Edwin Waugh's Heywood of 1855

'A living writer has said of the place, that it looks like a great funeral on its way from Bury to Rochdale.' (Edwin Waugh, writing about Heywood, 1855)
The following view of Heywood is taken from Edwin Waugh's 1855 book Sketches of Lancashire Life. Following in the footsteps of Edwin Butterworth (1840) and Samuel Bamford (1842), he visited Heywood, took the time to find out what he could about it, and then wrote an engaging portrait of the young town. He was visiting a friend whose home was ‘pleasantly situated in the green outskirts’, but Waugh described the town itself as having a ‘monotonous, cotton-spinning look’.

While Waugh lacked the statistical eye of Butterworth and the political zeal of Bamford, he was a dialect writer who vividly depicted the characteristics and quirks of the everyday people he met. As a Rochdalian, he was well acquainted with the district and wrote of the traits of life in South Lancashire with an insider’s knowledge.

Heywood was a thriving but still quite small industrial town in the 1850s, and Waugh was evidently unimpressed with the dirty, bland architecture or the general roughness of the workers, although he did still manage to paint an interesting picture of the local population. His favourite aspect of Heywood was the ‘highly-picturesque’ countryside, which he wrote about at length in very flowery prose.

True to form, in a book chapter supposedly all about Heywood, it took Waugh several thousand words just to reach the point in his narrative where he was leaving Middleton on his rail journey to Heywood on the ‘Manchester & Leeds Railway’. He described the sights from his window as the steam train pushed through Hopwood and Castleton one fine June afternoon:
‘Before the train reaches Blue Pits station, it passes through the fine estate of the Hopwoods, of Hopwood; and, at some points, as it passes, the chimnies and gables of Hopwood Hall peep through its surrounding woods, in a retired and well-cultivated valley, on the north side of the line. As the train begins to slacken on its approach to the station, the tiny, old roadside village of Trub Smithy, the scene of many a humorous local story, lies nestling beyond two or three fields to the south, at the foot of a slope, in the high-road from Manchester to Rochdale. At ‘Blue Pits’ station, we obeyed the noisy summons to ‘Change here for Heywood,’ and were put upon the branch line which leads thitherward. The railway hence to Heywood winds through green fields all the way, and is divided from the woods of Hopwood by a long, straight stripe of gleaming canal, kept in excellent order. 
As we rolled on towards Heywood the moorland heights of Ashworth, wild, round-topped Knoll, Rooley, and Lobden, rose boldly up in the background of the scene before us, seemingly at a short distance, and before any glimpse was seen of the town of Heywood, lying low between us and the hills. But as we drew near, a canopy of smoky cloud hung over the valley in front; and ‘we knew by the smoke’ - as the song says - that Heywood was near; even if we had never known it before. Heywood is one of the last places in the world where a man who judges of the surrounding country by the towns itself, would think of going to ruralise. But, even in this smoky manufacturing town, which is so meagre in historical interest, there are some significant peculiarities connected with its rise and progress, and the aspects of its present life; and some interesting traits in the characteristics of its inhabitants. And, in its surrounding landscape, there are many picturesque scenes; especially towards the hills, where the rising grounds are pierced, here and there, by romantic and craggy glens; long, lonesome, and woody, and wandering far up towards the moors, like ‘Simpson Clough;’ and sometimes green and pleasant by the quiet water-side, like ‘Tyrone's Bed,’ and ‘Hooley Clough.’’
His train arrived at the Heywood station and the streets and buildings of the town opened up to view:
‘As the train drew slowly up to that little station, which always looks busy when there are a dozen people in the office, the straggling ends of Heywood streets began to dawn upon us, in the valley off at the north-west side of the line, with the peeping chimney tops of many of the cotton-mills, which lay yet too low down and far off to be wholly seen. Some costly mansions were visible also, belonging to wealthy men of the neighbourhood, - mostly rich cotton-spinners, - perched on ‘coignes of vantage,’ about the green uplands and hollows in the valley, and generally, at a respectful distance from the town.

