For the purposes of this book we are going to start from the corner of Leeds Road and Thackley Road, though one can access the trail from any point as it is circular and one always ends up right back where one began! Turning into Thackley Road, walk over the old railway bridge and walk to the junction of Thackley Road and Park Road. Looking around, here one can see the Methodist Chapel and plenty of old cottages and dwellings. Nearby, in the woods, is the site of the Thackley Open Air School which will be featured on the “Happycat Way”, which connects all the trails together. There is also an archaeological project taking place behind the cricket field and, if you wish, you can make a detour to see it before rejoining the trail.
On the corner of Park Road and Ainsbury Avenue is a small recreation ground, with a bench to sit on. Pass by and enter the field behind, climbing the hill to where the old railway airshafts are. Here one gets a magical 360 degree view, from the wilds of Ilkley Moor to the tops of Wrose and well beyond. It is not hard to see why the land has remained common ground: the views are panoramic, and these days one of the airshafts can be used as a look-out point, with its concrete-top and seating going right the way around its base.
Close to here is the Commercial Inn public house, which lies in a very attractive setting, surrounded by ancient folds of cottages. It is not hard to see - when studying the inn’s sign - the kind of people that once frequented the inn in the long and distant past. One man that came here in the mid nineteenth century (apparently to take over the running of the pub) was regarded as a very strange person indeed. His name was John Bakes, and he used to tell fortunes under the name and guise of the “Planet Ruler”. How many futures he correctly predicted we might never know, but one thing he did foretell: “Something will cross Thackley of an artificial construction...” Just a few years later the railway was built, with the tunnel going right the way under Thackley, and only yards from where he made his prediction!
And now we move on to something even stranger. Passing the public house we come to Birk Hill, which is an old ‘fold’ (group of houses) which in the past was said to be HAUNTED! In his book “Round About Bradford” (circa 1880) historian William Cudworth wrote: “One of these [houses] at Birk Hill is also known as Clegg House, which was the name of a former tenant. A story attaches to this old place to the effect that Clegg periodically “cam ageean” [haunted] or was reputed to do so ... a new source of unearthly gossip has, however, lately sprung from the Clegg House, opening up a somewhat puzzling question.” Mr. Cudworth goes on to relate that an old stone had been discovered in the cellar and upon examination proved to be an ancient gravestone, with the words “Here lies the body of Christopher Freckleton, of Heaton who dyed -----“. The rest of the stone was illegible, and though extensive enquiries were made, no one ever solved the mystery of who Christopher Freckleton was. Mr. Cudworth surmised: “The letters bear the appearance of those used about 1600 to 1650, and that being a period when many persons were interred in private burial places ...” So, could it be that the man was actually buried in the cellar, and might it be he, and not “Old Clegg” who actually haunted the house?
From here we continue our preamble along Park Road, passing North Street and Ambler Croft, eventually coming to a charming row of cottages known as Park Place. Just beyond is Ellar Carr Lane which is a footpath we will shortly join. Before we do, notice, just protruding above the high wall and trees to the right, the roof of Park Hill House.
