Monday, 23 September 2013


Entrepreneur James Leach was a larger than life figure in Keighley in the 19th century.  He was known as ‘Pie’ because of his one time meat pie business, but he also ventured into other trades such as handloom weaver, wool comber, coal pit sinker, beer house keeper, spoon maker, horse & cart driver, gambler, hawker, travelling showman, docker, green-grocer, nightwatchman/ policeman.  He also became very much involved in local organisations and public offices.  Pie got married on a particular afternoon only because he had time on his hands when his loom broke down.  Unfortunately he arrived late at the church and fearing that the ceremony would have to be postponed because it could not be held within the permitted hours, Pie persuaded a friend to climb the church tower to alter the clock in order to mislead the parson.  Then, when a ring was unavailable for the bride’s finger, he enlisted the help of the landlady at the nearby Lord Rodney Inn and she loaned her own wedding ring.

Apparently Pie was a little more organised when it came to making his funeral arrangements, making elaborate arrangements.  He erected a fine tombstone in Keighley Utley Cemetery some six years before his death and had it engraved with a testimonial and details of his public service:

 ‘We the undersigned have pleasure in certifying that the bearer JAMES LEACH is of sober and steady habits. He has been employed in the Keighley Police Force for upwards of 5 years and retired therefrom last October having been so long in the Force  and accustomed to the duties of a Police Officer, we have confidence in recommending him to your notice. We are yours obediently

William Busfield Rector. John Craven JP. Jno Brigg JP. John Sugden JP. James Kershaw Superintendent of Police. July 29th 1854.’

Mr James Leach was a representative of the Ratepayers as follows:

He was elected a member of Keighley Local Board and served about 12 years. He was elected a member of Keighley Board of Guardians and served 7 years. He was elected a member of the Keighley School Board and served 2 years. He was elected a member of the Keighley Burial Board and served 3 years. He was a Commissioner of The Baths and Washhouses for 7 years and moved the resolution for the incorporation of the town officially in the Finance and General Purposes Committee of the old Local Board of Health.

The burial chamber was also excavated and, as Pie had nowhere to keep his prepared coffin, he obtained permission from the Burial Board to store the empty coffin in the grave until needed!  Suffice to say that Pie was successfully laid to rest, as planned, on 13th October 1893 aged 78 years.

He kept a diary of his duties as Police nightwatchman (1848-1853) which is preserved in Keighley Public Library.

Pie Leach's epitaph


Jemmy Hirst from Rawcliffe near Goole, also planned his own funeral and for some reason he stipulated that his coffin was to be borne by eight old maids who would receive one guinea each. When he died in October 1829 at the age of 91 years, it was in fact eight widows who performed that last service and they were paid half a crown each. In accordance with Jeremy’s wishes, the Mayor of Rawcliffe declared the funeral day a public holiday and as the glass-domed coffin was carried to the churchyard, a piper from Aberdeen and a fiddler, each hired by Jeremy on payment of £5, preceded it. A great procession of his racing friends and acquaintances marched to lively music and the event was followed that night by a firework display.
Jemmy or James to give him his correct name, was of course an eccentric of the first order. He was born on a farm at Rawcliffe and had a great love of animals which he liked to train and it was said that a hedgehog and an otter followed him to school. Later in life he trained a young bull – Jupiter as Jemmy called it – as a horse, riding it to market and even hunting to hounds with it. When his father died Jemmy inherited nearly £1000 and, after shrewd investment, he became a rich man. He built a wickerwork carriage with very high wheels and  a top shaped like a chinaman’s hat, and of course it was pulled by Jupiter. Off he went to Doncaster Races followed by two foxes he had tamed, where he was as popular as he was colourful with harlequin breeches, yellow boots, red coat and huge hat said to be three yards in circumference. For betting he used his own bank notes to the value of five pence ha’penny. Later he attached sails and a bed to his strange carriage and replaced the bull with four mules.
Jeremy had of course carefully planned his funeral. His coffin, made to his own design, was equipped with a bell (in case he need to call anybody from his grave),  had folding glass doors and it stood in his dining room instead of a sideboard and served as a bar for his favourite tipple – brandy. After imbibing, his friends would be invited to try the coffin for size and were only released on payment of a fee, a penny from the men and from the women – a garter, which would be used as embellishment. His generosity knew no bounds and he was called the ‘King of Rawcliffe’.
He married the lady who had been his housekeeper for a number of years and he wore a toga for the occasion, insisting that the ceremony be conducted in sign language.
 He was a great practical joker and lived in a strange house where each of the four walls had a door to confuse visitors and some inside doors led only to a blank wall or gruesome painting. The windows were of different sizes and were curtained with newspaper and a variety of staircases led nowhere,
 Apparently because of his famed oddity, King George 111 invited Jeremy to Court and he travelled to London in his wickerwork carriage. Jeremy was not greatly impressed with the capital or with Court etiquette, but he did invite the King to visit Rawcliffe and promised him ‘as much good brandy as tha can sup.’
 Jeremy was mostly remembered for his generosity and his great love of practical jokes. Strangely there is no known grave for Jemmy. It is thought that he may have been buried with his parents.
Rawcilffe Parish Church




