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

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Chapter XX. Building Society and Cotton Mill

No. 3 Spinning Mill

If it were asked what work in my life I liked most, I should answer and say, One’s youthful ambition to do everything to benefit my fellow man, to promote his real interest, to make the world better, and to create more human happiness. That was the young ideal of a warm and generous heart; and the one thing that pleased me most was the £3,000 that the poor entrusted me with at the penny savings bank.

The best days were those connected with the Mechanics’ Institution — science classes, technical knowledge, and, later in life, free and untrammelled day schools, such a one as that commenced under Mr. Muxlow, B.A., at the opening of the new building: at the Mechanics’ Institution. The inhabitants of Slaithwaite up to this time had had to rely on the Church of England National Schools, which then were largely run in the interests of their religion, and at a time when there was no conscience clause to keep a child from the contamination of creeds as we have to-day. To build the Mechanics’ Institution on the then slender means at our disposal was a great achievement, of which those engaged are justly entitled to be proud.

Sunday schools come next in my regard. The good they have done can never be overestimated, and the vast number of anniversaries one helped to make popular are among the dear memories laying very near to a grateful heart. Latterly, chapels, as soon as they got an organ, disbanded the instrumentalists who used to assist, much to the relief of the performers; but if the authors of the change had been true musicians, they would have known that the organ was the true basis on which to set up a proper band. In this sense much is lost to the once popular anniversaries.

Politics always had a wonderful charm in my early days. Young hopes ran high on the possibility of promoting freedom’s cause, especially at a time when there was great need of help and willing hands to toil on the more barren soil.

I had no need to be ashamed of the high order obtained by brass bands, aided largely by the generous support of willing workers.

I was pleased to be one of those who helped to map out the Colne Valley Division for Parliamentary purposes.

The work of Local Boards when they came into operation had a strong fascination which could not be resisted. Their accomplishments have been very wonderful. Slaithwaite is no exception, as witness the widening of the hump-backed bridge, the gradual raising of Bridge Street down to the Guardian office, the widening of the streets, draining and paving, the leading up to and the final acquisition of the baths for and on behalf of the people, who will yet call the man blessed who had the foresight and courage to secure them on their behalf. Yes; the good men who struggled in a dark far-off day to create sunshine where it had been dark, to give freedom where it had been slavery, and to give smiling happiness where it had been bitter sorrow. Well do I remember, when preaching these things in the Colne Valley, at one special meeting at Golcar — very likely in a speech too highly coloured, brimming with poetry, and in flowing and enthusiastic language — a man in the audience calling out at the top of his voice, “Shall we have to work, then?” Yes; then and now; we shall have to work, but it would be much sweeter if it were not for man’s inhumanity to man.

How this has been increased by caucuses, etc., which choke individual worth and leave not a breath of liberty behind, how a designing man can put on religion and politics to serve his own ends spoils my picture, and helps to dim the rosy morn which one would like to see, and not obscure the future’s brightness. Professionals are, as a rule, a terror to me; their consciences are so elastic, their tongues so oily, truth so easy; it is impossible to tell what they will do and will not do under given circumstances. If it were not for some glorious exceptions, it would be a dark age in this direction.

Then, again, pure selfishness and unprincipled dealing are much to be abhorred. Stopping at nothing and using everything and everybody to their own ends is not desirable; neither is seizing every opportunity for power and pay; anything but as a means to a miserable end. Or that a pleasant life should be spoilt by these vexations, and mar the fair horizon of a more beautiful life. We are only driven to think of these by the painful experience of after life. Now, whatever may have been the case since, these evil thoughts never entered the minds of those who started the Land and Building Society at the Commercial Inn, the house of Mr. G.H. Walker, the constant friend of everything for the good of Slaithwaite.

The particulars of this are as follows: “At a meeting, April 26th, 1876, presided over by Mr. John Sugden, it was unanimously agreed that a Land and Building Society be formed — capital £20,000 — and that the following be the directors — Messrs. G. Haigh, Joseph. Crowther, William Crowther, J. Brierley, John Sugden, G.H. Walker, and D. Eagland.” This building society managed to build a number of cottages for the workers, who were to have a house of their own and one to let, but to do this it was found that it would be very slow and require much money. So it was resolved by the Board that the building society should be merged into a cotton spinning company, to bring together capital and labour, and bind the two in closer union, especially the latter, which was to become its own employer, and I can say honestly that capital did help to this end, and if the workers did not take the shares it was their own fault, and if any have sold their shares since, the bigger fools they is all that can be said in extenuation.

