The de Wridlesford family from Norman times may have lived on the site of Woodlesford House but there's no physical or written evidence to support that theory.
After the 13th century the next candidates as substantial landowners in Woodlesford are the Butterfield family. The first name in the record is Abraham Butterfield whose son Richard was baptised at Rothwell church in 1702.
Richard is next mentioned in 1741 when a poll book, or register of those who could vote, states that he was living in Rothwell parish and owned land at South Cave near Hull, possibly as a result of a marriage or inheritance. Others landowners from Woodlesford voting with him in an election for one of the two members of parliament for Yorkshire were James Burnell, John Dobson, Joseph Green and George Kitchen.
It's pretty certain that Richard Butterfield was a wealthy farmer and lived at Woodlesford House for part of his life. As well as being the freeholder of his own land and buildings he was a tenant of other property throughout the district. For instance, in 1746, he took out a lease on Thorpe Hall and about 240 acres of surrounding land which were part of the Temple Newsam estate.
In 1759 an advertisement in the Whitehall Evening Post, a London newspaper, connects him to the sale of the freehold of the Hollin Hall estate at Oulton "now in the occupation of Mr. James Barber." The estate was said to be "capable of improvement" and potential buyers were invited to obtain particulars from a lawyer in Chelsea or from "Mr. Butterfield at Woodlesford."
Eight years later in April 1767 two other "very improveable" freehold farms and a stone quarry in Oulton and Woodlesford were up for sale by auction at the Old King's Arms in Leeds. The farm tenants were Richard Butterfield and Abraham Rhodes. Included were a dwelling house and outbuildings along with four cottages and "several closes and parcels of field lands, containing about 40 acres." The quarry, which was next to Butterfield's farm, had belonged to William Brooke of Killingbeck Hall and was let at a yearly rent of £2 10 shillings.
In the same period a deed from 1768 shows that Butterfield and Joseph Dobson were the tenants of closes of land adjoining the River Aire called Toberans, Carrs and Clareborough Ing. A year later Mary Garlick and her son William sold Toberans Close and Hall Carr for £1100 to Richard Butterfield who was described in the conveyance as a "gentleman."
Richard Butterfield died in 1772 and after that his property appears to have passed to his nephew. The story isn't absolutely certain but Richard's will, dated 1771, gives Woodlesford House including a stable, yard and outhouses to his wife Mary along with an annuity of £30 "out of the Lordship of Woodlesford." The rest of the "reputed" manor was given to his "nephew John Butterfield and heirs male."
According to documents transcribed by the Oulton vicar Geoffrey Mercer in the 1940s Richard Butterfield had taken out a loan of £500 from Samuel Keeling of Rothwell.
The Keeling family were prominent farmers and landowners and like his father before him Samuel was an attorney and responsible for poor relief in the parish. The Keelings were related to the Pyemonts of Lofthouse and a document from 1773 referring to 7 houses and 110 acres of the Butterfield property in Woodlesford includes John Pyemont's name as well as a tenant called John Dax. It indicates that Richard's debt was still outstanding giving Keeling and Pyemont a call on the Woodlesford land.
In 1775 John Butterfield borrowed a further £1000 and mortgaged part of his Woodlesford property to Samuel Keeling. Two years later he took out a further loan and mortgaged more land.
Business can't have been good for John Butterfield because in 1780 he took out another loan, this time for £5500 from John Backhouse, a farmer and landowner at Rothwell Haigh. It was probably unconnected to his financial woes but a year later seven of his fat oxen were stolen by a man called Henry Parkinson who was caught and sent for trial at York Assizes.
Borrowing your way out of trouble is never a good idea and in 1782 John Butterfield proved the point when he went bankrupt. Given that he had several creditors it was decided to put all his property into a trust administered by John Sharpe of Gildersome, and Richard Clarke and John Hudson of Rothwell Haigh.
The paperwork was drawn up by attorney Samuel Smithson, who had taken over his uncle Samuel Keeling's law practise, and the creditors were invited by a notice in the Leeds Intelligencer to make their claims known at his office in Rothwell. Similarly those who owed money to John Butterfield were "required immediately to pay their respective debts to the trustees." A meeting was also held between the trustees and the creditors at John North's public house called the Sign of the Swan in Woodlesford.
The outcome of that meeting appears to have been a decision to put Woodlesford House and its associated land up for sale. From an advertisement, placed several times in the Leeds Intelligencer between September and November 1782, a full picture of the extent of the property emerges.
Up for sale, either together or in parcels, was the "manor or lordship of Woodlesford" which included the "large and genteel" mansion house along with three folds, a large barn, ten ox stalls and a dovecote. There were also three stables which could accommodate more than 12 horses.
One of the stables had recently been built and had chambers above it for the storage of corn. Surrounding the house was a large garden, an ornamental lawn or "pleasure ground" and an orchard planted with fruit trees and shrubs.
Along with the house and gardens there were just over a hundred acres of farming land broken up into 15 parcels or sections. The largest at 20 acres was Bridge End Pasture. It was by the side of the river near Swillington Bridge. Pearson Garth, later renamed Applegarth, was next to the house. Others were Fordingworth Close next to Woodlesford Lock, Laurence Close, Brig Green, Great Oak Tree Close, Little Oak Tree Close, and Asholdwell Close which later became the site of Henry Bentley's brewery.
Toberans and Far Toberans between Swillington Bridge and Fleet Mills were used for grazing cattle and sheep. Low Field, Middle Field and Holmsley Field were parcels of arable land for crop growing.
Also for sale were 9 stone built houses. Three of them at the top end of Pearson Garth were new but one was so far unoccupied. The others were lived in by Robert Fletcher and Westerby Ward. Adjoining Fordingworth Close, probably at the junction of what became Alma Street and Pottery Lane, were four houses occupied by William Nettleton, Richard Primer, John Law, and Widow Moore. In Oulton two more were tenanted by Joseph Simpson and Joseph Clarkson.
Finally next to Swillington Bridge was a house along with a building for keeping animals called a foldstead, a barn, a stable and workshops tenanted by William Evers. There was also a wharf for loading and unloading vessels on the river. A few years later this land became the site for Swillington Bridge pottery.
It appears that nobody rushed to buy the estate so in January 1783 it was re-advertised, this time to be sold at auction at the Sign of the Swan at two o' clock in the afternoon on the fifth of February, if it wasn't sold privately in the meantime. By that time Westerby Ward had died and his house was occupied by his widow with Joseph Smith moving in to the unoccupied house next door.
It's not clear if the auction took place but the deeds show that at least part of the estate was bought by John Turton, a gentleman from Gildersome. Samuel Keeling and John Backhouse also got their money back and it appears that some kind of deal was done between them as a few years later a map drawn in 1786 shows that John Backhouse was the owner of Woodlesford House. At the same time George Kitchen was living at Applegarth House and a Mrs. Butterfield was at Wood End Farm nearby.
John Backhouse died in 1796 apparently without having married. His Woodlesford estate then passed into the hands of William Wilks.