Dowgill House – a brief history

Why this house, 5-7 Bondgate, is called ‘Dowgill’ is anyone’s guess; no documentation we have seen, including our collection of historic deeds the first of which dates from 1853, makes reference to that name. The writing on the glass above the front door is relatively recent.

The 1841 census advises that the house was occupied by a Mr William Lawson, 40-year-old leather dresser living with his wife, two sons (both apprentices) and a nephew. How he came to live in a house this big is also a mystery.

The Lawson family were leather workers and old maps show the buildings to the rear of our house right back to the Midland & NE Railway (now the Otley by-pass) as a tannery and associated uses. The family owned the whole row we see today, our neighbouring chip shop at No.9 (pictured above with a cart outside) was once George Moore’s saddlers and harness makers.

The 1861 census reveals Wm Lawson senior, leather dresser, employed 19 men and 7 boys and the family also employed a live-in servant.

My suspicion is that the house was split in two around 1870 with No 7 on one floor only, comprising what is now the guest living room, downstairs WC and house kitchen. No 5 would have needed a kitchen of their own to serve their part of the house so that may account for what is now our breakfast room having had Victorian era ‘presses’ (larder cupboards), a range and a Victorian tiled floor installed, having been converted into a kitchen. (That date is supported by the Campbell Tile Co having begun operating around 1870.)

The 1871 census showed No 5 contained John and Phoebe Lawson, four children and a servant. By now the business employed 140 people and a manager. Number 7 (the external door from the cobblestoned yard into our guest lounge is still present although sealed from the inside) housed William and Mary, their two children and a servant. William is stated to employ 27 men and 7 boys.

By the turn of the 20th century, the family’s interest in the row of buildings was in decline. A Somerset boot and shoe dealer and his family occupied No 1 and No 3 contained two boarders, a timber feller and a printing machine maker (Otley’s other principal industry). No’s 5 and 7 appear to have merged back into the one house we know today with only Councillor Arthur Lawson and his sister living here. Arthur died in 1907 having been kicked in the jaw by a horse.

Trustees then let the house to Mr and Mrs Britton, chairman of the local Conservative club and a pioneer motorist. Their daughter continued to occupy the house alone until her death in 1980. A local eccentric character, Miss Britton is still remembered by many locals for her vigorous attitude to ‘trespassers’ who might step – deliberately, as was often the case with mischievous children, or by accident - on the cobblestoned forecourt we now use for car parking. Buckets of water and a broom were her favoured defence.

After her death, our predecessor, Mr Lenik bought the property from the Lawson Trustees around 1980 until leaving in 2008 for a more manageable house and leaving us the conversion project of a lifetime.


Origins of Dowgill

We are often asked, “what’s the origin of the name ‘Dowgill House’”?

An unusual name, only a dozen or so exist in each of the Leeds and Bradford phone books. Strangely enough, Tim played rugby league with one of them many years ago.

Recorded as Dougill, Dowgall, Dowgell and Dowgill, this is almost certainly an English locational surname from the area around Ripon, North Yorkshire.

Although there does not seem to be a place spelt specifically as Dowgill its origins probably stem from a local variation of the place name Dallowgill, a ‘lost’ medieval village. There is a Dowgill Farm located between Pateley Bridge and Ripley which claims to date back to 1679.

An alternative theory is that it is a corruption of the Scottish surname Dougall.

The Dowgill surname is barely recorded outside Yorkshire although Dowgill is recorded in the various surviving church registers of the City of London in Elizabethan times. Early examples of recordings include William Dowgill, who married Mary Langley at the church of St Mildred, Poultrey on 23rd May 1576 and another early example is Richard Dowgill who married Barbary Thompson at Ripon Cathedral on July 17th 1588.

Investigation into why this building is called Dowgill House today is a study we have yet to make any real progress with. The etched glass above the front door is recent and no deeds we have (our collection dates back to 1845) refer to the building by anything other than house number.

Three letters and date are inscribed in the lintel stone above the front door


This, by convention, would be the initial of the surname of the person who commissioned the building followed under with the initials of the first names of the couple that commissioned the building

At least six other buildings in Otley have similar, three letter and a date, lintel date stones but each with different initials.