Many of the cotton mills began to show themselves here entirely, - here and there in clusters, the older ones looking very dusky and dreary, and uninviting to the eye; the new ones as smart as new bricks and long lines of glittering windows could make their dull, square forms appear. A number of brick-built cottages bristled about the summit of a slope which rose gently up in front of us from the station, and closed from view the bulk of the town, lying down in the valley beyond. We went up the slope, and took a quiet bye-path which leads through the fields along the southern edge of Heywood, affording a good view of the town and the valley in which it is situated, and entering the town near the market-place…’
He then turned his thoughts to the history of the town - meagre as it apparently was...
‘So far as the history of Heywood is known, it has not been the arena of any of those great historical transactions of England's past, which have so shaken and changed the less remote and more populated parts of the country. The present appearance of Heywood would not, perhaps, be any way delightful to the eye of anybody who had no attractive local interest in it. Yet a brief review of the history, and the quick growth of the place, may not be uninteresting. 
Heywood is the capital of the township of Heap, and stands principally upon a gentle elevation in a wide valley, about three miles from each of the important towns of Rochdale, Bury, and Middleton. The township of Heap is in the parish and manor of Bury… 
Previous to the 15th century, this township must have been part of a very wild, roadless, and untempting region, having, for the most part, little or no settled population, or communion with the living world beyond; and the progress of population, and cultivation of the land, up to that time appears to have been very slow, and only in a few isolated spots; since, although there were several heys of land at that time, near to a wood, and thence called ‘Heywood,’ upon the spot now occupied by a busy community of people… there is no record of any dwelling upon that particular spot, until shortly after the 15th century, when a few rural habitations were erected thereon. From this comparatively recent period may be reckoned the dawn of the little rural village which has since expanded into the present stirring manufacturing town of Heywood, now thriving at a greater rate than ever, under the impulse of modern industrialism. About this time, too, began the residence there of a family bearing the local name. 
The old episcopal chapel, near the market-place, dedicated to St. Luke, is a very plain little building, with nothing remarkable in its appearance, or its situation. It seems to have been founded at the beginning of the 17th century… Besides the Heywoods, of Heywood Hall, there were several powerful local families in the olden time seated at short distances round the spot where Heywood now stands: the Heaps, of Heap; the Bamfords, of Bamford; the Marlands, of Marland; the Holts, of Grizlehurst; and the Hopwoods, of Hopwood - which last still reside upon their ancient estate.’
The old St Luke's chapel. This was demolished in 1859 and replaced with the current building a few years later.

Waugh’s comments on the architecture of Heywood are a reminder that the town was still quite new but had been thrown together rather too quickly in the rush of industrialisation. Little care had been taken in providing decent housing for the early factory workers, and the long, winding layout of the town emphasised that this was more of a through-road to larger towns than an urban centre:
‘Heywood town is altogether of too modern an origin to contain any buildings very interesting to the admirer of those quaint and instructive relics of ancient architecture which may generally be found, more or less of them, in unaltered nooks of the older towns of the county; and which… please and instruct the thoughtful mind, breathing a kind of relieving historic interest and beauty among the great overgrowth of dull-looking modern buildings forced up by the hot atmosphere of Lancashire manufacture during the last 70 years. The only places in Heywood around which an antiquarian would be likely to linger and muse, with anything like satisfaction, would be the little episcopal chapel in the market-place, founded in the 17th century, and Heywood Hall, which stands about half a mile from the town… With these exceptions, there is probably not one building in the place 200 years old.

