The History of Honley and its Hamlets from the Earliest Time to the Present (1914) by Mary A. Jagger
From the days when the Ancient Hebrew in the 137th Psalm pathetically bewails that exiled Israelites were not able to sing “one of the songs of Zion” in a strange land; so every shade of feeling has been expressed in music. In our early English history the sentiments of a people were voiced in masses, ballads, and madrigals; and to-day we breathe forth cur emotions in modern compositions. Perhaps the most popular recreation in Honley, both past and present, has been and is the cultivation and love of music, the art being as strongly characteristic of the people as their independence of spirit. In addition to efficient Church and Chapel Choirs — Musical Societies, Glee Clubs, etc., have always been formed and flourished in connection with our places of religious worship, schools, institutes, etc. At one time we had the best Choral Society for miles around. I have no date when it was formed, but its first meeting-place was at “The George and Dragon” Inn. There were no lights in those days, so rehearsals took place upon dates nearest a full moon. A few members came from neighbouring parishes where the love of music was equally as strong, and members of Honley Choral Society joined that of their neighbours. I have heard old music-lovers speak of perilous journeys to and from rehearsals on dark and stormy nights, often after a hard day’s labour. One enthusiastic member of a noted musical family was wont to-walk to and from Penis tone to attend musical practises, there being no railways in those days. Honley Choral Society encouraged by local help, next met for weekly rehearsals in the National School, and launched forth into giving sacred and secular concerts. Numbering amongst its members the best vocal and instrumental musicians in the neighbourhood, these concerts were great musical treats — sacred music holding first place.
The music of Handel has always exercised influence upon natives of our hill-sides. And what can approach its grandeur and sublimity when sung by dwellers in the West Riding of Yorkshire! So thought members of Honley Choral Society. Handel was their favourite composer, for familiar Biblical words were often the only worship of toil-worn men and women who sung them. Almost every child in Honley was able to sing any piece out of the “Messiah” from memory by so often hearing relatives practise the music. Who that has heard “the fire and go” of the “Hallelujah Chorus” sung and accompanied by members of the old Choral Society, when at the zenith of its fame, can forget a performance in which voice, fiddle, trumpet, trombone, double-bass, etc., were not spared? In addition to the “Messiah ” being a favourite, “ Creation,” “ Joshua,” “Twelfth Mass,” “Alexander’s Feast,” “Acis and Galatea,” “Judas Maccabseus,” “Samson,” and other works were given. The Secular Concerts generally consisted of the best old glees, madrigals and songs. I remember that “Hail Smiling Morn,” — “Since first I saw your face,” — “Begone dull care,” — “Simon the Cellarer,” — “Hail Memory” and songs relating to May-day and May-time were favourites. (May must have been different in the Calendar than at present when so many of those old songs were composed). Older people may recall prominent members of the old Choral Society, notably Mrs. Ben Hirst, Miss Roebuck, who married Mr. Ben Stocks, of Huddersfield, Miss Kaye, who married Mr. John B. Donkersley, Miss Smythe, Miss Athorn, Miss Renshaw, etc. Amongst the men, the names of Beaumont, Hirst, Mortons, Knuttons, Drakes, Hobsons, Sutcliffes, Boothroyds, Roebucks, Renshaws, Mettricks, Schofields, Gledhills, etc., are familiar.
To give an example of the robust sustaining power of Honley voices. At one Concert given by the Choral Society, when Hadyn’s “Creation” was sung, only one lady treble was present, the other females with musical touchiness having “hung their harps upon the willows” on account of slight rebukes. The lady treble, now nearing eighty years of age, is Mrs. Ben Hirst, nee Miss Lavinia Charlesworth, one of the many noted Chorus Singers from this part who, in the past, were in great request at the famous Crystal Palace Concerts of the late Queen Victoria’s days. What was to be done? There was a large audience seated in the National School, a, full chorus of powerful voices and a great number of instrumentalists waiting on the platform. The Concert proceeded, Mrs. Hirst upholding alone the treble part throughout the work, her voice sounding most effective though heavily weighted with a strong male chorus. Persons who know the exacting nature of the high treble notes required in singing many parts of “The Creation,” such as “The heavens are telling,” — “On mighty pens,” — “Marv’lous Works,” — “The Lord is great,” etc., will realise that it was a noteworthy performance.
The Society continued to flourish for a long time under well-known Presidents and local help. In 1861, when Handel’s “Joshua” was performed, the late Sir Thomas Brooke was President. The late George Jessop, Junior, Esq. was at once time also President, followed by G. W. Farrar, Esq., W. H. Walker, Esq. and other well-known local gentlemen. In the year 1886, the once famous Choral Society was broken up. In 1896, the ashes of the old society was again formed into life, and re-named “Honley Musical Society.” This did not long continue. Again another resurrection which was also shortlived, for our present generation do not live in the strains of Handel, Mozart, etc. as did the old.
Music being the birthright of almost all who are born on our hill-sides, it is not an agreeable task to single out for special mention one particular musician of a past or present day. As in the past, Honley is still a land of song. Music is in every corner, beautiful voices sounding in hall, cottage, church and chapel. They can be heard side by side with the rattle of the loom, or floating on the night air from a returning pleasure party, all parts of the music blending together in perfect harmony. In the past, as at present, many natives of Honley have taken no insignificant part in Cathedral Choirs, Musical Festivals and World-Tours. The late Mr. George Allen Beaumont was a great musical genius, whose playing upon the organ won great praise from eminent musical critics. The death at the age of nineteen years of this clever youthful organist cut short a promising career. Miss Smythe possessed a soprano voice of great power. Mr. Alexander Lee, a young singer of a later date has a tenor voice of much sweetness. There are also many others of more than local fame who are worthy of mention even in a land of harmony.
