Huddersfield Chronicle (26/May/1894) - Berry Brow, Armitage Bridge, Nan Hob, and Free Libraries
BERRY BROW, ARMITAGE BRIDGE, NAN HOB, AND FREE LIBRARIES.
(From Our Correspondent "Cid.")
"They're all akin at t' Airmtage and t'Braah." Get amongst them and you will soon find that there is much truth in that statement. The river may part them, the hills may overlook them, and Huddersfield may incorporate more than half of them, but still nothing can break their clanship. If you touch one you touch all. Charles Lamb, when in company, before referring to capital punishment, used to look round to see if anyone present had had any relatives suspended, so if you have any pungent remarks to make about the inhabitants of these places be sure you look round. If you once hear them speak you will know where they come from, even though you meet them in the middle of the Sahara, on the Pyramids of Egypt, in the Antarctic Ocean, or at the North Pole. Further, the architecture of these places is remarkable. No Wren yet born could fully comprehend it. The buildings seem to be piled one upon the other in confusion, and though there is plenty of level ground not far off, the architects of these places have preferred to build tier above tier, so much so that on one side you might enter a dwelling near the river and go upstairs until you reach Castle Hill, while on the other you might go up and up till you came out at Crosland and, what is more, do so without meeting many other than relatives of those in the first cottages entered. Their back streets, front streets, bye-ways, and alleys will beat any puzzle gardens I have been through them hundreds of times yet I have frequently been lost among their devious windings. Only last week I found myself in what seemed a blind-alley I might easily have walked on to the buildings and taken observations, but preferred the solid earth. At a distance I saw two buxom housewives, on the better side of forty, preparing to shake carpets. They might have finished before I reached them, but, unlike many townspeople, they let me pass, one of them, with a twinkle in her eye, saying they would not have waited for anybody. There is room for imitation of this example in Huddersfield. With thanks I passed by, satisfied with the manners of the people. The cricket ground folk deserve commendation. Their field looks well, while the bowling-green they are establishing will in time rival any in the district. If a man wishes to be well remembered of those who come after him, there is no kind of generosity that will better keep his memory green than by giving to the people, for ever, as Mr. J.N. Sykes, J.P., of Lindley, has done, open spaces for breathing and recreation grounds. I notice that another landmark of Armitage Bridge is disappearing, in fact, the "Drum and Monkey" has gone. People who visited Armitage Bridge from the Big Valley, will be deceived no more by that obstruction. They will now know which way they will have to turn before they get to what was a right-angled road, and which has baffled thousands. The large-hearted generosity of Mr. William Brooke, J.P., has once more shown itself. He has purchased the old building and made South Crosland Local Board a present of the site. Not far from here the Black Bull Inn buildings were, eight years ago, converted into a Conservative club. The "Black Bull" was a remarkable old inn, dating back several hundred years. There are many legends, quaint remembrances, and peculiar associations connected with this place, which are serious, grotesque, and laughable. Beneath its hospitable roof it sheltered men of all stations, degrees, and capacities, and afforded wholesome and substantial refreshment for man and beast. Situated in a sheltered retreat on the banks of the river Holme it was shaded and surrounded by foliage of surpassing beauty. For generations it overlooked the then silvery stream whose waters were full of life, and were a fit home for the sprightly finny tribes, so different from the death-dealing virus of the mills of the present day. The "Black Bull" was much frequented by our ancestors, while it was also a famous resting-place between London, Leeds, and York in the good old coaching days. Unlike many dwellings of to-day it was built to stand, its substantial walls were three or four times as thick as those now built, while its gigantic rafters showed that the oak of old England was then as much appreciated as it was plentiful. Its doorways were low and so were its rooms, while its windows seemed more like pigeon-holes than anything else. There was about it an air of security and it contained many cosy corners, yet its rooms presented an animated appearance on special days or when the magistrates held their courts there. For many years, because of its central position, it was used as a courthouse for the surrounding districts as far as Saddleworth. There are many interesting stories as to how justice was dispensed here, but as a rule the magistrates were men of sound common sense, who knew and were known by their neighbours, and consequently were able to fully understand the disputes brought before them. The "Bull" had also landlords and landladies who acted as their own policemen, indeed, they were of a type one may look back to with favour, particularly so was the landlady known as "Mat o't 'Brigg." This good hostess took it upon herself to say how little or how much the frequenters of her house should take to drink, and no one could persuade her to deviate from her decision, in fact, so far as her house was concerned, she was more than a match for the magistrates and constables in preventing drunkenness. Had such striplings as we see smoking and strutting in and out of modern inns entered the "Black Bull" Mat would have dealt summarily with them, nor would she have asked their parents' permission. It is confidently asserted