The History of Honley (1914) - Chapter III

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The History of Honley and its Hamlets from the Earliest Time to the Present (1914) by Mary A. Jagger


CHAPTER III.

(Honley in 1800. — Factory Act of 1802. — Local Defence. — Threatened Invasion of the French. — Diary Extract. — An Old-time Election of 1807. — Census in 1811. — Staple Trade of the District. — Lud-riots. — Suspension of Local Banks. — Folly Hall Fight. — Factory Act of 1833. — Chartism. — Plug Riots).

HONLEY IN 1800.

This century was writ large with achievement which must of necessity have only bare mention in these pages. The marvellous changes in machinery, wonderful progress in ships, opening of railways, introduction of penny postage, telegraphs, free press, expansion of trade due to these outlets and means of transit, passing of numerous Acts of Parliament for the general welfare of the people, and that striving for the recognition of the brotherhood, of man were all features of this century. At the opening of 1800, however, the distress was terrible. About the year 1812 the state of affairs in England was almost beyond description. The pastimes of the people were still brutal, executions took place in public, body snatching was common, roads infested by robbers, and education for the people depending upon voluntary effort. On account of the wars of Napoleon having stopped European industries, there was great demand for English productions. Side by side with the spread of the Factory system were great developments in machinery favourable to more rapid output. Yet food was at famine price, due to the duty upon corn, hours of labour long, work scarce, wages low — the most industrious weaver only able to earn 7/- or 8/- per week. Children of tender years worked as long hours as adults, and if exhausted nature gave way, they were cruelly beaten.

There are people yet living who are familiar with the history of this period, by hearing parents and grandparents speak of the time when the great struggle for religious and political freedom was being fought out with such anguish of conflict and fiery ordeal. Being thus brought into intimacy with this century of endeavour and achievement by such oral communications and other connecting links, the features of the religious, civil, lawless, and distressed state of the country can be better understood. Flour at the opening of 1800 was 6/- and 7/- per stone, tea 8/- per lb., and sugar 1/- per lb. Oatmeal porridge was still the staple food of the workers, and often of the class above them; the change from the old to the new in the woollen industry not being accomplished without suffering both for master and man. If the export of cloth at this time amounted to one-half of all other exports sent out of the kingdom, harsh measures and iniquitous restrictions were imposed upon trade and commerce; so that the struggles of the master were often tragic and desperate in character. At this period also, many Banks suspended payment, causing such a feeling of cautious dread that there was no money in circulation.

Honley fared badly during this evolution of her local trade. We shall see however that she also took great leaps in religious, social and political progress during 1800.

Factory Act of 1802.

By the influence of Sir Robert Peel a Factory Act was passed 1802 in this year regarding the working of pauper children of tender years in mills. This Act could be evaded, and did not cure the evils then existing.

Local Defence.

The state of the neighbourhood was so lawless, that the 1805 leading inhabitants of Honley met in 1805 and formed themselves into a Society for purposes of self-protection; and also to help to bring to justice those who committed illegal acts.

Threatened Invasion of the French.

1805 In 1805 the dwellers in Honley were greatly alarmed by rumours of the landing of the French. The lighting of a beacon-fire upon Castle Hill was to be the signal that Buonaparte and his army had actually arrived upon British ground. People kept watch in terror day and night upon elevated grounds for the lighting of the beacon. This anticipated landing was fortunately averted. An extract copied from a diary, written in 1807 by a local lady, throws light upon the fashion of feminine attire at this date. She gives a list of her “cloathes,” amongst which are “1 black silk gown (vastly fine); 1 bombazine gown and 1 brown lustre gown.” There are also details of nightcaps, pockets, silk hose, square silk-handkerchiefs, and lace caps. In addition, there is mention of Norwich crape and silk shawls, black silk pelices, etc. The description of these materials and fashions which sound strange in our ears, seem to speak in silence of the gracious personalities and modest graces of those women of a by-gone day who laid away such garments in lavender.

An Old Time Election of 1807.

