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THE POOR FOLK OF EASTWOOD IN STANSFIELD IN 1863

 

The following article is taken from the Halifax Guardian of 3rd. January 1863 and is number 6 in a series of articles concerning "The Distressed Operatives of this District".

Submitted by John Alan Longbottom.

 

(NOTE: 1863 was the year the American Civil War began to have serious effect on the cotton towns of Lancashire and Yorkshire. American raw cotton was prevented from reaching the shores of England, thus creating a great deal of unemployment in the area as the mills were forced into closure or short time work. Many of the able bodied men were put to work on road repairs and the women and girls were sent to sewing schools for training, but none of this made up for the lack of wages previously enjoyed in the mills. The Townships of Langfield and Todmorden & Walsden illegally opted out of the Government's 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act, continuing to give relief to the poor in their own homes rather than subject them to the mercy of the Board of Guardians and the Union Workhouse system that prevailed in Stansfield and Halifax. Although there was still a great deal of poverty in the rebel townships, the system of relief was considerably less harsh than in Stansfield.)

 

A Visit to Eastwood.

 

Few, if any, places in Yorkshire feel the effects of the cotton famine to such an extent as this scattered hamlet. It is utterly dependent on the cotton manufacture, and out of six or seven cotton mills in the locality, there is only one at work, and it has but recently commenced doing so after standing for three months. But it only employs about 30 hands, although there are 100 power looms in the building, and the hours of work are those in which there is daylight, the consumption of gas being saved.

The consequence of this is that poverty is deep and general in the neighbourhood. Eastwood is in the township of Stansfield, which is divided into three thirds, viz. - the higher, the middle, and the lower third, and Eastwood is in the higher third. This portion of the township is under the wing of the Cross Stone Sub-relief Committee, but somehow there is a sad clashing between the Relief Committee and the Poor-Law Guardians. I was assured by the parties most nearly concerned - the suffering poor themselves - that the Relief Committee absolutely refuse to supplement the relief administered by the Guardians, so that the poor here are left to the tender mercies of the Relieving Officer, and they are compelled to do that which an honourable independence of spirit will not submit to until under the most galling pressure of poverty - that of applying for Parish Allowance.

Then, if they apply to the Guardians, and these officials discover that they have received anything from the Relief Committee, they reduce the allowance in proportion to the amount of relief thus afforded. This is peculiarly the case in this part of Stansfield; and in addition to this they have a Relieving Officer to deal with, just the sort of man for carrying out the poor law in its rigid requirements before relief is to be administered. It is hard to be requested to sell this chest of drawers, or that large clock, both household goods, well polished, and evidently the pride of the family, especially of the heads as I clearly saw. This course of proceeding cuts the poor people to the quick. They hear tell of the nation's bounty, and that in addition to the sum awarded by the Poor Law Guardians there is to be an additional help in the shape of the free-will offerings of a nation's sympathy. But they find that they are to be stinted to the parish dole, and they taste not of that kindlier aid of public charity which, more than anything, sweetens their hard lot of unwilling idleness and lack of support.

Not a few of them understand that, although the American war is the origin of their distress, yet that its continuance is the result of the policy of the government in not recognising the South, whereby the cotton cannot be released from its American storehouses; and therefore they conclude that they ought not to be compelled to part with their household furniture at a heavy loss merely to relieve the rates, when, by a change of policy on the part of the government, things would wear a different aspect.

This sort of reasoning is the result of the harsh but official conduct on the one hand, and the refusal of assistance by a Relief Committee on the other, on the ground I have referred to. Here also, the poor had heard tell of the provision that was made for a Christmas dinner by order of the Mansion House Committee; but whilst they could hear of neighbouring places being thus gratified on Christmas Day, they had to be contented, or rather discontented, with what they could obtain from Parish Allowance. Roast beef or plum pudding, which had greeted the eyes and stomachs of the poor in the Halifax Union House, was substituted by the everlasting porridge on which these out-door poor have to subsist. The day of rejoicing for a Saviour born passed by in gloom and sorrow, uncheered by any extra aid from committee or guardians.

