To-day all is progress and prosperity in the town, and in a district so busy that nearly every mill is working overtime, and many night and day. Indeed, just now, the Colne Valley is the marvel of all who have the pleasure to see it, or the happy acquaintance of any of the sous and daughters of this prosperous neighbourhood. Wages are fairly good, and the people are learning more sense than to spend it all foolishly. They will have their enjoyment, but in a rational way, and who can blame them after the long hours of hard labour.
The youngsters will get a rest from the school, and kind mothers will fill their stockings with good things. Christmas cheer will abound everywhere. Sunday schools will have their great day, speeches will be made, pieces said, and anthems sung to commemorate the great festival. The churches and homes will be decorated, and the hearts of the people (young and old) made glad because of the birth of a Saviour to redeem the world.
On Christmas Eve Slaithwaite perhaps sends out more waits than any other town of its size. All places of worship, clubs of any kind (and they are numerous and many), so that the inhabitants have a lively time, and in some cases are kept awake on the happy morn with mixed feelings not always Christian. But what of the old? Well, had much the same, with the va.st difference of the age, much less in population, and the people then not over-stocked with money. The children had less in their stockings, and the men and women fewer coppers in their pockets; but it was a great day, well observed there on the hills and in the valleys.
Going over the hills on Saturday, what a change one found! The dear old cottages of a former generation were deserted and boarded up. What a tale of love, life, and death they could tell if only some kind one would find a tongue for them to talk of the past.
Take the Lingards side. What a tell-tale at Fox Stone Edge, once the home of the honey bee, which gathered this sweet morsel every day from the wild moors adjoining, where the happy farmer lived and made out his busy life with hand-loom weaving. There was a little dam on the site of the present Deer Hill reservoir, and a spring of fresh water, which the lads and lasses used to drink in summer, along with that richer draught which bound them one in after life, remembering the canty days they had with one another while musing on these scenes, the dear old lanes, the quiet footpaths, the river banks, the old friends, and the pleasant reminiscences of the past. I was rudely awakened by the sight of a hearse. “Who goes there?” says I. “John Meal” is the answer, and I am reminded of another landmark gone for ever.
Ah, John Meal, another Lingards lad in early days, the mate and co-worker of the lamented and respected Mr. Samuel Sugden, of Springfield. In early days they worked together at Upper Mill — the long hours of the then miserable factory days, when the ways were rude and the wages little.
At Upper Mill lived in a cottage old Mr. Haigh, a remarkable character in more ways than one, from whom sprung the Haighs, of Quarmby and Colne Bridge. The crutch was an effective weapon for disorderly lads, and the billy roller handy when cardings were left to run in. It was here that poor Samuel Sugden had to go without dinner. His brother John, when a mere child, had gone a-hunting with Walter Barker, instead of obeying the instructions of a kind mother, who had gone out charing. The instructions were that the little brother was to put a pint of water to a pint of milk; boil up the same, and then pour it into a quart can, into which the fond parent had broken a penny cake, with a little salt and pepper; this part done before going to her early matin of hard work to help to feed her dear and numerous progeny. Sam missed his humble dinner that day, but happily lived to have many a better, and to get into that position that he was able and ever ready to give a dinner to a wandering hrother who might in want be passing by.
But to come back to this old Upper Mill. It had many characteristics. One was that the wheelwrights had part of their wage in food. One of these was very particular, and got a name which stuck to him for life, and that was “Broth.” It came about this way: It was the custom to have broth, pudding, beef, vegetables, bread, cheese, and ale. This man above mentioned objected to the broth. Then, said Mr. Haigh, no broth, no pudding; no pudding, no beef. This drastic ultimatum, it is said, so settled the disinclination that the hesitating one fell to with the whole course, but left him a by-name which was not over pleasant to the old gentleman, especially when he had had a little too much beer. Otherwise he was a hard-working, honourable, and upright man, whose greatest fault was strong language, to which he was far too often provoked.
It was here also that John Meal got a name more common to him than his own. The boys playing at leap-frog in the meal-time were often very boisterous, and not always over jannock to avoid mischief and to act square. John said to one of his companions, “Now, Tom, set a fair back, and pull thi nobbin in”; and by this (without the slightest offence) the man was known through life. In early days he was connected with Bolthead Sunday School; in middle life had great admiration for the late Charles Bradlaugh; later on sympathised with the Labour movement on behalf of his brother man; he inclined to the Wesleyans in religion, to which his family are closely attached.
He died on Friday (getting on in life), and they buried him on Saturday, with the deep regret of his dear relatives and numerous friends.
Slaithwaite Notes: Past and Present (1905) by John Sugden