At the time when two members of Parliament represented the whole County of Yorkshire, to make use of a local saying, “elections were elections.” Like unto the Hallelujah Chorus sung by Yorkshire voices, there was abundance of “fire and go” in connection with an election. The coming of the Candidates in a carriage drawn by four spanking grey horses with mounted postilions, and accompanied by a cavalcade of horsemen was an enlivening sight. (Men could ride in those days). I can vividly recall such an arrival, when Messrs. Stanhope and Starkey, the Conservative Candidates for the Southern Division of the West Riding of Yorkshire in 1874, came to Honley. In an old-time election perhaps there was much bribery, treating and undue influence, but the retinues of men, horses and carriages passing to and fro were more animating to look upon than the present prosaic ballot-box into which papers marked with a “X” are quietly dropped, as if paying a last tribute to a departed relative. I fancy that free-fights, broken heads, cheers, counter cheers, abundant supply of coloured liquids, and the general hurly-burly taking place around the hustings held more attraction for an old-time voter than the present lifeless proceedings.

Perhaps the most important Parliamentary Election in Yorkshire took place in 1807 at York, which city was the polling place for the whole County at that time. When people had to travel from all parts of Yorkshire to York to record their votes, an ordinary election, must of necessity, have been costly, especially in the matter of reluctant voters. One election for Yorkshire in 1722 cost one candidate £12,000 0s. 0d. This sum, however, was small in comparison to the vast sums expended in the 1807 struggle. This election also was famous for the first breaking down of exclusive County family representation in Parliament. The three candidates were Lord Milton, of the House of Fitzwilliam, Whig, Mr. Lascelles, of the House of Harewood, Tory, and Mr. William Wilberforce, the advocate for the abolition of slavery. These three great champions were representatives of measures which were then the burning questions of the day. The Poll lasted 15 days at York, Wilberforce being returned at the head, Lord Milton next, and Mr. Lascelles at the bottom of the Poll. It is recorded that Lord Milton and Mr. Lascelles spent between them £200,000 0s. 0d., and that the expenses of Wilberforce amounted to £28,600 0s. 0d. The cost of Wilberforce’s expenses was defrayed by public subscription.

So far reaching were the results of this noted and expensive contest, that the names of the voters, and the persons for whom they voted, were published in a Poll-book under the direction of the Under Sheriff of York. The following are the names of Honley freeholders who voted, and the persons they voted for, copied from this Poll-book. It will be seen that the majority voted for the representative of those principles of religious and political liberty which had formed the bone of contention in the civil wars. W. means Wilberforce, L. Lascelles, and M. Milton.

W. L. M.
Mr. George Armitage 1 1
Mr. Jas. Armitage, Clothier 1
Mr. Tom Armitage, Husbandman 1
Mr. Jas. Bottomley, Millwright 1 1
Joseph Brook, Cordwainer 1
Mr. John Brook 1
Mr. William Brook, Clothier 1
Mr. Benjamin Batley, Gentleman 1
Mr. Benjamin Bray, Miller 1
Mr. Abraham Chappell, Clothier 1
Mr. Benjamin Donkersley, Clothier 1
Mr. James Eastwood, Butcher 1
Mr. John Firth, Blacksmith 1
Mr. William France, Clothier 1
Mr. Thomas Green 1
Mr. John Garner 1
Mr. William Garner 1
Mr. Giles Gartside, Dyer 1
Mr. Abraham Hanson, Clothier 1
Mr. George Hanson, Clothier 1
Mr. Richard Haigh, Clothier 1
Mr. Thomas Haigh, Clothier 1
Mr. Joseph Haigh, Clothier 1
Mr. Joseph Heap 1
Mr. John Hampshire, Dissenting Minister 1
Mr. Ely (Eli) Hobson, Clothier 1
Mr. Mr. Joseph Oldfield, Cartman 1
Mr. John Kaye, Cartman 1
Mr. Joseph Kaye, Clothier 1
Mr. Ely (Eli) Kaye, Carpenter 1
Mr. Benjamin Littlewood, Clothier 1
Mr. Richard Littlewood, Clothier 1
Mr. Joseph Lockwood, Clothier 1
Mr. John Lockwood, Clothier 1
Mr. Joseph Midwood, Tallow-Chandler 1
Mr. Joshua Moorhouse, Yeoman 1
Mr. Joshua Robinson, Dyer 1
Mr. Francis Sanderson, Clothier 1
Mr. John Swift, Clothier 1
Mr. Joseph Schofield, Clothier 1
Mr. William Schofield, Clothier 1
Mr. James Taylor, Clothier 1
Mr. Thomas Thornton, Miller 1
Mr. James Thornton 1 1

