Memories of Otley Courthouse

The ‘Memories of Otley Courthouse’ project has interviewed and recorded the memories of people who had connections with the Courthouse, Police and old Fire Station until the courts closed in 1997. The recordings have been edited for inclusion on the website, in a book and on new display boards in the Courthouse. This work has been funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, through a ‘Your Heritage’ Award. These Awards are for local and grassroots heritage activities, of which the recording of oral history is an important part. Over 20 volunteers have donated many hours of their own time to carry out the project.

The book and display boards were launched on Saturday 8th December 2012. The Courthouse website contains extracts from the interviews, with audio, text and pictures. To access these recordings on the website, please follow the links on this page.

The success of this project means that there are many more interviews to be carried out, as well as further work in editing and photographing interviewees! If you would like to help with this fascinating work uncovering the past history of buildings and people, who were so important to Otley’s history, please contact the Courthouse on 01943 467466 or, giving your name and contact details. One of the heritage volunteers will then get in touch with you.

Memories of Otley Courtroom & cells – Rachel O’Connor

Rachel O’Connor was a reporter for the Wharfedale and Airedale Observer newspaper between 1966 and 2010. She covered court cases at Otley Courthouse every week until it closed in 1997.

Rachel guides us around the Courtroom and cells giving us a fascinating insight into how business was done and inmates facilitated.

Memories of Otley Police Station – Harry Clay (On the Beat)

Mr Clay and Team
Mr Harry Clay who was Police Constable 850 in Otley Police Station from 1956 to 1961

They were policing the town, Otley town centre but there were also some beats, some outlying beats which brought in Pool, Fewston and then out towards Burley in Wharfedale and Bramhope. They were the outside beats. And then inside the town itself, there was the town Beat, which was No 1 beat. Outside that was the No 2 beat which they went further out into the housing estates roundabout Otley, like at Weston or down Pool Road. But the actual Town Beat was just the town, the town centre so it was bordered by Boroughgate, Kirkgate, Bradford Road and up towards Leeds, as far up Leeds Road as far as the Auction Mart.

Every half hour we had to be by a telephone box in order that the office could contact us should they want to send us anywhere. You needed to be there five minutes before and five minutes afterwards so that covered a quarter of an hour, and then you moved on to the next point. The first one was outside Moss’s shop in the market square. Another one at the bottom of Station Road. There was one up Leeds Road by the Auction Mart. There was one down Pool Road by the pub and Mechanics Hall by the Maypole. Then there was one up Bradford Road, by the traffic lights. Then there was one down by the swimming pool down in the park. Then there was one in Weston Road. We had to alter these points daily. When you went on duty, you signed on duty they told you where the points were. So you had half an hour to walk there. You walked everywhere and sometimes it was quite a long walk. From Leeds Road to Western Road was a fair walk and then your next one might be Pool Road so in a night you covered quite a few miles. You had to check the property. As you were walking down the road you had to check the door system, on nights. When you first came from Training Centre, you were on nights until you got used to walking about the streets in uniform,(that was the thing) plus the fact you had to get to know the place. Now the first night I was on nights, Sergeant Preston said, “You’ve been a cadet haven’t you, you know things, well I’m off at two, you’ve got the town to yourself.” I was in charge of Otley. There was someone in the office if you got stuck like. So I thought, I’m all right here then. So I just wandered round Otley.

Memories of Otley Fire Station – Betty Hutchinson

So my father was an auxillary fireman.  If the fire broke out when the firemen were at home, there was this bell system at the top of the stairs, which would ring out if there was a fire.  And then of course Dad would have to jump on his bike and head off down Billams Hill.  If you attended, one of the first that went on the first fire engine you would receive rather more money than if you got the second one.

Well I was looking at this, the National Registration Identity Card which Dad had and it gives his details on it.  But on the back it says ‘I certify that the person to which this identity card relates is employed in or under is a member of the National Fire Service.  And that was dated the 9th July 1943. And it was signed by Mr King, Ivor King, who was the station officer at that time. There was a very tragic fire in Otley where two children were killed.  And Dad was very ultra careful about fire.  We had an old fashioned Christmas Tree.  It had little candle holders on the end of each branch and we had these candles stuck in, but they were never lit.  No.

Memories of Otley Police Station – Clarry East (Stray dogs)

10 Wesley street where we lived was on the opposite side of the road to the police station and I said there were the petrol pumps for the police cars but there were also stray dogs locked in kennels until they could be taken elsewhere and they were yapping all day and all night.

