Bradford & Wakefield Observer (18/Nov/1847) - Walks Round Huddersfield

The following is a transcription of a historic newspaper article and may contain occasional errors.

WALKS ROUND HUDDERSFIELD.

By George S. Phillips.

No. V.

BURN PLATTS ; AND ST. JOHN'S CHAPEL IN THE WILDERNESS.

Here is a fine autumn morning for a walk! The sun is shining gloriously ; and the sky is quite clear, except towards the horizon, where a few scattered clouds hang over the mountain tops, like the ragged garments of a dead storm. Up, then ! and let us away by Greenhead into the valley of Long wood. The wind blows fresh and free in our faces, and shakes the trees with a gentle violence, making the dry leaves fall around us like flakes of silent snow. Do but look at them, as they lay there by the road-side. How beautiful they are, in their rich yellow and vermillion colours.

"The dead leaves lie all the autumn day
In yellow, and crimsoned green ;
Like corses beautiful in decay,
in life had lovely been."

And then what a mute homily do they preach to us of life find death. Spring passed. Summer ended. Autumn come ; and We ? — I regard Nature as God's silent commentary upon his spoken gospel, and every man who looks deep enough will discover a divine significance shining through all external beauty- ; and a divine correspondence of Nature with the highest life of man. I intend to say something more upon this subject however, as an epilogue to these "Walks," and in the meanwhile, we will pursue our journey through "Paddock," past the "Friends' Meeting-House," and the Churchman's "Church" up to "Firs Cottage," where we have a fine view of Longwood Vale, with its river and factories, whilst the vale of Golcar opens to us between two ridges of mountains, and the distant moors lie dimly dreaming in the sunshine. I think this is one of the finest scenes around Huddersfield ; and there is this advantage connected with it, that it is within half an hour's walk of the town ; and I add, moreover, that the air on these hill tops is a certain cure for dyspepsia, and all the moping moods of melancholy. Milns Bridge lies below us. Straight down under our feet, as it were, stands an old house by the river side, half buried in trees, which to me is one of the most interesting objects in the valley. For it was in this house that Joseph Radcliffe lived during the Luddite insurrection, and by his prompt, energetic measures, as a magistrate in those times, won for himself an honourable knighthood. From the accounts I have everywhere heard of this man, he, over all others, was best fitted to meet the emergencies of his day. Cool, vigilant, active, and courageous, no difficulties could conquer his resolution, and no objects or dangers could intimidate him. He was the terror of evil doers, and the inevitable avenger of all outrages perpetrated within his jurisdiction. If any insurgent were brought before him, his mercy was law, his justice execution. As easily might you wring blood out of the obdurate rocks, which frowned in shaggy horror over his mansion, as compassion out of his iron heart. He who breaketh the law, shall perish by the law : that was his maxim. Not that he was without pity, and the natural affections of a man, but that he saw into the folly and insanity of the insurrection, and believed that instant justice, however severe it might seem and be, would prove the best mercy, in the end. To reason with unreasonable men was impracticable, and useless, even if it had been practicable ; there was no course left, therefore, to the ministers of the law, but the stern and summary' punishment of the transgressors of it. For these transgressors, by their own act and deed, were placed beyond the pale of society and order, doing nothing but mischief to themselves and others. Hence, said Sir Joseph, "I will, by fair or foul measures, bring them back to order, and at last they shall call me friend, instead of inexorable judge." And although I, for my part, look upon that Luddite insurrection with feelings of deepest sorrow and commiseration, yet I cannot but confess that Sir Joseph was right ! There is no good in disorder, nothing but unmixed evil ; and that is not humanity, but the wretched cant of humanity, so common in this day, which pities the law breaker, and with insufferable whining seeks to rescue him from the consequences of his actions. This is not mercy, but maudlin sentimentality, which has its origin in diseased nerves, and "Jack Sheppard" novels. I, for one, do not believe in it.

