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Where it all began

A History of OakHill
Oakhill is now a haven for wildlife. Lost and abandoned for many years, nature has re-claimed all man-made traces – well, nearly! Hidden by green glades, woodland and water, the landscape has overgrown the farmstead of Oaks Hill. The Engine Shed, sidings, junction box, railway and canal-side cottages and bridges have disappeared.

But this place has a history.

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Medieval Times
During medieval times all the land between Ousefleet on the River Ouse and Airmyn on the River Aire belonged to the monks of St. Mary’s Abbey at York. This area was wild and wet – marshland with ducks and wild fowl.
In the seventeenth century 50 acres of Airmyn Pastures were sold to Vermuyden, the Dutch drainage engineer, when he was forced to cut an overflow channel for the River Don to prevent flooding around Thorne and Fishlake, following reclamation of the royal hunting forest of Hatfield Chase to agricultural farmland.


The outlying farms at Airmyn Pastures
The outlying farms at Airmyn Pastures (re-named Percy Lodge) and Oaks Hill, on the northern side of the Airmyn estate were separated by what became the Dutch River, from Decoy Farm, South Airmyn Grange and Moorfields to the south. From the early 19th century, all this landed estate surrounding the village of Airmyn belonged to the Duke of Northumberland and his heirs, and was managed by William Wells, their first agent. William and his nephew, John Wells, farmed 800 acres in two holdings, at Booth Ferry and Airmyn Pastures before the birth of Goole in 1826.


New Port and Town
The new port and town of Goole replaced an earlier Aire & Calder port at Airmyn. Goole did not arise until the digging of the Aire & Calder Navigation’s Knottingley to Goole canal, running parallel to the eastern line of the Dutch River, and connecting the industrial West Riding with coastal and sea-going shipping routes. In 1848 the Wakefield & Pontefract (soon to become the Lancashire and Yorkshire) railway reached Goole, running along the north bank of the Canal, followed in 1867 by the North Eastern railway crossing Thorne moors on the edge of the Airmyn estate and entering Goole across bridges over the Dutch River and the canal, nearer the Potter Grange estate. Finally, the Selby to Goole railway arrived in 1910, and its route meant the loss of Oaks Hill farmstead.

Meet The Team

Jennifer Smith

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John Doe
General Manager

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Amely Chan
Human Relation

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Interesting as the farming background might be, the lives of those people who farmed the land, worked on the farms,lived in the canal and railway cottages, maintained the rails, and manned the points and the signal box at Oak Hill Junction, have disappeared from view. The intention of this record is to bring them into focus.

This is the ongoing story of what took place on Goole’s doorstep and its environs, properly the parish of Airmyn before local boundaries were re-drawn. Feedback from the public will help to re-populate a place that has been forgotten, except by those lads who biked to the fishing ponds, those with memories of the railway and its sheds
(see ), canal traffic and farming times. Contributions welcomed from family historians with links to the past – especially life in the farm cottages, work at the brickyard, along the waterways, down Dutch River Side, between Goole and Rawcliffe. Let’s build a bigger Friends of Oakhill Community.


Potter Grange was originally the home of the Mould family. The Smiths moved there later, building New Potter Grange house in Victorian times. Like John Wells, Ralph Creyke of Rawcliffe, and other agriculturalists in the surrounding marshlands, the Smiths improved their farmland by a process of warping, opening the drainage cloughs to allow high tidal waters to deposit sediments on the land. In this way former peatland wastes were made productive, although it took three years before the land could be planted and cropped.


