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DULESGATE

 

Taken from "Lancashire Sketches" by Edwin Waugh 1817-1890

A possible year of this tale is around 1854

 

 

The Lancashire clough known by the name of "Dulesgate" or "Devil's Gate", is about three miles long, from Gauxholme up to Sharneyford, a little hamlet on the moors, about half way between Todmorden and Bacup. The lower part of the clough is narrow and craggy, and the hills rise wild and steep on each hand. Close by this end, the canal, the railway and the high road run side by side, and within a few yards of each other.

A Roman road also skirts the side of the hill which faces the end of the clough; and here and there a rough old packhorse road meanders down the rocky steeps around. There is generally some din of business at Gauxholme, for there are several manufactories and a number of workmen's cottages clustered in that part of the valley.

A wandering footpath leads up the hill on the east side to an old mansion called Stones. It stands nearly a thousand feet above the sea, and commands a fine view of the surrounding hills. Close by this house there is a buttressed mound,- the stations of one of those beacons by which intelligence was formerly flashed from hill to hill across the island.

Dulesgate must have been a gloomy spot in ancient times, when thick woods clothed the sides of the ravine, and when the stream was dammed up here and there by fallen trees, making the bottom of the clough a tangled swamp. In those days, what rude roads there were in this then wild district led along the hillsides or over the hilltops-as the Roman road from Manchester to Slack, or Cambodunum, near Halifax, still traceable, climbed over the top of Blackstone Edge, and then skirted along the side of the southern hills overlooking the Todmorden valley. There are many fragments of ancient roads upon these hills still,which may have been British or Saxon.

I do not know whether the name of Dulesgate is derived from the gloomy appearance of the clough in ancient days, or from incursions made by the foresters of Rossendale, in those times, down this pass, which was then, as now, the shortest route into the Todmorden valleys.

There are traditional stories of such incursions from the Forest side of the hills into these vales. I remember one, of a party of foresters stealing the horses from the stables of Buckley Hall, by night, in the olden time. Being pursued by the then Buckley of Buckley and his tenants, they were overtaken at a spot on the moors called "Th'Midgy Hillock," where the leader of the forest party was shot, and the horses retaken.

There is now a good road through Dulesgate, and over the hills into Rossendale, and it was upon this road that I wandered alone one summer day. The sky was cloudless, and after I had left the houses at Gauxholme behind I began to enjoy the scenery of the clough. The most picturesque part of Dulesgate is the lower half, where the banks are steepest and the gorge is narrowest. In two or three places there is only room for the road and the stream; in others, the clough expands a little, and a few clean looking cottages stand by the wayside, and here and there a larger and more tasteful house, with a bit of trim garden about it. These houses are occupied by mill owners and their work people, for there are several mills in the clough. They are all built of stone.

The woods have long since been thinned, the stream is now confined to its natural bed, and in some places the rock has been cut away to make room for the road; but wild Nature still sufficiently asserts herself to make Dulesgate an interesting scene.

The valleys of this district abound in excellent springs; and stone well troughs, brimming with clear water, are familiar features ay the waysides. There are several in this clough. And now, anybody who wishes to see scenery of this kind to advantage should always travel upward, and meet the falling water,-then only can its best features be seen. This moorland stream glints out prettily upon the ascending traveller, as it comes dancing down the rocky hollow, full of frolic loveliness,-here peeping through a screen of leaves like a child at play, there babbling unseen in its deep bed below the road, and there in a leafy nook, stopping to rest in a burnished pool under the tress. Now it glides into sight again, laving the mossy stones with liquid beauty; and then it leaps down the smooth lipped rocks in headlong glee, scattering showers of spray upon the greenery around.

The little glen is full of wild charms in summer time. In some parts, rough crags overfrown the road, contrasting well with the surrounding green; but the steep banks are mostly covered with pasture, or plantations, or wild underwood, blending here and there with moorland heather which crests the summits of the hills.

As I went up the road that day rindles of water laced the hillsides, for there had been heavy rain in the night; the rocks were festooned with bright ferns, and lichens, and tufts of heath; the blending songs of the birds, filled the clough with wild delight; and the lush verdure of June fringed the wayside with beauty.

I met very few people on my way. A round faced lad came clattering by in clogs, whistling as he went; a tattered cobbler, a tramp, looking damp and doleful as he limped down towards Todmorden, with a pair of ragged "pushers" on his feet, like bits of ruined dish-clout; a jolting stone cart, attended by a great bare breasted, brown faced driver, in mud stained corduroy; and a lonely, wan faced woman, clean as a new oin, and dressed in decent, quaint fashioned black, with a blue linen umbrella in her hand. She was evidently on her way to a funeral.

As I passed by a mill, the buzz of wheels came upon the ear like the rush of water over a drowsy fall; and when I came to a cluster of cottages, children were playing about the doors, and women looked out, hearing footsteps out upon the road. Now and then a dog barked, seeing a strange face; and I noticed in the window of a schoolhouse by the roadside a placard announcing that some notable preacher was coming to the opening of a new chapel in the clough.

