In October 2019 Sarah Cobham invited Ossett Through The Ages (OTTA) to an event, at Wakefield Town Hall, to highlight the Forgotten Women of Wakefield. We were invited along to Wakefield to share the story of a Forgotten Woman of Ossett: Hannah Pickard.
We first learned of Hannah Pickard after discovering photographs of an ornate fountain that once stood in front of Ossett’s Town Hall. With further research we learned that it had been donated by Hannah Pickard and that the Pickard family had existed in Ossett for generations.
The 1834 Pigot’s Directory lists Hannah Pickard (née Mitchell) under the heading of ‘Shopkeepers & Dealers in Groceries & Sundries’. This was Hannah’s mother. The same directory lists George & David Pickard as ‘Worsted Yarn Manufacturers’. These are Hannah’s father and grandfather. By 1838 George had joined his wife in her business.
Hannah’s father died in March 1852, aged 53, and her mother continued with her grocery business. In May 1857 Hannah’s older sister, Sarah died (aged 32) of ‘a diseased knee joint’ i.e. cancer. Sarah had worked as an assistant in her mother’s shop. It’s likely that Hannah, who was the youngest in the family, helped with the business and the care of her sister. Along with the family’s sorrows, there was also good fortune and this is evident from the 1861 census that records David, aged 31, as a woollen manufacturer employing three men, and Andrew, aged 25, as a woollen merchant just beginning to make his own way in business. Their success was financed by their mother. Hannah was 22 years old in 1861 and it is likely, as a dutiful Victorian woman, that she was nursing her sick mother as well as organising the household. In 1862 Hannah Pickard (the elder)died and her daughter Hannah became the mistress of the Pickard home.
In 1873 plans were passed for a new house on The Green. The building of the house was completed in 1874 and above the door a datestone, made from pink Aberdeen granite, was added alongside Andrew Pickard’s initials. The house, which is situated at the junction of Southdale Road and Ossett Green, has stood for almost a century and a half. This is ‘Green Mount’.
Marriage was not to be for Hannah, perhaps because she devoted her life to caring for others. At first her sister and her mother, and then later her two brothers and her nephews. As a woman of the Victorian era it was, no doubt, expected of her. In her last nine years of life Hannah lived at Green Mount with her brother David’s illegitimate son, George, who was orphaned when his father died in 1882. George’s mother Catherine, died in 1875 when he was barely five years of age and his brother died in 1878. David Pickard died intestate and, as his heirs at law, Hannah and her surviving brother, Andrew, were each entitled to half of David’s estate. Being aware that David’s son George had not been provided for by his father, Hannah declined her half share, assessed at £20,000 (current value £2.4m) which then passed in law to her brother Andrew who, upon his death in 1890, left it for the maintenance of Green Mount and the education of David’s son, George.
Green Mount, seen here to the right of The Congregational Church.
It has been said that Hannah was buried facing her beloved church.
Now, both the church and Hannah’s family’s tomb are gone.
On August 16 1890 a Royal Charter arrived in Ossett to a huge fanfare. The charter declared that Ossett was now an independent borough of the West Riding, with a mayor, four aldermen and 12 councillors. A public holiday was declared and the streets were festooned with bunting, banners and balloons, and lampposts were decorated with flags and shields. A grand procession of 5,000 people took place and 4,000 schoolchildren sang in the streets. All day long the bells of Holy Trinity rang and a firework display was provided by Rileys of Flushdyke.
Sounds like an achievement to be proud of doesn’t it? Ossett: an Independent Borough of the West Riding!!
Hannah Pickard must have been proud of this major event in Ossett’s history as, when she died, on June 29 1891, she left in her will a bequest for the installation of a commemorative fountain and trough to provide water for the townsfolk, cattle and horses. The fountain was unveiled in the Market Place on Saturday October 21 1893 by Mayor FL Fothergill. The Ossett Observer described it: “Standing on a base of Aberdeen granite, it is mainly of Boltonwood stone, enriched with figures and other carvings. The shaft and massive bowl are of Peterhead granite. On the shaft is carved a lion [the crest of the Pickard family], the Borough arms, and the following inscription: “This fountain is the gift of the late Miss Hannah Pickard of this town, to the Corporation of Ossett, for the benefit of the inhabitants and was erected in 1893.
WA Kendall, architect.”
The Hannah Pickard Memorial Fountain
Designed by WA Kendall
Determined to see her wealth distributed for the good of those less fortunate, Hannah left charitable bequests totalling around four million pounds. Her will specified 56 legacies to individuals and 48 bequests to charitable organisations. Around 90% of those bequests were left to places and people in need within the West Riding. Some of the places who benefited from Hannah’s generosity will be familiar to you, such as Dewsbury Infirmary, Leeds General Infirmary, Clayton’s Hospital. Dewsbury Infirmary named a ward ‘Pickard’ after Hannah’s brother. Hannah insisted that it be given the full name of her brother and, after much deliberation by the hospital board, it was soon given the name the ‘Andrew Pickard Ward’. You might remember the ward at Clayton Hospital that was named after Hannah Pickard. It was eventually abbreviated to the HP ward. Hannah’s name was erased.
