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

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Chapter XLVI. Workmen at their Forum

The Dartmouth Aims is seated round with workers who have just begun to take a warm interest in the Co-operative movement. Workers are no longer to be kept under. George Jacob Holyoake is preaching his new doctrines to listening ears of how to raise mankind. Walter Eagland and John Bamforth eloquently expounded the scheme of self help to their fellows, who encourage each other on, and from this source was commenced the great Co-operative movement in Slaithwaite, which has grown to such large dimensions all through the Colne Valley. Anyway, here was the commencement, and no one can tell what it will develop into if the members be but true to one another, and try to live for something else besides the purely selfish “divi.” There are times when brotherly love, relief, and truth do not seem to be the order of the day even in this well-regulated community, and when it appears as if the least wage was the right thing to do, and the longest hours to work was a correct code. If this be so, let us hope there will be less of it, and more of the ideals of the early days in the future history of Co-operation.

Speaking of the Co-operative movement, I sometimes wonder if the promoters will ever join the Independent Labour Party and go in for class legislation pure and simple — to me a wrong thing either for the few of the past or the many of the future. If it is to be purely selfishness, it will be a low rung on the ladder of human progress. The best of men have not laboured for this beyond the greatest happiness for the greatest number, but surely there is something else than seizing by fair means, or otherwise, the great power of production, distribution, and exchange. Where it can be done legitimately, no objection can be taken. The first named is a difficult problem, and has been long in getting to the strong position it is in to-day.

The worthy individuality of genuine brain power and force of character must and will tell in all ages, and as long as the world is better for them they are fairly entitled to a just reward. If there had not been these, where would the great industries of the day have been. Some, alas! a little precarious just now, but by and bye they will he put right, so as to be able to meet the world with equal justice to the worker and the individuality of merit and ability. It would be an insult to common decency to level down the brightest intellect to the lowest level of humanity. Fair play to both is my cry, and may they work together for the good of the world, as in the past.

Distribution is somewhat easier, and here it has taken the Co-operative movement fifty years to attain the proud position it occupies to-day. How many shopkeepers have been killed in the process is no part of this discussion. We have to welcome progress which leads to greater happiness, and if the movement can take up production no one will object. They have their chance. The world is before them. If the many can accomplish what the few have done in production to the greater benefit of mankind, a grateful age will welcome the progress; but until that day let there be none of that ill-natured railing, which does not it deserve the approbation of a generous public bent on the improvement of the condition of men.

Exchange is a greater difficulty. Those who have the money make the mare to go. It will take a long time to denude our banks of their vast capital, our joint stocks of their accumulation, and our large concerns of their wide extensions. A much better plan than pulling down would be building up, and if the men of the present age will do what those have done in the past, they will show something which the age will appreciate, and fit to be put alongside the records of that glorious past which has been the envy of the world. Be this as it may, let me proceed with my story of the workers.

Another pioneer of progress appeared at this time, at the same good old hostelry, to preach to the same class of men on the higher aims of Cooperation, viz.: to provide their own workshops, to be their own masters, and collar the means of production in addition to their distribution — a subject warmly debated to-day. There will be much more of it in the future, and if men would only be true to each other there would be a greater chance of its success. It all depends on themselves. Only it is a mistaken idea to ever think that they can knock out individuality, merit, or ability, or reduce to one common level the intellect or capacity of men. No; let those who have wings of power soar the atmosphere of righteous conquest, and he who is strong use it, not only for himself, but for the benefit of mankind.

At Slaithwaite, they were a little before their time. Mr. Paterson, the preacher, was most eloquent, made many converts, and unfortunately (judged by results) succeeded in getting a company top-ether to commence cotton spinning in Scammonden. How they got the money to build that unlucky mill, how they stopped short, lost all their money, and how blighted were all their prospects was painfully illustrated by the lamentable death of Mr. Bamforth, a highly respectable working-man, who had money, and when all was lost went and destroyed himself in the unfinished factory, which was to have been the joy of their lives, but ended, alas! in their untimely graves.

Another class and another kind of “drouthy neebors” often met at the Bottoms, then, as now, a lovely spot on the small river running from Deer Hill Springs. The place was formerly an old mill with a water wheel, but at this time it was the residence of Mr. William Varley, who had a brew-house, by which he did a rare trade, and had a licence to sell ale in the low room, up to the running brook. At the door here often sat, by an ingle bleezing finely in reaming swats that drank divinely, a choice lot of old Lingardians. Some of them worked at the quarry (now idle), Windy Bank, under old Mr. Stocks, called good old Jerry for his kind nature and cheerful disposition. Old Johnny, the ancient, a true but dry crony, was nearly always there. They (the company) loved him as a brother, but this was a disaster for the sufferers at home. Then would come in John Marks with a good hearty laugh at his own tales, at which old Joe Beaumont would want to fratch a bit, but Dan o’ th’ Holt would not have it. Said he one day: “We have a better thing on. Ben o’ Bamforths o’ Carters has gotten a fortin, and we are to spend every penny” — and, what is more, they did. Never one of the happy lot did anything but drink until it was all gone. At the end of this long spree I remember Dan coming to our house for my father. He was fairly done, and gasping. He says to my mother, “Betty, lass, I do want something tasty; what can you give me?” “Nay,” she replied, “I have nothing with your cursed drinking: but if a treacle shive and a onion is anything in thi way tha can have that.” This little incident lives in Slaithwaite to this day, and is often quoted, and was a great favourite with the late William Sykes, of the gasworks.

And another class of the same period foregathered at the Rose and Crown at Cop Hill. There would be sporting men, and the talk would be of foot racing, pigeon flying, and trail hunting — the latter then in great vogue, and what a pleasant sport! for it is harmless compared with the more cruel ones; nothing killed or anything injured, and a good test of the skill and strength of a dog.

One day, in having their pints, John o’ Sarah says: “Well, lads, I have been over to the Hanging Gate yonder i’ Saddle worth to meet as gradely a lot of sportsmen as ivver I met afore. Little Enginer gave me £10 to back his great dog ‘Nudger’ to run ‘Dip-gle Bounty,’ and they took it on sweetly, I can tell you. We knew we were in for a good thing. The money was as good as in my pocket, and when all was ready I took notice of the sign over the door, which says: —

‘This gate hangs well, and hinders none;
Refresh and pay and travel on.’

This I did, and I asked the chaps what they were going to have on. They supped up. Then I called again. Bailey says ‘Put me daan for 50s.’ ‘Nay,’ says John o’ Tommy’s, ilia arn’t going to have it all.’” Anyway, a good stake was made up. “Now.” said John o’ Sarah’s, “our dog is in splendid fettle. We are sure to win if all yo’ fellows will go to the race and spread yerseln aat to cover the whole run to see fair play.” I need not add they all went their several ways that night full of the coining event, and when the time came they were all there, and came marching home from Saddleworth Hills and over Standedge Moors with their favourite dog and the money rattling in their pockets. These two famous dogs were so remarkable in their day and generation that the Saddleworth people became the happy possessors of both, and to-day their names adorn respectively two signs of public-houses at Dobcross, as a mark of their great powders, and what working-men thought of them in those days.

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

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


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This page was last modified on 20 October 2016 and has been edited by Dave Pattern.

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