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

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Chapter XLVII. What Lasses Did Fifty Years Ago, and Now

Fifty years ago they worked at the mill when old enough. There was a beautiful crop of them at the silk mill; oh, go nice and clean. Others wove at home, and some very few went out to service. They were a handy lot indeed, fast with nothing, and could do almost anything. In the first place, they could knit and sew, bake samplers. (These latter have gone out largely in these later days, as formerly noted in Chapter XV., and varied in this.) You can see a few remnants of the past hung up in some of the houses in their heavy frames, representing Bible characters, pet lambs, etc., illustrated with numerous verses. This art was largely taught at the old “Dame’s School,” Kitchen Fold, where a few boys were taught to knit stockings between running out of doors; for in summer time, when the days were tine, they used to bolt out into the open and enjoy themselves in the fresh air, or go fishing in the River Colne hard by. They were fine times, and not spoilt by anticipations of punishment, for the truant knew that at the worst it would only be a gentle tap or two from an old strap kept for the purpose. The hardest thing that ever came from this weapon of correction was when the old lady had hurled it at the head of some ill-behaved scholar, one or two of whom had the audacity to throw it back. Then there were ructions, and the culprit got a well-deserved punishment, which probably troubled him for many a day. Education was not altogether neglected either. Truth to be told, Canon Hulbert. even if he did take advantage of it in the interest of his church, was one of the pioneers of this great movement, and his schools did a useful work in teaching good reading, useful writing, ready mathematics, sound grammar, and plenty of geography. Then there was the Sunday school, where some of the Dissenters taught writing on a Sunday, and many a girl that I know well owed her writing to one of these places; and oh, what would have been missed if it had not been so? It is no secret that at times, longing for a glimpse of little reminiscences of the past, I look into a hidden drawer for a sacred sheet of paper, reminding one when summer was one continuous day of sunny happiness, and winter had no darkness. Such documents are dear to one’s heart, and that to bedew it with tears can be no desecration, descending as it does from so pure a source, and the writing and the writer coming from a Sunday school one loved so well in those far-off yet happy days. Then singing was a great art, taught at most of the schools, and with this aid the young people could sing by ear. It was a common thing for two girls to sing duets at the anniversaries, and on a Sunday evening could be heard the choruses resounding from the mountain sides, the loud hosannas — the little hills rejoice and the valleys covered with corn. Not only these, but the higher themes could be heard of Handel’s “ Hallelujah,” and even so far as Beethoven, and other great masters’ works.

They sing well and beautifully at this time, and perhaps with greater training go further, but they do not do much better than those of the remoter period. Besides, in the higher grade, we had in my early days classes for drawing, taught by the late and lamented Mr. Peace Sykes, of Huddersfield, who with rare ability did for the girls in this pleasing art what Mr. Jarmain did for the boys in practical science as applied to trade and commerce. By this the present generation will see we were not idle at that time, but were sowing the seed of the greater Slaithwaite which was to be, and in which all classes of the community rejoice to-day, and cheerfully participate in the labours and joys of those of the past. Then and now,

“With joy unfeigned, brothers and sisters meet,
And each for others’ welfare kindly speers,”

the brother to defend, and the sister finds in him a rock on which she can firmly stand, and if on this she will rely no danger will ensue. In addition, while in the past the Sundays schools were poor, ill adapted, out of all proportion, and totally unequal to the requirements of modern times, still good results attended the efforts of former workers in the labour of love. The singing classes were well attended, the books were freely taken out of the libraries, and the recreations, though somewhat restrained, were wholesome and pure. Neither was there so much of these things as to interfere with the duties at home, which were as numerous as they were varied. When a young girl got married she had not to learn her duties. A fond mother had taught her everything; in this respect they were a little better then than now, though in many modern things a little behind. For instance, in dress. They were not so smart, and all the new fashions did not find their way into the village. The fit was not so neat, the figure was not so trim; neither were the bonnets so gay, or the hats so large; but there was something more — nearly every girl could make her own frock, and often make her own headgear. But, what is more still, she could make her old clothes look as well as new. A lost art at home; everything or nearly so is bought at the shop or Co-op. In this matter the old days were better than the new; and with regard to cleanliness, this was a religion never transgressed by saint or sinner. There was no John Holroyd and Company to take in washing; this was all done in the cottage as well as in the hall, and the starching was a study, especially the white caps of the young wives, now unhappily gone out of existence. But what matters it which was the better, as both these things are good alike. The classes at our schools are larger, and the rooms rebuilt to meet modern requirements. They do much good, to mention one only, because it is the largest, and the teacher a kind friend to all the dear one hundred girls who attend on a Sunday afternoon. What pleasure it gives to both! Could girls be better preserved, or their lives be made more happy? Every birthday there is a card, not because of its value. Every marriage a present, though not great, yet thoughtful, and in every sorrow some comfort, and this sincere and well-meant. Who could spoil the plumage of these bonny birds?

“Is there, in human form, that bears a heart,
A wretch; a villain; lost to love and truth;
That can, with studied, sly, ensnaring art,
Betray one of these sweet unsuspecting youths?”

No; and, if so, a curse on his perjured arts, and be he at all times condemned until justice has been done to the so ruined maid, and consolation brought to the fondling parents o’er their child.

This nearer and dearer teacher than all others, alas! gone to her reward.

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

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


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

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