Robin Longbottom recounts the life of a monumental mason with a musical talent

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

She was instantly recognisable in her work-worn Tweed trousers and sports jacket, a green beret – usually pulled over to one 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, the South African multi-millionaire and racehorse owner. He worked in the wholesale grocery business and had married Ruth Hannah Pickard in 1910. Surprisingly, Aggie's early claim to fame was as a violinist. Her mother, Ruth, also played the violin and had no doubt encouraged Aggie to take up the instrument. During the 1920s and early 1930s she competed at music festivals throughout the area, mostly playing solo but occasionally performing duets with her mother. Her younger brother, Thomas, who was born in 1917, was also musical and played the cello. They became well known in Keighley musical circles and Tom often played in local dance bands. In later life, Aggie taught the violin.

Her 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 set-up in business on the piece of land next to Utley Cemetery. The family had originally lived just off South Street in Keighley but once established as a monumental mason, Eder moved the family to a house off Keelham Lane in Utley. His son, Arthur, followed him into the trade and took over the business when Eder died in 1924.

Aggie's younger brother, Thomas, also went into the family business and trained as a monumental mason under the guidance of his uncle Arthur. Aggie too worked in the business and in the 1930s was described as an order seeker for a monumental mason and she also turned her hand to carving inscriptions on the stones. By now the Baileys were living in a small cottage at 320 Skipton Road, next to the mason's yard, which was eventually replaced by the present house.

In 1943 Aggie married John Emmott, whose family were well-known Keighley greengrocers and wholesale potato merchants.

When Arthur Pickard retired from the business, Tom took over. In the summer of 1948, he and his mother booked a holiday to 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 calling at Carrara, where Tom visited the famous marble quarries. However, on the route 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. On hearing the news, Aggie and John left for London where the British Consulate arranged for Aggie to fly to Switzerland to her mother and to attend Tom's funeral.

After Tom's death, Aggie and her husband parted and she returned to 320 Skipton Road where she continued to run the business. Her mother Ruth died on Christmas Eve, 1973.

In the summer of 1974, Aggie swept into the reception office of a solicitors practice in North Street. She was almost unrecognisable as she was immaculately dressed in a red trouser suit with matching pill box hat, scarf and handbag. Her first words were, “what does ter think? I'm off ter t'Paris fashions!” Following the look of disbelief from the staff, she plunged into her handbag and flourished the travel tickets: “And I'm staying with Sir Bracewell Smith's daughter!”

Aggie died on November 14, 1981.