William Peel  (1788 - 1867)


Peel was born on 14 June 1788 to Jonathan Peele and Sarah Smith. The family appears to have lived near Laycock, an ancient village west of Keighley in West Yorkshire. They did not originate there but can be traced back to the mid 16th Century in the Kildwick area. A Roger Peele was recorded as a Householder of Glusburne in 1657. He may have occupied Glusburn Old Hall or a farm in Glusburn Green / Ryecroft: properties here were linked to members of the Peel and Stell families in the 19th Century. The late 18th century baptismal records of Jonathan Peele mention four residences near Keighley: a Paper Mill at Ingrow on the River Worth; nearby Woodhouse; nearby Hainworth Wood; and Lower Holme House near Goose Eye, Laycock - the adjacent Lower Holme Mill was associated with paper-making, including paper for bank notes. Whether Peel's father owned the Mills or simply worked there is not known.


All that is known of his early life is that he used to fish in a stream near Goose Eye [1].  


By 1806, his brother John, born eight years earlier, was in Calverley parish marrying a very young Elizabeth Bateson (she could only have been 16½ years old). John Peel had probably established some kind of woollen manufacturing business in Windhill and the eighteen year-old William may have been involved in it. He seems to have moved in the same circles as his brother, marrying John's sister-in-law Rebecca Bateson some time before 1820. The couple's only child, Henrietta Maria, was born that year.


By 1822 both brothers were listed at Windhill as Woollen Cloth Manufacturers in Baines' Trade Directory.


William Peel next appears as a Burgess in the 1835 Idle Poll, when he voted for John Stuart Wortley to become a Knight of the Shire for the West Riding of Yorkshire.


In the 1841 Census for Windhill, he was living with his daughter (Rebecca had died in 1830), his sister Martha Stell and his niece Ann Peel. Ann was a Milliner while the other women were recorded as having Independent Means.  Martha died the following year and Ann probably got married in 1844, leaving William alone with his daughter in the elegant Regency residence they called Crag Cottage, as recorded in the 1851 Census.


There are no plans or other records concerning the building of Crag Cottage. There is no mention of its construction in his daughter’s Diary [1], presumably because she was already living there when she began writing it in January 1846. The house was close to the water's edge of the Bradford Canal and a lady of leisure such as Henrietta could sit and watch barges loaded with wool, lime and coal being towed past her window by the canal horses; on 4 January 1846, she noted her shock at seeing a body - probably that of local resident Peter Cowling - being carried to the nearby King's Arms, having just been recovered from the Canal. In fact, the house was probably built shortly before 1838, Peel having purchased the site from Joseph Bateson on 12 August 1834. It was described in the Deed as, "adjoining on the North East side thereof to a plot of ground lately sold by the said Joseph Bateson to the Trustees of the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel intended to be erected thereon"; the 1838 map of Windhill shows that the site was empty of any structure, while the 1847 OS map shows, and names, Crag Cottage. This image, showing Crag Cottage on the site, is from an aerial photograph that was probably taken in 1937.


An historian, writing in the early 1900s [2], describes the setting thus:


In the early part of the last century when Briggate Windhill was mostly open country with fields sweeping up from the top side of Briggate to Wrose Hill, a man called William Peel, one of the Clothiers of those bye gone days, who by hard work had prospered and made sufficient money to retire on, built a house between Briggate and the Canal which he called Cragg Cottage. In those days there was an open view up the hill to Wrose and from his back view lay the part of Shipley Hall, with a sweeping view up beautiful Airedale, before the large factories of today had been erected and railway come into the landscape [2].

William Peel himself wrote a booklet, which he published privately in 1857, entitled A Short Description Of Crag Cottage Windhill And Windhill Crag [3]. This was a romanticised history of the Crag, with copious - and fanciful - references to its Druidic past.  It was laced with rhyming, somewhat orotund verse.  There is no indication as to why, how or when he built the Cottage or the odd complex of buildings on the other side of the road. But there are wonderful descriptions of these, as well as descriptions of some of the more exotic contents of the Cottage, all accompanied by highly informative engravings.


Peel was evidently something of an antiquarian – the house was stuffed with antique furniture, rare books, valuable paintings and oriental china. He was clearly well used to rooting about in dusty attics, attending the jumble sales of the day or bidding at auctions.


