The Select Vestry


In the early days Todmorden & Walsden was a small township adjoining the other similar townships of Stansfield and Langfield. Each of these three districts ruled themselves and they were quite separate informal administrations. Once the ancient medieval manorial system became defunct, small townships such as these were governed by a committee of mainly self-appointed local individuals with money and time on their hands. These men were drawn from the freeholders, ratepayers and clergy. They could be described as "the Gentlemen, Clergy and principal inhabitants". They appointed officers from within their own ranks to serve as:


Constable, who looked after the law and order, checked weights and measures, collected the taxes and organised volunteers for the local militia; Overseer, who looked after the poor of the township and distributed relief at his own discretion; Surveyor, who took care of the highways; and Pinder, who was responsible for stray animals.

For certain matters, such as the amount of the rates to be levied, all Ratepayers were invited to attend the meetings, which often became rowdy. Notices were put up outside the Church, such as the following notice that appeared in March 1838:

Notice to the ratepayers of the township

Notice is hereby given that a meeting of the ratepayers of the township will be held in the Old Church Todmorden on Thursday 22nd March at 3 o'clock in the afternoon for the purpose of nominating fit and proper persons for the several offices of Church Warden, Overseers of the Poor, a Select Vestry, and Constables. Also for the ratepayers of the hamlet of Todmorden to appoint Surveyors of the Highways for the said hamlet for the ensuing year.

Todmorden March 12th 1838

William Ormerod - Church Warden

William Stansfield - Overseer

Thomas Bottomley jnr - Overseer

John Shackleton - Overseer

John Woodhead and Abraham Crossley - Constables

John Barker and Jonathan Uttley - Surveyors


The following is an extract from the minutes of the meeting following the above notice:

At a meeting held today pursuant to the above notice, Mr. James Fielden in the Chair, it was resolved:

1. That James Fielden, Dobroyd, William Scholfield, Todmorden, and Robert Fielden, Inchfield Fold, are proper persons for Church Wardens in the coming year.

2. That Mr. William Crossley, Knowlwood Mill, Mr. William Helliwell, Friths Mill, and Mr. William Robinson, Stones, are proper persons for Overseers of the Poor for the year ensuing; and John Shackleton be continued Assistant Overseer at the salary of last year.

2. That the following persons form a Select Vestry:

William Stansfield, Bridge End

Thomas Bottomley junior,

John Barker, Edge End

William Ormerod

Jonathan Uttley

Thomas Sutcliffe, Midgelden,

John Mills

William Scholfield, Todmorden

William Sagar

John Greenwood, Watty Place

James Scholfield, Church Street

Edward King

Abraham Ormerod,

John Barker, Barewise

Thomas Law, Deanroyd

Thomas Bottomley senior

William Fielden, Clough

John Stansfield, Moorhey

William Crowther, Watering Trough

Abraham Crossley, Gauxholme Stones

Henry Lord, Southgrain

3. That Robert Greenwood, Watty Place, John Greenwood, Shade, and Charles Chambers, Todmorden, are proper persons for Constables for the hamlet of Todmorden for the ensuing year; and John Fielden, Henshaw, John Lord, Knowlwood, and Abel Marland, Strines Mill, are proper persons for Constables for the hamlet of Walsden for the year ensuing.

4. That John Lord, Saunderclough, be appointed Surveyor of the Highways for the Hall side of the hamlet of Todmorden and that Robert Law, Height Top, be appointed Surveyor of the Highways for the Scaitcliffe side of the hamlet of Todmorden for the ensuing year.

James Fielden, Chairman.


The men frequently held their meetings at the Church Vestry, hence the name Vestry meetings, or the Select Vestry. Everything was informal, yet the important things got done, and most of the men were public-spirited enough to put the township before personal requirements. Not all meetings were held in the vestry, however. In 1801 a meeting resolved that:

Obstructions to town's business having heretofore occurred at the meetings held at public houses, by admitting liquor into the room and several talking at once, in future no liquor be brought into the room until after business. All persons to stand when they speak (except the clerk and chairman) and only one to speak at once.

In 1802 John Crossley of Scaitcliffe was appointed Treasurer to the township, and be allowed £20 a year plus expenses. He only lasted 4 months before resigning. James Haigh of Gauxholme, James Scholfield of Todmorden, Thomas Ramsbottom and Heyworth Heyworth were other notables on the committee at that time.

In February 1804 they ordered:

In consequence of the disorders at the Fair held on Good Friday and the day before, the said fair to be postponed to the Tuesday and Wednesday of the following week.