John Metcalf was born into a poor family at Knaresborough in North Yorkshire in 1717 and at the age of six he lost his sight as a result of smallpox.   Never daunted, young Jack lived life to the full, he could climb trees, run, box, wrestle, ride and swim with the best and he married the prettiest girl in the area.   He became a fish merchant, learned to play the fiddle and he even fought at the Battle of Culloden.  He also ran a horse drawn taxi service and a pack horse service before his big break came.  Following the passing of an Act of Parliament which authorised the building of turnpike roads, Jack somehow managed to obtain the contract for such a road between Harrogate and Boroughbridge, which he completed successfully to be followed by several others and eventually he employed some 400 men.   It seemed that Jack had a nack, determined by instinct for his task, despite the obstacles, and the fame of Blind  Jack  spread. He died a rich man with some 180 miles of northern roads behind him,    at Spofforth when he was 93 years old and the epitaph on his gravestone in Spofforth churchyard tells his story :
Knaresborough Market Place
‘ Here lies John Metcalf; one whose infant sight
Felt the dark pressure of an endless night.
Yet such the fervour of his dauntless mind
His limbs full strung, his spirit unconfin’d.
That long ere yet life’s bolder years began
His sightless efforts marked th’aspiring man.
Nor mark’d in vain.  High deed his manhood dar’d
And commerce, travel, both his ardour shard’d.
Twas his, a guide’s unerring aid to lend,
O’er trackless wastes to bid new roads extend,
And when rebellion reared her giant size
‘Twas his to burn with patriot enterprise,
For parting wife and babes one pang to feel,
Then welcome danger for his country’s weal.’
Reader! Like him exert thy utmost talent giv’n,
Reader! Like him adore the bounteous Hand of  Heav’n!

Jack's gravestone at Spofforth churchyard

This old inn on the edge of Ilkley Moor recalls one Job Senior who lived nearby in a ramshackled shelter  in the early 19th century.   Apparently Job was born at nearby Ilkley in the 1780’s, the illegitimate son of a wealthy landowner.  He became a drunkard, which together with a problem with women, proved to be his downfall.   He became very unkempt and eventually suffered from rheumatism which necessitated him walking with two sticks.   At the age of sixty he managed to persuade an eighty years old widow to marry him.   It suited Job very much because she owned a house on the edge of the moor.  However the marriage was short-lived  when his wife died suddenly.  Her family, who were less than pleased about the marriage became more so when Job inherited his wife’s possessions including the house.   To vent their fury members of the family descended on the house and virtually demolished it leaving Job with no option but to construct his ramshackle shelter to live in.   Apparently it was so small that he had to enter on his hands and knees.   And so his lived as a hermit until he contracted cholera and ended his days in the workhouse, where he died when he was 77 years old.  


Cornishman John Knill left his own epitaph and in some style.   He was born at Callington in 1733 and subsequently went to St Ives to work with a relative, a solicitor.  He lived in Fore Street in what is now known as Knill’s House.   John Knill became very popular in St Ives and in 1762 he became Collector of Customs, holding the post for 20 years.   At the age of 34 he became Mayor of the town.

