Oakwell Hall

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Oakwell Hall
Oakwell Hall (Birstall, West Yorkshire).jpg
General information
Type Manor house
Architectural style Elizabethan
Location Nutter Lane, Birstall, Batley, Yorkshire, England
Coordinates 53°44′22″N 1°40′15″W / 53.73944°N 1.67083°W / 53.73944; -1.67083Coordinates: 53°44′22″N 1°40′15″W / 53.73944°N 1.67083°W / 53.73944; -1.67083 (grid reference SE2127)
Owner Kirklees Council
Grounds 110 acres (0.45 km2)
Design and construction
Main contractor John Batt
Designations Grade I listed
Oakwell Hall

Oakwell Hall is an Elizabethan manor house in the village of Birstall, West Yorkshire, England set in period gardens surrounded by 110 acres (0.45 km2) of country park.

The builder was John Batt. A recarved stone dated 1583 probably indicates the date of construction. The estate had been purchased by his Halifax-born father, a receiver of rents to the Savile family, who resided at Howley Hall, in Batley.

Oakwell Hall was immortalised in literature as "Fieldhead" by Charlotte Brontë, in her novel Shirley.

Friends of Oakwell Hall[edit]


Founded in 1988, the Friends of Oakwell Hall and Country Park ([1]) are a voluntary support group for the manor house and its surrounding 110 acres (0.45 km2) of country park. Friends work with the Head Ranger and staff at Oakwell and provide assistance inside and outside the hall.


The blackened gritstone house was built to a post-medieval plan with a central hall flanked by crosswings. Its entrance is through a porch and screens passage at the lower end of the house.

Oakwell Hall passed into municipal hands in 1928 and is now owned by Kirklees Cultural Services, and managed by volunteers from the Friends of Oakwell Hall. The interiors were restored to early 17th century condition, the time the Batt family lived here, with the aid of an inventory of 1611. During restoration the original painted panelling of the great parlour and the painted chamber was revealed from under layers of varnish and paint.

Great Hall[edit]

The imposing Great Hall originally had two storeys, but in the mid-17th century, John Batt's grandson removed the ceiling and inserted a gallery and a large mullioned and transomed window.

It was the main thoroughfare for the house linking the wings and would have been the hub of domestic life. It was a reception room for visitors, tenants and businessmen and large gatherings.

It is sparsely furnished and uncluttered creating a large open space, practical to use and impressive to visitors. The table is placed at one end of the room as it would have been towards the end of the 17th century, rather than in its earlier position in the centre of the room. The size of the room is intended to impress visitors.

Great Parlour[edit]

This was the most important room in the house in the early 17th century. According to the inventory of 1611 it had the best furniture, and contained the Batts' collection of maps. In the 1630s the Batts added a magnificent plaster ceiling, and they later had painted the oak panelling including a landscape scene above the fireplace. Most of the original panels have survived although several are reproductions. The painting technique known as scumbling was a way of decorating to create an air of warmth and grandeur. Few examples of this decorative work survive today.

In the late 17th century, dining rooms and parlours were the preferred rooms for eating and entertaining guests in private. The great parlour is furnished with pieces intended to show it as a fashionable and comfortable room of the 1690s.

Great Parlour Chamber[edit]

In 1690, this room was occupied by John Batt. There is a garderobe or toilet in the outer wall. The rushmatting in this and other family rooms in the house was a feature of wealthy households, and was warmer than bare floorboards or stone floors. The fireplace, as with most others in the house, is a 19th-century addition, one of few interior structural changes made since the 17th century. The inclusion of a table and chairs in a bed chamber in the seventeenth century was not unusual. Bed chambers had a dual purpose where their occupiers thought nothing of entertaining guests with wine or cards.


The kitchen was one of the busiest rooms in the home. The mistress supervised female servants preparing food, medicines and pot-pourris, and there would be a stream of tradesmen, estate workers, errand boys and servants of visiting gentry. At meal times, all the servants gathered there to eat from wooden platters.

When the hall was built, food may have been cooked over a large fire at one end of the Great Hall but by the time of the inventory of 1611, the kitchen had become a separate room in the east wing. The kitchen is divided from the main living quarters by the screens passage.

The 17th century fireplace, was replaced by another in the 19th century, but would have been much wider and larger. Evidence of previous occupants can still be seen by the candle burns on the timbers on the wall opposite the window.

The Kitchen Chamber[edit]

The Kitchen Chamber where the servants slept and food was stored, is unpanelled and has no ceiling. Its position next to the back stairs and above the kitchen, made it accessible for the servants. Many local houses used their kitchen chambers for storage.

In 1611 it had five arks for storing meal and grain. Today it has one great ark and a collection of food chests for storage. Lack of a fireplace and unpanelled walls would have made it cold in winter though warmth from the kitchen below would keep the stored food dry.