Crag Cottage - there is a view of it on an engraving of Briggate - was a modest building designed in the Regency Classical style. It was symmetrical, with three upper and two lower windows on the façade facing the street.  There were no steps up to the central door, which was plain, without the usual semi-circular fanlight. The hipped roof was probably covered in stone slates, while the walls appear to be stuccoed.  The only decoration is a kind of awning on at least three sides of the house, in place of the more usual first floor frieze.  The ground floor windows and door were edged with shutters that were probably purely decorative.


The garden in the engraving had a lawn with shrubs and an ornamental tree. A strategically placed spinning wheel proves that nostalgia for things rustic is by no means a 20th Century preoccupation. The whole garden was enclosed by a wall topped with railings.


The Dining Room was full of the kind of objets d’art and paintings that a devout late Georgian gentleman might aspire to.  The entire room seems to have been designed to give the impression of an altar.  A low pedestal table in the centre of the room stands in front of a large organ encased in mahogany and built by Booth of Leeds.  The organist would sit at a low keyboard below the organ pipes.  The instrument was sold in 1865 to the Shipley Primitive Methodists. Large bibles, one on an eagle lectern, are strategically positioned on either side of this cathedralesque fantasy, which is illuminated by a shuttered window.  On the opposite wall stands a rosewood chiffonier supporting a small urn heated from underneath by an oil lamp.  On the wall above hangs one of a number of large paintings, most of which appear to illustrate religious themes.  This particular canvas, which may depict a disciple genuflecting before Jesus, is reflected in the glass of a large mirror on the wall over the fireplace. Nearby, a crucifix stands on a low table beneath a large painting of an unspecified building. On the floor below is a pair of miniature bibles on stands. The only artificial light in the room is provided by a censer suspended from the ceiling.


Oddly, the one painting that might be expected to appear on the wall is missing. This, The Incredulity of Thomas by Benjamin West [4], was evidently a favourite of Peel’s and it receives lavish praise in the text.  He reports that the artist’s skill in portraying the expressions of the characters and their clothes instils in him a feeling of being in the presence of Christ himself.  Quoting lines from the Romantic poet, John Nicholson [4], he suggests that the painting gives life to Christ, just as He gave life to us.  This fits in well with one of the philosophical notions of the day - that of Beauty - which suggested that when an object was presented to the mind, it would awaken a train of thought analogous to the character or expression of the original object.  The perceived devotion of St John, for example, reflects the veneration that the saint expressed for his master and clearly had an analogous effect on the author.


West painted The Incredulity of Thomas in the late 18th Century. It is not known exactly when Peel bought it but he published a pamphlet describing its virtues in July 1853. After Peel's bankruptcy in 1865, it was sold by public auction to his nephew Charles. When the latter died in 1868, it was auctioned again and probably bought by a corn miller from Adel, Leeds, by the name of George Outhwaite Joy. It was bequeathed to Leeds Art Gallery in 1919 by Alexander Joy and is currently on display at Temple Newsam House, Leeds.


Another painting mentioned in the text, as being “Among the pictures at Crag Cottage” was Anderson’s Death of Nicholson [5].  As this picture has not been found in the catalogues, there is no way of knowing what it looked like. However, given the subject matter, it is safe to say that no painting in the engraving looks anything like a man drowning in a river.


The Astronomy Room appears as a plain, working room high in the rafters of the Cottage.  Here are objects associated with the quest for scientific knowledge: globes, a barometer, thermometer and clock; maps & charts on the walls; a diagram of a human skeleton; and, incongruously, a harmonium.  The author is shown peering at the sky through a telescope - perhaps the same “very achromatic” Dolland refractor mentioned in the text.  John Dollond invented the first achromatic telescope in the mid-16th Century. Peel’s telescope, made by Rothwell of Manchester, was perhaps bought from Abraham Sharp’s studio at Horton Hall, Sharp being a mathematician / astronomer who was a contemporary of Flamsteed.   In this room, immersed in the celestial world, Peel must have experienced a sense of the sublime power of nature, a force he would have ascribed to God, an experience that was possibly more awesome than one gained from looking at a painting.