They frequently concerned themselves with the requirement to raise volunteers for the militia. In 1808 a vestry meeting was held and resolved that:

a band of music be procured to attend at Samuel Hanson's, the White Hart Inn, Todmorden, when the names of all such persons will be taken as are mindful to serve their King and Country as volunteers in the local militia, and that all expenses be paid out of the Poor Rate.

The expenses were £5.19s.2d. The number who volunteered was 70; 43 from Todmorden & Walsden, 19 Stansfield, 4 Langfield, 3 Wadsworth, 1 Erringden. Sergeants Slater and Marsland made the arrangements.

Mr. Joseph Knowles of Bank Bottom was one of the Select Vestry. When he died in 1868 his obituary read:

Mr. Knowles was born in Wainfleet in Lincolnshire in 1793. He came to reside in Todmorden in 1827 having previously resided at Hebden Bridge for some years. He was on the Select Vestry for some time before the new Poor Laws were introduced. He was Constable one year, Overseer one year, and Guardian one year. He collected the subscriptions for lighting the town with gas 18 years consecutively before the Local Board was introduced, and was otherwise a useful man for the town in which he lived.

(more about Joseph Knowles HERE)

In 1832 the first Board of Health was augmented. 16 men were appointed to this board, including medics Heyworth Heyworth, James Taylor, Joseph Crossley Taylor, George Naylor, James Hardman and Thomas Gledhill. The Board's first decision was that from its allocated funds £60 should be set aside and given to the Overseer for the prevention and cure of Cholera. There had, at that time, been just one fatal case of the disease in Todmorden. He was a butcher who came from Burnley to Todmorden market. He had died in the cellar of the York Tavern, York Street. Although this had caused a great deal of alarm locally, no other cases had been reported and the disease seemed restricted to the larger towns.

A small extract from the 1837/38 Overseers' Accounts shows one type of work they were involved with:

29th September 1837

Payment of £5 to Jonathan Ogden of Oldham while under a suspension order there (Oldham) as he has lost his leg in a factory.


7th April 1838

Payment of £2 to Mary Haigh of Dean. (Mary was a single mother)


7th March 1838

Paid 13 shillings to Dr. Taylor of Todmorden Hall for visiting and certifying as to the state of:

Mary Baron of Newgate

Mary Crossley of Lineholme

Martha Haigh of Southgrain


The said certificates to be returned with the Lunatic's List to the Magistrates.



As the township grew, so did the responsibility, and it was decided that Todmorden and Walsden should have separate governing bodies in the form of a committee of local ratepayers in addition to the Select Vestry. The Walsden meetings were held at the Hollins Inn whilst the Todmorden ones were at the Royal George Inn. They managed the smaller local issues, highways and collection of rates. They each had an unpaid Surveyor, normally a local farmer, who would supervise road repairs and spend his allocation of funds as best he could.

The life of the Select Vestry was coming to an end. The office of Overseer was in danger of being superceded by the Board of Guardians, although Todmorden itself violently opposed this for over 40 years. The rank of Constable was also drawing to a close with the coming of the Police Force, and the vastly increased population and with it the demand for housing, footpaths, lanes, drains, sewers and lighting was becoming too much for the small committee to handle.


The Todmorden Local Board


1860 saw a full public meeting at the Oddfellows' Hall in Todmorden, which resolved to adopt the Local Government Act of 1858. Todmorden & Walsden, together with Langfield and a portion of Stansfield joined together to form the Todmorden Local Board. After local boundaries were agreed upon, it was decided that there would be four wards; Todmorden, Walsden, Langfield and Stansfield; and that each of the 4 would elect 4 representatives. The first meeting of the newly elected Todmorden Local Board took place at the Golden Lion Inn 25th. July 1861. The elected members were:

Richard Ingham

Joseph Knowles

Peter Ormerod

Charles Sutcliffe

Edmund Whitaker

Robert Fielden

Samuel Fielden

John Fielden

Joshua Fielden

William Sutcliffe

Jonathan Barker

Edward Lord

Thomas Barker

Josiah Lord

William Houlding


Hallroyd House

Bank Bottom

Pex House






Stansfield Hall



York Street

York Street

Dale Street







Pickermaker & Manufacturer




Corn Miller


Machinist etc.

Book Seller


Show Dealer

John Fielden was elected as Chairman. Mr. W. Greenwood of Ridge Street was appointed Collector for the Local Board and Mr. John Horsfall of Dale Street the Surveyor (after the original Surveyor, Mr. Latham, resigned)


The Board was responsible for all local issues, and its responsibility was extensive. It had to organise the laying and repair of pavements, construction of drains and sewers, street lighting, building plans and much more. Some examples of their resolutions, from the minute books, are shown below:

March 1863

Reported that property owners in Salford refuse to pay for the paving in Salford on the grounds that the road has been open to the public since 1835. The Board do not consider this to be a public road, and since one of the property owners had paid for that portion outside his works, this established the fact it is not a public thoroughfare.


