A Recollection of Heywood in 1858

The following piece was written in 1908 by a 'Castletonian' as he recalled his younger days in Heywood some 50 years earlier. He provided a vivid description of the scenes and old Heywoodites as he travelled from the Queen Anne Inn up towards Marland, and then down into Crimble. These records can be really valuable in giving us rare street-level views of life in the growing town, from those lived there.

This is taken from the Heywood Advertiser, 27 November and 4 December 1908.

Yes, 50 years ago it must be, more or less, since the writer, then a lad in his teens, stood before the Queen Anne Hotel in the centre of the town of Heywood, thoroughly absorbed in watching a company of Volunteers going through some elementary exercises. At the head of the men was a smart young officer who still survives in the person of the venerable Colonel Mellor of Whitefield, and late popular member of Parliament for Radcliffe-cum-Farnworth.

Just below the Queen Anne stood the Post Office in those days, and the postmaster was John Heywood, author of that once well-known children's hymn, "Sabbath schools are England's glory." A spare, sharp-featured, keen-eyed man he was, I remember...

The Parish Church, a rather imposing structure, stands on the site of the old building of former days. The clergyman I first remember was the Rev. Mr. Shadwell - a tall, military looking man, and somewhat of a martinet in discipline, for he sometimes exercised authority in the day school along with the schoolmaster. An equally striking personality and a fine-looking man was the schoolmaster himself - Mr. Thomas Wolstenholme - whose powerful voice and strong right arm did their best to drive knowledge into the heads of the youths of the town. Having had no day school education I attended the night school for a short time, where much the same fear of the master prevailed. There is only one lesson I can remember, but that was a severe one. I was engaged one night scribbling something or other at the bottom of my copy book as the master walked along the front of the desk. A dark shadow covered my book, and a voice of thunder demanded to know what I was doing, followed by a ringing blow on my ear from his big fist. My anger and my face vied with each other in a burning contest for a long time afterwards. The fact that the master was cousin to my mother evidently counted for little in lessening the severity of my punishment. Aye! many a rare whacking did lie give to the human form tightly drawn over another form, and all for the reformation of some lazy or obstreperous youth. Peace be to his memory, for he was a clever man, and it was generally admitted he turned out some fine scholars.

Just opposite the National school there lived a well-known figure of the town in those days, a newsagent called Dykes, I believe... a short, thick-set man, with a red face and shirt collar unbuttoned, going about selling his papers.

A little way down the road stands the old Independent Chapel, but now owned by the Conservative Club. Fifty years ago some hard-working and earnest men were connected with this place of worship, and deeply interested in the welfare of the town, among whom was Abel Ashworth, brother of John Ashworth. author of "Strange Tales."

Passing down this long street of shops and private houses we see no more at the doorways the forms and faces that we knew so well, and the glass dish in one of the windows containing some dark-looking creatures, with the notice hung above, "Leeches kept here," has long since disappeared. Ah! they bled us in those days for most of the ills that flesh is heir to: in my case, a severe attack of quinsy[1], when the woman who brought them to our house for the purpose, on returning home evidently forgot to count her horny black snails, for she left one in bed with me, bloated and blown with the sucking of my young life's blood! We pass the Lamb Inn without fear, and escaping the jaws of the White Lion on the right and the fury of the Black Bull on the left, we are well on the Rochdale Road, past Hartley's old mill, and on to "top-o'th'Orchard." But no signs do I ever remember seeing of the orchard, not even so much as an old "bayberry" bush.

But here are some old houses, with steps in front, in one of which dwelt Josiah Wolstenholme, a Christian of the old Puritan type, who journeyed to Bamford every Sunday morning for worship and useful service. Next door a Miss Smith kept a little school, in which she taught her boy pupils, along with the girls, to hem pocket handkerchiefs as a part of their education! And a little lower down lived William Yates. who told fortunes. Even very fine ladies came at times, it is said, to enquire of this oracle what "coming events cast their shadows before."

