From Cliffe Castle to Sir Captain Tom Moore - Keighley has a lot to shout about
Classicist and author of A Clockwork Orange Anthony Burgess never saw the page, dying as he did before the advent of social media, but he would have been pleased to see on the site that his famous quote holds up – all human life truly is here.
Not for no reason did Peter Kay alight on Keighley in the Wild West Night episode of Phoenix Nights. The Bolton funnyman wanted a Yorkshire versus Lancashire flavour so imagined two sets of pretend gunslingers from either side of the Pennines.
The Preston Posse represented the Red Rose and the White Rose? Of course it had to be the Keighley Confederates. My home town was chosen as the Tyke side that was up for a fight for more reasons than just alliteration: we have something of a reputation. As genteel as Ilkley is, Keighley is not.
I hadn’t planned on mentioning that I am Keighley born and bred in this piece, but it’s hard not to. While Keighlians might admit our town’s faults among ourselves, there is a paradoxical pride taken in stating the town claims you as its own. As the old joke goes: How can you tell someone’s a Yorkshireman? You don’t have to, he’ll tell you. As it goes for Tykes, so it goes doubly for Keighlians.
Something that aggravates Keighlians is that whenever our town’s praises are sung, it tends to be for its proximity to elsewhere. Aforementioned Ilkley is just across the valley, pretty Oakworth not far up the road and of course the world-conquering Brontës and their Haworth home will feature in this article – how could they not?
But there is plenty to recommend in Keighley proper. The Airedale shopping centre might not be the county’s largest or prettiest, but it has selection enough to keep almost anyone satisfied.
For those whose shopping needs are not satiated by the Airedale, there’s the market. This, for me, is the real heart of Keighley trading. Surrounded on its flank by Church Green, with Morrisons in front and the Airedale Shopping Centre at the rear, Keighley Market Hall, to give the place its proper name that nobody in the town ever uses, has provided an idiosyncratic shopping experience certainly since I was in the short trousers that you can get taken up by the Sewing Shop.
Over to one side, there is an unmistakable aroma of the pet store and on the other, that of tea and toasted teacakes. In Alan Bennett’s Enjoy, Northern working class life is preserved in aspic.
Well, Keighley Market Hall is a living museum, where you can still buy fabric by the yard, meat from a butcher, some old vinyl and browse a brace of haberdasheries.
Off to the side of the market, is Church Green. Home to the Parish Church (where I, like so many of the town, was christened and attended Sunday School) the Lord Rodney, where many babies’ heads have been wetted, the Commercial Inn (known locally as the “Comic” and which my auntie used to run) and the town’s premier nightclub, K2.
That the mountainous title of the club was once the Rat Trap feels somehow significant. I’ll let you decide how and why.
In the last couple of years, the town has seen a new energy, with a group of people coming together to create Keighley Creative, a local charity that wants to reposition the town as a hub of artists.
As they say in their mission statement: “What’s going on in Keighley? Lots. Keighley is buzzing with fantastic opportunities to get creative.”
Ready for the inevitable sniggers, Keighley Creative points to a monthly spoken word night, Spoken Worth, the Musicians Centre teaching studio, the Corner House recording studio and a venue I would have loved to have seen when I was growing up, a place that offers stand-up comedy, music and essentially “alternative” entertainment, Exchange Arts.
While there is clearly a new energy imbuing the town, a run-off no doubt of the bid by Bradford to become City of Culture for 2025, some of the reasons Keighley could be a proud town are woven into the more historic fabric of the place.
Reasons like Cliffe Castle. Anyone who grew up in Keighley will have paid a school trip to see the fossils, the terrifying room of taxidermy and the Cliffe Castle Crocodile that’s not a crocodile.
I returned to this extraordinary place recently as an adult and could not quite fathom the treasures I’d failed to understand while being dragged around as a bored schoolboy.
The furniture, the art, but most of all the story of this building, which was the home to a textile millionaire in the 1880s and played host to parties featuring guests like the Roosevelts, captivated me. Roosevelts in Keighley? If you haven’t been since your schooldays, go back and you’ll appreciate the place differently, trust me.
And so to the inevitable. Richard Gere, Jenny Agutter and Keighley railway station will be forever linked. Yanks, the 1979 movie starring Gere, relied on the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway for its closing shot and without our spectacular little train station, The Railway Children wouldn’t have looked half as good. It is a rite of passage to take a trip on the steam train and visit any of the stops between Keighley and Oxenhope.
I hear posh people can take tea or brunch on one of the special carriages. I’ve socially progressed only as far as the beer carriage.
And one of the stops on all the steam railway services is, of course, Haworth. I remember standing up at the top of the cobbles when I was about 15, watching an American woman have a tantrum because she couldn’t go to the same post office as the Brontës as it was closed. She didn’t half pronounce the name funny: “Brownays”.
It was then that I realised that on the doorstep of Keighley is a world-loved treasure. If Americans were coming to see what we had there, that was really something. Haworth is a bit special, even those of us who grew up down the road can recognise that.
Stand at the top of the cobbles on an autumn evening and watch the sun set next to the Black Bull and you’ll agree – there are few finer sights or sites.
Mind you, Keighley Tarn, on the opposite side of the valley, is only marginally less pretty and the chances of bumping into a petulant American there are, I’d warrant, one in every 50 years.
There are run-down parts of town, of course, but there are glorious cricket grounds, like my own beloved Airedale, right next to East Riddlesden Hall. We have a canal and rivers and parks all over town.
We’re also the birthplace of Captain Sir Tom Moore, a man who led by dignified example, and whose ashes have been buried alongside his parents and grandparents in his family grave in Riddlesden. He was, quite simply, inspirational.
As I am a proper local, I’ll leave you with a final hidden gem: Tinker Bridge. I can’t say any more, I shouldn’t really be telling you about it at all, but it’s one of those places that makes Keighley way more full of wonder than everyone believes.