HISTORICAL SKETCHES, TALES, AND LEGENDS, OF THE VALLEY OF SADDLEWORTH, TOGETHER WITH PERSONAL RECOLLECTIONS OF ITS PEOPLE.
By an Inhabitant of Holmfirth.
It has for some time past been a favourite employment of ours to glean from the people themselves a little information respecting the history of the valley in which our lot in boyhood was cast. The incidents in its history may not possess that thrilling interest for the general reader which appertains to some districts rendered famous by being the battle-ground on which the fate or fates of nations have been decided. True it may be that the legends of its streams and water-falls are not associated with the national deeds and characteristics of the great country in which they are situated. True it may also be, gentle reader, that it has been the abiding place of no great warrior, whose deeds have been such as to be selected by the chroniclers of history to hand down to posterity as the representative of his time, and to cause the place of his birth or residence to be a centre of attraction to the people of all after ages; but, despite these disadvantages, or advantages—call them whichsoever you please — great men it has had, no doubt of it; men great in both times of war and peace ; but still there have been greater—so that their names have been forgotten, and places of interest neglected for those of still greater interest. Our valley has had its tales of love, no doubt of it. and its local bards to sing them; hut when their productions had to compete in the nation’s market with love tales and traditions of more national interest, sung by bards such as the Ayrshire Ploughman, they have been neglected and forgotten. Yet, however uninteresting reminiscences of this Saddleworth valley may be to the general reader, yet we have no doubt but they will possess a lively interest in the breasts of its inhabitants, and cause them again and again to take a retrospective glance at the times and doings of their predecessors, and conjure up in their imaginations the people who lived and loved, on the sites of their present homes, hundreds of years ago.
Such as the place is and has been I undertake to write about, for I can assure the reader that I never was weary of wandering about its valleys, and along its roads, to glean from its inhabitants all that they knew of its places and associations of interest. Amongst its people none are more interesting or welcome in my rambles than those who have attained the age of three-score and ten or four score years. They are the connecting links of the present with the past. Their doings possess for us great attractions; and we like their company for the very reason that other people dislike it. It does us good to see the fire light up their eyes as their blood warms and quickens by the recital of some tale of the days of their grandfathers. The simplest octogenarian possesses a large stock of information, and society are great losers if he depart from the stage of life without its being written down from his lips.
Impressed with this latter truth, we have sought out not a few old people, and enquired of them about the customs and manners of the inhabitants when they were hale and hearty young fellows, and smart lasses. We desired to learn what sort of provisions they lived upon, what sort of clothes they wore, and how often they obtained their precious “new suits.” What sort of tales they used to tell on winter evenings to while away the time ; and finally it was our especial wish to obtain as correct an edition as possible of all the ghost stories, or as the people used to call them, “boggart tales,” and traditionary legends, connected with any of the old habitations. The success that has attended and will attend our peregrinations, on this fanciful errand, will appear in due course; but by way of introducing ourself, and with the view of becoming familiar at the outset with our friends throughout the valley, it will not perhaps be out of place to give the reader an account of one or two journeys we took for the purposes above set forth.
