Down to a hundred years ago Normanton was a purely agricultural village, and was undoubtedly a pleasant place to live in. There was none of the industrial works which now surround it (but are not in it) and which send forth their smoke and poisonous fumes to be carried into the town by almost every wind that blows.
The houses were mostly scattered about the church, and some of them being built of wood and plaster, and surrounded with orchards and gardens, must have given a picturesque appearance to the village.
Some of these buildings, or parts of them still remain, and give some indication of their past importance. One of the most noteworthy of these formerly occupied by the Leakes and Levitts. The two families became connected by marriage and have lived on the same spot for the last five hundred years. The house was originally a very large one, and its occupants must have been of some importance in this neighbourhood. The Leakes family occupied it down to about sixty years ago, when they removed into a new one close by. Part of the old building still stands, and Mr. Robert Leake, the present owner, is preserving it with much care.
It comprises three or four rooms which gives you some idea of the substantial character of the building. In one of the rooms (the kitchen) may be seen the remains of a large fire place twelve feet wide. on one side of the grate was a large brick oven, and on the other side a kind of partition for smoking bacon. In another room may be seen remnants of fine old oak paneling, with which the inside of the walls of all the rooms were panneled. Built into the outside of the south wall is a square stone, bearing the Leake's coat-of-arms - three round buckles enclosed in circle - both the stone and the carving are in an excellent state of preservation. On the south side of the house too, is the draw well, fifteen yards deep. Mr. Leake informs me that when the New Sharlston Colliery was being sunk, the well went dry, but after the sinking operations were completed, the water returned. This seems somewhat strange as the colliery is something like two miles distant, but he thinks the return of the water was caused by the ''tubbing'' of the pit shaft.
On my visit to the old building, Mr. Leake kindly conducted me through his own house, and allowed me to examine a small beautiful cabinet made from the oak paneling taken from the walls of the old house. The doors of this cabinet show exquisite workmanship, executed by one of his workmen, Mr. H. Bailey, on one door, is carved the Leake's coat-of-arms, and on the other the arms of the Levetts - three lions' heads separated by a fasse. He also showed me a fine portrait of Sir Francis Leake, who lived in the time of King Charles the First, and was a staunch supporter of that unfortunate monarch. Over the front door of his house, also may be seen the Leake's Coat-of-Arms wrought in Coloured glass, a beautiful piece of work, also executed by one of his workmen Mr. W. Jones.
The Leake family have carried on the business of builders and contractors for the past 150 years, and have done work in many parts of Yorkshire. Some of the buildings that stand to their credit in Normanton are the L and Y (now L.M.S.) Railway Engine Sheds; St.John's Roman Catholic Church and schools; the Church of St. James at Hopetown, the Library, and the recently erected swimming baths. Mr. W.S. Banks, writing of Normanton in 1868 says:-
"In the centre of the village, near the church, it yet preserves some memorials of its past condition. It has several old wooden framed houses, one of these, that nearest the church, with ornamental plaster work over an entrance, was the house of the Favells and a place of some pretention in the days of its
That house has now entirely disappeared and the new church schools occupy the site on which it stood. There is however, another house which I am informed was occupied by the Favells, and is still called the old Manor House. It stands on the east side of the street a short distance north of the church. It is a stone building, part of which is still occupied, but the other part is in an advanced stage of decay. In one of the upper rooms the ceiling shows remains of ornamentation, giving some indication of its past importance. It would seem to be about 300 years old, as one of the walls bears the date 1629. The Favells were an important family and were resident here many years as their memorials in the church (already mentioned) amply show.
Another historical house here is the house of the Hansons, situated near the south-east corner of the church-yard. Mr. Banks (already quoted above) at first does not mention this house, but later he adds a note in which he says:-
"As to the house of the Hansons, successors to the Levetts, I am informed by Mr.William Cockhill, and Mr. Martin Horsfall, a tenant to Lady Cullom (Mr. Horsfall was then tenant) that the farmhouse where Mr. Horsfall lives is understood to have been once Sir Levett Hanson's place of residence, and to have been enlarged in his time by the addition of the westerly and now most considerably part. On the northerly plastered side of the old portion of the house, which stands at right angles to the rest of the structure, are painted the words and figures ''Age 16 X 31." I find nothing else inscribed there, nor anywhere see name or initials or date, indicating by whom or when the above inscription was placed on the wall. It is half way between the eaves and the second stored floor. In the more modern rooms is wainscotting, not very good. In one chamber is old tapestry; and in a front room are a large portrait, believed to be of Sir Levett Hanson, a pleasant looking, perhaps somewhat inactive man, and a portrait of a Lady of an earlier generation - name to Mr. Horsfall unknown. In the best room is the bust portrait of a gentleman (probably a Levett), not young, with rather large features and represented as wearing a gown, the painting being probably of the same date as the Lady's portrait."