Details regarding numerous Societies, Glee-parties, and other kindred Associations cannot be here given. They have been many and varied claiming wonderful beginnings, but rather prosaic endings. Out of door “sings,” held upon Honley Feast Sunday and other Sundays have now become common. The religious music of old-time composers is still as popular as formerly, and grand old hymns and tunes, so familiar and loved by dwellers in the neighbourhood, are heartily sung by assembled crowds. In the history of the National School will be found particulars of the successes of the school children in “The Mrs. Sunderland Musical Competitions,” held at Huddersfield. We thus see, that as fresh and new as spring-time the love of music is re-assertive amongst us; and to-day Honley is still a nest of singing-birds.
The present Honley Prize Band was formed in 1865. Previously there had been a noted old Band in existence, many of its members being well-known performers upon their respective instruments at Choral and other Concerts. The members of the present Band when formed in 1865 were chiefly young men connected with Church, Chapels and various Sunday Schools, whilst others were members of old musical families in Honley. They each paid £1 to enter as a member. The first new instruments were supplied by Messrs. Higham, of Manchester, the well-known musical instrument makers. The Trustees for the safe finances of the Band were Mr. William Brooke, Mr. George Wm. Farrar, and Mr. Wm. Hy. Walker. Mr. William Brooke gave out these first instruments to the members at the National School, where rehearsals took place. Members from Meltham Mills Band came to Honley, and played around the village upon the new instruments to the great delight of the inhabitants. At night, all dined together at the Commercial Inn. It is interesting to known the names of first members of the Band. They are as follows:— Joseph Swift, Wright Renshaw, John William Holdroyd, Edwin Holdroyd, Joseph Holdroyd, George Brooke, John Garside, Henry Smith, Lawton Smith, George Taylor, Ben Brooke, Edwin Boothroyd, Henry Knutton, Richard Bingley, George Dyson, Benjamin Carter, Willie Wilson, John Pearson and Irvin Wood. Death has claimed nearly all these once enthusiastic members. The Band has always been fortunate in securing good and efficient conductors in the persons of Mr. Henry Smith, John Berry, of Meltham Mills, J. Gladney, Wright Renshaw, Seth Coldwell, and the present Mr. Fred Berry.
During the time that the Band was under the conductor-ship of Mr. J. Gladney the famous Brass Band Conductor of that day% it reached a high standard of efficiency. The Band took First Prize on September 1st, 1884, at Belle Vue, Manchester, beating at this annual contest such famous Bands as “Black Dyke” and Linthwaite. As this contest is looked upon as one of great importance, there was much rejoicing in the village at the victory. During the same year, they won First Prizes at Lincoln, Chapeltown, Worsborough Dale, Queensbury, Guiseley, Southport, Rotherham, Gainsborough, Thurlstone, etc. Also second Prizes at Kettering, Batley, etc. In 1885-6-7 they failed to hold premier position at the Annual Belle Vue Contest, and fell behind to fourth place. From 1884 to 1887, the total number of prizes won were 32 Firsts, 13 Seconds, 7 Thirds, 6 Fourths, 1 Fifth, and 1 Sixth Prize.
Then came changes. Mr. J. Gladney ceased to conduct, and members drifted one by one to the more successful Meltham Mills Band. When the latter went out of existence, thirteen Honley members returned to their own Band.
Honley Band is yet in a flourishing condition, and its present members as enthusiastic as of old. They are always ready to enliven our local rejoicings, religious, political or otherwise, by their inspiring music; and Honley would indeed feel the loss of its Band. The present President is Alderman George Wm. Oldham, who has held the office for many years.
The young men members of the Church formed the first Hand-bell Ringing Society in Honley. Supplied by help from well-known friends with the best bells, the members became expert performers; and the sweet music was greatly appreciated. As time passed, the members either tired of the music, or exacting practises; and decided upon a rest. Another Society was formed under the name of “Wood Royd Handbell Ringers,” whose performances became so proficient as to win prizes. These also considered that a change was beneficial, and I believe that the once sweetly-sounding bells are at present silent.
We have had other recreations in addition to music. Previous to the “George and Dragon” Inn being converted into the Working Man’s Club, there was a spacious field behind the public house which is now covered by buildings and scored by roads. One of the best Cricket Clubs in the neighbourhood played upon the ground, nearly all its members being noted local cricketers, such as Mr. Joshua Robinson and his brother Charles, Mr. Robert Heap, Mr. Thomas Beardsell and his brother Brook, etc. I can remember that the batting powers of Mr. Joshua Robinson, and the bowling abilities of Mr. Robert Heap (the underhand bowling of the latter being termed “shoddy balls”) were considered wonderful. When the landlord of the “George and Dragon” Inn constructed the racecourse out of this field and those adjoining, the members migrated to a large and elevated field behind Northgate Mount placed at their disposal by Mr. William Brooke. Here the Club continued to flourish for a long time, until the present spacious ground was secured by the help of Mr. Brooke and other subscribers. Being part of one of the oldest estates in Honley, its rural seclusion had been preserved. With its picturesque pavilion, the field is not only one of the largest cricket-fields in the neighbourhood, but one of the old beauty-spots still left amongst us. Though numerous other Clubs in connection with various places of worship have been formed, the original Club still holds together. It has had its bright and dark days, ups and downs, sulks and recoveries. When the Club has been nearing highest honours, I have seen large and enthusiastic crowds line the field. If a member made a false step in a keenly contested struggle, the air has suddenly become highly charged with exacting criticism, fault-finders feeling convinced that they could have played the match much better.
I hope that this ground will always be preserved in our midst, for one of the most typical sights of the neighbourhood are our playing-fields on a Saturday afternoon.
There has been a change in this game since the days when the casing of footballs were made by our village shoemakers, — stuffed with bladders begged from our butchers, — and kicked under a moonlit-sky in any old pasture-field. The once boyish pastime has now become a National sport. Football Clubs formed both for adults and boys have been and are so numerous in Honley, that I am unable to give particulars of any special Club. Suffice to say, that as winter approaches the striped jerseys of Football teams dot the green fields in place of white clad cricketers.