No payment has been received from property owners at Salford. Resolved that legal proceedings are taken against them and ascertain whether they were liable for the repairs or not.


June 1863

Notice to be given to owners of property in lower Millwood to construct necessaries or water closets and ash pits to their houses and to cleanse the streets adjoining their houses.


May 1864

Gauxholme Fold in a filthy state. The property owner, Dr. Hardman, must abate the nuisance there.

September 1866

There is a new sewer at Gauxholme Fold. The Surveyor, Mr. Hedley, seems to spend his time amongst pigsties, middens, slaughterhouses, privies and manure heaps. Joshua Fielden moved that the drainage system be immediately looked into. A vote was taken and the motion was lost by 5 votes to 6. Joshua Fielden said they should be thinking of what needs to be done, rather than who will pay.


January 1867

Dr. Hardman, proprietor and owner at Gauxholme, has not responded to a request to link his drains to that of the Board. Dr. Hardman said his own drain was sufficient and any nuisances were the tenants' responsibilities, not his. The nuisance in question were necessaries which once went into an open drain at Dancroft. This drain has now been built over and the nuisance oozes through the walls of the property there and spreads everywhere. The Board resolved to take proceedings against Dr. Hardman.


May 1868

The Board passed a resolution allowing Mr. Buckley to build back-to-back houses, previously not allowed under local byelaws. Many of his houses still stand.

The Board was very successful, and by the end of its life it had built the market hall, an infectious diseases hospital and had purchased three gas works for the town. It was also during the life of the Board that the Town Hall was built, although this certainly was not a smooth operation.



The Town Hall


At the end of 1860 it was resolved to form a company for building a Town Hall. The first meeting of the new company was held at the Golden Lion when it was agreed the capital should be £15,000 to consist of £5 shares.

The company obtained the land on which the Mechanics' Institute was standing and architect James Green was commissioned to design the building. The plans involved having a market hall on the ground floor with the public hall above. The building would be built right over the River Calder, thus being partly in Lancashire and partly in Yorkshire, the river being the boundary line between the two counties. It was thought this would help to bridge the gap between those rival counties.

Todmorden District News July 15th. 1858

The drawing shows the original design for the Town Hall as prepared by James Green about 1860

The river was culverted and building commenced. The foundations, cellar, and ground floor were constructed, but then problems arose. The company had run out of money as only about half of the shares had been sold. The potential investors were keeping their hands in their pockets. This period in the history of Todmorden and district was dark. The American Civil War meant no raw cotton, and without that the mills couldn't operate. A substantial number of mills were forced to close and many more businesses went bankrupt. None of the town's merchants had money to invest. In addition to this, there were legal problems with the owners of the land, and the costs of the project had increased dramatically. The company was forced to wind up with the Town Hall still a shell.

The building was sold at auction in January 1866 and was purchased by John Fielden of Dobroyd for £5,500. He and his two brothers, Samuel and Joshua, commissioned their favourite architect to re-design the building. It cost the brothers about £54,000 to finish.

Lord John Manners, the Postmaster General opened it on 3rd April 1875 at the same time as the unveiling of the statue of John Fielden MP. The ceremony took the form of a procession, in pouring rain. The town was decorated with bunting and there were several triumphal arches. An estimated 4000 people watched the opening ceremonies and special trains ran from the surrounding districts.

The above engraving is from the Illustrated London News

and is the only known pictorial record of the event.

Reproduced here by kind permission of Roger Birch


In the evening there was a banquet in the Hall at which about 360 local tradesmen and residents attended at the expense of the Fielden brothers. The brothers presented the Hall to the people of Todmorden in 1891.

For further information on the Town Hall and the Opening Day, please click HERE


Todmorden Urban District Council


In 1894 the Local Board and the residents of the town applied to the Queen's Privy Council for the grant of a Charter of Incorporation. In October, the Privy Council notified its acceptance, indicating that formal acknowledgement would take some time. For the interim period, Todmorden became an Urban District Council. An election took place for the Coucillors, although there was a distinct lack of local interest resulting in a very low turnout of voters. The council held its first meeting on December 31st 1894. The Urban District Council lasted just 21 months because on June 6th. 1896 the Charter arrived from the Privy Council and Todmorden became a Borough in its own right. It was to be governed by elected councillors led by 6 Aldermen and a Mayor.

