Whit­wood and C.F.A Voy­sey A West York­shire vil­lage with an in­ter­est­ing story to tell

Roy Hamp­son is in this West York­shire vil­lage which has an un­likely and fas­ci­nat­ing his­tory to tell.

This England - - Contents - Roy Hamp­son

WHIT­WOOD vil­lage in West York­shire stands be­side a busy road close to Junc­tion 31 on the M62, and is ex­actly the sort of place that ev­ery­one drives through with­out giv­ing it a sec­ond glance. There are no thatched cot­tages to be found here, or even well-fed ducks doz­ing around the vil­lage pond.

How­ever, most will miss a truly fas­ci­nat­ing his­tory as they mo­tor past, and any­one tak­ing the time to stop and ex­plore the area prop­erly will cer­tainly be in for a few sur­prises. It even has a place called Dig­ger­land where young and old alike can have fun at driv­ing a JCB.

The im­por­tance of the vil­lage, though, is that it’s home to the largest col­lec­tion of build­ings in the UK by the renowned early 20th-cen­tury Arts and Crafts de­signer, Charles Francis An­nes­ley Voy­sey.

He was born in 1857 at Hessle, near Hull, and grew up to be a pro­lific de­signer of his day. But he was a stub­born York­shire­man who would turn down com­mis­sions if he couldn’t have things his own way.

Voy­sey in­sisted that any­thing that went in­side his homes was de­signed by him­self to his own ex­act stan­dards – ta­bles, chairs, mir­rors. fire­places, fab­rics, car­pets and clocks. It ex­tended even to a key-ring holder shaped in the let­ter V which was pre­sented to each new ten­ant on com­ple­tion of the build­ings in 1908.

Voy­sey also de­signed his own cloth­ing, ban­ish­ing lapels and trouser turn-ups which he con­sid­ered to be dust traps.

Re­tired school­teacher and lo­cal his­to­rian Shirley Schofield lives in one of the 19 cot­tages built by Voy­sey in 1905. They are a strik­ing row of ter­raced houses with large pointed red tile roofs act­ing as a cen­tre­piece for the whole vil­lage.

To­gether with the ad­join­ing Ris­ing Sun inn and its dis­tinc­tive white tower, they are re­minders of a time when thou­sands of col­liers and their man­agers once lived, worked and spent their recre­ational time

> in Whit­wood dur­ing the early part of the last cen­tury.

Shirley, to­gether with hus­band Vic, moved into the cot­tage in 1985 and ad­mits that she knew noth­ing about the ar­chi­tec­ture or de­sign of these houses un­til she turned “house de­tec­tive”, un­earthing the fas­ci­nat­ing past of her own home and its sur­round­ing vil­lage.

The book she ended up writ­ing about the his­tory of Whit­wood has more than made up for her ini­tial lack of knowl­edge, though.

Shirley can reel off dates and in­for­ma­tion about Voy­sey’s life and went on to write a sec­ond book about Whit­wood’s unique houses and the Min­ers’ Wel­fare In­sti­tute which Voy­sey de­signed at the end of the ter­race.

Shirley and Vic have dec­o­rated in much the way that Voy­sey would have wanted. The walls are white to draw at­ten­tion to the fur­ni­ture and there are no clash­ing pat­terns. You could have pat­tern in your cur­tains or car­pets but not both, ac­cord­ing to Voy­sey.

The pine doors are painted white and the ar­chi­tect’s trade­mark ven­ti­la­tion grille, show­ing four birds and seven trees, is on dis­play on the chim­ney breast. The houses were built and dec­o­rated to Voy­sey’s ex­act­ing stan­dards and many of the orig­i­nal fea­tures re­main.

Each had and still has a neat black gate and straight paved path through the uni­formly de­signed gar­dens, which had a privet hedge, lau­rel bushes, and po­plar trees.

The huge over­hang­ing pitched-roof tiles are be­gin­ning to show signs of their orig­i­nal colour as the weather grad­u­ally re­moves decades of coal dust. Even when they were at home the orig­i­nal oc­cu­pants couldn’t for­get work: each house was fit­ted with a di­rect tele­phone line to the col­liery.

Voy­sey of­ten fit­ted fire­places in the cor­ners of rooms be­cause he said peo­ple didn’t sit in the cor­ners.

