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

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Chapter VII. Music

Music (I.)

In the few broken chapters previous to this we have had chapels, schools, manufactures, canals, high roads, feasts, village life, some of the inns, rise and progress of the town, and politics; and now we will have a little music to sweeten up what has gone before, especially as this neighbourhood has always been noted for its devotion to this pleasing art, both vocal and instrumental.

To begin with the very old, let us take Mr. Schofield, of the Harp Inn, who was church organist, and stands out boldest in that far-distant time as one of the most eminent men in the neighbourhood, possessing such influence as to bring all the musical celebrities of the period to his large room for rehearsal, re-union, etc., etc. The Yorkshire “Queen of Song,” dear old Mrs. Sunderland, then Miss Sykes, the most promising girl of the period, with a natural talent far above the average, a perseverance irresistible, and a modesty characteristic of her genius. Here let me add, without offence, that these are qualities which might be studied to-day both by professionals and amateurs. With Mrs. Sunderland they were natural; they made her beloved by all who had the plea-sure of her acquaintance; and to none were they more dear than to Mr. Schofield, Slaithwaite’s great organist. Miss Sykes was always welcome at the Harp Inn, and, no matter whether as visitor or vocalist, she was always the most favoured artist that ever entered the town, and most appreciated.

No matter what men may say, nature has much to do with the sweet art. Look how it has broken out in the third or fourth generation in the family of the late Clement Wood, also of the Harp Inn, and a descendant of Mr. Schofield. Everyone knows the popular Harry Wood, of Derby Castle, Isle of Man. His promising brother Haydn, sometime soon to be a leading violinist in the country: and his brother Daniel, the charming flautist, who for his clever playing on this dulcet instrument was selected by Madame Albani to accompany her on one of her South African tours, just before the outbreak of the unfortunate war.

Let me say that not only are the sons of the late Mr. Clement Wood born musicians, but the daughters are naturally clever, though the most pleasing feature in the family is the dear old mother[1] (now in Douglas) and her youngest son, Haydn. When this prize of her old age (Mines home from his studies in London the meeting is most touching and tender, being very creditable to both. And I hope and believe he will ever deserve this precious regard, and carry it with him through life in a most successful musical career, which, I feel sure, is before him. Before we begin with the concerts, let me give a glance at the two local bands of Old Shaw Field and Slaithwaite. Of the latter, how many, I wonder, remember the refrain:

“Does anyone here know Haley (Eli) and Jackson;
One is a mason, and the other a saxton.”

This, at one time, was very popular in the village, and was sung by the band in the interval of playing the piece in connection with it. The persons referred to were then partners. Jackson, who had been employed by Messrs. Lee and Heywood, contractors on the railway, had retired from this and joined Mr. Eli Eagland, of the now successful firm bearing his name, but who then associated the work of a mason with that of sexton to the church, of which he then, and all his family since, have been attached members. The leaders of the band were Mr. Ratcliffe Wood, an eminent clarionet player much in request; the Haighs on the horns; the Lees, too, had a ready hand for anything; the Gledhills on the bugle (then a prominent instrument); the Eaglands and Meals helped largely; and many other deserving families made up the ranks of a very respectable company. Sometime afterwards it was made into a brass band, and lived long years of uneventful life, when it was followed by the one at Upper Slaithwaite, which promises to be a greater success, especially as so much spirit is being put into it by a number of devoted followers, who deserve to succeed. The Shawfield Band was once very popular at the Top End, but it is a long time since the break up. It had a long and successful life as a reed band of fair quality, though when they went to Belle Vue once they came back without a prize. Of those most prominent were the three brothers: Edward Sykes, the leader; Allen, of Black Clough; and John, the leading horn. Happily they are all living to-day. They may be somewhat aged, though no less honoured and respected, and it is the wish of the writer that they may have a prolonged autumn r in which the leaves may long remain green and yellow, previous to their being gathered home to that happy land where all musicians ought to go.[2]

Music (II.)

Eastertide used to be a great time for marriages and the beginning of the popular anniversaries held in connection with all the .Sunday schools, churches, and chapels in the neighbourhood, at which excellent music formed no mean portion of the beautiful service. Palm Sunday has always been the great day for Slaithwaite church in the matter of attendance, music, and collections. How proud the late Canon Hulbert was of this important day, and many were the times he would have his well-known hymn for the event, in which he sang so sweetly, ex animo:—

“Why should I wander from the ways
My wise forefathers trod;
Or, in these cold, degenerate days,
Forsake the church of God?”

