Huddersfield Chronicle (10/Jun/1895) - Bradley and "The Woodman"
BRADLEY AND “THE WOODMAN”.
(From Our Correspondent "Cid.")
After a few minutes’ walk I am standing on Colne Bridge, and again marvelling at the repulsively black flow that is passing eastward beneath me, and also feel sorry that our rivers are not so purified as to admit of lithesome fish disporting themselves in abundance in them. Instead of that, nothing but disease germs and microbic miasmas can exist in or emanate from the rivers that pass through our populous towns, acting as open sewers to convey past the land the natural tillage which that land does most require. Much has been done, and is being done, to remedy this, and I hopefully look forward to the time when, from their mouths upwards, our waterways shall sparkle in the light and reflect the heavens as does the sea’s looking-glass. Yet, though the Colne flows repulsively, and seems as if in haste to escape observation, the frost takes hold of it, and as it bridges its sides it also distils or clarifies it to a whiter hue, though not so glossily clear as it does the rippling streamlets and the canal that try their best to purify its slimy, greasy, inky impurity, but also fail in their attempt, and are themselves polluted and loose their sweet chastity in the swelling stream of corruption. I now look somewhat surprisedly at three pillars of ice that seem to balustrade the river’s wall, wondering for a moment how they got there. Each will be at least three or four yards deep and as thick as a man’s body. They have a dull grey appearance, and have evidently been formed by an exuding liquid of some kind. I soon solve the mystery when two housewives empty their nameless slops, which come trickling down and freezingly cling in unmistakable hue to the elongating pillars, and drop into the water when they can hold on no longer. Still, if I did not know of what they are formed I should write them down as very beautiful, but the frost and nature generally beautify everything, yea, they will even turn sewage into pillars of glistening icicles. At this moment I hear the whistle from a railway engine, and at once think of the tram, and forthwith set off running to catch one, without even thinking to look at my watch. I have run full 100 yards when I notice the car disappearing past “The Woodman,” and am, of course, too late for that at any rate. I might have saved myself this sprint had I consulted my watch, which is English made and is as faithful now as it was when it made me as proud as a prince when I first put it on and consulted it every minute or two in my youth. Be it known, however, when I am having a ramble, or a holiday, “I neither want to read a paper, nor know what time it is.” I heard that remark in a public-house at Sheepridge, and the maker of it was as contented a piece of humanity as I ever saw. He was fat, ruddy, strong, fair, and 60. His face was plump, and when he smiled he smiled all over it, while his features were so mobile that he couldn’t help smiling when he tried to frown, and he was so ready to laugh and provoke laughter that his company would have physicked the dyspeptic far better, and of course more cheaply, than all the drugs that aesculapius could compound, or the pharmacopeia enumerate. Here is a specimen of his conversation. Referring to the increased and increasing rates of Huddersfield, and also to people having now to prepay the cost of having their drains flushed, he said that, previously, those people who fancied they smelt a smell, went in search of it, and then they were sure they smelt three smells. Consequently they forthwith wrote to the papers about it, the result being that hundreds of others likewise searched and found numberless smells, which before they knew not of. So contagious did the searching for smells become, that everybody had two or three in and about their drains, until everyone sniffed as many as did Cowper at Cologne. At last it occurred to them to write to the Sanitary Department, requesting that the drains should be at once flushed. Watermen were accordingly flushing morn, noon, and night. When the accounts had to be paid, those that could pay wouldn’t, and were usually “out” when the clerks called for the money, though those very clerks could see them all the time looking from the drawing-room windows. Those that “couldn’t” pay wouldn’t until they were made, so that the clerks and the Sanitary Department had a fine time of it. Consequently as the said clerks only went to their work at nine a.m., left for home at five p.m., and took three hours out of the eight for their dinners, a dunning journey in the forenoon and another in the afternoon constituted their day’s work. This was, after years of careful calculation, discovered by the Sanitary Department to be rather costly, so smell-smellers and smell-searchers have now to pay in advance before the Sanitary Department will attempt to swill their real or imaginary smells away. After this practical economy who dare say that our Sanitary Department is spend-thrift? At this story there was a hearty laugh, and even I considered it not very bad for a man who, when out for a holiday, “neither wanted to know what time it is nor to read a paper.” After I had had time to think over and laugh again at this story I had regained my breath, partly lost by my hundred yards sprint after a tram that had left for Huddersfield before I commenced to run. I cannot “do” the long or the short distance with the same ease as I did with my younger legs and lungs, but I think I get better in walking. I could run uphill then, but now prefer the down-grade. The last long “spin” I had was from the “Floating Lights,” on the Standedge, to Dobcross, on the occasion of the opening of the Conservative Club there by the Marquis of Lorne. I had, on the highest peak of Pule Hill, been as near heaven as I can get in this district, and as I enjoyed the grand and varied scenery from that, fine eminence, I, of course, became oblivious of time and circumstance. When I descended I called