths, carpenters & joiners.

    Joseph Kaye had already been engaged to erect the railway station, and it is said that the fact that he had vast quantities of stone lying there, which would not be required, enabled him to beat the quotation of his competitors. The statement that "he is quite prepared to commence operations without even a days delay" appears to have been well founded. Work commenced immediately, the foundations were dug by 6th March at which time the mason's labourers were importuning for the supper which was their traditional right. Work was delayed by severe frost and snow in December and January, but by February 1850 the last storey of the building was being erected and consideration was being given to the siting of the stabling. It is interesting to note that materials salvaged from the old gig sheds in the yard of the old George were utilised for the foundations of the new stabling which was located at the top of Brook Street, close by the hotel.

    The original estimate of the building costs was 6,100, but by the time it was completed the actual cost was in excess of 10,000, though some major additional costs had been incurred in respect of agreed departures from specification. Whether it was true also, as the Ramsden's agent said some years later, that "a considerable portion of the outlay was upon outward ornamentation, as an example to others building in John William Street and other streets," is questionable. Though architecturally satisfying, the hotel is certainly not ornate. That the Ramsdens were setting an architectural example cannot be doubted, there is clear evidence that elevations of all building in the new main streets, particularly John William Street and St. George's Square, had to be approved by William Tite, who had been retained by the Trustees for that purpose.

    Landlords.
    For much of its long history the George was the property of the Ramsden family. Probably succeeding generations took the same view as the Trustees of Sir John William Ramsden, who are reported to have considered it advisable and desirable that the landlord of the Huddersfield estate should continue to be the owner of the principal hotel in the town17. This position continues to the present day for the Council of the Borough of Kirklees, the landlords of the town, are also owners of the buildings of the George, which passed into municipal control with the rest of the Ramsden's Huddersfield estates in 1920.

    The George has not of course been operated by its owners at any time, they have derived their income by leasing the property to a working landlord, at least to the 1870s.

    If the property of 1687 was occupied as an inn then we may suppose from the initials of the couple who erected it that the first landlord was one R B. This was certainly not a Burman as a newspaper report of last century suggested, the Burmans, who will be treated with, came at a much later date. We have no specific candidate for the first landlord, he could have been a Bramhall; that family were innkeepers in the town in 1680, and in the eighteenth century were associated with another important inn, the Queen's Head. Another family with a long tradition of innkeeping in Huddersfield were the Booths, who were also Parish Clerks from generation to generation; an entry in the parish registers records the appointment to that post of Richard Booth in 1688, the year after the erection of the first building. There was also a Richard Berry, a well-to-do townsman of that period. However, until further evidence is available, any suggestions as to the identity of the first landlord can only be supposition.

    The earliest landlord who can be identified with certainty is James Murgatroyd, already noted holding property from the Ramsdens in 1716, and described as an innkeeper in 1718. James may have hailed from Skircoat or Warley where the family are known to have held property. He was an entrepreneur and probably a fairly wealthy man for with two partners he held the tolls of the Huddersfield market under the Ramsdens for which privilege they had to find 500 when taking the lease in 171818. It was James's widow, Margaret (Peggy) whom Turner mentioned when recording his removal to Huddersfield in 1736; that was the year after James's death and she was to hold the house for the next twenty years until her death in 1757. It is not clear who kept the inn after her death, but it was probably a joint tenancy of a son, Francis, and a daughter, Martha, and certainly after Francis Murgatroyd's death in 1760, when he was the Constable of the township of Huddersfield19, it was owned by Miss Martha Murgatroyd. Martha died in 1766 and after that date it was held by a Mrs Murgatroyd who is recorded as the Ramsden's tenant in 1768/920; this appears to have been Frances Murgatroyd, probably the daughter of Francis, who in 1769 married Samuel Mortimer, who at the time of her death, only two years later, is described as an innkeeper in the town.

