Meltham Feast (1870s)
The following summaries are compiled from books and contemporary newspaper reports, and help give a flavour of the Meltham Feast.
The week before the feast, the Chronicle reported that around 30 cattle had been slaughtered, along with over 100 sheep, calves and lambs, and predicted that "fair promises to be one of the best held in Meltham for years."
Monday night of the feast saw a concert at the Odd Fellows' Hall where "dancing and music were kept up till a late hour." Earlier on that day, the Meltham Mill cricket team had soundly beaten a team from Mirfield whilst the Meltham Mills Brass Band entertained the onlookers. Despite the newspaper's earlier predictions, poor weather kept attendance figures down, apart from the Sunday when the weather stayed fine. Whilst many visitors took to the moors on walks, others went to see Convalescent Home which was then in its second year of construction. Visitor numbers were such that the trains back to Huddersfield from Meltham were full to capacity — in one instance, a man was so desperate to gain entrance to a carriage that he managed to rip the window from the door frame (for which he had to pay a 15 shilling fine). Reportedly 1,032 people travelled to Meltham by train on the Sunday, with the number dropping to around 700 the following day.
The 1871 feast proved more popular than the previous year, with fine weather and good trade. An increased number of stalls lined the streets and Bray's field (situated behind the Rose and Crown Inn) was "filled with photographic and shooting galleries, velocipedes, hobby horses, a theatre, gallery of arts, pea booths, and other exhibitions incident to a country feast." Although extra police had been drafted, the event passed relatively peacefully.
The one notable incident was the death of photographer John Selwyn of Bradford at the lodging house of Ellen Lockwood at Green's End, Meltham. Selwyn had arrived on the Friday before the feast to set up his photographic booth. He then reportedly spent much of the feast drinking copious amounts of alcohol "without taking any food or substantial sustenance." By Wednesday morning, he was much the worse for his excesses and "partook of a Seidlitz powder" to calm his stomach. Perhaps needing something to wash the taste of the powder away, "immediately afterwards he repaired to the Swan Inn, where he obtained some brandy". By lunchtime he was feeling even worse and a local doctor, Mr. Rawcliffe was summoned. Despite giving him some medicine, Selwyn died at 2:15pm.
The feast saw an "immense number of persons" travelling to and from Meltham by train, with a charity cricket match organised on the Monday for the benefit of "a young man named Bamforth" who had sustained a work injury the previous year. Unfortunately the weather was poor on the Monday and, to make matters worse, a large number of striking weavers from Holmfirth arrived and caused drunken mayhem. Despite the best efforts of the police to maintain order, "more fighting and blackguardly behaviour was exhibited than has been known for many years."
The Chronicle reported that 23 bullocks, nearly 80 sheep, and around another 80 lambs, calves and pigs had been slaughtered in preparation for the feast.
The Chronicle reported that the fair had been split into two locations — Bray's Croft (behind the Rose and Crown Inn) and the Rifle Fields — and attendance had been in excess of many previous feasts. The shows included "giants, performing monkeys, snakes, etc" whilst the exhibits and booths comprised "velocipedes, shooting galleries, aunt Sallies, pea booths, photographic establishments, and a bazaar". A cricket match were held and everything passed off quietly, with the newspaper noting that "the town has again returned to its wonted quietude."
Although traditionally the feast had begun on Sunday, increasingly events were held on the day before. In 1876, Meltham Mills Brass Band performed a selection of tunes in the market place on the Saturday in front of a "very large attendance of spectators". The feast itself was well attended with the Chronicle noting a steam-powered velocipede which had an organ, also powered by steam.
As in the previous year, the Meltham Mills Brass Band gave a two hour performance on the Saturday, with Mr. Gladney conducting. The Chronicle gave only a brief summary, noting that "heavily freighted trains travelled to and fro" and that the "usual attractions and hospitality attending the feast were present". Seemingly of more interest to the newspaper was a report that 92-year-old farmer George Pogson was seen working his fields "with a vigour that might be emulated by junior sons of agricultural toil with advantage."
The Chronicle again only gave a brief summary, noting that attendance numbers were down due to rain. In particular, the article stated "it is a pity that the local authorities do not provide a larger and more suitable place" for the fair than the Bray's Croft field. The only noteworthy event appeared to be the arrest of Joseph Schofield, a labourer of no fixed abode, being charged with being "drunk and riotous" and for assaulting Police Constable Turner and Police Sergeant Shuttleworth when they attempted to arrest him. Schofield's antics had attracted a crowd of hundreds who were apparently disappointed that he might be arrested, and stones were thrown at the officers. Schofield pleaded guilty and was sentenced to three months in prison.
Notes and References
- "Meltham: Feast" in Huddersfield Chronicle (10/Sep/1870).
- "Meltham: The Feast" in Huddersfield Chronicle (17/Sep/1870).
- "Meltham: The Feast" in Huddersfield Chronicle (16/Sep/1871).
- "Death from Excessive Drinking at Meltham" in Huddersfield Chronicle (16/Sep/1871).
- "Meltham Feast" in Huddersfield Chronicle (14/Sep/1872).
- Huddersfield Chronicle (06/Sep/1873).
- "Meltham Feast" in Huddersfield Chronicle (12/Sep/1874).
- "Meltham Feast" in Huddersfield Chronicle (16/Sep/1876).
- Huddersfield Chronicle (15/Sep/1877).
- "Meltham Feast" in Huddersfield Chronicle (13/Sep/1879).
- "A Disgraceful Scene at Meltham" in Huddersfield Chronicle (13/Sep/1879).