Waterton’s Walton – The Village Where Nature and Industry Met


Charles Waterton by Charles Wilson Peale, 1824, National Gallery, London

Charles Waterton by Charles Wilson Peale, 1824, National Gallery, London By Stephencdickson – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35651312 Click: https://watertonswalton.wordpress.com/charles-waterton-by-charles-wilson-peale-1824-national-gallery-london/ to see changes made to original.

This website is about the village of Walton, near Wakefield in West Yorkshire. It aims to emphasize the uniqueness of Walton as a place from a historical perspective.  An important focal point in the history of Walton is that it was the home of the famous naturalist and explorer, Charles Waterton.

Waterton is a famous figure who was an inspiration to naturalist Charles Darwin who revolutionised science. On one occasion Darwin himself was Waterton’s guest at Walton Hall. Waterton is, in his own right, internationally significant in the history of science.

England’s most important historical attribute is that it was the world’s first industrialised society. Waterton helps place Walton right in the middle of the Industrial Revolution, a global historical turning point that began in the north of England and set off reverberations down the ages and across continents and impacts on daily life even today.

Waterton’s philosophy was a direct reaction to the negative impact of this revolution in human progress. It provided a message about how we can better manage this progress for the benefit of both humankind and the natural environment. It is therefore a message directly relevant to the challenges of our own time. Walton was one of the first places in the world where there were serious attempts to mitigate some of its negative consequences.

It was on his estate at Walton Hall that he created the world’s first nature reserve. This made Walton an important place in the history of environmentalism and as such it can be seriously argued that Walton was the village where nature and industry first met.

What happened in Walton in the early days of industry is something that has modern relevance. It is also something that could link the hard-working ordinary people of Walton’s industrial past to profound events that transformed our world. Due to its place in the industrial revolution Walton could exemplify the transition from an agricultural to an industrial society. This is of equal significance to the period when agriculture first emerged in the Fertile Crescent of the Near East which led to the development of the first cities. The transition from agriculture to industry is surely of equal interest as the transition from hunter gatherer to agriculture based societies.

It is the presence of Charles Waterton that helps differentiate Walton from other ex-mining villages and is something that makes the history of the village of much wider public interest.


Walton The Village Where Nature and Industry Met



The History of Walton Methodist Chapel

First posted at Heritage of Walton – The Village Where Nature & Industry Met


Walton Methodist Chapel is located on Shay Lane opposite the new Primary School and next to Cedar Cottage.

The Methodist movement emerged in eighteenth century England at around the same time as the industrial revolution.(1)  It was developed by a group at Oxford University including John and Charles Wesley who established an organisation called ‘The Holy Club’.(2)

As such the presence of the Chapel in the village reinforces the HOW Project’s representation of Walton as the village where nature and industry met. Indeed, the development of Methodism in Walton took place at the time of the dispute between Charles Waterton and the local industrialist Edward Simpson over the issue of industrial pollution from Simpson’s soap house. (3)  The following quote from Methodist.org.uk mentions preaching at pitheads that were a key location within England’s newly industrialised society (4):

“Wesley went on to spend his life travelling the country, preaching to crowds on village greens, at pitheads, wherever he could find people to listen. During his lifetime he travelled an estimated 250,000 miles and preached 40,000 times.”

Newly industrialised England was the canvass on which the new Methodist movement was painted. According to the excellent article about the chapel at RonLord.co.uk many of those involved in Methodism in Walton worked for Simpson at the soap house.(5) The article is well worth reading and the chronology of the Chapel’s history below is based on information from the article (click HERE to view the article):

Chronology of the History of Walton Methodist Chapel

  • Before 1849 – Walton’s first Methodist society was established and met up the Balk on the site of the West Lodge bungalow.
  • 1849 – Methodist meetings take place in a building between Walton House and Walton Grange
  • 1856 – Construction of the oldest part of the current chapel completed and the chapel opened in August
  • 1896 – Chapel enlarged (enlarged building opened in October).
  • 1899 – Installation of the organ.
  • 1902 – Chapel licenced to solemnise marriages.
  • 1904 – Gas infrastructure arrived in Walton allowing oil lights to be replaced by new gas lights in the chapel.
  • 1906 – Jubilee celebrations presided over by Mr E C Denton.
  • 1910 – Sunday School extension opened in June.
  • 1915 – Internal alterations to increase seating capacity carried out (pulpit and choir stalls moved, organ relocated to a vestry) together with other alterations including the installation of leaded lights and replacing shaded glass windows with stained glass.
  • 1949 – renovation of the whole building including the servicing of the organ and the installation of electric lighting.