    A telling anecdote recalling Francis Murgatroyd is to be found in Annals of a Clerical Family21 which records that "Old Murgatroyd of the George Inn came to hear him [Rev. Henry Venn], and after a time came out again before the sermon was over; so we asked him if he had had enough 'Ah,' he said, 'Yon man would tire the divil."

    If one may judge from the records of the Quarter Sessions22, innkeepers were particularly susceptible to the depredations of others, and those records provide several references to the Murgatroyd family. In January 1748 three labourers were charged with stealing oats and straw from Margaret Murgatroyd, widow; all were found guilty and were ordered to be whipped. A common punishment at that time, the whipping was often administered in public in order to maximise its deterrent effect. The order for a public whipping for a Huddersfield miscreant may be found in the terms "to be whipt at Huddersfield next market day." Perhaps when the offender was a woman modesty forbad such treatment, the sentence of one Huddersfield woman who had stolen two caps valued at six-pence would be "to be immediately privately scourged upon the naked back at Huddersfield until the blood floweth out of the wounds." In 1754 an Elland man was accused of stealing eight pewter plates, value 8d, from Mrs Murgatroyd of Huddersf ield, innholder, but was acquitted. The sentence upon Nathaniel Baildon, who in 1766 was found guilty of the theft of a fire-shovel (2/0d), and a goose (1/0d), the goods of Martha Murgatroyd, spinster, appears extreme, he was ordered to be transported for seven years.

    A few lists of ale house recognisances (the annual application for an ale house licence) have survived for the Huddersfield area23, the earliest for 1771 shows Samuel Mortimer, a landlord, and the Ramsden rental of 1771/2 confirms that he was the tenant of the George Hotel. Samuel, possibly the son of John Mortimer of Woodhouse near Huddersfield, was tenant for only a brief period, for there is no mention of him in the recognisances of 1773. It is possible that he was only landlord in right of his deceased wife, and that she only held a life interest, which may account for his early departure from the house.

    The recognisances of 1773 show a William Burman with a note that he had a certificate, that is significant for it indicates that he was a new licensee, and we are able to deduce that he succeeded to Samuel Mortimer at some time in the year to September 1773. William held the licence for the next twenty years until his death in 1793. It is interesting that though administration of his estate, which included "Household goods, furniture and liquors of all kinds 250", was granted to Sarah Burman, his widow, in October 179324, the Leeds Mercury of 7th December 1793 carried an advertisement of a sale at Mr Burman's, the George Inn. The Land Tax records for the town25 also show a continuing tenancy for William Burman down to 1795, after which the assessment was raised upon John Townsend, and it may be that William Burman was succeeded for a brief period by a son of the same name.

    An advertisement in the Leeds Mercury of 13th September 1794 announced that T Burman had taken a commodious house in Almondbury which had been fitted up in an elegant manner, which included accommodation for travellers and was to be called the George. It seems probable that T Burman was a relative of William, and perhaps more than coincidental that he should open an inn by the same name in an adjoining township. Was there some resentment that the George was not remaining in the hands of a Burman? An entry in the Leeds Mercury some years later26 shows a Thomas Burman of the George Inn, Marsden; whilst the latter place lay partly in the parish of Almondbury it would have been strange if the advertisement of 1794, which would have been intended to attract custom, had not named the actual township in which the inn lay, and it may be that Thomas Burman was perpetuating the family connection with the George wherever he settled.

    The next tenant of the George was John Townsend who is recorded in the Ramsden rental of 1798/927, with an annual rent payment of 315. It is thought that prior to entering on the house he was a cloth dealer, a John Townsend with that calling being one of the assignees of the goods of a John Shaw of Huddersfield in January 1795. Townsend held the tenancy for some twenty years and was succeeded by his son-in-law, William Wigney, in 1816.

