There is a naturalist society in the town to-day, and I am told that some of the young men connected with it are a credit to themselves and the town; and what pleases me the more is that they are mostly the sons of poor parents who have worked themselves up by study and perseverance. What I say is, “Go on, lads; this is in a right direction, and God speed you in all good work.”
Here it may not be amiss to mention that Slaithwaite has always been blessed with good professional men. The Deans, to the third and fourth generations, of revered memory, and none more so than Edwin of to-day or good Thomas, of Burnley; the Robertses, who are dead and gone. In former times the Deans were good botanists, and one of their relations, Mr. Horsfall, of Merrydale, was the best herb doctor of the age, so it will be seen that this kind of thing was not altogether neglected in the past. Mr. Clampitt, a very deserving young fellow from Ireland, has now taken the place of Mr. Cheevers, who has removed to Manchester.
I am not aware of what books and property the members are possessed, though I do know there was a good society a long time ago at the Hare and Hounds Inn, Hardend. In the library there some of the best books of the age could be got. Mr. Marsden, and the best from Ready Carr Foundry, were the principals. The then aristocracy of the working classes commanded much consideration, not only from the learning of their masters, but for the great reputation of the firm as the leading mechanics of the day. Walter Oldroyd, of Holthead, a self-made mathematician of local repute, Edward Sugden, John Shaw, and others, attended the Sunday evening monthly meetings at Marsden. Books were given out and arrangements made for the botanical rambles, which extended to Halifax on one side, Woodhead on the other, and between Huddersfield and Stalybridge, together with the numerous places between. They were great times for me. I went with my elder brother to nearly all these places, the principal events of which were held in the summer time in the large room of one of the principal inns of the town visited, to which every member or friend would ta.ke specimens of plants, to be named by one of the clever working-men of the day, who had made this pleasing subject his principal study. It was marvellous with what readiness the work was done — not only the English, but the Latin name was given in full to every plant. The virtues were not considered on the naming day, but were well known to the friends of the society, who went far and near in search of rare specimens. Buck bean was one of these, to be found in bogs on the moors. Gentian was much sought after, and readily found on the sandy soil of South Crosland; parsley pert was also there in profusion; ground ivy everywhere; liver wort on the wet rocks of running streams, never far from the golden saxifrage, water mint, watercress, golden rod, sciatica cress, devil’s bit, marsh mallow, etc. Wood betony was much sought after for many diseases; a well-known place for it was Longwood, in the beautiful wood below Hannah Gill’s public-house. The present generation can hardly realise what changes have taken place there since. This remarkable lady and her house gone for ever, and the wood mangled to death by the wonderful progress of the place; only a few broken trees remain to tell the tale of its former natural glories. Large mills have replaced the fine trees, and where the wood betony grew now stands the cottages of the workers, whose condition is so much improved that they can very much better afford to buy than grow this little herb.
To come back to plants. These and hundreds more we knew quite well. We could rattle them off like the multiplication tables without any trouble, having had good teaching from the elders on those far-back, very happy, and pleasant sunny days, when a Sunday well spent brought a week of content to the hard toilers on the other less-favourable days. We used to take our time, range the fields and moors, and call at the nearest public-house to get a gill of beer to a little lunch, which was generally carried in the pocket. If there was anyone at the inn ready to argue on any point under the sun, these men were ready. Politics was a great theme then, because there were so many things to adjust, wrongs to redress, and reforms to make. At these times the men were in earnest and determined. They believed what they preached, and were not soon turned away or denied the object they had in view. Many are the eloquent speeches one has heard on these occasions, drinking in largely the burning words descriptive of human suffering, and pledging oneself that when the time of being a man came, bow I would fight for liberty or death — brave thoughts not lost sight of to-day. Even temperance came up for discussion, and I am not sure than then, with the greater liberty to drink more freely, less was drunk than now. Anyway, I was not only a botanist, but a teetotaler of a very pronounced type, and when not after plants or music, was practising and preaching temperance.
Here and now, for a little divergence, let me say we had a large temperance society next door neighbour to the friends at Linthwaite. John Hirst (a noted character, afterwards of Marsden), C. Lockwood (brother-in-law), Squire Baxter and all the other Baxters, John Schofield, etc., were a band of strong and earnest men, who did some good work in their day and generation. Well do I remember one great joint meeting we had at Linthwaite, ending in the greatest fiasco of a life, because circumstances forced one to expose an unpardonable imposture, and that was the well-known presentation of a watch to the then sergeant of the police, a man who had done yeoman service for the temperance cause in Slaithwaite; but who, on the other hand, was unpopular with the crowd by reason of little acts of cruelty, which no right-minded man ever ought to have committed. To bolster up a better feeling with those in authority, the man actually bought a watch with his own money, got it engraved, and said a friend had presented it. This was not known at the time, and when at a great meeting at Linthwaite the presentation was made by the writer of these broken stories — the reader may be assured that the eloquent words could not be reproduced to-day — silence is best when so much shame fell upon the innocent victim of another’s vaulting ambition. Hardly had the meeting dispersed before rumours wore in the air, which soon reached headquarters. The chief came down for inquiry. No one could be found who had given the watch; therefore, under these adverse circumstances, there was nothing for it but to repudiate it altogether in the press, which was done the week after. The rest, is soon told. The poor fellow lost his place, had to leave Slaithwaite in disgrace, and had the greater misfortune to be tragically killed directly afterwards in a dark tunnel coming from Bradford, while temperance was not the gainer by this misfortune, nor has it ever flourished since with the same roseate hue in Slaithwaite, and of which Linthwaite forms an eastern portion.
Slaithwaite Notes: Past and Present (1905) by John Sugden