Here, Robin Longbottom explores how a bridleway popular with dog walkers was once part of the main highway between Keighley and Skipton

ON the low side of Airedale Hospital at Steeton is an old bridleway.

It runs between Thornhill Road and Lyon Lane at Eastburn and is a popular route for local dog walkers.

However, few would suspect that this often muddy track was once part of the main highway between Keighley and Skipton.

In 1753 the Keighley to Kendal Turnpike Trust, a private company created by Act of Parliament, took control of it.

At that time, the road to Skipton left Keighley along Cook Lane up Spring Gardens Lane and along Hollins before dropping down the steep brow into Steeton.

It then followed Chapel Lane and Pot Lane and the now popular bridleway to Eastburn. The road left Eastburn to Cross Hills via Lyon Lane, then down Station Road to Kildwick and Farnhill and along the edge of the moor to Bradley and finally over to Snaygill and into Skipton.

It was a long, narrow and arduous route.

Despite having taken control in 1753, the trust did little to improve the route, other than to maintain it and charge tolls for the right to pass along it.

However, the onset of the Industrial Revolution, some 25 years later, changed everything.

New industrialists needed a much better road network to enable waggons, rather than pack horses, to transport their materials and finished goods.

Therefore, to improve the roads they invested money in the turnpike trusts.

The first section to be improved between Keighley and Skipton was the road along Hollins Lane and down Steeton Brow. In 1782 a decision was made to close it to through traffic and divert it. A new road to replace it was built from Spring Gardens Lane down Bar House Lane at High Utley and along through Hawkcliffe to Steeton.

Seven years later the road was extended from Steeton through Eastburn to Cross Hills, avoiding the old route on Pot Lane (and the bridleway) and Lyon Lane.

One of the most significant sections of new road was built in 1786 when the villages of Farnhill and Bradley were both bypassed by the construction of what is still the current road from Kildwick Bridge to the Bay Horse Inn at Snaygill (the A629).

Some 30 years later High Utley was bypassed by a new road from Keighley through Showfield, Beechcliffe and Low Utley to the turnpike at the bottom of Bar House Lane.

At the same time Cross Hills was also bypassed when the turnpike was taken directly from Eastburn Bridge (Junction) to Kildwick Bridge.

As it neared Kildwick Bridge the road was built on a raised causeway, with tunnels underneath to allow flood water from the River Aire to pass through. The contract had been granted to a local man, John Stirk, who having underestimated the amount of work required, exceeded his original quote of £680 by almost £500.

The improvements to the original route of the road took over 40 years to complete and brought about many changes.

Whilst the villages of Farnhill and Bradley were largely cut off to through traffic, Utley, Steeton and Eastburn benefitted from the increased passing trade. New inns were established, the Roebuck at Utley, the Goat’s Head and Old Star at Steeton and the White Bear at Eastburn and new houses and shops were built along the road.

Today the former turnpike road is still a major route between Keighley and Skipton, although the Aire Valley trunk road has reduced the traffic through Utley and Steeton with Eastburn.

The Turnpike Trust was abolished in 1878 and there is now little to remind us of its existence other than a commemorative horse trough at Utley and the old toll house at Hawkcliffe Corner.