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A family firm founded in 1919

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HISTORY OF MOORHOUSE OPTICIANS - Established 1919

It all started with William Edward Moorhouse, known as Ted, who was born in 1887 in Burley, Leeds. He was the 5th child of a family of six boys. His parents started the “Moorhouse Jam” business with his mother preparing jam in their own kitchen. Ted started his working life in a jewellery business owned by the “Fatorini” family who were cousins. He worked in their shop in Bolton. 

Ted underwent his training in optics at Manchester College of Technology. He joined the army after he qualified in 1912 and he was based at Becketts Park Army Hospital in Leeds. His army days didn’t take him very far away. However, he gained valuable optical experience at this hospital until he left the army in 1918. He often quoted this connection in his adverts. He then moved to Townville, Castleford and started the business in 1919 testing eyes in a terrace house at the back of the railway station in Cambridge Street, Castleford.

Two years later in 1921, Ted moved into the first floor of no 127, Carlton Street which is now the HSBC building. (The Castleford practice has therefore been in Carlton Street, in one building or another for over 90 years, which, we believe, is longer than any other Castleford business). He was a keen advertiser of the business in the local press, always writing and creating the layout himself. (There are some examples of his adverts at the bottom of the page).

Early in the 1920’s, Ted started practicing in a back room in Gilligate, Pontefract, before moving to Salter Row. However, in 1921 there was a coal miners’ strike. The government cut the price of coal and reduced the miners’ wages. This nearly put Ted out of business. But 1921 was also a memorable year as, we believe, it was then that he was introduced to Albert Critchley at a meeting of the Yorkshire Optical Society in Leeds and they became good friends. 

W. E. Moorhouse

A. E. Critchley

Albert Critchley was born in 1889 in Scarborough. He was the 3rd child of a family of five. His father had a clock and watch-making business in Scarborough and so, like Ted, Albert’s early working days were involved in the family business. There was a natural link between the knowledge of watch repairs and the mechanics of spectacle repairs. Perhaps as a result of this, Albert took up his training at the London School of Optics and opened his first practice in Boston Spa near Wetherby. 

As the Pontefract business was flourishing Ted asked Albert if he would like to help him with this practice. Albert started working one day a week travelling from Boston Spa. He gradually built up his time in Pontefract and eventually dropped his practice in Boston Spa and came to live at Chequerfield Avenue, Pontefract. Hence the partnership was formed known as “Moorhouse and Critchley”.

A 1920's Testing Room

Albert’s workshop in the 1920’s

103, Carlton St., in the 1930’s

a 3rd practice was opened in Normanton, at 65 High Street. The property consisted of a house at the back and a shop at the front and was purchased from Elsie Page. Like Pontefract, it opened as a Moorhouse and Critchley partnership. 

Also in 1929 Ted acquired 103 Carlton Street, Castleford and moved his practice there in 1932. Albert was quite skilled with his soldering and would line the jobs up in his little workshop and do them in quick succession. Unescorted repair jobs moved between Pontefract and Normanton by frequent local buses (with helpful bus drivers and conductors). This facilitated a same day service.

In the late 1940’s, the 2nd generation of the family business began. Tony Critchley, born 1926 was Albert’s 2nd son. He started his optical training at Manchester College of Technology in 1944 but his year of national service broke up his studies. He joined the Royal Naval Air Force as an aerial photographer. After completing this year he went back to college for two more years of study and qualified in 1947/1948 just as the NHS came in. He started working at Salter Row, Pontefract and we have it on good authority that at the start of free eye-examinations Tony was doing 100 tests a week.

Similarly, David Moorhouse, born in 1929, Ted’s youngest son, commenced training at Bradford College and qualified in 1950. (His three older brothers all worked in the Moorhouse jam making business throughout their lives). David joined the family business in 1951 on returning from military service in Korea and worked alongside Frank Hinton at the Castleford branch. At this time also in 1950, the Moorhouse and Critchley partnership was formed into a limited company and started trading as Moorhouse Opticians Limited.
Late 1940s, the Pontefract branch moved to No 2 Beastfair. The workshop at Salter Row was kept on until Beastfair was altered to accommodate it. This practice proved to be a bit of a challenge. Its floor space was tiny having one testing room on the ground floor and one on first floor. One of our long-standing receptionists, who retired after 43 years’ service, remembered that the reception desk was on wheels and had to be moved regularly to access the trap-door to the cellar. The top floor accommodated filing cabinets and the workshop. Working there helped maintain everybody’s fitness.

The business now started to expand northwards and in 1955, David started testing one day a week in Sherburn-in-Elmet. The location was the front room of one Mrs Sutton - an arrangement that worked very well for the next 20 years until finally a premise was purchased a few doors down the street at 5, Finkle Hill. Records show that the turnover for the first full year, i.e. year to 31st August 1956, was £631.17s.2d.

The Featherstone practice started in 1968. Shortly afterwards in 1971-1972 the Pontefract branch moved to 51, Ropergate and PMS Optical (our workshop) took over the top floor. 
Around this time, Richard Puttrell started his pre-reg at Castleford under David Moorhouse and Nigel Wilson did his at Pontefract under Tony Critchley. In 1975, Richard and Nigel set up a sister company under the name “Moorhouse Opticians Northern” with David and Tony being co-directors. Over the years they have acquired 6 practices.

The third generation started to filter through with two Moorhouses and two Critchleys joining the business. David’s son, Mark joined the company in 1976 initially as a dispensing optician. Margaret Critchley, daughter of Tony, came on board in 1981 and qualified in 1982 the same year Mark qualified as an Ophthalmic Optician. Adrian Moorhouse followed a year later and Peter Critchley followed on, qualifying in 1988. David and Tony have over the years supervised more than a dozen optics students.

Regarding the remaining practices, in 1983 a practice was opened at Kippax but closed in 1987. The Tadcaster branch was acquired in 1984 from a former optician, Mr. Mills. Normanton moved site in 1999 to 32, High Street. Finally, the Hemsworth practice (formerly called “England & Hinton”) was purchased in 2005 from John Skirrow.

Ted Moorhouse’s ethos which we found on the back of a receipt from the early days still applies today - FRIENDLY, PERSONAL, & PROFESSIONAL.

Some of Ted’s adverts which he used in the press: