Old Three Laps - William Sharp
 Whorls Farm, Keighley

 

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An extract from Keighley Past & Present:

Taken from Keighley News 22nd May 1880
At a farm house called Whorls, breathed, slept, and died, William Sharp, alias ‘Old Three-laps,’ who went to bed in the year 1807, and lay there in the enjoyment of good health till 1856, a period of 49 years! He was the son of a farmer in good circumstances, and from an early age showed singular habits of character, frequently rang¬ing the adjoining moors with his gun, and spending whole nights alone in the open air. At the age of 30 he obtained the consent of a young woman to become united to him in wedlock. The wedding day was fixed, on the morning of which Sharp, in company with a friend, wended his way down to the parish church, and there in anxious suspense waited for the arrival of the bride elect, but the father of the damsel disapproving of the match, kept her confined at home.
This great slip between the cup and the lip preyed heavily on the susceptible mind of the ardent lover. He returned home, consigned himself to a small room measuring about nine feet each way, with the determination to spend the rest of his existence between the blankets; and the infatuated man kept his resolution to the last.
The floor of this room was covered with stone flags; in one corner was a fireplace which could only be used when the wind blew from one or two points of the compass; the window was well fastened down, and where some of the squares had been broken, was carefully patched up with wood. At the time of his death this window had not been opened for 38 years!
The furniture comprised an old oak clock, minus weights and pendulum, almost covered with a thick net-work of cobwebs, a small round table of dark oak, and a plain, unvarnished, four post bed, without hangings. In this dreary cell, whose only inlet for fresh air during 38 years was the door way, occasionally left open, did this strange being immure himself.
He obstinately refused to speak to any one, and if spoken to, never answered even those who were his constant attendants. His father, by will, made provision for his temporal wants, and he seemed unconscious of any other. He ate his meals latterly in a curious way, for in process of time his legs became contracted and drawn up towards his body, and when about to eat his food he used to roll himself over, and so take his meals in a kneeling posture, and to prevent any crumbs from getting into the blanket on which he lay, he turned the under blanket over and eat them off the bed-tick.
In a physical point of view he did great credit to his food, for his flesh was firm, fair, and unwrinkled, save with fat, and the estimate of his weight was about 240 pounds. During the whole period of this self-imposed confinement he never had any serious illness till the last week of his life, when his appetite failed, and his limbs became partially benumbed, and death terminated his morbid existence on Monday, the 3rd of March, 1856. Just before he expired he was heard to exclaim “Poor Bill, poor Bill, poor Bill Sharp!“ the most connected sentence he had been known to utter for many years.
As might be expected, the curious came far and wide to see this eccentric person, and whenever a stranger was ushered into his den, he immediately buried his head in the bed - clothes, and on one occasion he contrived to make a hole in the bed¬tick and hide himself among the feathers.
Thousands assembled in Keighley church and grave - yard, where he was buried, to pay their last tribute of wonder at his obsequies. The coffin excited much attention from its extraordinary size, being more like a great oak chest than a coffin; it was two feet four inches in depth, and so heavy that it required eight men with strong ropes to lower it into the grave. The weight of the coffin and its contents was estimated at 480 lbs.

Bills father was notorious for his niggardly ways, and from some documented accounts I think we can assume that Bill was suffering from some kind of mental illness long before he was jilted, and this might have been why on that fateful day in 1807 his intended father in law locked his daughter, Mary Smith of Newholme Dean, in the house so that she could not be married.
This had not been the first time Bill had taken to his bed, Ian Dewhirst tell us that an account in the Preston Chronicle how Bill had saved up three guineas, which his father took from him, Bill took to his bed saying he would never work again.

Note: It is said that the name 3 laps was given to his father, who on taking a piece of cloth to the tailor to make a jacket, he was told there was not enough fabric to make the traditional 4 laps (pleats), the tailor was told there was no more fabric and to make the coat with 3 laps.


There is an excellent article in Ian Dewhirst't Victorian Keighley Characters.