Barnoldswick Local History Articles

Wednesday, February 04, 2004


In the days when my beard was black and I was driving a flat wagon which modern truckers would laugh at, a 90hp engine, 4 gears and a legal payload of 10 tons, I used to make a regular trip across to Sherburn in Elmet in East Yorkshire to pick up ten tons of barley for Cyril Richardson at Little Stainton who compounded his own cattle food. The name of the farmer I went to was Mr Bramley and I always used to enjoy visiting him because he was an able man, treated me with respect and I always learned from him.

The sharpest memory I have of the farm is the day Mrs Bramley asked me to come into the kitchen after we had loaded the 80 railway hire sacks each weighing 280lb and sheeted them down. She gave me a pint of tea and asked me if I’d like a beef sandwich. When I said yes, she asked me what sort, Angus or Hereford? I had to admit that I didn’t know there was any difference; as far as I was concerned beef was beef, full stop. She gave me some of each and I sat there and advanced my education. The thing that strikes me now is that they were so enthusiastic about beef on that farm that they had two joints on the go from different breeds.

Mr Bramley ran Home Farm on the same cropping system that his father and grandfather had used. There were three rotated field crops, barley, turnips and grass. He kept Hereford beef cattle which grazed in summer and in winter were fed on barley, chopped turnips and straw in covered straw yards. The cash flow came from sales of finished beef cattle and surplus barley.

The beef cattle were bought as stores in Ireland and shipped across to Birkenhead. Jim Bramley and his mates used to go to Ireland for the sales in the spring and buy the best cattle they could obtain. Back in the 1960s they were paying £400 and £500 apiece for the beasts. I asked him how they could make any profit and he surprised me by saying that they couldn’t, they always made a small loss so I pressed him further, I knew there had to be an explanation.

He explained that the cattle were never intended to be profitable. The reason he farmed them was two-fold; he liked cattle, enjoyed rearing them and competing for prizes at the winter fatstock sales but the economic reason they were on the farm was as part of the farm machinery. They ate grass, turnips and barley and trod straw to make manure for the crops. This input maintained the condition and fertility of his land and resulted in a surplus of barley which provided the profit. A side benefit of the system was low stress and disease levels in the herd, the straw bed fermenting under the cattle kept them warm and killed off bacteria. He admitted that the main benefit to him was that he loved going out and watching prime quality contented beasts kept in the best conditions he could provide them with. Here we had a happy man making a profit out of producing top quality beef and grain with the added benefit that he was improving his land in the process.

Fifty years on it sounds like some Utopian dream doesn’t it. So what brought on this attack of nostalgia? I was listening to Farming Today on the BBC this morning and they were describing the moves in the USA to break away from traditional line breeding of cattle to a system where the selection of the breeding stock was based simply on performance. The resulting animals are finished on feed lots that can hold upwards of 100,000 cattle and rely heavily on hormonal and other chemical additives to raise conversion rates and keep down disease levels. The interviewer visited farms in Yorkshire where this technology is being adopted and the conclusion was that this was another nail in the coffin of the small scale traditional grazing farm.

I could take you to farms within a mile of Town Square in Barlick where hens are scratching about happily in the fields and producing wonderful fresh eggs, herds of cows are being milked twice daily and beautiful store cattle are slowly putting on good beef. The factor all these activities have in common is that if the money invested in the stock was to be put in the building society the farmers would make more money. They do it because it is the way of life they know, it is a golden thread running through our society and we ignore this fact at our peril

My conclusion is that I must be some kind of a dinosaur. I bitterly regret the loss of the old style mixed farm which gave a good life to both the farmers and the stock. Apart from the purely agricultural considerations this is an erosion of a management system which has served us well for hundreds of years, preserved a landscape and nurtured a way of life which has made an enormous contribution to our social system. It seems to me we are losing out all round here and I wonder if considerations like these ever cross the minds of the people making the changes. Only one thing is certain, we can never go back and even though I shan’t be here to see it, I’ll lay a small bet that our children will live to regret it.

SCG/10 January 2004
937 words.


Buy One Get One Free. On the face of it, an undeniable bargain, but I’ve been thinking about it and I’m not so sure. BOGOF could be a very clever ploy to manipulate supermarket customers and may not be as ‘free’ as it seems.