The win­dow in the fourth bed­room is, un­usu­ally, at floor level so you have to get down on your hands and knees to peer through to the out­side. He did this so the houses would look ar­row straight from the rear.

Voy­sey in­sisted on the use of oak through­out in build­ings, which was not al­ways af­ford­able by the builders, so he re­fused to en­ter prop­er­ties where pine acted as a sub­sti­tute.

The cot­tages and for­mer Min­ers’ Wel­fare In­sti­tute are an un­usual style of struc­ture for the area and in­deed the only ex­am­ples of Voy­sey ar­chi­tec­ture in York­shire it­self. The near­est is Broadleys at Win­der­mere.

Young chil­dren con­sider the houses to have quite a scary ap­pear­ance and the win­dows, front doors and dis­tinc­tive high pointed roofs do bear a strik­ing re­sem­blance to a witch’s face and hat.

Once, the vil­lage played host to the largest coal mine in Europe, owned by the Briggs Com­pany, and the vil­lage grew as thou­sands of men found em­ploy­ment at the pit.

The build­ings were orig­i­nally com­mis­sioned in 1905 by lo­cal pit owner Arthur Cur­rer Briggs, who had vi­sions of Whit­wood be­ing mod­elled on Sal­taire near Brad­ford.

This was a place pro­vid­ing not only dwellings for the work­ers he em­ployed but also leisure ameni­ties such as a park with band­stand, bowl­ing green and tennis courts for all the vil­lagers to use. These plans were scup­pered ow­ing to the out­break of World War I.

The Min­ers’ Wel­fare In­sti­tute build­ing (or “Stute” as it was nick­named by the min­ers) was a place where Briggs work­ers could meet and play bil­liards, read and smoke. This was in the hope of dis­tract­ing his work­force from lo­cal ale houses.

It opened in 1908 with 500 mem­bers, who for one penny a week could en­joy the fa­cil­i­ties.

The in­sti­tute, with its dis­tinc­tive square tower, is now the Ris­ing Sun inn. Al­though the name may have changed, many of the fea­tures are still the same.

There are beau­ti­ful ex­am­ples of Voy­sey stained-glass win­dows in the bar, quite near to the orig­i­nal Voy­sey fire­place and trade­mark ven­ti­la­tion grills. Two of the up­per floors in­side the white tower have mag­nif­i­cent oak-beamed fire­places.

The me­mo­rial hall be­hind the pub ap­pears to be a Voy­sey de­sign, but ex­perts ar­gue as to whether or not it’s a Voy­sey orig­i­nal. It was built as an ex­ten­sion to the Min­ers’ Wel­fare.

Briggs never saw the project com­pleted and died at the early age of fifty. Above the door is a plaque which reads: In mem­ory of Arthur Cur­rer Briggs, born 1855, died 1906.

The hall be­came the cen­tre for all ac­tiv­i­ties in the vil­lage, from wed­ding re­cep­tions to in­quests af­ter min­ing ac­ci­dents and even a dole of­fice.

Dur­ing the 1930s it be­came the scene of great ex­cite­ment and drama. A lo­cal called Billy Der­byshire ac­cused the dole of­fi­cer of dock­ing some money, so he went back home to col­lect his gun and shot the dole man in the leg while he waited in the nearby tram shed.

Not far away are the re­mains of a ceme­tery with only a hand­ful of grave­stones. Here you will find the last rest­ing place of Mary Al­nie Kay who, in Fe­bru­ary 1926 at the age of twenty, was killed by a roof fall at Whit­wood col­liery.

Her fa­ther, Red­fern Kay, had ar­ranged for a group of Leeds Univer­sity stu­dents to go down the Bee­ston Shaft. A huge rock­fall killed Mary in­stantly.

Hid­den away past the golf course is an­other of Whit­wood’s de­lights, the Aire and Calder canal, a peace­ful spot where barges are moored and king­fish­ers swoop.

Shirley of­ten pon­ders on the man who avoided turn-ups be­cause they gath­ered dust.

“He cer­tainly wouldn’t have ap­proved of Dig­ger­land, nor those who spend their spare time driv­ing build­ing-site dig­gers for fun,” Shirley says.

Aire Calder canal at Whit­wood.

Squir­rel and Dove wall­pa­per de­sign for San­der­son.

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