In addition to the above voters, there were residents in Honley who held property in other parts of the Wapentake of Agbrigg, and their votes are recorded in those voting districts. Their names are as follows:—

W. L. M.
Mr. William Hirst, Gardener, Freehold recorded in Birkby List 1
Mr. John Haigh, Clothier, Freehold recorded in Kirkburton List 1 1
Mr. John Dyson, Clothier, Freehold recorded in North Crosland List 1 1
Mr. John Sykes, Clothier, Freehold recorded in North Crosland List 1
Mr. John Senior, Woodcutter, Freehold recorded in Farnley Tyas List 1 1
Mr. John Dyson, Clothier, Freehold recorded in South Crosland List 1
Mr. John Houghton, Merchant, Freehold recorded in Huddersfield List 1 1
Mr. William Sykes, Glazier, Freehold recorded in Huddersfield List 1
Mr. Joseph Batley, Dyer, Freehold recorded in Meltham List 1
Mi. Joseph Armitage, Clothier, Freehold recorded in Thurstonland List 1
Mr. John Armitage, Clothier, Freehold recorded in Thurstonland List 1
Mr. John Armitage, Clothier, Freehold recorded in Upperthong List 1

I have often heard this celebrated Election recalled by old-time worthies in Honley, whose parents or relatives either rode or walked to York to record their votes. The parish hearse was requisitioned and conveyed to York a few local voters who were unable to find any other kind of vehicle. After the election was over, one noted inhabitant always declared that “he was carried to his funeral before he was dead.” When Lord Milton, during his electioneering tour, was addressing the crowd which greeted his arrival at Honley Bridge, another enquiring resident when asking questions addressed the candidate as “Mr. Lord Milton, Esquire.”

Census.

A local census of the population of Honley was taken in 1811. The males numbered 1298, and the females 1231, total 2529. These were chiefly engaged in the woollen industry.

STAPLE TRADE OF THE DISTRICT.

We have seen that the introduction of new forces into the woollen trade had caused terrible suffering. For the better understanding of the state of affairs, it will be necessary to review the evolution of the staple trade of the district before giving particulars of Lud-riots, Chartism, Plug-riots, etc., these local struggles being due to the changing conditions of the cloth trade of that date. From the days when “Adam delved and Eve spun,” down to the present, the making of clothing can be clearly traced. Amongst the various arts that the more civilized Romans taught us at their invasion was that of properly clothing ourselves. Since that time, the making of cloth has not only been established in England, but gradually become one of its most important industries. Spinning with the distaff and spindle was the employment of Saxon women, and often their only recreation. So accustomed were the maidens of old-time to spinning that they were named spinsters. This ancient title is still applied in legal terms to unmarried women. Whitaker, in his “History of Manchester,” states that the mother of Alfred the Great was skilled in the spinning of wool, and trained her daughters to the same industry. In the will of Alfred the Great, he named the female part of his family the spindle side. It is recorded that the daughters of King Edward the elder, employed themselves in spinning, weaving and embroidery. When William the Conqueror invaded England, amongst the followers in his train were many workmen from the Netherlands who were skilled in making cloth. They settled near the place of their landing, notably Norwich, though there is evidence to prove that the industry flourished at Winchester previous to this date. As time went on, the clothing industry formed at Norwich would gradually spread to other parts of the country. Edward III. encouraged the woollen trade by bringing more Flemish weavers, dyers, etc. to England, who were proficient at their various handicrafts, and settled them in different parts of England. Fuller, in his Church History, gives the number that were sent to various districts, and three came to Halifax. “Wooden-shoon” or clogs were the footwear of these workmen from the low countries. The wooden-soled clogs still worn in Yorkshire and Lancashire date their introduction to these Flemish artisans.

