Bridge End History
One family’s story of owning a “Second Home” in Swaledale
(Text and photographs ©2008 Stephen Leather)
Bridge End, Keld ©Stephen Leather
Bridge End, Keld

I come from a family of textile workers. My great grandfather, Jacob Sanctuary came from generations of Norfolk farm labourers but in the mid 19th Century he and his family made the journey to the West Riding drawn to the burgeoning wool industry, and escaping from a rural society intolerant of his Christian non-conformity, and socialistic principles.

He took employment as a weaver at Salts newly established mill in Saltaire. With that job came a house in George Street in the “Model” village created by Titus Salt for his workers. Later, when they reached the age of fourteen his daughters, Maud and Edna, joined him in the mill as “half timers”. Maud as a weaver and Edna, my grand mother, became a mender at the same mill. Maud, born in 1880, red headed, feisty, well read, a founder member of the Independent Labour Party, and a staunch supporter of the conscientious objectors in the First war, married Archie Nutter, one of three brothers from Eldwick near Bingley.

Also from a modest background these were lively and inventive lads indeed, well known for their practical jokes. One dark night, and remember there was no electricity nor street lights then, they roused the villagers to witness a strange light swinging in the sky. There was much consternation and alarm until the boys confessed to having constructed a kite big enough to raise an oil lamp high above the village! Many years later Archie built another kite big enough to lift my father (then a small boy). Was this the first hang-glider?

Like many working men the Nutter boys attended night class and ultimately qualified as textile engineers. They scraped together enough capital to start a back yard business manufacturing reed ribs. Later they were able to buy the old Bingley Brewery next to the canal at Dowley Gap which they converted to the production of textile machinery, and where they traded as H. and A.G Nutter.

The Nutters worked long hard hours, Maud would often find Archie asleep in his bath at the end of the day, and business at the saw mill flourished. Archie branched out and bought the old Gilstead quarries where he laboured personally with a helper, Pat. His sense of humour remained as wicked as ever causing alarm to his family by arranging sticks of gelignite above the fire on the mantle shelf. In reality this would keep it warm and more stable.

He and his brothers bought land in Primrose Lane, not far from Dowley Gap, where they built three bungalows, doing most of the work themselves.

But it was not all work and no play. Archie had been brought up in a rural village; Maud’s politics convinced her that working people should not be denied pleasures taken for granted by the affluent. Right from the first they explored the Yorkshire Dales, finally setting up what was always called “The Camp” in the corner of a field in Littondale. This was initially an ancient patched army bell tent which was later supplemented by an old gypsy caravan. There they would have their holidays, helping on local farms, snaring rabbits, living rough, breathing in the fresh clean air.

Now I want to return briefly to Maud’s sister, my grandmother, Edna. She had also married, Alfred Leather, and had moved to Sunny Bank Mills, Farsley, near Leeds where Alfred worked and where they occupied a house in the Mill yard. My father Bernard (Bob) was their youngest child born in 1916. In the mid 1920s Alfred was sacked for refusing to be involved in some illegal dealing and consequently had to leave the mill house. They moved back to Shipley to be near the family and here in 1928 Alfred died. The family was not destitute but times were very hard. They were however a close family and my father, Bob, would often walk on the canal tow-path to Dowley Gap to spend time with his Aunt Maud and Uncle Archie in their new home, Col Wood.

By now Bob also had a cousin, Margaret, born to Maud and Archie late in life and after they had given up hope of having children. She was precocious, a talented musician, and totally doted upon by her adoring parents.

Then in 1932 my father and his cousin Jack (John Sanctuary) set off on a walking holiday, heading for Teesdale via Swaledale. Their aim was to see High Force. This was all new country to them. They stayed one night at the Post Office in the hamlet of Keld and although they continued their journey, this was the place that captured their hearts. They returned in future whenever time allowed. And now it was not only Bob and Jack who visited Keld whenever they could, because they had in their enthusiasm introduced the rest of the family, including Archie and Maud to this beautiful place.