This Club was formed in June, 1889, and its first President was Miss Siddon. It had a large membership at that time, and was in a very flourishing condition. Interest however gradually waned, and the number of members dwindled. The Club has since been formed into new life, and has regained much of its old standing with regard to members.
Honley has also floated its Flower Shows. The first Exhibition was held on August 8th, 1884, and continued annually until 1888. A succession of wet and windy days in each year when the Show was held proved disastrous, and prevented people from attending. The Flower Show eventually became merged in the present Poultry Show, which is still annually held under cover in November.
Other recreations which have been features of the past will be found under histories of Schools, Institutions, Holidays, etc. with which they were associated.
In the past, many amusements and diversions of Honley people may have been of a brutal character, but they were typical of the age. On the other hand, we have seen that the intellectual and refined interested the minds of other dwellers. Bull-baiting was once a popular sport in England, and patronized by Royalty. Queen Elizabeth, King James I. 1802 and Queen Anne all took delight in the cruel sport. In 1802 a Bill was introduced into Parliament to suppress the disgraceful exhibition, but so popular was the National pastime, 1835 that it was not until 1835 that Bull-baiting was made illegal by law. A dam of water covers the deep hollow in Thirstin where Bull-baitings took place at Honley Feast. I can only describe what I have heard old people repeat who were witnesses of the baitings in Thirstin, but these accounts are trustworthy. Their statements made deep impression upon the writer even if only young at the time, being a great lover of animals. A retentive memory has helped me not to forget the least detail of this old-time sport.
Imagination must re-construct the once natural hollow surrounded on all sides by sloping furze-covered hill-sides, uncrossed by roads, or covered with buildings as at present. Here was brought the bull, one often coming from Flockton. Sometimes the animal was decorated with ribbons and heralded by a band of music. The stake was fixed in the middle of the hollow to which the bull was tied by a rope four or five feet long. Seated, or standing, upon the sloping hill-sides, or any place suitable for sight-seeing, were thousands of spectators all eager for the sport. The dogs were then brought to the fray. Both bull and dogs had previous training. If the dogs were of a peaceable nature, and did not give encouraging signs of future fierceness, there were a few Honley natives who understood how to practise cruel arts upon the animals to make them savage. Failing, even after these torments, to rise to their owner’s idea of courage; the dogs were destroyed. Savage animals were applauded, and kept for future exhibitions, and I have listened to many anecdotes of the “pinning” powers of certain dogs of a past day. The dogs did not resemble the low, cloddy, pure-bred bull-dogs of the present day. These are a modern production. The Bull-baiting dog of old time was a cross between the present breed and an undersized mastiff. The latter were descendants of the watch-dogs formerly in use as guards against Moss-troopers and other objectionable visitors. Crossed with the bull-dog breed of that day, a formidable animal both of strength and grip was produced, which answered to Charlotte Bronte’s description of “Tartar” in “Shirley.” Owners of dogs previously entered them for the sport paying a small fee. I forget the number of times a dog was allowed to be slipped at the bull before being withdrawn, but I think it was “three slips and a bite.” If the dog succeeded in “pinning” the bull — that is — bringing him down to his knees, and holding him fast by the nose; a prize of five shillings was given to owner. Often the bull tossed a young unwary animal high in the air. People and owner would rush to catch the inexperienced warrior, or else it would be badly hurt in its fall. On the other hand, sometimes the bull had to trample a plucky animal to death with his forelegs before able to break the dog’s grip from his nose. If the bull was so injured by dogs that it was unable to endure a second baiting, it was sold to the nearest butcher, an idea prevailing that the flesh of a baited-bull was very tender, and therefore much prized.
When younger, I have heard my father, who was born in 1806, relate particulars of two exhibitions in Thirstin at which he was present as a youth. The crowd was so vast at one baiting, that his nearest standing-point was on the top of Green Cliffe rocks which had then an unbroken view of the hollow. This was the year when a bull broke loose from the stake, scattering sight-seers right and left in its escape from its tormentors. It raced a long distance until it sought shelter in a wood, where it fell from exhaustion. Here it was caught and goaded back again to the stake. Another year, my father obtained a place nearer the stake to which an animal was tethered that was reported to be of great courage. After waving red flags before his eyes, blowing pepper up his nose, twisting his tail, goading him with iron prongs, etc., the animal refused to encounter the dogs. When pinned and brought to his knees by a tenacious animal, my father always declared with conviction that he saw tears as large as peas running down from the eyes of the bull, and that his bellowings were pitiful to hear. The cruelty practised upon this animal was so great, that my father left the scene, and never again witnessed a Bull-baiting. The secret of the bull’s disinclination to gore or toss the dogs slipped at him was the fact, that a dog kept at the farm where the bull had been reared had been his playmate and companion. The uproar of the crowd was so great at the deprivation of their sport, that they fell to fighting each other. These combats were of frequent occurrence at Honley Bull-baitings, chiefly with the residents of Skelmanthorpe and Crosland.
Such was the fiendish sport known as Bull-baiting!
When moorlands and woodlands were more extensive around Honley than at present, hunting was a popular sport. Farmers and their servants often thrashed corn all night, and weavers toiled at their looms by the light of rushlights; so that all could enjoy a day’s hunting on the morrow. Honley hounds, whether trencher-fed or kennelled, were truly a pack of the people. Formerly there were few families in the place who had not at one time or another kept a hound, each Inn, yard, or fold having its Banker, Music, Towler or Bilberry. In addition, Nudger would find a home at Castle Hill side, Blossom on the opposite side of the valley at Oldfield, Ring-wood at Crosland and so on. Of the same breed as Penistone hounds, the oldest pack in Great Britain; Honley hounds possessed equal strength, size and stamina that are required for hunting in our rough moorland neighbourhood with its high stone walls. Of more majestic size than a foxhound, large head, long in back, deep in chest, and voices musical as bells, their ears in the words of Shakespere “Swept away the morning dew.” Records of early hunting days in Honley are lost, so that I am only able to go as far back in their history as my memory will carry me. This was in the days when Mr. William Sykes, of Lindley, was master of the pack, and Mr. Sam Norcliffe the huntsman. The hounds were collected by the “whipper-in” early on a hunting morning from distant hill-side and sequestered farmstead. Their eagerness for the chase was expressed in musical gladness, which floated to our ears whilst the fields were white with dew, and the morning mists hung around. Then came the full outburst of hound joy when released from their temporary kennels at the bottom of “Gate,” — the red-coated Sam Norcliffe on horseback, — the cracking of whips, — the rebukes to the too eager Bellman or Lively, and the followers of the sport on horseback and foot. When on our way to school, it was a picturesque and fascinating sight to watch hounds, with gaily-waving flags, each dog being known to us by name, red-coated horsemen and hardy followers on foot pass through the village; or to view them upon a distant hill-side streaming over field and copse.
