OLAS Otley

1845 onwards

Thomas Constable (1805 -1895) a Catholic solicitor who lived at the Manor House and his sister Mary (1811- 1878) who lived at Dovecote House in Boroughgate were the benefactors of the building that is today the Catholic Church of Our Lady and All Saints in Otley. On 28th July 1845 Thomas had written to Bishop Briggs about ‘building a chapel for the benefit of souls in the vicinity’. He outlined his intention not to start building before the spring of 1846 but when he did so he intended ‘to build it with decent simplicity in the Gothic style and endow it in a moderate way’. Thomas provided £4,000 for its building, and his sister Mary, provided £1000, a combined sum equivalent in today’s money to £610,000. Charles Hansom was commissioned as the architect and what was then called the Chapel of Our Ladye and All Saints, next to the Manor House, opened on 24th June 1851. Before the building of the Chapel in 1851 people wishing to hear mass in the vicinity would have needed to travel to Myddleton Lodge in Ilkley, the home of William Middleton, a cousin of Thomas Constable. Between July 1845 when Thomas Constable wrote to Bishop Briggs and June 1851 when the Church opened events occurred in Ireland which changed the population of Otley. In 1845 the European wide potato blight caused by an attack of ‘Phytopthora infestans’ played havoc with potato crops across Belgium, France and other countries . The situation in Ireland was particularly bad because the combined impact of the blight and the failure to sow the crop led to the yield being lower by three quarters in 1846 and 1847, with the blight returning in 1848 followed by failure in 1849. People who could were leaving from every port in Ireland after 1846 - some one quarter of a million Irish men, women and children left Ireland and this was to continue at that level and sometimes higher for the next four years. Many Irish people at this time came to the neighbouring cities of Bradford and Leeds. In Bradford, over 9,000 were Irish born, some 9% of the population and in Leeds, over 8,500 were Irish born, nearly 5% of the population in the 1851 Census. Otley’s Irish born population was small in comparison but by 1851 had reached 553 nearly 12% of an overall population something in the region of 4,750 in contrast to the 2% Irish born in 1841 In most movements of people ‘chain migration’ is important. This involves moving to a place because their family or friends are there. Word of mouth or knowledge of their location is the key to the ‘chain’. People try to go to family or friends. It is likely that ‘chain migration’ could well have been a factor in the movement to Otley as there were already Irish families in the town like the Laughey’s; the Hughes’s; and the Connelly’s. In the town’s oral history those fleeing the famine and evictions in Ireland first settled in an area to the east of town between East Busk Lane and Albion Street in the area of the ‘Cambridges’ that became known as ‘Irish Fields’. In 1847 Joshua Hart the Vicar of Otley wrote as follows in his parish register ’ A great famine in Ireland in 1845, England, especially Otley was inundated by poor starving Irish and a great number of children died’. There is evidence that Thomas Constable gave practical help to the Irish who came to Otley. In May 1847 an entry in the account book of William Dawson held by Otley Museum shows that he paid for a deal coffin for Catharine Quin referred at a cost of 8s6d on 31 May 1847. The record states ‘The coffin being taken from a shed on Mr Constable’s estate for burial as a pauper in Otley parish churchyard’. Catharine’s name is listed on the Irish Famine Memorial on the south wall of the church. Stories have passed down of his kindness in assisting people who were ill; of finding people work and in supporting those out of work. Certainly there is concrete evidence of his support for education. Thomas Constable and his sister Mary were responsible for funding the building of St Joseph’s school in Otley. Thomas Constable purchased the land in Crow Lane and had a two classroom school built on it which opened in 1861. In 1870 his sister Mary paid for an extension on the same site.

By 1867 the parish had grown sufficiently for the west end of the church to be extended and the lower portion which now contains the organ gallery was added. The was done at a total cost of around £700- £76,300 in today’s prices. The Constable family had personal oversight of the church until 1943 when Thomas Constable’s daughter Mary Lady Mowbray and Stourton gave the church to the Diocese. In 1968 to meet liturgical criteria the altar was replaced and turned around so that the priest faced the congregation. At that time the entrance into the church was where the confessional is today. A new entrance and porch were built at the end of the church with stairs to the organ loft. A ‘cry room’ which is now the Lady Chapel was also put in. In 1992 further changes were made to meet the liturgical needs of the time. A new altar similar to the original one in the church was placed closer to front of the sanctuary. The tabernacle was placed into the wall (as it was when the church was built) and a carving of a pelican feeding her chicks was placed above. A new ceiling was also added. The most striking feature was the new window designed by Ann Sotheran. The old window is still in the church today as when the organ loft was refurbished the organ mechanism and pipes were moved to expose the window in the rear of the church, which upon examination was found to be in need of repair. After repair to the mullions the old altar window was put in to replace the plain glass that was fitted previously. The baptismal font was moved to the front of the church and the statue of Our Lady moved into her own chapel at the rear of the church. A tabernacle for baptismal oils was put into the wall close to the font. A new confessional allowed parishioners to be able to say their confessions either hidden from the priest or in front of him. Access for the disabled was improved and a toilet built at the rear of the church.