Bradford & Wakefield Observer (28/Oct/1847) - Walks Round Huddersfield
WALKS ROUND HUDDERSFIELD.
By George S. Phillips.
All my readers will remember the personal character and mission of St. John the Baptist. He was the connecting link between the old dispensation of the Law and the Prophets, and the new Gospel of Life, with its baptism of the Holy Ghost, and of Fire. So that he may be called the last of that long and illustrious line of Hebrew Prophets, whose collective history is the most wonderful of all human records. Each one of these Prophets stands out before us, in the sacred books, like a fiery-visaged statue, conjured up from the vast and solemn imagination of some poetic Michael Angelo. There is a severe grandeur about their persons which renders them at once objects of awe and reverence ; whilst the austerity, sanctity, and seclusion of their lives, invest them with mystery and supernatural authority. I remember how, in my early youth, I was struck with the bold and decisive aspect of these Men of God ; as they appeared to me in the Vision of the Scripture ; with what terror I listened to their fierce denunciations of the old world "lying in wickedness ;" and with what tears of joy I welcomed their message of salvation to that world, if men would only "hearken unto the Lord," and turn from their evil ways and live. The impression which that early reading gave me of the persons, and character of these old Prophets has never died away, but they still appear to rod as Messengers of the eternal, dwelling upon the earth, but not of the earth ; each one, with his black hair and streaming beard ; his eyes flashing with the heavens' lightnings ; his loins girded ; a mantle over his shoulders, and a staff in his right hand, as if he had come from a strange, far off country to deliver his Evangel, and then abruptly and swiftly to go his way. It is moving likewise to see these men in their great loneliness, childless, friendless, upborne by no outward circumstance, but penetrated with the Divine significance of Man's Life, and absorbed in the contemplation of the Everlasting. And now that the Divine meaning of the life these men lived is manifest to me, I regard them with unspeakable reverence. All that concerns them is, to my mind, full of significance. Elisha carried to Heaven in his Chariot of Fire, and dropping his sacred mantle upon the shoulders of his upgazing, awe struck brother ; the ravens feeding Elija by the brook ; and all the marvellous histories of the Prophet Order, are henceforth, not only histories to me, but Living and Speaking Oracles of God. But looking at them only in an historical point of view, how wonderful were the ways and influence of the Prophets. Passing to and fro amongst the cities and haunts of men, admonishing, threatening, commanding. Poor themselves, and dwelling in Caves and wild Wildernesses, with Asps, and the poisonous Cockatrice, which harmed them not, they wielded power over kings, and held the destinies of nations in their hands. They passed Lions by the Wayside, whose fury was tamed by the shadow of their presence. The Fiery Furnace could not consume them ; nor wild beasts tear them. And the mockers who cried after them, "Go up, thou Bald head !" as they journied with the Word of the Lord in their mouths, must learn even by the fangs of Bears, that Verily a God liveth in the Earth, who will protect and avenge his own.
John the Baptist then was, as I said, the last of these ancient Prophets, filling up, as it were, the broken chasm of inspiration, and connecting the old world with the new. He also dwelt in the wilderness, far from the pursuits of men, preparing himself for his divine mission. He reigned there, the King of that wild desert — red-visaged — with the old Prophet fire slumbering in his black eyes — and in his attire, shaggy like a born son of the Desert. For his loins were girded with the camel's hair ; and his meat was locusts and wild honey. When his hour was come, and his fame had gone abroad over all the region round about, the people flocked to hear him ; for he had a message to deliver unto them.
