The History of the Township of Meltham, Near Huddersfield (1866) by Rev. Joseph Hughes
In treating of the early physical aspect of Meltham, and of the artificial and social changes which have been effected in it from time to time, by the hand of man, it is unnecessary to revert to pre-historic eras, when the whole surface of the country was in a state of nature, in order duly to appreciate the extent and value of the improvements which have been made by the advance of civilisation and the knowledge of mechanical science. It is sufficient here to notice the condition of the township at the time of the Norman Conquest, when it was held by two Saxon thanes, Cola and Suuen, who were dispossessed by the Conqueror, and when the manor fell into the hands of the Norman Baron, Ilbert de Lacy.
It is by no means improbable that at that time the extent of wood which existed in the district, and the uncultivated state of the ground in general, conduced to render it a place of favourable resort to its new proprietor and his retainers, as affording a cover for the wild animals with which the neighbourhood abounded, and the chase of which was the most favourite diversion of the Normans. That the deer, the wolf, and the fox were then to be found in the district, may be naturally inferred from the significant names of Deer Hill, "Wolf Stones, and Fox Boyd still remaining in it, the places so called being the precise localities to which these animals would most probably have resorted.
There is no doubt whatever that the red and fallow deer were found at Honley and Holmfirth in the reign of Edward III., for there is an incidental allusion to their existence in the sad record of the Elland and Beaumont feud of that period. When Lockwood, of Lockwood, had been for some time living in concealment after the tragic murder of Sir John Elland, of Elland, and his son, by the Beaumont's of Crosland, and was travelling from Ferry Bridge to Cannon Hall, he was advised by two of his young kinswomen, whom he accidentally met on his way, to go directly to Crosland Hall, to Adam Beaumont, where he might live safely, and hunt with him and other gentlemen both the red and fallow deer, at Hanley — Honley — and Holmfirth. And this advice, backed as it was by the information that elsewhere the sheriff and his men were making diligent search for him, he had done well to follow. There is no record or tradition extant as to the precise time when these animals became extinct in the district; but it is most likely that they were driven out here, as in many other parts of the kingdom, by the increase and spread of the population and the gradual extension of agricultural operations.
With regard to the natural resources of the township of Meltham, there can be no doubt that wood for the building of huts and for fuel was to be had in abundance on the high moors, before the seam of coal was discovered ; while the lower grounds furnished pasturage for the oxen, and the oak trees, every where plentiful, produced a sufficient quantity of acorns for the support of the vast herds of swine, which in those days formed so large a part of Saxon wealth ; and honey, the luxury of those times, was not wanting in a district surrounded by heath-covered moors. The Domesday Survey testifies to there being land under the plough at Meltham, which necessarily implies the cultivation of cereal crops; and game of various kinds probably abounded in the forests, while the mountain streams, at that time untainted by dye-wares and other impurities, yielded a plentiful supply of fish.
These apparently insignificant streams were eventually destined to effect great physical and social changes in the valley through which they flowed, and under an agency then undreamt of, to bring wealth and social improvement within its range ; for there can be no question that to every part of the district this supply of water power has been more enriching than the discovery of a gold mine, and has been productive of far greater moral good.
There is no actual proof as to the date at which the woollen cloth manufacture was established in Meltham, but it is not impossible that it might have been so, early in the time of Edward III., as there is direct historical evidence of its introduction into the West-Riding of Yorkshire in the 12th year of his reign; for it is recorded that in 1338, the manufacturers of Flanders — Flemings — seeking refuge from the persecutions with which they were assailed in their own country, repaired in great numbers to England, and many of them settled at Halifax, and the neighbouring places; and in the same year an act of Parliament was passed for the encouragement of foreign weavers.
