From a paper read by John Chapman of Liverpool on Oct 22nd 1884
IT has always been to me a pleasing thought to ponder over the days of my youth, and I take it for granted that others with no less joy can recall with lively thoughts those early days, when care had never marked their brow, when in their happy freedom, they revelled in love and affection around the parental hearth.
At those times the mind is most pliable and free, and impressions are formed not to be disturbed even by all the turmoil of after life ; for whatever course we take in later years, and however we may be engaged, the thoughts of our youth will crop up, and will be the last to linger in the recessess of the memory.
It is with a due regard to this feeling in my heart that I have penned the thoughts embodied in this paper.
I will at once come to the subject in hand.
On the top of a sloping bank, on the east side of Hawes, in Wensleydale, Yorkshire, is situated a lovely little village, by the name of Burtersett, but how it acquired the same I know not. I have heard a traditional story that the place whereon it stands was once numerously planted with Burtery trees, and that it was from the setting of those trees that it derived its name-Burter-sett.
My account of the place, I hope, will succeed in making it interesting to those who may not have lived there at the time in question, and to others who may with me remember some of the incidents under consideration. Burtersett, sixty years ago, was a flourishing village, having its manufactories of wool, cotton, and silk, and might be called the manufacturing centre of Wensleydale; inasmuch as it gave work and employment to hundreds of families around in the way of knitting pants, stockings, jackets and socks. Farming being unprofitable in those days, children were all taught to knit, earning by the family efforts, nearly as much as was made by the farm. When the labourer had finished his work in the field he invariably sat down to knit; some families entirely earning their living by knitting and spinning.
It is not too much to say that nearly every house had its spinning wheels, knitting sheaths, and cards; neither was it uncommon to see two or three spinning wheels in one house. The process, by which worsted and yarn were manufactured, was as follows:-It was combed by two instruments with three rows of teeth about one foot or eighteen inches long, made of steel wire with a wooden handle in the shape of the letter L.
Having been spun and wound on bobbins, it was twisted by a mill with three or four threads together, and then wound into hanks, and sent out to be knit as previously mentioned, and returned every week or fortnight to the various owners, who washed, pressed and prepared it for the market.
All such work in those days was made of good English wool.
The people were a hard working and industrious class, and sensible enough to put their children to work in early youth, while their daughters learned to wash, milk, make butter and cheese, and do manual labour in the field ; neither did the mothers neglect to teach their young daughters to cook, &c., while they spun and knit, which had the effect of making them become valuable wives and mothers; in fact, work and industry appeared to be their ever ruling aim and object.
We will now pass on to give you the names, characteristics and mode of living of the people at that time.
- On the north side of Lowgate an aged widow lived by name Metcalfe, the widow of John Metcalffe, wrongly named John of Abrams, who died, I believe, before I was born, and after whom I was called (John). I may add that I believe he was a great uncle of mine, and that he lived to the ripe old age of one hundred and one years.
- Near at hand lived Matthew Thompson, who had three sons and, I think, two daughters, viz.: William, Thomas, and James. William, a weaver of comforters or woollen neckties, was rather delicate and died when young; whilst Thomas was sturdy and strong. James, when in his teens, was very quiet, which made everyone love and respect him.
- Near again John Metcalffe lived, wrongly named Vocketer, a farmer with two sons, Thomas and Richard.
Next door lived Thomas and Henry Fawcett, who kept a week-day and Sunday school, which was frequented on Sundays by those who were unable to attend on week-days. On the Sunday the scholars learned to read, write, and work elementary arithmetic in the same manner as on week-days. Many received no other schooling beyond what was imparted on the Sunday, and I have heard my brother Christopher say that all the schooling he got was at Thomas Fawcett’s Sunday school, which continued till the Rev. John Metcalfe, of Hawes, one Sunday morning took the scholars to Hawes Chapel or Church, which he also did on the following Sunday mornings. Thus the afternoon remained the only time to learn secular knowledge.
Mr. Coulton, a gentleman of independent means, lived at Willows, in a fine well built house, surrounded by newly planted trees. The gentleman and his wife were both of large proportions, but refined in appearance, and passed off as belonging to the upper class of society.
Our family lived next in a house adjoining Middlegate. In the same place my father, William Chapman, carried on the business of wool-combing and stocking manufacturing, with a family of ten children, six sons and four daughters, of whom one (Esther) died young. William, Alexander, Christopher, George, John and Abraham, and Isabella, Mary and Elizabeth, were the names of the family respectively.