Some of the chapels in these vales are built so like mills that it seems as if the trustees intended, in case of failure in converting the congregation, that at least they should be able to convert the chapel.

About two miles up, where I left all sylvan features behind, and where the scene grew bleaker at every stride, a few cottages and a tollbar stood close by the road. A few yards above the tollbar there was a comfortable stone built inn, called the Bay Horse. It stood back from the road, leaving a space where carts could draw up. About half a dozen cottages trickle off from the upper end of the inn; and this cluster of dwellings was the high water mark of human life in Dulesgate, for there was nothing in sight above but the unshaded moorlands.

I went into the Bay Horse. There was a fire in the tap room, where four carters were sitting at their ale. They were talking briskly enough as I walked up the lobby, but the moment I entered the room they became silent, and stared. I called for a glass of ale, and took a seat by the fire.

 

The landlord, who was a stout elderly man, sat by the door with his elbows on his knees looking at the ground, and now and then casting a sly glance at me. The four carters too, were quietly taking stock of me, from head to toe, wondering, perhaps, whether I was a "Scotchman," a quack doctor, or an attorney's clerk, and what business had brought me up there.

"Tay, I doubt," said one of the carters, in a whisper, to his neighbour.

"Pills, for a quart," whispered the other in reply.

In two or three minutes the landlady entered with a plate of mutton chops. "Theer," said she, as she set the plate down in front of one of the carters. "Get that into tho!..Aw guess thae'll want some brade?"

"Ay"

"Come, aw'll fot (fetch) a bit," said she; and out she went.

"Hasto no saut?" said the landlord, half raising his head, and looking at the table.

"Nawe."

"Heigh!" cried the landlord, shouting towards the kitchen. "Bring some saut!"

"Comin'!" replied the landlady's voice from the kitchen.

The landlady returned with the bread and salt, and setting them down silently, she went out again, looking askance from the doorway to see what I was like. The carter fell to his mutton, and all was so still that I could hear his jaws at work. Before he had eaten many mouthfuls, he knocked with his empty pot upon the table, and said "I can manage another."

The landlord raised his head and shouted out at the doorway again, "Heigh! Dost yer? Another pint." The as if suddenly bethinking himself, he took up the pitcher, and said, "Come, aw'll fot it," and for a minute or two there was not a sound in the room again but the carter's knife and fork and his champing jaws. As the landlord came back with the ale, he stopped at the door, and looking out towards the high road, he said "Hello! there's two moor gooinn'deawn, I see."

The carters jumped up, and looked through the window "Ay," said one of them. "Yon belongs th' same lot."

"Who are they?" said the landlord. "Con to mak 'em eawt?"

"Nay, aw don't know 'em," replied the carter; "but they favvourn Todmorden chaps. I'll be bound they're upo' th' same dooment."

"Aw dar say they are," replied the landlord. "They're come'd a-viewin', aw guess."

Then they sat down, and all was still once more, and they eyed me again, with more curiosity than before.

"What's bin to do?" said I to the landlord.

"Some sheep worried, upo' th' tops here," replied he without even raising his elbows from his knees, as if he thought I was somehow connected with the affair, and had crept up there to gather information in an underhand way.

"How mony?" said I.

"A twothre," replied he, giving another sly glance, and then looking at the floor again.

Here one of the carters began to be more communicative. "There's bin four dogs at th' job as far as con yer," said he; "an' there's law flyin' o'er it. They're foos for gooin' to law. It's wur nor feightein' in a fire-hole,-th' best on 'em 'll get brunt."

"Ay," replied the landlord, "there wur four dogs, I belive bi what they say'n; but I know nought mich abeawt it."

"There wur four dogs I tell yo," continued the carter. "I know folk 'at see'd 'em. But two o'th dogs belungs poor chaps, an' they'n dropt upo' those two. Tother are too big for 'em to hondle, aw guess."

"Thae knows nowt abeawt it, Joe," said the landlord; "nobbut what somebry's towd tho."

"Dunnot I?" replied the carter. "Aw know 'at kissin' gwos by favour, owd lad; an' th' waiker side 'll ha' to go to th' wole i' this dog stir, same as everythin' else."

"Well, ay," answered the landlord; ther's summat i' that. But let's drop it wheer it is, whol we yer'n fur into't."

"O reet," replied the carter, "Bring another pint."

The landlord brought the ale, and then dropped into his seat, with his elbows on his knees again. In the meantime, I bethought me of a plan by which to dispel the reserve which kept us asunder. As it happened, I had known this inn many years before, and the owner of it was an old friend of mine.

"Has Charles bin up lately?" said I, addressing the landlord.

"What Charles?" replied he, taking his elbows from his knees.

"Charles o' Jammy's."

"Dun yo know Charles?" replied he, looking at me full in the face.

"Ay," said I, "I've known him a good while. Has he bin up lately?"

"Nawe; but I know when he will be up to a day or two."

"When's that?"

"It's th' rent day," replied the landlord; "an' it doesn't want aboon a fortnit' to, now." After that, he looked thoughtful for a minute or so, and then, taking up the poker, he said, as he scaled the ashes out of the fire grate, "O, ay! What, dun yo know Charles, then? Here, lass! Bring some naplins to this fire."