(1) Methodism, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Methodism 30/03/2018.

(2) The Holy Club, Methodist.org.uk, http://www.methodist.org.uk/about-us/the-methodist-church/history/the-holy-club/ 30/03/2018.

(3) Charles Waterton – Life & History – An Introduction. Overtown Miscellany, http://overtown.org.uk/cw/Charles_Waterton/squire-overview.htm 30/03/2018.

(4) Preaching, Methodist.org.uk http://www.methodist.org.uk/about-us/the-methodist-church/history/preaching/

(5) Walton Methodist Church, http://www.ronlord.co.uk/hobbies/church.htm 30/03/2018.

The Milton Ironworks Walton Hall Iron Bridge, 1828 – An Industrial Masterpiece


The iron bridge that links the island, on which Walton Hall stands, to the ‘mainland’ is an impressive structure in its own right.

It would appear that the bridge was locally produced within Yorkshire. According to Grace’s Guide to British Industrial History (1), it was built in 1828 and the iron castings that make up the bridge were produced by Milton Iron Works (2) located near Rotherham.

The oldest iron bridge in the world  is ‘The Iron Bridge’ across the River Severn (3) in Shropshire that was built in 1781 (see image below posted here under GNU Free Documentation Licence – hover over image to see more details about this and the author). The bridge in Walton was therefore quite an early example of this new industrial technology. This is another reason to support the thesis of this blog that Walton was the village where nature and industry met.

The Iron Bridge (Aerial)

The demolition of the old medieval Manor House and its replacement with the current Palladian mansion and new iron bridge by Thomas Waterton typified some aspects of the new industrial technology that England was pioneering as the global leader. The subsequent ‘reaction’ to the negative sides of the industrial revolution implemented by his son Charles in the form of his pioneering nature park was the natural component of this confluence with industry.

Thomas was clearly a man who was willing to embrace the new age and the technology that were some of its earliest fruits. The work of his son Charles on his innovative sluice gate solution to the sedimentation  problems of Walton Hall lake, and his purchase of the George Boulby Sundial, shows how he continued the tradition of his father in embracing the innovations of science and technology.

Walton Hall was an innovative nature park but also a place that was technologically advanced for its time. As such it was pushing the frontiers of both environmentalism and Industry. This demonstrates clearly why the village of Walton is quite unique in historical terms.

Above – The Walton Hall Iron Bridge with the Hall and water gate in the background. The water gate was the site of the previous crossing point.

(1) Grace’s Guide to British Industry https://www.gracesguide.co.uk/Walton_Hall_Bridge (1 March 2018)

(2) Wikipedia – Milton Ironworks https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milton_Ironworks (1 March 2018)

(3) Wikipedia – The Iron Bridge https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Iron_Bridge (1 March 2018)

The Unusual Door Knockers of Walton Hall

Door Knockers of Walton Hall

If you ever visited home of Walton’s famous eccentric, naturalist, explorer and taxidermist – Charles Waterton, then on arrival had a choice. There were two door knockers to choose from at his home, Walton Hall in the village of Walton just outside Wakefield. They look very much like some of the masks worn at the Carnevale di Venezia, I wonder if that is where the ‘Squire’ got this idea for his front door?

I first became of aware of these interesting local artefacts while reading the book Squire Waterton by Gilbert Phelps. Phelps points out that the knocker with the smiling face doesn’t actually work and therefore is laughing at the guest who tries to use it. Phelps points out that what I call the grumpy face is one that is grimacing as if in pain from the knocking that it had just received (1). The knockers were designed by Captain Edwin Jones who was a good friend of Charles Waterton.

So in summary, we have a face that is laughing for perhaps two reasons, firstly that it is happy because it is not being knocked and secondly it is amused that someone has made the wrong choice. The face that is grimacing is the one that does the work and is perhaps, due to the nature of the work, not particularly happy about it. Perhaps the faces are actually encouraging the visitor to use deductive reasoning to determine which one to use. You can almost imagine Tom Hanks, in his role as Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon, in the Dan Brown novels, arriving at the door and making the correct choice and thus moving on to the next level in his puzzle.