There is an engraved portrait of Sir Joseph Radcliffe to be found in almost every house in Huddersfield, which, before I knew anything about the history of the man, struck me as remarkable. There he sits in his study, — a muscular, stout man — dressed in the old-English-gentle-man style, with his ruffled shirt, knee breeches, and silver-buckled shoes. His right arm rests upon a table, and there is an air of noble courage about his person not to be mistaken. Look with what a kingly majesty he sits in that old arm chair. His chest thrown out, his head erect, and his stern fierce eye, made, like that of Mars, to threaten and command. His favourite hound lies under the chair, with his great massy head between his master's feet. Altogether a very notable picture.

As we advance beyond "Firs Cottage," the road narrows, and the hills on the right hand assume a rugged and broken aspect. Straight before us rise other hills, wild and bare, covered with huge fragments of stone, with a few cottages at their base, and a savage glen below them. Longwood village stretches away by the roadside, on the hilly platforms beyond, from which we have another fine view not only of Longwood vale, but of the Todmorden hills, and numerous intermediate vallies. If we turn round, we have a still more extensive prospect, including the Golcar hills and moors, as well as those which lie round Huddersfield, forming altogether a splendid amphitheatre. Leaving Saladin Nook Chapel on the right, we soon arrive opposite the reservoir of the Huddersfield waterworks ; and as our course to St. John's Chapel and Burn Platts lies that way, we will leave the mam road, and passing close by the reservoir, proceed first of all to "Cambodunum" the site of an old Roman villa, which we have already spoken of in that paper about the Castle Hill. I said there that Camden was wrong in supposing the Castle Hill to be the site of Cambodunum, and if you will walk over two or three fields more with me, I think I can convince you of it ; for yonder, upon that hill-side, under cover of those overhanging woods, is the veritable spot. Behold those great outworks and deep trenches extending in a semicircular form all round the hill. Above them lies the platform where the camp was erected, and further on is the mound where the Imperial standard was planted. It is a position of great natural strength, and from its elevation and entrenchments must have been, in those ancient days, impregnable. The villa of Cambodunum lay beyond the river, on the slope of the Deanhead hills, just at the foot of the camp. Various altars, baths, vases, and other Roman remains have been found there, and many of them are now in the possession of gentlemen in this neighbourhood. Cambodunum is in a direct line with the Castle Hill, and I found that the rocks above the camp were considerably higher than the Castle Hill, and that they commanded the prospect beyond it. Looking over the villa of Cambodunum (or the Deanhead vale) we have a magnificent sweep of country before us, comprising the hills and vallies of Stainland, Barkisland, Todmorden, and Erringden, which rise gradually one above another, until the prospect is lost in the dim haze of the horizon. All round Carabodunum the land is well cultivated. The old camp is now a beautiful pasture, and at the extreme end of it is a venerable looking manor house occupied by the farmer upon whose lands we are trespassing. We are too high up, however, to be within reach of him, although we can hear his dog bark, and catch the sound of human voices below us. Two hundred yards — over a few stone fences — would conduct us into the wilderness, which, thank God, is, at present, No man's land.

Let us go down, however, into the Deanhead vale, and keeping to the left hand of the hills, rise as they rise, until we reach "Jacob's Well," as it is called, where we will sit down, as in the patriarchal days, and drink of the living waters. It is impossible, however, to leave Carabodunum without many strange reflections, and we may indulge in these as we go along. We have just seen one of the indelible marks of Roman civilization, which carries us back through seventeen hundred years of history, and fronts us, face to face, with the soldiers of the Imperial city, the fierce conquerors of the world. Druidism is not vet extinct, nor is England entirely subdued. Within a mile of the camp, stands an old deserted temple of the Britons, and upon the edge of the hills beyond the temple are huge stones piled one above the other, upon inscrutable pivots, which rock to the touch of a finger. The "blue-armed Brigantes," as Seneca calls them, have fled far away into the wildernesses and forests, ready in due time to revolt, and try their strength once more with the invincible Romans ; ready, also, in due time, to submit to Roman law and government. It was the mission which these Roman men had to do upon earth, viz. : to organise the nations by the sword, and to civilize them by their learning and arts. And when these Romans fell into indolence themselves, and lost their ancient energy, when they, for their part, had fulfilled their mission^ and it became necessary that new blood should be infused into the European nations, God let loose upon them the savage tribes of the North, who in their turn became the masters of the world, and the progenitors of our modern Europe. Little think these Roman soldiers, however, who are now entrenched in Cambodunum, what strange events are fashioning themselves in the womb of futurity. Three hundred years ago they, under Marius, drove the wild Teutons out of Italy — and in so many hundred years hence the descendants of these Teutons shall from wild sea pirates have become the masters of England and of civilization. Think what glorious human triumphs lie between the age of Cambodunum and the age of Huddersfield with its fancy manufactures !

