Huddersfield Chronicle (16/Feb/1895) - "Shay Wood," Slack, Pole Moor, and Slaithwaite
“SHAY WOOD,” SLACK, POLE MOOR, AND SLAITHWAITE.
(From Our Correspondent "Cid.")
The hemlock is in full bloom, and the known history of Socrates passes before me. A large quantity of white globes of thistledown are ready to be blown away when the next breeze stiffens. Ferns and bracken are putting on their autumn dresses, while the russet flowers beneath their serried leaves show how nature superabundantly provides for the propagation of the species, plant or animal. Horizontal rocks on both sides act as a foundation for the trees, whose roots find out or make the crevices by an irresistible growth and expansion, which fully illustrates the marvellous power of the silent work of nature. I pass a boys’ bathing place, but though I feel hot and the temperature is great I now prefer a deeper plunge than in my youthhood. I have no desire to leave this abode of beauty, but as I keep moving on and up I see an end of the trees is not far in advance of me. I do not notice the shadow of a fish, and I guess that destructive and silly humanity, has robbed the stream of them. There is nothing more idiotic or heartless than the indiscriminate destruction of the life that finds its wholesome and natural home in our crystal streams. Such barbarous destroyers are detestable wretches who are not fit for this life, and I would inflict on them what Barns wished the enemies of Scotland, a 12 months’ toothache, ere they entered to their proper punishment in the life to come. The gulley is now wider than ever, and if possible more beautiful. There is scarcely a breath of wind, even the thistledown drops at mv feet for want of propelling force. A rabbit then jumps the stream, its bobbing tuft of white marking out its zigzag flight till it vanishes I know not how or where. On looking round I notice several burrowed retreats, some old, others newly made. I would not have missed this rural bliss at any price, and I take the fullest pleasure in seeing imprinted on my pathway marks of clogs and boots which have contained as dainty feet as were ever slippered or ever twinkled in and out beneath a petticoat. There is a well-trod footpath through this wood, and I do not see a single “trespass board.” I pick from the stream a Leeds Mercury of the previous day, and am glad that the people of Slack can read, even though it be that sober Radical-Conservative print. I notice long ledges of rock, beneath which one might hide from storms or pursuers, and under which the waters dreamily run until they sparklingly tumble and continue their foaming, winding course. As the last tree is passed, and I have climbed into the meadow again, I glance down Shay Wood, and am sorry to leave it, but as I tear myself away the thought that it is free to the public begets within me a pleasurable thankfulness that words fail to give utterance to. Sitting on the stile I see a balloon spider taking its aerial flight over the valley, and I for the thousandth time conclude that that clever, intellectual lord of creation, man, is forestalled by nature, animal and vegetable, in everything. If the proper study of mankind is man, surely the study of the lower life of herb, plant, and tree, of insect, bird, and beast, of all the creeping things that make the land teem with life, that fill the air with visible and invisible organisms, and the water of the rivers, lakes, and oceans with the mighty and the infinitesimal, is also a study that will teach mankind awe and humility, and shew him that he is, after all, but a very small part in the grand economy of existence. A whistling boy on the distant hill now pleasurably sends forth his shrill harmony. The people of the hills can shout to, or even converse with, one another with the greatest ease over the valleys, and there is no wonder that their lungs are sound, and their voices resonant, clear, and harmonious. The pure air of Outlane suggests health and strength, and it is always agreeably bracing to townlings’ lungs.
I am now on the site of the Roman Cambodunum, and the past of that great nation passes through my memory in a grand procession of mighty deeds of valour and great accomplishments. This is one of the chief objects of my visit, but I am much disappointed to find that nearly all the traces of that mighty Empire are hid from view at Slack. So it is in life. Prospective pleasures are enhanced and magnified by the imagination, frequently to be doomed to failure of realisation. I have no pity, but all the scorn that my nature is capable of, for those who ruthlessly or enviously destroy or selfishly keep from view the historical landmarks of the long past. There is, however, one relief about this vandalism, the Nemesis that follows closely on the heels and memories of such men. They are buried and forgotten in a day, as they ought to be. I lose the footpath again; it is so seldom trodden now that the interesting remains are not to be seen. I turn away with feelings of indignation that burn deeply into my soul. As if to emphasise my grief, a moment later I am made a fool of by the misdirection of some irreverent boys, encouraged by a sprawling, hulking, fellow, and I think less severely of the she-bears and Elisha than I have hitherto done. A fair, buxom housewife, however, soon gives me relief, and makes me forget the senseless youths as she, to the best of her knowledge, gives me a proper direction and answers me as many questions as I care to ask. She is so anxious to oblige that when she does not know she appeals to those around her for the requisite information. I am pleased with Outlane and its people, especially those of Slack. From this place there is a delightful panorama worth coming out to see. When you mount Round Ings and pass on to Rockingstone Hill you seem, to those in the valley, like a blackbird on Stonehenge, while they in return look like inhabitants of Lilliput. There are music and singing in almost every house at Slack, while gladsomeness bespeaks a happy week-end, and presages many an ideal