Meltham Feast (1850s)
The following summaries are compiled from books and contemporary newspaper reports, and help give a flavour of the Meltham Feast.
The feast began on Sunday 8 September and the Huddersfield Chronicle reported that "it has been a festive time amongst the inhabitants, and thousands have partaken on their hospitality." The article went on to note that the "public taste was amply catered for in 'penny peeps', swings, shows, bazaars, and all the customary et ceteras which go to make up a village merry-making." On the Wednesday evening, a concert was given in the National School Room by noted vocalist Mrs. Susannah Sunderland (known as "The Yorkshire Queen of Song"), who was accompanied by Miss Wood, and this "drew together a large and respectable audience."
The traditional friendly cricket match played between the Meltham Mills and Honley teams at Meltham Mills, with the Honley team winning. The return match was scheduled to be played during the Honley Feast.
In April 1851, the Chronicle reported that the Meltham Mills Cottage Garden Society had announced that its annual exhibition would take place on the Monday (8 September) of Meltham Feast, with prizes to be awarded by Charles Brook (Jnr) for the "three best trays of vegetables".
The newspaper also reported that local churchwardens and constables had enforced early closing on the Sunday of the feast due to the "great disturbances and drunkenness" that had marred the Sunday evenings of previous years. By 11pm, the town "had as quiet an appearance as on ordinary Sunday nights."
The Chronicle reported that despite the unfavourable weather, "the number of people who visited the town was uncommonly large". However, not everyone enjoyed the feast and the paper published this anonymous letter:
Last week having been Meltham feast, a good opportunity is afforded of calling attention, through the medium of your paper, to the disgraceful state of affairs in Meltham and the neighbourhood. No person (unless constantly on the spot) can form any idea of the amount of drinking, swearing, gambling, racing, and all sorts of immoralities constantly (not only during the feast week) but of late constantly carried on. Surely something might be done to put a check to it. Could we not have a paid constable, for, as matters stand at present, we might as well have no laws at all, so little are they heeded.
I much fear, from all I see and hear, that Meltham Mills (a village once so quiet and respectable) is gradually assuming the same stamp as its neighbour. How true — "Evil communications corrupt good manners." It becomes the imperative duty of all who have any influence in the neighbourhood (however small that influence may be) to determine, both by their example and authority, to put a decided stop to such disgraceful proceedings. If not, Meltham will soon attain the proud distinction of being the most disreputable village in the West Riding.
Apologising for trespassing so much on your time and space,
Believe me always,
A WELL-WISHER TO THE PEOPLE.
One reported popular attraction was Mr. Hodgson's "Great Britain" which "made many land voyages to and from the feast" and was "manned from stem to stern" with passengers — presumably this was a horse-pulled wagon which had been adapted to resemble Brunel's noted steamship of the same name!
A series of "grand concerts" took place at the Odd Fellows' Hall and were well attended.
As with Honley Feast, one of the attractions on offer was roast beef, with one household reportedly selling over 200lbs of beef to visitors. Another vendor sold over 400 sheep's trotters in a single day and the Chronicle noted wryly that "thus, it will be seen, eating is still in fashion at the Meltham feast."
The Chronicles coverage ended by stating that "it has been a very peaceful feast, as compared with the drunkenness and fighting which characterised the feast in years which are happily gone by."
The Huddersfield Examiner reported that one of the "fly-boats" — presumably a simple merry-go-round swing — broke and "several [children] narrowly escaped with their lives." Elsewhere, the shooting gallery had been a popular attraction and the Examiner noted that the "warlike spirit" of the locals was enough "to resist, if necessary, a Russian invasion"(!)
The Chronicle's coverage of the feast comprised the following verse:
SLATWIT JACK'S VISIT TO MELTHAM FEAST.
In Slawit dale born, a stranger to sloth,
Jack wor brought up o' porridge, an' pudding, an' broth ;
A wish he'd oft had, an' wi' yers it increas'd,
To goa an' see th' wonders o' fam'd Meltham feast.