At that time, hares were more plentiful than at present, and famous runs were often recorded, Sam Norcliffe being a huntsman who tolerated no dog in his pack that merely made up the cry, and did not hunt. Honley hounds also frequently visited other districts for the purpose of hunting, especially the neighbourhood of Penistone, and friendly visits between the two packs were of long standing. Mr. J. H. Dransfield, of Penistone, the writer of its history, and a great lover of its hounds, told me that on one occasion Honley hounds joined the Penistone pack for the purpose of hunting a wild stag provided by Mr. Charles Wortley. The meet was at Wortley, and after a long chase, the stag was killed. To prove the strength and stamina of Honley hounds of that day, the dogs walked early in the morning to Wortley, had an arduous day of hunting over a rough part of the Gountry, and at the end of the chase, were dismissed with the huntsman’s order to “get away home,” his whip curling around tired bodies and limbs helping tardy movements. If the end of a day’s chase found dogs and followers a long way from home, this spartan dismissal was common, the dogs finding their way home as best they could.
During the time that Mr. Sam Norcliffe was huntsman, it was also a custom to hunt one week in each season over the estates of Mr. Spencer, at Cawthorne, Mr. Blackett, at Bretton, and the Bosville lands at Gunthwaite. The dogs were kennelled for this purpose at the old foxhound kennels at Cawthorne. Mr. Dransfield informed me that the week was spent in old hunting fashion by the guests then assembled. This was hard riding during the day, and at night generous fare, songs sung, toasts drunk, and gallant deeds of horses and hounds recalled. I have also a dim remembrance of the hounds having day’s hunts with Bramham Moor pack, when large fields assembled. Often a fox was hunted in Honley which had been presented by a neighbouring hunt. It was previously turned out upon Honley Moor, and a large crowd generally assembled. Former supporters and followers of Honley hounds once held races at Fixby Hall in connection with the hunt. I have been informed that the present Rockwood Steeplechases owe their origin to the Fixby Hall fixture once held in connection with Honley hunt.
After the death of Mr. Sykes and Mr. Norcliffe, the hunt was carried on for a time by a Committee. This did not prove a success. Mr. Frederick Eastwood, of Huddersfield, next undertook the mastership, and retained the position about 12 years. The remnants of the once grand pack were gathered together, and kennelled upon Honley Moor, Mr. Jonathan Cole acting as huntsman, and his brother David as whip. Foxhound blood was introduced in 1880, that in my idea spoiled the size, beauty, and distinctive character of the hounds. Supporters of the hunt say, that the cross has since been eliminated. I find from long experience that a bad cross in animals, like human beings, is apt to crop up again in future generations. Under the generous mastership of Mr. Eastwood, the hunt regained much of its old prestige; but his death again brought changes. The present hounds are now a foot pack, known as “Holmfirth, Honley and Meltham Hunt,” under the management of a Committee.
As population increases, and wild bits of nature decrease, hunting in our neighbourhood becomes more difficult each season. The old race of men who clung to their hill-sides and whose food was oatmeal porridge washed down by homebrewed beer are gone. Sound of wind and limb, they earned by hard toil a day’s hunting which satisfied them for the rest of the year. These men have been replaced by a less strong race, whose food of tea and bread and employment in factories are not favourable for a day’s following of the hounds on foot. Yet we have a few stalwart followers of the hounds in Honley, such as David Lunn and others, who are true-bred sons of the hills in their love for the chase. To those also who saw the fine collection of local hounds entered at Holmfirth Show in 1911, that I judged, I venture to say that they had not their equal for size, beauty, and strength in Great Britain. It would be a matter of regret to all lovers of hunting if these grand old hounds are allowed to become extinct.
Hunting songs are not now so frequently heard as of old. After a hard day’s run, the strains of “Old Towler,” “John Peel,” and other songs of the chase floated out to passers-by from bar or kitchen of once noted hostelries. Often the song of “Old Towler,” with its ranting chorus of “With my hey-ho chivy” sung by lusty voices to cheer the return homewards, awoke the echoes of silent hill-sides. Below is copied out an old hunting-song, which was a favourite with old members of Honley hunt of a past day, and which is typical of the sport in the early part of last century. My excuse for insertion is, that many, if not all, of our local songs once so popular in our midst are forgotten, or only five in the memory of older people.
A HUNTING SONG.
According to an extract from the diary of Rev. Robert Meeke, which will be found in another part of the history, foot-racing was a popular sport on Sundays in Honley in the year 1689. The sport long continued, races generally taking place upon highways during the last century. Often the landlords of public-houses organized races, offering a copper-kettle as a prize. As tea was a prohibited luxury in most homes at the time of the “hungry forties,” copper kettles were of no use only as ornaments or heirlooms. As time went on, foot-racing was brought more into the line of recognised sport for the success of which a special training was required. Mr. Joseph Haigh, landlord of the “George and Dragon” Inn, converted the large cricket field, previously named, into one of the finest tracks in the country for foot-racing. This was about 1859 or 1860, when foot-racing was in full swing in the neighbourhood. Celebrated running athletes from all parts of the country competed on the track, and many were trained in the village. A running champion was as much an object of hero-worship as a present-day football or cricket celebrity. Great crowds came from all parts to witness the contests for victory on the track, and large sums of money were wagered. Like as at present in the present popular game of football, the younger generation imitated the older in their sports. The ambitious of many youths at that period took the form of excelling in running, and strenuous self-training was the order of the day. Money was spent in buying pumps and drawers in place of footballs and jerseys as at present. Advantage was taken of each spare hour to practise running with perhaps beneficial results to health in after years when youthful fever for training had run its course.