Now, there are two religious houses in this neighbourhood, which are called after St. John the Baptist, because they are both built in the wilderness. One of them is a church in the Todmorden Vale, and the other is a, chapel on Pole Moor. We will visit them both ; for they are not only interesting in themselves, but on account of the historical objects and associations which surround them. First of all then, let us go to church ; for that was the custom of our forefathers ; and, as it has become very fashionable of late years, we will, if ye please, ride there. Seat yourselves then in this railway carriage ; the fire-breathing horse is already harnessed, and impatient to be gone. The last bell has sounded, the clock of the Huddersfield station points with its long finger to the minute of starting. The shrill horrible whistle screams, echoing over our heads ; the first labouring efforts of the fiery horse are heard ; — we move ; faster and still more fast ; and now away we roll over the arches of the magnificent viaduct, the town far below us, so that we can almost see down the chimnies, into the houses, which if we could quite do, would reveal to us as strange sights as those which Asmodeus saw in Spain, or Teafelsdrock imagined in Germany. All the way to Cooper Bridge, if we except the deep cuttings through the hills, you will have fine scenic views of mountain, vale, meadow, and water. When you leave the Cooper Bridge station, which you must do, by the next train going to Manchester, I will advise you to keep your eyes wide open, and to make the best use you can of them ; for you will be whirled at the rate of 30 miles an hour through a of land of surpassing beauty, which I will not attempt to describe. And when we stop at Mytholmroyd station, where our pedestian journey to the church of St. John begins, you will feel, as you look towards Hebden Bridge and Todmorden, like one who is suddenly cheated of a fair inheritance. For nature assumes in that direction every aspect you can imagine of loveliness find wild sublimity. The mountains increase in height, boldness, and grandeur — now covered with forests, which extend from their summits far down into deep, precipitous ravines ; and now bare, bald, and grey, with huge jags of rock bursting out of their mighty ribs. And then the vallies below them are so quiet, and green, and beautiful, with the peaceable smoke of hearths ascending from the cottage chimnies hidden there amongst the trees. And between the slopes of the hills you get glimpses of other vallies, sweeping away in glorious vistas towards the blue horizon, with aid manor houses scattered here and there about the scene. But no one can fully appreciate this delightful country, unless he nut his knapsack on his back, and taking his staff in his band, resolve to walk through it ; and this will occupy three days at least ; for beside the scenery around Mytholmroyd and Hebden Bridge, there is the splendid vale of Todmorden to see, which is, perhaps, unequalled by any valley in England ; and I will guarantee a good stock of health for many days to come, to any person who will venture upon this three days excursion.
And now, if you please, we will alight from our railway carriage, for here we are at Mytholmroyd, and there is the "Shoulder of Mutton" Inn, where two good friends dined the last time I came this way. For no one can live altogether upon, beauty, or even upon higher stuff than that, and generally speaking, I have found that dinner is a very staple and necessary article of life. All one has to guard against is this : that he do not make too much of his dinner ; for like Ben Franklin's whistle, you nay purchase your dinner at too great a cost, in more ways than one. Not that I would have a good walker turn Spartan, and feed upon black bread altogether, and drink out of a wooden bowl ; for if any man deserves a good dinner, it is precisely the good walker, but it may be necessary sometimes for a man to live on this Spartan fare, and then I say let him eat cheerfully and thankfully ; for seeing that he has a good appetite, he can very well afford to do so without taking any credit to himself in this particular.
We, however, will earn our dinner before we eat it, and so let us walk up to St John's Church in the wilderness. Leaving Mytholmroyd behind us, we advance towards the Turvin Dale, on a good broad road, which but a few Years ago was hardly passable for quags and mire. Here, however, we likewise see what the spirit of manufactures can accomplish in the way of civilization. All the district between Mytholmroyd and St. John's was, within the memory of many bring persons, a wild, unproductive common. It is now fast changing into order and productiveness. Nay, in some parts it is absolutely beautiful, and has been rendered so, to a very large extent, by the skill and enterprise of man. Thus on the left hand side of us, as we leave the village of Mytholmroyd, there is a noble factory, surrounded by green fields, whilst a stream of water, overhung with birch and poplar trees, babbles along the stones in front of it, and tumbles over the juts and sluices of the rocks in innumerable waterfalls. The further we advance, however, the wilder and barrener does the scene become, reminding one of a newly-settled country ; for in the midst of nature's savagery many human dwellings are scattered, and m one or two instances, these dwellings are grouped together in little villages. And whenever this is the case, in these mountain and moorland parts, yon are always sure to find some enchanted palaces, as I call them, not far off. Factories, indeed, are in this age what castles were in the feudal times — the supporters and protectors of the people, until a better age come, wherein the people shall be their own supporters and their own protectors. Every factory master is a sort of feudal lord. He has his village straggling at the foot of his factory keep ; only, his men are nobler than the castle serfs, and less likely than them to do his bidding against their own inclinations and rules of duty. Yet, wherever a factory lord appears who is wiser than his workpeople, there likewise appear the people ready to hear his word and do it. It is no longer force that can rule them, but wisdom. Hence our factory lords would be getters of understanding as well as getters of money, if they knew their own true interests and those of their immediate dependents. At present, however, in the instance alluded to, it is something that they have gathered together the scattered families of the wilderness and reduced them to order by the discipline of regular work. Society has, at least, become possible in these parts ; and that is the beginning of all possibilities. Nevertheless, there is an aspect of Peter Bell barbarism about the people which is very melancholy. They look like "dwellers out of doors,"
- And in their figure and their mien
A savage character is seen,
Of mountain and of dreary moors.