Previous to the Enclosure Act, England possessed so much forest land and open spaces for the pasturing of sheep, that she not only grew her own wool but exported it in large quantities; and the woollen trade was one of the most important in the country. No other industry however has suffered so much from vexatious Acts of Parliament. I must not dwell upon these Acts of Parliamentary tyranny, nor the many and varied developments in the trade since its introduction into England, though I know of no more fascinating subject for our textile workers to study than the romance of their own trade. Suffice to say, that the industry has been held with great tenacity of purpose, and the particular productions of this part have now world-wide reputation.

Defoe, the author of “Robinson Crusoe,” undertook a journey throughout England in 1714, which at that period was a hazardous venture. He afterwards described, in book-form, his impressions of the towns he visited, and the people he met. He writes as follows about a small master-manufacturer of the West Riding of Yorkshire:— “The land was divided into small enclosures from two acres to six or seven each, seldom more. Every three or four pieces of land had a house belonging to them, hardly a house standing out of a speaking distance from another. We could see at every house a tenter, and on almost every tenter a piece of cloth, or kersie, or shalloon. At every considerable house was a manufactory. Every clothier keeps one horse at least to carry his manufactures to the market, and everyone generally keeps a cow or two for his family. By this means the small pieces of enclosed land about each house are occupied, for they scarce grow corn enough to feed their poultry. The houses are full of lusty fellows, some at the dye-vat, some at the looms, others dressing the cloth, the women and children carding, spinning, being all employed from the youngest to the oldest, not a beggar to be seen, nor an idle person.”

No better idea can be conveyed of Honley clothiers and their dwellings than Defoe so picturesquely describes them. Their mode of manufacturing cloth under the household roof was Arcadian in its simplicity in comparison to present-day methods. True, many who were more enterprising than the rest, employed labour outside the family circle or in buildings around the home. With their pack-horses they went the round of farm-houses, or attended the great wool fairs to purchase wool for which golden guineas were paid down at once; Banks being neither developed nor trusted. The pack-horses were sure-footed animals that never found a day’s journey too long, nor work too hard. Upon arrival home of the train of pack-horses, the wool was then distributed, going through various processes such as spinning, weaving, etc. in cottages and homesteads around; women spinning, men sizing the warps, and drying them in the lanes outside their homes. These out-weavers owned one donkey at least for purposes of carrying material to and from “Th’ Maisters.” Owners and donkeys jogging along, the latter with warps, wefts or a piece of cloth strapped upon their backs, played an important part in the woollen industry of Honley at that period. It was a saying, that at one time there were more donkeys than people in Thurstonland, the bulk of the inhabitants being engaged in “out-weaving” for the Brooke family. When “out-weavers” delivered the results of their labour at Honley and afterwards at Armitage Bridge Mill, it was the custom to serve to them home-brewed beer and oat-cake at the “livering in” as it was named. This was on account of the long distances many of the weavers had to travel who lived in isolated hamlets, or on distant hill-sides. Whilst the donkey was cropping refreshment by the road side or getting “its bit o’ salat” (Salad) as one old weaver always named the animal’s “baiting,” the owner also enjoyed his oat-cake and homebrewed beer. At the marriage of a member of the Brooke family in the past, it was said that 42 donkeys, owned by out-weavers in Thurstonland, were gaily decorated with ribbons in honour of the event, and marched in procession around that township. The long windows in the upper rooms of old houses still standing in Honley, testify to the once prevailing occupation of weaving. Other clothiers who were not manufacturers on a large scale, carried on the process of making cloth under their household roofs. Sons of well-to-do parents who intended to adopt the woollen trade were apprenticed, and had to serve seven years. These apprentices were at one time a great feature in the clothing industry at Honley. The Master worked side by side with his eight or ten men, apprentices, and generally assisted by his wife and daughters. When his pieces of all wool cloth were ready for sale, he took them either on horse back, in his gig, or upon his shoulder to the market at Huddersfield. The grandfather of a present Honley resident who was a clothier in a small way of business at this period, often walked with his piece of cloth upon his shoulder by way of Greenfield to Manchester Market, and returned home the same route at the risk of robbery or worse dangers; there being only a dangerous track beyond Isle of Skye at that time. Previous to the building of the Cloth Hall in Huddersfield, it is said that the Clothiers placed their pieces of cloth for sale upon the old Church-yard wall in Kirkgate. The Cloth Hall was erected in 1768, by Sir John Ramsden, and enlarged by his son in 1780. Each Clothier had his own stall. On market days it was thronged by buyers and sellers when the names of such fabrics as kerseys, doeskins, cassimeres, meltons, friezes, broads, narrows, etc. were more familiar upon the lips of buyer and seller than at present. A blue broad at that time was 26/- per yard, and a drab kersey 12/- per yard.

