Canal Tavern, Thackley

Situated on the Leeds and Liverpool Canal between Thackley and Windhill the Canal Tavern could today have been a picturesque watering hole.  But from the late nineteenth to early twentieth century while it was operating it had a less attractive history, being a focal point for accidents, suicides and illegal drinking.

1906 OS map Showing the site of the Canal Tavern

The Canal Tavern reflects the history of many beerhouses.  The Beerhouse Act of 1830 allowed any householder, on payment of the fee of two guineas, to set up a business for selling beer.  Before this date there had been a hierarchy of drinking places: coaching inns, small inns or public houses and alehouses.  All three required to be licensed by the magistrates who were unwilling to grant new licences.  But the increasing urban population during the nineteenth century led to a shortage of places where people were able to relax and have a drink.  The Beerhouse Act remedied this and numerous beerhouses were opened.  It soon became apparent that these unregulated drinking places were creating problems and in 1869 the law was changed to require beerhouses to obtain a licence from the magistrates.  Many applications for licences were refused and the beerhouses closed because of clear evidence that they were centres for crime, prostitution and general disorderliness.  Finally in 1904 legislation was passed which allowed for the closure of pubs that were in the wrong location or no longer serving a purpose, with compensation being paid to the owner of the licence.

Newmarket and the Canal Tavern

The Canal Tavern began life as a farmhouse going under the name of Smithfield and later renamed as Newmarket. The first mention of Smithfield Farm is in a mortgage document dated 1806 and appears on the 1814 Plan of the Township of Idle.  A further document of 1828 mentions Robert Kendall as occupier.  This document describes the property as: a house, barn, stable and outbuildings with garth, garden and several closes.  The building served as a farmhouse and even when it became a beerhouse the tenant’s main occupation was farming.  The Leeds Directory of 1838 shows that the property had changed its name from Smithfield to Newmarket, listing Robert Kendall as beerhouse keeper, showing that Kendall was quick to take advantage of the new legislation.  Census returns show that in 1841 the householder was Robert Kendall, farmer, with no mention of the beerhouse.

The Kendalls were an extensive family, with many connections in Thackley right into the twentieth century.  Unfortunately they seem to have been a bit lax about their dates of birth, and the ages of the various Kendalls are not consistent from one census to the next, but it has to be supposed that their other details were correct.  In the 1851 census Robert Kendall was still resident at Newmarket but stated his profession as Boat Owner.  There was also a Thomas Kendall whose residence was listed as Canal Side, and who was listed as a Farmer.  Newmarket was not listed in 1861 but there were six families with Canal Side as their address.  One was Thomas Kendall listed as ‘Proprieter of Houses and Farmes’ [sic].  There was also a Robert Kendall listed as Farmer of 13 acres.  In 1871 Robert Kendall was living at Canal Side, listed as being Farmer and Innkeeper.  In 1881 William Illingworth was listed as Farmer at Newmarket Farm, Leeds & Liverpool Canal Side.  However in the next census of 1891 the Kendalls were back.  This time James Kendall was resident, as a Farmer, at Newmarket Farm & Canal Tavern.  James was still there in 1894 when he was listed in the Idle Electoral Division Court Register.  In 1901 Frederick Whiteley, Inn Keeper was listed at the Canal Tavern. Local press reports also indicate the dates when later landlords were resident at the Canal Tavern.  A report in 1895 mentioned James Kendall as innkeeper, but by 1900 Frederick Whiteley was in charge.  Edmund Barrett and Thomas Gledhill were both mentioned as being the landlord at different times in 1906.  William Bradley was landlord in 1908 and the final holder of this post was William Grandage in 1909.

The Canal Tavern, showing landlord’s wife Eliza Whiteley, the punt moored in front, and Baildon in the background

The area around the Canal Tavern was constantly busy in the nineteenth century.  There were countless canal barges tracking back and forth along the canal, with a lot of thirsty bargees.  There are many reports in the Bradford and Bingley Magistrate Courts of boatmen being fined for being drunk and disorderly in the area.  In the mid 1840s the Midland Railway Company was building the Leeds to Bradford line, and there were hundreds of men laying the track and excavating Thackley tunnel.  This operation was repeated in 1899 when navvies were working on the second Thackley tunnel.  Once the railway was completed there were reports of signal men and other railway employees making use of the tavern.  As the railway was on the opposite side of the canal Robert Kendall kept a small punt moored in front of the tavern which he used to ferry people across.  It was still in use in 1901 when the only photograph of the tavern shows Eliza Jane, the wife of the landlord Frederick Whiteley, standing in the doorway of the tavern. In front of her can be seen the punt which ferried people across the canal.