Soa, th' furst chonce he had, yo may guess we what glee,
Jack set off expecting to hav a gooyd spree.
Nout varry particular he saw on his way,
Nobbot lots o' folk going all merry an' gay.
When he gat nearly thear, he happened to meet
An owd chum o' his, i' th' middle o' th' street ;
Soa when they'd shackt hands, to Jack's great relief,
His friend took him to get some Meltham feast beef.
Jack ne'er sez "noa thank yo," whene'er he's a chonce
Of being tret by a friend, if it be but for once.
Soa he went an' tasted his Meltham tide cheer,
An' he scinded it deean wi' some gooyd home-brew'd beer.
Then he set off agean, an' went into th' feast,
An' each step he took his wunder increas'd ;
He bought mony feast things as he walk't up an' dean,
Whol he sooyn fan it yaat he'd spent hauf-a-creean.
Then he went an' he stood i' th' frunt of a show,
Where a lot o' owd fooyls wor jumping Jim Crow.
An' then ther wor Punch, thumping Judy his woafe,
Whol Jack nivver laff'd soa all th' days o' his loafe.
Then he shifted agean, an' went an' stood by
Where some chape wor shooyting at what's call'd "bull's eye."
Then he set off agean, on seeing intent,
An' faan creeads o' fok wherever he went.
Sich music, an' doncing, an' sheating, an' spree,
An' pushing, an' shoving, he nivver did see.
But, yaa-avver, at last, it began to grow dark,
When he saw th' lads and th' lasses beginning to lark ;
Soa Jack thout he'd watch 'em an' see yaa they did,
For he thout that in courting some cunning wor hid.
Some talk'd varry smooth, an' some varry rough,
An' some bought their lasses all soarts o' nice stuff.
Then Jack thout he'd try, for he saw a nice lass
Who stood be herseln ; and he often did pass
Before he durst speik, but at last brake through,
An' macking a bow, sed "Yaa duu yo' do?"
Hoo look'd, an' hoo blush'd, an' wor going away,
But Jack tell'd his tale an' besought her to stay ;
An' hoo did, an' had with him some talk,
An at th' last, arm in arm, through th' feast took a walk.
Jack ne'er felt so happy i' all his born days,
For his sweetheart hoo seem'd a leet to his ways.
They walk'd up an' dean, an' went into th' show,
An' there saw such wunders as can't be told now.
Then he went wi' her wome, an' they chatted an' talk'd,
An' he lik'd her more the further they walk'd;
An' he gat her to say, as they pairted at th' door,
Hoo'd no'er seen a chap hoo'd lik'd soa afoar.
An' befoar he did leave her they plan'd where to meet,
An' Jack's to goa there ivvery Setterday at neet.
The Chronicle reported that the housewives of Meltham had busied themselves with cleaning "their houses for the reception of visitors" whilst several large oxen had been slaughtered to provide beef for the "large influx of visitors".
The Examiner reported that the Methodists had held their traditional service on the Monday of the feast in which "ministers of different denominations" gave addresses. Elsewhere, "an over-grown and rude fellow" who went by the name of "Johnny Bottle" broke into the house of Henry Morton who resided at Brighouse (i.e. Bridge House), Meltham, and "did considerable damage to the furniture, and also took away some silver plate, etc."
The Chronicle reported that the shooting gallery of Ann Maria Muir had been smashed up on the Monday of the feast by a man named Levi Lumb from Wakefield. When she called Police Officer Sedgwick to arrest the man, he initially gave a false name before lashing out at the officer and behaving "in such a violent manner that it took four men to secure him". In fact he was so aggressive and violent that the police had to "fasten him [presumably by ropes] to the side of a conveyance" in order to take him to the cells at Huddersfield. He was found guilty and imprisoned for three months.