Another of Dowgill’s many mysteries…


Ten interesting facts about Otley

OK then, give me ten interesting things about Otley…

 Not as big a challenge as one might think. I once went to a tourism conference in Thirsk with representatives from umpteen market towns and villages from the midlands and north of England. The opening challenge from the chair was, ‘Put your hand up if your town has got something unique’. Many hesitated, some drew a blank and the first thing that came into my mind was ‘we’ve got an international airport 10 minutes away’. A minute later though I was scribbling down a list…


1. Birthplace of furniture maker Thomas Chippendale (1718) - Otley’s most famous son, his statue stands outside the impressive Manor House, now the Stew & Oyster pub on Clapgate. The blue plaque on the café next door to us suggests he has connexions there but this is unlikely as he had already left Otley for London by 1748, before Dowgill House was built (1753) and the café clearly post-dates us. Ah well


2. Otley Show - First held in 1796, May’s celebration of all things rural is believed to be the oldest one day agricultural show in Britain


3. Birthplace of the Wharfedale Press - One of the earliest commercially available printing presses the invention made the printed word available to the masses. Mass produced since 1856, making Otley the ‘silicon dale’ of its era there were several printing press factories in Otley in the 1800s. Our tiny Otley Museum has lots of information about this


4. ‘Otleywood’ -  Our cobbled streets, Market Place and Georgian stone architecture makes us an ideal backdrop and has been frequently used for location filming in programmes such as Emmerdale (where Otley takes the pseudonym Hotton), Heartbeat, The Chase (the Kay Mellor drama about vets, not the daytime TV quiz), A Touch of Frost and, most recently, DI Banks


5. Otley’s World Champions - Otley’s own pro-cyclist, Lizzy Deignan (nee Armitstead) took gold at the women’s indoor track cycling (Poland 2009), was women’s road cycling world champion in 2015 and loads of other medals before and since. Memorably, Lizzie’s was the first British medal at the 2012 London Olympics (a silver, so no gold post box, I’m afraid) and soon after on an evening of triumphant scenes we helped with her open top bus homecoming, taking the chance to get a few Union flags signed, one for us and the others to raffle off for charity. Commonwealth Games gold followed in 2014 and, of course, the Tour de Yorkshire (the world’s most valuable women’s cycle race) in 2017. The lass has done well.


Our pal, Mervyn Jones was model aircraft Control Line Flying World Champion (1994)


James Barber, of the now departed Artemis tobacconist and gift shop on Westgate, claims to have been world champion at worm charming although he had a twinkle in his eye when he told us and research hasn’t substantiated his claim


Alistair and Jonny Brownlee, World World Triathalon champions (2009, 2011 & 2012) and 2012 Olympic gold and bronze and 2016 Olympic gold and silver medallists, are from just up the road in Bramhope and can often be spotted training around and about and sneaking the odd pasty from one of our bakers


6. Oliver Cromwell - …or at least his troops, reputedly drunk the Black Bull dry the night before the battle of Marsden Moor (1664). The Roundheads won, which may well have been down in part to the Timothy Taylor’s Landlord pale ale



Hairy Bikers recording ‘The Pubs That Built Britain’


7. Morris dancing - Otley is home to no less than four folk dance sides, Buttercross Belles, Flash Company, Kitchen Taps and Wayzgoose who are on show at the drop of a hat for Mayday, September’s huge four day Folk Festival, New Years Day, Beer Festival etc


8. JMW Turner - When painting Hannibal Crossing The Alps the famous landscape artist is reputed to have based the scene on a storm over Otley Chevin he watched while staying at nearby Farnley Hall


9. Ratio of pubs to population - Once the highest ratio in Britain (amongst several claimants these days Rhyader in Wales claims to have dethroned Manningtree in Essex recently) some 24 pubs exist today serving our 15,000 population. Although this is more than when we arrived the town once sustained no less than 32 hostelries. Being the main market town for Wharfedale and the last town in Britain to have two independent auction markets (now only one exists since Foot and Mouth disease in 2001) led to a regular influx of thirsty farmers, pockets bulging from receipts from their livestock sale 


10. Cycle Races - One of the prestige events in British Cycling’s Elite Circuit Races programme, Otley’s race evening is staged annually on the longest Wednesday in June or sometimes early July. The street circuit is lined by a crowd of thousands and the elite race attracts star performers including now Tour de France heroes Mark Cavendish (who won at Otley in 2005) and Bradley Wiggins (2004). As well as Otley Cycle Club the town hosts a cycle race team, PH Plastering. Local Olympic silver, Commonwealth gold medallist and 2015 road cycling women’s world champion, Lizzy Deignan (nee Armitstead) regularly features on race night



Little old Otley, you never knew there was so much in it…

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Set in the heart of the historic town of Otley, West Yorkshire, Dowgill House offers quality guest accommodation and hospitality. We look forward to you staying with us.

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5-7 Bondgate, Otley, LS21 3AB


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