In these grounds once stood a one-roomed building known as Park Hill Farm Cottage, and here was born, on 31st of October, 1855, one of Thackley’s most famous residents: Joseph Wright. His life story is an inspiration to us all; here it is: Born into great poverty, Joseph never had the benefit of schooling and could neither read nor write. His family spent a short time in a workhouse after his father and mother had separated. Later, the family would return to live in a tiny cottage in Town Lane, Idle, before moving to “Spite and Malice House” (another workhouse) to where the father returned and died. At the age of six Joseph was set to work taking quarrymen’s tools to be sharpened by the local blacksmith, then he became a ‘doffer’ at Saltaire Mills, earning 3s 6d a week. At fifteen he was so good at his job that he was able to take care of his family, moving them to Windhill, and it was here, whilst working at Baildon Bridge Mill that he heard something that would change his life completely. Some of his fellow workmen could read, and listening to them reading aloud the newspapers, Joseph became determined to read and write. This he did with a Bible and a copy of Pilgrim’s Progress. Soon he moved on to Cassell’s Popular Educator, quickly mastering English, French and German. Next would come arithmetic, algebra, Euclid and shorthand, and soon Joseph was proficient enough to open his own school, teaching pupils at two-pence a week. Soon he was visiting France and Heidelburg University to improve his foreign languages, and by 1876 he was teaching regularly at academies. Within ten years he had studied at Heidelburg, Freiburg and Leipzig Universities, acquiring a Doctorate of Philology. He taught at Oxford and was said to be one of the best teachers ever employed there. But it was The Dialect Dictionary, a monumental work, in six huge volumes of the size of Family Bibles that would make him famous. He employed 1000 people to collect the material for the dictionary; there were 5000 pages; 100,000 explained words; 500,000 quotations and references given. The total cost of the work was £25,000 – a sum unheard of in publishing circles. Doctor Wright’s fame continued to climb; he won many awards, accolades, and honours, and in 1904 became a Fellow of the British Association; honours still pouring in from all over the world. At Oxford he became a Professor and his students revered his style of learning. That young lad who had begun life in the worst of circumstances was often cited by his contemporaries as the “Greatest of Englishmen; great in character; great in humanity, and great in scholarship.”
Our Greatest of Englishmen passed away in the evening of the 27th of February, 1930.
We will remember him.
Joining Ellar Carr Lane, one passes Park Hill Farm and soon after Ashfield School, emerging into Ellar Carr Road and then Leeds Road. Here walk down a few yards to the crossing (note the beautiful house – complete with stable – on the left). Joining Cross Road, one passes Wesley House and immediately turns right to join a snicket that follows the perimeter of Idle Park.
At the top of the park one arrives at a bridge where the last vestiges of the former Laisterdyke to Windhill Railway can be seen. William Cudworth wrote in 1880: “In June, 1866, the Bill was passed authorising the formation of the Bradford, Eccleshill, and Idle Railway, the capital being £65,000 by shares and £21,000 by loan. During the following year sanction was given for the extension of the line from Idle to Shipley, the scheme being taken up by the Great Northern Company and made part of their system. The line was open for mineral traffic from Laisterdyke to Idle on March 9, 1874, the first truck-load of flags being sent by G. Vint & Brothers, and carted to the station by Benjamin Atkinson. The line was opened for passenger traffic from Laisterdyke to Windhill on April 15th, 1875, which was regarded as a great event.”From here enter the park and walk along the path running parallel to the disused railway. This brings one to Railway Road and eventually to The Green, which is the centre of Idle. On The Green stands an old well, formerly used as a horse trough, dated 1850. How many thirsty horses (and perhaps a few “Idle-ites”) have used this over the years? Opposite is the White Swan public house, said to be, in the mists of time, a possible manor house, but there is no proof of this. It is, however, famous for being haunted! As we walk along Albion Road, check out the little shops dotted along the thoroughfare; some with steps leading below the pavement. Here also is the old Co-op, these days a bar and eaterie.
Passing the library and Thorpe Primary School on the right, one approaches the corner of Albion Road and Thorpe Garth. Here opposite are two pubs joined together: The Alexander Hotel and the Old Brown Cow Inn. They stand on a spot where a mansion house stood, built by the Booth family. On this side of the road is the Methodist Chapel. Sadly, these days there is little to see in the small cemetery, but one or two monuments have survived the breaker’s yard.
Thorpe Garth, which we are about to stroll up, once possessed an ancient inn called “The Angel”, which often played host to visiting business men and other travellers. There is a tradition that relates how the old inn was kept by three sisters whom people described as rather akin to the two ugly sisters and Cinderella of pantomime fame. One day a handsome stranger called and stayed a day or two, setting the hearts of the three sisters’ a-flutter (and the neighbours tongues a-wagging!). He stayed, however, longer than he ought, for this handsome stranger, having won the heart of the fair “Cinderella” went home to his wife “ayont the border”, never to return. And who was this stranger? Some claim he was none other than Robert Burns (“Rabbie”), the famous Scottish poet!
Continuing on one’s way, we approach yet another mystery. After a short while, to the right, and at the end of a short snicket, nestles an ancient-looking house which peeps through the trees. It is a rather strange house; in fact it does not look authentic, being a hodgepodge of designs – rather more what one might expect to see in a Disney film. Nevertheless, the house has a name: Dunk Hill Cottage, and we wonder if this is actually the original Dunkhill House – once home of the Dracup family.