The good thing is that the door is still there at Walton Hall, which is now Waterton Park Hotel which is named after Charles Waterton and the ground-breaking nature reserve that he created on his estate.

The following close up features the door knocker that is not designed to work.

Walton Hall Door Knockers - Happy Face

Here is the one that suffers due to the knocking.

Walton Hall Door Knockers - Grumpy Face

The following is a photograph of the entire doorway putting the faces in context.

Walton Hall Front Door

(1) Squire Waterton. By Gilbert Phelps, 1976. EP Publishing Limited. Page 109.

Some Comments on Wakefield Historical Appreciation Facebook Group.

Walton, The Village Where Nature and Industry Met.


The George Boulby Sundial 1813

Today I took a look at the sundial created by George Boulby that was mentioned in the recent lecture by Barbara Phipps. In my write up for that lecture I reported the following about the sundial:

Some time was spent looking at and discussing the unique Boulby Sundial (1813) that is located on the island behind the house. This was the creation of a talented local mason from Crofton called George Boulby. It contains 20 equilateral triangles and shows the time in different parts of the world. Many of the places labelled were the very places that were familiar to Charles Waterton from his travels so he must have had them inscribed. It also shows the compass points and marks the equinox. Unfortunately the sundial is becoming eroded and is in great need of protection.

In addition to the image at the top of this post, I took the following photographs today during my visit:

The name of the creator is inscribed on one of the triangles.


The sundial gives times for different places in the world. In the photograph below you can see the name ‘Madrid’ etched into the stone. Quite ingenuous, makes you think that George Boulby was Crofton’s version of Leonardo Da Vinci.


Compass directions etched onto the plinth.


Some more detail on this photograph.


The sundial with a rather civilised and pictureque backdrop.


I suppose Charles Waterton’s acquisition of this interesting and unique piece makes him a patron of both the arts and sciences. It is incredible that a Yorkshire village like Walton can have such an artifact in its midst. Thanks to Charles Waterton, Walton was not just the village where nature and industry met, it was also the meeting place of art and science. It looks almost if it has been left in the garden at Walton Hall by visiting extra terrestrials.

If you are ever at Charlie’s Bar at Waterton Park Hotel then it is certainly worth taking the time to take a look at the sundial.

Walton The Village Where Nature and Industry Met


Walton Hall Sluice Gate

I would not have know the location of the Walton Hall Sluice Gate if not for the Barbara Phipps lecture on Charles Waterton. I visited the site today to record the sounds and atmosphere of the site. You can just hear the power of Charles Waterton’s engineering in this video.

I do remember when my cousin’s house on Elmwood was flooded, and the alleged cause was the opening of these sluice gates. Must have been like a tsunami running down the beck past Brooklands.

Walton The Village Where Nature and Industry Met


Potential Transport Links Between Walton Hall & Nostell Priory – Reflections of the Phipps Lecture About Charles Waterton

One of the interesting things about the lecture that I referred to in my previous post was the matter about the upper gateway from Walton Hall. It had been suggested that it was potentially a gateway to a route to Nostell Priory. I looked at the potential route on Google maps and plotted a potential route on My Maps. The thing is, it looks incredibly plausible. There is no other reason that I could suggest for having a prominent gateway in that location.

If you look at the Google Map you can see a farm track going part way to the top gate at Walton Hall. It would only be a short distance between these two points, and would not take much for a nineteenth century track to be created to connect these points. Farm paths still reach Hare Park Farm, and a short distance from the wall and you are on Hare Park Lane.

You would have then followed Hare Park Lane to its end at which you would turn right into High Street in Crofton which then becomes Santingley Lane. You would then turn left of Santingley Lane into Spring Lane. There is a lane at the end of Spring Lane that takes you right to Doncaster Road. Turning right into Doncaster Road and travelling a short distance before turning left into Nostell Priory.

The distance of the line I drew on covering the above route using My Maps on Google Maps is 5.91km. This shows how very close the two houses were. If they were friends then this would be the perfect route. They were less than half an hour apart even if the parties moved at a very leisurely pace. With a decent horse at full gallop, the travel time would be quite low.