And now, whilst these reflections are passing within us, we have come down into the valley on the other side of the camp, and are fairly on our way to "Jacob's well." The scenery is wild and bare, and there is an uncommon aspect about it, which fills the mind with new and strange sensations. Large tracts of bog lie between us and the opposite hills, and a few lone houses are scattered here and there. We pass this valley on the right, and mount the heights before us towards the "Well " we have spoken of. Our path lies over quags and little platforms of marsh land, amongst the most beautiful mosses, wild flowers, and heather. Believe me it is quite worth while to stoop down, even upon your knees, and examine the rich variety of colour and fancy work wherewith Nature has stained and embroidered her wondrous carpet. Gold and violet, green, crimson, and brown, are all woven up there in leaves, stems, and blossoms ; and he has but a poor, barren heart, who cannot be kindled by these objects into the enthusiasm of poetry. We miss a great deal of truth by our neglect of the common, and we are apt to think, because there is such a profusion of beauty in the grass and trees, and clouds, that nature has no other aim in her transformations than to amuse her great babies — the children of men. I, for one, know better than this ; for in certain favoured moments Nature has kindly admitted me behind the scenes, and I have learnt there a thing or two respecting the mystery of her symbolism. If any one doubt the fact, let him be quite sure that he is a prisoner in the world, and not a free man ; that Nature is his master, and not he hers ; and if this language sound strange and unmeaning in his ears, let him wait until it grows plainer to him ; and in the meanwhile he shall hold his peace.

Here we are at "Jacob's Well." It is a small spring, which rises out of the rocks, and goes bubbling down below into the valley. A number of rude stones are lying around it, upon which we may sit and enjoy the noble scene which opens up to us. The waters of the well, as it is called, run to waste ; and yet it is not long ago since there was a struggle for the right of possession in it, between the people of Siaithwaite and Golcar, and those of Longwood and Huddersfield. The latter wished, as I learn, to divert the course of the well waters to their reservoir, and the former, knowing the value of water to manufactures, and having futurity in their eyes, would by no means give up their right to it. And so "Jacob's Well" remains as it was. I wish we had time to speak about the history of "wells," especially during the era of the patriarchs, in those old eastern countries. There are so many beautiful associations connected with wells, and we get so many glimpses of antique customs and manners out of their history, that any talk about them would prove both interesting and profitable. Who does not remember the story of "Jacob's Well" — the archetype of this modern "well" in the wilderness, by which we are now sitting: And who will ever forget how Isaac won the fair Rebecca by proxy, and under what circumstances she left her father's house to become a bride? Then there is the swart Egyptian Moses, who met his bride at the well, and the great Master who told the woman of Samaria "all the things that ever she did," and one thing besides, which, she must now do. Independently of all historical associations, however, I think there is not a more affecting sight in nature than a well, or spring of water. It comes bubbling up from the old silences of the earth, so fresh, and pure, and sings to us so joyous a song, that one's heart leaps into new life in its presence. How gladly, too, does it go its course, how lavish is it of its gifts ! making the parched and arid earth to become fair and fruitful, and like a beneficent spirit blessing the evil and the good.

