March 31, 2023


The Tour And Travel Enthusiasts

MEMORY LANE: Human remains unearthed during Keighley pub project

3 min read
MEMORY LANE: Human remains unearthed during Keighley pub project

As a Keighley pub undergoes refurbishment, Robin Longbottom examines the historic hostelry’s past

ON June 6 the Lord Rodney Inn, Church Street, Keighley, closed its doors for refurbishment and is not expected to reopen until August 1 when it will be renamed Taylor’s on the Green.

The inn is said to date back to the Tudor period and to have been owned in the early 18th century by John Drake, the founder of the Keighley Grammar School. It was then known as the Old Red Lion but after Lord Admiral Rodney decisively defeated the French fleet in the Caribbean in 1782 it was, together with a host of other inns, renamed in his honour.

In the 19th century it was the smallest of six inns in Church Street, the others were the Kings Arms (demolished 1960s), the Crown (demolished 1890s), the Hole in the Wall (changed to the Fountain and now the Red Pig), the Commercial and the Devonshire Arms (changed to the Grinning Rat, K2 etc). Unlike its larger neighbours it did not provide accommodation for travellers, nor did it have the space to accommodate auctions, inquests or other large functions. However, it served both drink and food and had stabling, a hayloft and a small cottage attached to it.

In the 1830s it was run by William Fox and was a meeting place for a fledgling branch of the Royal Order of Foresters. Founded in 1834 it was a Friendly Society whose objectives were to assist fellow members “who fell in need as they walked through the forest of life”. The order also provided funeral robes for the mourners of deceased members – black gowns, black coats, black silk hoods and black horse blankets could be “hired on reasonable terms, by applying to Mr William Fox, Lord Rodney Inn”.

In the 1850s it became the meeting place for another small group, the Order of Orangemen, which was also a Friendly Society providing support for distressed members, their wives and children.

At the Keighley Petty Sessions in 1871 magistrates were shocked when a woman, Mrs Hannah Gledhill, applied for the licence. Concerns were raised that she would not be capable of quelling any disturbances at the inn, however, it transpired that she was already the landlady of the Craven Heifer in Bradford, and this appears to have been sufficient qualification for the licence to be granted.

It is not clear how long Hannah Gledhill was the landlady but in 1880 the licence was held by Joseph Whitham. He was the landlord on Christmas Eve, 1880, when the adjoining cottage was the scene of a notorious killing. The tenant, James McGowan, a nightsoil man employed by the Local Board, brutally killed his wife in a drunken outburst. He was found guilty of manslaughter and imprisoned for life.

In the first half of the 20th century the Lord Rodney, like many other inns and taverns, formed a self-help society. By 1938 it boasted 260 members to whom it distributed £850, and the following year membership had increased to 332 with funds of £1,114.

The last private owner of the inn was Sam Mitchell Lund, who died in 1954. Joshua Tetley’s Brewery in Leeds bought the pub and in the mid 1960s, when they were building a new extension to the rear, workmen unearthed human remains – ancient overspill from the adjoining churchyard. There was uproar when a workman took one of the skulls into the bar and held it up with a coat around it and ordered two pints. The police were soon on the scene and the site was closed until the remains had been removed.

The inn is now owned by Timothy Taylor’s brewery and when they reopen it on August 1 it will be their ‘flagship’ pub and continue the long tradition of serving the community.