GOING, going gone…

Daleman Magazine Heading

Going, Going Gone! article reproduced with
the consent of the Dalesman Editor, Mick Smith.

Local historian Ian Leadley chats with us about
the sale of the town of Wetherby 200 years ago

Today it is one of Yorkshire’s most
desirable towns, a place where homes
exchange hands for small fortunes
and artisanal shops, bespoke businesses,
thriving firms and ancient inns line its
cobbled streets which gently tumble down
to the banks of the Wharfe.

Strategically important, for centuries
it was a staging post on the Great North
Road, being almost equidistant between
London and Edinburgh.

And its rich heritage sees it mentioned
in the Domesday Book, while two centuries
later Henry III granted a Royal Charter to
the Knights Templar to hold a market there.

Now it’s home to dozens of Listed buildings,
including Wetherby Bridge which carries the
A168 road across the Wharfe.

It’s a much sought after location, full of
desirable properties, and boasts a rich history
— but exactly 200 years ago, the owner could
not wait to get rid of wonderful Wetherby.

In 1824, the entire town was put under the
hammer by the seemingly cash-strapped
Duke of Devonshire who was apparently in
need of some urgent funds.

Houses, businesses, pubs and land were
all to be sold during a four-day auction to
raise money.  Why?  Well, it’s thought either
to settle debts or to fund building work at
one of the family’s ancestral homes, possibly
Chatsworth House.

Whatever the reason, the Duke (about
whom more later) was putting the entire
town up for sale, and the front cover of the
auction catalogue stated: “Whole Town of
Wetherby, Manor and Estate of 1300 acres.

Specifications of a capital and extensive Free-
hold Estate, consisting of the whole town of
Wetherby, in the county of York, Situate on
the high Turnpike Road by Ferry Bridge to
Glasgow, distant from Leeds 12 miles, York
14, and Ferry Bridge 16 miles.”

Such was the expected interest in the sale
that details of it were available to be viewed
at the Angel and Swan Inns, Wetherby, York
Tavern and the George, York, the Hotel and
King’s Arms, Leeds, the Granby, Harrogate,
the Angel, Ferry Bridge… Londesborough,
near Market Weighton, at the Auction Mart,
London, and of Messrs Driver, Surveyors
and Land Agents, 18 New Bridge Street,
Blackfriars, London.

The catalogue went on to explain that the
sale included: “Two Posting Houses, ‘Three
Inns, Seven Public Houses, extensive water
corn mills, brewery, warehouses and nearly
two hundred dwelling houses, with several
eligible scites (sic) for building on the banks of
the very beautiful River Wharfe which bounds
the Estate for about one mile and a half?”

And that was not all, addressing the issue
of courts and tax-raising opportunities, the
catalogue added: “The Valuable Manor of
Wetherby, coextensive with the Township,
with Courts Baron and Leet, Quit Rents,
Tolls of Fairs, the Stallage and Piccage
of the Markets, Rents and Profits of the
Shambles, and all other Rights, Members
and Appurtenances thereto belonging.”

It went on:

“Upwards of 1300 acres, All the Desirable
Farms and Lands, Most advantageously
situate, contiguous to and entirely
surrounding the Town: The whole of which
desirable property is in the occupation of
yearly tenants and is of the estimated value
of nearly Five Thousand Pounds per Annum.”

And the auctioneer was determined
that no one should be left in any doubt
about the benefits of buying property or
land in Wetherby.

“The magnificence of the Town is much
consulted by its Approaches and Thorough-
fares being commodious and spacious, whilst
at the same time its Prosperity is likewise
equally to be benefited… the approach into
the Town from Ferry Bridge will be very
considerably improved by the proposed
alteration of the Bridge over the Wharfe,
which has been ordered to be widened by
the County.”

His notes in the catalogue went on to state
that many Lots were “in the occupation of
Yearly Tenants… Notices have been delivered
upon them to quit at Lady-Day {giving them
until March 25 to move out of their premises}
next: and as is expected the Purchases will be
then completed and possession given.”

No one really knows why the Duke decided
to sell; says local historian and former British
Library manager Ian Leadley.

“But on October 11, 1824, he sold the Manor,
rents and town of Wetherby by auction over
four days. It was estimated that approximately
£100,000 would be realised. In fact, a total of
£168,000 was raised, the equivalent of well
over £20 million today.

“The sale of some 170 Lots was held in
the then Town Hall and was taken by a
London auctioneer brought in by the Duke
specially for the sale. Some Lots had been
occupied by the same local families for
generations, including inns, public houses,
tenements, houses, shops, cow houses and
everything else you could expect in a busy,
agriculture-based small market town of
the time.