Additional testimony as to the period of its establishment in England, is also furnished by an old monastic chronicler, who, in recording the virtues of Edward and his Flemish consort, exclaims, "Blessed be the memory of king Edward the III., and Philippa, of Hainault, his Queen, who first invented clothes," by which, we suppose the worthy monk to mean cloth, as there is no reason whatever for believing that previous to this reign, our ancestors were without garments of some kind or other.
The quaint historian, Fuller, when drawing a comparison between a pastoral and manufacturing country, speaks of the great benefit likely to accrue to England from the introduction of this art, and says, "The king having married Philippa, the daughter of the Earl of Hainault, began now to grow sensible of the great gain the Netherlands got by our English wool, in memory whereof the Duke of Burgundy, a century after, instituted the order of 'The Golden Fleece,' wherein, indeed, the fleece was ours, but the gold theirs, so vast was their emolument by the trade of clothing. Our king, therefore, resolved, if possible, to reduce the trade to his own country-men, who as yet were ignorant, as knowing no more what to do with their wool than the sheep that bore it."
But it is stated, that "the art of manufacturing cloth was known and practised in some parts of England even long before this period, and that it was introduced into England from Flanders in the year 1111."
"The first exportation of English cloth occurred in 1197." "In 1261, all Englishmen were commanded to wear British cloth ;" and, in "Trusler's Chronology," it is stated, that 44 cloth manufacture was established in England by Edward I."
It is probable that on the settlement of the Flemings in the West-Riding, during the reign of Edward III., the manufacture of cloth became a separate and distinct branch of business, and has ever since continued to expand its dimensions. Previously, it is not improbable, that most families made cloth for their own use, as many do still in some parts of Wales, and thus have given employment to the women in carding and spinning.
With regard to the period at which woollen cloth was first made in Meltham, although it is not, as already stated, impossible that it might have been as early as the time of Edward III., it more probably dates a good deal later, between the years 1495, and 1509, during the reign of Henry VII., when, as remarked in a learned work by Professor Millar, the coarse woollen manufactory was introduced into the West-Riding of Yorkshire. "The woollen trade of England," he says, "made considerable advances in the reign of Henry VII., when, after a long course of civil dissensions, the people began to enjoy tranquility under a prince, who favoured and protected the arts of peace. About this time were set on foot the coarse woollen manufactures of Yorkshire, particularly at Wakefield, Leeds, and Halifax, places remarkably well adapted to that species of work, from the plenty of coal and the numerous springs of water with which they are supplied."
So much for the probable introduction of this branch of industry — the staple trade of England — at an early period into this district. But there is direct and positive proof of its existence here in the time of queen Elizabeth, during the early part of whose reign mention is made in a curious old document dated "20th Julye, 1578," of a "John Wodde, off Heye, off the Parisshe off Almonburie within the countye off Yorke, Clothier", and of a "Thomas Beaumont, clothier, to whom property is left in trust for John Beaumont," &c. By another indenture bearing date October 10th, 1646, John Beaumont, of Meltham, devised, along with other property, a fulling mill, cottages, &c., to his son Abraham Beaumont, and a George Beaumont, of Meltham, his half brother, a woollen draper, left behind him a will dated June 14th, 1659. There is also a James Haighe, of Meltham, clothier, alluded to in a deed bearing date 1657, a Thomas Mitchell, of Meltham, clothier, in 1704, and William Radcliffe, clerk, of Dinnington, in the countie of York — the great grandfather of Sir Joseph Radcliffe — lets a "fulling milne" in Meltham, in the year 1707, with appurtenances, dams, &c., for twenty one years, at the yearly rent of eleven pounds, to James Roberts, of Steps Milne, in Honley, and Joseph Roberts, of Dungeon Milne, both in the parish of Almonburie.
The following entry from a register is curious, as affording a picture of one of the restrictive laws in force respecting woollen cloth in the early part of the last century :—
To these might doubtless be added, many more instances of a similar kind, all tending to prove that the woollen cloth working, as it was called, very early took root in this country, and that it, along with the cultivation of the soil, helped to stimulate the energies and industry of the inhabitants.