We had to keep these dogs 7 clear days before they were disposed of and I know it caused a lot of heart break for various people in the area when the dogs were yapping all night as well as our family as we lived on the premises. In fact one of the bedrooms in our house and the bathroom was over the Chief Inspector’s garage and he used to leave the door open and the wind was howling through, the room was extremely cold, the dogs were barking and sometimes it was so cold in that house in the winter that my eldest boy used to sleep in the front room – and of course being a poor copper we only had lino on the floor – no carpets, and if he heard the road sweeper go by in a morning about 5 o,clock, he used to come out early mornings to sweep the streets, he used to pitter patter across those linoleum floors climb up on a box in front of the window and scrape the ice off the window to look out to see the road sweeper go by.

The bathroom was over the top of the garage and this cold room and if you put hot water in the bath you had to be quick and get in and get out because the water got cold very quickly. It was a free standing bath, and you couldn’t spend much time in there, and a very big one and it was in a very large room – it wasn’t conducive to laying there relaxing as we do now.

Memories of Otley County Court – James Turnbull

My memory of the Courthouse is that it was in fact a friendly place for people other than criminals I suppose, because it was local. And the beauty of the local court was that the magistrates had a very good idea of the circumstances in which people who appeared before them where living.

The solicitors knew the general area: they knew the Police, they knew the Probation Service and so I think that a very much closer understanding of the people that they were dealing with existed. I remember well, the chairman of the magistrates would say to a defendant before he sentenced him “Have you got anything to say?” and question him about his background. He probably knew the background of many of the farming people and the locals, whereas nowadays, one is not so intimate. There isn’t that advantage which would lead to an appropriate sentence.

The other thing that stands out in my mind is that the solicitors came to know the magistrates and their general attitude to various things, and their local knowledge. And also the police, so that the police could seek advice from solicitors in a non-formal way in relation, for instance, to the work of police officers, which all led to a very intimate and correct, and sound dispensation of justice.

The Courthouse itself was an intimate place. Of course it was formal and it was mahogany benches and so on, but nevertheless, it was cosy and was not overbearing. In later years when I became a Coroner, I sat in the Court as well and I liked that Court for its intimacy and its possibility of exercising one’s local knowledge in relation to the matters

Memories of Otley County Court – Fran Griffiths

We had a time slot, it was a nice sunny day and we arrived, with Liz and my son and we came into the courtroom, the big courtroom and the judge was sitting up on his seat, on the bench basically, by himself, but it was raised up high, but his robes and his wig on. He was a very nice man, had a little word with us all and then said, and I remember this, he said this is all a bit formal for such a happy occasion, I’m used to dealing out serious things from up here, so this is a happy occasion, so we won’t do it formally here, we will go in the robing room so we came into this room, it was dark, I can’t remember what the decorations, I think there were pictures around, but I do remember a huge big shiny table, in the middle of the room with lots of chairs round it, he sat at the head of the table in a big chair with some sort of carving on the top of it. And we sat round the table, everybody, and then because Lizzy was still only little she ended up sitting on the table and crawling about, because it was very shiny, and he took his wig off, and she actually grabbed it and put it on her head and that was just such a lovely moment and we were all, it was just such a happy day, really. I do remember signing bits of paper, and then, he just said congratulations and we all shook hands and that it, it was over, in about 10 mins really. And it was the beginning of her life with us, which has just been, nothing but joy really ever since.

Extracts from a taped interview with Pat Turner …

… about the working life of her mother Miranda Turner (1906 – 1984).  Miranda Turner worked at Otley Police Station as a cleaner, from 1938 to 1968.

‘My mother went to work at the Police Station in 1938.   First of all she went to work for Superintendent Atkinson, in a private capacity, who lived at the police station at that time.  Then eventually she was asked if she would take on the cleaning of the Police Station.’

‘My mother went at 6 o’clock in the morning till 10.
The work was quite hard, she had to clean all the grates and polish them with black lead.’

‘My mother had to sieve the ashes every day to get the cinders out. War came, coal was rationed and Yorkshire thrift came into it, so the cinders were all saved to be reburnt.’

‘My mother scrubbed the steps, both inside and outside. When she had scrubbed the outside steps she used a scouring stone along the edge.  This made the step easier to see and was a sign of a clean step.’

‘Once, Her Majesty’s Inspector of Police arrived for a visit, but on this occasion  nobody had bothered to tell my mother.   She was still cleaning the interior stairs, with her bucket and floor cloth when he arrived.’

‘My mother had to polish the floors. This was quite hard work because there were big expanses of floor.  They were all brown, heavy duty linoleum and she polished them with a bumper. This was a very, very heavy lead weight on a pad.  It had a long pole, a bit like a mop only longer.  It was jolly hard to push, but the floors absolutely shone.’

