William Varley - A Potterton Man's Reminiscences Back to the Main Historical Society page
Back to the Barwicker Contents page

William Varley

A Potterton Man's Reminiscences

Barwicker No. 107 September 2012

In Barwicker No. 31 the late Tony Cox wrote an article regarding life long Barwick resident William Varley (1817 - 1912). This drew on an interview published in the "The Yorkshire Weekly Post" on the 18th June 1910 to celebrate William's 93rd birthday and notes from a conversation the Rev F. S. Colman (Rector of Barwick 1899-1910) had with William in November 1900. It has now been discovered that to celebrate William's 94th birthday in June 1911, the local newspaper The Skyrack Courier published a further interview with William and whilst some information is duplicated there is much new material. It is reproduced below.

FRIDAY, JUNE 9, 1911


"Mr William Varley, of Potterton, Barwick-in-Elmet, celebrated his 94th birthday on Tuesday. Born on June 6th, 1817, Mr Varley is very proud of the fact that he is "a Barwicker," as he puts it, but he is prouder still of the fact that no fewer than 68 years he has held the office of Manor Bailiff in connection with the Gascoigne Court Leet.

These quaint old Courts were formerly held pretty frequently at Garforth, Aberford, Barwick, Bramham, Clifford, and Boston Spa. It was part of Mr Varley's duty to summon the jury, generally selected from among the farmers of the neighbourhood. The Court would then proceed to swear in the constables - this was, of course, before the institution of the present police force. They would also consider any nuisances which might be existent within the area of their jurisdiction, and then, if they thought fit, make representations to the Steward of the estate to have them abated. The necessary steps were taken, and then if the parties didn't pay up within reasonable time "why," said Mr Varley, with a chuckle, "we charged 'em double."

No Court Leet has been held now at Boston for ten years, and it is four or five years since one was "holden" at Garforth, but once a year the Court sits at Barwick for the conveyance of copy-hold property. And Mr Varley takes on a strange dignity and pride as he pronounces the Court open with the time-honoured and picturesque declaration "O yes, O yes, O yes, all manner of persons that owe service in the Court holden here for the parish of Potterton-with-Barwick, let them come into Court and give their attendance and save their immersements." As is, perhaps, only natural, everyone in the district knows Mr Varley, or "Varlah" as they call him, and well they may. He remembers most of the inhabitants "before they were breeched" and their mothers and fathers, aye, and their grandfathers' fathers have all in their day and generation known the Varleys, for it has been well authenticated that the first member of the family was brought to the district some 300 years ago by some one of the Gascoigne family. And none can either recall or image the time when a Varley has not held the office of Manor Bailiff. The present Mr Varley succeeded his father, Matthew Varley in the office, and he received the mantle in his turn from his father, and so on, and so on.

The old man has many very interesting recollections of life in Merrie England before the advent of the railway train, and before the making of our multifarious laws. He remembers quite distinctly the days when the local inns and hostelries kept open house all the night through, and he does not consider that there was then so much drunkenness as there is today.

He recalls very clearly, too, walking over to Garforth one "Aberford Feast Monday" to see the first railway engine arrive there from Selby. "T'man who drove it" he says "didn't understand it reight, and it got stuck, but a chap they called Kirkup, who afterward managed t'railway down to Aberford, came to t'rescue and drive it from him." (Leeds and Selby Railway opened on Monday the 22nd September 1834)

He walked over to Leeds to see Queen Victoria, then a young and blooming maiden, open the Town Hall, and, as he says, "he got a reight good view of all t'family." (7th September 1858 - Queen Victoria was accompanied by Prince Albert and the Princesses Helena and Alice)

Mr Varley is not looking forward very eagerly to the local celebrations of the approaching Coronation (George V on the 22nd June 1911). He says naively that he doesn't think he'll bother to go as he'll be "better at home". Possibly he prefers on that day to sit quietly on his own pretty little cottage threshold conning over recollections of other Kings and Queens and Coronations which still live, in his well-stored memory. When Queen Adelaide, the wife of William IV., was crowned (8th September 1831), he went over to Bramham Park, at the invitation of Squire Geo. Lane Fox to have "some sport at hurdle jumping and donkey racing" and on his way home he saw the way in which Barwick was celebrating the auspicious occasion. "All there wor to do i' Barwick." he says, "wor that two fellows had climbed on to t' top o't cross with a barkem (horse collar) apiece, and wor trying to wriggle through 'em. That's how Barwick celebrated that coronation." This year there is to be a tea, and some sports, but Mr Varley "reckons now't mich tiv it," and he won't be there.

As I have hinted, Mr Varley's life has not been what nowadays would be called exciting; through the long summers and the longer winters it has been much the same - plenty of work, from year's end to year's end, and now, in the eventide of life, a grateful peace and a host of quiet, honourable memories such as are vouchsafed to few town or city dwellers. Throughout his length of days his needs have been few and his tastes simple. All his life he has spent at home - a husbandman, a hewer of wood and a drawer of water, as his father and his father's father before him; frugal, healthy - content! He has never been teetotal, but, as he puts it "always a moderation man" though his daughter adds that he is still "a terrible smoker." It is an extraordinary feat that never once has this simple old man set eyes on the sea.

Back to the top
Back to the Main Historical Society page
Back to the Barwicker Contents page