Little Parlour Chamber[edit]

The inventory of 1611 records 17 beds of different types within the household. Some were truckle beds for the servants; others grand tester beds used by members of the family. Older beds were relegated to less important rooms to make room for newer grander pieces. This chamber is furnished with older furniture and used as a second best bedchamber. Reproduction tapestries are hung from the walls.

In the 19th century, this room was transformed with the addition of the stairs and passage. The wall to the right is an addition, and the room would have been larger. The original timber studding can be seen on two walls, showing the lath and plaster structure.

New Parlour[edit]

The layout of this room shows typical features of a modest 17th century dining room. Servants placed food on the side table, and served it to the family. The court cupboard housed the pewter and plate and could be kept locked as could the small spice cupboard in the corner, the key kept by the mistress, as spices were valuable commodities.

New Parlour Chamber[edit]

A gentry household in the 17th century accommodated visitors. This room, displayed as a second best bed chamber, may have been occupied by the nursemaid and her charges, or other members of the household.

The screen at right angles to the doorway prevented draughts through the bed curtains. There is an adjoining dressing room or closet used to display reproduction costumes.

The warm colours of the panelling and bed curtains are echoed in the carpet on the table, a feature of wealthier 17th-century houses. Tables or beds were ideal places to display a fine carpet too valuable to walk upon.

Painted Chamber[edit]

The Painted Chamber is furnished with reproduction oak furniture to show what it looked like when new (not dark with age and polish). The painted panelling has a larger design than that the Great Parlour, and is less decorative. It was discovered under layers of emulsion paint and thought to date from the 17th century. The room is displayed as the mistress's, chamber; a small table is by the window to obtain the maximum light for sewing.

The floorboards have been relaid in a 17th-century manner. In 1609, a floor was laid at a cost of five shillings and tenpence for seven days' work, as recorded in the Account Book.

The painted panelling creates a three-dimensional effect imitating the grainy effect of wood. The wild 'squiggles' were intended to imitate walnut, a wood becoming more fashionable than oak in the later 17th century. It was expensive so painting was used to imitate it. The paint had a linseed oil base, and feathers and combs were dragged over it to create the grained effect.


The Study, a small room located off the gallery above the Main Hall. The 1611 inventory of Robert Batt shows him to have over 60 books at a time when books were expensive and few people could read. He studied at Oxford University and became rector at Newton Tony in Wiltshire.


Formal gardens[edit]

The exterior of the hall

Surrounding the hall are formal gardens including a herb garden at the side. Herbs and flowers were essential ingredients for the housewife and cook. They were distilled to produce scented oils and are the basis of herbal remedies and had an important culinary role. Although Oakwell's herb garden is small, it gives an impression of the range of herbal plants available. Over 80 different varieties of herbs are to be found in this garden with many more to be found planted amongst the flowers in the formal gardens behind the hall.

Restoration work has been carried out to bring the formal gardens back to how they would have been in the 1690s. This includes using plants popular at the time. The garden contains a parterre of compartments, with topiary specimens and clipped box hedging. The patterns of the box were taken from furniture and plaster work in the Hall and features the lozenge design local to the area. The trellis used has been made using locally sourced original materials and 17th century carpentry skills. Even the shade of green used to colour the woodwork is typical of the period.

Park Land[edit]

Within the 110 acres (0.45 km2) are many diverse environs that make up the Country Park. Woodland, streams, pasture land, ponds and bridleways. There are several walks around the park with nature trail markers. Along the walks, are information points giving details of the flora and fauna. One walk out of the park leads to the site of the Civil War Battle of Adwalton Moor, another to Red House Museum.

Colliery Field[edit]

The pasture land in the middle of the park was the site of the spoil heaps of Gomersal Colliery, which closed in the 1970s. The nutrient poor soil has been ideal for reseeding with meadow plants such as red clover, ox-eye daisy, self heal and yellow rattle. These nectar rich flowers attract great numbers of insects, particularly bumblebees. It is sometimes used for historical English Civil War - battle re-enactments, horse shows and country fairs.

Colliery Pond[edit]

Colliery pond was created when the Coal Board constructed a concrete road to facilitate tipping. The road is concealed beneath the grass and acts as a dam. Water plants there include water forget-me-not, bogbean and purple loosestrife. Large numbers of creatures are attracted by the pond, such as; toads, moorhens, smooth newts, swan mussels plus varieties of damselfly and dragonfly.

Nova Meadow[edit]

A damp area containing moisture loving plants including lady's smock, common tussock grass, meadowsweet, ragged robin and yellow flag iris. A pond was created in 2003 to attract wildlife and the southern part of the meadow has been allowed to revert to scrubland to create a habitat for birds such as the yellowhammer and linnet. In autumn the scrubland attracts thrushes, fieldfares and redwings which feed on the hawthorn berries.

