A glimpse of life in 18th century Walsden
year is 1750. Imagine, if you will, an extensive plateau of
moorland and pasture, wild, exposed, peaceful and idyllic.
There is no one about although the sheep are plentiful, grazing
amongst the long spiky tufts of grasses. The ground undulates
in a haphazard way rising another 500 feet above the plateau
then falling steeply down to craggy outcrops of rock, which
when viewed from below, overhang and appear to be joined together
with heather, grass and gorse, tumbling down to the valley
below. Peer down from the plateau and you will see nothing
but a stream gently weaving its way along the floor of the
valley between the woods and marshes.
odd traveller may come in to view, probably on foot with his
load on his back, or maybe with a horse and rickety old cart.
about there is the occasional farmhouse, some having been
there for centuries, and each with smaller cottages and outbuildings
attached. They are built of stone with earth floors covered
with straw, many are lime washed, and each one has a chimney
spewing spirals of smoke into the air to welcome any weary
passer-by. Narrow tracks link the farms, some just about suitable
for wheels, but many simply worn by the feet of the local
people. There is just one through route, paved with slabs
of stone, allowing single passage of strings of horses carrying
merchandise from one town to another. The trail follows the
contour of the plateau with the occasional limb breaking off
to zigzag down to the bottom of the valley and on up the more
gentle slopes on the opposite side. The floor of the valley
is too wet and marshy for any packhorse to cope with. If one
travels at all in these parts it is either on business or
to attend church, and is on foot or horseback.
are some small communities dotted about along the heavily
wooded lower slopes. Here the cottages also have lime
washed stone walls, and have gardens, barns and stables.
Wherever there is a plentiful supply of water there
are corn mills with giant water wheels. This is a century
before steam power comes to the valley and more than
that before the gas mantle is to replace the candle.
houses are built to withstand the bitterly cold winters and
the damp summers and they have large fire places in which
to burn whatever fuel is available, mostly wood and peat or
dung. The children play until they are big enough to work.
Lots don't survive, but most do. Disease is a problem, but
less so on these rugged moors than in the towns, for the water
is fresh and clean and the inhabitants have space in which
to dispose of rubbish and sewage. The girls help their mothers
and the lads do errands and odd jobs for whatever they can
earn. They all help on the land and in the weaving sheds attached
to their homes.
north along the valley lies the village, nestling at the junction
of three main valleys. It isn't much of a village. The church
is perched on a small eminence, adjacent to which is Todmorden
Hall, recently sold by the Radcliffes who have met impecunious
times. There is an inn, which is linked to the church by a
farmyard. There is also a free school, built in 1713 at a
cost of £150. The schoolmaster has gratuitous use of
the schoolhouse but he must be careful for his appointment
is by majority vote of the freeholders of the township. Apart
from this, there are just a few cottages and an odd shop or
two. There are no roads in the valley.
to one side in the distant Burnley valley there is a large
manor house known as Scaitcliffe Hall. The gentry from this
house can sometimes be seen, and heard, as they hunt and shoot
the game on the moors. The squire, Mr. Anthony Crossley and
his brother, Mr. Luke Crossley, were both army officers during
the Scottish Rebellion a few years past and Luke fought with
the Dragoon Guards at the Battle of Culloden. The Crossleys
have been at Scaitcliffe since medieval times.
gentry at Scaitcliffe own much of the land. The people on
the tops are mainly tenant or yeomen farmers. They spin and
weave wool from their own flock of sheep, keep a few cows,
poultry, pigs, and maybe a horse or two, and grow crops such
as oats and barley. The ones down below do whatever they can
to put food on their plates and clothes on their backs. They
work in the corn mills, or as carriers or labourers, they
grow crops for their own consumption and tend a few animals
to produce milk, butter and cheese. To supplement their meagre
incomes most of the households rent handlooms for the weaving
of wool obtained from the farms on the moor. Every one is
bread and milk are the staple diet of most of the ordinary
folk. This meal is repeated three times a day with occasional
rabbit, pigeon and potatoes or a small piece of bacon for
dinner. On special occasions a piece of parkin may be baked
on the back stone and served with mint tea sweetened with
treacle. Some households have tea and coffee but have no idea
what to do with the leaves or grains. It is quite common for
the leaves to be boiled in water, the water to be drained
off, and the leaves eaten with treacle! This is then served
with a pot of milk to drink!
Sundays they all go to the Church in the village, dedicated
to St. Mary, and they have a long distance to travel. Several
miles, in some instances, across rough terrain and in all
Mary's Church in the village
is a lady in the village who looks out for the hill top farmers
and their families each Sunday. Her name is Mally and she
lives in a small thatched cottage almost opposite to the church.
She sells bread and confectionary to the hungry worshippers
and obliges them by looking after their umbrellas. Fir trees
surround her cottage and she is affectionately known as Molly
is no abject poverty - there are too few people - and life
carries on at a very slow pace. Church on Sunday, work the
rest of the week; the women look after the children, the home
and their men. Water has to be fetched from the wells, fires
are laid, bread must be baked, clothes are washed and the
floors cleaned; the men do the labouring and bring home the
money, or what is left after the nightly visit to the tavern
for a pint or two of ale and a chat with the other men of
the area. Yes, each hamlet has its own alehouse. There is
little else. The people have to walk to the village with the
church to find a boot maker, tailor or general shop. The "Old
Shop" has been there for years, providing everything
from baskets to lamp oil.
is little education. The free school serves those who can
afford it -for the word "free" should not be taken
too literally, although there are a few free places for those
of outstanding ability. Few are able to read or even write
their names. The only books are Bibles. These low levels of
literacy among the people mean that the clergymen and the
pulpit are vital for the spread of knowledge. The taverns
and the village well are the only other meeting places where
news is spread.
lasts forever, and no more did this rural, peaceful scene,
for this village is Todmorden, changed forever by the coming
of cotton and modern innovation. The people in our stories
are just some of the folk who changed it.