The appearance of Heywood, whether seen in detail or as a whole, presents as complete, unrelieved, and condensed an epitome of the still-absorbing spirit of manufacture in the region where it originated, as can be found anywhere in Lancashire. And, in all its irregular, serpentine main street, consisting of more than a mile of most monotonous, brick-built shops and cottages - together with the dingy, radiating little streets and alleys diverging therefrom - there does not appear even one modern building remarkable for taste, or for any other distinguishing excellence, sufficient to induce an ordinary man to halt and admire it for a minute. There is not even and edifice characterised by any singularity whatever, calculated to awaken wonder or curiosity in an ordinary beholder, except its great square, brick cotton mills, machine shops, and the like; and when the outside of one of these has been seen, the outside of the remainder is no novelty. The heights and depths principally cultivated in Heywood appear to be those of factory chimneys and coal-pits. Of course, the interiors of the mills teem with mechanical wonders and ingenuities; and the social life and characteristics of the population is full of indigenous interest. But the general exterior of the town exhibits a dull and dusky succession of manufacturing sameness. Its inns, with one or two exceptions, look like jerry-shops, and its places of worship like warehouses.

A living writer has said of the place, that it looks like a great funeral on its way from Bury to Rochdale, between which towns it is situated midway. When seen from any neighbouring elevation, on a dull day, this strong figure hardly exaggerates the truth. The whole life of Heywood seems to be governed by the ring of factory bells - at least, much more than by any other bells. The very dwelling-houses look as if they, too, worked in the factories.’
Like most Radical writers of the time, Waugh was rather more complimentary of the inhabitants of mill towns than he was of the buildings there. He described the working people of Heywood - a ‘country manufacturing town’ - as being clean, punctual, and having a ‘more wholesome appearance’ than their inner-city counterparts:
‘To persons accustomed to the quaint prettiness of well-regulated English rural villages, and the more natural hue and general appearance of the people in such places, the inhabitants of Heywood would, at first sight, have somewhat of a sallow appearance, and their houses would appear to be slightly smeared with a mixture of soot, sperm oil, and cotton fluz. And, if such observers knew nothing of the real character and habits of the factory population, they would be slow to believe them a people remarkably fond of cleanliness and of substantial homely comfort, as far as compatible with the nature of their employment.

A close examination of these Heywood cottages would show, however, that their insides are more clean and comfortable than the first glance at their outsides might suggest; and would also reveal many other things not discreditable to the native disposition of the people who dwell in them. But the architecture and general characteristics of Heywood, as a town, evince no taste, no refinement, nor even public spirit or liberality, commensurate with its wealth and energy. The whole population seems yet too completely wrapt in its laborious manufacturing dream, to care much about the general adornment or improvement of the place, or even about any very effective diffusion of those influences which tend to the improvement of the health and the culture of the nobler faculties of the people. But Heywood may yet, perhaps, emerge from its dreary apprenticeship to blind toil; and, wiping a little dust from its eyes, look forth towards things quite as essential and of a nobler kind than this unremitting fight for bread for the day.

At present, wherever one wanders among the streets on week-days, the same manufacturing indications present themselves. It is plain that its people are nearly all employed in one way, directly or indirectly. This is suggested, not only by the number and magnitude of the mills, and the general aspect of the habitations of the people, but by every living movement on the streets. Every vehicle that passes; every woman and child about the cottages; every lounger in the market-place tells the same story. One striking feature of week-day life in Heywood, more completely even than in many other kindred towns, is the clock-work punctuality with which the operative crowds rush from the mills, and hurry along the streets, at noon, to their dinners; sauntering back again in twos and threes, or speeding along in solitary haste to get within the mill-doors in time for that reawakening boom of the machinery which is seldom on the laggard side of its appointment.
And it is not only in the dress and manners of this numerous body of factory operatives - in their language and deportment, and the prevailing hue of their countenances - that the character and influence of their employment is indicated; but also in a modified variety of the same features in the remainder of the population, who are either immediately connected with these operatives, or indirectly affected by the same general manufacturing influences. I have noticed, however, that factory operatives in country manufacturing towns like Heywood have a more wholesome appearance, both in dress and person, than the same class in Manchester. Whether this arises from any difference in the atmosphere, or from more healthy habits of factory operatives in the country, than those induced among the same class by the temptations of a great town like Manchester, I cannot say.’
He walked down into the centre of town, and his description of the scenes at Market Place are quite evocative of the hustle and bustle of a summer Saturday afternoon in a mill town:
‘We had come round from the railway station, along the southern edge of the town, and through the fields, by a footpath, or ‘fuut-gate,’ which led us into Heywood about 100 yards from the old episcopal chapel in the middle of the town. The mills were stopped. Country people were coming into town to do their errands, and a great part of the working population of Heywood appeared to be sauntering along the main street, stopping at the shops to make their markets as they went along; or casting about for their Saturday night's diversion, and gazing eagerly from side to side, to see what could be seen. Clusters of factory girls were gathered about the drapers' windows. These girls were generally clean and tidy; and, not unfrequently, there were very intelligent and pretty countenances amongst them. The older part of the factory operatives, both men and women, had often a staid and jaded look.