This house (if it is indeed the same) was also known as Dunkhill Hall, and was said at one time to be the only house between Ley Fleaks Road and Five Lane Ends. Referring to local maps, one can see that this house does lay halfway between the above. There is another clue: in “Idlethorpe” written by Wright Watson, he states “... she [the owner] had at least a plentiful supply of water in Dunkhill Syke which ran through the field in front of the house and crossed the road. It still runs there though covered up except where it crosses the railway in an open channel...” A syke is a stream, and according to Mr. Watson, this one ran down to the railway, whose site, by the by, just happens to be just a few dozen yards away! We have a photograph of the original Dunkhill House and you can compare it with the house one sees today. If the two houses are one and the same, then changes have been made!
From here we cross Bradford Road and approach a jumble of houses on our left. These are Spring Street, Springfield Place, Green Row, Arthur Street and Albert Street. The visit is well worth it, just to look at all the different styles of buildings: cottages stand by grand town houses; ginnels and snickets seem to lead to nowhere, yet take the walker into back gardens, passages, and private roads (be careful!). Take one street at a time and study the dwellings; they really are quite a picture.
On the top street, Albert Street, was born a true sporting hero – and a Yorkshire man through and through! When Douglas Ernest Vernon Padgett was born on 20th July, 1934, no one could have known that the little boy playing with his toy bat and ball in the Arthur Street dust would one day grow up to be one of cricket’s legends – Doug Padgett – one of Yorkshire’s twelve greatest scorers. As a child, Doug attended Idle Church School, and later Thorpe Secondary Modern, and upon leaving went to work first at a stationer’s and then as an apprentice wool sorter at Joseph Dawson’s mill. His love of cricket had already shown through as he was soon playing in the Bradford League (age 13, the youngest ever). Just short of his sixteenth birthday he appeared for Yorkshire seconds against Northumberland, and less than a year later became Yorkshire’s youngest debutante – a record he held for thirty years. After National Service, Doug was back in the Yorkshire side, and in the next five years (1954 – 59) he notched up no less than 21,124 first-class runs. He hit twenty-nine first-class centuries and completed 1000 runs in each of twelve sessions. In 1959 alone, he raked up 2,158 runs! Doug Padgett retired in 1971, after a career appearing in test matches, and tours of New Zealand. Until 1999, he was the chief club coach for Yorkshire. His career in cricket spanned over fifty years!
From here cross the road and walk back to Doctor’s Lane (on the left), walking up the snicket to pass Blakehill School, and to where across the road we have something to see: the building that houses the local Fire Brigade. These days the firemen have all mod-cons of course, but once upon a time the brigade did not even own its own horses and had to use whatever happened to be at hand. The Fire Chief had powers to requisition any horses he saw and there are stories of horses being unhitched from funeral hearses and taken off to the station!
Before continuing let’s briefly look into the life of a brilliant actor, writer and comedian who lived in the area as a child and has these days become almost something of a cult figure – Adrian Edmondson, who shot to fame when he appeared in the 80s comedy series The Comic Strip Presents and The Young Ones. Adrian was born on 21st January, 1957, at 58 Plumpton Gardens, Wrose, though soon his family would move to Doctor Hill, just opposite the Fire Station. As an adult Adrian worked on his family’s stall selling woollens and cloth, before winning a place at Manchester University as a drama student. It was here where he met fellow actor, Rik Mayall, and joined him in the comedy troupe 20th Century Coyote. He was one of the co-founders of the Comic Strip Club, and played leading parts in all their TV presentations. Over the years, Adrian has appeared in so many successful comedies, films and dramas, winning many plaudits. His CV includes Honest, decent and True, Newshounds, the award-winning Bottom (which he created with Rik Mayall), Blackadder, If You See God, Tell Him, Absolutely Fabulous (written by, and starring his wife Jennifer Saunders), The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Waiting For Godot. Mr. Edmondson, you can return to your roots at Doctor Hill and come and cheer us up anytime!!
