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It was in 1872 that Mr James Leach formed one of a deputation from the Keighley Local Board to London on business relating to the erection of a new railway bridge at Keighley Station. Mr Leach was accompanied by his wife. Arrived at the big city, the deputation made for the law offices of the Houses of Parliament, where they were informed that their presence would not be required until the following morning. Then Mr and Mrs Leach separated from the deputation and went their own way, the “Squire” declaring his determination to see all that was to be seen of London.


The couple first of all spent a time in the House of Commons listening to the debate, and then they were introduced by Mr (now Sir) Francis Sharp Powell to the (late) Duke of Devonshire. His Grace, Mr Leach told me, seemed mightily pleased to see visitors from Keighley. He stated his desire to “hear t’ spekin’ i’ t’ Lords,” and his Grace was showing him into the gentlemen’s gallery, and Mrs Leach into the ladies’ gallery, when Mr Leach objected, exclaiming in by no means suppressed tone: “Nay, –­, it; they can dew this at t’ Keighley Workus, but let me be wi’ ahr Sarah.” The Duke was good enough to respect the feelings of his visitors, and had Mr and Mrs Leach placed in a private box, where, together, they could listen to the debate going on in the gilded chamber.


After tea at their lodgings which were at a large hotel in Westminster Mr Leach started out with his wife, and eventually landed her into a place where bal masque was going on. As the old gentleman described to me on his return, “One o’ them hawf donned women com’ up ta me, an’ puttin’ her hand on mi’ shoulder sho said, ’Owd boy, you’re very welcome.’ Then she spied ahr Sarah, an’ said ‘Is this your wife?’ But ahr Sarah said, ‘This is noa place for me, Leych, an’ ahm net bahn ta stop; soa tha may as weel come.’” With some further persuasion, Mr Leach went out with his wife.


Next morning Mr Leach found that his presence would not be required that day at the House of Commons. He went to hear the Rev C. H. Spurgeon preach at the Tabernacle. “This wor t’ one time I ivver really wept,” he said, “an’ I resolved ta be a better man i’ t’ future.” Mr Leach next visited the Hall of Science, where he heard Mr Charles Bradlaugh preach, and afterwards shook hands with him. St. Paul’s Cathedral also received a visit from the Keighley “celebrity.”


Next day Mr Leach paid a visit to Epsom to see the races. He paid 1s for a stand on a stool, but he had not been in his elevated position many minutes before the stool was kicked from under him, and he was sent sprawling on the ground, this provoking the crowd to great laughter. When Mr Leach looked up he found his stand occupied by another fellow. Smarting from a sense of indignity, the Keighley gentleman “set on” to the intruder, and was struggling to regain possession when the police came up and settled the dispute by saying that neither of the two should stand on the stool. “Ah saw varry little o’ t’ races,” he said, “but ah went back to Lunnon an’ saw ahr Sarah.”


On Sunday Mr Leach betook himself on a survey in Petticoat-lane, where Jews, Turks, and representatives of nearly every foreign nation were busily carrying on their sales. Our country friend was warned by the police against venturing into this locality. He said “they wodn’t get ower him soa easy,” and passed on. But he had not gone far ere he found that his pocket-handkerchief was missing. A gentleman had seen the “trick” done, and drew Mr Leach’s attention to a youth who stood a few yards away. Mr Leach had not forgot his duties as a policeman, and he ran after the lad and caught him. The prisoner was handed over to a constable, who was able to arrest two other thieves on the spot. Next day Mr Leach appeared at the police court, and gave evidence, and the trio were sentenced to various terms of imprisonment. Our friend was complimented by the Bench for bringing the case forward. One evening Mr Leach found himself in the “seven Dials” neighbourhood in the hope of seeing the famous boxer, Nat Langan (whom he had seen have a “go” with “Brassey,” a brass moulder, of Utley). He was in the boxing saloon some time, and when he had occasion to look at his watch, he found that article missing, only a bit of the guard remaining. He raised a “hue-and-cry;” but, of course, nobody knew anything about the theft. And Mr Leach took his departure murmuring, “If this is London, I’m done.”


The deputation was kept in London day after day, until several weeks had passed. The final day at last arrived, and the deputation was ushered into the gorgeous chamber. The petition was presented, and Mr Leach, in answer to the President, and in a dialect which must have puzzled the Londoners present, said; “We’re bahn ta build a brig ower t’ railway, an’ we think it’s nowt but reight ‘at we sud hev it. Ther’s lots o’ horses been lamed at t’ level crossing. Why, I were varry near being jiggered mysel one neet.” Other members of the deputation having given evidence in support of the petition, the party retired. In the end the bridge was erected. Mr Leach and his fellow members of the Local Board were in London about six weeks, and one cannot help thinking that, with an allowance of 1 pound per day for expenses, they would thoroughly enjoy themselves. At least Mr Leach told me that he did.