The shops were busy with customers buying clothing, or food, or cheap publications; and the ale-houses were getting lively. A little company of young ‘factory-chaps’ were collected about the bookseller's shop, near the old ‘Queen Anne,’ looking out for news, or pictures, or reading the periodicals exposed in the windows. Now and then, a select straggler wended his way across the road to change his ‘library-book’ at the Mechanics' Institution. There was considerable stir lower down the street, where a noisy band of music was marching along, followed by an admiring multitude. And, amongst the whole, a number of those little, active, mischief-loving lads, which are so well-known in every manufacturing town by the name of ‘Doffers,’ were clattering about, and darting after one another among the crowd as blithe as if they had never known what work was. We crossed through the middle of the town, and went down the north road[1]  into an open tract of meadow land, towards the residence of mine host.’
It is probable that his host lived at Moss Cottage, on Bamford Road:
‘The house was pleasantly situated in a garden, about two stones' throw from the edge of Heywood, in the wide level of rich grass land, called ‘Yewood Ho' Ghreyt Meadow.’[2] The road goes close by the end of the garden. We entered this garden by a little iron side-gate, and on we went, under some richly-blossomed apple trees, and across the grass-plat, into the house. The old housekeeper began to prepare tea for us; and, in the meantime, we made ourselves at home in the parlour, which looked out upon the garden and meadows at the front. Mine host sat down to the piano, and played over some of that fine old psalmody which the country people of Lancashire take such delight in.

His family consisted of himself, a staid-looking old housekeeper, and his two motherless children. One of these was a timid, bright-eyed little girl, with long flaxen hair, who, as we came through the garden, was playing with her hoop upon the shady grass-plat, under the blossomy apple trees; but who, on seeing a stranger, immediately sank into a shy stillness. The other was a contemplative lad, about 13, with a Melancthon[3] style of countenance.’
Waugh stayed the night, and although he painted a scene of comparative domestic bliss that Saturday evening, he really let his romantic prose run wild when recalling the following morning. The following extract is heavily abridged and omits lengthy passages of the flowery poetry that Waugh was prone to inserting into his writings:
‘When I rose from bed, and looked through the window of my chamber, the rich haze of an unclouded midsummer morning suffused the air. The sunshine lay glittering all over the dewy fields; for the fiery steeds of PhÅ“bus had not yet drunk up those limpid springs ‘on chaliced flowers that lie.’ The birds had been up many an hour, and were carolling and chirping gleefully about the eaves of the house and in the gardens. The splendour and serenity of the day had touched even the dull manufacturing town on the opposite ridge with its beautifying magic; and Heywood seemed to rest from its labours, and rejoice in the glory and gladness which clothed the heavens and the earth. The long factory chimneys, which had been bathing their smokeless tops all night in the cool air, now looked up serenely through the sunshine at the blue sky, as if they, too, were glad to get rid of the week-day fume, and gaze quietly again upon the loveliness of nature; and all the whirling spinning machinery of the town was lying still and silent as the overarching heavens. Another Sabbath had dawned upon the world; and that day of God, and god of days, was breathing its fine balm among the toilers again. It is a poor heart that never rejoices in the freedom and joy of nature, nor ever felt the serene and sacred suggestiveness of an English Sunday morning…

