How old does graffiti have to be before it stops being wilful damage and starts being a work of art, or a significant part of the historical record? In the Archaeology Group Bulletin of May 1964 Sidney Jackson included his drawing of a rock from the Silsden area which he had seen on the road between Silsden and West Morton. Does anyone recognise it? The figure that looks, to me, rather like a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police was seemingly a boy scout, or perhaps General Baden-Powell himself. The image was on a large, flat, gritstone rock and SJ commented that ‘one needed a helicopter to do justice to such a subject’. He believed that the rather enigmatic inscription at the bottom were letters worn away by weathering and defacement by passing feet. He was keen to hear the full story of the carving.
Several correspondents later contacted him to confirm that the carving did show Lord Baden-Powell together with the Scouts’ motto ‘Be Prepared’. Remarkably they stated that the work was effected with a nail and a stone by a boy called Randolph Churchill Longbottom of Jay Tail Farm, who grew up to be the sculptor of the lions in City Square, Leeds. It is many years since I lived in Leeds but to me City Square is the area between the railway station and the post-office. It contains several fine statues including nymphs by Alfred Drury, and Edward the Black Prince by Thomas Brock: but no lions. To the best of my knowledge, the lions outside Leeds Town Hall (which since they are of Portland limestone are suffering from serious stone erosion) were created by William Day Keyworth in the 1860s, long before the Boy Scouts were thought of.
Ancestry UK is very helpful in such circumstances and could normally be accessed free in the Bradford Local Studies Library. A Randolph Longbottom existed and was born in Silsden around 1886-87. He did live with his parents at Jay Tail Farm and was still there, aged 14, at the time of the 1901 census, his father having died. It seems that he moved to Leeds and in the 1911 census is recorded as being a stone carver. He later married Carrie Gaunt in Leeds and died there in 1933. On his death probate was granted for substantially more than £1000 so he must have made a success of the stone carving. The story that SJ reported would seem to be at least partially confirmed. Does anyone know more?