Amongst celebrated runners fifty years ago, was Arthur Boothroyd, of Honley, a steady youth belonging to an old clothing family whose grandfather is mentioned as carrying his piece of cloth to Manchester, under the heading of the staple trade of the district. A challenge went forth to the world for “Hather” as he was locally named to run for a mile any other athlete at the same age. This was not taken up, so that his powers at that age remained unchallenged. He however retired early from the track on account of his objections to the large sums of money wagered upon his performances, only running for the love of the game. There were other well-known runners who were either trained in Honley or ran upon its race-course. Their names fifty years ago were household words to sportsmen of a past day, notably John Neary, James Nuttail, William Lang, who for a long number of years held the world’s record as the half-mile champion, and others of lesser note.
When Mr. William Brooke purchased the “George and Dragon” Inn, in 1864, for the purpose of closing the racing-track, another was opened at Oldfield by Mr. Joseph Haigh, the landlord. This did not long continue. (See history of Oldfield).
Whippett, or Snap-racing as it is locally named, is a workingman’s recreation in the North, where the sport has flourished over one hundred years. Formerly it was a popular Saturday afternoon’s recreation in Honley, and we had at one time many celebrated Whippett-racing dogs. As Yorkshire sportsmen are proud to recall past winners of the St. Leger, so many in more humble walks of life love to speak of past performances of a Dick or Nance which covered the ground in such a time, and which they trained with much patience and self-sacrifice. This breed of dog generally termed a “running dog,” was produced originally from a cross between an English greyhound and an Italian greyhound; possessing the swiftness and stamina of the former, with the slender limbs and fine beauty of the latter. These dogs wearing muzzles to prevent them picking up objectionable food, and protected by covering on account of tender delicacy of skin, were familiar in Honley streets when being trained. An important person for the success of the sport was the “slipper,” or the man who holds the dog for the purpose of sending it off at the right moment. The loss of half a yard by bad “slipping” means much to working men who have probably backed their own or neighbour’s dog to win large stakes. Sport has developed more modern outlets upon which time and money is now spent. I do not think that Whippefct-racing is so eagerly followed as fomerly, when large sums of money depended upon the slender limbs of these dogs.
Cock-fighting, like Bull-baiting, was a National sport until declared illegal by law. After being thus prohibited, the pastime was long carried on secretly in Honley as in other places. I can recall mains being fought at early dawn upon Honley Moor, and other isolated places in our township. Gamecocks with deliberate walk, menacing feet, and alert suspicious eyes of the old fighting breed were common, for the sport died hard upon our hill-sides.
Pigeon-flying was also a working man’s recreation in Honley. This has now become a fashionable hobby, and the old name of “flying” is changed to “Homing.”
We had also other popular sports. Many sports now witnessed at out-door Agricultural Shows are only repetitions of older forms of amusement once common amongst us; cycle and automobile competitions taking the place of foot and horse-racing.
Many of our games which older people associate with youthful years date back to Anglo-Saxon times. A fourteenth century M.S. represents a lady and gentleman playing at draughts.
The game of checks dates as far back as 1599. One day I was surprised to hear a young lady declare that she had never heard about checks, though born in the place. This old game, which requires practice and skill, is as follows:— throw the four checks down, bounce the pot-ball or marble as it is named, gather up first one check, then two, next three, and lastly all four, catching marble at same time. We did not require our finger nails cut and manicured in those days. Kneeling down on cold stone flags, causeways, etc. the stone performed that office for us when sweeping up in triumph the last four checks and bouncing marble. Dominoes, nine-pins, whipping-top, knur and spell, hand-ball, blindman’s-buff, battledore, etc., are all old games. One children’s game named “Johnny Ringo,” has been in use over 100 years. It is as follows:—
Another old game is named “Black-thorn.”
Many other old familiar games and their ditties could be recalled, which renew their life in each younger generation.
I often feel regret that many old landmarks of Honley should have been carelessly given ever to destruction without any effort being made for their preservation, or even to keep a record of their history.
The houses in Thirstin, known as Victoria Place, now occupy the site of the old Workhouse which was demolished over 50 years ago. Previous to that old erection, there had been a building of some kind standing upon the site. The first mention that I can find of this Workhouse is that on February 8th, 1703, a town’s meeting was held empowering the Chapelwarden and Overseer to repair the gates and building. Evidently there were no master or mistress appointed, Poor Laws at that time being in a continual state of change. The next interesting event was, that an advertisement was ordered to be sent to the “Leeds Mercury” inviting applications for the post of Master and Mistress. It was also decided that the inhabitants of Crosland should join with Honley for the purpose of carrying on the building in future as a regular Workhouse under control of Honley Chapelwarden and Overseer, Crosland at that period being under Honley with regard to its civil and religious affairs. This building was in use until 1763, when a new erection was contemplated. In an old agreement, dated December 3rd, 1763, made between Chapelwarden and Overseer and William Booth and William Pogson, the two latter undertook the work. It is interesting to note the value of labour and material at that date. The following is a copy of the old agreement:—
The site for this old Workhouse was given to the town by the Lord Dartmouth of that day, and it sufficed for the needs of Honley poor until the Poor Law Authorities altered the old state of affairs, and the present Workhouse at Deanhouse was erected. My earliest recollection of the old Workhouse was of a low and plain stone building with small windows, whitewashed outside, and enclosed by a high wall. I have also a vivid remembrance of its once noted inmates. The township had to keep its own poor in those days, and the inhabitants looked upon the inmates in the light of dependent children. At the worst, the paupers generally received “more half-pence than kicks.” The capable and willing had encouragement and help, whilst the hopeless and infirm were treated with indulgence and tolerance. The able-bodied male inmates, or those, to quote a local saying, who were “strong i’th back and weak i’th head” had to work in return for food and shelter. Dressed in the then recognised garb of corduroy trousers and velveteen coats, they swept or scraped up mud from the roads which at that time was plentiful; or in other ways worked for the township. Labour not being restricted, many carried water from the wells to private houses after work-hours to earn pocket-money. Those who were able, attended Sunday service in Church, and sat in rather conspicuous seats which at that time were underneath the “three-decker pulpit.”