at the “Great Western,” and there prompted and listened to some wonderful history of the hills. Not satisfied with one rest, I called at the “Floating Lights,” and more than enjoyed the rallerie of about a dozen Lancashire men, amongst whom were some of the best anecdotists I ever listened to or laughed at or with. As luck would have it I sat out of sight of the clock, and was again oblivious of time, and if the chimes had not arrested my attention. I should perhaps, have forgotten all about Dobcross or Princess Louse’s husband. I had then about 20 minutes to “do” the distance in. Though sorry to leave the jolly boys I was up and off immediately. The day was beautiful, there was a stiff breeze, and the air was cool, clear, and invigorating, so I got my “wind” directly, and as it was on the fall of the foot, I did the distance bravely. What the people I met thought of me, or the people I passed imagined I was after, or what or who was after me, I know not, but one spry hillman shouted “Is Old Nick after thee, lad?” to whom I readily retorted, “No, he’s waiting for you at the ‘Floating Lights,’” and was out of ear-shot before he could reply. Somehow the mention of Old Nick suggested Tam o’ Shanter and his mare. My case was, however, very different to Tam’s. His inducement to make haste came from behind; mine was in front. I stepped on to the platform just before the Marquis, not a moment too late or too soon. The platform was so packed that do as I would I could not press through the crowd, and was perforce kept in front of better men, and far better women. I felt sorry for the latter. They were hopelessly and helplessly crushed into the background, and I doubt whether they heard a word that the speakers uttered. I was on one or two occasions jostled against the Scottish nobleman, but I hope I was not, for a moment, taken for him by the Dobcross gapelings. I also measured myself against the Marquis, but felt rather small beside him. Judged as a man, and not as the son of a Duke, he is a fine specimen of a Scotchman; open-countenanced, clear-eyed, has ruddy features, a resonant voice, and a manly mein, in fact, is just such a one as I, when younger, should have taken pleasure in having a friendly tussle with. As fate, luck, or whatever may be the proper definition, would have it, if his lordship moved I was moved with him, and once or twice I involuntarily touched him, and, of course, might have shaken hands with him. I have shaken hands with Lords and Ladies, Commoners, and some of their wives, and with every grade of society downwards, but I had never touched a Marquis before. I have now only to grasp the hand of a Duke, be greeted by a Prince, and then make obeisance to the Sovereign of my own dear native land, and I shall have joined the highest with the lowest of the British race. I fancy the next three steps of the ladder of life will be far more difficult to reach than all the others have been. Talk of abolishing the aristocracy and the House of Lords. Bah! The members of that class of society are equal to, and in many cases far better than, other classes, while they are immensely superior to the miserable weaklings who would, in their anarchic lunacy, abolish the Queen and the House of Lords, and everything else but their own ignorant selves. Abolish the House of Lords, forsooth, when it is composed of such sturdy Highlanders as the Marquis of Lome, who are ready and able to do their duty to the realm! I trow not. The House of Commons will be abolished before the House of Lords. So much for a reminiscence. Don’t forget that I am at Bradley. It may not be a very romantic place, but it has both fine and romantic scenery around it, and its natives will live nowhere else. Old John Gibson has lived in it, and lived well, for nearly 87 years, and he seems likely to live a decade or two longer before he risks a better place. Seeing that I have missed the tram, and that there will not be another for half an hour at least, I resolve to call and see and have greetings with “Old John” at “The Woodman.” Have you seen the old gentleman? If not you should go to Bradley at once and you will be gratified in looking at as hale, straight, and as smart an octogenarian as there is in the country. He is as slim and as slender as any young man, as upright as a soldier, as ruddy as good health can make him, has a clear and open countenance, and a sweet resonant voice, and he is ready at all times to oblige a rough or a smooth customer, the former by showing him the door and making him pass outside, and the latter by hearty greetings and ready and courteous service. He knows how to manage a public-house, and he is as firm as a rock in conducting “The Woodman.” I ask a youth if Mr. Gibson is living yet, and whether he still keeps “The Woodman?” “Yes.” “How long has he lived there?” “A, mester, allis; ivver sin I wor born.” I smile at the word “allis,” and think of the story of a young man having been transported for life from this district, on hearing the sentence for which his mother shrieked, “What, for allis?” I go a little further, and ask the same question, and am informed by a middle-aged man that Old John has never lived anywhere else but at “The Woodman,” and that he was an old man when my informant was born. I marvel at this and begin to fully realise the significance of the word “allis.” I enter “The Woodman,” and surely enough the old veteran is there, ready to give me hearty welcome and immediate service. He attends to me as nimbly and as expeditiously as a girl, and sweetens my refreshments by cheery remarks.
- John Gibson was born on 13 May 1809, the son of John Gibson of Bradley and his wife Grace (née Spence). By 1839 (if not earlier) he was the innkeeper of the Woodman Inn at Bradley, which was situated next to the Oaks Lane Toll Point on the Birstall and Huddersfield Turnpike (now Leeds Road). He was still recorded as the innkeeper in the 1891 Census, when his age was given as 81 years old. He retired to Coppin Hall, Mirfield, where he died on 8 November 1902, aged 93.