Accidents and Suicides

The Canal Tavern may have had a scenic location but its setting had inherent dangers for the unwary visitor.  Situated in the valley between the river and canal the area was subject to thick mists and fogs and the narrow unguarded towing path presented its own dangers.  In March 1899 15 year old John Thorp was returning from his job as pointsman at Thackley Tunnel with his workmate James Hallam.  Walking back along the canal together they had difficulty in finding their way because of the thick fog.  After parting company at Brown Wood swing bridge Thorpe was not seen alive again, having lost his way and fallen in the canal and drowned. In March the following year the body of Jonathan Artis a labourer, was found badly mutilated in Thackley tunnel.  He had been drinking in several public houses in Shipley with a fellow worker.  Artis then continued drinking in the Canal Tavern before going into the tunnel to sleep.  Unfortunately his condition must have affected his judgement and he was hit and killed by a passing train.  In December 1906 a man’s body was recovered from the canal near the Canal Tavern.  John Dennison, a waiter at the Royal Oak Hotel, Shipley, had gone to the Tavern early in the afternoon to help the landlord repair his beer pumps.  Leaving at 5.30 in the evening he made his way back to the Royal Oak, and shortly afterwards the landlord had a report of a man in the canal.  He rushed out to help but he only dared go a few yards because of the thick fog.  The deceased was later removed from the canal.

Another drowning took place in November 1908 when the body of horse keeper Richard Nixon was retrieved from the canal by William Bradley, the landlord of the Canal Tavern.  The deceased had been drinking all Sunday afternoon in the tavern and had left about 8.00pm.  The Coroner remarked that it was dangerous for people to leave a public house where there was no lighting and no protection to prevent people falling in the canal.  A witness stated it was “positively dangerous” to approach this place in the dark and the foreman of the jury called for some protection to be provided.  Nothing was done and two months later, in January 1909, another body was recovered near the Canal Tavern.  Christopher Alderson had been drinking in the tavern for about four hours and left at 7.00pm although there was a very black fog.  Rose Bradley, the wife of the landlord said “she feared for her two children when they went to school when it was foggy. It is a death trap, and if my husband would take my advice he would be out of the house next week.”  The Coroner thought it was a most unsuitable place for a public house and the best thing was for Shipley District Council to let the lease lapse.  The Council made the decision to write to the Leeds and Liverpool Canal Company requesting them to fence the side of the canal, but still nothing was done.

It was not only drinking, foggy nights and unfenced paths that led to deaths in this area.  It seemed to be a magnet for suicides. Several incidents were reported in the local press of young women committing suicide near to the Canal Tavern and there was the case in June 1895 of John Powell of Windhill.  Powell had thrown his wife out of their house and then sold his belongings telling a witness he was going to drink his money and then drown himself.  He ended up drinking in the Canal Tavern where he told the landlord he was not going to work again.  He then offered the landlord a drink, which was refused, got up and left the tavern.  He was not seen again until the following morning when his body was recovered from the canal. Finally, there was a particularly gruesome description of the suicide of Vialetta Parker in 1900.  Although this occurred a few hundred yards away nearer to Buck Wood the description is typical of the state of bodies which were hit by the propellers of passing barges.   Boatman Firth Dawson who found the body stated, “I got a stick to keep the rats off the body – they came three at a time.”