To the pursuit of agriculture, however, the first place was necessarily given by persons, nearly all of whom where freeholders, and, as in the documentary evidence respecting property in Meltham, from the time of Elizabeth to that of queen Anne, the terms yeoman and husbandman are perpetually applied to the various individuals therein named, it is natural to conclude that most of the inhabitants were landed proprietors; those on a larger scale were called yeomen, and those on a smaller one husbandmen, and both freeholders. It is perhaps to the preponderance of this class, that may be traced the excessive love for their district, so many of whose acres were their own, which ever distinguished the inhabitants of Meltham, and also that strong independent self-will and impatience of restraint, which they have on many occasions evinced.
To the tilling of the soil and the working of woollen cloth, must be added a third branch of industrial pursuit, namely, that of tanning leather, which was carried on at Meltham, though not to any great extent, considering the abundance of oak bark to be had in the neighbourhood and the constant supply of water. But this branch of trade has long since left the place, and Mr. Benjamin Armytage, who resided at Thickhollins, in 1731, as far as is known, was the last person connected with Meltham, who embarked largely in it.
Of Thickhollins itself, from its antiquity and beauty, the boast and ornament of the district, it is to be regretted that no particular records remain, and that beyond the generally admitted fact of its having been always ranked as the Great House of the neighbourhood, it was also admired for its ancient respectability. Tradition gives no clue to the date of its erection, nor is the name of its founder preserved. The first allusion to it, as has been already stated, is to be found in the time of Edward III., when a John de Thickholyns, probably the lord of the soil, was in sufficient favour with his Sovereign, to ask and obtain a special grant at his hands. But though no conjecture can be formed as to when or by whom the first mansion at Thickhollins was built, the present one is supposed to stand on its site, and may, probably, retain the old foundations, but it has been so often enlarged and remodelled that its present shape and dimensions convey no idea of what its former aspect might have been, or afford the least clue as to the domestic habits of its early occupants. And thus the history of a place whose records might have furnished details of sufficient interest to fill a separate chapter, are brought within the limits of a couple of pages.
It is believed that the first member of the Armytage family who settled at Thickhollins was Thomas, the son of "John Armitedge, of Ermytage," who died in 1527. This Thomas was a younger son, and is the gentleman pointed out by the compiler of the Thickhollins pedigree as the ancestor of that branch. The earliest entry of any one bearing the Armytage name, in the Almondbury Parish Kegister, is the following :— "1558, Feb. 11. Anthony the son of John Armitedge Bapt. of Thickhollins." The incidental notices which have been gleaned respecting certain members of this family are very few, and very meagre, and amount to nothing more than such bare facts as the following, namely, that a sister of Christian Binns, the first curate of Meltham, married an Anthony Armytage, probably sometime between the years 1651 and 1669 ; that the mother of Abraham Woodhead was an Armytage; also that one of his Thickhollins cousins was at University College, Oxford, when Dr. Obadiah Walker was the master of it, about 1675 ; that his eldest cousin, John Armytage, of Thickhollins, in the year 1676, married Mary, the relict of Godfrey Beaumont, of South Crosland, yeoman; that she died the following year after the birth of her first child, who was baptised the same day his mother was interred at Meltham; also that his son, John Armytage, of Thickhollins, "Armiger," was one of the grand jury at York in 1716, and that he died on the 14th of November, 1747. One more glimpse of this ancient family is afforded in the Meltham Register in 1752, where it is noted, that "old Mrs. Mary Armitage, o'th Thickhollins, was buried in the chancel July the 27."
The Thickhollins property is now vested in the person of the Rev. J. N. Green Armytage, son of the late Joseph Green Armytage, Esq. The luxuriant growth of the holly at and near this interesting old place, fully justifies its name, and gives it a bright and cheerful appearance even in the gloomy months of winter.
