MEMORY LANE: A Keighley character who had more than one string to his bow

Many older residents of Keighley will remember Agnes ‘Aggie’ Bailey, who lived next door to Utley Cemetery at 320 Skipton Road, where she worked as a monumental mason.

She was instantly recognizable in her work-worn tweed trousers and sports jacket, a green beret – usually pulled to the side – and a cigarette hanging from the corner of her mouth.

Aggie was born in Beechcliffe in 1911. Her father, John Bailey, was born in Laycock and was a first cousin of Sir Abe Bailey, a South African multimillionaire and racehorse owner. He worked in the wholesale grocery store and had married Ruth Hannah Pickard in 1910. Surprisingly, Aggie’s first claim to fame was as a violinist. Her mother, Ruth, also played the violin and no doubt encouraged Aggie to take up the instrument. During the 1920s and early 1930s, she performed at music festivals throughout the region, playing mostly solo but occasionally performing duets with her mother. His younger brother, Thomas, born in 1917, was also a musician and played the cello. They became well known in Keighley musical circles and Tom often played in local dance groups. Later in life, Aggie taught violin.

His maternal grandfather, Eder Pickard, had come to Bingley from Lotherton near Leeds in the 1870s and worked as a monumental mason. He married Mary Lamb in 1881 and moved to Keighley in the 1890s where he settled in the land next to Utley Cemetery. The family originally lived just off South Street in Keighley, but once established as a monumental mason Eder moved the family to a house near Keelham Lane in Utley. His son, Arthur, followed him into the business and took over the business when Eder died in 1924.

Aggie’s younger brother, Thomas, also entered the family business and trained as a monumental mason under his uncle Arthur. Aggie also worked in the business and in the 1930s she was described as a commission seeker for a monumental mason and she also turned to engraving stone inscriptions. Now the Baileys lived in a small cottage at 320 Skipton Road, next to the Mason’s Yard, which was eventually replaced by the current house.

In 1943 Aggie married John Emmott, whose family consisted of well-known Keighley greengrocers and potato wholesalers.

When Arthur Pickard retired from the business, Tom took over. In the summer of 1948, he and his mother booked a vacation in Italy, overland by coach. Aggie and her husband had hoped to go too but by the time they decided the coach was full. The tour included a stopover in Carrara, where Tom visited the famous marble quarries. However, on the way back through Switzerland, the driver failed to negotiate a bend and the coach plunged over 100 feet into a ravine. Tragically, Tom and four other passengers were killed and many others injured, including his mother. Upon hearing the news, Aggie and John left for London where the British Consulate arranged for Aggie to travel to Switzerland to her mother’s home and attend Tom’s funeral.

After Tom’s death, Aggie and her husband separated and she moved back to 320 Skipton Road where she continued to run the business. His mother Ruth died on Christmas Eve 1973.

In the summer of 1974, Aggie walked into the reception desk of a law firm on North Street. She was almost unrecognizable as she was impeccably dressed in a red pantsuit with matching pillbox, scarf and handbag. His first words were: “what does ter think of it? I’m going for Parisian fashions! To the incredulous stare of the staff, she dug into her purse and flowered the travel tickets: “And I’m staying with Sir Bracewell Smith’s daughter!”

Aggie died on November 14, 1981.

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