It is time to get moving, and let’s walk up the hill to the traffic island, crossing Highfield Road, and then turning back a few yards to join All Alone Road. Following this around, one comes to a sign-posted track on the right. Walking along here brings one to a really beautiful house – the ancient homestead known simply as “All Alone”. The oddly-named All Alone house, or group of houses, may seem a strange name, but when it was built it was a very apt name indeed. The house was the first to be built on the hillside overlooking Idle, right on the edge of the moor, and from the valley dwellers’ point of view below, it must have looked “all alone” up on the hill. The house was almost certainly built in the 18th century, though no records seem to survive of the actual date of its erection. What we do know is that it was occupied by Dr. Samuel Ellis (whom some historians believe Doctor Hill was named after: the track to the house began at Bradford Road). An old document dated 1815 speaks of All Alone as “...the house that Samuel Ellis built and erected and in which he died.” Dr. Ellis came by the land on which the house stands in 1773, so it must have been built between then and 1777, when he had the land enclosed. At All Alone Doctor Ellis cared for a single patient: the Hon. Luke Plunkett, son of the Earl of Fingall, Lord-Lieut. of Meath. It is unclear how this situation came about; it seems that the doctor was loath to leave his roots to travel to Ireland to attend the gentleman, and so perhaps the Irishman came here instead! Others who have lived here include the White family, of whose son, Mr. John White had his children taught by none other Charlotte Bronte! Over the years the house has changed hands on many occasions, but the name of the building always remains unchanged – All Alone!
Just opposite All Alone is a snicket that leads between the gardens of the modern-day housing estate that has grown up around the house. Following this we shortly come to the edge of Idle Moor (or Common), where a fenced path leads on to the moor itself. It brings us to a point midway between where we began and a group of houses known as “The Starting Post”. We don’t actually visit these oddly-named houses, since we turn right at the fork and walk across the moor in the direction of Westfield Lane, but it is worth knowing how the name came about. Here is a quote from Idlethorp by Wright Watson: “This is another of the ageless habitations of Idle, and it is another which, like “All Alone”, has been rightly named, for it was built on, or near to, the site of the starting stoup, or post, from which the Idle Moor Races used to run,” In the Leeds Mercury of Tuesday 15th July, 1729, and also on Tuesday 6th of July, 1731, it announces that: “races will be run on Idle Over Moor by any horse, mare, or gelding for Plate of the value of £3 and £7.” Entries were to be made to a Mr. John Bower at the Manor House in Idle.
Moving on, one approaches a “Kisting Gate”. This is a stile built in such a manner as to trick animals into thinking they are facing a stone wall. At ground level, animals, which only have 2D eye sight, see it as a continuous wall, since the large upright stones are positioned in such a way to form this illusion. They will not try to pass through, but we - having 3D eyesight - can see there is a way through and pass accordingly! Except that we do not go further this way; our path lies to the right, just before the stile, and it takes us back to civilisation – into Kenstone Crescent to be precise! Here at the end turn right into Sorrin Close, then immediate left into Green Lane. Follow this down the hill until a snicket is reached on the left. Take this and follow it to Cockshott Lane, where a group of attractive cottages are passed on the right, one called Town End.
Continuing past the cricket field on the right, and the strange round structure (a water tower of some sort?) one can see, across Westfield Road, the ancient Quaker burial ground. Now, before entering this quaint little cemetery (by the gate - look at the date stone above – 1690!), one must be very careful not to upset the ghost that is said to haunt it. That’s right – we said GHOST! However, provided you don’t run seven times round the walls of the burial ground, nothing will happen. If you do, however, tradition states that the ghost will rise from one of the graves and chase you away.
The ground was given to the Quakers by Joshua Bartlett, a prosperous Bradford book-seller, and a noted Quaker himself. Trustees for the plot of land were appointed and for a time a Samuel Drake guarded the spot. Others followed, including Jeremy Grimshaw, Thomas Yewdall, and Benjamin Sandall. The first burials were Jeremiah Yewdall, son on Thomas (named above) and Benjamin Swaine. The name “Yewdall” appears on an original memorial stone that has been preserved and set into the ground.
