Politics forty or fifty years ago were very different from what they are to-day. Whether better or worse, it is not for me to say. At that far-back period there was either more need of them, or men were more earnest in their pursuit. No one wanted any pay to help on the good cause, and it was surprising how many sacrifices were made to promote what we called human progress. The French Revolution was fresh in men’s minds, and its teachings seemed nearer realisation, as the governing classes would not, without severe pressure, make concessions. Consequently, these men thought they would be able to push on their forces to a goal never attained before. Meetings were held — yea, and evening drilling done to prepare for any emergency. But, then, there was the great need of it. Few votes, little representation, many inequalities, poor education, long hours, less wages, wretched homes, and much privation. There was something to right for and, thank God!, men willing to do it. Oh, the earnestness of the men engaged in those early struggles as compared with the miserable squabbles of the Liberal party to-day. The petty spitefulness of those who are said to be in the narrow tabernacle towards those who are supposed to be on the vantage ground outside. No policy of live and let live, but extermination and destruction to the bitter end — that in the name of liberty, and towards those who love their country first and party afterwards. May there ever be more of the former, and let us hope those who place party first may learn greater patriotism, more liberty of conscience, and concede greater freedom of action to those who differ from them. Unless the)” learn this lesson, there will be no chance for the Liberal party to come into power for the next twenty years, and if Home Rule is their only great plank, may they, like poor Joshua Cock at the deep hole in the river, fall in and be nearly drowned, or altogether, if they will not repent and live honest political lives.
The country wants better manners and better men. To a man whose mouth is watering for a pear, of what use is it to offer him vegetable marrow? Just the same with the nation. If this retrograde policy had been in vogue in those early days, precious little would have been accomplished on behalf of the people. Then again, look at the opportunities of to-day compared with forty years ago. There are now Liberal, Liberal Unionist, and Conservative clubs, fitted up with the best of everything. Now we have more modern organisation, direct representation, ballot voting, together with local government of many other kinds. They of the former period had no organisation, little knowledge of joint action, no clubs to meet in. no paid secretaries to look after them and keep the registers, nothing much to vote for, for very few persons had a vote. All I remember in Slaithwaite on the Liberal side were Messrs. John Horsfall, John Farrar, Elijah Armitage, and about five more. For these gentlemen I once got railway tickets. Do not, however, run away with the idea that nothing was done. Before the railway was built, there were grand processions on the road at voting times, and many were the grand flags waving as the blue and red colours were carried from Saddleworth to the poll by better-class people.
As a poor young boy, say 18 years of age, I was the only Radical in a poor but respectable working-man’s cottage. The father did not mind; the mother was proud; but the brothers did not like it, especially when one did such daring things. For instance, at one election, working for my brother and his partner at the dye house (both strong Tories), what should I do but get a lot of bleached cotton, dye it a beautiful colour with turmeric and D.O.V., dry it, then split it up on the quiet, and before the masters knew every man was decorated — nay, almost covered — with yellow. We got two hand carts, on which we paraded the village, and had planted a flag over the works before ever my brother knew. Was he not savage at this betrayal? I fancy I can see him now on the roof of the dye works tearing down the dear old yellow emblem, with no gentle hands I assure you, and threatening me with vows of vengeance. We worked no more that day. At night, the elder brother went to the dear old mother to tell her of the daring outrage of her youngest son, but he got no “forrarder” with the dear old creature, for she was of the same colour. Neither did he fare much better with his wife when he told her, for she said: “Did I not offer you a yellow handkerchief, but your proud blue spirit would not let you wear it? I am right glad the young lad has the courage of his opinions. There is one, at least,” she added, “who dares to be free and think wisely and well that there is something in the world worth fighting for besides money conditions, viz.: that of the well-being of the people of England.” He was a dear brother for all that, not one in Slaithwaite more merciful, more kind, less proud, or more generous in his disposition. His little helps were many and numerous, but he never told, and for this reason they were all the more greatly missed when he unfortunately passed away, all too soon, from those who loved him dearly.
After the above episode there was no more trouble at the dye works. The master went one way, and the men mostly the other, but great progress was made in Slaithwaite. At the next election after the one already described, Lord Milton (the father of the late member for Wakefield) was one of the candidates, and I was sent over to Wentworth, Woodhouse, at my own expense (then a very poor lad) to induce the young lord to come to Slaithwaite. He was out hunting at the time, and until his arrival I waited with the smart black man servant whom he had brought from the Rocky Mountains, and who afterwards robbed him of many valuable jewels. Lord Milton, in his red coat, came up to me in a sort of half-shaming fashion. He was of a courteous and retiring nature. However, we were soon at home, and we spent together three very happy hours. I returned home with great delight at the sure and certain hope of the coming of his lordship to a banquet at the Lewisham Hotel and a large meeting, which took place at Mr. George Haigh’s mill, Crimble. These were largely attended, most enthusiastic, and eminently successful. At both these functions one had to make speeches, but to this day I never knew how I got through mine. However, Lord Milton was so delighted with the proceedings that he consented to stay all night in Huddersfield, and we had to despatch Mr. R.R. Armitage as a special messenger to his home, so that his then beautiful young wife would not be disappointed.
Many things have happened since then, but none more interesting than these. Maybe the split caused by Mr. Chamberlain on the fiscal policy will be as disastrous to the Unionists as the Home Rule fiasco was to the Radicals. In this case it will materially alter the conclusion arrived at in this chapter.
Slaithwaite Notes: Past and Present (1905) by John Sugden