The Old Dolphin Inn, Clayton Heights, Queensbury

Illustrated Rambles


Hipperholme to Tong

James Parker




This historical inn was in the olden times a ” baiting house ” for stage coaches, stage-waggons, etc., when the York and Hull Royal Mail coach, the Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool coaches, the Trafalgar coach (through Halifax, Leeds, York, etc.) to Hull every morning, used to put up at this old hostelry before Manchester Road was made in 1835-6. Little do some of us think of what we have lost in the extinction of the old coaches and the old roads. Then the hundred little incidents by the road, the wayside changings, the hospitable inn and the fireside gossipings at night, made travelling enjoyable in a way

The Old Dolphin

which the present race of travellers can little understand. If ordinary stage-coach travelling was enjoyable, that of the mail-coach must have been more so. Herring’s pencil has pourtrayed in living colours the old Brighton coach, ” The Age “-its glittering appear­ance, its fine stud of bloodhorses, its real live baronet for driver, and its liveried guard. This was no uncommon picture during the first thirty years of the last century. That some of the men who acted as drivers and guards should have done so through all kinds of weather, proves that there must have been something strangely fascinating in the life they led. Though sometimes so distinguished, the driver’s place on the mail was an inferior one in point of position to that of the guard. The guard invariably wore the Royal livery, which was a kind of official warrant for the performance of his high duties; the coachman was sometimes clothed in scarlet, but only as an honorary distinction after long or some special service. The class of guards-though in a remarkable way punctilious in the matter of their duty, keeping aloof in their solitary seat from too much contact with the passengers-were an intelligent and eminently trustworthy body of men. Commissions of great importance were oftentimes entrusted to them. The banker, for example, would trust him with great wealth. In these days of cheap postage of newspapers, electric tramways and railways, it may be difficult to comprehend the intense interest centred in the appearance of the Royal Mail coaches on any of the lines of road, and more especially on its arrival at the several provincial towns. On any day the coach was no com­mon object; in times of excitement its appearance was the cause of anxiety or joy to thousands. It was the national and authorised organ for publishing the first news of any great national event. It was the mail-coach that dis­tributed over the face of the land the heart-shaking news of the battles of Trafalgar, of Salamanca, of Vittoria and of Waterloo. When the coaches took down into the country the first news of the numerous victories achieved by English valour on the Continent, they were dressed in laurels and flowers, oak leaves and ribbons, and these emblems told the well-known tale through­out the whole course.

“The grandest chapter in our experience,” says one who often rode the coaches between 1805 and 1815, “was on those occasions, when we went down from London to the country with the news of the victory.” “Five years of life,” adds this enthusiastic writer,” it was worth paying down for the privilege of an outside place on a mail-coach when carrying down the first tidings of any such event.” When important news was expected, all along the line of mails crowds stood waiting, and the news was shouted out to them as the coaches passed. Again, at the5different stages in the history of the Reform Bill of 1832, the mail roads were sprinkled over, mile after mile, with people on the qui vive for the smallest instalment of news from London, and the coachmen and guards on the top shouted out the tidings to them. We have said that on any day these coaches attracted no ordinary attention. Beginning with London, throughout the whole route to the completion of their omission, their course was always a triumphant one; they were cheered on leaving, eagerly looked for and eagerly welcomed. The spectacle which the coaches presented when, prior to their despatch to the provinces, they were assembled on parade before. the General Post Office, is said to have been very beautiful; while on unusual occasions, when .they were decked out to denote a victory, and crowds cheered at every step, the scene was doubly grand. The absolute perfection of all the appointments about the coach and the horses, their strength, their cleanliness, their beautiful simplicity, but, more than all, the royal magnificence of the horses, were what first fixed the attention. Daily each part of every coach had been examined by a regular inspector, every morning they were thoroughly cleaned, every morn­ing the horses were groomed up to a degree of perfection in such matters not usually attained, and altogether the sight was one which no one seeing could ever forget.

The Old Dolphin stables were rebuilt in 1790 and had stable room during the coaching days for about thirty horses.