There are persons in Honley who can recall the “characters” who once found shelter in the old Workhouse, and who considered themselves no small fractions of the community. Many laid proud claims to special deformities of body, or were distinguished by oddities of speech and manner from which they were generally named — their surnames being forgotten. There was Joe "Sprod,” whose immortal sentence of “say we then,” will be found in “Characteristics Sayings of Honley.” From year end to year end, Joe demanded his penny per week from friends he patronised by his attentions, with an extra demand for holidays. Joe absolutely refused to receive any sum either more or less than a penny. There were old Waterloo soldiers who were in a perpetual state of war with officials, unable even behind Workhouse walls to lay aside military ardour. A few cherished a malignant hatred towards us children, looking upon us as enemies who might with advantage be destroyed. Harry “Bow-wow,” “Dog Ben,” “Deaf Nathan,” etc., also claimed their older friends and younger tormentors in the village. Then we older people all remember harmless “Charlie,” or “Charlie o’ owd Mallys” who “cowled” the roads with melancholy caution befitting a man who only received “meat for work.” There were others also, whose stagnant depths could be aroused either to vindictive alertness at fancied injuries, or assume airs of innocence in expectation of coming good. We had also feminine inmates of varied characters, one noted Sallie being often in disgrace on account of increasing the birth-rate more than was desirable in her walk of life. Another with militant tendencies was always in a state of chronic insurrection. I can recall to memory one who had twitching muscles combined with a scarred face, who delighted in behaving badly in Church, often saying “Amen” at the wrong time, or making faces at us children to our great delight. She had a sister who, as if conscious of her inferiority, was always ready to drop the humble curtsey. There was also a well-known feminine character who when given sixpence for being “soft,” quickly exclaimed that she had also a sister who was “soft.”
At that time there were no evening services held in Church as at present, candles being the only illuminating power. Sunday evening services took place in the old Workhouse, which were well attended, and much valued by the most intelligent inmates who were unable to attend services in Church. The Workhouse services continued to be held for many years, bringing outside friends and inmates into close friendship. The services, — friends, — inmates, — and those who devoted their Sunday evenings to the duty, were all part and parcel of a past primitive life no longer with us.
When the present Workhouse was erected at Deanhouse, and managed under new laws and regulations, the old Work-house in Thirstin was closed, and its inmates removed to Deanhouse. Many of the leading inhabitants of Honley proposed erecting new town offices upon the old site. Plans were prepared, but evidently our local statesmen were very cautious in those days in spending ratepayers’ money. It was resolved to sell the site and apply the proceeds of its sale for the good of the town.
The old Town Hall stood at the bottom of Cuckoo-lane. It was pulled down in 1911 on account of its dangerous state, and also for the widening of Cuckoo-lane. Formerly all public business was transacted there when not taken to the vestry of the Church. In the account of Sunday Schools it will be seen that it was also in use as a Sunday School from 1814 to 1816. It was a plain stone erection, but one of Honley’s old landmarks, which should have been restored and respected for its associations.
The Stepping-stones which enabled people to cross the river to Honley Old Mill have been replaced by a bridge. This ancient fording road to the mill where once Honley tenants were forced to grind com and mill cloth has been in use since the time of Edward III.
The Stocks stood formerly at the top of “Gate” close to the pinfold. When the “Gate” was widened in 1870, this ancient engine of punishment was nearly destroyed. The late Mr. Joseph Whitworth removed the few unbroken remains to his garden for preservation. People who had imbibed too freely of brown October ale brewed by old-time landlords of Honley, were placed in the Stocks by the Constable until they had slept off its effects. Persons who transgressed in other ways were also placed in the Stocks, Magistrate and Constable having power to punish local offences if not of a very serious nature. Once the village pindar, who had a reputation for finding straying cattle before being lost, was carried to the Stocks by indignant owners, and subjected for many hours to their jeers and laughter until the Constable came to his rescue. Drunkenness was not considered a great crime, so that often an indulgent crowd supplied both beer, company, and song to a victim whom they considered more “sinned against than sinning.” I am familiar with the name of the man who was placed in Honley Stocks for the last time on account of being intoxicated. Good cheer of a varied character was brought to him to enliven the irksome hours of his confinement. It was always stated that he was unable to recover from the effects of imbibing Holland’s gin, Jamaica rum, a bottle of wine, beer, and other liquid mixtures, which were all generously supplied to him until many weeks had elapsed. I am indebted to Mrs. Dearnley, the daughter of the late Mr. Joseph Whitworth for a sketch of the old Stocks as they originally stood at the top of “Gate” when in use; and also for the sketch of the stepping-stones.
The once high-walled prison for dumb trespassers is now out of use. The last pindar appointed by the Ancient Court Leet was Joseph Moorhouse, better known as “Joah O’ Neds.” We often found wonderful zest in life around the pinfold when Joah had impounded a poor half-starved horse or donkey. At the news of the exciting event, we children were wont to climb the high wall, and gaze with such apprehensive wonder upon the dumb prisoners, that sometimes one of our number fell into the stream of water running from Honley well through the ground of the pinfold. Like unto offices of Constable and Pindar, the pin-fold is now no longer required.