Saturday night. Linsey is being dried on tenters in the fields, and I enter into conversation with a man who is almost smothered with the weight of a broad piece on his shoulders, and learn more of the manufacture and finishing of that useful article of drudgery than I could have imagined before. Passing the Mission Chapel connected with Pole Moor I take pleasure in the thought that even in this apparently outlandish place there is a virile religious life. I am soon on the broad road, twice as wide as New Street, that leads to Pole Moor, and have a breath of the moorland which is sweetened as it passes over the purple bell-heather which seems to blaze from every point. The fragile flower I gathered in the wood is now wedded into a bouquet by a sprig of my favourite moorland flower. I do not know that I am a Scotchman in anything but my love of the ever-welcome heather, to which my heart warms the year round. The glorious heavens smile on everything, and harvest home is being whistled and sung on every hand, as the golden grain is garnered as far as the eye can see. I ask a loutish looking farmer the names of the distant hills Ripponden and Halifax way, but the boor, after eyeing me suspiciously, bluntly replies: “I doent know.” Of course he lies. He is too clever to be touched, spoken to, or looked at, and instead of being a farmer he should qualify to be a slave driven navvy or a chimney sweep. Of course I call at the “Royal George,” order a teacake and a pat of butter, and when the nut brown ale appears I lunch as royally as a King could do, if relish has anything to do with Royalty. The landlady is a tall, strong, model housewife, whom doubtless the landlord dare trust in any company, rough or smooth. She is despatch and hearty courtesy combined, while everything within the building is scrupulously clean. The low rafters, the yard-thick walls, the atone sanded floors, and the elbow-polished furniture present a picture that might win even a teetotaler’s appreciation, and induce a Licensing Bench of Magistrates to renew the licence with a superlative compliment. She considers it to be her duty to fully and at once answer my questions. She knows the district thoroughly and can name the hills from the least to the greatest, and like a true representative of her sex tells me as much in 10 minutes as a mere man would or could in half-an-hour. I make a complimentary remark about the cleanliness of her rooms, when she tells me that they do not keep people in that house to be looked at. She takes good care they all have plenty to eat and drink, and if they will not work after that she takes as good care they do not play and eat. She sets them an example and takes pleasure in her work and if her servants and others will not follow her example she follows them out of the doorway and sees that their luggage is with them, and has done with them. Pole Moor is a place for old men and old women. They are not “in the way,” as many old people are in towns. There is always something to do about the farms, and it is often difficult to say whether the son is the father or the father the brother, as all have a healthy ruddiness that hides their years and keeps him young. Anarchists, Socialists, and world-menders may rave, maim, or kill, and hold up real and imaginary ills to the gaze, and din them into the ears, of the habitually discontented, but the people of these uplands care for none of these things, but in peace “live on, live oil for ever.” There is an old man at the “Royal George” who is a type of the rest. My landlady informant laughingly tells me that the people of this place live long, and cannot be thrashed away from Pole Moor. Love of home and of country is theirs, and the attendant blessings of such love is theirs also. My rest refreshes me, and I feel at ease with myself and she world, and for the thousandth time I find my “warmest welcome at an inn.” As I look from the window I notice two sturdy women leading oats with a horse and sleigh, and they do it manfully. As I get up to leave the landlady gladly points out the distant and the nearer hills, and names them as glibly and as accurately as a “directory.” Dean Head, Rishworth, Blackstone, Beacon Hill, Halifax, Buckstone, Ripponden, Rockingstone Hill, &c., &c., are pointed out with interesting and explanatory remarks. In fact she is an evident lover of the hills, and her patriotism warms my heart towards her and emphasises my love for my native uplands, and I am sorry to leave the “Royal George” and its surroundings. I pass cut, note the “Upper Royal George,” and am surprised to meet the “George Tavern”, and wonder where in the world the three “Georges” get their custom from. Though I am tempted towards “Nont Sarah’s” I forego the pleasure and turn to the left, and am soon in Pole Moor Chapel-yard, an interested and sympathetic reader of the many well-known names on the gravestones. This is an ideal burial ground, as the dead being so near the sky must hear the last trump as soon as anybody on earth. The graveyard is neat, and the graves care-folly and lovingly attended to, while the outside of the chapel shows that those who go inside, though they may get the Pearl without price, are not afraid of paying handsomely in order to keep in repair the casket in which they worship and find the Pearl. There is a wholesomeness about it all which is as refreshing as the surrounding air. The doors are fast, and though the keeper and his wife are preparing for the morrow, they are too busy to divine that I should like to enter the building, so the virtue that might be within the shrine has no chance of operating upon me. Half-a-dozen dwellings will be as many as are within sight or near, and I am at a loss to know where it gets its congregation from. It must be supported by zealous and faithful pilgrims, whose hearts are right and whose enthusiasm puts to shame indifferent and slothful townspeople, who, with places of worship at their doors, are too heartlessly lazy to go to them. There are many worthy names connected with this place, and I am satisfied