Leeds Times (10/Aug/1833) - Local Manners, Habits & Appearances: Huddersfield

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.



In ages long since passed away, before history commenced its records, when England was one vast forest occupied by savage and ferocious barbarians, devoted to deeds of rapine and of blood, the district which now forms the vicinity of Huddersfield, would appear to have been peculiarly devoted to Druidical superstition and cruelty. The traces of a cromlech, the stupendous rocking stones, and other fragments of those times of darkness and misery, which remain to the present day, prove that if bards here recited the achievements of heroes, Druids also performed their abominable rites, immolated their helpless victims, sacrificed to their vindictive deities, and perpetrated their infernal crimes. And when the subjects of the Cæsars had carried their conquering eagles in triumph through the country, had obliterated both the ancient governments and the ancient religion, and had established their own despotism at the point of the sword, this district witnessed the constant march of their victorious legionaries ; and from the station of Campodunum, or Slack, these Romans proceeded in formidable or glittering array for the purposes of pomp Or war. When their phantom of empire had disappeared, and the fabric of their dominion was shattered to pieces by the violence of the fierce barbarians of the north, when the Saxons had traversed the ocean, landed upon our shores, and rendered the degenerate Britons the slaves of their power, this neighbourhood witnessed the establishment of one of their strongest and most extensive fortresses, which from the castle hill of Almondbury frowned in rugged grandeur upon the villages below. Then the site of Huddersfield was the pasture or the meadow of a Saxon thane, the epithet "Field of Oder," or Hudder, the undoubted derivation of its name, points out its possessor, and is descriptive of its ancient character; and Saxon serfs drove their ploughs, and tended their cattle, and reared their hovels of straw and mud, where now a numerous and intelligent population inhabit one of the largest and one of the most flourishing towns in the whole north of England. Could one of the savage chieftains who arrayed his freebooters in the castle of Almondbury, and prepared them for their expeditions of rapine, behold the scene of industry and opulence which this town and parish would now present to his view, he would imagine that Odin himself had reappeared among the children of men, and laid aside his attributes of cruelty and war, for those of intelligence and peace. The Normans abandoned the fortification of Almondbury, and the Lacies, the great feudal lords of nearly the whole of this district, do not appear at any time to have possessed a permanent abode in the parish of Huddersfield. Then the country was abandoned to the animals of the chase, the valleys were covered with trees or choked up with brushwood, the high lands were abandoned to hopeless sterility, and the unhappy traveller who might wander through these wild regions, would find on his journey scarcely a single shelter from the summer tempest or the winter rain. For it appears from the notice of "Oderesfelt," in Doomsday Book, that the soldiers of the ruthless Conqueror had driven the ploughshare of desolation over this vicinity, that they had covered it with conflagration, and stained it with blood, and ages passed away before it recovered from the effects of their ravages and crimes.

The parish of Huddersfield and the site of the town in the thirteenth century, were possessed and perambulated by another, a very different, and a scarcely less injurious set of beings than the Norman soldiers and plunderers — cowled monks and stupid friars extorted contributions from the few cultivators of the ground who here derived their wretched subsistence from the produce of their toil, and the despotism of the church was substituted for the tyranny of the sword. The prior and canons of Nostel had free warren in Huddersfield in the reign of Richard II., and it may be recorded as a specimen of the habits and manners of the times, that prior to this period one Colin de Dammeville, who seems to have been an undertenant of the supreme masters of the soil, "gave to God, the blessed St. Mary, and the abbot and monks of Stanlaw, for the soul of his lord, Roger de Lacy, all his part of the mill of Huddersfield, on the river Caune, and twenty shillings annual rent."

But the reign of the monk as well as that of the baron passed away, and Huddersfield, like almost every town in the West Riding, began, about the time of the Tudors, to expand into something like importance and population; but its history presents nothing to interest—no event of moment took place within the boundaries of its parish for many monotonous centuries—the site of the tow n ultimately became the property of a single family — a grant of the market was given by patent to the Ramsdens in the reign of the third monarch of the Stuart dynasty, and to them an immense revenue is annually yielded by this most flourishing and industrious scene.

