Robin Longbottom on how improvements were made over the years to an important trade route

THE road from Haworth to Stanbury takes a steep dip into the Sladen valley where a bridge crosses the Sladen beck.

In the parapet of the bridge there is a stone tablet with the words 'Hang on' cut into it.

The bridge was built by the trustees of the rather quaintly named Toller Lane Haworth and Blue Bell Turnpike Road and the tablet was to advise waggoners coming from Stanbury to wait for an extra horse, or two, that could be hired from the toll booth in Haworth and assist in pulling up a heavy load.

The trust was created by an Act of Parliament in 1755 to improve the road between Bradford and Colne, which was an important link to the trading centres of Blackburn and Preston. It started at the junction of Haworth Road and Toller Lane in Heaton, on the outskirts of Bradford, where it connected with the Keighley to Bradford turnpike. From this point it followed the present B6144 through Sandy Lane, Harecroft and Cullingworth, into Haworth. It then continued through Stanbury to Dangerous Corner at Two Laws where a second branch, known rather cumbersomely as the Two Laws and Keighley Branch of the Toller Lane Haworth and Blue Bell Trust Turnpike Road, joined it. From Two Laws the road continued for almost four miles across the open moor to Wycoller and on to Laneshawbridge, where it crossed the present A6068. It terminated at an inn called the Blue Bell, at the junction with the Skipton and Colne turnpike road.

In 1755 the two roads were little more than packhorse routes and largely unsuitable for the passage of horse-drawn waggons. In 1763, following a meeting of the trustees at “the House of James Wood, the Sign of the King’s Arms in Haworth”, work began to improve and repair the road between Toller Lane and Blue Bell and along the Keighley branch.

Further major improvements took place in 1779, the year that Low Mill in Keighley, the first cotton mill in Yorkshire, was built. The work required another Act of Parliament in order to amend and alter the course of the roads. It is most likely that the present route was fixed at this time and that it included bypassing the small hamlet of Wycoller. Improvements were also made to the Keighley branch, in particular the section between Oakworth and Two Laws when the old road along the Turnshaw Lane bridleway was abandoned.

Money to finance these improvements was raised through tolls charged to use the roads. Several toll houses were built including ones at Lingbob, near Wilsden, Harecroft, Haworth and Two Laws. These were leased to enterprising toll keepers such as the one at West Lane Haworth who hired out horses to pull waggons up the long drag from Sladen bridge. It is also probable that the toll keeper here had the Sun Inn, as the toll house was adjacent to the property.

Inns were an integral part of any turnpike system and important staging posts along the route, offering a place of rest and refreshment for both men and horses. Several were built along this turnpike road over time. They include the Brown Cow at Wilsden (now the Lingbob), the Fleece at Flappit Springs (now the Flappit), several in Haworth village and two in Stanbury ­– the Cross Inn (now the Wuthering Heights) and the Eagle (now the Old Silent). On the moor along the route to Laneshawbridge was the lonely Top of Heather Inn (later called the Herders Inn and now closed).

After the turnpike trusts were abolished in the 1870s the maintenance of the old Toller Lane Haworth and Blue Bell Road, and its branch to Keighley, became the responsibility of the West Riding County Council.