By the nineteenth century, stagecoaches in England had been a vital part of its
infrastructure for nearly two hundred years. Though the steam train, at least in the south, was replacing the need for coaches by the 1830’s, they still remained an important mode of transportation and mail in the north.
Through donation, the Keighley Local Studies library has been fortunate to obtain the
records for the Keighley stage coach covering the years for 1841-1843. Opening the ledger a curious researcher will find the lined and long dried inked pages remarkably preserved. Within its leaves, a pink piece of blotting paper remains where the clerk left it when it was closed nearly two hundred years ago.
The ledger for the stagecoach Invincible reveals that Keighley ran an active stagecoach
business running every day of the week, except Sundays, including Christmas Day. One can imagine a jolly Dickensian coachman bundling his Keighley passengers into the Christmas coach and on to their holiday destinations. It is left to us today to wonder who they were, but there are clues in the ink:
25 December 1841 ‘Burnley, Wilde Ballet’…1842 ‘Leeds, Firth in’…1843 ’Blackburn, 1, Lady out.’
A look at the William White’s History, Gazetteer, and Directory of the West-Riding of
Yorkshire, Vol. I reveals that in 1837, Keighley was running seven coaches: Union, Invincible, Airedale, Alexander, Tradesman, Wonder and Cars (690). All of these coaches had different departure points. The Union and Invincible, which the ledger is for, departed from the Devonshire Arms Inn.
In order to learn about one’s family history, or lay groundwork for a period drama or novel, one might check records such as birth certificates, marriage licenses, censuses, or diaries, but what about stagecoach records? The study of such a resource would give valuable historical information about who may have lived and traveled through an area, where they traveled to and from or even where they sent their mail. This opportunity is not often possible because very few have survived until the 21st century; however, this rare insight is available at the Keighley Local Studies Library.
A perusal of its leaves reveal names still familiar in Yorkshire, such as Hargreaves, Ibbotson, Firth and Laycock, and those not as locally known, as Lomax, Mulligan, Brookslaw, and Critchley. There are surnames that we associate with the Brontës – Nichols, Earnshaw, Taylor, Greenwood, and Heaton – and names with famous or infamous associations, such as Grimshaw, Turpin, Shuttleworth and Dickenson. And what Lister rode to Bingley on Saturday the 12th of November, 1842?
The titles and labels of the passengers given by the ledger keeper are also of interest. The
‘Sheriff for Colne’ rode on 30th of June 1842. If the passenger was known, or perhaps
prominent, they might be titled, as Mr. Butterfield or Mrs. Hinchcliff were; but, if they were not, they might be labeled simply as ‘Lady’ , ‘Gent,’ ‘boy,’ or even ‘poor woman’ or ‘poor old man’.
The stagecoach places of originations or destinations to and from Keighley are impressive. These include the expected Yorkshire towns and villages, such as Cross Hills, Skipton, Harrogate and Wakefield, as well as Barrowford, Chorley, Colne and Preston in Lancashire. Haworth is also mentioned (e.g. Monday 1st November 1841), but, alas, we are left to ponder who the passengers may have been. The places listed take in the cities of Leeds, York and Lancaster and extend as far west as Liverpool and east as far away as Scarborough. There is even a mystery destination called ‘Dolly’s’ the location of which is yet to be discovered (10 May, 23 June, 30 June 1842).
Keighley appears to have been quite a transportation hub in its day!
Miriam Adamson, Keighley Local Studies Library volunteer