Read CHAPTER XXI of Adventures and Recollections , free online book, by Bill o'th' Hoylus End, on


Continuing my recollections of the late Mr James Leach. I remember accompanying him as “valet de sham” as the old gentleman was pleased to style me to inquiring friends to Wakefield. The occasion was the annual visit of inspection which a deputation from the Board of Guardians was making to the asylum there. I recollect Mr Richard Hattersley telling me on the platform at the Keighley station to look well after Mr Leach. The deputation comprised, among others, Mr James Walsh, Mr Middlebrook, Mr R. A. Milner, and Mr R. C. Robinson. On arriving at the Bradford Midland Station, Mr Leach, on the plea of “takin’ t’ twist out on ’em,” sent me for an open landau and a couple of horses and a coachman, and thus he proceeded “in state” to the Lancashire and Yorkshire Station. The train again entered, the journey was soon completed to Wakefield. The deputation in general did the distance to the asylum about a mile on foot, but for Mr Leach, I had again to requisition a two-horsed landau. We were driven up to the asylum entrance, and ushered into the reception room. The governor of the asylum asked me who the old gentleman was, and I told him he was “James Leach, Esquire, a Guardian, from Keighley.” “He’s a funny fellow,” said the governor, “I couldn’t tell whether he was coming in as a patient or not.” By way of re-assurance I told the governor that Mr Leach had had a stroke, which rather accounted for his “acting funny.” The other members of the deputation had now arrived, and the whole were shown into a private room. There the Guardians sat as a Board, with Mr Middlebrook as chairman, and the thirty-six lunatics from the Keighley Union were brought in. One or two of the patients I recognised. Several of them were ready to be discharged, having been passed by the doctor. The inspection over, Mr Leach expressed a desire to see the patients dine. He was introduced into the large dining hall, and took a great interest in “watchin’ t’ lunies feed,” as he put it. At the close of the repast, Mr Leach commissioned me to distribute 1lb. of tobacco among the men 0.5lb. in twist, and 0.5lb. in shag. No sooner did the lunatics see the tobacco than they commenced a vigorous attack on me I had lunatics to the right and to the left of me, and in front, behind, and on top of me. There must have been no less than half-a-dozen on my shoulders at one time, and some of the fellows obtained a good deal more than their share of the tobacco. Mr Leach had apparently witnessed the distribution with much interest, and when I came up to him he said, “been in Wombwell’s menagerie, but ah’ve nivver bin i’ sich a furacious attack as this before.” He then retired, and on leaving the asylum I heard him ask the governor if he would allow himself and his “valet de sham” to stay a few weeks in the place, promising to pay all dues and demands. The governor, however, said he would not be able to do that without a certificate. So, after bidding the Asylum governor good day, Mr Leach and I took our departure. I had again to obtain an open carriage to take us to the Bull Inn, where dinner was to be served. Dinner was waiting when we got there. “Isn’t it a bonny shame” said Mr Leach, “for us to be hevin’ a 7s 6d dinner aht o’ t’ rates?” “Nay,” says the landlord, “you do your work for nothing.” “Hahivver,” said Mr Leach, “Ah’ll hev my dinner, but this ‘valet de sham’ o’ mine weant hev owt here; Ah’ll be beyont suspicion.” With that he handed me 4s and I went down into Wakefield and got a good repast. On my return to the Bull Inn, I found Mr Leach sat on a basket of potatoes at the door. It transpired that he had been turned out of the hotel, and a chair having been denied him on which to sit and wait at the door, he had bought a basket of potatoes from a hawker who was passing, and utilised it as a temporary seat. Whatever had taken place, Mr Leach was greatly excited, and it was with no little difficulty that I got him to the station. We reached Keighley safely, and then, with the aid of a cab from the station, I was soon able to restore my old friend to “their Sarah.” I received 10s for that day’s services.


Many people will remember the old shake-down trap which Mr Leach used to run some years ago. He often drove up to Tewitt Hall, Oakworth, and Slack-lane Chapel. For some time he seemed to set his mind on purchasing Tewitt Hall. About the Chapel, he told me some wonderful stories. He used to say that his relatives founded Slack-lane Chapel, and that his mother received in their house the first parson who came to the district.


Mr Leach, I know, fondly treasured in his memory a visit which he paid to Cliffe Castle, in 1886, on the occasion of the “White Ball” given by Mr Butterfield. I was not a little astonished when Mr Leach told me one morning, “Tha’ll hev ta goa wi’ me ta t’ ball, Bill; ah’ve bowt thee a ten-an’-sixpenny ticket.” However, I did not care to intrude my presence on such a “flash” gathering as I knew there would be, and when the time arrived for my “master” to start, I was missing. Mr Leach was, nevertheless, determined “ta visit t’ Cliff,” and as a last resort he summoned his old friend “Little” Barnes to accompany him. The two attended the “White Ball;” but I don’t think either of them participated in the dancing. Mr Leach afterwards told me that they were nicely entertained by Mr Butterfield, who had a long chat with him, and expressed a wish to have a chat with him at some other time on public matters. One of the topics which engaged Mr Butterfield and Mr Leach was a public park for the town.


It is an acknowledged fact that to Mr Leach was due no small measure of credit in connection with the securing of Devonshire Park for Keighley. His pet idea for a public park was originally the Showfield in Skipton-road. On one occasion Hawkcliffe Wood came into the market, and was suggested as a suitable park for the public. Mr Leach opposed this scheme tooth and nail “ther wor too monny hoils an’ caves abaat. They’d be capt if somebody gat dahn one o’ t’ hoils an’ wor nivver seen ageean.” A public meeting was held in the Drill Hall to test the public feeling as to the purchase of Hawkcliffe Wood. Mr W. A. Robinson, I believe, was the principal speaker on the affirmative side, and Mr Leach strongly opposed the scheme of purchase. Next day, however, the question was settled by the announcement that Mr Butterfield (whose estate agent, Mr James Wright, had attended the meeting) had successfully negotiated with Messrs Dixon, of Steeton, for the purchase of the Wood. Having practically scored on this point, Mr Leach next turned his attention very vigorously to the Showfield. He superintended the making-out of a petition to the Duke of Devonshire, asking his Grace to make a grant of the Showfield for a town’s park. The petition was numerously signed, and was duly forwarded through the Local Board to the Duke. His Grace could not see his way to accede to the petitioners’ wishes, but it was some gratification to Mr Leach to hear that the Duke would probably see his way to do something later a promise consummated in the presentation to the town of what is known as Devonshire Park. Mr W. Laycock (the Duke’s steward) assured Mr Leach that he was the first man whom the Duke of Devonshire had recognised in this way, and that he was the means of securing the first public park for Keighley.


The last request which Mr Leach made to me was to write an epitaph to be engraved on the south side of the tombstone over his grave. I have penned the following lines:

O! Passer-by, pray cast an eye
Upon this ponderous dome,
Where lieth one of nature’s sons
Inside the vaulted tomb.

For weel, I wot, it took a lot
To weigh him from his birth,
But nature thought she’d send him back
To join his Mother Earth

So now he’s quiet, both day and night,
No one can hear his speech;
And waiting to be reckoned up,
Alas! poor Mr. Leach.