On a cold Easter Tuesday, long ago, we boys had run away from Tape Mill because we wanted an additional holiday, and so angry were the masters that all the spinners, slubbers, and feeders were ordered to stay at their work. Judge, then, of our surprise and disappointment when we returned, three hours afterwards, after a wild scamper up the moor side, to find the wheel going, and we caught — run in as if caught by a trap. This was cold coffee — a dark day and a mournful afternoon, ever to be remembered as the cruel defeat of the boys, who, however, got off much easier than they might have done had it not been that the spinners had put us up to it, because many of them were due at a rabbit-coursing match, a form of sport then largely indulged in by some of the workers in this neighbourhood. There were a number of very clever dogs that, were their equals here to-day, would win races at Wakefield and elsewhere, where such sport is so popular. But this is not in my line.
It is the early friends of my youth that I am trying to remember — their work, their ways, their few pleasures, and their numerous toils. Slubbing was done by hand at Clough House by the old slubber, as he was called. He could never be got to have power to his old machine, and died without it. Then followed every improvement that can be conceived, so that the labour became more easy, conditions much better, and the worker’s lot greatly improved on the obsolete old ways and machinery of the past.
In those early days my greatest friend was Jacob Clay, the worthy son of most respectable parents. He was honest, quaint, and truthful. Many were the tales which he told, and firmly believed, of witches, ghosts, and fairies. One got so much struck with these that on dark nights no wonder we were frightened to go home. There was one in particular, a witch he called “Old Smith,” who did every kind of evil under the sun. People’s health, their cattle, and all that was theirs was imperilled when under the evil influence of this so-called wicked spirit. Then there were ghosts everywhere, turning up at every corner, and signs of death on every hand. It was simply terrible and most inhuman to the young, who suffered agonies by the recitals. The fairies were more harmless, but many were the changes they made according to Jacob’s stories. Indeed, he believed them all religiously. He still was bright, and had huge hopes not easily to be denied. One was that he would have an organ when he was a man; and to have a stout woman for a wife was another of the dreams of his youth. But she never came, as he died a bachelor, thoroughly devoted to his dear mother, to whom he was a very good son, and ultimately was one of the few working-men who acquired an organ.
Summer was the glory of our young lives, and scarcity of water afforded the happiest time of our existence, when for weeks together we only worked a few hours per day, and spent the rest in playing with one another. Ah, the fields where we fought, and the clear brooks where we swam! They are dear to-day, and the memory of those pastimes are written large in our hearts.
Let me refer to the change for the better brought about by the Huddersfield waterworks and reservoirs. There are those who say that Huddersfield has taken the water, but in the same breath they do not tell what has been given back in money and water compensation. The change has been a great boon to the districts. No short time now, but water for all. Just look at the following figures to see how each township has benefited in its rates:—
|District Rate.||Poor Rate.||Total.|
(Payments are made yearly, and the amounts increase to some extent yearly, according to the increase in the rates of these districts.)
Yet the millowners in the latter valley proposed taking action against the Corporation for the drought of last summer, which was an act of God, for which surely no man or town can justly be responsible; but, notwithstanding all this, the Corporation had to join in and pay.
But let me return to the sports of our early days at these water famines.RKaces would be run, all kinds of games entered upon, tales told, hopes expressed with regard to the future, and of the powers each individual possessed. Jacob was great on faith, and one sunny day, playing for water, sat down on the dam bank under the Slaithwaite viaduct, he expounded this doctrine more fully than usual. He said if he had only faith it were possible to jump over the viaduct. It was unbelief which prevented men from performing the miracles of old. And so eloquent he became that we were all but silenced, when one wicked youth ventured to doubt the possibilities portrayed, and artfully suggested that as the mill dam was only narrow at places, jumping across this was more possible when the water was down. “Oh, that was nothing!” said our hero; “it was almost possible to do that without faith.” And, bit by bit, he was on the one hand scoffed and on the other urged to try, till ultimately it was agreed that if he jumped clear of the dam every unbeliever should be silenced and for ever hold his peace.
Then came the great test. All stood back, looked gravely on, and gave fair play. A long run was taken — every one held his breath — when, lo and behold! Jacob was struggling in the middle of the water, and when we could, after laughing, ask him how that was, he replied, sorrowfully, yet resignedly, “Ah, my faith dropped in the middle, and down into the water I fell!” — let us hope a wetter and a wiser boy. A better mother’s lad, a more faithful brother, or a truer friend, Slaithwaite has never had before or since.
Slaithwaite Notes: Past and Present (1905) by John Sugden