Breakfast was soon over, and the youngsters dressed themselves for chapel, and left us to ourselves; for the one small bell of Heywood Chapel was going ‘Toll-toll-toll;’ and straggling companies of clean, healthy children, were wending up the slope from the fields towards their Sunday schools...

We walked forth into the garden, among little beds of flowers, and blooming apple trees. The subdued chirrup of children's voices was still going up the road hard by, towards the town. From the thick woods round Heywood Hall, there came floating over the meadows a thrilling flood of mingled bird-music from an innumerable choir of feathered singers, sporting among those leafy shades. All nature was at morning service, and it was good to listen to this universal canticle of praise to Him ‘whose service is perfect freedom.’ A kind of hushed joy seemed to pervade the landscape, which did not belong to any other day, however fine; as if the hills and vales, the woods and waters, also, knew it was Sunday…’
The two friends spent much of the day slowly rambling through the countryside to the north and relaxing by streams. These were idyllic scenes that Waugh described at great length. When the long summer dusk approached, the men headed out once again:
‘…When it drew towards evening, we left the house again; for it was so fine outside, that it seemed improvident to remain under cover longer than necessary; and we walked through the manufacturing village in Hooley Clough, and on, northward, up hill, and down dell, until we came to a wild upland expanse, called ‘Birtle,’ which stretches away along the lonely base of Ashworth Moor. The sun was nearly touching the top of the hills when we reached that elevated tract; and the western heavens were glowing with the grandeur of his decline as we walked slowly over the fields towards the solitary old homestead called ‘Grislehurst.’ Here we stayed awhile, conversing with an ancient cottager and his dame, about the history of their native corner, its legendary associations, and other matters interesting to them and to us. We left Grislehurst in the twilight, by a route which led us through the rocky deeps of Simpson Clough, and on, homewards, just as the first lamps of evening were lighting up; rejoicing in the beautiful approach of a cloudless summer night, as we had rejoiced in the glorious day which had gone down into the west.’
Waugh, quite evidently a lover of nature, looked back on that June weekend in Heywood - or at least, in the countryside of Heywood - with great affection:
‘The next morning I returned by an early train to Manchester; and, since that time, it has often been a pleasure to me in the crowded city to recollect that livelong summer day, spent in the country north of the manufacturing town of Heywood. Its images never return to my memory but I wish to hold them there awhile. And it was not the less exhilarating freedom and delight of roaming over my native hills and cloughs, dressed in their summer green, than in the magnificent harmony of changing grandeurs, which heaven and earth made up ‘from morn to dewy eve’ that day; and which stirred me with a scarce and indescribable joy, the remembrance of which has something of freedom and elevation in it…

In this respect, although Heywood wears much the same general appearance as other cotton-spinning towns, it has something of a character of its own, different from most of the other towns of Lancashire, whose histories go back many centuries, often through eventful changes, till they grow dim among the early records of the kingdom in general. Unlike those, in this, however, Heywood is almost entirely the creation of the cotton trade, which itself arose out of the sudden and wonderful combination of a few ingenious thoughts put into energetic practice by a people who seem to have been eminently fitted by nature to perceive their value and to act enterprisingly upon what they perceived…’
[1] Bamford Road.
[2] Probably the ‘Moss’ field.
[3] Phillip Melancthon was a 16th-century German theologian.

  • Edwin Waugh, ‘The Town of Heywood, and its Neighbourhood’, Sketches of Lancashire Life and Localities, London: Whittaker and Co., 1855, pp.158-212.