that no case of drunkenness sprang from this place while she was landlady. Part of the old block still stands, a Conservative club being built up to and into it. Thus the work of the present generation is firmly united with the work of our ancestors of seven or eight generations. This is as it should be, and fully demonstrates one of the leading features of sure progress, which is to gradually restore or rebuild, instead of suddenly severing or demolishing the institutions established by our forefathers. As I pass through the gates which lead to the church, May is fully clothed in her best garments. Even the ash is reaching its arms to the sun and asking to be kissed into feathery fulness without delay. Petals drop from the trees like summer snow and float in the breeze in whirling gladsomeness. The gardens to the right are full of promise. Their beds are strewn with blossom, and the embryo fruit is assuming form. The remains of a shower hang like pearly crystals from the leaves, and glint in the sunshine like earrings of purity. Nature's adolescence is putting on the strength of manhood, while her receptiveness is as plump and as blithe as maidenhood. A month ago all was bare. Now barrenness is hid by a superfluity of fruitfulness. The trees play at hide and seek with the church, and as you draw near the calm building you feel that not only is cleanliness next to godliness, but that the twain are inseparable. I enter the sacred edifice, and am ashamed because I have never been in before. I have walked around this building hundreds of times, and wondered what possessed men to erect it so far from the road. It is a comely fane. You feel at ease immediately you enter it. There is a breath of sanctity about it that is inexpressible, and you appreciate it the more because it does not obtrude itself too much on the gaze of the world. The buildings around may change tenants, their uses, their appearances, but you feel satisfaction in the thought that the Parish Church is not only built for the present, but for the distant future. I miss the Lord's Prayer, the Commandments, and the Creed. Nothing can be better than the first two engraved in marble, where all eyes may see them. The strange and soothing power of the one, and the authority and majesty of the other, blend so fully that I sometimes feel that little more is wanted to guide, to cheer, to purify, and to correct mankind than they. I pass out of the porch, and am soon among the graves. The names of the newly gone startle me into the remembrance of them as they stood before me, and the last words they uttered to me also strike my memory. There seemed as much of life before them then as before me; yet they are not while I am. What a mysterious thing this going and coming is! The unexpected happens; some are taken and others left, while it is beyond man's power to say why. I now pass a hive of industry, and the benefactions of the employers there ascend like a sweet-smelling savour. Through devious bye-ways to the back of Armitage Bridge House the scene is too choice to be fully described. Embayed by trees and surrounded by fat pastures there is a faint breath of fragrance from the full-leaved foliage everywhere. The birds sing from heaven and earth, and insects hum in myriads as they sip the exuding nectar from the leaves which gleam and smile like a maid in the sunlight. There, too, spring the firs, the limes stretch their boughs to the clouds, the comely birches open their dainty white arms as though they would encircle you in a silvery embrace, and the feathery sprays of the larches are as delicate as ever as you look down the steep slopes to the languid river. Then as you get into the open the lapwing swerves round you, uttering its shrill, weird "pewit," which is anything but harmonious. The woodcock leaves the highest tree at sight of you, the harsh notes of the pheasant come from below, the landrail, of course, deceives you as to its locality, while the wild doves coo among the distant trees, and a few rooks speck the sky. The swallows have also come and are skirting the woodland, feasting on the already abundant insect life. The variegated cattle, the sheep, and the frisky, full-clothed lambkins, emphasise the brilliant greens. The brownbreasts sing, the redbreasts warble, and larks trill from the clouds, and the blackbirds and thrushes command the chorus. Nan Hob Wood is delightful at anytime, but on this occasion it has the fullest charms. As the valley opens to your view the elm, the oak, the ask, the beech, the chestnut, the hawthorn, the lilac, the laburnum, the rhododendron, and the star-spangled park complete a picture of quiet bliss. Nan Hob Well is now in front of you. Taste its cool, gushing waters as they leap from the mossy crevices, and you will wonder why mankind are not content with the free, the pure, and the sparkling liquid prepared for them by nature. You drink and sip, and though satisfied you sip and drink again, and are more than refreshed. Here is a spot where you may rest and be thankful. It would be difficult to feel bad, let alone be bad, at this sylvan retreat, and the house in front of you is a fit home for its noble-hearted proprietor. I have no sooner found a comfortable seat where the fronds of the ferns are unfolding over the bluebells and anemones, which sway in the breeze till I fancy I hear them ring out their love notes to one another, than Grey Beard approaches, and I know there is a feast of reason and a flow of soul in store for me. He is a veritable encyclopedia of information, which he can clothe in language full of charms. "Books" is soon the subject, and we go through the catalogue of ancient and modern authors in quick succession. I always feel towards Grey Beard as the rustics did in the "Vicar of Wakefield,"
- And still the wonder grew,
That one small head could carry all he knew.
