We left off in our last at the old stone bridge at the bottom of Nabbs Lane; and, commencing on the right-hand side going up, there was Meal’s house as to-day, facing the river. Here resided James and Joseph Bamforth, with the mother and the rest of the family. The former was a noted dancer, and a smart lad, who died early in a bad case of smallpox, a terrible disease then more common, but now, owing to better sanitation and vaccination, happily less prevalent. The younger brother became very popular as an efficient volunteer, a good bandsman, and one of the best cricketers in the then Slaithwaite Mechanics’ Institute Cricket Club. He too died early (of consumption), and at his funeral all the inhabitants seemed to be present, so much so that it might be called one of the most popular funerals ever held in the village, if such a term may be allowed in describing the last of any man. It is well that so much respect can be given to the sons of toil, and that these marks of esteem do not belong alone to the wealthy and the great. Passing along, next came Sykes o’ th’ Barn, of which John of to-day is the representative of an honourable line of almost defunct little manufacturers. Abram Hirst’s followed; he was the respected father of the late Mr. Joseph Hirst, draper, New Street, Huddersfield, whose business is now successfully carried on by the sons. John Clay, the old lock tenter, was known for many things, but never for anything bad, and the wicked boys of that period used to bother the old gentleman by asking him what time it was. He had a large and respectable family, one of whom, Thomas, is still living to-day in Huddersfield. I wonder if he remembers the memorable occasion on which he was big piecer to his brother Jabez at the Tape Mill, and how he threw Mr. John Horsfall, his master, into an empty skep after one of the strong ebullitions of temper which this gentleman displayed, the fact being one of grief to himself rather than to his employees, who at heart, notwithstanding this, were all much attached to him. John Clay lived next to James Hoyle’s block of buildings. This gentleman, who married a Haigh, of Upper Mill, was a local shopkeeper, and hence a man of some repute, with a farm in Lingards. Jacob lived at this time in one of the single-roomed cottages with his parents, who had to make most of small means to bring up a growing family. How different at this period! The homes of many workers out at that time consisted of two beds in separate corners of the house as decently curtained off as they could afford, one large table, a small round one near the fire, a chest of drawers, one corner cupboard, a cradle, some chairs, one for the dear old mother; fender and fire irons, various pots, some kettles, cans, and a washing tub; the never-failing Bible, a few tracts, less pictures; everything had to be done in one room as best they could.
Working-men and women of to-day!, compare this with your well-furnished homes, the improved conditions, and the better housing of the poor. Fill in the picture for yourselves, and make it joyous, if you please, that things are so much improved and your happiness so much increased, as compared with the darker periods of the past.
Joseph Lees was the last house on that side — no railway then — but opposite the road was old Malley’s, of the Calf Hey, who said to Jacob one day: “Tha keyneived (left-handed) beggar; that nivver throws but tha hits. Only t’other day tha struck yar stirk o’ th’ ‘orn. Remember this: when tha comes for milk aw’ll ring thi yers (ears) for thi.” The old lady’s words were worse than her actions, and when the mother went for the milk at night instead of the son peace was proclaimed.
The abutments of the Slaithwaite viaduct at this end are fixed just where this old lady’s farmhouse stood, going on to Awkward Wood, and at the back lived the Bamforths, the forbears of Mr. Alderman Bamforth, Huddersfield, Lower down was Mr. Kent’s, the house where Mr. Holroyd lives, a little different at the former period. Here I remember well at the gate a little outbuilding, in which our Sam nearly did for me by tilting up into my mouth the contents of the vinegar bottle used in shoe blacking (of which occupation he was then an expert) for the Kent family, and from which I was tasting, getting nearly all but smothered with the full contents of the bottle. It took some minutes to bring me round, and the dread was so great at the time as never to be forgotten. Our Sam was then shoeblack, water carrier, window washer, and general drudge at the house when not at the mill, but so much respected in after life, when the positions had entirely changed, that there were no better friends than the sons of the former with the poor lad who had done their menial work of former days.
The lost industry went to Bury, in Lancashire, and with it many of the old families of Slaithwaite, including the Sykses, the Gledhills, the Sugdens, etc., etc., and great was the sorrow of the poor at the parting of the young from the old, for the latter had to stay at home, as is always the case, while the former sought work and fortune elsewhere. In this matter of parting, the poor suffer more than the rich; they feel it more intensely, having nothing else to break it; while the latter have other things to take the sadness away. Be this as it may, there went those who never returned, and, like the industry, were lost for ever to Slaithwaite. And why? Simply this: there was not sufficient water at Tape Mill in summer time. The landlord would not put down an engine and boiler; neither would Mr. Kent; hence the removal of this name, business, and many old families. Sykes, formerly of Clough House, is the name of the happy possessor of this improved and largely increasing trade at Bury, thanks to their untiring industry, perseverance, and skill, and to the friendship of the late Mr. Phillips, the grandfather of Mr. Trevelyan, the present member for the Elland Division of Yorkshire, a very smart and promising young man. The old gentleman, Mr. Phillips, was very rich, and he was further an old Radical who could not at a moment’s notice, or in the twinkle of an eye, change his principles in order to get Irish votes, so he left Mr. Gladstone and, it may truly be said, paved the way in Bury for the present Unionist candidate, who seeks to sit honourably for’ this borough more, I venture to say, in the interests of a nation than that of a partisan. A sort of Roman of old, when none were for party, but all for the State; yet, strange to relate, this seat was lost to the Unionist cause at this election — mostly, I venture to suggest, by a Radical baker raising the price of his bread, and putting the fault on the shoulders of the present Government.
Slaithwaite Notes: Past and Present (1905) by John Sugden