What a change has taken place hereabouts. This thought came to me on walking from Marsden to Slaithwaite. What a beautiful journey it was on that lovely evening! I think the most pleasing scene was at Cellars Clough, where there is one of the finest rookeries ever seen in the Colne Valley, and worth going a long way to see. All the birds were in the varied moods of love, work, and play, all of which these wonderful creatures make free use of in reproducing their kind on the slender means at their disposal. Perhaps one could have wished, in looking at a few trees injured by the tipping of dirt, seemingly for saving money, that, notwithstanding this desire, some thought at least should have been given not to wantonly destroy nature’s own graceful dress. Very likely they never thought, therefore we must forgive. But to come back to then and now. On this particular day they were laying the foundation stones of large schools, on the principle of what was the best for education and least expense to the ratepayers — a plan one could wish to see adopted nationally; and one which would serve all purposes if only the parsons could be locked up until common-sense had licked the Education Bill into shape for the benefit of all.
It took some of those present all their time from breaking out into a chorus of denunciation against the wicked (so-called by Radicals) Government of modern times. Any kind of a stick will do to turn them out, and nothing seems to have come so handy as this stick “Educational” for a long time. The big drum “Ecclesiastic” is beaten with vigour from Dan to Beersheba. The pity of it. Why not common-sense? What is for the best, and who can do most, would assuredly be the better plan. What say ye, over-burdened ratepayers? Are you prepared to do away with the Voluntary schools, which are, whatever their merit may be, doing half the work and saving what will at least be an addition of one shilling in the pound on the rates? So will you not say to the rabid dissenting parson as well as to the exterminating clergy man: “A plague on both your houses. If you have emptied your churches and chapels of the men by your jealousy, ill-will, and all uncharitableness towards each other, you are not going to double my educational rates, to spoil this Bill, and throw back this great work, while other countries are beating us for want of an organised system of education long neglected.”
We shall see, and let us pray for wiser counsels to prevail. At Marsden, on this occasion, they did the right thing at the right time, even in spite of strong desires to break out in a bit of political swearing. The respected member. Sir James Kitson, set them a good example by his excellent speech, which no doubt had a restraining influence.
But what I went to see was a dear old friend lay one of the corner stones. Alas! this was not to be. Age and bad health (au ill-matched pair) had willed it otherwise; and the son, with that modesty proverbial to him, had to, and will have to do, the work of a worthy sire, who has well-spent a valuable life in doing battle for the people, mostly right, but, like other mortals, sometimes wrong.
See the difference! A long time ago, far away into the distant past, was a lovely summer’s day. Nature was at her best; the days were long. Bank Bottom Mills were bonny in the shade of tall and bushy trees, the valley clear from mud banks and wooded beautifully on either side, but mostly on one; while the silver stream ran between, after gathering its strength from above in the shiny brooks that make the flowing waters of the Wessenden Valley. At this mill was the youth, beauty, and strength of the Colne Valley, and the occasion was the laying of the corner stone of the present Mechanics’ Institute. Mr. J.B. Robinson was at that time a strong man, wielding powerful influence for good, drawing from each neighbouring village others similarly disposed, to drink in the inspiration, and to become intoxicated with the same desires.
Slaithwaite then was poor, helpless, and feeble, but in that forlorn spot there were a few choice spirits born to carry the lamp of light to a better age, which happily soon came. Thanks to these pioneers for the good things which so soon followed, and on that far-off stone-laying day so long ago about forty-five young men from the Mechanics’ Institute, led by Mr. David Carter, the writer, and others, marched valiantly to the scene of action with a flaunting flag (though tattered and torn), bearing in large red letters on one side “Education for the rising generation,’’ and on the other, “Education voluntary and free.” Much has happened since then, both at Marsden and Slaithwaite. Mechanics’ Institute lads have done much good work with the spade and the shovel to better the condition of the people. One wonders where these men are to-day. Have they wandered? Are they stranded? Have they strayed? Or have they gone home? Answer me, men of the present day, by similar work. Call no names which can do no good, but add your quota to human progress.
The springs at which we drank were the speeches such as were made at Bank Bottom on that memorable night, where examples were given by self-made men on self-making: how to improve the mind, increase the intellect, and thereby add materially to the world’s happiness. That night I can never forget how Mr. John Schofield, of Linthwaite, then a smart young fellow, sang most sweetly “On the Banks of Allan Water.” The old gentleman still stands well up, but the music is not so fresh, or the voice so young.
Slaithwaite Notes: Past and Present (1905) by John Sugden