Peel's description of the buildings shown opposite Crag Cottage on the engraving indicates that there were two towers, both with clocks and both atop "churches". He purchased the land he needed for the construction from Samuel Cowling in March 1842. The 1847 OS map shows that nothing had been built on the site up to that time.
Peel writes of the Clock Tower and Roman Church, with its observatory and clock (dedicated in 1850 to his namesake Robert Peel) and the adjacent “rustic … vicarage” as if they were definitely built.  And photographic evidence does exist - both are shown in a photograph taken in the late 1800s
[6]; and the Roman Church alone appeared in a photograph in a local newspaper in 1947. Remarkably, the latter shows a building that looks exactly as the engraver depicted it in 1857, minus the wind vane and the clock. The clock, the newspaper article says, had vanished by the time the photograph was taken.  The building, it says, was once used as a house, but never as a church.  

Not mentioned in the newspaper article, but alongside Billy Peel’s Place, was a dwelling house known in the censuses as Peel Cottage (92 Briggate). This is thought to have become the property of William’s nephew, Bateson Peel.


William Peel’s involvement came to an abrupt end in 1864 when he was bankrupted by the collapse of the Leeds Banking Company, in which he owned a large number of partly paid shares.  The bank found it necessary to call on the shares and, as Peel could not oblige, he had to surrender all his assets and was ruined. On 13 June 1868, Thomas Edgeley was convicted of fraud against the Bank and sentenced to 21 months imprisonment with hard labour.  It came too late for William.  He had gone to live at Kildwick, probably with his grand-nephew John Stell, but only survived the crash two years, dying there in early 1867, aged 78. He was buried in the family vault (the vault has disappeared without trace) at Shipley St Paul's Church.


At the instigation of the Official Liquidator, Peel had advertised Crag Cottage for sale by auction in November 1865. It was purchased by William Bateson and his brother James Bateson the Younger. Included in the sale was a warehouse containing 2 large rooms being used by the Bateson brothers, who had a small woollen cloth manufacturing business. 5 cottages or dwelling houses, together with their respective tenants, were also advertised. These last 2 items were likely to have been on Plot 211, as the Commissioners of the 1813 Inclosure designated it. Originally allotted to David Lee, Peel must have bought it, perhaps in the 1830s, and built the 5 houses there, together with a warehouse and other commercial premises.

There was no mention, either in the adverts or in the 1866 conveyance documents, of the sale of Billy Peel's Place, that complex of odd buildings on the east side of the main road. However, an 1869 sale catalogue for adjacent plots of land show that James Bateson owned the land on which the Roman Church was built.


Peel also owned a small plot of land of 896 sq yds he bought in 1852 at Woodend. Described as part of the Long Field, the plot has not been identified. To the N of Leeds Road, it was bounded on the N by Capt Duncombe's land, to the E by John Rhodes' land and to the W by the rest of Long Field, owned by Joseph Dawson.


Crag Cottage passed into the hands of William and James Bateson - in the 1881 Kelly's Directory William was listed as living there; the 1891 Census places him at Crag Cottage, with his wife Esther; and he was listed as a Gentleman of 70 Briggate in the 1893 Post Office Directory. When William died in 1892, his address was Crag Cottage. By the time of the 1901 Census, his widow had moved to 102 Briggate. In 1893 and 1894, Crag Cottage was occupied by Johnson Dove. John Riley took it over in 1895 and 1896. No voters were recorded at No 70 in Parliamentary or Council elections between 1896 and 1902. In 1902 and 1903 Henry Bailey was in residence there.


When Esther died in 1905 it is likely that Crag Cottage was bequeathed to her daughter Isabella Stancliffe.
From 1905 to 1917 the Stancliffe family [7] occupied Crag Cottage. Isabella's sons Henry & Charles were registered there from 1919 on. Her two surviving unmarried daughters, Ethel and Mary, were probably also there. By 1930, Charles had moved to 7 Cowling Road, while Ethel, Mary, Henry and Isabella remained at No 70. They were still there in 1935. Isabella died in 1937 and left Crag Cottage to Charles.

Charles did not live at Crag Cottage and may have let it to Ethel, Mary and Henry, who were registered there in 1940, 1945 and 1948. Henry disappeared from the record after 1948. From 1949 to 1962 Ethel and Mary occupied No 70. The last 5 or 6 years of their residence would not have been pleasant - Shipley Urban District Council obtained a Slum Clearance Order for Briggate in 1955 and probably began demolition the following year: much of the southern part of Windhill Crag would have resembled a bomb site.

