Publican and blanket pioneer became a ‘father of the poor’

Publican and blanket pioneer became a ‘father of the poor’

A HISTORIAN believes the civic leaders who transformed Spen Valley do not get the credit they deserve.

Mike Popplewell recently walked the Fame Trail route which features plaques referring to 48 famous people or events.

These range from mill owners to scientist Joseph Priestley and TV presenter Adam Hart-Davis.

A leaflet and website created by the Spen Valley Civic Society gives further information about their achievements.

But Mike, of Gomersal, wondered when researching his family tree how many people know of the plaques.

One of his ancestors, publican Francis Popplewell, is plaque number 21 on the Fame Trail.

He was landlord of the George and Dragon Inn which once stood opposite the Green in Heckmondwike.

In 1811, Francis opened the first Blanket Hall in the buildings at the rear of the pub.

He made rooms at the hall available to loom weavers to sell their goods, which was the beginning of the town’s blanket trade.

But Francis was more than just an opportunist innkeeper with an eye for business.

His grave at the Old Burial Ground of the Upper Independent Chapel states he was a “father of the poor”.

Mike said of his relative: “Francis was a man of property and much of it was rented out.”

Cash went to support extended family who found themselves in poverty, including two widowed sister-in-laws.

At least 20 other relatives were supported and he provided for the education of their children.

Mike said: “The extent of his consideration for the widows and children of his siblings was incredibly extensive.

“So Francis was certainly more than an opportunist innkeeper who allowed his property to be used as the first Blanket Hall in Heckmondwike."

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