Karen Sayers, archivist, has been looking at anecdotes about Yorkshire characters and has discovered that, sometimes, you must be careful what you believe!

Special Collections recently received a donation of a small notebook of stories about interesting characters from the Keighley area. The stories were collected and written up by William Lister Marriner (1825-1906) of the worsted spinning and manufacturing firm R. V. Marriner Limited.

One of William’s tales relates to Abraham Wildman (1803-1870), the Keighley poet. Abraham was a campaigner against the harsh treatment of child workers in mills. His best-known poem was ‘The Factory Child’s Complaint’ published in 1832. William records an intriguing story he claimed Abraham told about his grandmother, Mrs. Wildman’s, meeting with King George III.

The story goes that Mrs. Wildman was determined to see George III before she died and set off from Keighley to London on foot at nearly 80 years of age. Never one to waste time, before leaving Mrs. Wildman stuffed her pockets with wool and took some needles so she could knit as she walked. She hitched lifts on wagons whenever possible. The Wildman family belonged to the Society of Friends. Members were well known for their hospitality to travellers and so Mrs. Wildman was able to stay at the homes of Friends en route.

first page of the story of Mrs Wildman in black ink on cream paper
The first page of the story of Mrs Wildman entitled ‘A well nigh forgotten “character”. BUS/Marriner/8. Image credit Leeds University Library.

When she arrived in London Mrs. Wildman asked passers-by where she might find King George. Eventually she met a gentleman from the court who, amazed by her determination, helped her. He escorted Mrs. Wildman to a park where the King was walking and introduced her to him. George was impressed by Mrs. Wildman’s loyalty and asked a lot of questions. At the end of their meeting she was told to kiss the king’s hand, but refused saying she would only kiss his face! The story does not tell whether Mrs. Wildman’s wish was granted.

I have tried to identify Mrs. Wildman. Her first name is not given in the story, but I can find records for two women who may have been Abraham’s paternal grandmother – a Martha or a Mary. Martha was born in 1756 and Mary in 1759. However, neither would have been around 80 when George III (1760-1820) was on the throne. In addition neither lived beyond 60. Did Abraham’s grandmother visit London when she was much younger which would be more plausible given the distance? Alternatively, could Abraham have been talking about his great grandmother or even great-great grandmother?

The story finishes with Abraham’s tale of a visit to his grandmother’s rather dark and gloomy cottage in Keighley. Unusually there appeared to be a large curtain dividing the main room so Abraham asked about it. His grandmother cryptically replied: ‘Can you not see the attercop?’ On touching the ‘curtain’ he discovered that it was an enormous cobweb! Attercop is a northern English dialect word for a spider.

There are many more interesting anecdotes in the notebook which is in the R. V. Marriner Ltd. Archive of business and personal papers in Special Collections. Whether they are true or not I cannot say!