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.