August 22nd 1896 was set aside as Charter Day. The inhabitants of the town celebrated the granting of the Charter in "right royal fashion". The town was decorated lavishly, and at night was brilliantly illuminated. There were bands and processions, including schools, trades and friendly societies, volunteers, cricketers, footballers, cyclists, and representatives of every organisation in the town.

Shopkeepers displayed banners outside their windows and triumphal arches were erected around the town.


Todmorden Borough Council


The first Municipal Elections for the Borough of Todmorden took place 2nd. November 1896. There were to be 3 councillors and an alderman for each ward. The aldermen were selected initially from those who had served previously on the Local Board or Urban District council in order to give continuity. They were selected from within the council and were not necessarily subject to public election. The successful candidates were:



Avon Villas

373 votes


Samuel Starkie

Watty Place

330 votes

(No Photograph)


James Feather

District Councillor

Halifax Road

290 votes


Abram Crossley

District Councillor


Wellington Road

299 votes


James E. Mitchell

District Councillor

Halifax Road

225 votes


George Dawson

Rochdale Road

254 votes


Robert Gibson

Cliff Villas

202 votes


Sugden Sutcliffe

District Councillor


Glenroyd House

384 votes


John Dugdale

District Councillor

Copperas House Terrace

318 votes


Caleb Hoyle J.P.


Roomfield House

379 votes



Smith Starkie

District Councillor

Rochdale Road

307 votes


J. I. Sutcliffe

Stansfield Hall

343 votes



James Dugdale

District Councillor

Holly Bank

303 votes


Fred Ashworth

(Alderman and

Deputy Mayor)

Todmorden Hall

452 votes


T. Greenwood

District Councillor



370 votes


W. S. Hollinrake

White Hart Hotel

362 votes



Thomas Banks

District Councillor



353 votes


William Jackson

District Councillor


Byrom Street

343 votes



Jackson Sutcliffe

District Councillor



327 votes


Thomas West

District Councillor

Stansfield Road

292 votes


The following men were also elected:


J. Greenwood

Edward Lord

William Ormerod J.P.

of Scaitcliffe

J. Bracewell


Caleb Hoyle

A few days later, the elected council chose its Mayor. On 12th November 1896 at the Todmorden Petty Sessions His Worship the Mayor of Todmorden, Alderman Caleb Hoyle, took the oath and his seat as a Magistrate for the West Riding and the County of York. Mr. Dan Sutcliffe was appointed as the Town Clerk.


Dan Sutcliffe


The first Mayoral Church Parade was held at Todmorden on 15th. November 1896. The Mayor invited the Town Council, the Magistrates, the School Board, the Board of Guardians, the Police, the Fire brigade, the Officers of the Corporation, the Town Clerk (Mr. Dan Sutcliffe), the Deputy Mayor (Alderman Fred Ashworth) and the G. Company of Volunteers accompanied by the Regimental Band from Rochdale, to go with him to a service at the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, York Street. There was an imposing parade, in which the Todmorden Brass Band joined, witnessed by a large concourse of people, culminating in a service at the chapel. An excellent sermon was preached by the Rev. J. I. Britten of Southport, the minister who had married Mr. And Mrs. Hoyle. The choral part of the service was all that could be desired especially with the addition of the bands to the accompaniment. Two or three people fainted owing to the overcrowded state of the chapel. The National Anthem was played at the close of the service, and the bandsmen were invited to a dinner provided at the Drill Hall, and which they thoroughly enjoyed.



From 1888 onwards the Borough became, for administrative purposes only, part of the West Riding of Yorkshire, although the postal address remains as Lancashire for the part of the old township that was in the Parish of Rochdale. On March 31st 1974 Todmorden became part of the Metropolitan Borough of Calderdale, West Yorkshire, although the town does retain some authority in the form of its own Town Council with limited powers.

The Town Hall is almost always closed in current times. It is used for Todmorden Town Council meetings and the occasional exhibition. This has to be a shame.


Bibliography and acknowledgements

Betty Savage for the 1838 township minutes

Annals of Todmorden compiled by Dorothy Dugdale

Todmorden Town Hall, a History and Guide by Christian Jackson and David Morritt

Todmorden Centenary compiled by A. S. Marshall and D. O'Neill assisted by Paul Rigg

for Todmorden Town Council

The Development of Todmorden 1700-1896 compiled by Mrs. E. M. Savage

(The above books are all available from the Tourist Information Office in Todmorden)


Roger Birch for allowing the use of some of his photographs