Here is the MyMap I drafted to illustrate the point, hope it works: 

This is the route from the Iron Bridge of Walton Hall to the front door of Nostell Priory. This route via the top gate would remove considerable travel time from the journey. The website speedofanimals.com shows how fast the distance of 5.91 km could be traversed given world class horses at world record speeds.

Walton The Village Where Nature and Industry Met


Barbara Phipps Lecture About Squire Charles Waterton – Walton Methodist Church, Thursday 15 February 2018


I attended an excellent presentation by Barbara Phipps about Walton’s most famous son, Charles Waterton of Walton Hall. I decided to write a brief account of the event for my blog – I hope I have not misunderstood anything, any errors here are my own. I hope this is a fair account and summary of the presentation.

The event was extremely well attended and as a result was moved to the bigger venue of Walton Methodist Church. There were at least one hundred people present, showing that Charles Waterton is still a man of profound interest to the people of Walton. The presentation was divided into two parts. The first addressed Charles’ ancestry and the second Walton Hall and its park.

Part 1: Ancestry

This part of the lecture discussed his parents and siblings and how provision had to be made for the economic futures of his brothers and sisters because only Charles, as the eldest son, would inherit the estate. The prospects of all Catholics were limited after the English Reformation which made it difficult for Catholics to earn a living. It was explained how the continued Catholicism of the Waterton family hampered its prospects and expectations. This led to discussion of how the family became slave owners when his father bought two plantations in British Guyana in South America to provide livings for Charles’ siblings.

Charles was against the slave trade and argued against it in print – he wrote that slavery could never be defended. However, he felt there was not much he could do about it. He did what he could under the circumstances showing kindness to the slaves when he was running the plantations after he contracted pneumonia and was dispatched to South America to recover.

Despite his negative opinions about slavery, the Waterton family benefited financially when slavery was finally abolished by Parliament. Around £31,000 was received by the family for 592 slaves and much of the money may have eventually have filtered down to Charles. Nevertheless, Charles was identified as an awardee but not an owner – the actual owners would have been his siblings.

The presentation then addressed the ancestry of Charles’ wife, Anne Edmonstone, who was the daughter of a close friend, Charles Edmonstone, that he met while in Demerara in South America. She was the descendant of an American Indian princess. Due to her father’s work in capturing runaway slaves her family also had the stain of slavery attached to it. Anne was obliged to convert to Catholicism on marrying Charles and she became a devout Catholic, as indeed did her other sisters. They were married in a convent in Bruges. She died shortly after giving birth to their son, Edmund, and this was something that Charles dwelt on and blamed himself for the rest of his life.

Charles’ ancestry from the earliest times was then outlined, starting with ‘The Ancients of Deeping Waterton’ (1159-70) which was the first historical reference to the Waterton family. The presentation went on to refer to the Waterton that fought at the battle of Crécy (1346), Sir Robert Waterton who was governor of Pontefract Castle during the imprisonment of Richard II, who died there in 1400, and Thomas Waterton who fought and died for Charles I at the battle of Marston Moor (1644). This last reference led onto the story of how Thomas’ wife confronted the roundheads who fired on the old Walton Hall and how she returned fire with a swivel cannon injuring one of the besiegers. It also led to the story of how Charles’ father gave him the cannonball that was used as a present.

If it wasn’t for the Reformation the Watertons would probably have enjoyed great prestige within the country, but their Catholicism prevented this. Indeed, the lecture referred to how at one-point Charles Waterton’s grandfather was actually imprisoned for Jacobite sympathies.

Part 2: Walton Hall and Park

The second part of the lecture moved away from the history and pedigree of the Waterton family and onto details about Walton Hall and the surrounding park.


It was noted that the original fortified medieval house that was located on the island was demolished by Charles’ father who then built the current Palladian mansion (c1767). It was a common activity at the time as wealthy families began to replace their draughty fortified dwellings with more comfortable homes. The age when fortification was needed for defence had passed from English history.