In the days when railways were undreamed about, Rising-steps were common near houses of any pretensions. These ancient “louping on” or mounting-steps were in use for a man to mount his horse easily, and also of the same help to a woman who rode behind him. One of the most familiar objects at one time in Honley, were the Rising-steps standing upon Far End Green. Though the ground was private property, the inhabitants had so long enjoyed the use of the unenclosed ground, that they thought it belonged to the village. To enlarge the Cricket-field to its present fine dimensions, a large slice of the rural green was taken in, including two beech trees whose branches leaned with outstretched arms over the Rising-steps. The latter was thus lost to sight to passers-by. Storms and time have destroyed one old tree which overshadowed the steps. The earth-bound ties of the other still brave the elements. This tree, and two lonely sentinels standing in the Cricket-field, are the last remnants of a once grand beech-tree avenue belonging to this old-world estate. Neglect had also allowed the old Rising-steps to tumble to pieces, helped on by innocent destruction of children. The writer, with the consent of the Stewards of the Estate, however, has rescued the “Rising-steps” from total destruction, thus preserving one old link of a past Honley.
Since the “louping-on” days, the Rising-steps which once stood upon the green has served for many purposes. Children now grown old, and older people long since gone to their rest, would gather upon and around them in summer twilights to repeat old-world stories of fairies and boggarts; or in turn, listen to old-world legends. It was there that lovers met and parted. Many tired mothers who, perhaps, at their marriage had left the sunshine of life behind them, rested with their children, no doubt recalling days when they were not tired. Sometimes the steps served as a rostrum for religious and political preachings, or the meeting-place of village statesmen. Formerly the Primitive Methodists held their annual camp-meetings upon the green, the speakers mounting the steps, and assembled worshippers seating themselves upon the grass. At Honley Feast, often the village fighting champion and his backers resorted to the green to encounter a neighbouring enemy, who had declared that he could thrash his Honley adversary, and eat him up if necessary.
This old mill now in ruins can boast of an ancient history, and readers will find its mention in early Sales of Land recorded in this book. Many of the old inhabitants of Honley can recall the mill nestling in the once sylvan hollow beside the stream, — its sleepy rumble, — the flour-sprinkled men, — and the general whiteness all around. With fascinated gaze we loved to watch the ponderous water-wheel moving slowly down to unknown depths, and with its dripping ribs as slowly emerge again. In those days there rested an air of brooding mystery over the hollow. Childish imaginations peopled dark rooms and obscure corners of the mill with strange inhabitants; and at the approach of gloaming fearful creatures, known as “bloody-tongues” and other monsters, of which we could form no conception, were supposed to haunt the mill-stream. When the yearly harvest had been gathered, and threshers with their flails had filled sacks with grain, they were carried down the deep-rutted lane to grind at the mill. (I suppose com was worth growing in those days?) Old Matthew, the miller, would give us children a handful of “shellings,” the local name for grains of corn cleaned from the husks. No luxury in after life tasted half so sweet as those “shellings.”
The slumberous peacefulness of the hollow was first disturbed by the erection of a Woollen Mill. This was built by the late Mr. William Haigh, a son of Mr. Joseph Haigh, of Hall Ing, mentioned in Wood Royd history. He also built a residence near, and named it Hope Bank. There was a path between the Woollen Mill and Smithy Place running by the side of the dam and river. The mill was destroyed by fire, and afterwards left untenanted. The path by the side of the dam was closed on account of its danger. Time and nature softened the gaunt looks of the wrecked mill, mosses and grass covering its walls, and water-rushes the dam. Flowers were left unmolested by the side of the stream, and other growths of wild nature gave back to the hollow its original look of peace and silence.
Mr. J. W. Mellor eventually purchased the property, and has gradually changed the picturesque hollow to a modern pleasure resort named after the residence. The thousands of visitors who throng to this beautiful place on Bank and other holidays, have long since dispersed all fairies and boggarts which were supposed to haunt the low-lying land after dark. True, the walls of the old Com Mill are still standing, but deserted and dismantled with weeds growing around; the building can suggest no pleasant recollections to strangers who visit the more enticing and well-cared for part of the grounds.
As we have seen, the early modes of locomotion were slow and cumbersome on account of the shocking state of the roads, if such they could be named, that it was marvellous how the trade of the country could be carried on. Tolls originated in 1267, but it was not until 1662 that the first Act of Parliament was passed regarding roads. This Act was for the purpose of making roads, so that people could travel upon them with less danger. Turnpike gates were set up, so named on account of the gate turning on a post or pin admitting a person, but hindering an animal. The roads were thus named after these gates, an old coaching road in Honley still retaining its old name of Turnpike. After the passing of the Act in 1662, there was little improvement in roads for over one hundred years; so that we need express no surprise when people drew up their wills previous to undertaking a journey to London. Ratepayers who were forced to help to make the new roads were greatly opposed to their construction. The setting-up of Turnpike Gates aroused greater indignation, especially amongst the class of people who were forced to travel by road. There were many night-raids by rioters with covered faces and dressed in women’s clothes, who destroyed the obnoxious gates in their neighbourhood as quickly as they were erected. They were known as “Rebeccas,” having adopted the name of an imaginary female of that name. The highwayman riding headlong, or the roistering sportsman returning home late would often leap over the barrier to escape paying the toll. The stage-wagon driver also frequently yoked his horses to the gates, and pulled them down, (In an old pamphlet, published May 6th, 1637, is the name of the place where the Yorkshire stage-wagon driver lodged or “baited” in London when travelling to and from with his wagon).
It was still unsafe travelling even when Turnpike Trusts, and the paying of tolls became universal, until such men as Melford and Macadam about 1818 brought knowledge to bear upon the construction and repair of roads; which then increased rapidly. Thousands of miles of new highways were made, one noted road-maker being John Metcalfe, a blind man, better known as “Blind Jack, of Knaresborough.” He constructed the fine highway to Holmfirth, cutting through what was then bog and forest. To give an example of the numerous toll-gates scattered over the country, there were three in Honley township within a radius of two miles, viz:— Honley Bar, Catch Bar, and Smithy Place Bar. About 1870, (am open to correction regarding exact date), toll-bars were abolished, and the making and maintenance of roads in future were to be undertaken by Local and County Councils.