Continuing on our way towards Idle, we approach the outskirts of the village. Here there are some very interesting styles of houses; the old seem to happily blend with the new (as is the case with the United Reform Church passed by on the right). However, the best is just around the corner! Now we come to the ancient village of Idle itself. We say “ancient” because we know without a shadow of a doubt that this part of the village is where the original settlement was created. The name, “Idle” gives us a clue in that it probably means “Hill of Ide” – a hill belonging to Ide (Ide-Hill) and where he/she had their dwelling. Perhaps it is worth pointing out that some historians have come up with other definitions for the name of Idle – one being it was named after the inhabitants who were all said to be lazy!
Before exploring the ancient houses here – including a real gem: the Old Chapel – let’s see who else owned this land we stand on. Early records show that Ilbert de Lacey was the first owner. He owned most of Bradford. Then he sold Idle to the de Plumpton family. By 1280 a Sir Robert Plumpton had taken ownership, and then his son. A few years later and the manor had come into the possession of Edward III, who presented it to his beloved Queen Philippa – so far a time the village was owned by royalty! Moving on to the 16th century and the lands were now in joint possession of several important lords and knights, the most prominent being Sir George Clifford, Third Earl of Cumberland, who owned Skipton Castle. He was probably the most illustrious joint-owner of Idle as he was a personal friend of Queen Elizabeth I, being her Champion of the Tilt Yard (jousting). He was a seafarer and when the Spanish Armada arrived in 1588 he took out the Queen’s own ship – the Elizabeth Bonaventure – and sank six ships of the Spanish fleet. He wore the Queen’s Glove (a love token!) in his hat to show all at Court just how close they were (it is said Queen Elizabeth was not, at first, amused)!
So we come to the buildings themselves: the most prominent being the Old Chapel (sometimes called the Old Bell Chapel after the first minister, a Mr. Bell). This beautiful building was built in 1630, as the date stone over the ancient doorway testifies. This, though quite possibly the oldest surviving chapel in the area, is not the original, since a small mission chapel existed on this spot as far back as 1583. Although this chapel was erected in 1630, it was not consecrated until 1692. Up till then it had been used by Noncomformist congregations – the famous itinerant preacher, Oliver Haywood preached here, no doubt attracting large crowds of worshippers – his sermons were well noted. Standing beside the chapel was the Town Well – still visible on photographs of the 20th century, but now sadly gone. The chapel also housed a “Lock-up”, where drunk and disorderly people would be put to cool off. William Cudworth wrote in 1880: “... a Highway Board ... met in the little dungeon beside the Old Bell Chapel, and were the custodians of the “town’s box” and its contents. Some lively scenes have taken place there...”
There is so much history here that we simply do not have the space to record it, so why not just take a few minutes to have a little wander around the nooks and crannies that surround this ancient road-junction. Take a look at the White Bear – does it hide a secret? Could this be where the original Idle Manor House was? Old records say it stood only a few yards south-east of the Town Well, more or less where the pub lies. Apart from the manor house standing here, alongside it, or very close by, was the pinfold – a place where stray animals were kept by a man called a pinder. You had to pay him to get them back!
Before we move on, we want to tell you of the sad story of Mr. “Catface” of Town Lane. Such a strange name, and it does sound more comical than tragic, but we have to say there is really nothing funny about the story of Mr. Catface – though we can understand how the children of the past reacted to his plight by laughing at him. Heman Hainsworth was a builder’s labourer who was helping to build a row of shops on The Green. It was while he was carrying a heavy stone sill up a ladder that tragedy struck. Heman slipped and slid down the ladder on to the flags, erect, and with the stone sill on his shoulders. He was to be crippled for life, bent over in half. But worse than that, it would seem his face had been hit by the sill, which caused it to pucker up so badly that some saw the likeness to a cat in it. As this remark was passed on and on, eventually someone was unkind enough to call him Cat Face. And “Cat Face” stuck so effectively that children began to think it was his proper name! Wright Watson, in his book Idlethorpe (where we read this story) stated: “I remember some of them on one occasion teasing him by calling out the name.When he caught one of them – a girl who wasn’t an actual offender, on the instant she protested, “Nay, Mr. Catface, it wasn’t me!” Poor Mr. Hainsworth. We aim to find out when he died and where he is buried. Perhaps if we can put some flowers on his grave and say a few words of regret for what those children did, we may in some way right a wrong.
