Huddersfield Chronicle (27/Oct/1894) - Grey Beard Again

The following is a transcription of a historic newspaper article and may contain occasional errors. If the article was published prior to 1 June 1957, then the text is likely in the Public Domain.


(From Our Correspondent "Cid.")

Quick walking through your streets is impossible unless the tram lines are chosen, as your people pay little attention to the rule of the road or footpath, and I often think of the Ninevites “that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand,” as I hurry along New Street. I have been in most of the working people’s houses in your town, and have seen so much squalid destitution in the low quarters that it has often sickened me. The overcrowding is shameful in good times, in bad times it is abominable. The Workhouses are like palaces compared with many dwellings. If as much money had been spent on sanitoriums, hospitals, and infirmaries as has been spent by you in making the degraded poor comfortable, it would have been a credit to you, instead of this you have fought one another for years as to whether you should build a hospital. You will have to build more hospitals and sanitoriums rather than less, as the time is fast coming when home nursing, to a great extent, will be abolished in favour of hospital nursing, and when each ward or district will have its central home for the aged and infirm to comfortably spend the remainder of their days in. This would cost less than home nursing, and be ten times more wholesome and satisfactory. Asylums for the imbeciles and the mentally deranged and prisons for incorrigible tramps. Before people become exhausted by overwork or incipient disease it would be better and cheaper to go to a local sanitorium than wait until their systems break down and then be compelled to go to the hospital as a last resort, there to languish and die. You have hills enough, fresh air enough, and beauty spots enough in this district to meet the requirements of your sick and well. The fear attached to the name “Workhouse” has caused more sickening heartaches than death itself. Purify its meaning and banish the name. When the time for the building of such places arrives, I hope you will commit the following verse to memory:—

The Workhouse and the Convalescent Home,
With the Infirmary; where’er you roam
No three such bungles will you ever find
To face and court the east’s unhealthy wind.

