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 will be launched on Saturday 8th December. From this date also, the Courthouse website will contain 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 firstname.lastname@example.org, 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 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 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 that you were dealing with.
Memories of Otley County Court – James Turnbull
I can tell another amusing story against myself because when we amalgamated with the firm in Otley, I came to realise that that firm acted for the prosecuting authority. Well, I wasn’t a Prosecutor: I didn’t really have a killer instinct. I was mostly defending. But on this occasion, my partner in Otley was going on holiday and he wanted me to do a prosecution which I didn’t really want to do. I said “I’m not used to doing that.” And he said “Well, you can’t possibly lose, because this is a case of a man who is selling sandwiches from a little hut at the side of the road and one of the customers found a mouse in it. You can’t possibly lose that. He’s being prosecuted for selling dangerous food.” To come to the end of the story, my partner came back from holiday and he said “By the way, how did you get on with the mouse in the sandwich?” And I said “He was acquitted.” He said “I didn’t think it was possible to lose that case but you managed to do it.” And I don’t know to this day how the magistrates came to the wrong conclusion, but it was obviously due to my lack of fierce cross examination.
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.