What may have been written on this subject before let it be forgotten, and this remain the authorised chapter on sport, which looms largely on the horizon in all classes of His Majesty’s subjects, was so in the beginning, and seems as if it ever will be to the end, so with a becoming amen let it be, with this reservation, that to do right every man is bound to do his best to make it pure and wholesome. In this sense how is it compared with the past? Well, in the good days of old Slaithwaite had little knowledge of horse racing, and it would be no worse if such were so to-day. The men certainly had cock-fighting — not a very desirable thing. The writer has seen many good battles on the green at Crimble, beyond Mr. Thewlis’s house, on the banks of the river just at the ford, then used to cross the stream. Dogs were also in many cases kept to fight; but Spooner, of Holmfirth, was too strong for them. He took their money and beat their dogs, so it had happily to be given up.
Not so rabbit chasing. This was a must popular game, lung continued, with some of the best dogs of the age. Trail hunting remained to be at its zenith forty-five years ago, when the little Engineer at Ainley Place was king. They had some wonderful dogs, won prizes all over the country, and then sold their champions for large sums of money. Go to Dobcross, Saddleworth, and you will see public-house signs with the names of these favourites inscribed, such as “Nudger,” “Bounty,” etc. This sport was largely patronised at the public-houses, the landlords of which used to get up one of these hunts for the holiday gala. A memorable one is before my eyes in connection with the Harp Inn. The customers of hotels on these occasions formed themselves into a committee to carry out the arrangements. The principal thing to do was to keep back the crowd at the coming-in end, which at this special time was White Royd. I think the time was Shrove Tuesday. Be this as it may, there was a large gathering, and some difficulty was experienced in keeping order. As the dogs approached the winning goal, the men crowded in contrary to orders. There was a struggle with those in authority. Free fights were indulged in, and one “Blacker” was thrown over, who, rising again, shouted with the courage of a better cause, and at the top of his voice, “Ah, by G——! Me to stand back and in office!” Yes; many good men had in that day; and many more will have to stand back before life’s rough road is smoothed with kindness.
Foot racing was very popular at about the time of the railway making. “Pigeon” was the great champion, living at Heigh Leys, Cop Hill, a fast and enduring mile champion, who won many good races, and would have won more has he been as steady as he was strong. These contests had their effect on the young. We boys ran races; were very fast; not often beaten. Our biggest stakes were 5s., and it took about ten of us to raise the money. My first meeting with the friend of a life — G. Haigh — was when I had won him sixpence in a good contest with Tom Walker, of Blakestones. We had pumps and drawers, and could go like the wind. Jimmy Bamforth, of Roadside, was very fast — he died early of consumption — and Joss o’ th’ Hey Laith was a good hand. These practices made some speedy colts.
I wonder if Mr. T. Ashton remembers the memorable race I had once with an old “pal,” Mr. John Blamires, of Lockwood, who was then putting out work at Bankgate, and had come to see how it was going on. Mr. Blamires was a good shooter, too, and this interested old Mr. Farrar, who was one of the first hands of the day — the friend of Mr. T. Newton, then a noted shot, who also used to come a good deal to Bankgate Mill to kill the burs in wool, and this is the way it was done: A large cistern was got, filled with water, and made to stand six per cent with vitriol, in which was worked the bur wool. It was then strained off on to a wooden stretcher, taken straight away to the stove, dried quickly, and quickly run through the teaser, after which every bit of the vegetable was gone. The acid only remained to be neutralised, pure wool remaining.
While this was going on, sport was much talked about. Mr. Farrar would not shoot for a wager. But he said to Mr. Blamires one day, “You talk about running if I could only get my book-keeper to give you a spin, it would be rare fun; and I think you would just have all your work set to beat him.” And this is what I refer to above in reference to Mr. Ashton, who hardened me on so much that a friendly trial was agreed upon just beyond the wood in White Royds (now all cottages), where we at once repaired after dinner, and so bent on winning was Mr. Blamires that be actually pumped up a good dinner he had had at the Harp Inn, so that this should not impede his chance. But this was of no avail, and, without any show of boast, the Slaithwaite lad never having lost his speed by foolish or riotous living, but kept it well up in the cricket field, he had no difficulty whatever in leaving Mr. Blamires far behind, who certainly was much surprised, though he warmly congratulated the victor. Yes; cricket was played in connection with the Mechanics’ Institution. We never allowed any swearing, bad language, or betting of any kind. We generally selected clubs of the same character — Marsden Mechanics’ Institution, with Mr. E.O. Taylor, fast bowler, and ready on all occasions to fight manly for his side. Many were the duels we had, both personal and otherwise, but always ending in good feeling, notwithstanding the intensity of the struggles.
Lockwood Mechanics’ Institution was another of our favourites, composed of such genial and well-cultured men as the late Sam Black, Fred Armitage, etc. We did not fare so well with Kirkheaton. Once Allen Hill came and got us all out for 13, and these were byes, not a run being scored from the bat.
Meltham Mills was near home, consequently the rivalry was keener. First one side and then the other were victorious. Old Joe Hirst (now living), then young, was a troublesome bowler to play, and the late R. Mellor was a demon. Besides they had some good bats; the Heaps were very stubborn; but on one occasion we beat them so handsomely at Meltham Mills that a bus was chartered to run the victors home, who were received with loyal honours, escorted by a great crowd to the Commercial Hotel, and greeted with the cheers of what was then a grateful population, even for small things.
Can the Slaithwaite team of to-day beat Meltham Mills? On looking over the trials I am afraid it is often the other way. In any case we had a good team with no professional. Andrew Taylor, a slow round-hand bowler, from Dewsbury; young Horsfield, the boiler maker; one and sometimes two others from the Savile Club; and Mr. Joseph Sykes, late of Brockholes, used to come help. The rest were Slaithwaite lads, with Mr. Clarke, who was a servant of Mr. Hulbert’s. They were a happy lot; we had sunny times. Most of the dear lads are dead, including the late C. Brierley, called “Tuck,” who used to throw a beautiful somersault every time one of the opposing side was out.
Oh, football! We had none save at Christmas, when free kicking of shins and against stone Avails with the ball were the order of the day. Now you have got it into a great science, and have some popular clubs. May I just ask to what end does all this tend? Have you not science classes to-day? Or is it all cricket in summer, and football in winter? If so, you are in a bad way; and, remember, there is no greater lover of sport than myself. Still there is something for the youth of this great country to do besides being the best in the field of sport. I only mention these things that it may not be all one way. Win as many cups as you can; but do not meet me with them on a Sunday in a wagonette, going from public-house to public-house to fill them with drink, dressed in your half-holiday dress, and arriving home in not a fit state to meet a loving father and a dear father. No; something higher, my lads, must be your end and aim in life. You must have science to meet the German in the world’s field of commercial battle; some technical skill to beat the French and Belgians; and then, with the sturdy training you have in our English games and the culture hinted at above, you will, I feel sure, be a match for the American, and hold up for ever the dear old flag of England’s supremacy, the best and freest in the world.
Slaithwaite Notes: Past and Present (1905) by John Sugden