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

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Chapter LVII. Reminiscence of Richard Cobden

It may not be amiss, whilst Cobden’s name is in everybody’s mouth, to repeat the following story: Many long years ago four ardent politicians from the neighbourhood of Huddersfield — Mr. Joseph Woodhead, Mr. J.R. Robinson (Marsden), Mr. Samuel Wimpenny (Holmfirth), and the present writer — journeyed to Rochdale on a memorable occasion to hear Richard Cobden and to see John Bright. Of the four, one, Mr. Samuel Wimpenny, is dead, carried off all too soon; Mr. Woodhead is still with us, wonderful for his years. Mr. Robinson has retired in old age and ill-health, as one sees from the report of Sir James Kitson’s meeting at Slaithwaite last Saturday; and the fourth — well, of him the less said the better, for he has had a long-sojourn in the wilderness, and by present appearances may have to wander almost alone ploughing his lonely furrow. The four put up at the Wellington Hotel, where the present scribe was put into a damp bed, which sent him home in such a condition that his friends thought he would never recover. His brother, a strong Tory, described the illness as the Cobden fever. Whatever it was, it was almost the end of the writer.

The occasion of the great meeting at Rochdale which the quartet had gone over to attend was the annual address of Richard Cobden to his constituents. It was held in Mr. Robinson’s foundry, near the railway station, as this was the largest room that could be utilised for the occasion. Even this large room was filled to its utmost capacity. At this meeting the great apostle of Free Trade tackled the land question in his own masterly way. So vigorous was his criticism and so thorough his programme that it brought down the Times upon him the morning after with a charge of wanting to divide the land of the rich with the poor. After the article came the memorable defence of Cobden from the great Tribune of the people, which had the unique effect of drawing Mr. Delane, the then powerful editor of the leading journal. What a stir the event made, and what recriminations there were, and what a hubbub in the political world! It was on such battlefields as these that the rights of the people had to be fought and won, and only those who were in the thick of it know what it cost and what sacrifices had to be made. All honour to the brave men, dead and living, who were privileged to render such valuable services to the nation. It was none of your namby-pamby work of present-day political clubs — billiards, cards, and more or less gambling. No. In those days it was necessary to strip, fight, and work; but for that the present generation would not have the rare comfort and freedom they now enjoy.

But to return. That meeting became historical as the means of drawing Mr. Delane from behind the screen of Printing House Square, and the beginning of that land reform which, applied first to Ireland, is making of that country a favoured nation; so much so that it is high time that similar remedial measures were passed for England, and that those driven from the farms may get back to the land again from the congested towns to find happiness, health, and sustenance in cultivating the soil. Such beneficence and justice was preached by Mr. Cobden in the days to which I refer.

The enterprising four went to see Mr. Cobden the morning after the meeting at One Ash, the residence of Mr. Bright, to try to get him to come to Huddersfield to advocate the same faith. We were almost struck dumb by the evidences of physical prostration which Mr. Cobden manifested. This was the beginning of the end of this great patriot. Mr. John Bright, with characteristic thoughtfulness, appealed to the deputation not to ask Mr. Cobden to endanger his future usefulness by running such a serious risk as would be involved in his going to Yorkshire at that time. It need not be said that the visitors appreciated the force of Mr. Bright’s remarks, and they came away without preferring their request, placing larger interests before those of their own locality, since they believed that the remaining strength of this great statesman would be jealously reserved for the service of the nation at large.

Alderman Sugden and Free Trade.

The following letter was sent by Alderman J. Sugden to Mr. James Morrison, but was not read at the meeting in honour of Mr. Cobden:—

22, Greenhead Road,
June 4th, 1904.
Mr. James W. Morrison.
Dear Sir, — I am much obliged for the opportunity you so kindly give me to attend the Cobden Centenary dinner at the George Hotel next Tuesday. I am a Free Fonder and a universal Free Trader, but when I cannot get these things, to the no small detriment of my country, I should (if you please) just like as much fiscal reform as would secure this most desirable end by fair and reasonable means. Perhaps it would be best accomplished by the appointment of a Royal Commission, to which I have always been favourable — at least, since the topsy-turveydom of the Gilbertian politics begun just over twelve months ago, landing us where we do not know where we are, or who is who. Our gentle and honoured countryman, R. Cobden, whose memory we all revere, was always for reciprocity. But, unfortunately, this is just what we don’t get. Therefore, it may be reasoned that any means to secure fair dealing should be welcomed by all Englishmen, and this outside politics, for once inside its whirling cataracts nothing but destruction will ensue. Just now, too, you do well to commemorate the memory of the great patriot who so successfully negotiated the French treaty, which, if not actually bringing about the pleasing entente cordiale of to-day with our nearest neighbour across the sea, did much to break down the barriers of past misunderstandings, and prepared the golden bridge of better feeling over which English and France can march together, arm in arm, for the good of both, and in this terrible age for war act as a forerunner of peace and goodwill between all nations. Very sorry I cannot attend, but you will, I am sure, let me wish you every success, and you are to believe me always, yours faithfully,
J. Sugden.

Patriotism and Party.

[Letter to Editor of Huddersfield Examiner.]

