Nostalgia: A time when Dewsbury boasted more than 200 pubs

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I was looking through an old book the other day which showed there were once 200 pubs in Dewsbury, most of which have since closed down.

Many were demolished during the slum clearance era of the 1950s and some were put to other uses like the Spinners Arms in Chickenley, which has been converted into a restaurant.

It was once said there were more pubs in Dewsbury than in any other town of its size in Great Britain, a statistic which distressed the temperance church leaders of the day.

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In the 1930s, Dewsbury could boast more than 200 pubs and beer houses scattered within its boundary, with nearly a pub on every street corner.

The Eightlands Hotel in Dewsbury, one of a number of pubs in that area which were demolished during slum clearance of the 1950s. It was built sometime between 1914 and 1928 when Alfred Gomersall was landlord.The Eightlands Hotel in Dewsbury, one of a number of pubs in that area which were demolished during slum clearance of the 1950s. It was built sometime between 1914 and 1928 when Alfred Gomersall was landlord.
The Eightlands Hotel in Dewsbury, one of a number of pubs in that area which were demolished during slum clearance of the 1950s. It was built sometime between 1914 and 1928 when Alfred Gomersall was landlord.

In the town centre alone there were around 30 pubs, three next door to each other, The Man and Saddle (where Woolworths used to be), The Kings Arms Hotel and the Black Bull, which still remains.

Local Methodist, Baptist and Congregational churches were concerned at the number of people turning away from Sunday worship in favour of going out for a drink.

Not only did these churches advocate closing pubs on Sundays, they frequently sent petitions to the licensing justices objecting to any new pub wanting a licence.

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In 1901 these churches carried out a census to find out how many people went to church on Sunday and how many went to pubs.

One snowy Sunday evening, 200 of their members volunteered to stand outside every church and pub in the town to count those going inside.

The census revealed 3,717 men visited public houses that night and only 1,559 went to church. It was a different picture with the women. Only 359 visited pubs and 1,994 went to church.

These indisputable figures led some church leaders to acknowledge that perhaps their services were not “bright enough” and that the pulpit needed to “give forth live utterances”.

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The churches continued to campaign loudly but their cries went unheeded and beers and spirits continued to flow with great conviviality in local pubs and clubs.

The working man would continue to drown his sorrows in the cosy comfort of Dewsbury’s many licensed premises for many years to come.

But Dewsbury landlords didn’t have it all that easy. Indeed, they had a lot to put up with, not so much from their customers, as from the police, weights and measures officials and the licensing magistrates.

It seemed they were forever in danger of falling foul of the law and they were watched carefully to make sure no infringements took place.

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In 1894, the weights and measures department had a purge in Westtown and three licensees appeared in court accused of giving short measures.

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They were the Eight Ringers Inn, The Black Boy, and the Golden Lion in Huddersfield Road, all no longer with us.

William Yates, landlord of the Golden Lion, was charged with having in his possession a jug that was unsound and unstamped.

Police Sergeant Turner, inspector of weights and measures, said he had visited the pub and found a quart jug under the barrel.

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It was one-and-a-half ounces short of the measure it should have been and was also not stamped. The landlady’s wife said it was the only pitcher they had.

David Thompson, landlord of The Black Boy, High Street, and James E Duce, landlord of the Eight Ringers Inn, were also summoned for offences of the same nature. All three landlords were fined ten shillings.

The landlord of another Dewsbury pub, the Royal Oak, in Church Street, also ended up in court, but not for the same offences.

He was fined for allowing patrons to play darts on a Sunday, something which was forbidden in Dewsbury at that time.

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Darts could be played every other day of the week but as far as Dewsbury was concerned, never on a Sunday.

Dewsbury was the only town in the country where darts were forbidden on the Sabbath, along with dominoes.

The landlord, William Potter, told magistrates he would appeal against his conviction on a point of law.

He said the summons stated he had contravened the licensing act and also the Dewsbury Improvement Act of 1883.

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Chief Inspector Wilkinson said the Improvement Act stated darts and dominoes could be played on weekdays, but not on Sundays, Christmas Day and Good Friday.

Potter contended the magistrates could not veto a lawful game which was allowed under the law of the land.

He said the Home Secretary had stated a year earlier that neither the licensing magistrates nor the police could disallow a lawful game.

Chief Inspector Wilkinson said that might apply to the rest of the country where they didn’t have an Improvement Act like they did in Dewsbury.

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He said: “This Improvement Act was passed in 1883 and stated that darts and dominoes should not be played in Dewsbury on Sundays.”

The clerk to the court, Mr G E Fergusson, said the licensing magistrates might issue a games licence in Dewsbury but only on condition that no games should be allowed on Sundays.

He added: “Another condition was that music should not be allowed on Sundays, except piano playing after 8pm.”

Potter told the court: “My submission is that darts and dominoes are lawful games.”

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The clerk retorted: “They are unlawful games here in Dewsbury on Sundays.”

Potter: “Darts is a skillful game. A lot of people come on Sunday because they cannot play at other times. I don’t allow dominoes because it is a game where an argument might arise. I don’t want gambling in my hotel.”

The chairman of the bench, Cecil T Lyles, asked Potter if he had been aware of the Dewsbury Improvement Act and its conditions, to which Potter replied: “Yes.”

Mr Lyles: “Then you should have known quite well about the act.” He then promptly fined him £1.

Mr Potter did not appeal and paid the fine.

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