On his return to Keighley, Mr Leach and, indeed, the rest of the deputation was made a god of, in certain quarters. In Jonas Moore’s barber’s shop in the Market-place, Mr Leach described his visit to London to a few “favoured” customers, and provoked unlimited laughter. It was Jonas Moore and Joe Town who induced him to give a public lecture on his travels. An elaborate bill was prepared, “almost as big as a house side,” informing the burgesses of Keighley that Mr James Leach would give “three nights’ lectures in the Temperance Hall, on his life and travels in London during his six weeks’ commission from the Local Board of Health.” A few frequenters of the barber’s shop in the Market-place suggested that Mr (now Sir) Isaac Holden should be asked to take the chair. Mr Holden was accordingly communicated with, and came down to Keighley in his carriage; he finally consented to preside at the lectures. Mr Holden was punctual on the first night of the lecture, when there was an overflowing audience. This was, I believe, Mr Holden’s first, or nearly his first, public appearance, and the occasion served to bring his name very widely before the people. He took the opportunity to speak upon local politics. He mentioned that he had not the least doubt that the lecturer’s intentions were good and honest. The lecture consisted of all the funny stories Mr Leach could remember concerning his visit to London; these he gave in his well-known quaint style, in broad dialect, and the progress was frequently interrupted by the hilarity of the audience. Mr Holden, I can say, was quite “flabbergasted” with the affair, and he looked as if he would have liked to drop through the stage. For the second night’s lecture there was no Mr Holden to preside. It was now Mr Leach’s turn to be uneasy. He sought diligently for a chairman. The audience proposed Bill o’ th’ Hoylus End, as being Mr Leach’s right-hand man; but the lecturer objected, saying Bill would most likely be “drukken.” Finally, Mr Emanuel Teasdale, a politician of the old school of Radicals, took the chair. After a political speech from the chairman, Mr Leach continued his lecture with the same general acceptance, and to an audience quite as large as that of the previous evening. On the third and concluding night, Mr Leach had even greater difficulty in securing a chairman. There was neither Mr Holden nor Mr Emanuel Teasdale. The audience successively proposed “Bawk” (the parish pinder), “Doad o’ Tibs” (bill poster), Jacky Moore (town’s crier), Bill Spink, and others. The lecturer objected to each of these, and, in despair, accepted Bill o’ th’ Hoylus End. I officiated as best I could, and I utter no untruth in saying that I had a good deal to do; for I had to undertake the greater share in entertaining the large number of people present. Mr Leach had well nigh exhausted his stock of lecture “material” on the second evening, and on the third night I had to fill up the time with telling stories and giving recitations. It can be truly said that the three lectures were regarded as a great treat by those who heard them.


Perhaps the “funeral sermons” which Mr Leach preached on his two wives in the early part of 1891 were as funny as the London lectures. Mr Leach said I should have to be his chairman at the “sermons,” but when the day came he said he would do without me, as he “durst bet ah’d bin hevin’ whiskey.” I went to the Temperance Hall, but was told by Police-superintendent Grayson, who was there with two constables, that he had special instructions not to admit me into the “precincts of that holy place” unless I was perfectly sober. There was an overflow crowd in the street, and I put it to them whether I was drunk or sober. There was a majority that said I was sober, and Mr Grayson allowed me to pass in. When Mr Leach saw me entering the hall, he called out of the police; but finally allowed me to take a seat at the foot of the stage. At the outset he declined to have me on the platform, until he “broke down,” and said, “Tha’d better come up here, Bill, for ah’m ommost worn aat. Ah’ll gie thee ten minutes ta say summat.” I accordingly mounted the platform and recited a few pieces I had written “Come, nivver dee i’ thi shell, owd lad” (one of Mr Leach’s favourites), “Biddy Blake,” &c. After the lecture, I went with Mr Leach in a cab to his home. When we got there he said “They’ll be tawkin’ abaat this at t’ Devonshire. Tak’ this shillin’, and go see what they’ve ta say abaat my lecter.” I went to the Devonshire Hotel, and found several gentlemen talking and laughing over the “sermons.” However, Mr Leach had done his best, “an’ t’ Prime Minister couldn’t dew more,” as he expressed it. The delivery of the funeral sermons marked the close of his public life. It was not long after that he showed signs of illness, and I went to live with, and wait upon him. I had often to recite my poems for him, and one he frequently asked for was “The pauper’s box;” he assured me that he would leave me enough to keep me from being buried in a pauper’s coffin:

Thou odious box, as I look on thee,
I wonder wilt thou be unlocked for me?
No, no! forbear! yet then, yet then,
’Neath thy grim lid do lie the men
Men whom fortune’s blasted arrows hit,
And send them to the pauper’s pit.

. . . . .

But let me pause, ere I say more
About thee, unoffending door;
When I bethink me, now I pause,
It is not thee who makes the laws,
But villains, who, if all were just,
In thy grim cell would lay their dust.

But yet, ’twere grand beneath yon wall
To lie with friends, relations all,
If sculptured tombstones were not there,
But simple grass with daisies fair
And were it not, grim box, for thee,
’Twere Paradise, O Cemetery!