    William Wigney was born in the vicinity of Sowerby Bridge, but may have had connections with the town of Leeds, where his mother died in 1834; he was in Huddersfield by 1809 when he married Ann Townsend at the parish church. Immediately prior to entering to the George he appears to have been the landlord, for something like two years, of the White Hart 1nn29, an important house opposite the Cloth Hall, and before that was the cashier to the Market Place bank of John Dobson & Sons. He appears to have been a man of no little self importance, and when he was wronged was in the habit of ordering the offenders to make a public display of their penitence, as the following advertisements from the columns of the Leeds Mercury (there being no local paper at the time) show:-

    We the undersigned having on the evening of Sunday last (5th June) violently and grossly assaulted Mr William Wigney, cashier to the bank of John Dobson & Sons, without any cause whatsoever, for which he has justly commenced an action against us, but which he has kindly agreed to drop on our asking him pardon in the two Leeds papers and paying all expenses incurred, and promising not to offend again - for which we are very grateful - as witness our hands.

    Jonathan Thornton. Job Bottom.

    Witness Joshua Brook, constable,
    Huddersfield, 8.6.1814.

     

    Pardon Asked. Whereas on Saturday morning last, I Bessy Mitchell, chambermaid at the George Inn, Huddersfield, did receive in an improper manner, from a lady who slept at the above inn, and left early that morning, the sum of three shillings, besides one shilling the lady gave me as chambermaid, for the use of the bed, knowing that such a charge was contrary to the usage of the house, where the most upright conduct is shown, and proper attention ordered by Mr Wigney, to travellers and others who may call at the above inn; - I paid one shilling to my master intimating that it only had been left for him, thereby adding falsehood to imposition; - in consequence of which, and to prevent the injury which the report of conduct on the above occasion, might do to his business, Mr Wigney discharged and threatened to commence a prosecution against me, but, on my acknowledging my crime, and publishing this advertisement in the Leeds papers, he has kindly stopped proceedings; for which I thank him, and promise never to be guilty of the like offence, as witness my hand this 24th day of December 1817.

    Bessy Mitchell.

    Witness Thomas Marchant.

     

    Whereas I Thomas Castle of Huddersfield, labourer, did on Monday last leave my employer Mr William Wigney of the George Inn, Huddersfield, innkeeper, without his consent, for which he has properly commenced a prosecution against me, but in consequence of acknowledging my offence and begging his pardon for the same, and making this public acknowledgement in the Leeds Mercury once and paying the expenses of this advertisement and one pound to the Huddersfield Dispensary, he has kindly consented to withdraw all proceedings.

    Witness my hand this 25th day of March 1825, Thomas Castle.

    Witness Thomas Pitt,
    High Constable.

    In 1840 William retired from the George to farm at Netherton Moor on a farm which had previously been occupied by his father-in-law on his retirement. Consequent on the decision of William to retire, the house was advertised to let29:-

    George Hotel, Huddersfield. To be let with possession as soon as requisite arrangements can be completed, all that long established and well accustomed Hotel and Posting-house called the George Hotel, situate in the Market Place at Huddersfield, with the extensive and convenient range of stabling and coach houses, warehouses, shops and other conveniences, together with two dwelling houses adjoining thereto.
    And also several closes of excellent land in the several townships of Huddersfield, Almondbury and Dalton containing altogether upwards of 40 acres, now occupied along with the hotel by Mr Wigney.
    The situation of the Hotel is one of the highest importance as it lies on the direct line of communication between Leeds, Bradford, Halifax, Wakefield and other towns with the line of railway from Manchester to London and to Liverpool and also with the North Midland Railway.
    The premises are very well adapted for carrying on a very large business, in all its branches.
    Mr Wigney, who is retiring from business, will show the premises, and furnish all necessary information; and for rent and other particulars, application may be made at the offices of

    Messrs Fenton & Jones,
    Solicitors, Huddersfield.

    Huddersfield June 1840.

    Greenhouse, at Fartown, which had been one of the principal farms on the Ramsden's Huddersfield estate, appears by that time to have become identified with the George, and it seems that successive landlords, from the time of James Murgatroyd, had been involved in agriculture to a greater or lesser degree. When the hotel was taken by a Company, formed for that purpose, in 1872, it was reported30 "The laundry and farm at Fartown, which once went with the George, if they do not appertain to it now, have also been secured; and these in themselves are desirable additions to a first class hotel".