And can we pass without a word of recognition dear old Betty Harvey's toffy shop? where many a precious halfpenny I have laid out to the best advantage in days long gone by. Fifty years ago three ropewalks of the old order were at work hereabouts. Did I not turn a wheel at each of them at one time or other for a small pittance with many a good "clout" thrown in for turning too fast or turning too slow? Ropewalk image From early morn to dewy eve the wheel went round with dull monotony. I can still see the long rows of wooden stumps, about four feet high, with their cross pieces studded with nails, on which the spinner placed the twine as he walked backwards with a big lumb of hemp held up to his breast by a coarse apron tied at the back.

One man, I remember, was of a musical turn. and sang as be spun:
In the days when I was hard up
For want of food and fire,
I used to tie my shoes up
With little bits of wire.
The rest of the song I forget save two lines, in which he declared lie often beat the Devil down for tempting him to steal! We sincerely hope, he continued to give that dread personage the rope's end as long as he lived.
A ropewalk in late 19th-century Suffolk. These could be found near the factories of Heywood rope manufacturers. Workmen spent their days walking backwards and, using their fingers, spinning hemp yarn from a coil of combed fiber wrapped around their waists. They twisted multiple strands of yarn into rope.

At last we are at "Captain Fowt"[2] and at the entrance to "Chirrick Owd Lone."[3] And here, kind reader, you will forgive me if I linger a little while. Here in the old days stood a well-known hostelry, the Dog and Partridge, with its drinking trough in front and a good open space where many a young gallant has pulled rein to his steed and quaffed the foaming glass handed to him at the door by the bonny, buxom daughter of that old-time landlord, Tom Fenton, the while pint pots were being rapidly emptied of their real home-brewed ale by the grimy sons of toil.

Ah! many a glorious rush cart have I seen drawn up here, with its long array of stretcher bearers in their shirt sleeves, bedecked with ribbons of the brightest hue, and the face of the cart ablaze with glittering ornaments such as kettles, tea pots, watches, spoons, and things too numerous to mention. The whole surmounted by a green oak branch, behind which sat a man who drew up his portion of beer in a tin can fastened to a piece of string.

And what a scene there was here at the ending of the terrible Crimean war! Whilst a big bonfire blazed on the top of the adjoining sandhill, a surging crowd gathered in front of the inn, and, amidst laughter and loud exclamations, an effigy of the Emperor Nicholas was hoisted high above the heads of the people and immediately blown to pieces by a man who had borrowed my grandfather's blunderbus for the purpose. But the inn is gone, its honest landlord is no more, and the quiet chat and lusty song are hushed for ever! A few yards beyond, where stood the "Dog and Partridge," is the neat lodge at the entrance to the carriage road leading up to Harefield Hall.

In the lifetime of Mr. Richard Kay, the founder of the estate, and who spent a good sums of money yearly on its efficient upkeep, this carriage drive, though but a narrow one, was one of the prettiest in the district. With its pleasant curves, its closely mown and sloping grass bank on each side, bordered by rhododendrons, azaleas, etc., backed by trees of higher growth, it formed a picture on which the eye was ever pleased to rest. For the sake of "auld lang syne," we enter and walk up the road for a short distance and find it still in a fairly good condition, having probably needed little mending since it was relaid with white spar chippings by a clever Scotch gardener named Leaden, fifty years ago. Mr. Kay himself took great pride in his estate and combined with fine business talent a great love for the beautiful in nature.

Chadwick Lane.

It was a pleasing sight to see him walk through his greenhouses when looking at their best. His eyes would kindle, and some word of admiration escape his lips as he noticed some, plant or flower of surpassing beauty. Mounted on his fine bay horse, on which he daily rode to his mills at Heywood, Mr. Kay was a man to command attention. He had a pale and thoughtful face, on which there seemed oftener to sit the signs of care than of the joy of life that some people fancy riches must bring to their possessor.