In another note he says:-
"The Hansons succeeded the Levetts and the last male heir, Sir Levett Hanson, a Knight of St. Joachim in Sweden, died at Copenhagen 22nd April, 1814, aged 58. Mary, his sister and heiress, married Sir Thomas Cullom of Hampstead and Hardwick House in Suffolk. Their son, the Rev. Sir Thomas Grey Callom died in 1855 leaving an only daughter and heiress Arethusa Susannah, married to the Right Honourable Thomas Milner Gibson, of Theberton Hall in Suffolk,''
After the Calloms the Hanson Estate went to the Crown and in 1925 the Normanton Urban Council purchased part for building land, and have erected a large number of houses upon it that are a credit to the town. Hanson House forms part of the Estate acquired by the Council, from whom the house, with a small portion of land, was purchased later by Mr. George Hepworth who now occupies it. I am indebted to Mr. Hepworth for allowing me to visit the house and kindly showing me over the whole of the building. I regret to say the tapestry and the portraits mentioned by Mr. Banks were taken away before Mr. Hepworth acquired the property.
The date which he refers to on the northerly side of the house has also disappeared. The wainscotting or oak panelling he mentions as "not good'' is still there and seems to be in fairly good state of preservation. Mr. Hepworth and his family appear to be anxious to preserve all that is worth preserving about the house.
Opposite the Church gates, a little to the right, stands the old Grammar School, now converted into cottages. It is a plain substantial stone building and was founded by John Freston of Altofts, (as already stated). By his will he directed this school to be kept free grammar school forever and to be free to all such scholars of his surname, alliance, or kindred as should resort thither, and to thirty poor scholars whose parents should dwell in the parishes of Normanton and Warmfield, or either of them, with provision for admission of scholars from adjoining towns if the above thirty were not forthcoming; and he gave £10 a year to the Master, out of his lands, "the Trinities in Pontefract." In his will, dated November 26th, 1594, he directs his executors to buy ground for, and erect this school. The school was closed about 1887 and the Freston Charity was merged in the new Grammar School. The last master of the old school was Mr.Joseph Abbott, who died December 14th 1888 aged 73 years.
Near the old Grammar school, immediately in front of the Church gates, stands an old stone cottage which we may justly 'designate the house of the Freeman family. It is a long one storied stone building with thick walls and considering that it is about 200 years old, it is in good condition. The Freeman family have occupied it for seven generations. Mrs.Freeman, who is a widow eighty-five years of age, is the present occupier and owner. At the other end of the town on Dodsworth Hill on the east side of Wakefield Road, stand two old farmhouses which cannot be omitted when dealing with the old houses of Normanton.
The first one up to recent years bore the date 1537 over the door, but the figures are now entirely obliterated. The structure is of stone and shows signs of old age. It is now owned and occupied by Mr. Edwin Healey an old resident in Normanton.
A little higher up the road on the same side stands "Hill House Farm" another sixteenth century building in a good state of preservation. The rooms of this house are large and the ceilings, which show fine old oak beams, are not as low as the ceilings in some of the old houses I have visited. There is also in one of the rooms a large oak beamed fireplace, eight or nine feet wide. In the cellar there is the usual draw well which supplied the house with water. There was until a few years ago, on one of the out buildings, the date showing in what year the house was built but it has now disappeared.
A quarter of a mile further along the Wakefield 'Road on the western side of Quarry Hill, stands a fine old farmhouse known as ''Woodhouse Grange". It occupies a very pleasant and breezy site and stands alone, two or three hundred yards away from the road. It is a long stone building and although there is no date on it we may rest assured it was built not later than the middle of the 16th century. On the ridge of the roof may still be seen what is called "The Monk's Cross,'' which is a small and rather delicate structure wrought in metal. on closer examination I found it to be the cross of the Knights Hospitallers of St. John, who had a house at Newland and we may infer from this cross that there was once some connection between the house at Newland and Woodhouse Grange. In the garden is a moderately large tombstone over the grave of a favourite dog. The stone is in an excellent state of preservation and bears the following inscription carved in deep bold letters "Here lies poor Trim, 12th day of November, 1829.
Inside the house the rooms are large and moderately lofty; the windows have stone mullions and are protected by iron bars both inside and outside, and some of the doors are secured inside by strong iron bars. The house has two kitchens and the upper rooms are reached by two staircases one of which is a spiral staircase.
In one of the kitchens is a pump on which is fixed an iron tablet which bears the date 1801 and the letters E.S. There are also four wells about the house which seems to imply that large quantities of water were required for the inmates of the house and the cattle on the farm, and we may reasonably assume that Woodhouse Grange was once a house of some importance. The house with its outbuildings stands in three parishes, and Mr. Borrell the present tenant pays rates to Normanton, Warmfield and Newland.
There is an old stone cottage at the east end of Princess Street, a little off the west side of Snydale Road, which stands at a different angle to all the other property surrounding it. The stone lintel over the door bears the date 1676 and the letters T.B. It appears to have been at one time a large cottage, but although I have made many enquiries I have not been able to obtain any knowledge as to the meaning of the two letters.