Being descended and akin to families of clothiers, I have often heard the old-fashioned methods of manufacturing adopted by a clothier in a modest way of business fully described from buying the bundle of wool to the selling of the piece of cloth. One stage was the sprinkling or “lecking” of the wool laid upon the house floor. The stench arising from the liquid which was then used in the primitive process was considered a most healthy perfume, but the odour would prove rather trying to present day olfactory organs. When the cloth was made and hung on the tenter-frames outside, the whole family vigorously pulled at each end of the piece to make it a little longer.

But the great epoch was approaching when the inventions of such men as Kaye, Crompton, Arkwright, Cartwright, etc., were to revolutionise the woollen industry, and sever old ties once existing between master and man. The primitive process of domestic production by hand was now gradually displaced by steam-power and machinery. The workmen who had once gathered under the household roof of the master, or in outbuildings near, were concentrated in large buildings, and the factory system established. The more enterprising and wealthy clothiers at once grasped the nature of altered conditions. It was the day for the man of skill and aptitude who knew that the individual must work independently of Governments, Republics or Leagues. There were others, however, who pitted their domestic mode of industry against the ever-advancing factory system, fighting obstinately for a long time the tragic battle of loss and defeat. Resisting all innovations, they were determined to go on making cloth as it had always been made; and many hill-side homes in Honley hid silent tragedies due to the introduction of steam-power. We must not dwell upon these mute sorrows of a past day, but describe revolutions of a more noisy and exciting character, which were the outcome of the changing conditions of cloth-manufacturing.

LUD RIOTS.

Previous to the year 1812, the cloth manufactured in this neighbourhood had been finished by hand. This was a slow process with a machine not unlike a large pair of shears, each shear requiring one man to work it. The men of to-day employed in the same industry are now known as cloth-finishers. At that time they were named “croppers,” the work of the machine answering to the meaning of the word crop. Though inventions were being quickly adopted in all sections relating to cloth-making, the persons employed resented the introduction of any improvement in machinery, concluding that such inventions made work scarce. The “croppers,” as a class, were well paid in comparison to other workers, but they rose in revolt against the introduction of a new machine which as they thought would take the bread out of their mouths. For the purpose of destroying the obnoxious invention, they banded themselves together under an imaginary leader named General Lud, hence they were named Luddites. Each man had to take a terrible oath not only of secrecy, but to perform his allotted crime under a threat of death. The local name given to the oath was “twisting in,” and many old Honley “croppers” knew its meaning only too well.

Enoch and James Taylor, of Marsden, ironfounders of local repute, constructed the new “cropping” or finishing-frames for the mill-owners. The Taylors were makers also of the huge sledge-hammers in use in smithies and shoeing-forges. These hammers were locally given the name of “Enoch” in laughing reference to the Christian name of the maker.

“Enoch made them, and Enoch shall break them,” said the stubborn men, who had decided upon sledge-hammers as weapons to break frames constructed by the same man.

The spirit of lawlessness quickly spread. Machines and property were destroyed, levies made of food and money, and other outrages of violent character occurred nightly. People were fired upon in their homes at midnight, and the lives of others attempted when opportunity offered. Parliament came to the aid of terrified districts, and military law was proclaimed throughout our neighbourhood. The King’s Bays, Scots Greys, and 15th Hussars were alternately billeted in various places for fear that they too should be in sympathy with Luddism. Lights were extinguished in each house in Honley at ten o’clock, else the military patrol would know the reason why; and persons found outside their homes after that hour were taken prisoners. I have heard an aged relative, who died in 1870, graphically describe his arrest for mistaking the hour. Against his mother’s wish he ventured out “courting” or paying his respects to his sweetheart who lived in Ludhill. Returning home, as he thought, before ten o’clock, he was taken prisoner upon Honley Bridge. Fortunately three witnesses of high local standing journeyed to York on his behalf, for the purpose of proving the innocent nature of the transgression of staying too long with his sweetheart, else he would have fared badly during this reign of terror.