- And in their figure and their mien
The children are ragged and dirty, running about the roadside, as if they belonged to nobody. The men are uncouth, brutal, and cast in the most animal moulds. Their leisure hours are spent in playing at pitch-halfpenny, in eating, drinking, and all manner of debaucheries. They pride themselves, indeed, upon their gastronomic prowess, and it is no uncommon thing for them to wager that they will eat so many pounds of flesh and potatoes, and drink so many quarts of ale in a given time. There is one man, in this neighbourhood who is well known as the King of Eaters, and the gastronomic conqueror of all other men. If I were to relate the stories I have heard about this wild cannibal of a man, they would scarcely be credited ; although I had them from good authority — eye-witnesses, indeed, of the foul orgies they described to me. The women, likewise, are unwomanly in their appearance, reminding one of the sexless witches in Macbeth. In many instances they are thick, short-set, and fat, like the foul ideals which Rubens so often presents to us in his pictures. Only Rubens always gives his women a beautiful face, and arrays their deformity in all manner of embroidered garments. In the Turvin vale women, however, there are no beautiful faces ; they look like coarse counterfeits ; and even the eye, which is the truest index of the soul, and amongst the Indian and gipsy tribes is so unspeakably significant and full of wild beauty, is in these Turvin women meaningless ; or if meaning, certainly not of anything that is heavenly.
Such, with few exceptions, are the inhabitants of Turvin vale. I think missionaries were never more wanted, not even in the floating islands of Polynesia, than amongst this sad degraded people. And truly we cannot but wonder why our good kind-hearted English people, who love Quasha so much, should love their own wild brothers the less. Certainly it is not for want of heart, but somehow or other, the heart has got too foreign a direction, and sees with telescopic instead of microscopic eyes. I will not quarrel with the good done, however, because there is much good left undone ; and all I will pray for is, that the time may soon arrive when men will consider their ways a little more wisely.
St. John's Church, which stands at the extreme end of the vale, in a deep dell, at the foot of a great platform of moorland, which lies upon the mountain tops, and stretches away into Scotland, was built to meet the moral and religious necessities pf these Turvin people. And deeply do I honour the good hearts that were moved erect it there. If no one will care for these wild children of the wilderness, we, of the church, will care for them and be unto them as a mother to her little cries. At all events, we will do what we can for them, and help them to feel that they are not utterly lost orphans. We will speak to them of the Saviour, and the great Father heaven, and wean them, if possible, from the dry dregs savagery to the milky bosom of Christianity. According this church was built, about seventeen years ago. It was then the centre of the scattered population, although no human dwelling stood within sight of it. But the soon of the Sabbath bell, as it echoed in solemn numbers amongst the hills and down the valley, brought out the wild men and women from their invisible huts, and they came, as in the old time of St. John, to hear the word God in the wilderness. And although the people are still in a state of semi-barbarism, and need the baptism of fire to purify them from their sensual grossness, yet what would they have been at this moment, if that church of St. John had not risen in their midst ? Again I say all honour to the builders of it, and to those who have faith delivered God's oracles within it !
