In his book “Upper Wharfedale” published in 1900 Harry Speight quotes Mr Samuel Milne – Milne, an early member of the club (he joined 1856), as saying that KAC “was formed about 1840 by a few Halifax anglers, excellent fishermen they were, unsurpassed even now, who had for some years previously angled in the Wharfe at Kilnsey”. Though Milne-Milne lived most of his life in Leeds he was originally from Halifax and, through his father, probably had a direct connection with the very early membership. This source complements the account given by Henry Cadman (1898) in “Harry Druidale”, who notes that before 1840 the river at Kilnsey was “practically unpreserved” and that about that time a group of visiting anglers staying at the Tennant Arms resolved to form an angling club with Kilnsey as its headquarters. Cadman writes further that “the Reverend William Berry [sic] of Chapel House……..an ardent angler interested himself in this matter, and he may be designated as the founder of Kilnsey Angling Club”. The date 1840, which we accept as that of our foundation, is, however, only approximate and it is likely that the initial moves to preserve the fishing were informal and that they developed over a period of several years. The first date from the early and patchy club records is 1843, the date when the Reverend William Bury is recorded as joining the club.
In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, visiting anglers clearly found a warm welcome at Kilnsey and ready access was granted by the riparian owners. It is uncertain when visiting anglers from Halifax and elsewhere first came to the dale but the Anglers’ Arms, adjacent to the Tennant Arms, was so called in the mid 18C, and there are early advertisements welcoming angling visitors to Kilnsey.
Although transport in the late 18C and early 19C was generally slow and difficult, toll-road improvements and the introduction of ‘fly’ coaches gradually shortened journey times. Access to Kilnsey from the expanding West Yorkshire towns was perhaps more convenient than would at first be supposed from contemporary descriptions of general road conditions in west Yorkshire. In the early seventeenth century Halifax and Barnsley were on a direct coach route from London to Richmond, which is shown in a famous early ‘atlas’ of linear routes called Britannia Depicta (Ogilby 1675). The route, which is set out rather like those for motorways in Automobile Association handbooks today, shows that the London toRichmond road went via Keighley, Skipton, over the flank of Rylstone Fell to Kilnsey, then on to Kettlewell up Park Rash to Coverdale, Middleham and Richmond. This route, which operated at least until 1820 (Bogart 2003), was almost certainly slow and difficult but at the time was one of England’s major roads.
The early years
There is substantial evidence that this upland road, which largely went over limestone country, was dryer and more readily passable than other local routes. From 1750 on, communications got better and cheaper. Prices fell most steeply of all on the London to Richmond route (Bogart 2003). The road was improved from time to time, for example after a 1753 Act that authorised the toll road from Halifax to Kendal (Brigg 1968). This road which overlapped with the earlier road as far as Skipton was further improved in 1794 and 1826. At Gargrave, the Halifax to Kendal road connected with another road to Grassington which at this time went through Flasby as far as Cracoe. This link was improved in stages from 1790 onwards by the Duke of Devonshire to ease the movement of lead and coal to and from a wharf at Gargrave on the Leeds and Liverpool canal and, for a time, became the preferred way into upper Wharfedale. In 1827 the canal into Lancashire was completed and shortly afterwards the Duke leased Ray’s Bridge Wharfe at Gargrave. Most of the coal then came from Hargreaves’colliery at Burnley and was carried on to Grassington by horse-drawn carts. Later, in 1853, the new Skipton to Cracoe turnpike road was opened. As a result of these improvements, travel from the prospering West Yorkshire industrial towns to Kilnsey gradually became more and more convenient.
In the 18th century, travel was relatively expensive and early visitors to Wharfedale were from the landed classes. Later, travel became increasingly attractive to the more prosperous businessmen and industrialists that comprised the expanding upper-middle classes of towns such as Halifax and Bradford. Later again, in 1903, the passenger railway reached Grassington, further improving access. The railway was soon superseded by car and bus. It eventually closed to passengers in 1930.
It seems likely that, by about 1820, with increasing mining activity and immigration of mine workers, pressure on the river increased. Whitaker (1805) in his History of Craven wrote: “Excepting …….. the introduction of manufactories, I do not know a greater calamity which can befall a village than the discovery of a lead mine in the neighbourhood”. In the 1820s and 1830s small textile mills using water power were established locally along the rivers and their feeder becks, and mining for lead (and for coal at Kettlewell and Hartlington) expanded rapidly. The populations of Kettlewell, Starbotton and Grassington (see footnote) increased dramatically in the first three decades of the 19C. Large numbers of lead and coal miners came from outside the dale, some from distant places. In 1851, for example, the census identifies people born in other mining areas such as Dent, Aysgarth, Alston, Arkengarthdale, Arndale Northumberland, Weardale, Middleham, Greenhow, Burnley, Wigan, Derbyshire and eventhe odd person from Cornwall. Some incomers, for example from East Anglia (Norwich) had no mining background but were driven to the dale simply to find work. Nationally, conditions around this time were everywhere hard but from 1829 to 1833 things worsened as cheap lead imports depressed prices. As a result the smaller mines closed and miners’ wages collapsed to as little as eight shillings a week. It is with this background that KAC was formed.
An extract from – Kilnsey Angling Club: The Early Years – 2012 by Mike Hodgson
Club member Mike Hodgson has kindly allowed the inclusion of his book Kilnsey Angling Club – The Early Years. The entire content can be accessed by clicking on the link below: