Huddersfield Chronicle (28/Aug/1852) - Holmfirth Flood

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TO CORRESPONDENTS.

THE HOLMFIRTH FLOOD.

In our report of the proceedings of the Central Committee held yesterday week, Mr. James Charlesworth was reported as supporting the recommendation of the committee for the restoration of the Bilberry Reservoir. Such we understood to be the tenor of Mr. Charlesworth’s remarks, but he desires us to 6tate, that, individually he was opposed to the recommendation, and, without explicitly avowing his opposition on that occasion, thought his well-known opposition of the measure rendered such avowal unnecessary. We most gladly avail ourselves of the opportunity of setting Mr. Charlesworth right with the public on this subject.


THE HOLMFIRTH FLOOD.

TOWN'S MEETING AT HOLMFIRTH.

On Thursday evening last a public meeting was held in the Town Hall Holmfirth, in pursuance of a numerously-signed requisition presented to the constable of the grave-ship of Holme, “to consider what steps should be taken in reference to the Bilberry Reservoir, and the repairing of the Holmstyes.” There were present the Rev. T. G. Fearne, incumbent of Upperthong ; the Rev. James Mac-farlane, independent minister ; Messrs. S. Morehouse, James Hinchliff of Huddersfield, Thos. Lister Charlesworth, James Boothroyd, G. Henry Hinchliff, John Thorpe Taylor, John Wylie, Samuel Wimpenny, J. Woodhead, Wm. Meikle, Jas. Gartside, A. M’Clellan, John Hargreaves, and several others. In the body of the hall was a crowded audience, consisting chiefly of working-men. After some little difficulty in the appointment of a chairman, there appearing to be some reluctance to assume the honours of the occasion, the Rev. Mr. Macfarlane was called upon to preside over the proceedings.

The Chairman opened the meeting by reading the requisition, after which he said they would observe that the object of this meeting would afford individuals an opportunity of expressing their mind with regard to the grant by the central committee for the restoration of the Bilberry Reservoir, and their opinions as to the repairing of the Holmstyes reservoir. It was not to discuss the merits of the doings of the central committee. (Hear, hear.) It was not to interfere with schedules or grants of money, excepting the grant to which he had referred, and which he believed was to be placed in the hands of trustees to be kept by them until certain conditions were fulfilled. He wished their proceedings to be conducted calmly, kindly, and deliberately, and he should now be happy to hear any gentleman on the subject of the requisition. (Hear, hear.)

Mr. Samuel Wimpenny then came forward and said he must confess that to speak of this subject in an off hand manner as had been suggested by the chairman was no easy matter. They had spoken of it before, and so far as results had followed, that appeared to be all that had been done. On the last occasion they were met there they resolved to petition parliament to consider the relationship the commissioners bore to the reservoirs, with a view to their responsibility, so that the public in Holmfirth might have something like a feeling of security to rest upon. (Hear.) That petition by some means was presented in a blundering manner and no account of its presentation appeared in the public papers, that he was aware of, so that one intention of the committee who promoted it — the drawing of public attention to the matter — was frustrated. The next step which the committee took was to appoint a deputation, consisting of Mr. James Charlesworth, Mr. Alfred Wood, Mr. James Garside, and himself, to wait upon the commissioners in reference to the Holmstyes reservoir. As regarded the great majority of those commissioners the committee were received in the most courteous manner, but as regarded one of that body their reception was discourteous, and on entering the room they were assailed with not the most gentlemanly laugh from this commissioner, who asked tauntingly if they were frightened out of their senses. (Shame.) As he had observed, the majority of the board received the deputation most courteously, and he might add afforded them all the information in their power. Before the appointment of the deputation a second report from Mr. Bateman had appeared which stated that the Holmstyes reservoir was in a very insecure state. On that report being referred to them the commissioners promised to take the matter into consideration, but as to the result the deputation had not yet been made acquainted. Some communication had been received but he did not remember the purport of it. Subsequently Mr. James Charlesworth, on behalf of the committee, requested that the reservoir should be kept down to 30 feet, and that the commissioners should communicate with the committee as to what they proposed to do, so that the public might have something to depend upon. Up to the present time no answer to the communication had been received. (Expressions of disapprobation.) Now with regard to the grant of £7000. The central committee had hedged around that grant a number of conditions. It was declared that the commissioners should not have the money until the reservoir was made sufficiently safe and satisfactory to the gentlemen who had been appointed to keep their hands upon the cash until they were satisfied that something like a legal responsibility attached to some parties. (Hear.) So far that was good, but there was another point. They thought a previous question came in for consideration. (Hear.) And he wished it here to be distinctly understood that whatever opinion he might express he wished to do so in a spirit of frankness and kindness, not with the idea of scolding the central committee for what they had done, but simply to suggest whether they had not somewhat transgressed the trust reposed in them (Hear, hear.) He had been a participator in the money subscribed, and he believed to as large an extent, per cent, as any one, and he now stood there to return his heartfelt acknowledgments to the subscribers for the 15s. in the pound which he had received upon his losses. Had it only been 5s. he should have felt it his duty to return his acknowledgments. (Hear, hear.) When he looked at the subscription, more noble than could have been raised in any other country, he felt proud of his country and in the fact that he was an Englishman. (Hear, hear.) But for it this neighbourhood would have received a blow which would have laid her prostrate for years, whilst the people would have been driven, to a much larger intent than hitherto, to emigration as a painful alternative. (Hear.) He had forgotten the other topic upon which he intended to have addressed them, but would refer to it at a subsequent period of the meeting. (Hear.)

The Chairman said the central committee, in granting this money for the restoration of Bilberry reservoir, had been actuated by the kindest of motives to the people in this neighbourhood. They had understood that it would tend to give more regular employment to the working-people than would otherwise be obtained. That arrangement was open for their discussion that evening. He should like some gentleman to express his opinion on this question. Suppose that the reservoir was re-constructed, would any parties, under the existing law, be able to interfere with the management except the commissioners them-

Mr. Wimpenny again rose, and said that he had been informed by Mr. Charlesworth’s son that his father had received a letter from Mr. Fred Jacomb, stating that, in consequence of his father’s absence, no positive answer could be returned. So far that was satisfactory. The other point to which he intended to refer was the restoration of the Bilberry reservoir. If this meeting did nothing else than induce the gentlemen in whose hands the £7000 was placed to withhold that money until the Holmstyes was made perfectly safe, they would have accomplished something. As inhabitants of the district, they were determined not to cease assembling in public meeting until the reservoir was made safe. (Loud applause.) He would have the commissioners not to make a mistake, for the inhabitants of the valley had their minds fully made up, and so great was the excitement upon this subject, on the fall extra rains, that were an accident to happen, he would not be answerable for the lives of these men. (Hear, hear.) Though not a nervous man he had himself been so excited during the night of the heavy rain some weeks ago, which was accompanied by the same dull low wind that blew on the morning of the 5th, that he leaped out of bed, and throwing up his window he found scores of people in the streets, labouring under the same sensations as himself. (Sensation.) They were told this reservoir was necessary for the prosperity of the neighbourhood, but he submitted that the safety of the neighbourhood, and the security of its inhabitants, was infinitely more so. (Applause.) He believed that two-thirds of the millowners of the valley would rather be without the benefit if they could get rid of the rates, but the law empowered the levying of rates whether there was a reservoir or not, and, therefore, as they had to pay the rates, they were, of course, desirous of having the benefit. Let them examine the Holmstyes reservoir, and even the naked eye would tell them that it was not safe. But what said two of the most eminent engineers of the day, Captain Moody and Mr. Bateman? Mr. Bateman had told them it was decidedly unsafe, and that before they filled it they ought to repair it. (Hear, hear.) The commissioners said they were bankrupt, and could not commence its repair. If this was the case it was high time something was done to bring about its repair. (Hear.) If they (the meeting) did not take some steps it was as sure to come down as the other had done. (Sensation.) They must take another step and attach criminal responsibility somewhere, and if the law did not at present recognise such a principle, they must set the lawyers to work to obtain a law which would not only affect these but the reservoirs of other districts. (Hear, hear.) Look at the alarm which had prevailed in the Stockport valley, arising from the reservoirs at Woodhead. But the management there had been very different to what it was here. An order was given for the reservoirs to be let off, and kept off until the reservoirs should be declared safe and sound. (Hear, hear.) They were willing to give the commissioners time to raise money, but until the money was raised they must demand, not once or twice, but time after time, in public meeting, in a voice that should reach these gentlemen, that the reservoir should not be filled beyond a certain depth. (Applause.) He was resolved never to let agitation cease until the commissioners had given them a positive assurance that the reservoir should not stand above a certain height — for a feeling of safety and security the people must have. (Loud applause.)

The Rev. Mr. Fearne said he felt this to be a very important meeting. He only spoke the feelings of all before him when he said they did not feel so much concerned about the restoration of the Bilberry reservoir as the repair of the Holmstyes. (Hear, hear.) He did not feel himself in a position to pronounce as to the repair of Bilberry, though he presumed it would be of some benefit; but it was necessary that the public should be enabled to sleep in security and comfort. (Hear, hear.) He had been accustomed to live at the sea side, and there he had observed that when a storm was brewing the old sailors always made preparation for it, and packed their vessels close. In taking these precautions they felt they should be calm and deliberate. Let them be so to-night. (Hear.) They had a very difficult point to manage. They had taken up what would prove a very difficult business. First, with regard to the £7000, there seemed to be some misapprehension, inasmuch as some thought £7000 less had distributed amongst the sufferers than would have been provided this grant had not been made. This was not the case. Each and every case had been fairly considered, and all the money intended to come into the valley had come, and the £7000 was an addition. It did not one penny out of the pockets of any one. (Hear.) The central committee had not withdrawn from the sufferers £7000, but seeing that they had more money than they felt justified in appropriating as compensation for the losses sustained, they took into consideration the question Of the restoration of the reservoir. It was therefore a clear gain as they might suppose to the proprietary of the reservoir, but no loss to any party in the valley. (Hear.) When the promoters of the meeting called upon him to ask him to sign the requisition, he understood the object contemplated by the promoters was something like this, “We want the Holmstyes reservoir repairing, and we wish to use this £7000 as a lever to compel the repair. To accomplish this object we propose to call a meeting which shall communicate with the central committee, and induce them to withhold the money until the Holmstyes is repaired.” (Hear.) Under that impression he had signed the requisition. He had always felt they had one resource, the appealing to the Lord Chancellor for a mandamus to compel the commissioners to keep the reservoir opened until repaired, — (hear) — but now he felt that they had another lever which they could employ for the same purpose. If they could hold out the bait of £7000 for the restoration of Bilberry as conditional to the repair of the the Holmstyes, he felt that they had two powerful levers instead of one, which might be employed for the attainment of the object sought. (Hear, hear.) It was in this sense that be signed the requisition, with a desire to bring the commissioners to consider this matter and repair the reservoir. (Hear.) He had no sympathy, he could have no sympathy, with reckless men who treated the fears of the public with indifference, but they must remember the commissioners were in peculiar circumstances. They had no money nor credit, and it was difficult to repair a reservoir without funds. (A Voice — Draw it off then, and cries of hear, hear.) They might do that certainly, and make such arrangements as would render it secure. (Hear.) He apprehended that the restoration of Bilberry would be a benefit by making property more valuable for the mortgagees — a class of persons who were entitled to their warmest sympathies. (Hear.) As regarded the committee of management they had spent much time, and as far as he had been able to judge, had alone considered what would be best for the inhabitants of the valley, and this they had done as far as they could consistent with their own feelings as honest men. (Hear.)

The Chairman said it was very important they should bear in mind the remarks of Mr. Fearne, that the £7000 was not withdrawn from the pockets of the sufferers : but he thought they had better repair Holmestyes before they entertained the question as to the restoration of Bilberry. (Hear, hear.)

Mr. Meikle next addressed the meeting. After apologising for taking part in these proceedings, as he was not a permanent resident amongst them, he said that though it might be true that the £7000 was an addition to the amount which would have otherwise come into the valley, it was impossible to divest the minds of the sufferers that they had less money in consequence. The committee admitted that they had only compensated to the amount of 16s. in the pound, and many who had received that poundage were in very indifferent circumstances, and could not but look upon the application of the money subscribed for the relief of the sufferers to the restoration of the reservoir as a mal-appropriation, until they (the sufferers) had been entirely and fully relieved. (Vehement applause.) Their friend Mr. Wimpenny had expressed his gratitude, and he believed it was sincere, at the same time he should like to know by what authority the central committee had taken from Mr. Wimpenny £50, which the people of England had subscribed for him. (Loud applause.) Had the people of England subscribed a small sum, Mr. Wimpenny, with others, would have been satisfied with half the amount, but when the full amount had been subscribed, it was the duty of that committee to have relieved to the full all sufferers not in circumstances to preclude their needing relief. (Hear, hear.) Mr. Fearne had intimated that the £7000 would enhance property in the neighbourhood. Was the property in this valley as valuable as it was twelve months ago? (Loud cries of “No, no.”) Was it as valuable with a prospect of the reservoir being repaired, as it was with a prospect of it being left open? (Renewed cries of “No, no.”) Would parties in Victoria-street (supposing the Holmestyes to be repaired) sleep as soundly and securely if the reservoir was restored as they did now? (“No, no.”) It had been said that steps would be taken to render it secure, but they knew that the works of man, like man himself, would perish. (Hear.) They might be restored on the most scientific principles, and yet in a few years crumble beneath the operations of water and of time, and again be swept away. (Hear.) Supposing that this reservoir was restored, he thought the first thing they should do would be to get the legislature to grant powers for the ratepayers of the graveship to elect from amongst themselves gentlemen to act jointly with the commissioners as the representatives of the people, and to look after the lives and property of the valley. (Hear.) It seemed a monstrous thing that a body of gentlemen, whose object was to get the benefit and keep down the rates, should have the entire control of power so devastating as was locked up in these reservoirs. (Hear, hear, and a Voice : “We have had enough of it.”) As to the awards made, there were a large portion of the sufferers had been very inadequately remunerated. (Hear, hear.) It had been stated by a gentleman on the committee that in considering the smallest claims, those under £20, they had endeavoured to deal as fairly as possible with the cases before them, but that there were certain articles of luxury which they felt it would be wrong to allow. Such a principle was repulsive to his (Mr. Meikle’s) nature, and there was nothing gratified him more than to see the poor man’s house nicely furnished. Nothing was more pleasing to his mind than entering a poor man’s house on a Sabbath, and finding him comfortably attired and with a book in his hand. But books were luxuries, and if a poor man had had them in his house at the time of the flood and they had been swept away, and had included them in his return, they were swept from the schedule.

The Rev. Mr. Fearne, after giving a distinct negative to the assertion, rose to order.

The Chairman was sure Mr. Meikle was actuated by proper motives, though he might be digressing a little from the object of the requisition. They would be aware that the committee had something like £22,000 in hand undistributed, and if they had paid the sufferers 20s. in the pound there would yet have been £7,000 to spare. (Hear.) He should like them, however, to keep off the schedule business and discuss the question as to the repair of the Holmstyes. (Hear.)

Mr. Meikle resumed by saying, that though the object of the committee had been most worthy, he did not think the principle they had gone on was a right one. (Hear.) Was it not a fact that gentlemen who had lost their libraries had had the claim swept out of the schedule? (Hear.)

The Rev. Mr. Fearne again rose to order.

Mr. Meikle continued, amidst cries of “Go on, go on,” and said he did not wish to reflect on the gentlemen of the committee, whom he esteemed most highly, but he thought they had a right to take exception to their indiscreet acts. (Hear.) Whilst expressing their appreciation of the efforts and liberality of the gentlemen of the Huddersfield committee, he did not think the striking from the schedule the poor man’s library was exactly proper. (Hear.) Nothing would have been more painful to him (Mr. Meikle) than the loss of his library — which, though poor in the estimation of some, like Touchstone’s wife, was his own — (hear), — and it was unfair, unkind, not only in reference to books but other things, that by the dash of a gentleman’s pen they should be obliterated from the schedule and refused all recompense whatever. (Hear, hear.) He wished them to understand that these things should not be considered as luxuries, but something highly creditable to the possessor. (Hear.) After satisfying the necessities of the body, the next desire should have been to replace the food for the soul. (Loud applause.)

Mr. Samuel Wimpenny then moved the following resolution :—

That this meeting would urge upon the trustees of the £7000, to withhold the money until responsibility be attached to the managers of these reservoirs, and until the Holmstyes be put into thorough repair.

The Rev. T. G. Fearne seconded the motion.

Mr. Wm. Meikle moved as an amendment —

That no money should be paid for making up the reservoir till all the small cottagers had received 20s in the pound. (Applause.)

Mr. A. Mc’Clellan, amidst much excitement, seconded the amendment.

Mr. Wimpenny said that his motion ought to be allowed to pass and then Mr. Meikle might make his a distinct motion.

The Chairman expressed his opinion that as the meeting had been called to take into consideration the state of the Holmstyes reservoir, Mr. Meikle’s amendment could not be entertained ; as it embraced matters foreign to the object of the meeting.

The Rev. T. G. Fearne was of a similar opinion to the chairman. He wished the meeting to adhere to the business for which it had been called, and it it was thought necessary, another meeting could be called to take into consideration the subject of Mr. Meikle’s amendment.

Mr. Meikle said he was determined to have his amendment put. He thought if it were made a distinct motion it ought to take precedence of the other. At any rate he would either have it put to the meeting first as a distinct motion, or as an amendment to Mr. Wimpenny’s.

An irregular discussion ensued during which Mr. Meikle was induced to withdraw his amendment and allow the original motion to pass, with the understanding that he should afterwards make a distinct motion of it.

The original motion was then put and carried unanimously.

Mr. Joshua Woodcock was next introduced to the meeting, and in the course of a brief but appropriate address said that it was their duty if possible to obtain one of three things with respect to the Holmstyes reservoir, either they should have it put in a state of thorough repair, or they should receive an assurance from the commissioners that it should not be filled beyond a certain height, at which according to the report of Mr. Bateman it was considered perfectly safe, or they must have it drawn off altogether. He was of opinion that the reservoirs might be safely constructed, and that they were of considerable advantage to the neighbourhood. He next alluded to the late calamity, which he said was one of so painful a nature that however secure they might be made in reality, the recollection of it would never be effaced from the memory of the inhabitants of the valley ; and he knew that such had been its painful effects on his own beloved wife and family, that during the coming winter they would be continually haunted by a feeling of insecurity. (Applause.)

Mr. Meikle having committed his resolution to writing, moved it in the following form:—

That this Meeting expresses its unqualified opinion that all the cottagers and tradesmen should be fully reimbursed the amount of their losses, so far as the Committee are satisfied of the bona fide nature of their claims, prior to any money being returned to the subscribers.

The motion was seconded by Mr. Joseph Barber, of Holmbridge, and several other gentlemen, both on the platform and in the middle of the hall; and on being put to the meeting, was earned unanimously.

Mr. Wimpenny thought it right, after the passing of that resolution, to tell the meeting that one of the Central Committee had expressed an opinion, and that opinion had been fully reported in the newspapers, that the demands of all the small cottagers had been fully satisfied. (Cries of shame.) Now he knew that such was not the case. (Applause.)

Mr. William Lawson, who had been loudly called for from the body of the meeting, then stood forward, and in the course of a short address, said that the remark made by Mr. C. H. Jones was false. (Mr. Wimpenny — I mentioned no names, and cries of hear.) The schedules of all the small cottagers had not been satisfactorily settled. With respect to the commissioners of the reservoirs they had, as members of the Relief Committee, voted the money for their own purposes, which the subscribers had given for alleviating the wants of the sufferers by the flood. (Hear, hear.) He had no confidence in the commissioners. (Hear, hear, and cheers.) They neglected to repair the Holmstyes reservoir because they had no money ; but he had no doubt they would raise money to oppose the people if the latter took any steps to insure their own safety. (Hear, hear.) The commissioners had neglected the Bilberry reservoir till it had resulted in the late calamity: and what guarantee had they that if it were reconstructed that it would not be again neglected. (Hear, hear, and applause.)

On the motion of Mr. William Meikle, seconded by Mr. Joshua Woodcock, an unanimous vote of thanks was passed to the Chairman, and after being by him suitably responded to, the large assembly dispersed about ten o’clock.