Slaithwaite Notes: Past and Present (1905) - Chapter XLV

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Chapter XLV. Manufacturers of Olden Days

In the former chapters it was shown what the long-windowed houses were for, what use was made of them, and how things had changed with workers, but it is a greater change with the manufacturers. In the old days there were very few mill owners in the Colne Valley who were manufacturers. No; they were woollen scribblers, millers, dyers, finishers, four separate businesses, which found employment from the many (small and large) who in those days were called piece makers, who put out their material to factories in the first place to be made into yarn, which was sent home in the cop, to be again delivered out to the weaver. These came from all the hillsides, with their wrapper and their donkeys, principally in a morning, the allotted time for this kind of work. Then could be seen hundreds of them going to the various large houses of the scattered manufacturers, who had a busy time of it in the early part of the day; and again on Tuesdays, when they went to Huddersfield to sell their pieces. At other times it was one easy happy-go-lucky existence. Most of the afternoons these men congregated together, calling on the way at neighbouring public-houses, and arriving at the Globe, where Ephraim was king, brewer, farmer, and hail fellow well met, always strong enough with characteristic personality to keep his friendly company together. They did not drink to get drunk. Oh, no; it was their club and rendezvous for good fellowship. The village gossip was heard, stories were told, valiant deeds recounted, and disasters retailed. They were a right good sort. No pride of family or conceit of wealth. Then, big fortunes did not turn their heads, or a little power make them vain. They had real enjoyment, and were not above their neighbours; friendly with all, and the good workman was often their companion. The talk would be general. Mr. John Crowther would tell the company of the pleasure he had had last market day in going to see the beautiful lass his oldest son was going to marry, and how proud he was that she was good, which was better than riches. These are living to-day under altered conditions, of which a tale could be told. Then Mr. Hopkinson, a new comer, who was doing a large business, would say, “Mine are too young for courting, but it is remarkable how the old granny is helping them. She beats all I know, or any I have ever seen. She can keep her shop accounts without a single book. She is no scholar, neither knows a single letter; yet, with a bit of white chalk and her own peculiar mark on the back of the door, knows to a penny what everyone owes her” — and in those harder times the number would not be few, or the amount small. Mr. J. Haigh said, “Tha’ll be weel off some day, Harry; and my wife’s doing same for my son. She gets up by five o’clock i’ th’ morning to do her housework, and then at eight o’clock begins to take in his pieces from the weavers, who come in crowds from all sides until dinnertime, and then after this she has to help to tenter. Sometimes I wonder what he will do when he gets his wife, for he will have to have her soon, as she has begun to smooth his rough hair, smarten his appearance, and make him more presentable. The mother says a bonnet maker will be a poor hand at a tenter, and very little use with the weavers.” Such were the notions of these good old stagers in those days. One has lived to see many things different in this case.

Mr. Joseph Sykes was of another class. He had no children, was of a family of noted shopkeepers, and had joined this club of the manufacturers. He sold coals, pots, clothes, greengroceries, and was a farmer, with a native wit and a natural vein for banter. He once said, “If I have no children of my own, there is my niece, who will be provided for, and” — now addressing the landlord — “they say thi son is looking after her, so that we shall be getting mixed up in a bit.” “Never mind that,” says Mr. Haigh, “what said old Betty to thi the other day, when tha turned her hens out of the field?” “Well,” returned Joseph, “it was not bad. The thing fairly settled me, and though against myself, it was so good that I don’t mind telling you, but it must not go out of this room under any conditions, for as overseer it would never do to get out into the town. Well, Betty and I had a regular set-to about the hens, and the worst of it was we were the best of friends, and old Johnny, the husband, an old chum. The old lady says to me, “What am I to do? My husband comes among you, and leaves me and the children to provide for, and they will have to have something to eat wherever it comes from, and if tha will not let me keep hens I shall have to come to thi for relief; and if I do, tha cannot for shame give me less than —” — naming an old sweetheart. “Tha were fairly had there, Joe,” said Mr. Horsfall, “but I had a funnier experience this morning. You all know we are building a new warehouse at our mill, and, trade being good I am anxious to get it up, so I push them on in every way. There was Tramp there, as careless as possible, and when I asked him why he had not brought his breakfast, he pulled a long face and answered. ‘Breakfast be d—! No; indeed I have not, for no one ever knows here that he will have to stay to a meal-time.’ And then when I got down to the lower mill one of the young beggars put me in a skep, and said if I touched him he would poise me soundly. Is this not enough for one day? What is the world coming to when such words can be said and such deeds done to masters, even in their own workshops?” Mr. G. Eastwood and the others said nothing. The dear old landlady chimed in, “You should have more patience with the men, treat them more kindly, and with greater consideration. They are the same flesh and blood, and what a singular reflection! How narrow a margin differentiates us all from one another.”

This motherly wisdom would benefit the whole world, and bring all classes into closer union for the common good of all, if only more practical — a sort of just levelling up which would increase happiness, bridge over difficulties, and make a solid road for mankind to walk upon.

Slaithwaite Notes: Past and Present (1905) by John Sugden