I got into a bit of hot water a couple of years ago by suggesting that the Council should open an off-licence in the town and apply the profits from Barlick’s reputation as a drinking town to increasing the level of local services on the grounds that most of the profits from sales of booze went out of the town. The locals in the trade took exception and I don’t blame them, I wasn’t aiming at them anyway. What bothers me is the proportion of the town’s gross income that migrates as soon as we spend it. That’s right, I’m making another plea for local shopping.

The more I investigate our local history, the more I realise what a high proportion of the money invested in the town’s infrastructure and industry was generated by the residents. The housing stock was built entirely with local capital and local tradespeople and professionals were the chief source of start-up capital for the mills. Without even bothering to go into the archives I can say that Nutters, Slaters, Brooks and Edmondsons all started their massive enterprises on the profits from retailing in the town.

When the inaugural meeting of the Calf Hall Shed Company was held in the Seven Stars Assembly Room on Thursday the 8th of November 1888 £6,000 of the £10,000 capital required had already been subscribed from sources in the town. In the absence of a bank in the town, local people lent money to the company. In 1914 these loans amounted to almost £15,000, an enormous sum of money in those days. On a rough comparison this would be approaching £3 million today. How was this possible?

The economy of Barlick at the end of the 19th century was virtually a closed circuit. Wages earned in the town were spent locally and any profits earned went solely into the pockets of local retailers and service providers. This stock of capital looked for an investment outlet and was invested in the safest and most profitable place, house-building and the cotton trade. The public perception of the major capital holders was ‘The Forty Thieves’, my older readers will remember this phrase only too well. However, there was a grudging respect for success and ordinary workers invested as well. When the Calf Hall Shed Company was finally wound up Malcolm Sterratt told me that one of his on-going tasks was to endeavour to trace the myriad of small stock holders who held tiny amounts of shares. Victor Hedges, the company secretary said that in the latter days it cost more to send dividends out than the cheques were worth.

What’s the position now as we sail bravely forth into the 21st century? Walk through Barlick and note the names on the buildings we do business with. How many of them are purely local enterprises? In truth we are lucky because we still have a fair proportion of local trade compared with many other towns but ask yourself where the profits go from the banks, the brand name stores and the pubs. The answer is of course that they fly straight out of the town. The next question is how much of that money comes back in inward investment? I’m afraid the answer is very little, it is largely a one way street.

So, the great difference between now and 1900 is that instead of re-investing capital locally the town is one gigantic milk cow supporting national and multi-national corporations. This is the consequence of our modern economies and I am the first to recognise that there are advantages, we have more choice and in some ways higher standards of service. However there is a downside to all this.

We will never see capital investment in Barlick again on the scale of 1900. In many ways we are riding on the back of that capital still in terms of water, gas, sewage and the built environment. Apart from Post WW2 building we are all living in houses built before 1920. Almost all our industry is in converted mills. Even our main tourist attraction, the canal, is old investment. I see no way we can do anything about this.

So, are we helpless in the grip of economic forces beyond our control? Not quite as it happens. We still have a reasonably diverse range of small local shops and businesses. They give good service, they are convenient and for the most part reasonably priced. What we need to do is recognise that they are an essential element of the character of our town and the way to help preserve this resource is to exercise choice and patronise them. Ask yourself how much you have saved by not getting the car out but simply walking to the shops. Knock that off the price of the goods you have bought. You’ll get a surprise and the profit from that small transaction will stay in the town.

It is an unequal fight. We are up against massive enterprises who are quite ruthless in their efforts to expand market share and profits by manipulating our spending patterns. However, in the end, we are the source of their wealth and success. We have ultimate control if we care to exercise it because it is our money that fuels the system. My own rule of thumb is that if there is a private outlet in the town for what I want I spend my money there. If we all keep this in mind our town centre shops will be safe. So, the next time you see a BOGOF and you need the product, go for it, it’s usually a good bargain but while you are dropping it into your basket remember the philosophy that stands behind it and resolve to do your bit for diversity, character and local independence.

SCG/27 January 2004
1018 words.


I read my Times today and was sad to see that we have lost two notable local men, Len Dole aged 85 and Bill Whittaker aged 95. I didn’t know either of them personally so why should their deaths trigger me into reflective mode?

