John Hirst (c.1805-1867)

John Hirst, also known locally as "Old Mogg" and possibly as "Meltham Moggy", was a wool spinner and general labourer who died from hypothermia in January 1867.


He was born around 1805 in Meltham.

He married Martha Pogson on 6 January 1831. The couple had at least six known children:

  • Margaret Hirst (1832-1833)[1]
  • James Hirst (c.1834-1874?)[2]
  • Caroline Hirst (c.1836-1839)[3]
  • Edward Hirst (c.1839-?)[4]
  • Nancy Hirst (c.1843-?)[5]
  • John Hirst (c.1846-1927)[6]

Martha died in 1858, aged 47, and was buried on 5 June at St. Bartholomew, Meltham.

Within a year, John Hirst was likely living with his second partner, Sarah Ramsey. She was born in Ireland around 1833 and had previously lived in Manchester, where her son, James E. Ramsey, was born.[7] They had at least five known children:

  • Thomas Hirst (c.1860-?)[8]
  • Mary Hirst (c.1862-?)
  • William Hirst (c.1865-1868?)[9]
  • Sarah Jane Hirst (1865-1865)[10]
  • Margaret Hirst (c.1866-?)[11]

The age difference between John and Sarah, and perhaps the fact that he was continuing to expand his family, may have given rise to his nickname of "Old Mogg" (i.e. old cat). Alternatively, the word "mog" was a local dialect word meaning "to plod on steadily"[12] or "to move gently"[13].

On the morning of Sunday 13 January 1867, labourer James Armitage called at Hirst's house and persuaded him to venture out into the bitter cold. The pair walked up to Harden Moss, where they spent over 2 hours drinking at "the beerhouse of Henry Hirst" before being turned out at 3pm. They returned when the beerhouse re-opened at 4:30pm and drank more beer until leaving to return home at around 6pm.

Whilst the pair were on Pricker Lane (Harden Hill Road), Hirst collapsed and was unable to regain his feet, despite help from Armitage. Armitage decided to return to Meltham, leaving Hirst lying in the lane. After warming himself at a pub in Meltham, he called round to Hirst's house and told Sarah that she "had better send in search of him up the lane". Apparently Sarah didn't believe him and instead sent one of her sons on a fruitless search to try and find John at one of the local beerhouses in Meltham. As her husband was "in the habit of remaining out late", she went to bed.

The following morning James Armitage and John Woodhead set out in search for Hirst and found him close to where he had collapsed the previous evening, "stiff and senseless, and his clothes frozen to the ground" but still alive. After procuring a handcart, they brought him back to Meltham where he was examined by local surgeon Mr. Haigh. Hirst died shortly afterwards from the effects of exposure. At the subsequent inquest, Armitage was branded as "callous, unfeeling, and inhuman" for leaving his companion to freeze to death and for not "making his real situation known to his friends".

John Hirst was buried on 17 January 1867 at St. Bartholomew, Meltham.

Sarah Hirst likely died in 1886, aged 53, and was buried at St. Bartholomew.


A Cross on a Dry Wall on the Steeps in the Direction of Harden Moss, and the Date 1867.

The story is told that one bitter winter evening in that year, a man left the former Wood Cottage Inn and "walked across the moorland in the direction of his home near Meltham. Arriving at the rough track which serves as a road, and is sometimes difficult to negotiate in daylight, he missed his footing, or was overcome by the extreme cold. In the morning the shepherds who were out as early as the winter darkness would permit, found him lying near the wall frozen to death" — hence the cross and date to commemorate this moorland tragedy.

"According to a local tradition, the place where the body of the man was found is extremely bare, no green thing has grown there since." (Communicated to the "In and About Column" of the "Huddersfield Weekly Examiner," Dec. 5th, 1937, by F.P.A.)

Mr. D. Schofield, of Meltham, informs me that besides the date 1857 [sic] there appear the letters M.M. which represent "Meltham Moggy" the nick-name of the unfortunately victim. Mr. Schofield has also drawn me a sketch of the dry wall and the cross.

Further Reading

Notes and References

  1. Baptised 16 June 1832 at St. Bartholomew, Meltham. Died May 1833, aged 10 months, and buried 7 May 1833 at St. Bartholomew.
  2. Baptised 8 September 1834 at St. Bartholomew, Meltham. Likely working as a cotton spinner and boarding with the Boardbent family of Lower Mill, Meltham, in the 1861 Census. Possibly died in March 1874, aged 41, and was buried on 11 March 1874 at St. Bartholomew.
  3. Baptised 4 December 1836 at St. Bartholomew, Meltham. Died February 1839, aged 2, and buried 26 February 1839 at St. Bartholomew.
  4. Baptised 24 April 1839 at St. Bartholomew, Meltham.
  5. Baptised 24 September 1843 at St. Bartholomew, Meltham.
  6. Baptised 1 November 1846 at St. Bartholomew, Meltham. Married Ellen Midwood on 4 August 1867 and lived as a dyer in the Bradford/Brighouse area. Died 1927 and was buried in Wyke.
  7. Although they lived as man and wife, no marriage record was located during research. James E. Ramsey probably moved to Oldham where he married Mary A. McGivern — if so, he likely died in 1922, aged 66.
  8. Baptismal record not found, but listed as a 1-year-old in the 1861 Census.
  9. Probably died in August 1868, aged 3, and was buried 10 August 1868 at St. Bartholomew, Meltham.
  10. Baptised 22 April 1865 at St. Bartholomew, Meltham. Died a few months later and was buried on 6 August 1865 at St. Bartholomew.
  11. Baptised 20 December 1866 at St. Bartholomew, Meltham.
  12. A New Glossary of the Dialect of the Huddersfield District (1928) by Walter E. Haigh, page 69.
  13. A Glossary of the Dialect of Almondbury and Huddersfield (1883) by Rev. Alfred Easther, page 88.