The Chronicle reported on a neighbourly quarrel which ended in cartoon violence. To celebrate the feast, they stated that Mrs. Ellen Whip had hired an itinerant violinist to play in her house. As the musician "began rapidly scraping away" on his instrument, her husband, Thomas Whip, grabbed a fire poker and began beating their partition wall as a giant drum. Such was the strength of Mr. Whip's percussive beat that his next door neighbour, Joshua Sykes, was horrified to see his crockery flung from the delf-case secured to the partition wall — the newspaper reporting that the musical cacophony in the Whip's house was soon joined by the sound of "falling plates, pots and dishes"next door. Mr. Sykes "ran out to remonstrate with Mr. Whip" and it was alleged in court that he then hit Mrs. Whip on the head with a hammer. However, witnesses were then brought forward who stated that Mrs. Whip had in fact been felled by her own husband who, in attempting to land a blow on Mr. Sykes with his poker, missed and struck his wife instead!
In what must have been a thoroughly bizarre turn of events, the following week the magistrates were given a very different version of what happened during the dispute when Joshua Sykes brought his own case against Thomas Whip. Sykes now stated that it was in fact he who had hired the musician and, when the fiddler had been busy tuning his violin in preparation for a dance tune, their annoyed neighbours had begun hammering on the wall, causing the crockery to go flying. Going outside to see what the fuss was about, Sykes claimed Mr. Whip had assaulted him and torn his coat and waistcoat. The bemused magistrates felt that "a man had a right to knock [on his own wall] to obtain the abatement of a nuisance" and dismissed the case, noting that the amount Sykes was attempting to claim was at least four times the actual value.
According to the Chronicle, the feast was poor one, with "neither show nor bazaar in the town, and only a meagre lot of stalls, with nuts and gingerbread, etc". The rain had fallen heavily throughout the feast. By now, train companies were running cheap "trips to Liverpool and Manchester, as well as to Leeds", perhaps with a subsidised horse-drawn ominbus service running between Meltham and Huddersfield Railway Station, and this apparently tempted many of the locals.
A drunken fight outside the Rose and Crown Inn on Towngate during the feast escalated when two Police Constables attempted to break it up. Police Sergeant Abraham Sedgwick heard the sound of the fight and went to investigate, where he found the two constables being kicked and beaten whilst a crowd of around 200 onlookers shouted encouragements. Sedgwick's attempts to assist his colleagues saw him too receiving a beating. Eventually, two men — Hubal Heaton and Frederick Heaton — were arrested and charged with assault.
Notes and References
- "Meltham Feast" in Huddersfield Chronicle (14/Sep/1850).
- Huddersfield Chronicle (19/Apr/1851).
- "The Wakes" in Huddersfield Chronicle (13/Sep/1851).
- Meltham: The Feast" in Huddersfield Chronicle (11/Sep/1852).
- "Meltham: The Feast" in Huddersfield Chronicle (17/Sep/1853).
- Wikipedia: Jump Jim Crow
- "Meltham: The Feast" in Huddersfield Chronicle (08/Sep/1855).
- "Meltham: The Village Feast" in Huddersfield and Holmfirth Examiner (15/Sep/1855).
- Presumably the Ann Maria Muir born in Ireland and listed in the 1871 Census as being married to the Birkenhead Inspector of Police.
- Lumb was a coal miner who resided at East Ardsley, Wakefield.
- "One of the Fruits of Meltham Feast" in Huddersfield Chronicle (13/Sep/1856). Lumb seems to have been a repeat offender throughout his life and, aged 74, he was locked up for 2 weeks for drunkenness.
- "Quarrelsome Neighbours" in Huddersfield Chronicle (12/Sep/1857).
- "The Other Side of the Story" in Huddersfield Chronicle (19/Sep/1857).
- "Meltham: The Feast" in Huddersfield Chronicle (11/Sep/1858).
- "Brutal Assault Upon the Police" in Huddersfield Chronicle (11/Sep/1858).