Nova Wood[edit]

Much of Nova Wood was felled for pit props to service Gomersal Colliery but the trees have regrown using coppicing techniques to produce multi-stemmed sessile oaks and birch. Nova Wood is carpeted by bluebells during spring and is a habitat for summer migrant birds such as chiffchaff and blackcap.

Nova Beck[edit]

Nova Beck is one of two streams that run through Oakwell, both running north to south. Nova Beck forms the western boundary of Nova Wood and flows through areas of dense wildflowers. Many of the species present such as yellow archangel, wood anemone and wild garlic are good indicators of ancient woodland. Hard shield fern, red campion and herb bennet are also in abundance.

Oakwell Beck[edit]

Oakwell Beck winds its course along the southern boundary of Colliery Field. Along its length can be found exposed coal seams and fossilized 'ripples' from ancient seas.

Oakwell Beck does not support the same diversity of plants as Nova Beck, but in spring and early summer, the wooded areas are thick with wild garlic, lesser celandine and bistort. Occasional patches of lords and ladies survive in shadier parts. Ash, alder and willow make up the majority of the tree cover and provide habitat for tawny owls.

Stone Ram[edit]

This Stone Ram statue stands proudly on the lawn in front of the Hall. Its origins are unknown, there is rumour that it once stood above the gates to Dewsbury Brewery, this has unfortunately not been confirmed as yet and the search into its background goes on.

Ghost of Oakwell Hall[edit]

A legend concerns the ghost of William Batt, the owner of the house in 1684. He was a young man of 25, a bachelor whose widowed mother, Elizabeth, lived at Oakwell. The best account of the ghost story comes from the Victorian writer Mrs Gaskell in her "Life of Charlotte Brontë"(1857). Her account is as follows:

"Captain Batt was believed to be far away; his family was at Oakwell; when in the dusk on winter evening, he came stalking along the lane, through the hall and up the stairs, into his own room, where he vanished. He has been killed in duel in London that very same afternoon of December 9th 1684."

The legend also states that he left a bloody footprint behind in a bedroom.

The historical facts behind the story are as follows:

  • A bond surviving in the archives shows that William was at the Black Swan, Holborn in London on December 9, where he borrowed money.
  • Local diarist Oliver Heywood has two entries recording the death of William; one that he died 'in sport'; the other that he was 'slain by Mr Gream at Barne near London'.
  • William was buried in Birstall on December 30, 1684

Oakwell Hall and the Brontë sisters[edit]

In the 19th century the hall was used as a girls school which was attended by Charlotte Brontë's closest friend Ellen Nussey. Charlotte Brontë visited the hall and was inspired to use Oakwell Hall as the setting for the manor house - Fieldhead, in her novel Shirley.

This excerpt from chapter 11 of Shirley is her description of Oakwell Hall.

" If Fieldhead had few other merits as a building, it might at least be termed picturesque: its irregular architecture, and the grey and mossy colouring communicated by time, gave it a just claim to this epithet. The old latticed windows, the stone porch, the walls, the roof, the chimney-stacks, were rich in crayon touches and sepia lights and shades. The trees behind were fine, bold, and spreading; the cedar on the lawn in front was grand, and the granite urns on the garden wall, the fretted arch of the gateway, were, for an artist, as the very desire of the eye." Charlotte Brontë; Shirley (1849)

Elizabeth Gaskell described the house when discussing Shirley: "From the ‘Bloody Lane’, overshadowed by trees, you come into the field in which Oakwell Hall is situated… The enclosure in front, half court, half garden; the panelled hall, with the gallery opening into the bed-chambers running round; the barbarous peach-coloured drawing-room; the bright look-out through the garden-door upon the grassy lawns and terraces behind, where the soft-hued pigeons still love to coo and strut in the sun, - are described in Shirley. The scenery of that fiction lies close around; the real events which suggested it took place in the immediate neighbourhood." Elizabeth Gaskell; The Life of Charlotte Brontë (1857)

Oakwell is one of the trailheads of the Brontë Way, a 43-mile (69 km) long-distance footpath that skirts Bradford to Haworth then crosses the South Pennines, continuing to Gawthorpe Hall, Padiham, Lancashire.[1]

Archaeological work[edit]

View Images Archaeological excavations have been carried out by WYAS with help from 'South Leeds Archaeology', a community group based in Rothwell. May 2008 saw the lawn in front of the hall excavated to reveal post holes probably left from a farm which occupied the site and disappeared from maps between 1834 and 1844.



  1. ^ MKH Computer Services Ltd. "Brontë Way — LDWA Long Distance Paths". Ldwa.org.uk. Retrieved 6 August 2015. 

External links[edit]

Media related to Oakwell Hall, Birstall, West Yorkshire at Wikimedia Commons