Meltham Feast (1880s)

The following summaries are compiled from books and contemporary newspaper reports, and help give a flavour of the Meltham Feast.


John Crooke and George Spruson, both of Manchester, were charged with illegal gambling at Meltham Feast by operating a game called a "Billy Fairplay". This consisted of dropping a marble into a spiral tube on to a board covered in coloured grooves. Spectators placed bets on which colour groove the marble would come to rest in, with odds offered of 3-to-1. The issue was that the pair were offering cash prizes for a game of pure chance. Both men claimed that they had not realised it was unlawful to do so, but were each found guilty and sentenced to 21 days imprisonment.[1]

The Chronicle reported that there had been rain on the Sunday, but the rest of the week "was beautiful". Despite the town being busy, the reporter felt that "the feast on the whole has been rather tame."[2]


Along with the usual selection of "velocipedes, wooden horses, swings, bazaar, shooting galleries, pea booths, photographic studios [and] Aunt Sallies", the Chronicle reported that there was a "phantom show" which had proved extremely popular — although not described, it seems likely this would be a variant of the "Pepper's Ghost" illusion.[3] Of particular concern to the newspaper was the fact that the Aunt Sally — a precursor of the coconut shy — was only offering cigars as prizes. According to the reporter, "the consequence being that every child and strippling you meet has a cigar stuck in its mouth"(!)[4]

As in previous years, the Chronicle lamented the fact that Bray's Croft was too small a field for the event.


On the Sunday of the feast, a concert was held in two fields close to the railway station to benefit the Huddersfield Infirmary. The Chronicle reported that the 7:15am concert was attended by around 2,000 whilst the afternoon event drew crowds of around 10,000, many brought in by special trains. The "strains of music were heard a long way off down the valley" and a collection raised the respectable amount of £50 for the Infirmary.[5]

Labourer Wright Crabtree of Chain Bar, Marsden, was charged with theft and assault. He had picked up a walking stick from the stall of Joseph Buckshaw and refused to pay for it. Buckshaw followed Crabtree to the Rose and Crown where he asked Police Sergeant James Shuttleworth to intervene. Crabtree refused to give up the walking stick and "commenced to use very bad language." Crabtree then attempted to escape but was restrained by Shuttleworth, "whereupon he became very violent and kicked the officer in the side and ribs, and struck him with the stick he had stolen."[6]


Following the success the previous year, another fundraising concert for Huddersfield Infirmary was held at the feast, with selections of "Messiah" given at 7am and 2:30pm on the Sunday of the feast. The Chronicle also reported that a Wesleyan bazaar would open at the Odd Fellows' Hall on the Monday (which it was subsequently reported raised £428) and that many locals were planning to spend their time off work at Blackpool or one of the other seaside resorts.[7]

Preceding the feast, an athletic sports day was organised on the Saturday by the Meltham and Meltham Mills Liberal Association, which was held in a field near the Odd Fellows' Hall. Refreshments were provided by Charles W. Hirst of the Swan Inn and the Meltham Mills Junior Brass Band performed several pieces of music. Some 500 people attended and watched a variety of racing events, including a two mile bicycle race.[8]

69-year-old David Bates from Netherton attended the concert in aid of the Infirmary on the Sunday and then went to the Cat Inn on Mill Moor Road for a drink. Finding the downstairs too full, he went upstairs but slipped on the top step and fell heavily to the bottom. He failed to recover and died at home the following Friday. The subsequent inquest at the Rose and Crown Inn in Netherton returned a verdict of "accidental death".[9]


Once again, a "musical demonstration" was held on the Sunday in aid of the Huddersfield Infirmary.


The Meltham Mills cricket team organised two matches during the feast — one against Elland on the Monday and another against Roberttown the following day.[10]

The Chronicle reported that the weather was changeable during the feast. One new feature which proved popular were donkey rides, "which were ridden short distances by the juveniles at a penny a head." Livesey's Paragon Theatre[11] performed to good houses in their tent erected in Bower's Croft. Finally, the newspaper reported that upwards of 100 locals had booked railway tickets to Blackpool.[12]


The donkey and pony rides again proved popular, although labourer Adam Nussey of Bramley was charged with stealing one of the ponies. He had paid 3d. to ride a pony and reportedly "rode straight away with it." He later sold it to hawker Thomas Greaves for 15 shillings. Greaves suspected something might be amiss and reported it to the Bradford police who reunited it with its owner and arrested Nussey a few days later.[13]


The 1888 feast began with the opening ceremony for the Jubilee Recreation Ground, donated by Edward Brook.

Notes and References

  1. "Gambling at Meltham Feast" in Huddersfield Chronicle (11/Sep/1880).
  2. "Meltham: The Feast" in Huddersfield Chronicle (11/Sep/1880).
  3. Wikipedia: Pepper's ghost.
  4. "The Meltham Feast" in Huddersfield Chronicle (16/Sep/1881).
  5. "Musical Demonstration for the Infirmary" in Huddersfield Chronicle (13/Sep/1882).
  6. "Theft and Assault at Meltham Feast" in Huddersfield Chronicle (13/Sep/1882).
  7. "Meltham Feast" in Huddersfield Chronicle (07/Sep/1883).
  8. "Athletic Sports at Meltham" in Huddersfield Chronicle (12/Sep/1883).
  9. "Fatal Accident" in Huddersfield Chronicle (19/Sep/1883).
  10. Huddersfield Chronicle (04/Sep/1885).
  11. Established by Thomas Carter Livesey of Sheffield, an ancestor of the actor Roger Livesey.
  12. "Meltham Feast" in Huddersfield Chronicle (12/Sep/1885).
  13. "Alleged Theft of a Horse" in Huddersfield Chronicle (02/Nov/1887).