The combination of men that were first formed for the purpose of destroying machines were now drawn into the crime of committing murder. Mr. William Horsfall, a Marsden manufacturer, who had introduced the new cropping-machines into his mill was shot dead on his way home from Huddersfield Market. Three men were implicated in the murder, and two came to the Coach and Horses Inn, Honley direct from the scene of the murder. A reward of £2,000 0s. 0d. was offered for the discovery of the murderers. Such was either the loyalty or fear of other members of Luddism, that this sum remained unclaimed for a year by men who worked side by side with the murderer. One of the rioters when dying had much pressure brought to bear upon him to disclose the name of the man who shot Mr. Horsfall.

“Can you keep a secret?” he asked of clergyman, doctor and magistrate gathered around his bed.

“Yes!” was the eager response of all.

“So can I,” were his last gasping words, and he died with the secret unconfessed.

In the end, the strong arm of the law prevailed. The three local men who had shot Mr. Horsfall, and fifteen others who had committed outrages of a various character were at York Assizes condemned to death. Others were sentenced to transportation for life to New South Wales, which was a dreaded convict settlement. Many of the condemned persons were at one time respectable men who had close connection with Honley both as regards relatives and friends. Local people also were forced to go to York to give evidence including Mrs. Robinson, the landlady of the Coach and Horses Inn. It was the custom at this period to carry out the death-sentence in public. The criminal records of Yorkshire do not furnish another instance when so many persons were executed in one day. The crowds that assembled at York were so vast, that strong forces of cavalry and infantry were required for fear of riots and rescues.

SUSPENSION OF LOCAL BANKS.

In 1816 two local Banks suspended payment ruining many Honley Clothiers, and seriously crippling the resources of others. These losses caused so much distrust against the Banking business, that there were people in the place who never again placed any faith in Banks. With Yorkshire caution, they kept their golden guineas safe in their own canvas bags, either hiding or sitting upon them. On account of family losses due to the suspension of the two local Banks, my father, until his death in 1882, resolutely eschewed all dealings with Banks. True, he would accept a cheque from a person of local standing, but only with suspicious caution, getting rid of it as quickly as possible.

FOLLY HALL FIGHT.

If Luddism had been crushed for the time being, the country was still in a state of seething discontent. The manufacturer was impeded in his progress by wars and unjust restrictions from Government, whilst trouble and distress prevailed amongst the workers on account of low wages. I will here make a digression. Hand-loom weaving which had been an important branch of the woollen industry was not highly paid even if the weaver was capable and industrious. The change in the working of looms from bodily exertion to steam power did not improve matters. The songs of a people are generally a true guide to their feelings at the time. A once familiar ditty proved the low estimation in which the trade of a weaver was then held by local females. This song, which in early life we were wont to sing to a lilting tune that can still be trilled sweetly by many old people, was very popular. The first verse which I quote from memory is as follows:—

My heart is as light as a feather,
I hope it will never grow sad,
I’m going to be married to-morrow,
But not to a factory lad.
Th’ factory lad is a weaver,
And all his family too,
Before I’ll be wed to a weaver,
I’ll travel old England through.

(The change in the rate of weavers’ wages from that period to the present has been great).

To return to the main subject, there was a second local rising against the existing state of misery in 1817. This was known as the “Folly Hall Fight” on account of the rioters being met and dispersed at that place. Many weavers and cloth-dressers in Honley joined in the ferment. Following the example of the Lud-rioters, the discontented workers broke into houses where they thought firearms could be obtained; and the dwelling of Mr. Clement Dyson, Honley, was rifled. When the actual rising took place, the result was disaster to the rioters at Folly Hall. Amongst other rioters who were implicated, and had to appear at York Assizes, were John Kinder, Benjamin Taylor and Benjamin Green, weavers and cloth-dressers of Honley. The three latter however were found not guilty.

Mr. William Leigh, one of the Leigh family, whose history will be found under the head of Honley families, lived in Church Street at this disturbed period. The rioters attempted to enter his dwelling which was opposite the Church. He records in his diary his night of terrible experience. By the kindness of Mrs. Leigh, of Almondbury, a. representative of the Leigh and Kaye families, I have been allowed to copy the following extract from the diary of Mr. William Leigh.