My father was very short in stature, of robust figure, round features, dark eyes, black hair, a soft voice and mild in his manner, whilst his wife was taller by a head than her husband, of fair complexion and light hair.
- William Kilburn also lived in Middlegate, and kept a public-house, having a family of three sons, viz., Alexander, Joseph, and Chapman, and one daughter (Mary).
- Sarah Simis, a widow, and her daughter, also lived there,(Middlegate)
- as well as Richard Whaley, a farmer on the west side of Middle-gate, who was lame and chiefly confined to his chair; in figure broad set and rather short, in character much respected.
He had a son, John, and three daughters, Elizabeth, Margaret, and Ann.
- James Walton, a flour dealer, lived higher up, adjoining Highgate, and had an only daughter; Ann.
- John and Betsey Routh lived on the opposite side, beyond an old house in ruins.
- On the same side lived Arthur Ivison, in a house surrounded by trees, in which rooks built their nests.
On the east side again stood two or three houses, amongst which lived Isabella Blake, a widow, who had two sons, Andrew and Edward, and one daughter, Isabella.
- Further east lived Jeremiah Coulton and his sister, persons of independent means.
- A little distance from the last, in a field, lived Robert Davis and wife, who had a son, and were also of independent means.
- On the west side of Highgate John Metcalffe lived, who travelled with hosiery, in addition to having a farm, and had a young family.
- A little above lived Isabella Myers, a widow, in possession of a farm also.
- On the west side lived Michael Jackson, who was a farmer, and had a son, Richard, who used to play on the clarionet.
- A little to the west lived Betty Buck, who with her son Thomas reared ducks and geese, by means of which and knitting she earned her living.
- On a continuation of the same road lived Thomas Stewart, in a thatched house, farming his own land, with son and daughter.
- On the top of Bessey Lane lived John Dinsdale, commonly named John-of-Owens, a waller, who used to go to his work on his crutch.
- Close to lived Nancy Seel and her sister, in another thatched house, who also earned their living by knitting and spinning.
- At the lower end of Bessey Lane stood a thatched house belonging to my father, in which I and most of my brothers and sisters were born, and where my father formerly carried on combing and stocking making.
- Close at hand lived John Stewart, a farmer, as well as Matthew Procter, with a son and two daughters, James, Elizabeth, and Alice.
- On the west side of Great Lane lived John Metcalffe, a large farmer, who had recently removed from Cotterside, with a family of two sons and three daughters.
- On the east side of Great Lane Thomas Metcalffe lived, a woolcomber and large manufacturer of stockings and socks.
- On the side of Rigg-end lived William Metcalffe, who was also a woolcomber, and had two sons, Thomas and James.
- On the top of Rigg-end stood the weaving shop and manufactory for cotton, in which about 20 looms were constantly employed, and by which the young were taught to weave.
- Towards the east end of the village at Cublehead, lived James Dinsdale, a travelling tradesman, who dealt chiefly in dogs.
- In a neat little house a short distance removed from the road, lived two gentlemen bachelors and two maiden sisters, each of independent means, the names of the two former being Christopher and John Whaley.
- In this neighbourhood lived Isabella Myers, who kept a knitting school above a flight of stairs, which was well attended.
- Below lived, George Metcalfe, who ‘farmed the surrounding land, with a young family; ,
- also William Metcalfe, a mole catcher, he having a small farm, and with one daughter, Ann.
- At the top of East Lane lived Roger Colerige, whose family maintained themselves by knitting, I think, and by keeping a cow.
- The last on the list to be mentioned is James Smith, a woolcomber and manufacturer of stockings and socks, who had four sons, Alexander, John, James, and Abraham, and one daughter.
Below and on the north side stood a silk mill, not much in use at that time.
I will now mention some incidents which took place about sixty years ago. The time we speak of was the very dry summer of 1826, most trying for farmers, as many fields were never cut, and flour and oatmeal ran to famine prices, so much so that I remember our family all having to live chiefly upon bread made from ground wheat.
The earliest efforts in the preaching of the Gospel, as far as I can remember, in Burtersett, were made by Mr. Jonathan Kershaw, a Wesleyan local preacher, who preached in our comb-shop. Some time after the Primitive Methodists held a camp meeting in High-gate.
By way of variety I will now relate a swindling transaction which can never be effaced from my mind, and for the first time to my recollection, I and many other children were imposed upon.
This was artfully effected by misrepresentation and lying-base practices to which we were entire strangers; for we had always been taught to be good and speak the truth by our parents, but by this great deception we learned what was evil.