I well remember how, on a certain quiet evening, as the old gentleman was walking round his plantation overlooking the highway, he heard the sound of a horse's feet clattering along the road at a rapid pace, and the solitary rider, turning in by the lodge, brought the sad tidings that a son who was at a public school in Scotland bad been drowned whilst bathing. Great was the father's grief and lamentation... for Arthur was a generous hearted and comely youth, and a favourite with all. A little distance beyond the lodge gate the country opens out on the right towards Castleton in a pleasant sweep of meadow and pasture land.

And here let me remark, as good crops of grass are grown near some of our manufacturing towns as appear to be in more favourable situations. This, no doubt, is owing to a great extent to the upright growth of the shining blade, which prevents a permanent lodgment of the dust and dirt, which are washed about the roots by frequent showers. Other forms of vegetation are not so fortunate, such as trees and shrubs, that are more exposed, and whose outspread foliage retains much of the poisonous matter which is poured down upon it.

* * * * *

A splendid specimen of the sycamore grew here at one time, but which has long since disappeared. Standing a few yards back from the road, the thorn hedge on each side running to an angle at the trunk, together with the overhanging branches of the tree, made the corner a doubly dark one at night-time. 

Ah, there were "boggarts" in those days! and scores of times have I passed this spot with a strange, uncanny feeling, or, putting on a bold front, attempted to whistle some lively air, but as the notes rose my courage fell until I had passed the dreaded spot! We are nearing the end of our little walk together, for here is "Dumfries" farm, which my grandfather, William Wolstenholme, held for many years, and where he might have continued to live in comfort and died in peace, but for an unfortunate friendship that sprung up between him and Sir John Barleycorn.

How the farm got its name I could never ascertain? Whether some wandering Scot from the good old town linked with the name of the immortal Burns, settled here and gave the name I cannot say. Or was it one of those travelling Scotchmen, much in evidence on this high road fifty years ago? Many a pack have they opened, and many a good bargain made at this old farmhouse.

There was also an English "Scotchman!" who called on his round about once a month and stopped to dinner, when the standing dish was a big potato pie, with its nut-brown crust and rich gravy. There are no such potato pies now, say we!

Whilst I was living here at my grandfather's a short time a very amusing incident occurred. One night my aunt, locking the door, and putting the key in her pocket, took me with her to a farewell party near Marland, when one Mary Turner was about to set sail for America. There was fiddling and dancing, and we sang what proved to be true, "We won't go home till morning." In the excitement grandfather was forgotten! Coming home from the "Dog and Partridge," and finding the door barred against him, he procured a large piece of wood, and with it drove a hole right through the middle of the door! Still being unable to get in, he betook himself to the shippon[4] and lay down in a "boose" beside one of the cows, and there he was found, sleeping the sleep of the Poor old "gronfayther l" simple and warm-hearted as a child, strong in his resolution to break with Sir John, but weak in execution, with his once tall and handsome form now nearly bent double, he earned his bread by hedging and ditching, and died an honest man.

Rochdale Road area, c.1851.

Passing along the road a few hundred yards, we come to some half-dozen old houses, in the end one of which, with a small garden attached, dwelt Robert Butterworth, who ran an old coach between the neighbouring towns. Upon the bony parts of his grey old steeds I often sat in pain, but with a vaulting ambition, as they were being led to watering. In this house we subsequently lived, and where, in the little garden, and close to the high road, I planted a small ash tree, "and there it stands unto this day to witness if I lie." Not a large tree yet, but healthy and flourishing, from the wee bit of a sapling I planted fifty years ago! And there stood the old Ryecroft toll bar, kept by Moses Aston, whose wife, on a backstone in the weighhouse, made the finest and crispest "wut cakes" (oat cakes) in the country. And there was their beautiful daughter "Amanda," who, like so many lovely things on earth, early left it for a more congenial clime. And from the old farmhouse behind I see the ungainly form of Matthew Gorton starting off in great fury after "them yung beggers" who are "setting croddies"[5] over the brook that bounded his little pasture land.

