Meltham Feast (1860s)
The following summaries are compiled from books and contemporary newspaper reports, and help give a flavour of the Meltham Feast.
Despite favourable weather, the Chronicle reported that it had been "a poor feast" due to the lack of attractions.
Despite the poor feasts in the preceding years, 1862 appears to have been a return to form with the Chronicle reporting that "the preparations for the feast were on a gigantic scale, fully equal to those of any previous year, even in the best of times". Visitor numbers were reportedly higher than previous years and the weather stayed favourable until Tuesday afternoon. The "fancy bazaars" did such good trade they stayed the entire week.
Perhaps one reason for the improvement was the return of the Huddersfield and Holmfirth Rifles, presumably from seeing active service during the American Civil War which had begun the previous year. Under the patronage of Charles Brook (Jnr) they paraded through Meltham on the day before the feast and undertook manoeuvres in the fields next to Thick Hollins Hall whilst hundreds looked on. Proceedings were interrupted by rain, causing the men to take shelter under the nearest trees. For the best part of two hours, "the officers and men battled with the elements" with the band occasionally played "Rule Britannia." As the newspaper noted, if Britain did indeed rule the waves, "she does not rule the clouds".
The Feast of St. Bartholomew was also celebrated in Marsden and, in 1863, the Marsden Mechanics' Institution offered a subsidised rail excursion to Buxton on the Monday of the feast. The cost of the return tickets was two shillings from local stations including Marsden, Golcar and Slaithwaite. The tickets could also be used to obtain cheap fares to Hassop, Chatsworth and Matlock.
The Chronicle reported in advance of the feast that "twenty-four head of fat cattle, the finest ever seen in the village" had been imported for slaughter. Of those, Mr. John Bray had purchased nine and Mr. Hollingworth "five or six", leaving the remaining to be split amongst the butchers of Meltham.
The newspaper also reported that "work being plentiful", the locals had lots of money to spend at the feast. The market place on Towngate was "thronged with stalls, bazaars, 'cheap Jack' establishments, shooting galleries, and all the other paraphernalia usually attendant on village fairs." The field at Bray's Croft was "studded round with shows, booths, flying boats, boxes, whirligigs, etc, etc" as well as "Cameron's 'Marionettes'" exhibition. Perhaps in reference to 1861, they noted that the event had "passed off without either a battle or police interference — a fact that speaks well for the morality of Meltham."
As in previous years, the Wesleyan Chapel on Mill Moor Road laid on a series of addresses on the Monday of the feast, with manufacturer Joseph Hirst of Wilshaw presiding. A concert and ball was held in the Odd Fellows' Hall on the Monday evening, with the Meltham hand-bell ringers and Morton's quadrille band providing the entertainments.
In a brief summary, the Chronicle reported that the weather had been favourable and, although the event passed off peacefully, "the number of shows, bazaars, and other attractions, and amusements have been unusually limited".
With the opening of the Meltham Branch Line, the nature of the feast would have changed dramatically — locals had the opportunity to take advantage of cheap away trips whilst visitors were now able to get to Meltham more easily than before. The Chronicle reported that sales of tickets had been over 900, 700 and 300 on the Sunday, Monday and Tuesday of the feast. A special cheap train was laid on from Meltham on the Monday to take locals to Belle Vue, Manchester, where the Meltham Mills Brass Band was taking part in a competition — around 100 people attended.
As for the feast, attendance was believed to have been higher than previous years. As well as stalls in the market place, Mr. Whittington had arrived with "twelve caravans of wild beasts". The newspaper reported that "a young girl" would enter the lion's cage to put the animals through a series of performances. Oddly, this ended with the woman "firing pistols over the heads of the beasts" — apparently one onlooker was so terrified by the sound of the pistols that she "screamed lustily, ran out of the place, and could not be persuaded to return." After the performances, a local wheelwright who had presumably never seen lions before remained staring at the animals in transfixed awe. In the meantime, as the lion keeper approached to give them their supper, the largest of the lions leapt to its feet in hunger — the wheelwright reportedly was convinced the lion intended to eat him instead and he "darted out of the place [...] and did not dare to turn his head till he had placed a long distance between himself" and the lions!
Notes and References
- "Meltham: The Feast" in Huddersfield Chronicle (14/Sep/1861).
- "Meltham: The Feast" in Huddersfield Chronicle (20/Sep/1862).
- "Visit of the Huddersfield and Holmfirth Rifles" in Huddersfield Chronicle (20/Sep/1862).
- "Public Notices" in Huddersfield Chronicle (29/Aug/1863).
- "Signs of the Approaching Feast" in Huddersfield Chronicle (03/Sep/1864).
- "Meltham: The Feast" in Huddersfield Chronicle (17/Sep/1864).
- "Meltham: Wesleyan Missions" in Huddersfield Chronicle (17/Sep/1864).
- "Meltham: Concert and Ball" in Huddersfield Chronicle (17/Sep/1864).
- "Meltham: The Feast" in Huddersfield Chronicle (14/Sep/1867).
- "Meltham: Cheap Trip" and "Meltham: Traffic on the Railways" in Huddersfield Chronicle (11/Sep/1869).
- "Meltham Feast" in Huddersfield Chronicle (11/Sep/1869).