The extravagance of your public bodies is patent to everybody, with the result that rates are very high, so much so that the question of rates is uppermost in the taking of all kinds of property. Applicants or intending tenants are frequently driven away by the bare mention of the amount of assessment. Consequently shops, warehouses, better class and cottage property are “to let, to let, to let.” Your property is, therefore, depreciating, while your rates have increased 30 per cent during the last 10 years. In every street there is a painful vacuity in the windows. The cost of living in your town is also higher than neighbouring towns, shopkeepers and tradesmen generally being compelled to put their prices high in order that they might pay their way and barely live. If you have watched your local property market you must know that realisations are 50 per cent lower than they were 15 or 20 years ago. Your Corporation have made themselves a laughingstock by buying property, getting rid of the tenants, and on discovering that they did not want the buildings piteously placarding the windows with plaintive notices intimating to the world that anybody can have the vacuousness at low rents, which possibly means little more than the rates. If the Council had been composed of the best business men, together with the most intelligent of your townsmen, greater care would have been exercised in the initiation of gigantic undertakings which must necessarily result in enormous expenditure. Improvements would have gone hand in hand with the progress of the borough, and the cost spread over 50 instead of 20 years. If the parties had been more evenly balanced the minority would not have been brow-beaten and sat on by the imperious majority, nor would ridiculous blunders have been permitted to mulct the town in outrageous costs. The action of those who have had numbers, innocent, ignorant numbers at their backs, has forced many of your best men out of the Council, and prevented others from aspiring to the position of town councillor, with the result that the Council is sneered at, one wag remarking the other day that it was made up of “tinklers, tailors, and green grocers.” You pride yourselves on your common sense and independence, but let a Sequah come and ride through the streets like a prince, headed by a brass band, and you at once madden after him, throw yourselves at his feet, fight which can have the most teeth drawn for nothing, and for weeks idiotically struggle nightly to fill him a bucket with silver and gold. At first I was grieved to see you do this, but the grotesque spectacle after a time so amused me that I took as much pleasure in seeing you befool yourselves as I ever experienced at a pantomime. When I now hear you speak of your independence and common sense I think of Sequah and know what it all means. If another white, black, or brown mystery-man were to come tomorrow, your common sense would empty its pockets and your independence fall down and worship him, and again apparently act on the saying that “There is as much pleasure in being cheated as to cheat.” Common sense, forsooth! Independence, indeed! You have a patent library equal to any in the country, but it is stowed in the roof of your highest building, where the young and strong may climb to it, but the old and infirm never. If the designs for a hospital, workhouse, or police station may be seen in your Town Hall, the building is so situated that though I intended having a look at them I invariably pass through your town without seeing the Hall or even thinking about it or the designs until I am at home or on the hills. The truth is if you want to “see” that grand structure you will have to come out here. When I first saw it from the hills I stood for some moments amazed. A shaft of sunlight seemed to lift it to the sky and made it look like a temple among cottages, a pagoda among tents, or a pyramid among sandhills, with many belching long chimneys and a few church spires striving to escape the dim monotomy and induce your inhabitants to cease from imitating “The man with the muck-rake.” “What of the Huddersfield Industrial Society’s building?” I interjected. “Ah!” continued Grey Beard, “that is a credit to the town as a building, but the cost of it represents the distribution of wealth, not the production of it. It is openly stated, too, that if they paid rates in proportion to the business they do there would be less to pay by those whose business they have taken away. Many shopkeepers stock their shops, pay unremitting attention to their business, and at the end of the year discover that they have paid all they have made in wages, rents, and rates, leaving nothing for themselves but bankruptcy. Your wooden paved main streets are, during the evening, turned into a promenade for cyclists, to the annoyance and danger of the people. I have been nearly knocked down by a cyclist as he overtook me, and almost run into by the same cad as he met me a moment after I had crossed the street. It is fine fun for the riders, but not for the walkers. I would make those hare-brained wheelmen trundle their machines through the chief streets unless they kept within the tramlines. Cheapness is worshipped by a large portion of your people who run wild after a bankrupt’s stock, buy what they do not want because it is cheap, and thus spend more than they would in giving a wholesome and reasonable price for the goods they really want, a price that would enable both maker and seller to pay a just and living wage. Having some knowledge of the ability and intricate skill required in the production of a daily morning paper, I have no hesitation in saving that man for man the Huddersfield pressmen turn out as good work as, and as much, if not more than those on the larger papers. I have read with interest your articles in the Daily Chronicle, and have heard them commended, especially by those who are too old or infirm to ramble as you do, and I have no objection to your recording in that old-established journal our occasional conversations. I look upon the Chronicle as having mastered the art of condensation. Long speeches and long accounts of meetings are not fully read, and often not read at all, because of their length. I am often indebted to such a paper as the Chronicle for presenting the kernal and real pith of the news and sentiments of the day. I notice that great care is taken in excluding objectionable matter from its police news. It is painful to see how some papers hold up the failings of mankind, especially the really unfortunate, to the gaze of a prurient age. Its condensed reports and succinct critiques are always readable, while its obituary notices are well written and not too much elaborated. Its general policy is firm and consistent, and it readily and fearlessly attacks shams, exposes pretentions, and treats with no gloved hand gross misrepresentation, while as a supporter of the Church and State it never hesitates to enter into the thickest fight or stand in the breach and repel unscrupulous Dissent and disintegration. I had a long conversation with an old friend last week who told me that he and his relatives had taken the Chronicle ever since it was established, more than 40 years ago, and they always liked to read it because it kept as much as possible from its columns frivolous and libellous matter, and because correspondents are not allowed to indiscriminately insult and annoy those whom they have enmity against. It also saved them much reading, as they generally left long reports to be read when they had more time, with the result that the reports were never read. While games of skill and endurance must and should be encouraged it is painfully plain that many sports have very many demoralising influences and surroundings, and great care should be taken in their advocacy. I am glad the Chronicle does not go with the silly multitude in fulsomely praising physical skill to the exclusion of the mental and moral aspects of pastimes. Further, to show you how “double cunning” some men are with respect to newspapers, and I suppose it will apply to people in Huddersfield as well, I had a sharp discussion with a dealer in shoddy not long ago. He spoke dogmatically about the press, and professed to be a knowing one about newspapers. He condemned them with a superior air, and scathingly attempted to point out their defects. Papers that I thought were ably and scrupulously conducted were belittled as well as others. Of course I soon demolished his statements, and made him look very small when I asked him what papers he bought, and pressing the question forced him to admit that he seldom bought a paper, as he could see all the papers at the club. If I had used such language as he used against the conducting of newspapers about that man’s shoddy wares, he would not have hesitated to buy plenty of law with a view of making me pay for it. Talk of free education, why many of your townspeople not only get their news free but have something given with it. By paying twopence a week they can have all the news of the world to devour, yet even these people expect their little picnics, tea parties, and mothers’, and I suppose fathers’, meetings to be fully reported with their names fulsomely referred to. Rather than spend 15 minutes in writing out an interesting and sensible account of their parochial work or meetings they expect a special reporter to attend, even though that over-worked slave may, on that day, have to write a column of police news, report two inquests, indite a column and a half of a political meeting, Town Council, School Board, or Board of Guardians, criticise a concert, “do” a theatre paragraph, and not have finished “grinding” out “copy” before one or two o’clock in the morning. When such a man hears ignorant and blatent men speak disrespectfully of the press, there is no wonder that he thinks them mean and unpatriotic, even though he may not be in a position to say it as openly as I do. By their miserable niggardliness in this respect they throttle skill, maim ambition, smother true endeavour, and as a consequence grovel in the slough of mediocrity. There is little or no patriotism in your town. I doubt whether you love it. You treat it as if it were but a lodging-house, from which you intended to escape in the morning, next day, or next year, never to return again. You have few men of light and leading among you. You lack men of high resolve, of bounding and irresistible ambition, that would force from your midst the mediocrity that hangs about your neck like a millstone. You want men who dare to do the right though the heavens should fall; men who scorn the babble of the ignorant multitude, and who act up to their convictions regardless of minorities or majorities. You want men who have a groundwork for the faith that is in them, ready at all times to withstand the opposing storms of fatuous displeasure that may be manifested by people of little minds and less souls. Instead of this you are like a reed shaken with the wind. You establish new societies and institutions every month or so, simply because your little, dissatisfied nobodies cannot be leaders in the old ones, even though they are scarcely qualified to be followers, and ought to be treated as voteless minors. You leave institutions that are designed to stand for all time, and which must so stand, in order to build or prop up other structures from bankruptcy, with the result that their foundations are ill-laid, and when the storms come they give way, and you leave them either as outcasts on the downgrade, or, bedraggled and distraught, return to the old-established institutions to work out your own salvation and reformation. I say this not so much to depreciate your town as to rouse it to a sense of its responsibility and urge it to patriotically take its proper place in the van of towns and cities in all that is brave and true and enterprising. You know what I say is true, so when you again unreservedly praise Huddersfield bear in mind that Grey Beard has his eye on you. We leave the “Cock,” pass into the open, then into lovely fields, which lead down to charming Mollicar Wood, and while revelling in its surpassing beauties forget that there is such a place as Huddersfield.