One fine summer day, which invited many children to play in Middlegate, a man and woman came with a donkey and cart, and calling us all together made a speech, saying, ” Now, if you will go and gather all the rags, bones, old shoes, and such like articles, we have got beautiful things to give away, and you shall have them for your work;
On hearing these we all went home as quickly as possible to our mothers, and told them the alluring tale. When they had looked up all they could find us, searching drawers, boxes, and every imaginable quarter, we returned with our arms full of childish treasures.
“Now,” said they a second time, ” as you have done so well this time you can go again and search every nook and corner;” but when we returned the cart, donkey, man, and woman had passed on to the east end of the village, ready to make their exit.
When we all arrived again with the remainder of our goods they made us another speech full of promises that they would bring us on their next visit many pretty toys, in fact whatever we asked for.
Again returning with jubilant steps we ran to our mothers and told our brothers and sisters what fine things were laid up in store for us, when someone suggested that the man and his donkey would probably never return.
That surely cannot be, we said, because they both assured us they would come some day with the fine articles they had promised us.
Our innocent natures were unable to understand a lie, for hitherto we had had dealings with nothing but truth, till we learned it by bitter experience, and from that time we realized the meaning of deception, and, like Adam and Eve under the tuition of the old serpent, we were enabled to know both good and evil.
I now wish to change my subject to the excitement of a ghost story.
One night, at a late hour, my father and mother on returning home from an evening party at Gayle, while crossing a field at West-Shaw, saw walking before them a figure dressed in white.
They thought it was a child about twelve (or less) years of age appearing about twenty yards before them, and they vainly tried to overtake it, for, on reaching the wall and stile, it vanished into thin air.
The first impression was that some of us children had come to frighten them, but when they lost sight of the image or spectre great fear came over them, and they concluded it was a ghost, or the spirit of someone dead or about to die, and this they believed as long as they lived.
Now with regard to moral teaching, I have already spoken of the moral status of the village sixty years ago, and how the parents trained the youthful mind to be honest, industrious and true. We may safely state that such teaching had its salutary effect upon the young when grown up, for most of them, as far as I know, became exemplary in their behaviour and industrious in their habits. I could, if I thought proper, name most of the young inhabitants of that day, who, I believe, have lived steady, sober and moral lives.
I will elect to specify two families, who, I think you will admit, have made themselves honourable and useful in the society wherein they played their part. And, though I confine myself to those two, others could easily be mentioned, if time permitted.
The family of Smith Brothers, natives of this locality, who were all, I think, born here, have been a most united family, and have deservedly won for themselves fame and honour. No one can utter a word of blame against their honest dealings in business and other matters of life.
Again, the family of which I am a member may be spoken of as another example of industry and zeal in all good works.
I need name but one, Christopher, for I am sure that all who knew him would give him credit for his great earnestness and sincerity in pushing on every good cause in this neighbourhood.
He took a great interest in the temperance movement when first originated in this country and at the close of this paper, I will read you his first speech on that important subject.
I may say before I conclude that, since the time alluded to, the village has deteriorated in prosperity and interest, on account of machinery in other places having interfered with its industrial work. But I am happy to think it is again flourishing, since the introduction of the railroad into its quiet valley, since which time its flags, stones and mines are becoming valuable; perhaps no better stones or flags can be found in the world than it produces.
I see there are now two beautiful Chapels, and newly built houses-ornaments to the place,-and it may become, from its very bracing situation, a great resort for those in search of health.
And now, my friends, permit me to conclude by saying these are the recollections of my youth, which I hand to, it may be another generation, that they may be in turn familiar with a period when their forefathers lived and moved and had their being in this lovely village.
And it may possibly be the case that some who are, present can recollect and speak of those long years of the past as well and as freely as myself.
Begging you to pardon my mistakes, I will conclude by saying that I love to linger over and think of those good old days of sixty years ago ; and in my dreams Burtersett is a picture which I always rejoice to look upon, and in my most tranquil moments its sweet reminiscences will always enliven the mind, when I can say : I think of thee thou loveliest village of the plain.”
Burtersett, my birth and dwelling place,
Where first I spent my youthful days,
I fain would all record within
Where I was taught to knit and spin.
There is a charm within its bower,
That bids we mark the parting hour,
And leave its memory on the wind
To waft it forth to all mankind.
That when the sixty years come round,
There may be sons and daughters found
To grace the place and to adorn
Its name and beauty in that morn,
And tell the youth, in time to come,
When sixty years have fled and gone
That we and all with one accord
Have done our best to serve the Lord.