In Ossett, churches, schools, and charitable institutions all benefited from Hannah’s benevolence. Hannah left a substantial bequest to Ossett Grammar School to provide scholarships for the education of the poor and, in later years, the school named one of their ‘houses’ after her. Those houses have been changed over time and there are now few who remember Pickard House. Those who do remember appear to be unaware who Pickard was. Hannah’s name has been forgotten.
In September 1953 Ossett Corporation voted to change the name of Radley Street to Dimple Wells Road. It was also decided that the Congregational Church would dispose of its burial ground at Radley Street, to the Corporation, for use as an open space. It lay neglected and unused for the next two decades, its inhabitants forgotten. The site is now partially under the road and has houses on it. The monuments and inscriptions are long gone. Fifty years ago, 160 sets of human remains were exhumed from the Radley Street Burial Ground; among them were the remains of Hannah Pickard. Eye witness accounts reveal that these remains were transported in an open topped lorry, in the dead of night, and reburied in a large pit at the Zion Burial Ground in Gawthorpe. No burial service or religious ceremony was performed and, inexplicably, there is no record of the exhumation or the subsequent re-interment of these remains. The burial ground is now privately owned and inaccessible, and horses stabled nearby freely roam among the damaged and neglected headstones. Along with so many others, Hannah Pickard has no known grave.
The Congregational Church and its burial ground.
Hannah’s home, ‘Green Mount’ can be seen next to the church.
In 1958 the Pickard Memorial Fountain was removed from its prime position in front of Ossett Town Hall and was put into storage. In 1962 a scheme to improve Green Park, South Ossett was implemented and the Pickard Memorial Fountain was adapted into a rose bowl and installed in the park. This is where it remained for the next 45 years.
In 2007 Green Park was refurbished and it was decided, by WMDC and Friends of Green Park, that the fountain was not in a condition to form a part of the refurbishment project. Even though the decision makers were aware of its historic value! Instead of restoring the fountain and creating a scheme in which it would fit, it was simply given away. Just like that. One hundred and fourteen years after Hannah Pickard donated it to the people of Ossett, to commemorate such a significant part of our heritage and history, it was passed into the ownership of one of the contractors who worked on the park project. According to the Wakefield Express, without this man the fountain would most certainly have been destroyed. Whilst removing the fountain from the park the large bowl which sat atop of it was shattered into pieces. I spoke with the contractor who removed the fountain and he told me that he had rebuilt much of it on his farm at Sharlston. He subsequently sold it to a reclamation yard. Apart from a small remaining piece, its whereabouts are unknown.
The Peterhead granite shaft remained in the park where it slowly began to deteriorate. Vandalised and weather damaged, the remains of the Hannah Pickard Memorial Fountain lay forgotten by all but those few who visited this part of the park. With no information attached to it, how were those who saw it to know of its huge, significant value? Where else is there anything tangible which commemorates this momentous occasion in Ossett’s history? Who would know of Hannah Pickard and all that she did for our town?
As a part of Green Park’s 60th anniversary celebrations in 2022,
a bench was installed in memory of Alec Robb.
In 2016 Educating Ossett Community Trust was inspired to have Hannah Pickard as the theme for its Big Build project. This saw over 350 students learning about Hannah Pickard and then hypothetically redesigning Ossett Town centre to include the memorial, all supported by graduate engineers from one of the world’s largest engineering companies – Jacobs. https://www.jacobs.com/
We had hoped that a Pickard Memorial sculpture might be installed in Ossett town centre and plans were set in motion to make this happen. Sadly our great friend and world renowned sculptor Stephen Hines passed away in December 2017 and without him we felt unable to continue with our project.
In September 2019 Ossett saw the installation of its first Blue Plaque. Dedicated to a former resident of Ossett, Reginald Earnshaw, at 14 years of age, was the youngest service casualty of WW1. We installed Ossett’s first Blue Plaque for a woman on Green Mount at Southdale Road, the former home of Hannah Pickard – an Ossett Philanthropist.
Hannah Pickard’s Blue Plaque was unveiled
by Margaret Hines, the widow of sculptor Stephen Hines.
Photos: Nev Ashby
On February 1 2020, a small group of us saw a plan that we had begun to formulate some time back finally come to fruition. We also met a couple of Ossett heroes by whose generosity I am deeply moved and I sincerely thank them for all that they have done for us. Two men – Jimmy Hill and Ben Rodham – who gave their time and their expertise entirely for free, to help us to achieve our goal. What was that goal? To remove, protect and store safely the remains of the Hannah Pickard Memorial Fountain until such a time that it can be returned to Ossett Market Place. As a reminder of our heritage and as a memorial to Hannah Pickard.
This shows where the remains of the
Hannah Pickard Memorial Fountain were left to erode.
We are proud to be able to say that Hannah Pickard is no longer a Forgotten Woman.
My grateful and sincere thanks to all who have taken this journey with us.
December 15 2023