Speaker Ken Senior - Otley from 1300 to the early 1700s

Wed, Aug 30th 2023 at 12:00 pm - 2:00 pm

Speaker Finder Ken Senior, Visitors Host, Grace & Banners David Burrows , Cash Desk & Sergeant at Arms Roy Tate

As he mentioned in his last talk in the 1300s Otley boundary was from All Saints Church to the bridge over the river Wharfe and up to where Cross Green now meets Boroughgate and then up to Bondgate a roughly triangular shape.

The town consisted mainly of wooden buildings and water was collected in buckets from streams. The population amounted to just a couple of hundred.

In 1327 a Leper Colony was established outside the borough about where Otley rugby club is now. This was a sign of Otley’s growing wealth and importance. When released Lepers had to wear a bell to warn people they were nearby.

In the 13th century there was more contact with clergy in York. This was because wool was becoming more important as it was particularly expensive. A stone of wool was worth about the same price for a cow – today it would be about 750 stone to equal the value of a cow. Bolton Priory owned all the land around and therefore all sheep in the district. Skilled men were paid 2d a day for shearing whilst unskilled men were paid a ha’penny. During this period the archbishops started to create burgages (freehold plots) of about a quarter an acre to attract people to the area. These formed the area along Bondgate which takes its name from the bonds that were attached to the plots. The burgesses (owners of the plots) would undertake weaving and dyeing of cloth. Tenterhooks were used to dry the cloth after washing and or dyeing to stop the cloth shrinking as it dried. The river Wharfe was thought to be the best in Yorkshire for washing wool because it was soft and pure water.

In 1314 the Battle of Bannockburn caused Scots to be excommunicated. This caused them to attack Northern England and they came down and ravaged Otley and burnt the church. 1345 saw the start of the black death, Otley seems to have escaped this, but agriculture was badly affected. 

In the 1600s a Poll tax was imposed which caused a lot of unrest as all people had tithes to pay and struggled find the money. In the 1600s most people couldn't read or write and there was no schooling. Since Otley had one of the few bridges over the river Wharfe there was a lot of passing trade.

During this period the archbishop came to stay at the archbishop’s palace in the town and it is recorded that his party consumed 4 tuns of ale (about 850 gallon). Most houses still made of wood but there were some of stone. By 1660 the archbishop’s palace was in ruins. 

The Feudal system started to break down and there were more free men in the country which leads to War of Roses. The nearest battles to Otley were the Battle of Wakefield and the Battle of Towton near Tadcaster. As part of the civil war a census of men fit to be enlisted in the army was taken and 27 men in the town were deemed fit for war.

During the reformation despite being a Catholic stronghold Otley church left alone unlike Bolton Priory which was destroyed.

Until 1600 there were only fee paying schools. In 1604 Thomas Cave left money in his will for a non religious school in the Parish of Otley on the condition that an equal amount of money was raised by the local community within four year leading to the establishment of Prince Henry's.

Around this time potatoes were brought to the UK and the working man’s diet improved But this was also a time of unrest between the King and Parliament leading to the civil war. It is said that Prince Rupert stayed in Otley prior to battle of Marston Moor. In 1660 the Monarchy was restored on the 29th May This is now known as oak apple day which was originally a bank holiday. Children were known to sing “if you don't give us a holiday we'll run away”.

A lot of stage coaching routes passed through Otley. It was a changing point (a stage) of the coaches leading to a lot of prosperity. However, in the 1660s the price of wool collapsed. In order to try to shore up the wool price a law was passed that all deceased had to be buried in English wool.

In the 1670s flooding caused Otley Bridge to be severely damaged and a new bridge had to be built.

In 1662 a hearth tax was introduced where households had to pay 2 shillings p.a. for hearth. This was replaced in 1696 with a window tax which caused a lot of windows to be blocked up. The tax was 6d per window up to 14 windows or 9d per window for dwellings with 15 to 20 windows and 15d for bigger houses.

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