~ The Tale Of The Rat ~

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© Eddie Kelly 1995

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QUEEN STREET TO WOODHOUSE KEIGHLEY.

Monday November 30th 1987 marked the official re-opening of the former Devonshire Arms Keighley as a free house known by the sign of the Grinning Rat. In retrospect it is a great pity that the reopening of the pub hadnít taken place ten days earlier, for on November 20th 1966 the original Grinning Rat or Queen Street Arms heard 'last orders' called for the final time before demolition in anticipation of building the present shopping precinct.

The pub is today still nostalgically remembered always under its pseudonym rather than it's correct name; no doubt the unusual name being the reason. Various myths and legends have surrounded the pub over the years not least of all concerning the unusual but not unique nickname and also it being one of Keighley's premier Coaching Inns, serving the York - Liverpool run and it's dual role as a blacksmith's forge.

The pub was not, as was reported upon it's closure one of Keighley's oldest Inns nor was it a former coaching house. It was originally a beer house - albeit one of the first in the town opened before 1834 in property apparently erected prior to 1815 and described in a deed that year as consisting of a former Iron Forge and cottage; possibly accounting for the assumption that the pub had at one time also served as a blacksmiths.

The first tenant appears to have been Sarah Cure who was succeeded in 1837 by Thomas Blakely who also had an interest in the nearby Brunswick Arms as well as owning the Horse & Trumpet beer house at Utley. He also commenced a brewing business near to Low Bridge ; no doubt supplying all the pubs he had an interest in. An early brewery apprentice being a young Aaron King! He remained as tenant and subsequently owner until at least 1851 during which time he incurred the wrath of the local magistrates on a number of occasions for either selling beer prior to permitted hours; obstruction or on one occasion assaulting the watchman (constable).

It appears after this last misdemeanor that the tenancy was let to John Fowler who was quickly replaced during 1852 when Joseph Wallbank acquired the pub having previously tenanted the Horse & Trumpet (on behalf of Thomas Blakely). Blakely was described in the conveyance as 'an out of business brewer'. Joseph Wallbank continued as owner/landlord until 1858 when the tenancy passed to John Rhodes who continued until 1861 when Joseph Wallbank again assumed total control. It is not known whose beer was sold at this time although Wallbank had family connections with Henry Hargreaves Thompson, founder of the White Horse Brewery at New Road Side.

The beer house along New Street (as Queen Street was originally known) later extended as the 'Queens Arms' changing it's name about 1857 to avoid confusion with the recently constructed Queens Inn or Hotel at the top of Old Dalton Lane. The pub also had long theatrical connections (more later) and is reported as being the venue in 1848 for the inaugural meeting of the Keighley Thespian Society.

During Joseph Wallbank's occupancy of the pub he was able to purchase a lease on substantial shop property in South Street as well as purchasing the Bradford Arms beer house in Wellington Street, which he subsequently sold during 1865 to Joseph R Holmes - manager of William Whitaker & Co brewers of Bradford. J R Holmes subsequently opened the Bingley Brewery during 1890 and it is believed the Bradford Arms was the first pub owned by that concern.

During 1864 Elijah Paget acquired the business and became owner/landlord mortgaging the pub with Joseph Wallbank who developed his former shop property in South Street as a Fully Licensed House opening in August 1868 as the King Head. Elijah Paget was the landlord when beer houses were brought under the control of local magistrates during 1869. A considerable number were either closed down permanently or had licenses refused until improvements to the properties had been carried out. The Queen Street Arms did not escape; the license was refused until 'the offensive urinal was removed from the middle of the public room'. This must have been quickly attended to for the license was granted at the adjourned sessions during October of the same year. During November 1869 Joseph Wallbank previous owner and current mortgager died intestate. This would have ramifications regarding the ownership of the pub for years and was only resolved in 1876 following an order of the High Court in Chancery and Henry Hargreaves Thompson brewer of Keighley subsequently acquired the mortgage of the pub, no doubt supplying the beer. Following Thompsonís death in 1877 the property passed back to Elijah Paget who was subsequently succeeded as landlord by John Ogden, Robert Topham, Eleanor Riley and Luke Parker. Whilst the last named was tenant the pub was being leased by Aaron King & Co brewers of Cooke Lane Keighley.

It has been suggested previously that it was during Luke Parkers tenancy that the pub acquired its alternative name. The story goes that Luke Parker was an eccentric who used part of the premises as a forge (see 1815 above) reputedly to manufacture his own money - the only currency he would accept in the pub. Some time later he apparently suffered financial difficulties (somewhat surprising if he was minting his own) and was subsequently visited by court bailiffs who attempted to gain access. Luke Parker; it is reported resented this intrusion and barricaded the pub against entry and as a spectator reputedly reported afterwards 'was seen at various windows leering like T' Grinning Rat'! This is probably journalistic license gone mad for two reasons. Firstly the property was a beer house leased by a brewer for the purpose of selling beer - it simply wasn't big enough to have reintroduced the pre 1815 forge. Secondly it appears that Luke Parker did not suffer the reported financial difficulties as described for in May 1897 he purchased the valuation of The Albert Hotel Keighley for £306 19 6; a substantial amount of money in 1897!

A second version is that during the years prior to the First World War various theatrical companies performing at the nearby Queens Theatre used the pub for discussions, rehearsals etc. One such party apparently were performing a reasonably successful play entitled 'The Grinning Rat' and named the pub after the play. A search of local newspaper advertisements of the period has failed to produce any reference to such a play being performed!  

A recently revealed but unauthenticated story concerns Elijah Paget's tenancy. It has been reported that during the 1870's a large rat was running amok about Church Green in Keighley causing distress particularly to females. As Elijah Paget possessed a blunderbuss he was summoned to shoot the rat. This he tried to do with some difficulty - the rat apparently appearing to sneer at Paget's ineptitude. No doubt the sneer to some would resemble a grin. Is this incident the reason for the pseudonym?

On February 15th 1899 the pub was offered for sale at auction and was purchased by J & S Tordoff brewers of Thornton Road Bradford for £3060. Tordoff's merged with J Hey & Co of the Northbrook Brewery Bradford in April 1919 - the pub continuing as a 'House Of Heys' until closure. Not many changes were made to the pub during the 20th century. It's authenticity probably being accounted for because the tenancy remained in the same family for an incredible sixty-three years.

During Tordoff's ownership the pub passed in 1903 to Jabez Wood who was succeeded by his son in law Fred Riley and subsequently by Fredís widow Edith (daughter of Jabez Wood). The theatrical connection was maintained by Mrs. Wood through the years to closure and through this connection played host on 28 July 1952 to it's most famous customers Stan Laurel & Oliver Hardy who were topping the bill at Bradford Alhambra; Stan Laurel being a childhood friend of Edith Riley when both their fathers were connected with the theatre at Jarrow; Stan Laurel of course being born in Ulverston.

It was Mrs. Riley who had the distinction of calling time on this Keighley legend. The pub being compulsorily purchased; Heyís receiving £6650 compensation from Keighley Corporation, replacing the pub with a purpose built one along Woodhouse Road Keighley. It was the brewery's intention to name the new pub the Grinning Rat - indeed a sign to that effect was erected but public pressure was mounted against the name and it subsequently opened as the unimaginative 'Woodhouse' the last pub to be opened by Hey's brewery prior to their merger with Websterís of Halifax. The pub was in recent years ridiculously renamed 'The Rovers Return' before falling into disuse and subsequent demolition during the spring 1995.

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