Just along Town Gate stands the Gothic church of Holy Trinity, Idle’s main place of worship. During the 19th century a movement was formed to erect a new church in the village. In 1828, the villagers’ wish came true, when the foundation stone was laid. The church took two years to build, being consecrated in 1830. Idle was very lucky in that an act known as the Church Building Act, passed by Parliament in 1818, allowed for money to be granted to them to build Holy Trinity from a central fund of one million pounds. There was provision for 500 churches to be built from this fund, though only 174 were constructed.
As a result of this, Holy Trinity – along with the 173 – became known as a “Million Church”. Though the building is very attractive, it is not specifically decorated in any ornate way; it is simple lancet Gothic of early 13th century, typical of the “parliamentary churches”.
In the churchyard are some very interesting monuments; notice, for instance, the very beautiful and intricately-carved font that has been placed on a pedestal in the churchyard, just a few yards from the entrance to the building. Also in the churchyard are more personal monuments to those that are buried here. We have noticed many white monuments – known as War Graves – where soldiers are buried. These monuments stand out in contrast to the usual dark-coloured headstones of the last 150 years. In the churchyard is reputedly a unique headstone that has writing on both sides, in memory of Lorenzo de Barnes, a member of the Mormons – or Church of Latter Day Saints. We hope to find this soon, but meanwhile, we have found some very interesting monuments for your perusal. Just a few yards down from the font, and up against a wall, is the monument to Jeremiah Brooke of Idle. He was a seaman, as his epitaph explains:
“AS A MARINER ON THE TROUBLED OCEAN OF HUMAN LIFE, HE HAD MANY SEVERE CROSSINGS, AND MANY FIERCE STRUGGLES WITH ITS TEMPESTUOUS BILLOWS. UNTIL AT LENGTH, HE WELCOMED CHRIST AS THE GREAT CAPTAIN OF HIS SALVATION. AND ON THE 29TH DAY OF DEC 1851, HE WAS ENABLED TO CAST ANCHOR IN THE ARTICLE OF DEATH AND ENTER THE HAVEN OF ETERNAL REPOSE, AFTER A VOYAGE OF 57 YEARS. HIS VOICE OF WARNING AND ADMONITION TO THOSE HE HAS LEFT BEHIND IS, WELCOME THE SAME CAPTAIN, FOR THERE ARE STORMS ON LIFE’S DARK WATERS.”
Another amazing monument is the one to George Berry, which lies a little further down the hill, but very easy to find. The headstone lists all the battles that this soldier took part in, including the Alma, Inkerman and Sebastopol conflicts. He served his country in many other places as far apart as Canada and West Indies, and yet, it is ironic that his epitaph states that he died on board the ship “Windsor Castle”, returning from Gibraltar.
Returning to the lynch-gate, turn right and head along Town Lane, passing the Grange. This ancient house has a legend attached to it: no one quite knows when it was built. Why? It seems many years ago, a notoriously ill-tempered owner tore up the deeds, destroying the evidence of the house’s age. However, WE know how old it is! How? Easy peasy – see the finials on each side of the gable? One has carved on it “16” and the other “32” – 1632. Clever or what?
We are going to finish our trail with a very well-known writer. Approaching Thackley School, right is Harehill Road, where a young John Braine - best known for his novel “Room at the Top” – lived. He set his gritty story in 1950s Bradford and Bingley, telling of the swift rise of ruthlessly ambitious Joe Lampton. The novel was filmed and major stars were cast in the main roles. Such actors as Lawrence Harvey, Simone Signoret, Donald Wolfit and Heather Sears made the film a classic, and even today the film is seen as one of the best northern working-class films of its day. No longer a starving writer, John went on to write twelve more novels, including “Life at the Top” which achieved best-seller status. He shared, along with other writers such as John Osborne the title of “The Angry Young Men” – novelists who deplored the post war “establishment”. John Braine died on 28th October, 1986, aged sixty-four in Hampstead, London. His ashes are buried at Bingley Cemetery.