One of the first things that impressed me when I started to take an interest in the local history of Barnoldswick and the surrounding areas was the comparative lack of control that ordinary working people had over their lives. They were ruled by a variety of forces ranging from government and the law through to economic pressure generated by the owners of capital, in our case usually the textile manufacturers, the mill owners.

Government could tear you from your family and send you to fight wars and designate an age of consent, the law barred you from divorce and in the case of women, reduced them to chattels upon marriage with no rights. The age of consent was raised from 12 years old to 13 in 1875 and then to 16 years in 1885. The last alteration under the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885 was triggered by a journalist, W T Stead, who in order to prove that a trade in child prostitution took place bought a girl of 13 and took her abroad, to a safe hostel as it happened, but was imprisoned for his action. A married woman’s body was held to be the property of her husband and it was not until 1891 that a High Court ruling denied husbands the right to imprison their wives in pursuit of their ‘conjugal rights’. Marital rape didn’t become a crime until 1991!

The system of ‘coverture’ applied to married women until it was finally extinguished by The Married Woman’s Property Act of 1887. Coverture stated that a married woman ceased to be a legal entity on marriage, she was held to be under the protection of her husband and as such was dominated by him and had no independence. It is hard to overestimate the damage this did to women and society and it is possible to argue that even today we see vestiges of the attitudes these laws fostered surviving and affecting women’s status.

The interesting thing about the reforms that eventually swept aside these cruel and repressive laws is that they came about through agitation and campaigning by the people affected by them. If we look at economic control and politics we see a similar process.

We come back to Len Dole and Bill Whittaker. They had many things in common, they were reared in a society heavily influenced by non-conformist religion and were both at work in the mills at an early age because in order to survive, they had to earn money and the mill was virtually the only place to do it. Len would have preferred an office job but in most cases this would have meant the family paying a premium to get him in. So they were both thrown into the deep end of hard work in bad conditions for employers who had absolute, almost feudal control over them. They were wage slaves.

I don’t wish to give the impression that working in the mill was all bad. Many families did well out of it and prospered but to anyone with an independent mode of thought there was always that nagging sense of not having control. It was hard to strike a balance between being exhorted to ‘Fight for Freedom’ when freedom was the last benefit conferred by the factory system. In the late 19th century this led to increasing trade union activity and eventually, via the TUC to the formation of the modern Labour Party.

Before this happened The Independent Labour Party was a very strong force in this area. It was assimilated into the Labour Party when that was formed but the old ILP radicalism was a strong undercurrent in local politics especially in the new town of Nelson. One of the surviving evidences of this is The Clarion House at Roughlee which was built by the survivors of the old ILP and is a memorial to the movement which led to the foundation of the Clarion Cycle Clubs to distribute the Clarion newspaper, the organ of the ILP. This was forced on the party because W H Smith’s refused to act as distributor for them. It’s no surprise that this is where Len wants his ashes to be interred.

Between the World Wars the manufacturers reaction to bad trading conditions was to cut wages and increase the workload on their weavers by the adoption of the More Looms System. It is generally unremarked that the unions recognised that More Looms was the way forward for the industry, their fight was to ensure that displaced weavers were adequately compensated. It was during these troubles that the more radical Communist Party took root in Barlick and the surrounding area. Len and Bill went through this whole process and their moral and political principles were formed in the fires of common adversity.

This is why the reports of their deaths have affected me. You don’t have to espouse their political views to recognise and admire that these were above all men of belief and principle. They made up their minds about the ills of society and had the courage to fight for improvement. Len Dole and Bill Whittaker made major contributions to the shape of our society today. It wasn’t their political beliefs that triumphed in the end, it was their belief in themselves and their pursuit of justice. We, and the politicians who govern us would do well to mark their lives and note the power of principles firmly held and lived by.

SCG/23 January 2004
943 words.

Odds and sods 2003.

I’m writing this on the last day of 2003 so there are two things we need to do, clear up the loose ends and wish all my faithful readers all the best for 2004. Thanks for all the feedback and messages. The corrections are a real help, we all make mistakes and your eagle eyes make sure I keep myself somewhere near straight. Keep them coming!

Right, the loose ends. The first one is a correction. The picture in my article of the 19th of December showing the gear ring in the lathe at Brown and Pickles was wrongly captioned. It wasn’t the gear for the well at Whitemoor but one made for the Sandholme Iron Company for driving the filter screens at a sewage works. Brian Smith picked up on that straight away because the lathe was in the old laundry at Wellhouse where Barrett’s used to be and they didn’t leave there until after the Whitemoor job. Brian rang Walt Fisher and he told me about it.