It is time, however, that we resume our walk and climb the next hill, upon the top of which lie the wild moors, I have so frequently spoken of. And now behold what a fine platform we have reached! The wind blows savagely upon us, and makes the heather wave far and near like a vast black and billowy sea. We have views of the whole prospect for many miles round, and yonder are the Marsden hills and Golcar moors. From the edge of this present platform, at the distance of a quarter of a mile, we look down upon Poll Moor, which has an enormous mountain promontory jutting far out into the middle of it, and from which the moor no doubt derived its name — Poll Moor or Head Moor. On the right hand of this promontory stands a large chapel, which is no other than "St. John's Chapel in the Wilderness." The little village of Poll is close by it — and there are the way side inn and the guide post, visible enough. At the commencement of this paper we spoke of a deserted British temple, and of stones that rocked to the touch of a finger, as being in existence at the time when the Romans occupied Cambodunum. And there they are now! within a few hundred yards of the spot upon which we are standing ; not, however, in their original pride and fashion, but downfallen and in ruins. The "Rocking Stones," as the people of the neighbourhood still call them, are of immense size ; and the basal stone must weigh several hundred of tons. The transverse stone, which by the strength of some evil hands has been displaced from its marvellous balance and hurled several feet below the platform, is not so large as the basal stone, although it would require a hundred horse power to remove it. How1 the Ancient Britons raised them to the top of these moors, and by what magical knowledge they balanced them upon each other, are, and in all probability must ever remain amongst the hidden mysteries of the past. It is curious, however, to learn that the old gigantic Scandinavians erected similar rude monuments and temples in the mountain forests of Sweden and Norway, although they do not appear to have possessed the wonderful mechanical secrets which mark the remains of Druidism in Britain. If there were room to enlarge upon this subject, much further information might be given ; as it is, however, we will make the best of our way down the rocks to St, John's ; for we have yet two miles further to go before we reach Burn Platts.

And here let us inquire how it came to pass that a chapel was built on these wild moors ? The answer is strange, and for this 19th century, not a little barbarous in the matter of it. The Earl of Dartmouth, it seems, owns all the property in this neighbourhood, and thinking like his good brother of Newcastle, that he "had a right to do what he would with his own," he forbade the erection of any dissenting conventicle upon his estates. Accordingly the good people of Siaithwaite (I believe) built this present chapel, and resolved to let the noble earl see that there were noblemen without titles in Yorkshire, who would worship God in their own way in spite of him. The chapel is what is called, a "Baptist Chapel," and I am glad to learn that the moorish men and women come for many miles all round to listen to their St. John in the Wilderness. The chapel looks large enough to hold 800 persons, and the minister has a house close to it.

Burn Platts lies, as I said, about two miles from Poll, and is a part of the property of this same Earl of Dartmouth. A few years ago the inhabitants of the Platts were literally savage, living in log huts thatched with sods, and paying neither rent nor taxes. They were a community to themselves, and had their own wild laws and government. They were the terror likewise of all wayfarers, and it was dangerous for any man to go amongst them alone. They lived by hunting and whiskey making ; and when these failed by depredations. Their legal marriages however, were celebrated in one or other of the churches in the neighbouring villages ; and on all such occasions, they marched in grand procession, adorned with ribbons, and having a fiddler at the head of them. In the meanwhile, a party was left behind, whose duty it wa3 to prepare a home for the bride and bridegroom on their return ; and they did this by felling a tree or two, after the manner of the American backwoodsmen, and covering the whole in with a roof of turf ! The settlement is now broken up, and there are only a few native families residing on the Platts. The spirit of manufactures has reached and partly civilized even them ; and they are all, men and women, engaged in some branch or other of cloth making or fancy weaving. There are also many houses built in the vicinity of the Platts, and a good road runs all along the foot of the hills where they lie. The first time I visited them was in company with three or four gentlemen, some of whom are well known in the political world ; and I mention the circumstance now, because they will testify to a fact or two which I have to relate in connection with the "Tenure of land question" in this neighbourhood, and which, if I mistake not, will startle Mr. Commissioner Foster and the "Times" quite as much as they startled me and those who were with me. Before I proceed to speak of these facts, however, let me re-describe the cottages of the Burn Platts, as they now exist. They are all built of stone and mud, and at a distance have more the appearance of hovels than of human habitations. They lie half way up the hills on the right hand, going from Poll. We entered one of them, which may be regarded as a fair specimen of the rest. It consisted of a single room, open to the roof, and was occupied by an old man and his two sons, who received us with kindness and hospitality. A bed was standing on each side the fire place, and we found the young men lounging upon them when we entered. From the rafters of the roof were suspended sundry tattered garments, and in a hole in one of the walls were several broken pots and mugs of an ancient manufacture. We inquired into their "ways and means," and found that they were weavers, earning not more, upon an average, than 8s. per week. The old man interested me much. He had quite a patriarchal head, great shaggy brows, and a lofty domelike forehead ; but he was smitten with years, having seen 76 winters, as he said, and now his latter days were full of sorrow. With a child-like confidence he told me all hie griefs and troubles, and pointing to a vacant chair by the hearth, be said, "She is gone. I lived with her fifty years, and shall soon follow her." Poor old man! He did not complain of his poverty, but of that great loss alone, which the vacant chair so touchingly proclaimed.