In the north the Wesleyan Mission closed its doors in December 1961; its sale to the council was concluded in 1963 and it was probably demolished shortly afterwards.
Both Stancliffe spinsters died in 1962 - Mary in March and Ethel in October. It is likely that Crag Cottage remained unoccupied and derelict for the next two years while Shipley UDC continued its slum clearance programme.
Charles Stancliffe entered into negotiations with the Council and sold Crag Cottage on 7 February 1964 for a paltry £765. The sale included a plot of land with a frontage of 10 yards onto the opposite (east) side of Briggate; this may have been the site of William Peel's "church".



1  see  Memorial of Henrietta Maria Peel, 1864


2  from A Windhill Romance And Tragedy, by William Williams (Chairman of Baildon Urban District Council in 1915)


3  A Short Description Of Crag Cottage Windhill And Windhill Crag, by William Peel, 1857. There are thought to be only 4 copies extant – two in private hands, one in the British Library and one in Bradford City Library. A copy held by Leeds City Library is missing.


4  Benjamin West (1738 - 1820) was an American-born painter of historical, religious, and mythological subjects who had a profound influence on the development of historical painting in Britain. He painted for the British Royal family and, with Sir Joshua Reynolds, was a founder of the Royal Academy, becoming its president in 1792. Modern critics regard West's figures as somewhat stiff, his colours harsh, and his themes uninspired.


5  John Nicholson (1790 - 1843) was the son of a worsted manufacturer.  His education at Bingley Grammar School taught him how the world of sentiment could be expressed in poetry.  As a lowly woolsorter, he is said to have composed his poems in a mill woolshed and believed his was an authentic working-class voice. He styled himself the Airedale Poet and was immensely popular in the 1820s and 30s.  Nicholson was famously drowned on Good Friday, 1843, when he fell into the River Aire while drunk.


6  in Shipley through the Camera, by M Crabtree, published by Hanson & Oak 1902


7  Notes on the Stancliffe family

Isabella Bateson married William Stancliffe in 1875.
They had at least 9 children.
One - Clara - died in infancy.
Three - Mary, Henry and Ethel - did not marry.

Esther, born in 1877, married George Firth in 1805.
She may have died in 1946 in the Bradford area.
A son, Arthur, was born in 1905, married in 1938 and died in 1986.

John, born in 1880, enlisted in the 19th Hussars in 1902.
Discharged on medical grounds in 1908, he spent 10 months as a patient at High Royds, Menston 'Lunatic' Asylum.
Diagnosed with 'Melancholia', he suffered from depression, hallucinations and suicidal tendencies. Whether this was shell shock or some other trauma brought about by military service is not known though his friends are said to have blamed 'army neglect' for his illness.
Fortunately, he was discharged in February 1909 and declared 'recovered' a month later. In March 1915 he sailed to St Johns, New Brunswick and immediately enlisted in the Canadian Over-seas Expeditionary Force.
He married Laura Deswell in the last quarter of 1915 in Bradford.
He survived the War and, in February 1923, sailed again to Canada, intending to settle there permanently.
He was a Cook.
His wife followed in June that year.
In July 1924, they returned to live in Windhill.
John died in 1953 and Laura in 1962.
The couple appear to have had no children.

Gertrude, born in 1884, married Walter Harris in 1908.
She died in Saltaire in 1970.
No children have been found.

Arthur was born in 1886.
A Carpenter, he sailed to Philadelphia in March 1910.
By 1913, he was back in Yorkshire marrying Annie Bell at Baildon Parish Church.
The marriage took place on 17 June.
On 18 June, the couple were onboard the SS Merion, travelling to Jamestown via New York.
Their only child, William Bateson Stancliffe, was born there in 1926 and died in 1986.
The family sailed to Liverpool in 1932 but it is not known when Arthur returned to Britain permanently.
He died in Bradford in 1962 but is commemorated on a grave in Chautauqua, New York state.

Charles was born in 1888.
He may have served in the Royal Army Medical Corps during the War.
A Shop Manager, he married Hannah Thorpe in 1922 and had at least 7 children, four of whom died in infancy.
Another son, Charles, died at the age of 23.
A daughter, Dorothy, married in 1967 and died in Cambridge in 1971.
The youngest child, born in 1935, married in 1965.
Charles himself died in 1975 and Hannah 3 years later.



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