    Despite the letting advertisement of 1840, William Wigney was succeeded by one of his sons, Thomas Jennings Wigney, in what might be seen as rather a strange move, for Thomas was a surgeon! He had been house surgeon at the Huddersfield and Upper Agbrigg Infirmary, and afterwards pursued a private practice in the town. One wonders whether the financial rewards were the reason for the decision, or if it was the call of the landlord's life, which would be known to both Thomas and his wife, who was the daughter of an innkeeper. Thomas was the landlord of the George at an important time in its history; it was he who accomplished the translation from the Market Place to St. George's Square, and the new premises should have been firmly established by the time he relinquished the tenancy in 1866.

    Correspondence preserved in the Ramsden archives reveals that the move to St. George's Square had been a difficult time for the George. In 1855 Thomas Wigney stated31 that if the business of the hotel continued as bad as it had been for some time past, he would have to give the whole thing up. As this was directed at the Ramsden's agent in a plea for a concession on the rent, allowance must be made for exaggeration, but it is significant that the latter believed that "the bar or town custom has never been anything like that of the old George."

    Whilst the removal of the premises into 'the country', as Thomas Wigney called it, probably hastened that decline, it was also a sign of the times, for the town was increasingly losing that section of society which would have enhanced the evening bar custom of the George. The prosperous tradesmen and professional classes were removing from the increasingly commercial town centre, where they had dwelt above or behind their business premises, to spacious villas being built along the roads radiating from the town.

    With the retirement of Thomas Wigney in 1866, a family connection through three generations, and seventy years, came to an end. When it is remembered that the Murgatroyds had been landlords for upwards of fifty years we may imagine that the tenancy of the house had been both satisfying and lucrative.

    When Thomas retired to Netherton, like his father and grandfather before him, he was followed in the tenancy by Richard Nutter. In March 1872 when negotiations were in hand for a group of successful Huddersfield businessmen to take a lease of the George, by a limited company, it was said that Nutter had mismanaged the house32, and that it was then very bad and discredited. Sir John Ramsden agreed to the proposals, and the George Hotel Company Ltd., became tenant of the establishment for the next twenty-four years. That period saw several alterations and improvements to the hotel and its ancillaries, including the provision of a laundry, with new kitchen above, to the rear of the building, which was designed by the celebrated Huddersfield born architect, William Henry Crossland, and completed in 1876. By 1893 the livery stables situated across John William Street, at the corner of Brook Street, were being inconveniently cramped by municipal improvements, and an arrangement was made with the corporation whereby new accommodation was provided near the top of Fountain Street.

    In 1896 when the hotel was again advertised to let33 the stabling comprised eighteen stalls,. four loose boxes and a cottage; the hotel itself comprised forty-five bedrooms, several private sitting-rooms, a restaurant and a billiard room. The tenancy passed to Messrs Johnson Brothers of Huddersfield who took it into the twentieth century, and held it throughout the Edwardian era.

    Events at the George.
    As well as being the principal hotel of the town, the George was a natural centre for public affairs and community life in general, particularly prior to the 1850s when it occupied one side of the town's natural, though not physical, centre the Market Place.

    From very early times the premises were utilised for auction sales, a practice which continues to this day. Turner's day-book34 records that in 1737 he "paid for a book at auction at our house (George)". Over the centuries many property sales have been conducted within its walls; the earliest I have noticed being on 24th November 1763, when the Toothill estate was sold at auction to Thomas Firth, the Huddersfield quaker, for 1,230. In May 1804 it was the venue for the sale of the Greenhead estate, but what must surely be the most important transaction completed at the hotel was the loan of 1,350,000 to Huddersfield Corporation in 1920 when they purchased the Ramsden's Huddersfield estate. It is said that when that loan was being finalised the lights failed, and Alderman Woolvern was able to declare that he had borrowed 1 million in the dark!