The Hall itself was discussed and some interesting titbits of information revealed that I previously did not know about. I will now outline these:


  1. That the arches at water level where the hall meets the lake were actually where supplies, including coal, were brought to the hall by ferry (Charles named this Charon’s ferry in reference the ferryman of Hades who transported the dead across the rivers Styx and Acheron in Greek mythology) across the lake. Currently the room above the area is the dining room though in Waterton’s time it was explained that this was the location of the kitchens.
  2. That, if I heard correctly, Charles Waterton’s sleeping quarters were located on the top floor at the same side of the house as the kitchens mentioned above. Next to this was the room where the Waterton’s priest lived. A personal priest was necessary because at the time it was illegal for Catholics to publicly receive Mass so it had to be done privately behind closed doors. The audience was informed that on the other side of the building on the same floor was a private chapel where the Watertons would receive Mass.
  3. That Charles Waterton was kind to the poor of Walton who could come to the kitchens and receive food. It was explained that the title ‘Squire’ was not an official title but one bestowed upon him by the people of the village as recognition for his local philanthropy.
  4. That the last remains of the old house, The Watergate, had a swivel bridge to allow people to move to and from the hall on its island. Near the Watergate, Charles Waterton grew a yew hedge and sited a starling tower to attract starlings.


Some slides were displayed showing an outline of the hall, islands in the lake, the park and the location of some key features. Some of the key features that were identified included the restored bird hide, ‘Waterton’s Watchtower’ as well as a derelict bird hide on the other side of the estate, the location of Charles Waterton’s grave, the route of the canal next to part of the perimeter wall, and the site of the ornamental and vegetable gardens.

The location of the gates in the wall were indicated. Barbara speculated that the gate on the far side of the estate was likely to have marked the start of a carriageway from the Walton Hall estate to another great Palladian mansion in the area – Nostell Priory. The Watertons and the Winns of Nostell were apparently very good friends.


Some time was spent looking at and discussing the unique Boulby Sundial (1813) that is located on the island behind the house. This was the creation of a talented local mason from Crofton called George Boulby. It contains 20 equilateral triangles and shows the time in different parts of the world. Many of the places labelled were the very places that were familiar to Charles Waterton from his travels so he must have had them inscribed. It also shows the compass points and marks the equinox. Unfortunally the sundial is becoming eroded and is in great need of protection.

The Wall was the next feature that was considered. This is perhaps Charles Waterton’s most famous construction. It was not designed to keep animals in his nature reserve but to keep predators out. The height of the wall was designed to exceed the ability of foxes to jump into the park. It was also designed to exclude poachers. Waterton also made the point of not allowing guns within the walls. The wall was built at a cost of £9000 which Waterton said was the money he had not spent on wine, owing to his commitment to be a teetotaller. Construction took place intermittently when the necessary money was available.


The location and nature of the Grotto was pointed out. This structure was part of Walton Hall’s pleasure gardens and located on the Brooklands side of the estate. In keeping with the attitudes that made him well liked in the village, Waterton made this area open to the public, by appointment, and allowed picnics to be held where local people could enjoy the fresh air.

‘Waterton’s Watchtower’ a bird hide restored in 2005 was the next feature of the park to be discussed. This is located near a creek that has since dried up. It was explained that all the hides had a design fault in the roof. This is why the restored conical roof of the restored hide is located on the ground next to the hide itself.


The next part of the grounds to be outlined was described as ‘the working hub of the estate’. This consisted of the stables, Blacksmiths shop and forge, and there was a pigeon cote with 666 nesting holes in the courtyard. The pigeons themselves were, interestingly, bread as food source and source of income.

Barbara then turned peoples’ attention to the lake, which is man-made, and referred to the time when the lake was drained after Waterton became concerned about the quality of the water. As it turned out there was a great accumulation of mud in the lake due to it emptying from the top.  It was while the mud was being removed that the swivel cannon, presumably the one used to fire on roundhead soldiers during the civil war, was found. To correct the mud accumulation problem, Waterton built the sluice gate that is near the current carpark. This drained water from the bottom of the lake and took it underground across the estate emerging near what Waterton referred to as the ‘John Bull’ tree and then on into the beck that now runs past Brooklands.  This solution to the problems of the lake was a magnificent, though unseen, engineering achievement.

The final point of interest in the park that was discussed was the final resting place of Charles Waterton himself. The position of Waterton’s grave was pointed out at the far side of the lake. It was noted that the cross in front of the grave was made of concrete, the original stone cross had been stolen many years ago. When he died a Requiem Mass was held at the hall before Charles Waterton’s coffin was conveyed, quite poetically, on the ferry Charon to his Grave.


The lecture concluded with a discussion about Waterton the man, and what sort of person he was.

The lecture was well worth attending and if it is held again I would recommend people to attend.

Walton The Village Where Nature and Industry Met