A most remarkable event took place on March 12th, 1806, when a blind youth named Peter Firth, who resided at Clayton Heights, and who was a noted “runner,” ran a race against the coach. Firth was only eighteen years of age when he promised to run to Leeds and beat the mail-coach from Halifax, for a sum of money. The route that he ran was as follows (it being the then mail-coach route), viz:-Halifax, up Haley Hill, Booth-town, Catherine Slack, Beggarington, Queenshead, Clayton Heights, down the old Halifax Road, through Great Horton into Bradford, on Tyrrel Street, up Ivegate, down Kirkgate, up Church Bank, along Barkerend, over Calverley Moor, Stanningley, Kirkstall Bridge to Leeds, the distance being from Halifax to Leeds 18 miles. Two wagers of five guineas each depended upon the event -the first, that the boy did not run from Halifax to Leeds in three hours; and the second, that he did not go that distance in the same time as the mail-coach, having the start of eight minutes. To within about four miles of Leeds the boy led the coach, but at Stanningley Hill it passed, and arrived in Leeds about ten minutes before him. The match with the coach was, of course, lost, but the other he won, having run the 18 miles in two hours and 57 minutes. From Halifax to Bradford he ran without a guide; from Bradford, to within about a mile of Leeds, a horse went alongside of him and he held the stirrup; and the last mile he was guided by a man on each side.

. . He said he should stop in the town the day following and “see Leeds.”






Founded on Fact.

Bradford in the year 1807 was a pleasant little market town, situated ina fertile valley, at the bottom of which ran a brook called ” Broad-ford.” This brook emptied itself into the River Aire. The general aspect of the town was pleasing, being embosomed in verdant fields, and the situation could not fail to excite the admiration of travellers who passed through the town daily on the stage coaches en route to Leeds and York, and from York and Leeds to Halifax and Manchester. The streets of the town, even then were lighted with oil lamps, and the houses were, for the most part, covered with brown slate, obtained in the vicinity. Some of these houses were substantial, handsome buildings, particularly the Manor House, in Kirkgate, the residence of Mr. John Hardy. The Gothic church had a fine peal of bells. There was a free school, known as the Grammar School, and a well-built edifice called the Piece Hall, where worsted yarns and worsted goods of various kinds were exposed for sale every market day. The population of the town at this period was about 6393, and the number of houses 1368. There was, however, an air of rural freedom all around. In Bradford quanti­ties of horn and ivory combs, lantern lights, leather ink bottles, snuff and tobacco boxes were made. The vicinity abounded with coal and iron ore, which added materially to the wealth of the town.

The mail coach from the south and north arrived at the Star and Garter Inn every morning about six o’clock, and returned from the west at four in the afternoon. The heavy coaches from the north and south arrived at the Bowling Green Inn at eight in the morning and returned at two in the after­noon. The stage waggons from Sheffield to Kendal stopped at the Horse and Groom Inn every Monday and Thursday night. Walsh’s coach, from Newcastle to Manchester, arrived every day at the Bowling Green Inn, and Hargreaves’, from Liverpool to Leeds, every Tuesday, at the Bull’s Head.

Long ago, at the end of the route,

The stage pulled up and the folk stepped out.

They have all passed under the tavern door—

The youth and his bride, and the grey three-score,

Their eyes were weary, with dust and gleam ;

The day had gone like an empty dream.

Soft may they slumber, and trouble no more,

For their eager journey, its jolt and roar,

In the old coach over by Mountain.

What was known as the “Cotton Coach” to Manchester started every Tuesday morning, at eight o’clock, from the Bowling Green Inn, Bradford, to take the cotton manufacturers to Manchester market. The cotton goods were conveyed to Manchester by means of stage waggons, pulled generally by eight black horses. The journey to Manchester, on which our story is founded, was on Tuesday, the day before Christmas Day, in the year 1807. The morning of the journey opened dark and gloomy, and fears were expressed that the travellers would be overtaken by a snowstorm before reaching Manchester that morning. They, however, reached the place without any trouble, and attended to their respective businesses, but, when the time of departure came to leave Manchester, a severe snowstorm had begun, and their fears as to how they were to reach home that night weighed heavily upon them all. The road through Rochdale and Halifax was with difficulty traversed. The real trouble began when the coach had to ascend Haley Hill, and pass through Booth Town. They, however reached Catherine Slack, and passed Priestley Hill, Beggarington Bar, Ambler Thorn, the Ford, Swamp, and through to Queenshead.


When the travellers reached Scarlett Heights the real difficulties began. The roads were blocked with large drifts of snow. At Little Moor and Bald­win Lane the thoroughfare was impassable, and it was useless to try to get any further. Assistance was called for from “the stage coach, the driver and guard blowing their horns, but no relief came. It was then resolved to leave the coach, and get the horses out, and, if possible, push on to the Old Dolphin Inn.

