William Whitfield 1829-1907

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The Gravestone above is my family memorial for my Grandfather, Great Grandfather, Great, Great Grandfather and Great Great Grandmother. This stands in Section C Row 16, 50 yards directly behind the Crematorium at Lawnswood.

William Whitfield (Gt, Gt grandfather) story is one of rags to riches. He was born into poverty on 13th January 1829 one of seven children of George and Esther Whitfield of Pudsey. 

Shortly afterwards George began work as a porter on The Calls and so the family relocated to the centre of Leeds – 63 Swinegate. BiBis Restaurant now stands on the spot. 

William became a bricklayer at 15 and went on to become a Clerk of Works for Leeds Borough Council. Aged 26 he married Mary Farrar of Farnley, at Leeds Parish Church and they had two sons, Charles and George, the latter went on to become Chief Constable of York.

William progressed with his skills to become a civil engineer and started work on the development of the local railway.  He then joined the Leeds Waterworks and the Bradford Water Corporations for the construction of reservoirs, built to supply the quickly expanding cities of Bradford and Leeds. This work included Eccup 1843, Grimwith 1864, Chelker 1866, Lindley Wood 1869, Swinsty 1871 and Fewston 1879. 

Whilst working on the Thornton and Denholme Beck reservoirs and lodging in Clayton Heights, Bradford, William met domestic servant Elizabeth Walsh who was born in Dublin on 11th July 1845 and came over to England with her parents.

William left his wife Mary and both sons for Elizabeth; on 26 September 1874 she gave birth to William Whitfield Jnr (Gt grandfather) in Thornton, Bradford.

At this time William Snr started to acquire and develop properties in the Meanwood, Little London and the Woodhouse Carr areas of Leeds. These were mainly Victorian Terrace and back to back houses, shops and warehouses. By the turn of the century he owned over 30 properties.

Willian Jnr started work as bricklayer but soon gave that up to become a jeweller and pawnbroker. He had a shop on Bulmer Street, at the bottom of Meanwood Road.

William “Willie” Whitfield Jnr
William Whitfield Pawnbroker Shop

William’s two sons with his wife Mary would travel across Leeds each week to collect maintenance payment and this continued until 1907. I believe William and Mary never divorced and therefore he couldn’t marry Elizabeth.

William Snr died in the family home at 68 Spencer Place, Potternewton on 1st July 1907.

His estate of almost £1.5 million in today’s worth was passed onto his son Willie who bought this 5-vault plot at Lawnswood for £30 11s and his father was laid to rest.

William Jnr’s property, jewellery and pawn broking businesses took him up and down Meanwood Road. It was here he met Emily, known as Emmie Eaton Bosworth Hunt, a milliner working in her stepfather’s greengrocers shop at 578 Meanwood Road situated diagonally across the road from the current day Waitrose Supermarket.

William and Emmie had married on 11th August 1903 and their son, my grandfather Frank Eaton Whitfield was born on 2nd November 1903. They all lived together at 68 Spencer Place with William’s mother Elizabeth Walsh.

William Jnr died from cancer on 23rd June 1909, only two years after his father. The family wealth passed on to Emmie who continued to run the property business and live at Spencer Place with her mother in law Elizabeth. 

 Emmie opened her own Millinery shop on Meanwood Road and here she was to meet and subsequently marry her second husband Walton Nutter in July 1931. 

From this time the Whitfield estate began to depreciate quickly owing to the depression, the Second World War and post war austerity in the late nineteen forties and early fifties. 

Elizabeth Walsh died at Spencer Place in 1926, Emmie remarried, decided to sell up, retire and move to the village of Bishop Monkton north of Harrogate. 

My grandfather Frank had joined the Ellermans Wilson Shipping Line in Hull aged 14 and went on to obtain his Captains Ticket. He met my grandmother Jennie Nichol a teacher from Newcastle Upon Tyne and they were married in Leeds 1922. They lived on King Lane, where my father Keith Eaton Whitfield was born in 1930.

At the outbreak of the Second World War Frank Eaton Whitfield aged 36 went to sea with the Merchant Navy and undertook a number of perilous convoys across the Atlantic and through the Baltic Sea to Russia. In April 1941, he was transferred to The Royal Naval Reserve with the officer rank of Lieutenant.

Frank Eaton Whitfield

Frank now aged 38 was posted to Greenwich and later Liverpool and like most serviceman spoke little of his wartime service up until his death in 1980. However, I have been told he saw Royal Navy action in the Mediterranean, The Suez Canal Zone and North Africa.

In April 1944 posted in Liverpool he was an Admiralty Advisor on the shipping of equipment to Europe for the D Day landings and in February 1945, he was an Advisor to the Royal Navy and US Navy for the secret preparations for shipping of equipment for the invasion of Japan.

After the war Frank met Margaret Clark in Newcastle, where he had set up a business involved in ship building.  He and Jennie were divorced and Frank died in Long Benton Newcastle upon Tyne in 1980.  He was cremated there and his memorial was added to the Grave in Lawnswood.

In the late 1950s Leeds Council began slum clearance and area redevelopment. In 1957 most of the Whitfield properties were subject to compulsory purchase to make way for new social housing and the Inner Ring road off Clay Pit Lane. Almost all of the properties went for a fraction of their value and the rest have either been demolished as unsafe or sold on. The row of shops and a warehouse at the bottom of Meanwood Road are still there but no longer belong to the family.

Jon Eaton Whitfield

Friend of Lawnswood Cemetery