The deed respecting the erection of Mean Bridge is still in existence, and has been kindly lent for insertion in this volume, by its possessor, Mr. Joseph Taylor, the registrar. It runs thus:—
Translation of the above.
Whereas upon the seventeenth day of January last past, a bargain was made betwixt the above-named Abraham Woodhead, Constable of Meltham-halfe in the Parish and county aforesaid of the one part, and the above bound James Hacking and Joseph Pighles on the other part, whereby the said James Hacking and Joseph Pighles undertook to build a new stone bridge at Meltham aforesaid, for and in consideration of the sum of four pounds seven shillings and sixpence, to be paid at two several payments, viz. one halfe part at the finishing of the said Bridge, and the other halfe part at the feast of St. Bartholomew next ensuing.
Now the condition of this obligation is such, that if the above bounden James Hacking and Joseph Pighles will and do rebuild the said Bridge, if it should happen to be broken down by floods, or otherwise, within the term of seven years next ensuing the date hereof, and farther, if the said James Hacking and Joseph Pighles or their heirs, executors, &c., shall during the term of seven years next ensuing, maintain, uphold and keep the said bridge in good repair, the Battlements only excepted, as occasion shall require and when requested by the Constable of Meltham aforesaid then in office. Then this obligation to be void, otherwise in force.
Sealed, signed and delivered being written upon treble Sixpenny stampt paper as the Act requires, in presence of
This bridge was widened westward sometime between the years 1805, and 1807, in consequence of an accident which occurred to a spirited and valuable horse in crossing it on the 12th of August, 1805, by which the animal was nearly killed. The circumstances which gave rise to the accident were these. A person, Mr. John Armitage, assisting at the inn on that day, took the horse which belonged to one of the gentlemen who had come to shoot on the moors, to water at the goit. When returning, at a pretty sharp trot, the animal, unexpectedly, took fright, and with his rider on his back, leaped over the east battlement. Armitage escaped almost miraculously, for, though his neck was somewhat twisted, yet no bones were broken. The horse was not actually killed by the fall, but so injured, that it was found necessary for him to be immediately shot. After this accident the bridge was widened by order of the constable then in office.
The year 1799, known as the "dreadful barley time," is well remembered by the aged inhabitants of Meltham, when oatmeal was sold for five shillings and fourpence per stone. The township then suffered severely with many other parts of the country from the effects of a succession of bad harvests.
The year 1812 appears like that of 1799, to have been one of much distress and privation to the working classes in Meltham, and it is satisfactory to observe by the town's books, that a subscription was at that time entered into for the relief of the necessitous poor of the township, then containing a population of about 1470 only. Of this subscription, Mr. James Garlick and Mr. Crispin Taylor were the collectors.
In the year 1819 a Wesleyan Methodist Chapel was erected in the village, in connection with which is a flourishing Sunday school, which was stated at the last meeting of the Mechanics' Institute to contain 240 scholars.
The pastor of the Baptist Congregation, the Rev. Mr. Thomas, now in the 79th year of his age, states that he has resided in Meltham for thirty-seven years, during which period he has been instrumental in building two Sunday schools, and in 1864, a New chapel of commodious dimensions. The number of scholars attending his Sunday school is stated to be 117.
It is probable that the most important physical changes which have taken place in the district, were produced by the act for enclosing the lands in the manor of Meltham, passed in the session of 1817, the 57th year of the reign of George III., which was amended in the first of William IV., and carried into effect in the year 1832, for the walling in, drainage, and cultivation of the waste lands, consequent upon it, especially those that lay nearest to the village, must have naturally affected its aspect, and taken away the wild romantic beauty it previously possessed, when the heather and bilberry plant were to be found blooming much nearer to it than they are at present.