- And still the wonder grew,
Neither of us is tongue-tied, and we are often both talking at once, so quickly do our thoughts throb for utterance. He is much more sanguine on the subject of Free Libraries than I, and he burns with indignation at the thought that his native Huddersfield is without one. He speaks of the town to me thus :— You make provision for the lame and the lazy, build palaces to house them, pay thousands a year in carrying out far-fetched schemes, but as for storing provender for the minds of young and old you leave that to posterity. You build courts and gaols for the good, bad, and indifferent, but cannot spare a penny in the pound for a bookhouse. The town is full of places of amusement, but you have to pass beneath licensed signboards to get into them, yet you have nothing to offer for a well-shelved book-room, where literature may be tasted free as air ; instead of that you insult the poor by telling them that if they want books they must buy them. You cultivate sports and pastimes and readily pay to see feats of strength, but begrudge a location for the coruscations and scintillations of great minds. To make the town healthy you dip deeply into the ratepayers' pockets, but you provide no mental store to refresh and purify the thoughts of the workers. You have no free building where your inhabitants can enter, so the result is that the people gird discontentedly at one another and at everything in your Market Place. You certainly have two beautiful parks, full of nature's sweet variety of wealth, yet you have no provision for wet and stormy days but the public-house, the reeking coffee-house, and the draughty passages. You have a stately and costly Town Hall, but strangers require several guides to enable them to find it, in fact, I have known people pass it without recognising it, and when found it is barred like a prison. You have no free place of shelter in which to hold communion with sublime intellects, and be guided by men of light and leading. It is a marvel to find a church open except for a few hours on Sundays, while many of your spiritual advisers seem to be as supine in the provision of a mental storehouse as the tempter is active in producing seductive frivolousness. Judged by other towns, one-third the size of yours, your book-shelves are all but empty. Your Patent Library is stored in a garret, where none but an Alpine ranger can find it. You tare up the streets, morn, noon, and night in order that trams may, during a large part of the day, run all but passengerless, and apparently for no other purpose than as an advertisement on wheels, but if you are asked for a penny for the storing of the lights of other days, for the great thoughts and brilliant deeds of the world, your people are turned empty away. No town gives better education to its children than yours, but you have no wealth of books, no public library to hold their attention or keep their minds bright when they leave school ; no common ground where the learned and the illiterate, the rich and the poor can be surrounded by the glow of past and present day inspiration. You have no free feast of reason or diet intellectual, no mental bill of fare, no store of nature's specimens, alive or dead, no museum, no art gallery, no satisfying nutriment within the reach of all, no walls adorned by the imaginations and realities of the artist's brush or pencil. You look generosity in the mouth and slight it ; and you prefer the slough of party to the liberty and high ground of noble benefaction. You let mediocre minds usurp your posts of honour and push away those whose only desire is your benefit and whose eloquence is ever ready to revivify you to loftier flights, and imbue you with a clearer insight and give you a finer intuition as to what man's mission in the world is. I have no patience with you, and I burn with shame when friends and relatives visit me because I have nothing of worth in the town to show them, nowhere to take them, and nothing to beget within them the feeling that Huddersfield is in the van of progress, and not lagging miserably in the rear. Thus did Grey Beard finish his eloquent speech, and the truths of his conclusions were so patent to me that I will leave them without comment to those who, for a quarter of a century, have had the power to give Huddersfield a Free Library, a Free Art Gallery, and a Free Museum, but who have in those matters counted the cost because it was small, while in other matters they have not counted the cost because it was large.