There has been a worse class than these, and they were a few capitalists who invested a little money with fear and trembling, but, lest they should miss something, on the very first opportunity of a profit sold out, to the great detriment and danger of the company. Happily they did not break the show, the poor loan-holders held on their way, and have now either been paid back or trebled their security. To come back to facts, the change was made September 27th, 1876, at the first general meeting of the Land and Building Society, when, after a favourable balance sheet had been read, it was moved by Mr. H. Walker, seconded by Mr. G.H. Walker, and carried unanimously, that the share capital be increased to £50,000 in one pound shares, so as to be able to erect a cotton mill, the name to be changed to the Slaithwaite Spinning Co., the directors remaining the same. Mr. G. Haigh, by instruction, bought land from Lord Dartmouth at 2s. 6d. per yard. Plans were got out at once. Messrs. Eaglands got the contract, causing David to come off the Board. Mr. Elon ‘Crowther was elected in his place, and Mr. G.H. Walker on the retirement of Mr. H. Walker. Mr. John Wood Beaumont was on for a short time, and until his death. Mr. G. Haigh, the chairman, died early, and Mr William Crowther was elected chairman, and Mr. Alfred Sykes succeeded Mr. Joseph Brierley when the latter died. Then came the tug-of-war. The following list will be interesting reading, and go a long way to show what had to be done afterwards to raise the requisite capital:—

G. Haigh 500
J. Brierley 500
R. Walker 500
J. Mortimer 100
John Sugden 100
G.H. Walker 100
H. Maxwell 100
J. Moss 100
J.B. Freeman 100
H.G. Gledhill 100
R.R. Armitage 100
R. Shaw 100
E. Sykes 100
J.W. Greaves 100
A. Thorp 50
J. Helliwell 50
Joe Crowther 500
Wm. Crowther 500
Elon Crowther 500
David Eagland 100
J.B. Eagland 100
E. Eagland 100
T. Mellor 100
W. Varley 50
J. Swift 80
W.E. Cotton 100
William Sykes 100
T. Wood 100
Jos. Sykes 50
E. Gledhill 50
Jos. Sykes 40
Total £5,170

Mr. William Varley (the best of men) was manager until unfortunately he died, and since then his only son Thomas has worthily filled the arduous position. In this company, whatever men may say to the contrary, the one idea was to marry work and capital, and the struggle to accomplish it is best known to those who are left. The present wealthy men of to-day had not the money at that time to double and to double again their shares as they had to do to make it go, and to know where to get the needful were twin evils not easily surmounted. But it was the making of them in those days, and in these latter and more degenerate ones. Don’t be spoilt, please, with the greater power and larger abundance. Nothing was missed; all was purely done in the interests of the company. No accountant was engaged, or solicitor consulted. The then unpaid secretary (myself) did the work at a total cost of about £7, including the stamp and a set of books of the value of more than half of this modest sum. There were no shares given, no promotion money, or over-valuation to owners, or afterwards to the promoters, etc., etc. No; they don’t do so now — at least, altogether. A different class of men have come upon the scene, as evidenced by what has taken place in London and elsewhere. Not that there are no honest company promoters. Oh, dear no! Thank G-od, there are as good men as the Slaithwaite Spinning Company; but, alas! there have been a few on the other side who work hand in hand with rosy prospectuses to induce a blind public to take up shares. This neighbourhood, I fondly hope, has none of these evils; but there are things so painful to me — in the betrayal and loss of my own business — that, bad as it is to have lost additionally £115,000 by bad debts in too readily trusting weak humanity, it is even worse to be deceived at last and to lose most you possess by simply believing those in whom you trusted. Here and now this has nothing to do with the Slaithwaite Spinning Company; only had my bit been all placed in this concern I should have been very much richer; all the years between could have been devoted to the public good, and my life made happy instead of otherwise.

It may be asked, How is it that this company is so good? (1) The men were honest who promoted it, and had no ulterior aim; (2) they devoted themselves to make it a success by handsome depreciation; (3) never paying a dividend until it was honestly earned; took nothing out and kept all in; had a good man with the best management and the latest machinery, all the time paying good wages and securing the best conditions for the worker, who was looked upon more as a partner in a great concern than as an employee. This is the feeling of the present board, and if ever this should unfortunately be otherwise, the sin will not lie at their door.

These men deserve all they get, and if there is one thing (commercially) of which I am honestly proud, it is my humble connection with this great company, which as much as anything else has greatly helped to make Slaithwaite what it is.

The Globe Worsted Company, largely promoted by the same men, will be a greater success in the future than in the past; and the Corn Mills, formerly belonging for a lifetime to Varleys, secondly to Messrs. Derbyshire, Haigh, and Sugden, and latterly to the co-operative societies of working-men, is happily doing better than ever it did before. So that I can say to finish, let all long continue to flourish and none decay, and, like John Gilpin, may I be there to see and drink at the flowing fountains of my youth.

Bent Ley is a very successful company, in which one is very happy, now helping unfortunate Meltham, where there is not a single power loom left. The lovely girls are made still more beautiful by the clean work brought to their happy homes.

Dobcross Iron Works has brought with it care, many pleasant hours, and the companionship of some very good men; many, alas! dead, but happily we have left (with others) the present able managing director, Mr. E. Hollingworth.

The Yorkshire Union of Mechanics’ Institutes I have been connected with for forty-five years, attended its best meetings with Sir Edward Baines, Sir James Kitson, and others, and up to the retirement of my dear old friend, Mr. Frank Curzon (early this year), had remained a constant friend and supporter.

Co-operation in Slaithwaite has been very successful. What was called the “Yellow Co-op.” is the bigger and older institution, and long held the field, until, at an election time, the committee ran their horse for the Liberal candidate. This was strongly resented, and what was called the “Blue Co-op.” was established out of the dispute, but happily ever since these organisations have worked side by side in friendly rivalry, always paying good dividends to their respective members. It will be well for these two societies to remember that churches, chapels, and schools were handsomely supported in the past by local shopkeepers, and that, having taken their businesses, they must not neglect the obligation.

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