Unlawful drinking

One of the problems of an isolated beerhouse like the Canal Tavern was the inability of the authorities to ensure licensing laws were adhered to.  Legislation meant that on Sundays refreshments could only be provided for bonafide travellers.  The landlord had to keep a book in which travellers entered their names and where they had travelled from.  Many local residents took the opportunity to obtain drinks by giving the landlord false addresses.  The police paid frequent visits to catch offenders and although it was difficult for them to approach unseen they were able to make many arrests.  In April 1908 six Shipley men were fined for being on licensed premises during prohibited hours.  Inspector Warburton said he had visited the tavern with two of his men.  When they were near the door he saw some men in the tap-room jump up and run to the door.  They caught two men in the passage and two more from behind the locked kitchen door, and a further two were discovered in the tap-room.  They said they had been to a football match in Leeds and were on their way home.  One man replied “It’s a fair cop” whilst the others made no reply.  Their names were written in a book.  One gave his address as Australia and another Leeds.  ,In September 1909 six local men were in court charged with being on licensed property during prohibited hours and the landlord, William Bradley, was charged with keeping licensed premises open during prohibited hours.  Policemen Stringfellow and Beaumont visited the tavern at half past four and when the landlord saw them he shouted “Police! Get outside”.  As the constables were about to enter the door about a dozen men rushed out knocking them down.  Constable Stringfellow recognised one man and managed to obtain the names of the other defendants.  The constables visited the tavern again at ten to six on the same day and found two of the defendants again in the tavern with pints of beer in front of them.  Another of the defendants was hiding under some seats and threatened to throw the constable into the canal, Landlord Bradley was fined 40s. and costs while the other defendants were each fined 2s 6d and costs.

Purchase and Closure

The final stage in the history of the Canal Tavern began in 1904.  Shipley Council had a sewage farm in Windhill not far from the canal Tavern.  As they were having difficulty in getting rid of sewage sludge and destructor dust from their site they fixed upon the idea of buying the Canal Tavern estate which included around fifteen acres of farm land as well as the tavern itself.  The Midland Railway Company, the owners of the estate, refused to discuss selling part of the estate.  The Council would have to pay £990 for the whole estate, including the tavern which brought in a rent of £30 a year.  The thought of the Council owning a public house caused great consternation amongst some Shipley residents and letters were received from local churches urging the Council not to continue the licence of the tavern.  This left Shipley Council with a problem.   They wanted to buy the land but not the tavern, but the landowners would only sell the estate as a whole, which included a sum for the transfer of the licence for the tavern.  The Council had three alternatives once they had bought the estate.  They could allow the tavern to continue operating under their ownership;  they could close it down and forfeit the money they had spent on the licence transfer; or they could sell on the building with its licence as a going concern.  They were against selling the tavern as they were aware of the problems caused by its isolated position.  Concern was felt that if it was in private hands the Council’s workmen would have a strong temptation to spend too much time there.  The decision was eventually made to continue leasing out the tavern but to allow its licence to lapse after a few years. This seemed to satisfy most parties although the Free Churches wanted the licence to lapse as soon as possible.  The Local Government Board who had to sanction the borrowing of money for the purchase of the estate made the stipulation that the licence should lapse in two years.  However the Council did try to get this extended to five years.  This prompted a letter from the Shipley Free Church Council to the Inspector:

Thank you for stipulating that if the Council purchase the Canal Tavern that licence should lapse in two years.  However I notice that a recent Council meeting passed a resolution by one vote that they apply to your Board to extend to period to five or six years.  Our Council representing twelve churches and 3000 members, urge in the interests of morality and public well being that your Board do not accede to the request.

In February 1906 the Local Government Board, the body responsible for overseeing Local Government expenditure, gave their permission for Shipley to borrow £1040 for the purchase of the Canal Tavern estate with the condition that the Tavern licence be surrendered within two years.  Shipley protested at the Council being fettered in this way, but the Board were not to be moved.

The licence finally came up for renewal in March 1909 and was considered by the magistrates.  The police objected because it was in a very dangerous situation and several lives had been lost by people falling in the canal.  They said “this house served the purpose of a class of men who came drinking on Sundays during prohibited hours, and the house was very difficult of supervision.” In reply Mr G Ellis, for the owners said, as previously mentioned, “The house was sometimes used by railwaymen. He had known engine drivers stop trains whilst the guards and officials went for a drink.” The tenant of the tavern said he sold two barrels of beer a week as well as a good deal of bottled beer, aerated waters, etc, and further stated that the tavern was much used by boatmen.  The Chairman decided to refer the licence to the Compensation Authority, and in the following June the West Riding Compensation Authority met in Wakefield and fixed the compensation for lapsing the licence at £440.  The tenant was to get £50 and the balance to Shipley District Council.

The Canal Tavern was finally vacated on 9th November 1909 and so its chequered history came to an end.  The Council wishing to make the best use of their resources decided to convert the tavern into two cottages estimating the conversion costs at £60.  The cottages were still marked on the 1935 edition of the Ordnance Survey maps, but it is thought they were demolished soon afterwards.  Now all that can be seen is a small mound of stone work and even that is obscured by vegetation in summer with little to show of its eventful past.

Gussie Fink-Nottle

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