The turnpike road from Huddersfield to Meltham was begun in 1819. An act for amending, improving, and maintaining of which passed in the session of 1825, in the 6th year of George IV., must have conduced greatly to advance the social condition of the people, by affording them facilities of intercourse with their Huddersfield and other neighbours, and opening out markets from which their ancestors were necessarily excluded. The completion of this road gave a considerable impetus to trade and industrial pursuits of every description, and in consequence of it, improvements of various kinds at first gradually, and then rapidly succeeded, and made way for each other.
On a portion of the glebe land situated above the village an excellent Parsonage House with suitable offices attached, was erected in the year 1839, by the Rev. Joseph Hughes, who had been appointed to the incumbency in the previous year. The building of this house was an event of great interest to all the inhabitants of Meltham, for in addition to the prospect it held out of a resident incumbent, one whose blessed vocation it should be, as has been well said, "to do the greatest amount of good to the greatest number of persons," its elevated position, overlooking the village, and visible from many points of view, led them to expect that it would be not only a most prominent, but also a most pleasing feature in their landscape. Nor were they disappointed in their hope, for its completion fully justified their anticipations. A stone scroll over the front door bears the following inscription :—
Among the most important public improvements in the village was the establishment of a Post Office in the year 1845, afterwards followed by the opening of a News-room, and the formation of a Lending Library in 1851, furnished by the kind liberality of some of the neighbouring gentlemen interested in the welfare of the inhabitants. The volumes composing this library are kept in an apartment above the News-room, and being well assorted, are a great boon to all the readers of the village. The Mechanics' Institute was opened in the year 1849, and a Female Institute, under the able superintendence of Mr. Lawford, does good service among the young women, who receive instruction in it on certain week days in the evening, in Scripture history, writing, geography, and accounts. The Odd Fellows' Hall, a large room belonging to the members of the order whose name it bears, was built in 1851, and is well adapted for public meetings of various kinds, tea drinkings, concerts, &c.
An intense frost in the spring of 1855, which began on the 6th of February, and lasted till the 5th of March, was a cause of much suffering in the village and district contiguous to Meltham, and called for immediate sympathy and aid from the rich towards their poor neighbours. This was readily accorded, and liberal subscriptions were promptly set on foot for the supply of bread, soup, and coal to the most necessitous among them. The supply of bread and soup thus provided was sufficient for the relief of 1359 families, to whom it was distributed at Meltham Parsonage from the 8th of February to the 5th of March. The coal was distributed to the poor in the village.
Gas was first introduced into Meltham in November, 1855, after the completion of the Gas works near Mean Bridge, which were erected by a joint stock company with a capital of £2,000, in shares of £2 each, and at an outlay of £2,250, the extra £250 being borrowed money. Subsequent improvements have been made, the cost of which was defrayed out of the reserve fund of the company.
In the year 1860, a Board for Local Government was formed, under whose auspices in 1862, the village was supplied with water, abundant in quantity and excellent in quality. The water was first turned into the mains on the 5th of May in that year.
The last and perhaps the most important event as regards its probable effects upon the village of Meltham has yet to be recorded, namely, the cutting of the first sod of the Railway which is to connect Meltham with Huddersfield. This was done by Mr. Charles Brook, jun., on April the 4th, 1864. The widening of the road to Thickhollins, and the diversion of it from the Old Bridge is remembered by many as a recent improvement which was much needed. So also is the introduction of a Rural Police into the district, the establishment of Mr. Charles Rayner's printing press, and some other minor additions on which our limits will not permit us to dwell.
The census of the population of the township of Meltham from 1801 to 1861 is as follows :— 1801, 1279 ; 1811, 1470 ; 1821, 2000 ; 1831, 2746 ; 1841, 3262 ; 1851, 3758 ; 1861, 4046. The number of families in Meltham in 1728 is stated to have been 85, and in 1750 they had increased to 102, while the census of 1861 gives them at 890. The township consists of 4590 acres. The number of houses in it in 1841 was 477. The money raised by the parish rates in 1803, at five shillings in the pound was £288 14s. 6½d.