    The days of the turnpike road promotions brought additional trade to the George, and not only travellers. Blind Jack Metcalfe, noted for his road building abilities, was a customer of, and possibly a lodger at, the house in 1760 when he was building stretches of the Wakefield to Austerlands turnpike35, and the trustees of many of the turnpikes subsequently held their meetings there.

    The house was the venue for meetings of every description. The objectors to the tax upon horses (1786), the founders of the Huddersfield Corps of Fusilier Volunteers (1794), the Commissioners for the Sale of Land Tax (1800), and the Lighting, Watching & Cleansing Commissioners of the town (from 1820), were among the multitude who met there. The Courts for the Liberty of the Honour of Pontefract were held there, and as the Ramsden's principal building in the town it was the scene of the half-yearly rent audits and, on occasions, of the tenant's dinner which the estate provided.

    Standing in the Market Place the George was a natural focus of activity at election times, and often suffered as a consequence. From an advertisement in the Leeds Mercury of 21st May 1808 headed "Serious Riot, Pardon Asked." we learn that on Tuesday 2nd of June, 1807, the weekly market-day, during the County elections, a great number of persons assembled in the town and committed several riotous acts, including inflicting a great deal of damage upon the windows of the George Inn. At the first Huddersfield election in 1832 there was a repetition of such behaviour. A contemporary account36 tells of two days of outrage and indecency when every window in Spring Grove house, the residence of Captain Fenton the successful candidate, was broken, and those of the George Inn, the Court House and the Post Office were also destroyed.

    It was reported when the George was leased to the limited company in 1872 that the only stipulation which Sir John Ramsden made was that he or any member of his family were to have the first option of hiring the hotel for use during parliamentary elections. Judging by past events that was a doubtful privilege! Richard Oastler wrote37 "when I opposed the son of Sir John Ramsden … he was forced to run away out of the back door of his father's inn." In June 1832 when Mr Ramsden had intended to speak from a window of the George he had been shouted down by the operatives.

    So far as we know the George has only once come under fire, in 1820, when shots were fired through the windows. There had been much distress amongst the working classes in that year, and it was mooted that there would be an attack upon the town on 31st March. The night passed without any violent incident, but the Magistrates called a meeting at the George the following day when a resolution was passed calling for the provisions of the Watch and Ward Act to be implemented. The local Yeomanry Corps were quartered in and about the Market Place during this period of unrest, and apparently the pressures became too much for one of their number who fired two shots from his quarters into the windows of the George, opposite38.

    As might be expected the Hotel had strong connections with the textile trade. In common with other leading inns in the town in the eighteenth century premises had been provided for letting to wool and cloth merchants. These merchant's or market shops as they were sometimes called were situated in a yard behind the inn, along with the stabling and chaise house. In 1800 the George was utilised for a meeting of the merchants and manufacturers of the town, and in the early 1830s was the scene of a demonstration of the Jacquard machine which was thereafter to figure large in the textile manufacture of the district.

    Whilst the house looked mainly to trade for its custom it also catered for the leisure interests of the inhabitants of the town. In the 1790s the Huddersfield Subscription Concerts were held in the great room of the George. Perhaps the highlight of its sporting links came a century later when in 1895 it hosted the historic meeting which led to the formation of the Northern Rugby Football Union.