By this time Maud and Archie had a car and were regular visitors staying with the Waggets at Butt House. Archie, from a rural background, an engineer and a quarryman with an easy way with him soon made good friends among the farmers in the dale, including the Metcalfes, the last residents of Crackpot Hall.

Then came the war. Bob joined the Navy and Margaret, Maud and Archie’s daughter, obtained a place at Manchester University. Maud had always been painfully aware of her own lack of formal education and she and Archie were delighted that she would now have the educational opportunities denied to their generation.

In 1941 it was Margaret ’s twenty first birthday, and she was to have a studio portrait taken at a photographers in Bradford. As she returned home the tram lurched as it crossed Cottingley Bridge, Margaret was thrown off and killed.

Edna Leather crossing the Swale below Keld with Percy Metcalfe of Crackpot Hall ©Stephen Leather
Edna Leather crossing the Swale
below Keld on the suspension bridge.
With her is Percy Metcalfe
of Crackpot Hall, now a ruin.

Maud and Archie were inconsolable: Margaret had been centre of their universe their hopes and aspirations. Dark days indeed. They did continue to visit Keld seeking some sort of solace in the beauty of Swaledale and the warmth of their friends. And it was one of those friends, Mr. Waggett who one day in 1945 took Archie on one side and told him of a property that might be for sale. It was about half a mile West of Keld on the junction with the Weststonesdale Road. He explained that it was a bit run-down, that there were tenants in two of the dwellings, but that there was an old hay loft which he reckoned could be converted into a flat which Archie and Maud could use during their frequent visits.

Excavating a trench for the water supply across the River Swale ©Stephen Leather
Excavating a trench for the water supply across the River Swale
Working on the flat in the 1940s ©Stephen Leather
Working on the flat in the 1940s
In October 1945 Archie became the owner of Bridge End. At that time there was a principal house occupied by Lil Clarkson and family, and a small under-dwelling where Tom Parrington the retired cobbler used to have his shop and still lived. There was also about fifteen acres of land running up the valley and including Wainwath Force and the ruined Keld Side Smelt mill. Archie and Maud threw themselves into creation of the small flat which was in effect a one up one down on the first and second floor above Tom Parringtons cottage. There was no electricity, and they made do with calor gas lighting, gas cooker and geyser. They created a tiny bathroom with the narrowest bath imaginable. They then sought every opportunity to stay at the “Flat” until Archie’s death in 1960.Maud lived on until 1976 occasionally visiting her friends in Keld until ill health made this impossible. Bridge End then passed to my father Bob, and ultimately to my twin brother, sister and me.

There have been changes of course. Following Tom Parrington’s death his small cottage was partially incorporated into the main house, and partially used to create a garage. In 1978 the land was sold to Willie Calvert and the proceeds used to upgrade the buildings with electricity, a new bathroom and kitchen.

My father Bob was always very aware of the responsibility of owning a property in an area he saw as being subject to competing interests. He wanted visitors to enjoy the wonderful countryside and to this end he negotiated an agreement with the National Park creating access, including disabled access, to Wainwath Falls. This still gives huge enjoyment to many people.

He also wanted Bridge End to provide a home for local people. After the Clarkson family left in 1966, Bill and Marie Reynolds, who had done so much to revive the fortunes of the Keld Youth Hostel, retired and became long term tenants and very good friends. Marie sadly died and ultimately Bill moved to Quaker Court. The house was empty, but happily John and Rachel Hall, of Hope House, were looking for somewhere to live and they became tenants, and I like to think, friends, for twenty years, during which time they raised four children. Two years ago we negotiated the sale to John of the main house to all parties’ mutual satisfaction. He then embarked upon the most ambitious upgrading, the splendid results of which are plain to see.

I have had the tremendous good fortune to enjoy Bridge End since my first visit in 1958. As a teenager on pedal bike, and later motor-bike. As a young father with children and so on. No matter what trials and tribulations life came up with, Keld was always there. Of course my wife and I still visit, but so do the next generation, sons, daughters, nephews, nieces. I hope that my niece will take her youngsters soon and then that will be Five generations since Archie and Maud fifty years ago.

This is one family’s story of owning a “second home” in Swaledale.