“On Sunday evening, the 8th of June, 1817, about 12 o’clock, my house was surrounded and attacked by a large concourse of people many of whom were armed with guns and other offensive weapons. I, and my wife and family, had retired to rest about 10 o’clock, and were awoke by a loud knocking at our front door. She first heard them, got up, and put up the sash of the window, and seeing so many men was greatly alarmed, and came from the window. I directly looked out of the window and asked them what they wanted. The answer I received was ‘come down and open the door.’ I then put down the sash, and told my wife that they were Luddites. They continued to vociferate for me to come down and open the door which not doing, they assailed the door with very heavy stones, so large that they broke the lock of the door all to pieces, and but for a strong bolt would have entered the house. At the same time, the back part of my house was attacked by another gang of them. My two daughters being greatly afraid came into our lodging room, and one of them wished me to go down and let them in. I answered ‘No, they shall come to me, I will not go to them, nor leave you.’ The ruffians finding I would not open the door, they who were at the back part of the house smashed one of the kitchen windows, both the glass and wood-frame to pieces. Now I said to my afflicted family, ‘they will be with us, be as easy and as quiet as you can, they will not hurt you, it is I they want.’ My daughter Ann then said, ‘Father where shall I hide you?' I replied ‘nowhere, I will not leave you, but remain here until they come.’ Thus were we situated, assailed by an armed ruffian force without and distressing fears within, surrounded by neighbours who heard the tumult, and not one of them dared to come to our help. One of them looked out of his chamber window to see what was the matter, when one of the mob presented a loaded pistol at him, and said if he did not withdraw, he would shoot him. But we were not forsaken, though human help was of no avail. God was our helper and defender, yea, a very present help in the time of trouble. It behoves me to be thankful for His protection at this time, for it appears by the confession of some of them afterwards, that if I had come down, I must have passed close to the window which they had broken, and that a person was stationed at it to shoot me. But what had I done to irritate them against me, I cannot say? I had never knowingly injured any of them in any respect. Though I cannot suppose that my refusal to their demands proceeded from a confidence in Divine assistance my mind being in such a confused state, yet I am assured that it was His over-ruling Providence which prevented me going down to them, and that restrained them from entering my house, which they might easily have done through the window. At the dawn of the morning they went away, and we heard the voices of our neighbours in the street. Never did a condemned criminal at the gallows hear the joyful shout of a messenger bringing him a reprieve with more thankfulness than us when we heard their gladdening voices which was to us a sure indication that our danger was past. Then on my bended knees, though my mind was still confused, I endeavoured to return thanks to Him who is all powerful to save for His mercies are great. And to Him be all praise now and for ever.”

First Assistant Overseer Appointed at a Salary.

At a Town’s meeting, held March 25th, 1830, it was considered advisable that there should be a paid official to perform duties hitherto voluntarily undertaken by Constable and Overseer. The first Assistant Overseer in the person of Mr. J. Lancaster was appointed at a salary to act under the supervision of Constable and Overseer.

Factory Act of 1833.

The first really beneficent Factory Act was passed in 1833. Previous to this Act, I have listened in my earlier days to personal narratives describing the long hours and conditions of labour in the Mills in Honley and neighbourhood. They worked from six o’clock in the morning until eight o’clock at night on all days of the week except Sunday. Half-an-hour for the mid-day meal was allowed, but no time for breakfast. Children of tender years worked as long as adults, eventually finding a champion in Richard Oastler to protest against their ill-usage. This 1833 Factory Act limited the hours of labour both for adults and children, and also compelled the attendance of the latter at school half-time. According to personal accounts of those old-time toilers, the difference between past and present workers in mills is great. Yet so rapid have been the improved conditions of industry, that the Factory Act of 1833 which was so hardly won, would now be looked upon with scorn by the present day textile worker. I have often heard it stated that this Act was accepted with such thankfulness in Honley, that praise was given to God for the blessing at Prayer-meetings, Love-feasts, etc.

Township Survey.

A survey and valuation of Honley township at this date gives its rateable value as £11,080 17s. 0d., and its extent as 2,439 acres, 1 rood, and 21 perches.

CHARTISM.