On a dull afternoon about the beginning of November last we called on a friend of ours to whom we are indebted for many good things, in the shape of instruction and sound advice, and to whom we communicated the project we had in view, and the kind of information we were then in quest of. He directed us to an old man just on the verge of the grave, who had seen the sun of some eighty summers, and round whose head the storms of as many winters had raved. He had been a rather intelligent sort of man in his day, and was the descendant of a family which settled in Saddleworth during the reign of Henry VIII, or about 300 years ago. Though dotage had begun to play its childish whims with the enfeebled mind of the old man, yet, said our friend, he would, if Bet in at the end of some old tales and allowed to take his own course, communicate a great deal of information that would be of use to us. We immediately determined to visit the old man, the remnant of an ancient stock, and have a half hour’s chat with him. The shades of evening were closing around, when leaning on a trusty staff (the almost inseparable attendant of people in the literary line), we quickly measured the distance to the dwelling of him we sought. It was situated at the distance of about a mile, and during our journey we pondered over how to obtain the most information with the least trouble to the doting old man. Arriving at the door, which was destitute of a knocker, the staff on which we had lately leaned did us good service by announcing that some one outside wished for admittance. After a few seconds a step inside informed us that the knock had been heard, and immediately a smart looking servant woman (not girl) opened the door, and on learning that we desired to see Mr. Antiquity, invited us to go forward, and showed us into a snug little room, neatly furnished, where by a bright fire sat the aged individual we sought. He was the remains of a rather stout man, but it was impossible to form any conception of what his appearance was in the days of his youth and manhood. To our mind he realised the idea of age, sitting in the chimney nook to teach lessons, learned by experience, to wayward youth. A few long grey locks fell from under a night-cap on the collar of his coat ; his forehead, which was rather prominent, and had an intellectual appearance, was wrinkled over by the cares and sorrows of a long life ; his eye was dim and meaningless, and, though we are not certain of the fact, an impression has ever since been on our mind that he was quite blind. His dress was neat and clean, though it bore unmistakable indications of having long held companionship with the wearer. Thus sat our venerable oracle in an elbow chair of a very antique description, his legs stretched out on the hearth rug, and his hands resting on a staff. This is the best description of the living library we had walked more than a mile to consult, and after communicating to him the object of our visit, before giving the information we were in quest of, he enquired into all the circumstances of our birth and parentage, and received satisfactory answers to all his queries. This started a conversation which we at last succeeded in turning to the point we sought, and he imparted a deal of curious and interesting particulars, part of which we noted down at the time, and part since. In the course of the papers about to appear the substance of that night’s conversation will be placed before the reader. It was our intention to pay another visit to the abode of the old man, who, on the whole, seemed glad of our company, and loath to part with us: but since that evening he has sickened and gone to his last long home. He reposes in the grave-yard of the Independent Chapel, at —— , and, more than once have our feet turned in the direction of the clods that cover his mouldering dust.
All honour to the old man, and to all such; may their children, and children’s children, preserve for good purposes the tales which they tell.
On another occasion, in company with an acquaintance of ours, we visited the residence of one of the most eccentric portions of mortality it was ever our lot to see. The whereabouts of his dwelling is of no importance, but suffice it to say that it is not far from the banks of the silver Tame. This great oddity is of the masculine gender, of course, one of the descendants of a wealthy family, and possessed of considerable property himself. He has a large library, understands both the Latin and French languages, and has been known to translate a large octavo volume, consisting of between four hundred and five hundred pages, in a few days. He has visited the continent of Europe and the United States of America; in fact, he has been in the latter country twice. Oh his return the first time he remembered that he owed a woman eighteenpence, and immediately went back to pay her, saying he would be free from debt in that country at all events. He lives alone in a cottage scarcely fit for a pigstye, though owner of larger and better houses, and well able to keep a servant. He cooks his own dinners, washes his own pots and clothes, and performs all the menial duties required by Mr. Self. Though such a great oddity, we profitted by our visit to him, and brought away from his dwelling an amount of information that will be of great service to us in the course of our present undertaking.
We now proceed to give an outline of what our undertaking is to consist of. We propose to give all the information we can gather together respecting the history of Saddleworth, its people, and the rise and progress of its manufactures from the earliest ages to the present time. We shall first describe the district as it is presented to the eye of the observer at present, first tracing the boundaries of the parish* and then of the four portions or Meres into which it is divided. We then purpose to trace its streams and rivulets from their sources or from the places where they enter the parish to the points at which they issue from it. In like manner we shall trace the course of the highways, turnpike roads, railways and canals, and ascertain, if able, the particular time when each was constructed. We shall also give all the information we can collect respecting the history of this division of the county from the time of the Romans to the Norman Conquest. From the latter period we purpose giving as complete a description as the sources of information open to us will admit, of the religious and intellectual, as well as the physical condition of the people, and trace the gradual progress they have made from that time to the present.
Portions of these papers will appear from time to time at intervals of one, two, or three weeks, just as your arrangements and my inclination, Mr. Editor, may admit.