“However, the auction was the ruination
of many people who ended up paying over
the odds for the property which they had
perhaps been occupying for years.

“Nevertheless, some of the descendants of
people and families who bought lots are still
found in Wetherby today,” says Ian.

“The catalogue provides a fascinating
insight into the auction, and the copy I have
is annotated in ink where someone has sat
there writing down who bought each lot and
how much they paid for it.”

“I think it’s a real social document of the
time,’ adds Ian, who is now part of a volun-
tary community consortium, including
civic societies, historic trusts and the town
council, which is hoping to commemorate
this year’s bicentenary of the sale by having
a plaque placed in the town.

“We have been in touch with the current
Duke who is keen to attend such an event,
depending on his diary commitments,”
says Ian.

“We’re also exploring the possibility of find-
ing some premises in the town centre that we
could temporarily take over and use in order
to put on an exhibition about the sale.

“We’re determined that the anniversary of
what was a momentous event is marked, and
we’d love to mark it properly.

“The town council, local groups, schools
and businesses are in support of what we’re
calling Wetherby 200. The town has a fasci-
nating history, and we want to make this
200th anniversary a vital part of it.

“Of course, if anyone is interested in help-
ing us, adds Ian, “they are very welcome to
get in touch.”


William George Spencer Cavendish
who sold Wetherby, was the sixth
Duke of Devonshire and was born in
Paris, but attended Harrow and Trinity
College, Cambridge.

His parents died while he was quite
young, and he ascended to the Duke-
dom when he was only twenty-one.

He followed in the family footsteps
of being a Whig who, among other
things, supported reduced factory
working hours, Catholic emancipa-
tion and the abolition of slavery, and
was a keen horticulturalist who helped
found the Royal Botanic Gardens at
Kew and greatly extended the gardens
at Chatsworth.

Such was his interest in gardening that
the world’s most popular banana, the
Cavendish, was named in his honour!


The auction began at 11.00am on Monday,
October 11, 1824 and lasted for four days,
with the auction catalogue stating: “The
Town of Wetherby is on the high Turnpike
Road by Ferry Bridge to Glasgow and in
the direct line of communication between
Leeds and York: and very considerable
advantages are expected to this Town,
from the New Turnpike Road now in
progress from Leeds to pass through
Wetherby, by which there will be a saving
of nearly Four Miles in distance between
these Towns: and a new line of Turnpike
Road from Wetherby is projected to pass
through this Estate towards York, which
will initially offer additional advantages
and benefits to the Town.”

Lot one was The Swan and Talbot Inn
and Posting House which boasted a bar,
kitchen, back kitchen, larder, soldiers
room, eight bedrooms and five servants
rooms. It had stabling for eleven horses,
two open stables, a cow house, lumber
room, hay chamber, coach house, coal
and bottle houses, a huge garden across
the road with a building known as the Old
Court House comprising the court room
and two other rooms, a seven-stall stable,
granary, bailed stable for four horses,
a granary and dovecote. It came with
another piece of land “to be fenced off by
the purchaser of this Lot”’

It was occupied by William Hind, and
when the hammer came down it was
owned by a John Clemishaw of Wetherby
who had just splashed out £1,510. Clearly
something of a property speculator, Mr
Clemishaw was to go on and outbid rivals
to purchase several more Lots.

The thirty-one-page sale catalogue
provides an intriguing insight into the
times. Lot nineteen, for instance was
a “valuable parcel of building ground
behind the houses in New Street” and
was occupied by Widow Cooper. It was
purchased by a Mr Hall of Barnsley for
£250. What became of the widow?

John Green of Bradford paid £310 for a
“very valuable field {occupied by Edward
Barstow} called Castle Garth, or Score
Bank, containing one acre, three roods
desirably situated on the banks of the
Wharfe and offering a delightful
situation for building”

Nothing appears to have been unsold,
and Lot after Lot was snapped up. “A
capital Dwelling House in High Street”
with five bedrooms, two stables and a “a
large walled garden fully stocked” was
sold for £1,100.

The Three Legs public house, together
with soldiers’ rooms and four bedrooms
was bought by the occupier George
Whittacre for £560.

“Newly erected dwellings’, “thatched
cottages’, “very desirable dwellings’, “public
houses’, “cottages with shops’, “valuable
fields’, “valuable scites for building’, “old
tenements’, “pastures” and “orchards” were
all sold during the four days.

See Also: The Great Sale page

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