Good Friday, before Lord Beaconsfield destroyed it, was a great .saint day, and had to be kept by the factories, to the no small joy of the lads and lasses who worked in them, though they rarely went to church, but made good use of it as the first holiday of the year. Then came Easter, a great time for concerts. No setting off as to-day; everyone stayed at home and made the most of it in getting up entertainments. Then there was some chance of their being successful in merit and ability, etc., etc. However much may be said of modern music, singers, and instrumentalists of to-day as compared with them, we all rejoice that progress has been made. No one denies the power of the Golcar Baptist choir, brought about hugely by the rare ability of Mr. R. Stead, the conductor, and the careful nursing of Mr. William Crowther, who was influential enough to win over Mr. Stead from the Linthwaite Prize Band, then in its prime, and for which he had been brought over from Meltham. Evidently Golcar has been the gainers, and no one will begrudge them the benefit; indeed, it is most creditable how many good singers they now possess; but to mention names might be invidious, therefore we will say Golcar has never been without its distinguished musicians. The late Mr. Henry Pearson cannot be passed over. He did so much in his day and generation, not only as conductor of the old Golcar Choral Society, organist of the Slaithwaite Parish Church, and the person who drew around him the best musicians to his monthly overture band at his house and elsewhere, as the most noted musical re-unions to be had in all the neighbourhood. Not only this, but his sons have ably followed with even rarer ability than the father. Some of them possessed real genius, if a little weak in other things; but who can surpass the present borough organist, or improve on his eminent brother at Brighouse, both of irreproachable character, high esteem, and universal respect.

Then again Marsden. Here is a new society of singers, helped largely by Mr. Bruce (a worthy importation), Mr. F. Johnstone, Mr. S. Firth, and others. They are doing very well, and will do better, and be very useful in the growing village. Still, in my opinion, the old days and the old musicians were still more eminent in music, though in a somewhat different direction. The Carters and Armitages were powerful in music, both in the past and present, but in the former they shone with greater glory, though in the latter, I am bound to admit, like everything else, they fade a little with age, though to memory dear. Old men can well remember the family residence of the Carters on the banks of the river behind Mr. Schofield’s house, where musical evenings were spent, knowledgeimparted, and music arranged, written, and sold to then numerous applicants. George of to-day was the best on the violin, and many are the occasions and many the parts he has played in his time; still young and fair to music, it is a pleasure to say. J.W. Armitage, of the Wood (long since dead), was his great rival, and no doubt this fact made them both eminent. This family too has many very able survivors to honour and help on the cause of good music in the Colne Valley. Mr. Armitage, the conductor, is a bright example.

Slaithwaite at no time has been behind. It had its old choral society, the members of which used to meet at the house of the late Mr. James Mellor, Rotcher, a local manufacturer, whose love of the art caused him to open his house free and find candles to light up the practices, which were many and various. To lead this society was the ambition of one’s young days, and to succeed the height of his ambition. A description of one conceit shall be given here and now, characteristic of the age, at a time when there was a great feud between the Mechanics’ Institute and the Meeke and Walker Institution. Tin former had to subsist on hard work, self-reliance, and the determined perseverance of a few hard-working men, to whom the writer was much devoted. On the other hand, the Meeke and Walker’s Institution had the full support of Lord Dartmouth, Canon Hulbert, and most of the local gentry. Their annual soirees in the National School, presided over by Lord Dartmouth, were very successful affairs, and it was for one of these that the Slaithwaite Choral Society had been engaged. One of those in authority had very little respect for the leader of the society, and it must have been a great mistake or out of pure spite that no place had been provided; they were expected to go into a corner at the back of the room on the opposite side of the platform. The reader will see how impossible it was for a choral society to unlimber and perform under such conditions, and will not blame them for taking in the situation and quietly absconding (or call it what you will) without telling, lest they should have been prevailed upon to stay. So when the time came — the house being crowded, the report read, the chairman’s speech nicely concluded, and the society being called upon for a performance from one of Handel’s works — every one in the audience had to turn and look round, wondering when and where it was to come from, as no place had been provided. There was a long pause, much delay, and a growing uneasiness, until at last John o’ Charlottes, an honoured member and a very old singer, bawled out at the top of his voice, “Nay, we cannot go on, the leading fiddles have gone away and left us.” I need not add they had to do without music that night, and happily they did not suffer much. Everyone was sorry for Lord Dartmouth, to whom no disrespect was meant, but those who had studiously designed the ignominy of the society were rightly served.

To conclude, I may say that about this time some splendid concerts were held in Slaithwaite. Mrs. Sunderland, Miss Whitman, Miss Crosland, Mr. T. Hinchcliffe, old Mr. Netherwood, and others were engaged, and right well did they perform; but above and beyond this came at times Mr. H. Phillips, then a popular singer, and whose book is most interesting reading for all lovers of the great art. The late Mr. Samuel Horsfall, of Calf Hey, was a principal supporter of these concerts, and many eminent artistes of the day stayed at his house. Mr. Justice Romer would be surprised and pleased to learn very likely that his mother visited Slaithwaite at one of these concerts, and at a fee that would astonish those of the present time with half the talent and beauty of the then popular lady, who, at Calf Hey the morning after the concert, gave Mrs. Sykes, Gashouse. the then servant, half-a-crown, which she long treasured — not so much from its worth, but as coming cheerfully from the beautiful Miss Romer, the original “Arline” in Balfe’s “Bohemian Girl,” then manageress and prima donna.


  1. Mrs. Wood died at the residence of her daughter, Mrs. Cullerne, in Slaithwaite, on June 19th, 1902.
  2. Allen, of the three brothers, is now gone to the long home, universally respected in life, mourned in death.

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