The farm at Oaks Hill was first spelled “OAKS” (with the plural  “s”, before that was either dropped or missed off. Similarly, the name seems to have begun as two words, then contracted to Oakhill. Whether there were several oaks or one oak, the naming of this farm is intriguing. Where the area was known as Airmyn Pastures (“Pastures”, referring to the general area, as well as to the neighbouring farmstead, often described farmland that flooded seasonally, but where cattle could graze on the lush summer grass) why was this farmstead called Oaks Hill – where were the oaks and the hill?
Five thousand years ago, mighty oak trees did grow in the forest of Hatfield Chase. In an article he wrote in 1952 the late Ernest Butler, formerly editor of the Goole Times, quoted Sir William Dugdale, an early historian of Thorne Moors (that area once stretched as far north as the River Aire). Dugdale recorded that “three centuries ago trees were found in the Isle of Axholme” (to the south of our Marshlands) “five yards in compass and 16 yards long … with great quantities of acorns near them”.
Butler thought the Romans might have burned down the forest to flush out un-cooperative tribes of Brigantes, but Catherine Caufield’s 1991 account of Thorne Moors refers to new scientific evidence: 
“pollen studies show that nature, not man, destroyed the forest.” “Rising sea levels, caused by melting ice-fields three thousand years ago, pushed the Humber estuary farther inland, making rivers back up and overflow into the forest. The waterlogged soil choked and killed the trees.”

Oaks Hill cont

The retreating ice left behind it the Humberhead Levels – a marshland landscape with islands of drier woodland. Conditions around Thorne, though, were different. Sphagnum moss thrived in the acid soil and created a raised peat bog. 

Archaeologists have found bog oak timber and ancient track-ways preserved in peat on the Somerset Levels, another wetland. Nearer to Oak Hill, Peter Halkon and colleagues discovered log boats at Holme-on-Spalding Moor. Never mind bodies set up for the conservation of nature, Thorne Moors (now protected as a SSSI – site of special scientific interest) disclosed a well-preserved Bronze-age human body when peat deposits were extracted for agricultural purposes. One early commercial concern, long before the arrival of Fisons, was The British Moss Litter Company, formed by several local farmers and landowners, including the Smiths of Potter Grange, who saw these “wastes” as offering a useful manufacturing resource for animal bedding


As embankments were built up to prevent this low-lying land being flooded by the tidal Ouse and Aire, the waterlogged wastes were drained into dykes with sluice gates controlling the flow. The most obvious single feature of the landscape (before the arrival of industrial chimney stacks and gigantic sheds) were the long straight lines of the drains. Modern pumping stations, named after their predecessors at Oaks Hill and Orchard Cottage, do the work of older outlets or cloughs, maintained now by the Goole & Airmyn Drainage Board, but historic maps show the Old Drain running beside the farm track to Airmyn Pastures and Oaks Hill. That approach road has been diverted yet still serves Percy Lodge, while the Old Drain acts as the western boundary to contain the spread of industry. Collecting its fill of dumped rubbish beside an old wooden footbridge scorched by fire, the tracks and banks providing non-permissive motor-bikers’ trails, it is still just possible to turn one’s back on contemporary living and stand in the shoes of those who lived here long ago. 


Cloughs could be closed to allow water on to the land for warping, as well as opened for draining the fields. Agricultural drainage lowered the level of the land as water was pumped out but the gradual settlement of fine sediments improved the fertility of the soil before the manufacture of “tillage” and fertilisers. The outlet of the Town Drain was marked on the 1853 Ordnance Survey as Wades Clough, the family name of the tenant farmer at Oak Hill in the 1830s, and possibly earlier still. According to archived documents, Wades had farmed at Armin or Hook for a hundred years or longer. A lease is recorded in 1757 to a Mr. Wade, of Armin, believed to have been “Billy” Wade’s grand-father.

WILLIAM WADE(1789-1854)

William (also known as Billy) Wade was a tenant farmer of the Airmyn Estate, but the length of his lease has not been checked.  In general, without security of tenure and before the development of agricultural “tenant-right” compensated out-going farmers for improved leaseholds, tenants had little reason to invest labour and capital. However, in November 1833 William Wade apparently signed a Bill of Sale in the presence of John Wells the Airmyn land agent, whereby the Wades’ household furniture, goods, chattels and effects in the farmhouse at “Oakshill”, animals, implements, corn and grain, became the property of the Earl of Beverley; William Wells, Boothferry, farmer; and Peter Wells, Hull, gentleman.
Whether this was a means for Mr. Wade to accrue some capital or, perhaps more likely, a way of settling his rent, can only be surmised without detailed research.

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