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

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Chapter XXXI. D.F.E. Sykes, LL.B

The rising Guardian is not the only weekly paper which has found a home and an influence in the Colne Valley, in addition to the other three well-established papers in Huddersfield. Once upon a time there was the Northern Pioneer. It came out like a flash, with a bold dash for life and usefulness, if I remember aright, somewhere about the year 1880. Its author was a brilliant young man — no smoodger — and had had a good education, to which were added great natural abilities. He was a splendid speaker, had a facile pen, and was a great Radical, full of zeal on behalf of the working classes, wisely or unwisely exerted it is not for me to say, only to add that it was well meant. A lad only, one might say, yet no mean member of the Huddersfield Corporation, where he and the author had many well-known battles on behalf of the people against the slow forces of retrogression. One kept the camp, while the other went out to battle on many a memorable occasion. How this young man fluttered the dovecotes of the old Corporation are written in the minutes of that august body, where we will leave them to a further review. The young man at that time had a large practice as a popular solicitor in Market Street, near the Queen Hotel, Huddersfield. He lived in good style at Almondbury, and had a pony and trap to take him to and from his work. Many there were who partook of his liberal hospitality. He seemed destined for a great position, and there was no office but what he was eminently qualified to hold if a little more stability had been there; but business is a queer jade, not to be driven at will or held according to the caprice of the individual. Anyway, law and the Northern Pioneer were bad partners; they would not run together or be driven in pairs, and the result was that one ruined the other. This Pioneer as a political venture was too much in advance of the age. It was rather fast, and too impatient. The leaders were warm and rapidly progressive; the get-up very like Mr. Labouchere’s Truth — I should think copied after this style. Once we got this gentleman (Mr. Labouchere) down to Huddersfield, to the no small consternation of the milder Liberals, who, like many of the same class to-day, have no love for this, then and now, unrestrained free lance. Mr. Leatham spoke from the same platform, but there was not much love between them, and a wide gap separated their respective friends, though to the audience these things were all dark. The meeting in the Town Hall was a good one, and we dined at Mr. Sykes’ house — he had then removed into Trinity Place, Trinity Street, Huddersfield. All this time there was a greater danger on the horizon of the Northern Pioneer. It had many writers. One only will I name, and that was dear old Croft, of Thornton’s Temperance Hotel, but not altogether given to the same drinks. He was a good soul, with a warm desire to benefit his fellows, and to the best of his knowledge took every opportunity of doing so. Being a writer of some repute, he took the first opportunity in the Pioneer to distinguish himself, and signed his productions “Melampus” — a grand sounding name, which he used to advantage. For a bit of digression I will name an occasion when this great synonym did not retain its fair balance. It was Christmas time, when good cheer was plentiful at the then Central Liberal Club at the top of High Street. Mr. Croft being a hail fellow well met, did not miss these things. But the fatal time approached when all had to go home, and in such a night as was unfit for either beast or man to be abroad. The roads were as slippery as a glass bottle, and however poor Croft got to the top of Chapel Hill was a mystery. But there he was, and there he stuck, trying all he knew to get up, but always falling back, until at last he gave up all hope, and helplessly sat down to physically consider his recumbent position, when he was seen and heard by a wag of a friend soliloquising quietly. With all his glory gone and in complete resignation, he was heard to exclaim, “Melampus? By G—, on his b—t—m, presenting a sight for gods and men.” The dark shadow hinted at was the eve of a great strike, which is said by many to have brought ruin and disaster to the industry of Huddersfield. Here and now I will not take sides to revive a bitterness more terrible than death. Then the whole district was rent as with a holocaust, which has left nothing but deep regret behind. Mr. Albert Shaw was a great leader of the men, and the masters seemed to think Mr. Sykes was encouraging the weavers, and when all their mills were standing this did not put them in a very lovable mood. This Mr. Sykes warmly resented, and often repeated that he was their best friend, was against the strike, and when it unfortunately took place did all he could to adjust it — though, in my opinion, he would have done better to have left it alone. In this, as in all wars, when the first shot had been fired no one could control it until it had run its fatal course. When this came, the Pioneer languished for support. All the money that had been put into it had gone, and the law business, which had been neglected, went with the paper, leaving Mr. Sykes stranded and helpless, and causing him to leave the town a sadder if not a wiser man.

Many things have happened since then. For years the poor fellow wandered about the country, suffered terrible hardships and great privations, and when he came home brave efforts were made by good men to reclaim him. If not altogether successful, let us hope in the coming future that it may be so, and is (after many changes) living happily with his wife at Booth.

“Pardon this freedom I have ta’en,
And if impertinent I’ve been,
Impute it not, good sir, in ane
Whase heart ne’er estrang’d ye;
But to his utmost would befriend
Ought that belang’d ye.”

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

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


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