The church, however, does not stand alone any longer. There it is, as I said, deep down in the dell — and here on the left is a row of cottages occupied by factory workers. Straight before us rise the bleak mountains of the moor-lands, and beyond the church, to the right, is a neat inn, where we will rest awhile and refresh ourselves ; for we have a long journey yet to go, and if I mistake not, a very interesting one, as you will soon discover. Let us descend the hill, therefore ; and I will repeat to you what a learned doctor, who was my companion the last time I came this way, said to me, as we journeyed down the dell together. 'Civilization,' he began, 'advances very slowly ; and moreover, it seems to recede in one direction, as fast as it gains in another. Who would believe that after eighteen centuries of Christianity, science, and philosophy, men could be found in England so near akin to the savage as these Turvin vale people are ? Light has come into the world, but these men, for the most part, see it not, know it not. That beautiful church, he continued, with its Divine ideal, and these foul factory cottages, with their squalor, and de-graded inhabitants — are they not vey sorrowful commentaries upon English civilization ? And yet they surest to me an old truth, full of practical significance, and this is it : That the highest and the lowest have from the beginning of the world dwelt very near together ; the realms of life being only separated by a thin, almost transparent curtain, from the realms of death. That man is the centre of both realms, and that he has the power to lift the curtain, and unite the highest and lowest together in his own nature ! although, alas ! this power can only be developed within him by a Divine culture, which is the very thing these Turvin vale people lack, and in all appearance are likely to lack, for some time yet to come." And so we crossed the dell to the little inn on the other side, stopping a moment to listen to the music of a rivulet which went gliding under the great rocks hard by.
And now having conducted you safely to St. John's Church in the Wilderness, suppose we visit the wilderness itself. It lies on the top of those high mountains, and there are two objects of historical interest, about three miles off, which are worth going to see. These are what the Turvin people call "Alder Stones," and what we will here call Altar Stones ; for they are the relics of a Druidical temple. Turning away, then, to the right of the inn, we discover three roads leading to various villages (Hebden Bridge, Todmorden, and others) which lie scattered in the moorland vallies. We will take the middle road, for that will conduct us soonest to the place whither we are bound. Up we go, through an old wood which covers the mountain, and as it were, guards the entrance to the mighty wilderness above. In a few minutes we emerge from the wood, and discover that the path by which we have entered winds at the base of the moorland mountains, end that we must climb these mountains, if we would see the wilderness in all its terror and savage glory. We have, however, already mounted to a height from which we can see a wild, magnificent landscape. The sun is shining out of the great azure heavens, and flinging his gorgeous tints over the black masses of mountain, which are grouped together, like slumbering giants, in the distance ; and over the nearer hills and underlying vallies the night shadows are sweeping and vanishing. A shepherd's hut here and there is the only sign of human life we can discover. And mark how the sunshine flames upon the glass in those little windows, making each pane burn like a ruby. And the sheep, too, which are feeding on the farms, with their black sooty faces and legs, beheld how the sun has stained their white fleeces with his burnished fire. On the left the scene is changed. The mountains rise above us and shut out the view which will presently display itself on their summits. All up the sides of the mountains are immense stones, some of them half buried in the bog and heather, whilst others stretch their enormous length upon the bare rocks, as if they were some of the enchanted demons spoken of in the Arabian Entertainments. Up these mountains then we must go ; not without difficulty and many painful windings, I can promise you. Here, however, we are at last. As far as the eye can see, there is nothing but one immense tract of moorland ; and every step you take is likely to plunge you knee deep into some hidden quag. The further you advance the wilder does the scene become, and after walking a mile, if you look around you, you will feel like a man who is suddenly transported into a strange, unnatural world. Nor will this feeling at all subside as the gaunt skeletons of the Altar Stones meet your gaze. At a distance they seem like two giants or monstrous ogres looking abroad over their grim domain, seeking whom they may devour. And it is only when you are close to them that the illusion ceases. You then discover that they are what I have called them. Druidical Altar Stones, and that the monstrous appearance they had in the distance, was caused by other stones being piled in a kind of jagged pyramidical form upon the top of them, to serve no doubt as a beacon to every passer over the moors. The Altar Stones are much sunken, and could not be seen 100 yards off. They are large square stones, having an inclined surface with a basin in the middle of them, and a groove conducting from the basin to carry off the blood of the sacrifice ; for it was upon these stones that the Druids slew their animal victims in the presence of the tribes and clans of the associated Kymri.