In 1782, Knill moved to London and it was in that year that he built a mausoleum at the summit of Worbas Hill overlooking St Ives.   Known as Knill’s Steeple, it is a 50ft high triangular pyramid made of granite.   On one side is written, Johannes Knill 1782.  On another side is his Coat of Arms with the word Resurgam and the motto Nil Desperandum, whilst on the third side are the words, I know that my redeemer liveth.  The steeple is hollow with an arch on the south side.  Inside is a stone sarcophagus where Knill planned to have his body interred but was unable to do so due to consecration difficulties.

Not content, Knill also made plans in his will for his quinquennial celebrations.  Once every five years, a ceremony would take place on 25th July (St James’Day).  Beginning at The Guildhall in St Ives, a party of ten girls, all under the age of ten years, dressed in white, and daughters of Cornish fishermen, seamen and tinners, would walk up to Knill’s Steeple accompanied by two elderly widows and a fiddler.  There they were to dance around the steeple for half an hour, singing the 23rd psalm, while locals dignitaries would stand and watch.    This ceremony takes place as laid down in the will and has done so since 1801 when John Knill was actually present!   He died on 29th March 1811 at Greys Inn Square in London at the age of 78 years.   Much missed by the people of his time, it seems that he will be remembered by the generations to come.   In his will, Knill wrote :

‘ It is natural to love those of whom you have had the opportunity of serving and confess I have real affection for St Ives and its inhabitants in whose memory I have an ardent desire to continue a little longer than the usual time those do of whom there is no sensible memorial.  To that end my vanity prompted me to erect a mausoleum.’

Knill's mausoleum


Anthony Ettricke was an eminent barrister in the small town of Wimborne Minster in Dorset in the 17th century.   It is said that as he grew older, he became ‘humerous, phlegmatic and credulous.’  Because he fell out with the inhabitants of the town, Ettricke made a solemn vow that he ‘would never be buried within the church or without it, neither below the ground nor above it.’    However, he lived to regret his vow and managed to obtain permission to make a recess in the wall of the Minster for his coffin.   He was convinced that he would die in 1693 and had this date inscribed on a colourful black coffin, but in fact he died in 1703.   His coffin can still be seen in its recess in Wimborne Minster and the change of date is clear for all to see.

John Hollins from Stroud in Gloucestershire had  an argument with a former friend who announced publicly that he hope to live long enough to see Hollins ‘safe underground’.  Hollins did indeed die first, but to thwart his adversary, he left instructions that he should not be buried underground but that his coffin should be left on the surface and covered with a pile of stones. The grave and tiered pile of stones can still be seen in St Lawrence’s churchyard at Stroud.
John Hollins grave



 There are many graves in the graveyard at Braemar in Scotland but. despite the burial there of John Farquharson in 1698, his grave is nowhere to be found.
‘Black Colonel’ Farquharson of Inverey fought for the Jacobite’s in the Battle of Killiecrankie in 1689 and when he returned to Inverey he found that Braemar Castle was occupied by Government troops and promptly burned in down. He then spent many weeks hiding in the rocky gorge of Ey Burn , which is still known as ‘The Colonel’s Bed’.
When he died he was interred at Braemar despite having expressed the wish to be buried within the Chapel of the Seven Maidens at Inverey. However, the next day his coffin was found above ground and had to be reburied.  This occurred three more times before the coffin was put on a raft and towed along the River Dee to Inverey where it was interred in the chapel as Faquharson had requested.




Braemar graveyard

The   Old  Gentleman’s grave


A lonely gravestone, surrounded by a stone wall in a small grove of trees, is to be found near to the bottom of a beautiful Pennine valley between the villages of Oldfield and Stanbury near Keighley in West Yorkshire.   Known as ‘The Old Gentleman’s grave.’ i bears the inscription :

‘ In memory of

Mr James Mitchell, late proprietor and occupier of Oldfield House

Who died on the 27th Day of January 1835

Aged 72 years.’

The story goes that on his deathbed, the eccentric Mr Mitchell instructed a servant to roll a large stone down the hillside at the front of his house at Oldfield, and that it was his wish to be buried at the exact spot that the stone came to rest!




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