Amiens Column, Holmfirth
More commonly known as "Old Genn" or "Th'Owd Genn", the Amiens Column is a memorial cross situated in Holmfirth.
It was originally erected to commemorate the Peace of Amiens (1802), which saw a temporary end of hostilities between the French Republic and Great Britain, and may have been erected in October 1801. It was initially sited opposite the White Hart Inn on Town Gate and reportedly also acted as a market cross for the town.
The public subscription to cover the cost of the cross apparently raised no money, much to the frustration of John Wadsworth who was seemingly behind the scheme. The ball on top of the column was brought from Thickhollins in Meltham and the pedestal base was obtained from a stone mason named John Marsh. The column was reportedly from Totties Hall.
The town's stocks were placed near to the column, which allowed the pedestal base of the column to be "the seat of graceless vagabonds brought there to learn manners".
According to a 1852 article, when Britain declared war on France again in May 1803, the locals "defaced [the monument] by erasing the inscription commemorative of peace". John Wadsworth, reportedly after having had too much to drink, fetched his work tools and removed "the inscription intended to immortalise his own name".
After the Holmfirth Flood of 1852 knocked the cross over, it was re-erected.
I watched the flood do its destructive work, and the first thing I saw fall was the Old Genn, as was termed the large pillar which had been erected to commemorate some important public event. Next Mr. Shackleton’s house. Immediately afterwards I saw the house in which Mr. Richard Shackleton (the son of Mr. James Shackleton) and his family resided completely swept away, with all its inmates, and Sidney Hartley’s house I also saw go down and sink into the waters. A large empty oil cask passed along the street, and I saw it afterwards in the church burial ground, having been driven against the iron gates, which it had burst open.
In 1861, Wooldale Local Board requested that the cross "must either be [moved] or taken away altogether" as it was "now considered rather in the way", although they were seemingly reluctant to pay for it to be moved and wanted it to be "done by private means". As the cross had no surviving inscriptions of any kind, it was also suggested that a suitable plaque should be attached and the pedestal raised by two feet. The Huddersfield Chronicle reported that a meeting of ratepayers to discuss the issue had been poorly attended.
Old Genn continued to cause an obstruction until it was eventually moved during the summer of 1864 as part of "long-desired improvements in the main street" by Wooldale Local Board. On the afternoon of Saturday 3 September, the cross was moved to its new location whilst a large crowd watched. Thomas Boothroyd, the innkeeper of the White Hart, "had the honour of laying the foundation stone" on which the cross would be re-erected:
Before laying the stone Mr. Boothroyd remarked to the effect that it was usual to deposit some documents under the foundation stones of public structures, setting forth the purposes for which they were erected. At the first rearing up of "Old Genn," nothing of the kind had been done, but that should not be the case on this occasion. He himself had written a short history of the old stone, which, in ages long gone by, had formed a part of Totties Hall, a very ancient building. This history, with other documents, &c., he intended to place under the foundation stone; so that if "Old Genn" should be removed again at some remote period, they would serve to enlighten future ages. After some other appropriate remarks, Mr. Boothroyd securely sealed in a bottle his history of "Old Genn;" a copy of that day's Huddersfield Chronicle, some other interesting documents relative to Holmfirth, and a few coins of the present reign; and he then placed the bottle safely in a cavity under the huge stone amid the cheers of the people.
As well as moving the cross, a "large brass plaque" was attached to record why it was first erected together with the height of the 1852 flood and the number of those of perished:
- THIS STONE WAS ERECTED IN 1801 TO COMMEMORATE
- THE SHORT PEACE CALLED THE PEACE OF AMIENS.
- THE HEIGHT OF THE FLOOD CAUSED BY
- THE BURSTING OF THE BILBERRY RESERVOIR,
- FEBRUARY 5TH, 1852,
- WHEREBY 81 LIVES WERE LOST.
The cross was moved again in 1922 to allow for road-widening. Unfortunately it seems that Thomas Boothroyd's documents may have been overlooked and discarded by the workmen as the Yorkshire Evening Post reported they found only "a few old coins and newspaper cuttings" and had apparently been hoping to find jewellery.
Historic England Listing
- Grade II
- first listed 16 January 1967
- listing entry number 1134759
TOWNGATE (Holmfirth). Amiens Column. Monument. Dated 1801. Stone octagonal column and base on massive rough square block. Moulded square capital surmounted by ball finial. Applied inscription includes "1801 - Erected to commemorate the short Peace of Amiens".
Notes and References
- There is a suggestion that the column was linked to James Genn who was a constable in the 1640s. Also, antiquarian H.J. Woodhouse described a sun-dial column named "Old Genn's Dial" or "Genn's Gloric" named after Quaker Henry Genn in his book The History and Topography of the Parish of Kirkburton and of the Graveship of Holme. (1861).
- ""Old Genn" or the Market Cross" in Huddersfield Chronicle (03/Apr/1852).
- "Holmfirth: "Old Genn"" in Huddersfield Chronicle (03/Apr/1852).
- "The Holmfirth Flood" in Huddersfield Daily Examiner (14/Feb/1902).
- "Holmfirth" in Huddersfield Chronicle (21/Sep/1861).
- "Huddersfield" in Huddersfield Chronicle (10/Sep/1864).
- "Holmfirth: The Old Genn" in Yorkshire Post (02/Jun/1922).
- "Holmfirth Myth Exploded" in Yorkshire Evening Post (17/Oct/1921).