William Wright was born on 22nd March 1836 at Hoyle House End near Hermit Hole on the road out of Keighley towards Haworth and Halifax. Hence his nom de plume "Bill O’th’ Hoylus End" Bill of the Hoyle House End. His father was a musician of some local note, who composed and published many Psalm Tunes. His mother was a relative of John Nicholson, the 'Airedale Poet'.
He was educated at the National School in Keighley, until he was fourteen years old, after which he went intu'th mill to learn warp dressing. That is he prepared the long worsted threads for weaving. This consisted of sizing the warp threads with "paps" - a flour and water mix - which strengthened the warp threads and lessened the possibility of them breaking during weaving.
He did not folIow that trade for long but soon joined a troupe of strolling players and travelled the country with them as a musician, actor and acrobat. He then joined the army in the West Yorkshire Rifles Regiment and was stationed in Scotland for three years at Ayr, Edinburgh and Glasgow. He is also said to have been at various times a sailor, puppeteer and inventor. He eventually came back to Keighley and returned to his trade of warp dresser. He only followed his trade at intervals, being more interested in entertainment and pubs than a steady job. He married sometime around 1859 and had three children.
By this time he was producing many poems, broadsheets and satires, commenting on local events and satirising local dignitaries. He had these writings printed on penny broadsheets and then hawked them round the pubs. He often told a tale of how he had been fined 10 shillings following an incident in a Keighley pub. He then set to work and wrote a satire on the magistrate, which he hawked round the market the following day, selling a thousand copies at a penny a time. At 12 pennies to the shilling, he made a tidy profit from his misadventure!
His “History of O’ Haworth Railway” was first published in 1866, the year before the railway itself opened. A revised edition was produced for the actual opening and a version is still in print today. In a prose and poem format, it is a masterpiece of comic invention and irreverent lampoon.
He wrote a play - “The wreck of the Bella” which was performed in Bradford, Keighley, Liverpool Lancaster and 'other large towns'. Owing to the pending Tichbourne trial it was banned by the Lord Chamberlain.
For most of the 1870’s he produced an annual comic almanac called “Howorth, Cowenheead an Bogthorn Almanak” costing one penny. The three places of the title are Haworth, Cowling Head - above Cowling on the road from Keighley to Colne, and Bogthorn, not far up the road from Hermit Hole. The Cowenheeaders were often the butt of his jokes, saying that they were moonrakers.
In 1876 he produced a book of Poems entitled “Random Rhymes and Rambles” and produced a revised version called “Revised Edition of Poems of Bill O’th’ Hoylus End” in 1891. This was printed and published in Keighley and sold for the sum of two shillings.
Some of his work was undoubtedly ‘tidied’ for publication, and some of his valedictory poetry was probably made either to order, or with a view to the market. However there are a number of poems, and his History of the Haworth Railway, which have a raw vitality and give substance to his sobriquet of “The Yorkshire Burns”.
He died in July 1897 at the age of 61 and is buried in Keighley Cemetery. It is alleged that only his friends’ generosity saved him from a pauper’s grave. However surviving members of his family vehemently deny this!
Source: The Poets of Keighley, Bingley, Haworth and District. Chas. F. Foreshaw 1891.
Book in Print: Th' History o' Haworth Railway. Published by Keighley & Worth Valley Railway Preservation Society. It is available from the K&WVR Railway Shops at Keighley, Haworth and Oxenhope.
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Last Changed 17th October 1996