After much struggling the passengers reached that place, and, it being Christmas Eve, the old hostelry was nearly filled by other travellers who were weather-bound. The “Highflyer” coach, from Leeds to Manchester, was in the hostel yard. It had, with great trouble, got over Clayton Heights, owing to the terrible storm that raged on the Bradford side of the inn.

After the passengers, driver, guard, and the horses, had each had a good meal it was resolved to get “Cotton Coach,” if possible, into the Old Dolphin yard. The road was cleared to enable the horses to drag the coach forward, and, after this was accomplished, the cotton manufacturers, the stage coach drivers and guards, and also the passengers of both coaches, all assembled in the large parlour of the old inn. The storm never abated one jot, the wind blew the snow into great drifts along the roads, and the Old Dolphin Inn was isolated from the outside world.

It was agreed by all present that it would be futile to proceed on their respective journeys that night. It was, therefore, resolved to spend Christmas Eve in the old hostel in innocent enjoyments. The place had been gaily decorated with holly by Mrs. Wharton and her daughters, and at the entrance of the house was the old mystical emblem-the Mistletoe. From the parlour of the inn a pleasant murmur smote the ear, like water rushing through a weir, oft interrupted by the din of laughter and of loud applause. And at intervals could be heard the music of a violin. The room contained a large old-fashioned open fireplace, in which burned brightly the Christmas log. The firelight shed over all the splendour of its ruddy glow. The fire gleamed on the old wainscotting and on the wall. It bronzed the rafters overhead, on which were hung home fed hams, flitches of bacon and salted beef. It suffused the sombre clock with flame-the old clock which ever seemed to say to all-



Before the blazing open fireplace stood erect a rapt musician, who led the company in singing old Christmas hymns. Then there was the telling of old tales, and perhaps a ghost story sent a shiver through the listeners. Christmas games were kept up till morning, and the ladies of the company retired to rest, the men staying up all night.

Christmas morning appeared, and the storm abated, but the roads were still impassable, and no attempt could be made to proceed on the journey. The Cotton Coach and the Highflyer still stood at rest. At the breakfast table all the guests sang “Christians awake! salute the happy morn.” Christmas Day was spent in joyful amusements. No relief came that day, and Christmas night was spent in old English games. On Boxing Day, as we now call it, the company of belated travellers was delighted on awaken­ing to find the Leeds and Halifax turnpike road cleared of snow, so that coaches could proceed both ways to Halifax and to Bradford. The Turnpike Commissioners had engaged a large staff of men to clear the roads for the coaches, and a most singular circumstance in connection with this event happened. Both lots of labourers-one lot from Halifax side and the other from Bradford side-met exactly at the Old Dolphin Inn. Before departing on their respective journeys the travellers subscribed liberally for the labourers who had cleared the roads, and thus liberated many men with anxious wives and families at home.

Cotton Coach
Click on image to view full size

The stage coach drivers cracked their whips, the guards blew their horns vigorously, and the horses, all refreshed and “fit,” went gaily along the road. On the Halifax Road large crowds had assembled to cheer the stage coach and its liberated passengers. As the Cotton Coach proceeded towards Great Horton crowds had also gathered, and gave the cotton manufacturers a hearty cheer.

The scene at the top of Southfield Lane at the front of the old King’s Arms Inn was one which was always remembered by those who took part in this trying journey. The inhabitants turned out to welcome the Cotton Coach. The friends and relations of the cotton manufacturers were overcome with joy when they beheld their husbands and sons arrive home in safety.

This old inn, which was erected in the year 1739, had been the scene of many remarkable demonstrations, but never one more expressive of thankfulness and joy. After a short stay the Cotton Coach proceeded on its journey to Bradford, and when it arrived at the Old Bowling Green Inn the townspeople had also assembled, and gave the coach and its attendants a most hearty reception.

Long, long after this event was the story told in and around Great Horton about the Highflyer Coach and the Cotton Coach being weather-bound at the Old Dolphin Inn. This was in the year 1807, when George the Third was King.


3 thoughts on “The Old Dolphin Inn, Clayton Heights, Queensbury

    • Did you remember Rose Linda – and also the cats eye
      man Percy Shaw?

      My mother used to work at Clayton Heights co-op with
      Bob Miller (the manager.)

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