Kirkheaton, in the upper division of Agbrigg Wapentake, West Riding of Yorkshire, has been known as Yetton, Heton and Heptone over the years. Its modern name was not adopted until the building of St John’s church (below) in the valley below the hamlet of Upper Heaton. The parish also contained the townships of Dalton, Lepton and Upper Whitley. Kirkheaton became a parish in its own right (it was once part of Dewsbury) around 1200.
It was some time in the ninth century that people first began settling in the area and the place was mentioned in the Domesday book. The Beamonts of Whitley became Lords of the Manor. Across from the church stands the Beaumont Arms on the site of the old Manor Court.
Kirkheaton was mainly concerned with coalmining and the production of woollen cloths. At first, weaving would be carried out in domestic buildings. By the 18th century many cottages had at least one handloom on the premises with a high percentage of villagers engaged in the weaving of fancy silk, cotton and woollen cloth, woollen cords, cassinets and waistcoatings. The 1841 census shows that out of population of 500, 131 were fancy handloom weavers. These were eventually replaced by the power looms and mills that had sprung up in the valley bottom.
Atkinson’s Mill Fire
On the 14th February 1818 a boy accidentally ignited some cotton with a candle, resulting in a fierce fire at Atkinson’s Mill, Colne Bridge. The mill doors had been locked; apparently the overseer had gone home to bed, locking the children inside to get on with their work. Seventeen children (the youngest aged 9) died, trapped inside the mill. They were buried at St John’s Church.
Notes by the author: Abigail Bottom was my second cousin, six times removed and her parents went on to have another girl, Abi Marie, re-using her name as was customary. Abigail’s parents had thirteen children in total. Had she lived, Sarah Sheard would have been my 4th Great-aunt. She was the third of nine children born to Richard and Sarah Sheard of Kirkheaton. Although the loss of a child was not uncommon in those days, a loss in such terrible circumstances is particularly tragic.
In the churchyard, many of the old gravestones are almost buried under turf and the inscriptions are worn away by the feet of many centuries. Some form the pathways around the church.
The Beaumont family lived in the area for over four hundred years and contributed to the growth of the parish and the welfare of the parishioners. Richard Beaumont, together with one Reverend Stock built Kirkheaton Grammar School in 1610 to educate Kirkheaton’s boys. Black Dick, Sir Richard Beaumont, was born in 1574. He was Knighted in 1609 by King James I who gave him the name “Black Dick of the North”. He was MP for Pontefract in 1625 and was created a baronet on 16th August 1628. He died in 1631 and lies in the Beaumont Chapel of Kirkheaton Church.
Yetton Rant, a local fair which has been held for more than 100 years, takes place every Spring Bank Holiday in the fields next to the Beaumont Arms, which is still known locally by its old name ‘Kirk Stile.
Ancestors – Bottom, Sheard, Laycock, Cliffe, Crossland, Fisher, Lockwood, Rhodes
My earlist known ancestor in the village is Henry Bottom, born 1660. I do not know what was his trade – four generations down the line, his descendent Sarah married Richard Fisher, a coal miner, in 1813. Sarah’s granddaughter Emma also married a coalminer, George Sheard. There was a strong family tradition in the area, particularly amongst coalmining families, to choose marriage partners from the same community. It is likely that earlier ancestors worked on the land, but the majority of 19th century Kirkheaton families in my tree worked in the mines and in textiles.