The landlady came and mended the fire. When she had gone out the old man began again by asking if I knew "Brown Tummy."

I did not know Brown Tummy.

"Ay, well!" continued he, "his wife's just at last, I yer."

"What age is hoo?" said I.

"Hoo'll be fifty," replied he; " an' he'll be threescore, I dar say."

"It'll be a bad job for th' owd chap," said I.

"Well, ay," replied he; "I dar say he'll miss her,-he's so like. But hoo's like potato-settin's,- hoo'll be th' best I'th ground. Hoo's lad 9led) him a feaw (foul) life.-hoo has that."

We were now getting nicely a-swing together, and I thought I would keep it up.

"Yo'n getten a new poker, I see," said I, taking it up from the fireside.

"New poker!" replied he, staring me in the face, "Well, ay. Whau, nay,-we'n had it,-let's see. Hea ling han we had this poker, lass?"

"Oh, a good bit," said the landlady, setting her hands upon her hips, and turning round to look at me again. "We'n had it a good bit; an' what bi that?"

"Nay, nought," answered I; "but yo use't to have a little short un, worn sharp at th' end."

"Ay, an so we had. What yon bin here afore, I yer?"

"O, ay," replied I; "lung sin. I've seen th' poker weighed.

"Hello!" cried one of the carters; and then they all laughed in chorus.

"What the dule!" said the landlord; "han yo bin in at th' poker weighin', then? Well, an' heaw di yo go on?"

"Ay," said the landlady, "heaw wenten yo on? Let's be yerrin."

I told them the tale briefly; but this was how it happened to me at the time:-

About six years before the day of which I am writing, I wandered into Dulesgate, one winter afternoon, and I called at this same inn, the Bay Horse. There was a large company in the tap room, chiefly carters, and they were very noisy. But as soon as I entered, being a stranger, I became the subject of curious observation, as usual, and they were still for a few minutes. At last, a carter who sat next the hob took up the little worn poker, and stirred the fire; and then he began to balance the poker quietly upon the palm of his hand, like an Irishman examining a new shillelagh. He then gave a kind of meditative grunt, as he laid the poker down again, and seemed to turn his mind to something else.

The other carters had been silently watching this all the while. "Jim," said one of them, "what's up wi' th' poker?" "Nay," replied he, "I're nobbut wonderin' whether I could guess th' weight or not."

"Gi' me howd," cried another. "I'll guess ony on yo for a quart." Then he tried it on his hand. "Two peawnd four eawnce and a quarter," said he, handing it to the next. "What says thae, Joe?"

The other seemed to try it with great care, and as he handed it back he said, with a knowing air, "A quarter lower, for a quart."

And so they sent it round amongst them, guessing one thing, some another, but all hovering about the same weight. At last, when the poker came round to the one who had started the thing, he tried it again, and then, handing it to me, he said "Two peawnd four eawnce an' a hauve. What say'n yo, maister?"

Now betting was not in my way, but I began to feel a little interest in the thing, so I, too, balanced the poker, and guessed something. "By th' mon," cried one of them, taking the poker out of my hand, "I believe that chap's th' nearest of ony on us. I'll venture an odd pint upo' th' same weaight as heaw. It's o'th brass 'at I have abeawt my rags, or else"

"Here let me have another do," said a little stiff fellow, who sat in the corner playing with his whip. He treid it once more, with critical nicety, and then, addressing me, he said, "I'll bet yo a shillin', maister, 'at yor aboon aneawnce eawt."

An I took the challenge for the fun of the thing. The moment I had done so there was a general cry, "Come, lads, let's have it weighed!"

"Wheer mun we goo?" said one. "Han yo a pair o' scales?" said another.

"Nawe, we ha' not," replied the landlord. "tak it deawn to John Ho'th's, at th' other side. He'll weigh it for yo."

This John Howarth kept a little grocery shop a few yards below the inn. Away we went with the poker, half a dozen of us or so. A little bell tingled as we opened the shop door, and out came John from the kitchen.

"Here, John, owd brid," said one of the carters, "weigh this fire potter for us, wilto?"

"What, again?" said John; and as he readied his scales, his eyes wandered inquiringly through the group. At last they settled on me, being a stranger, and a quiet smile crept over his face, in which a great deal of sly fun mingled with something like contempt. But, with a kind of humorous earnestness, he seemed to weigh the poker very carefully.

I forgot what it weighed, but I was several ounces wrong; and, as he handed it back he said that it had worn a great deal lighter since he first knew it. The carters kept countenances till we got out; but I saw that I was sold.

John followed us to the door, and as I went out he said, as he tapped me on the shoulder, "Yo'n happen know th' weight o' that poker th' next time yo see'n it."

The weighing of the poker pleased the landlord and the carters very well. They had seen the same trick done many a time; and they were very sociable with me after the story.

But twilight was stealing on, and I had a long distance to go, so I took leave of them, and went on my way across the wild moors.

 

 

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