Slaithwaite Notes: Past and Present (1905) - Chapter II

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Chapter II. Reminiscences

The mention of Brook Mills in the preceding chapter carries me back to my early days in the old and lovely village, which had at that time a history of its own, and which the late Canon Hulbert wrote. Although this was very interesting, it was confined so much to the ecclesiastical, and included so little of the industrial, that the Saturday Review of that time was unkind enough to call it “a history of small beer.” Facts are stronger than the late Canon’s opinion, or the criticisms of the Saturday Review, as witnessed by its latter-day prosperity.

What mean those long-windowed upper rooms in the cottages on the hillsides? Those are the rooms in which the natives earned their living by weaving for the local manufacturers, who in many cases were not far removed from the workman, but in fact combined the two, as much less money was required in those days to start manufacturing than now. There was no need of a mill, machinery, dye house, finishing or milling plants. The scribbling was done at Clough House, Bank Gate, Upper and Old Corn Mills, at Meltham, Marsden, Golcar, Longwood, and Milnsbridge, at sundry of which all the other processes of manufacture were carried out, leaving the master in his large cottage to receive his wefts and warps from the factory, to be put out by himself at home to his weavers, who came from all the country side with their pieces on their donkey’s, or often on their own, backs for fresh weft, and so on, to finish their warp to the end.

Those were pleasant times in many respects. There was greater freedom; the man and the master stood on a common level; there was no caste; and considerably less of the cant of one man being better than another. When they went, as often they did, to the same chapel, it was on the friendly ground of comradeship, and not, as you see in some isolated cases of to-day, a little leaning to that cowardice which makes one class the inferior of the other. In a chapel this is most humiliating, where all should stand before Jehovah on common Christian ground, and anything like this in a Liberal politician is contemptible to me, be it he or she, rich or poor, simple or wise.

However, to return to my narrative. In these days a man would have his hunting in the daytime, and make up his time at night. The good housewife too was busy. She had to wind bobbins — maybe to wash, to bake, to knit, to make, and to mend. What fine wenches it took to do all these things; and yet they did them well and cheerfully. What is more, they were all clean, and mostly all beautiful to look upon. Then a thrifty couple had a chance of becoming manufacturers; very many succeeded, and became of great use to their neighbours, to the village, and to themselves. It would be a bigger job to-day because of the larger capital required and the fearful competition of those who have it, and often foolishly use it to knock each other out in the needless strife as to who shall be first in amassing the largest fortune, and not, alas! doing the greatest amount of good.

I feel sure they were happier in former times — had much more pleasure in life, simpler things were more satisfying, less did, there was neither as far to fall or as high to rise. There was neither the sudden fortunes or the ruinous disasters. For all that, taking all in all, the latter days are better than the former.

In addition to the old mode of manufacturing already described, there was in Slaithwaite the silk trade carried on by Messrs. Molyneaux at the old Corn Mill. Well do I remember the silk dressing at this place, but even more sacredly do I remember the silk mill at Crimble, its weaving, and its lovely weavers, the latter so clean and beautiful, especially one who was nearer and dearer than all the others.

“Here time but the impression stronger makes,
As streams their channels deeper grow.”

Especially as all are gone, leaving only the poor writer and the mill to tell the tale. Slaithwaite had also its linen thread trade, carried on by the famous Jabez Mayall, latterly of London and Brighton; then plain Jabez Meal, of Lingards. This trade went away with him, and a story could be told of the rise and fall of this most wonderful man. How he was once the friend of royalty; how he built up a large fortune; how he was sought after by people eminent in art, science, and literature; and yet fell with his fortune, through no fault of his own, neither by dishonour, disgrace, or neglect of duty.

Slaithwaite Notes: Past and Present (1905) by John Sugden