Sir, — This letter will not perhaps meet with your approbation, but you are kind enough to find room for sentiments of which you do not altogether approve, if by discussion you can get at the truth. Therefore let me kindly ask: Is it possible that latter-day Liberalism (like the Bourbons) will learn nothing, tolerate nothing, abate nothing, until it is too late, and then to find it banished to a longer turn in the wilderness — “C.-B.” with the Irish, and Rosebery longing for a closer union with the Unionists? It might have had a chance if it would only have recognised that something will have to be done on fiscal reform, and referred the same to a Royal Commission.
America has hit Yorkshire hard, especially since the Dingley Tariff Bill of 1897. From this date the States have rushed to unbounded prosperity — mills, workshops, etc., etc., have sprung up on every hand, fortunes have been made in every direction, and the condition of the country and its people vastly improved, in this case by Protection alone.
It is no use shirking these facts, or denying that English manufacturing towns have not correspondingly suffered, especially Huddersfield. Where are the new factories here as compared with those West? And, on the other hand, how many have become derelicts? And what a large number have gone out of use, so that the increase in population and rateable value has become almost nil (the successful do not seem to count)! But this cannot go on for ever, though the trade unions, the dissenters, the co-operative societies, temperance men, and the Labour party have been captured by the reckless disposal of fascinating intoxicants by the leaders of a thirsty Opposition, who have this way, I fear, traded on the credulity of the people, so that there will some day be a huge awakening of the shortness of the performances as compared with the largeness of the promises; and their followers then, like all drunken men, will have very bad headaches, dashed aspirations, and impaired political strength.
Truly, the caucus is a terrible engine! In my opinion it ruined the Liberal party, and is fast doing the same for the Conservatives. Even in our local parliament we have good men masquerading as party whips, whipping away every movement towards liberty, to the no small loss to this town, and by it men get into power who could not possibly do so otherwise. Indeed, unless one enters this vortex life is often made miserable. Baseless imputations of a personal and malignant kind are at times thrown at the free man. The unkinder sort cannot bear even to hear them speak unless they can descend to the abject praise of the smaller greatness of leaders jumped into power, rather by their wealth and position than their goodness or any special service they may have rendered either to State or humanity. Alas for such Gargantuan proceedings!
When will the British workman rise superior to this lamentable spirit of unappeasable animosity, in which there is not much toleration? And until the sense is bowed down to the Baal of the time being, you will run the risk of being jolly well cuffed and kicked out of the degraded windows of latter-day political organisations. It would be much better if we had more patriotic solidarity and less of the blind following of any leader, right or wrong; and yet I shall be told without this party could not be kept together. Then let party as at present constituted perish, and a more Christian doctrine come in of doing to others as ye would that they should do unto you.
Does Lord Rosebery meet this obligation? He does in a way, but when abusing Mr. Chamberlain he is lost in distrust of the man. Many a time has it seemed possible for this eloquent patriot that he would fulfil the ardent expectation of moderate and reasonable men with regard to the larger aspirations of the nation and its children across the seas. Then he fell away. Imperialism with his lordship has all the virtues, but coming from Birmingham it is shady. This is the painful part of it, and if it were not that these two able men were in opposite camps, they would be a tower of strength to the kingdom; but as it is they waste their force and miss their opportunity by falling out with one another.
When shall we learn better? Read Rosebery’s speech through, and if it were not for the above strictures how admirable it would be. Perhaps if the noble Duke of whom he spoke so kindly comes into line he will supply the missing link to the Rosebery tabernacle, and make it that complete that we shall ultimately have a Government, not of factions or self-seekers, log rollers, and vaulting ambitions, but one strong enough to resist all unjust things, and powerful enough to defend our interests in trade — tariffs or otherwise — to weld and keep this imperial nation together with one spirit, one common hope, and one grand march for the amelioration of the condition of the subjects of our noble King, whether in dear old England, the British Isles, or where the burning rays of rubies shine, on the frozen shores of Canada, in the plains of Australia, on the mountains of New Zealand, or in what has been that darker Africa, to be made much brighter because it seeks only that which is best for the millions of the sons and daughters under England’s mild, wise, and beneficent rule.
Yours truly,
“My Way to Better Things.”
June 13th, 1904.

Scapegoat Hill Sunday School.

Last Sunday the anniversary services in connection with the above place were held, when three sermons were preached — morning and evening by the Rev. B. Williams (resident minister), and afternoon by Mr. P.E. Jones, of Greetland. Special hymns and anthems were sung by the teachers, scholars, and chapel choir, assisted by a few neighbouring singers and a small band of instrumentalists, Alderman J. Sugden, of Huddersfield, taking the lead. The children had been trained, and were conducted at the morning service by Mr. Friend Dyson, and at the afternoon and evening services by the choirmaster, Mr. J.A. Blackburn. Mr. J.W. Whitwam presided at the organ. The weather was somewhat against a large attendance, as it was threatening rain most of the day, yet there were large gatherings in the afternoon and evening, and the collections amounted to the handsome sum of £45 10s.

At the supper table the usual votes of thanks were accorded the musicians who had helped to make the anniversary a success, and Mr. Sugden suitably responded. In doing so, he said he had gone to that and the old place for fifty years, and he contrasted the conditions of the people of the place then and now, both in their homes, and in their school and church. He hoped that they would ever continue to grow and prosper in the good work in which they were engaged.

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

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


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