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Malcolm Hanson - Skipton tourist guide

Malcolm Hanson



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Forward by Malcolm Hanson

I've got to admit: in times past I've had no love for Keighley. Many years ago I lived there; I even got married there. But while I often returned there it was always for a visit only. The idea of returning to live in the great CHAV town from Hell never really did it for me. But HEY! GUESS WHAT! The old place isn't as bad as it used to be! Sure, there are still plenty of Burberry caps and shell-suits around (send for the Fashion Police), but the town itself is having something of a resurrection - and so too its ghosts!

Keighley's Darkest Secrets is a real rip-roaring ride through the town's dark past. I got the idea after reading a couple of murder stories concerning the town, then I thought about doing something for the 2005 Keighley Festival - a ghost walk. With that idea came the book and(forgive me if I blow my own trumpet) it's a cracker! I thoroughly enjoyed my time writing KDS since it meant spending hours in graveyards and back alleyways hunting down urban myths and legends; dusting off old accounts of events involving blood-encrusted coal hammers and lead piping, and reflecting on all the decadence and degradation that was rife in the Keighley of 150 years ago.

If you really want to know what your ancestors got up to, then buy this book. You'll love it!

A little Taster...

Time to pass through the gate [should it be unlocked] and into the churchyard. To our right is the Lord Rodney – reputed to be the oldest pub in Keighley, and behind it is the Rodney Yard. It was here where a very violent murder took place on Christmas Day, 1860, and a murder that we intend to revisit in the final ‘darkest’ chapter of this book. It is here, also, that a ‘dark lady’ has been seen hovering near to a bricked up window in the churchyard wall. This is rather interesting, since the murder took place right there - in a hovel that backed on to the churchyard – its window looking out over the gravestones. Could the murder and the ‘Dark Lady’ be connected?  

Turn left and walk towards the vestry door at the south-east end of the church. Stop about 20 feet before the vestry door and check the laid-down gravestones – you are looking for the name ‘Sharp’. Found it? The very last inscription should say ‘…also William Sharp, died 1856.’ You have found the grave of ‘Old Three Laps.’

The story goes that in 1807, at the age of thirty, William Sharp, of Whorls Farm near Laycock, was to marry Mary Smith at St. Andrews Church , Keighley. However, on the morning of the wedding, while he waited at the altar, word came that the bride had been confined to her home by her disapproving father. [It appears the father of the bride desired the father of the groom to bestow an equal amount of property as himself upon the couple. The groom’s father – who was well-known to be the most miserly man in the parish – declined this proposal, and so the father of the girl vowed she would never marry old Sharp’s son.]

So distraught was poor William that he left the church vowing never to return, and that ‘he would take to his bed forevermore, there to lament over the loss which caused him such great sorrow.’

William was true to his word, as for the next forty-nine years he would: ‘live, sleep and die’ in his bed which occupied a room three-metres-square.  Many people came to visit him; if they weren’t welcome they would peer through the tiny window at the back of the house. Those that were allowed in to his room were shocked to find a man who seemingly ‘rolled himself up like a hedgehog’ and, as one little girl described him: ‘looked like a big fat pig.’ If, in his more lucid moments he noticed people watching him he would: ‘hide his head under the bedclothes’ or he might ‘rapidly count his fingers as if trying to solve some problem or other…his long hair and beard lank and neglected.’

For all this William was extremely clean in his habits (he had a nurse that took care of him); his bed was spotlessly clean, and when he took his meals, he would: ‘turn down the blankets and eat of the mattress, so that the crumbs should not get among the bedclothes.’ Though by living so sentient a life (he never left his bed in all those years) he had grown to an estimated weight of 240lb; a figure of such grotesque proportions that his bed was said to have constantly groaned under his weight.

‘Old Three Laps’ – as he had been known all his life, met his end on Monday, 3rd March, 1856. He had to be rolled from his bed into a ‘great oak chest’ which was to serve as his coffin. On the day of his funeral, thousands assembled in the churchyard to witness this strange burial. ‘The combined weight of chest and corpse was estimated at 480 pounds; was tow and a half feet in depth, and took eight men with strong ropes to lower it into the grave.’

For many years after, people would recall that in all those forty-nine years in bed, William never spoke a word – not until the very end when with his last breath he whispered: ‘Poor Bill… poor Bill… poor Bill Sharp.’  

[William actually inherited the name ‘Old Three Laps’ from his miserly father who, upon taking a length of cloth to a tailor to have it made into a coat, and being told by the tailor there was not enough cloth to make a four-lap (four pleats) coat, Sharpe the elder replied that he [the tailor] could: ‘mak’ it wi’ three laps, or anyroad.’ ]

Sadly, many of the more interesting gravestones and memorials have disappeared over the years; in 1948 Harry Bancroft wrote that the oldest stone dated back to 1690. He describes a stone on the east side of the churchyard near the vestry door as having the words:-

                 “Noe riott that brought this human’s frame decay,

                 A true consumption took this man away,

                 Called William Denbigh, in Kighley, aged Nintty three,

                 That lived and died in peace and unity, who departed

                This life June 30th 1710.”

This old guy lived to be ninety-three – at a time when most men rarely saw  their thirtieth! He must have been the oldest swinger in town!

I could not find Mr. Denbigh’s gravestone, nor could I find the next: 

Rebecca Town, who died in 1851, who had recorded on her memorial that she had in her lifetime bore thirty children (all stillborn, or dying in infancy) to her husband Benjamin. She died in her forty-fourth year, which meant she had probably bore a child every year of her life from the age of fourteen! It is said that she died ‘worn out’, and that her uncaring husband all but kicked her exhausted body into the grave. He remarried without a thought for her.

I wish to God I could have located her grave – said to be close to the vestry – but her monument seems long gone. I would have laid a single rose for every lost child; for every tortured breath she must have taken; for every year of her sad life as being little more than a machine of progeny.

Poor Rebecca.

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