    SOURCES.  
    1 Huddersfield Examiner 1.11.1851.
    2 West Yorkshire Archives, Kirklees DD/RR/1716.
    3 West Riding Registry of Deeds, Wakefield, N 35 46.
    4 Huddersfield Chronicle 20.12.1856.
    5 Larwood J & Hotten J C, The History of Signboards.
    6 West Yorkshire Archives, Kirklees, B/HCC/7.
    7 Yorkshire Archaeological Society, Leeds, MS 757.
    8 Sheffield City Archives A65.
    9 West Yorkshire Archives, Kirklees, DD/RE/c/88.
    10 Huddersfield Chronicle 20.12.1856.
    11 Huddersfield Central Libraries, Local Studies Department, cuttings.
    12 Leeds Mercury 5.6.1787.
    13 West Yorkshire Archives, Kirklees, DD/RE/c/16.
    14 West Yorkshire Archives, Kirklees, DD/RA/c/36.
    15 West Yorkshire Archives, Kirklees, DD/RE/c/103.
    16 West Yorkshire Archives, Kirklees, DO/RE/c/various. Information on the building of the third George has been drawn from this collection of Ramsden Estate correspondence
    17 West Yorkshire Archives, Kirklees, DD/RA/c/28-7.
    18 West Yorkshire Archives, Kirklees, DD/RE/S/1716.
    19 West Yorkshire Archives, Kirklees, DD/R/M/6.
    20 West Yorkshire Archives, Kirklees, DD/RR/1768/9.
    21 John Venn, Annals of a Clerical Family.
    22 West Yorkshire Archives, Wakefield.
    23 West Yorkshire Archives, Wakefield, QE 32/7.
    24 Borthwick Institute, York, October 1793.
    25 West Yorkshire Archives, Wakefield, QE 13/2/15.
    26 Leeds Mercury 2.12.1797.
    27 West Yorkshire Archives, Kirklees, DD/RR/1798/9.
    28 Pigotts Commercial Directory 1816/7.
    29 Leeds Mercury 20.6.1840.
    30 Huddersfield Weekly News 20.4.1872.
    31 West Yorkshire Archives, Kirklees, DD/RA/c/28-6.
    32 West Yorkshire Archives, Kirklees, DD/RA/c/34-4.
    33 West Yorkshire Archives, Kirklees, DD/RE/115-2.
    34 Yorkshire Archaeological Society, Leeds, MS 757.
    35 Ibid.
    36 Leeds Mercury 15.12.1832.
    37 R Oastler, Fleet Papers 13.2.1841.
    38 Leeds Mercury 22.4.1820.

    1988 Edward J Law.

    For a miscellaneous list of references to the George Hotel see my research page The George Hotel.

     

    APPENDIX.

    Research pursued after publishing the foregoing threw up another possible candidate for the landlord of the Inn who is commemorated on the 1687 date stone of what is believed to have been the earliest known George. The initials R & AB are now thought to be for Richard and Ann Browne. There is no direct evidence to support this, but some circumstantial detail.

    Richard Browne married Ann Breare at Kirkburton on 21 June 1679 when both were "of the Parish of Huddersfield". Richard's background is not known at the present time, but he was probably from a family of some standing, being described as a gentleman in 1688, at a time when that designation was still meaningful. Locally there was a Bradley yeoman, John Browne, who died in 1679, the name of whose son, Lyon, may indicate a connection with the Pilkingtons, some of whom carried that name. He may have been the John Browne of Leeds who married Elizabeth the daughter of Arthur Langley of Rawthorpe Hall. There was another John Browne, of Shepley mill, in the 1690s.

    It would appear that Richard Browne lived in Huddersfield until his death in 1694: he has been noted in the town in 1680, 1685 and 1688. He did not leave a will, but fortunately a detailed inventory of his assets and liabilities was drawn up and presented when administration of his estate was granted to his widow on 14 August 1694. Items in the inventory indicate that he was a substantial farmer; his crops growing or stored were valued at 44. He rented two farms from Sir William Ramsden and further land from other Huddersfield freeholders, the combined annual rents being over 52 p.a. Among his debts at the time of death were 120 owing to Walter Bradley for "mault": this was a huge sum, and it may be that he was in partnership with Bradley as malt merchants. There was a debt of 11 owed to Japhet Heald and 5.16.3 due to John Heywood of Manchester for hops and brandy, this latter an indication that he was purchasing for more than his own consumption. He had a stock of ale in the cellar of 1.10.0, when one might have expected more. Perhaps the most significant item was the 247 lbs of pewter, probably plates and tankards; which would surely be more than family requirements.

    2004 Edward J Law.

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