that Pole Moor Chapel is the centre of hearts and memories the world over. Sad to say, there are thieves even here. Flower thieves who rob the graves of the dead. The hand that will pluck a flower from a grave will steal anything. Children and flowers are synonymous, but for creatures who have attained maturity to rob the dead is too repulsive to think of. Such, when they die, should be interred in the highway and trampled upon. It is also a painful thing to me to see well-dressed people and others indiscriminately pluck the lovely heather at this time of the year. I frequently meet them laden with it, and, what is worse, they have generally pulled up the roots and all. Drunken men and children generally speak the truth. I met one of the former last week with a small bunch of heather that he had plucked on Crosland Moor, from our Freeman’s land so generously given for the use of our citizen soldiers. He tried to walk on both sides of the road at once, but failed, and ultimately fell into a dry ditch. He, however, stuck to his heather, and as he sat against the wall he incoherently addressed the flower:— “Tha looked better befoor I pulled thee up aat at graand than tha does now. I wish I had let thee stop it t’ graand. What say yoh, mester?” I told him he had spoken the truth, and that all who ruthlessly robbed our moorlands and other places of their flowers were both fools and rogues. He replied, “That’s it, lad, let me have it, I’m sure I desarve it.” I leave Pole Moor with mingled feelings of pleasure and sympathy, pass the Sun Inn, enter the fields on the first opportunity, and proceed as the crow flies, for I am informed by a young wag that it does not matter so much about these hills whether there is a footpath or not. I never saw a place with more roads, and, though it is difficult to tell where they all lead to, if you are tired of one there is always another ready for you. The people about here seem to go the nearest way to anywhere without being interfered with. Just when Colne Valley fully presents itself in its autumn garments I meet a sturdy little fellow who is ready to direct me anywhere and tell me anything I want to know. I am delighted with the prospect. Though somewhat bleak the scenery is beautiful. Fruitfulness is being garnered as far as I can see. I take tea with a nonogenarian, who is surrounded by three successive generations. Age is now, however, claiming its own, the windows are darkening, the grinders are few, and the hearing almost gone. A few years ago he was full of humour, and could tell laughable tales about Slawit and Slawiters the day through, stories that would make even stone walls grin. I am pained to see my old friend so changed and so helpless. As I look into his once bright eyes I see a dull glassiness that betokens a gradual loss of sight and the ultimate and inevitable end of this life. With trembling limbs he is slowly tottering to the grave. Most of us put the period of our death a long way in advance of us, but unless the mind be well-stored in youth with elevating, and refreshing thoughts that are ripened and sweetened by advancing years, old age must be a terrible thing. I involuntarily think of the Stulbrugs of Laputa, so terribly described by Swift in “Gulliver’s Travels,” and instinctively shrink from the thought of being old. Still, honoured age is and should be a glorious thing, and if the young and strong would constantly bear in mind that they owe their existence to the old and infirm, the lot of the aged might be made an imperceptible decline into a grave of peace and hope. When in the company of deaf people I often think it would be a blessing to them if they understood how to communicate to the eyes as the deaf and dumb people do. It would not be very difficult to teach all, at least, the rudiments of such means of conversing. If Huddersfield people would only attend some of the entertainments and meetings in behalf of the unfortunate deaf, they would see the force of this suggestion. So long as the hands could move it would then be possible for the aged to hand down to posterity incidents and traditions that the pen or cold type must ever fail to do. I pass down to Slaithwaite, through a gully as narrow, atony, and steep as it well can be and still be used by man and beast. Here the birds are singing, the water leaping and gurgling, the western skies are illumined to grandeur, and everywhere there seems to be rest and peace, so I once more put all thoughts of age and death from me, and think only of life, dear, active life. I am soon at Slaithwaite. The Parish Church of this place, like that of Holmfirth, often escapes my notice. I have passed this metropolis of the Colne Valley scores of times without seeing or even thinking of its church. Of course there is one, and since its renovation I am told its interior is beautiful and comfortable, and farther, that its vicar and congregation are inseparable. I don’t see how it could be otherwise. I have never managed to creep into the building, but I have had political and other experience of the Church schools. In passing by train, after dark, I have also more than once heard it said that they must be working overtime at Slawit, when, on further enquiry, it has turned out that the apparent factory was the church lit up for evening service. It does not much matter about the outside appearance of the church if the inside be right. This applies to man as well as churches. I well remember being present in the schools near by during a concert when the lights went out. Of course there was great commotion among the timid, but as matches were struck and candles and lamps lit the younger portion did not seem to be at all terrified, I should venture to say quite the opposite. Nor did this apply to the youths only. I verily believe there were maidens present who had as much fun in the dark as in the light. After a time the gas thought fit to burn again. I then formed a good opinion of the musical tastes and capabilities of Slaithwaite people, which, I am happy to say, I have had no cause to change.