While I had Walt on the phone I asked him about something he had told me when he was correcting another mistake I made earlier this year. If you remember, I got Dam Head Bridge mixed up with Salterforth Bridge. Walt had told me something about the Co-op in Salterforth and it had slipped my mind so I asked him. He said it was that frogs used to get out of the beck and into the grating over the cellar window and couldn’t get out. Now there’s an essential piece of local history for you!

Walt and I were talking about the ammunition dump which used to be in Salterforth Bottoms during the 1914/18 War. It was in the valley bottom between Great Hague and Foulridge. I can remember seeing brick pillars in the field in the 1950s but didn’t find out until later what they were for. Later I found a mention in a book about the Barnoldswick Railway, there was a diagram of the branch line that went from the sidings at Earby to the depot. Walt tells me that they had their own small locomotive for shunting the wagons that the driver had to bail out one day when one of the wagons set fire. The dump seems to have been used mainly for cordite propellant charges for the big guns and there were armed guards on the canal banking. One of the benefits of cordite is that it is very safe unless detonated by a small explosive charge. After the Great War the surplus stock was disposed of by burning it in small batches and Walt can remember seeing big puffs of stinking orange smoke going up in the air at the time. No problems about hazardous waste disposal then, simply take it out in the field and burn it!

Walt also told me something I have never heard of before. A Barlicker called Watson was a member of the flying club at Yeadon aerodrome and one day he landed his plane in a field at Salterforth. When it came time to take off again he got permission to use the New Road which hadn’t been opened then for traffic. Walt said it was a bit dodgy as he took longer to take off than he had thought and the crowd had to scatter up the banking to let him through. Can anyone remember that? It would be around 1930. Walt also said he thought that Watson was drummed out of the flying club after that, hardly surprising really!

One of the joys of doing historical research is that you come across strange little oddities that don’t actually fit in anywhere. It’s the reason why I do my Odds and Sods articles of course. They are too good to throw out but don’t immediately find their niche. One such was when I was reading a transcript the other day and remembered that ‘Haver Cake’ was an alternative name for oatcake. Something in my mind made the connection and after looking up some word origins I realised that Havre Park in Barlick is almost certainly ‘Oat Field’. That figures, it would be good land for this in the rich soil of Eastwood Bottoms.

Another item that cropped up a couple of weeks ago was the report of the lovely little bone figurines that had been found in Germany and dated to 40,000 years ago. It seems to me that every new find that is made reinforces the fact that Stone Age Man was a lot smarter than we thought he was! The thing that fascinates me is that if they were capable of art they must have had emotions. Nobody ever suggested to me that the archetypical Stone Age man with a club could love a woman, a child or a pet. It seems that this could quite easily have been the case.

I’m not putting a picture in this week, you can have a poem instead. I don’t know whether Elva Martin put it up when she was retiring, but the week she pinned a note on the shed door for her mates, thanking them for her time with them in the mill a poem appeared alongside it. I have searched all over for a mention of this but have never found a trace. If anyone knows anything about its origin, please let me know. The thing I like about it is that whoever wrote it knew all about the old cottage textile industry, they had been a hand loom weaver. The other thing that pleases me is that I was working in a place where it was quite normal for someone to pin a poem on the shed door. Not a lot of this about in modern industry I think.

The Wheel of Life.

Author unknown. Dated 1881

We stand at the wheel of life and spin
And we draw the life threads to and fro
And the dark and the light go blending in
And the daylights come and the daylights go.

And our feet grow tired of the weary tread
And our hands grow tired with the endless toil
But each human soul must spin its thread
And wind and colour it coil by coil

We stand at the loom of life and weave
The garb that our souls must ever wear
And look at the faded web and grieve
At the broken ends and the seam of care

For we cannot see as the days go by
And the wheel whirls on in its dull routine
That we let the fibres run all awry
And that in the web they will all be seen

But all must stand at the wheel and spin
And whether the woof be good or ill
The robe that we meet our maker in
Is woven here at the weaver’s will

To the spirit guiding its work with care
A wiser than he will the web unroll
And under the shuttle of patient prayer
Will the garment shine in a perfect whole.

SCG/04 January 2004
1180 words.