Textile workers, whether hand-loom weavers of a past, or present-day operators, have proved an intelligent race. From their midst have generally sprung those men, ideas and demands which eventually change the existing state of things. The hand-loom weavers of a by-gone day, though working from early dawn until late at night, were as a rule great readers, thinkers and talkers. They were typical of the men around them engaged in other branches of cloth-making. Perhaps sport claimed the attention of many, but during this time of stress, religion and politics were the chief topics of the more earnest minded. Even in the middle of this century, with its Arabian Night’s wonders springing up on every hand, the country was still in a state of great discontent. The Reform Bill of 1832 had given the Franchise to the middle classes, but left out large masses of the working people. There was now great agitation for another Reform Bill, and Repeal of the Corn Laws. The converts to Wesleyanism, whose religious convictions were as the Alpha and Omega of their lives, were pouring out their souls in earnest supplications for the coming of better times. Others who refused to seek for a solution of their misery in the pages of the Bible, read with avidity such books as Tom Paine’s “Rights of Man.” Infidelity crept in, and was encouraged amongst the workers. They believed that if granted political rights, the terrible distress would pass away. The age brought forth fiery orators who preached propagandist ideas which had been nourished and helped on by the French Revolution. After the battle for freedom of the Press had been won by Wilkes, new publications typical both in name and contents of the stress, of the period, sprung up like mushrooms in the night. “The Commonweal,” “The New Age,” “The Star in the East,” “The Morning Star,” “The New Moral World,” “The Pioneer,” “The Trumpet Call,” “The Northern Star,” and other publications were all called into life at this period. Riots took place in various parts of the country, whilst large gatherings and demonstrations were the order of the day in our neighbourhood. Eventually all the enthusiams and struggles took a definite shape. A document named the “People’s Charter” was embodied, hence its adherents were named Chartists. The Charter contained six demands or “six points” as they were named. The idea of granting such new and startling requests was beyond the highest flight of the most imaginative person at that period except the malcontents themselves. At the present time, nearly all these claims have become law. When we realise the state of the working classes during this revolutionary time, we cannot be surprised that Honley supplied many enthusiastic supporters to the cause of Chartism.

Repeal of the Window-Tax.

When the domestic mode of manufacturing had been changed to the factory system, the long rows of windows in houses were no longer a necessity for purposes of light. The Window-Tax was then repealed. This is only one example of the many oppressive Acts of Parliaments from which the woollen industry has suffered.

Mail Coach.

A Buxton Coach named “Peveril of the Peak,” commenced running on July 15th, 1839 from Leeds to Buxton. It ran each Thursday and Saturday calling at Honley. The “Royal Hope” also passed through Honley.

PLUG RIOTS.

The period from the time of the Lud-riots to about 1840 was still a time of terrible distress, being generally named the “hungry forties.” Bad harvests succeeded each other, and Corn Laws prohibited importation of food. Wages were so low that pauperism prevailed in the country to an alarming extent. It was said that one-fourth of the population was dying from starvation. The Plug-riots originally commenced in Lancashire. They were so named on account of the rioters’ mode of expressing disapproval at the existing state of things. Their methods were to take or draw out the plugs from mill-boilers, thus rendering steam-power useless; and by these means stop the running of the machinery. When it was announced that the plug-rioters were nearing Honley, the neighbourhood was in a state of great alarm. The reign of terror can yet be recalled to memory by a few of our oldest dwellers, one remembering her mother hiding her along with a little brother in the cellar. When the mob of half-starved men came to Honley by way of Holme-Moss and Holmfirth, they first drew the plugs from the boilers at Crosley Mill, or Shaw’s Factory as it afterwards was named on account of being owned and worked at that time by Messrs. Benjamin Shaw & Co. The rioters next visited Steps Mill, owned by Messrs. Vickerman & Beaumont, and Lord’s Mill, owned by Messrs. Heap. After drawing the plugs from the boilers at these two latter mills, the rioters passed on their way to other places without committing farther mischief.

As time passed on, the Repeal of the Corn Laws, Reform Bill, the passing of numerous Factory Acts, Trade Unions, Co-operation, etc., have all helped greatly to improve the conditions of the people.


Continue to Chapter IV...


The History of Honley (1914) - Chapter III

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