‘She cleaned all the offices –  the D.H.Q,  the Town Office, C.I.D and Motor Patrol.  She didn’t actually clean in the court, except if the man who cleaned the court was away.  She also cleaned the Billiard Room which eventually became the Second Court.  The policemen themselves paid for the cleaning of the Billiard Room because they had a Sports Club in there.’

‘There were no police women in Otley until after the war.  If a woman was taken to the Magistrates’ Court and remanded or possibly sentenced to prison they were sent to Strangeways Jail in Manchester. They had to have a female escort (my mother) with the policeman. There were no cars so they had to go on the train to Leeds.  They were in mufti so that the general public did not know that this was a prisoner going to jail.’

‘If a woman prisoner was remanded overnight in the cells, prior to be taken to jail,  they had to have a woman on duty overnight to check on her every hour.   My mother used to go and sit outside the cells and check on these women.  She could doze in a chair, but the following morning at 6 o’clock she still had to start doing her cleaning.’

‘On one occasion she said to me, “I’ll show you the cells.”  We went into the cells and they were absolutely revolting and grim. The windows were very high in the walls and everything looked bleak.’

Outside the cells there was a chain with a huge comb attached to it with half of the teeth missing.  I don’t know why it was chained, possibly they thought it was going to be stolen.’

‘The police used to have a football team which played in the local Workshops Competition. There were a lot of silver cups in the Superintendent’s Office.  I know my mother used to clean those cups every week and took quite a pride in cleaning them.  She quite enjoyed cleaning silver and brass.’

‘During the war there was a police horse.  His proper name was Paisley but he was known as Canny. He had stables at the back of the Building Society.’

‘The policemen were moved on after a year or two to another division. My mother, being Otley born,  knew Otley inside out. Many time a young police man would say ‘Where is this?’ and was told “Ask Miranda she’ll know.”’

‘Just after the war, police cadets came to Otley to do about two years service before they went into the police.  My mother and I used to go old time dancing and she used to teach these police cadets certain dances during working hours.  On one occasion she was teaching one and the Superintendent caught them.  They were both in trouble for it.’

‘There was a murder in Otley.  The murder weapon, a poker, had been covered in blood and rusted, because of all the blood.   It was on one of the desks in the C.I.D for several weeks.  There was no way, when she dusted, my mother was going to move that poker. They used to say, “Go on pick it up.” “No way, I’m not touching that.”  She was always thorough with her cleaning but she always dusted round that poker.’

‘One very bitterly cold, frosty, foggy morning , my mother was in the Town Office with just one policeman.  I think it must have been not long after 6 o’clock, when he answered the telephone and shot out into the police car.   About ten minutes later he came back, opened the car door and ushered this nude man out.  My mother was just crossing the yard at that moment and she got the shock of her life.  Of course she remonstrated with the police man and said, “For goodness sake get a blanket and cover him up.”  Not just because he was offending her, but because it was so cold. They ushered him into this little place they called the police canteen and she thought the policeman has gone away to find something to cover the man up with.   All the other policemen that were on the station had heard about her reaction to this man and they said, “He is all right now, just look through that window in the canteen.”  And she said, “There was this poor man washing up and drying pots in the sink still absolutely nude.”  I just turned round and said, “Well you rotten lot.”  The man must have omitted to take his medication the previous night. There was something wrong with him and he had just gone out like this and was pushing a cart up Beech Hill when someone had reported it.’

‘If they had someone in the cells overnight they had to be provided with breakfast. So my mother cooked breakfast for the prisoners. She was asked, “Can you go home and find something,”  Food was still rationed  but she used to come home and occasionally find an egg.  (We used to keep a few hens at home during the war.)  She would make a boiled egg, a scrambled egg or a fried egg and some bread and butter or toast and tea and take it back to the Police Station. She got a small fee for cooking breakfast.  I think it was about 2/6d.’

‘John Wainwright, policeman and author, finished his service in Otley.  He never went out into town to my knowledge.  I think he was stationed in D.H.Q., in an office capacity.   Many a time she would see him sitting at his desk, puffing away at his pipe, staring into infinity.’

‘I used to go to the Police Station every morning before school so my mother could plait my hair.  I saw a man come in through the front door and go straight upstairs, into what was then the C.I.D.   My mother just said to me “Oh that’s an alien.”’


Otley Courthouse is a unique development run by people in Otley, West Yorkshire. After an eight year development period we transformed a redundant nineteenth century magistrates court into a unique arts and resource centre for our community.

Find out about the history of Otley Courthouse by visiting the Heritage section of our website.


Otley Courthouse, Courthouse Street, Otley, West Yorkshire LS21 3AN

Telephone: 01943 467466 email:

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