Retracing our steps a little way, and passing a neat-looking house built by the late Mr. Charles Cheetham, on the site of a former building called "Plunder Hall," and, turning up a narrow lane opposite "Dumfries" farm, in three minutes we behold Crimble and the valley of the Roach, where the "Brode Wayther"[6] still goes wandering on its way, as it has done, no doubt these centuries past. Even this quiet spot and out-of-the-way place has seen something of human history, of the comedy and tragedy of life. Over the valley yonder stands "War Office" and, just below, "Knatt Bank," where Colonel Mellor, along with his brother, owned and worked an old mill, now demolished, and where fifty years ago he established a night school for the benefit of the youth of the district and where Mr. William Porritt now of Harwood Lodge, near Bolton, taught the day school. Belonging to their Knatt Bank property was a stretch of land running down by the river side, which included the spot that tradition points out as the hiding place of the fugitive Earl of Tyrone, called Tyrone's Bed...

And here we are at the bridge, opposite the solitary mill. At this spot, in the years long gone by, a young woman, named Wood, on going home from her work one dark night missed the bridge and fell into the surging waters of the river, then in flood, and was never again seen. The story goes that her poor heartbroken mother never again locked the door of her cottage! Just behind the mill there winds a steep road leading on to the pretty village of Bamford, and past Crimble Hall, once the residence of Mr. John Fenton, the first member of Parliament for Rochdale.

A little distance up this road still stands the house where a somewhat eccentric gentleman lived, named Stott. One day myself and other lads, after floundering about Mr. Stott's garden for some time (though I think, to our credit, never actually in it), were suddenly startled by the old gentleman appearing in our midst like an apparition. With a dramatic gesture and a voice of great solemnity, he exclaimed, "Keep your hands from picking and stealing, and your tongues from lying and slandering." Another illustration of the wisdom of speaking a word in due season, when one of the culprits, at least, remembers it fifty years after! Here, too, in a cottage on the banks of the river dwelt a well-known man called Robert Clough, a man of rare wit and originality, and welcome at every home through the countryside for his good company. Robert bore himself with a certain dignity of carriage, but not from any feeling of self-importance, for he sometimes declared, "I am proud that I am not proud." He was a keen observer of men and things, and was well read in the customs and traditions of our county and all the peculiarities of its dialect. If the many wise and witty sayings that Clough uttered in his casual conversation could have been jotted down they would have formed one of the most interesting books of Lancashire life that was ever penned. But he had no Boswell.

He had a smile and a greeting for old and young, and could temper a needful rebuke with right good humour, as in the case of a woman well known for her gift of speech, but whose child was slow in beginning to learn that in which its mother excelled! "Eh, Mesthur Clough," she said, "dun yo' think hoo'll ever talk?" to which he replied, "Pray, lass, howd thi din, hoo'll talk quite soon enough."

Contented and happy in his native dale, it is said he did once "emigrate" to Bury, but was soon back again! Meeting an old friend who expressed surprise at his early return, he replied, "Eh, lad, aw would sooner commit suicide i' Crimble than dee a natheral dyeath i' Bury!"

Fifty years ago there lived in this district a goodly number of handloom weavers; a class of men to which Lancashire is indebted for much of its subsequent commercial prosperity. Some of these men had a narrow and stern piety, but their thoughtfulness, good common sense, and general sterling qualities left their mark upon us. Pursuing the quiet and even tenour of their way, toiling from early morn to a late hour at night, to bring up large families on a meagre wage, and knowing little of excursions and pleasure trips; yet even they had some compensations - the haste and feverishness of our time was absent from their lives.

[1] Also known as a peritonsillar abscess, is a rare and potentially serious complication of tonsillitis.
[2] Captain’s Fold
[3] Chadwick Lane
[4] Cattle shed
[5] Small brooks
[6] Broad water