The passing of coaches, the sound of the guard’s horn, and the change of horses at the Inns were great events in the fives of our forefathers. These old toll-bar houses are mementoes of the time when highways were full of such picturesque traffic night and day. The houses are now disenfranchised, disendowed, and sold to people who would purchase them. With their small bow-windows commanding views of all roads they possess a distinctive character of their own which cannot be mistaken by observing eyes. It is to be hoped that they will long remain a feature of our highways as in the past, and not all be given over to ruthless destruction.
This discarded bar-house was purchased by Mr. William Brooke, and is now used as a lodge for Northgate Mount, thus preserving one landmark. Previous to the opening of railways, coal had to be carted from collieries in the neighbourhood of Kirkburton and Emley, in addition to local supplies at Hall Ing and Brockholes. Northgate Lane, or as it was generally named “Nogasts” Lane, was the only available highway at that time leading out of Honley to the Kirkburton and Emley coal-pits; so that the tolls were of value.
This bar-house standing at the bottom of Gynn Lane is now rented as a dwelling-house. Previous to the opening of the branch line of railway to Meltham, coals and goods had to be carted to that place, Netherton, Crosland and other hamlets in that neighbourhood from Honley Station; so that considerable traffic passed up and down Gynn Lane. The only alternative road to the station at that time was Cow Lane previously mentioned. It was seldom however that horses were put to the task of wading through the mud and water with the chance of eventually being stuck fast. The vexatious toll was generally paid as the lesser of two evils, so that Catch Bar was at one time a source of large revenue.
This toll-gate was in readiness for all vehicles travelling on the main highway which runs through Brockholes, so that there was no escape in that quarter only for those who used “shank’s mare.”
In old days Wells and Springs were so valuable that our forefathers dedicated them to Saints, and also assigned to the water certain qualities. These customs and beliefs were remnants of Popish superstition, there being scarcely a Well of note in Great Britain which has not been dedicated to a Saint in the Romish Calendar. We have our St. Helen’s Well in Thirstin. St. Helen or Helena was the mother of Constantine the Great, and was supposed to be a native of Yorkshire; so that more Wells were dedicated to her name in our county than to other Saints. In old Pagan worship, Thor was one of nature’s Deities to whom sacrifice was then offered in primeval simplicity of heart. He was the god of air, storm and rain. The once natural hollow named Thurston, or as we now write it Thirstin, is named after Thor, the word Thor, as ages passed, gradually coming to be “Thur,” whilst “ton” means dwelling, hence Thurston, or Thor’s dwelling. No doubt the once sequestered hollow would be a place of worship in old Pagan days, to where the woad-stained Briton once roaming these forests would resort for the purpose of worship. The spring would be in existence in those far-off days as at present, many old legends and traditions still lingering around the place.
Honley is particularly favoured with numerous Springs and Wells. The well-known St. Helen’s Well is the only spring in the place retaining a Saintly name, and at one time its water was supposed to possess many curative properties. The well was placed in its present position in 1850, on account of the original spring being situated in a dark corner difficult of access, from where the water is conveyed into the more modern trough. Honley Well in old days was an uncovered stream of water which found its way as at present from higher ground over the open space known as May-pole Hill, or Town-gate. In the year 1796, the city fathers, in the persons of Constable and Overseer, stepped in, covered the crystal stream as a preventative against contamination, built a structure for the water; thus preserving our ancient watercourse for future generations. St. Helen’s and Honley Wells have never been known to run dry even in the most droughty season. We have also beautiful old wells and springs of water at Hagg, — Deanhouse, — Smithy Place, — Hall Ing, — Spring-wood, — Old Moll, — Nan Hob, — Moor-bottom, — New-drop, etc. In addition, they are numerous around the outskirts of the township, also in private houses, folds, yards, etc. The water at Nan-Hob Spring was once also highly valued for possessing certain good properties. At one time it was customary to make a pilgrimage to the Spring early in the morning of the first Sunday in May, and drink of the water. I think that this health-giving custom of early rising and drinking pure water is not now observed.
The meanings attached to the names of Nan-Hob and Old Moll Springs have often puzzled me. It is difficult to say whether they are only dialect names, or derived from the Norse. Nan is used for mag-pie or “pinot.” The word is also a quarry term for a fault in stone. Hop means a hollow amongst hills through which a brook runs. This description can be applied to the situation of Nan-Hob, and local dialect may have changed hop to hob. With regard to old Moll. The marsh marigold which once grew in abundance around the well is named Moll in old local dialect. The word Molle in Norse stands for mill. The ancient mill which once stood by the spring may have given ics name to the water. On the other hand, when nature’s myths and poetic legends were the religion of the people, the well may have been dedicated to St. Mary, being in close proximity to St. Helen’s Well. As Moll is the local by-name, or “nickname” for Mary, the familiar term applied to the well may have outlived the original name of St. Mary, Honley being tenacious of its dialect names. The extensive silk-dyeing works of Mr. G. W. Oldham now stand upon the ancient site.
Honley Wells and Springs are not now valued since Huddersfield Corporation first turned on its water supply in September 1881. Water-fetchers with long cans, head cans, barrels, and vessels of various sizes and fashions are now no longer seen. The joyful exit from school so often sobered by anticipated extra “water-fetchings” for brewing, washing and cleaning days are memories of the past. No longer the wells serve as a meeting-place, and water-carrying prove a help for shy lovers. The mystery which surrounded stream or spring in hollow or wood after dark, has been superseded by prosaic brass-taps upon well-lighted slopstones in the home, furnishing no food for vivid imaginations.
When Huddersfield Corporation water was brought to Honley, many residents for a long time had painful speculations of what they were drinking. There are yet many people who obtain their drinking water from Honley, St. Helen’s and other Wells; resolutely refusing to imbibe Municipal water.