Whilst we were in this district we heard many bitter invectives against the Earl of Dartmouth and his steward, respecting their treatment of the tenants. It is customary here, for any one who wishes to build a house to make application to the steward, and if leave be granted, the party building has a small ground rent to pay, as an acknowledgment to the proprietary lord. This is reasonable enough, and of this no one complains. But if a tenant be obliged to leave the neighbourhood, no allowance is made to him for the house he has built, nor for the land he has cultivated ; even though he has broken up the land himself, and put all his little capital, skill, and labour into it. The property of the serf reverts to the lord the moment the serf leaves his homestead. And this is the thing that the people complain of ; and if true, I think they most justly complain of it. I cannot speak here from personal observation, but I can speak from a personal hearing of the fact ; and so may any one who will take the trouble to visit the locality. I heard of one case which seems to me of more than ordinary injustice ; and I will repeat it exactly as I took it down from the lips of one of Lord Dartmouth's tenants.

Joshua Balmforth lives at Howler Clough, and is a tenant of Lord Dartmouth. His father built a cottage upon the Clough, and dying, left it to his son. A short time afterwards, this son, Joshua Balmforth, wanted to go to America, and in order to raise the necessary funds, he sold the "good-will" of his house, subject to the ground fees, for the sum of £60, and the said Joshua "drew half-a-crown" from the purchaser to "seal the bargain," which, it seems, is the custom of the neighbourhood in all similar transactions. The matter, however, reached the ears of Lord Dartmouth's sub-agent, and he informed the purchaser that if he paid the £60 for the house, he would not be allowed to hold or to occupy it ; and to complete the iniquity of the proceeding, Joshua Balmforth was served with an ejectment from his own property, because he dared to assert his right to dispose of it to the best advantage. The man, therefore, must leave his little home in the spring, and be cast penniless upon the world ; for no allowance will be made to him either for his house or for the land which he has reclaimed by his labour. Such is a specimen of the "Tenure of land" under the Earl of Dartmouth in the district of Burn Platts. If it be true, I call upon the noble lord to put an end to such savage wrong and dishonesty ; and if it be false, I can only say that it is a very current falsehood, and passes for truth all over the neighbourhood. I learnt, indeed, that 30 years ago the noble lord's tenants had a right to sell the "good-will" of their cottages and lands, and if so, I should like to know by what principles of justice they have been deprived of it ? I fear that the poverty of the people, and the consequent impossibility of their seeking protection from the law, is the only plea which the Earl of Dartmouth and his agents can offer for their conduct. And in proof of this I may mention in conclusion, that some time ago, a man named James France, whom may God and all good people bless for his bravery and independence, determined, even though he were beggared in the attempt, to try what justice could do with the Lord Dartmouth in an English court of law. The noble lord had refused to allow France any recompense for draining and cultivating certain lands he held at Cophill, so France commenced an action against the Earl, and was awarded all the damages he claimed. If a few more such brave men could be found in that neighourhood, I think the noble Earl's ignoble Irish system of dealing with his tenantry would soon perish amid the universal contempt of the nation. I will only add that Mr. Foster, of the "Times," might do much good if he were to visit Burn Platts.


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Bradford & Wakefield Observer (18/Nov/1847) - Walks Round Huddersfield

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