A hundred years since Huddersfield contained less than three thousand inhabitants, its manufactures were limited, its wealth was concentrated in two or three individuals, its population was immersed in ignorance, and information upon any one topic of political or general knowledge was almost unknown. Mighty has been the revolution. In spite of all the disadvantages which will always oppress any town or place whatever, which is cursed with the paramount influence of a single man or of a single family, however desirous that individual or family may be to increase the value of property by liberal and prudent proceedings, Huddersfield has passed by both Halifax and Wakefield in manufacturing prosperity and opulence — and were it not for the influence to which we have just alluded, and which has been, and cannot but be disastrous to the town, its dimensions, we have no hesitation in saying, would have been twice as large, its population would have been twice as numerous, and its importance would have been twice as extensive. Honour be ascribed to the spirit and intelligence of the people who have achieved so much, notwithstanding all their disadvantages, and who now occupy a station in the social scale which they have most richly deserved!

That spirit, that intelligence, constitute the distinguishing characteristics of the inhabitants of Huddersfield, and both have been most remarkably and honourably displayed. The mighty facilities which they have formed for the transmission of the commodities, created by their skill and industry, to the extremities of the. globe — their navigation, which passes through the very, bowels of the English Apennine — their noble edifices and institutions for the objects of commerce, of benevolence, and of religion — the vastness of their trade — the diffusion of political knowledge, not only among the rich and the disengaged, but among the great body of the people — the decision and ardour with which important questions are discussed, and brought to bear upon the practical operations of society — all combine to substantiate the truth of our assertion. There is no town in this part of the country in which the love of freedom, the sense of right, and the hatred of whatever derogates from human claims and human happiness more extensively prevail. The heart of this town always pulsates strongly and feels acutely. There there is none of that leaden, loathsome insensibility, none of that callous imperturbable indifference which are to be witnessed in some other places which might easily be named, which can only be ascribed to pervading stupidity and selfishness, and to which none can be attached but those puffed out lovers of ease and sensuality, whose god is their belly, and who glory in their shame. The man who can never bring his mind to decision — the milk and water, time-serving, hesitating, vacillating, wishy-washy piece of combined cowardice and cunning, whether he be priest or preacher or politician, whether he be devoted to law, or medicine, or any other profession — whether he be the the man who employs or the man who labours — such a personage as this, in every place contemptible, and in all circumstances odious, never need to go to Huddersfield.

The institution of one of those ludicrous bodies of neither soldiers nor called yeomanry cavalry — in this town, never gave it any protection, and never did !t any good, but at one time produced a certain effect upon the appearances and habits of a particular class or species of its inhabitants. Since, however, we speak now of a bygone time — since the heroes of the stiffened neckcloth; and the starched collar, and the gilt spur, and the twitched up waist are properly appreciated — since the dissipation which the system of making yell-meaning men ridiculous by placing a pistol in their holster and a sword by their sides, engendered, and the by no means celestial habits it introduced into private life are justly abhorred and despised — we shall not enlarge upon this subject. We can only say that we most sincerely hope and trust that if ever the representative of Huddersfield get upon a stalking-horse in the House of Commons to vaunt upon the subject of yeomanry cavalry, and to require a government grant to pay for its paltry expenses the inhabitants of the town will display their accustomed spirit and intelligence, by denouncing the whole miserable business as it deserves, and compelling the nominee of their ten-pound householders either to hold his tongue, or to speak with greater truth the sentiments of his constituents.

We find that already we have exceeded our limits. We had intended to have devoted no inconsiderable space in this article to the ladies. We shall, however remedy our unavoidable omission by making some observations on female manners in Huddersfield, Bradford, Halifax, Wakefield, and Leeds, before we proceed to some narrations on Dewsbury, Otley, York Pontefract, Ripon, Knaresborough, Barnsley and other places, which do us the honour to subscribe to our journal.