Some idea of the state of things may be formed from the fact that the Orange Lodge, which meets at the Rose and Crown, Castle Clough, numbering 80 members, has been compelled to cease paying to its sick in consequence of the inability of its healthy members to pay their usual contributions, and what funds they have in hand are reserved to meet the expenses of a brother's funeral when one may happen to occur. In fact, no contributions have been paid in for the last six months.

In visiting the abodes of the unemployed, I was particularly struck with the cleanliness and neatness that generally characterised them. Good furniture, (that perfect abhorrence of the Relieving Officer) greatly prevailed, and it was highly gratifying to see the store set upon them by the man of the house, as the result of his hard-earned savings. Of course, a man is not destitute (in the eyes of poor-law officials) so long as he has a good big clock in the house, which he might dispose of for 20s when it cost him £7; but it is an act of cruelty and folly to compel him to make the sacrifice for the sake of temporary relief. It is indeed, the less economical mode of dealing with the poor, for it is but hurrying the family into the workhouse where they may remain for many years a permanent burden on the ratepayers. For let a family once get accustomed to the workhouse, and you will find their names on the books for long enough after. The pride of independence is worth encouraging, and will pay better in the long run than humbling a man to the necessity of parting with a chest of drawers, his clock, or his bit of a sofa, which make home valuable in his sight, and preferable to the beershop.

One poor fellow with whom I conversed, full of health and strength, and with spirit unbroken, told me that his watch, which cost him £3, was now at the pawnbroker's shop in Halifax, and on which he obtained thirty shillings, having done this rather than apply to the guardians for relief. But the dreary prospect before him, and the exhaustion of the money reconciled him to the dread step of going as a pauper for relief. He justly argued that as he had paid poor rates in better circumstances, he had as much right to be relieved from the rates as though he had been paying to a sick club.

I met him at the house of a man I visited, and went with him to see how he was situated. He had been 12 weeks out of work, and had himself and two upgrown daughters to maintain out of four shillings a week. He said: "I must have more or I must go into debt". He described himself as a "widow" and said: "if I had a wife I might have done better, but I've a weary time of it" he added "if the Relief Committee gives anything, the Guardians reduce the relief, and what we get is all for the month. I wor fain not to go to the Guardians when the Committee relieved me. All I have saved is gone, and I had a pig or two no so long since, but I've now't at sort now, and we have had to hard work to scrattle on so far. I hope work will come soon for I'm stalled doing now't" . He showed me his best blanket, which was thin and patched, and his quilts, as he observed: "had no warmness in them". As for his two daughters, their bed consisted of chaff. His rent, due last November, was unpaid, and would be due again at May-day. As for his watch, it must wait for better times before it would be in his possession again. His house was nicely furnished, and it was clear could not well remove his furniture to Halifax in order to pledge it. That would be his landlord's business when the rent was enforced. His great want at present was blankets.

The family of W.S. numbered ten, two of the children being twins, four years old. The father had two days a week work as a loom tackler since last hay time, and he had brought up a family of ten children without parish relief. In this case, the house was neatly furnished, and the mother, a very respectable looking woman, of a superior sort, for a working-man's wife. The Committee afforded relief in this ...

J.G. a weaver, with a wife and six children, the youngest being only eleven month's old. He had been two months out of work, and those of the children that could work had been 18 weeks unemployed. He had been told at Cross Stone that the Committee had resolved not to relieve cases that were attended to by the parish authorities. When they applied to the Guardians, he said, "they cross question us in every shape and form as if we had done a crime, and when the relieving officer sees any good furniture in the house he tells us to sell it. I was told to sell my watch: and I would as soon go to prison as ask the Relieving Officer for anything, or sell my watch, for it belonged to my brother, who left it to me at his death to keep in remembrance of him. I would clam first."

At the house of E.S., who had a wife and seven children, there was a wringing machine, which he had been requested to sell before receiving parochial relief. It so happened, however, that it had been bought on credit, towards which only an instalment of 5s had been paid: so that it was not strictly his to dispose of, and the wife said: "We shall not sell other fowk's stuff before it's paid for". Her husband, who was a power-loom weaver, had to work on the high road, and the day on which I visited the house was very wet, which caused him to leave work, his feet being sadly soaked with the water that came through the holes in his clogs, which I saw for myself. He was told to go to the relief committee for fresh clogs, and thus save the Guardians the immense expense of new ones!

On my return, I paid a short visit to Hebden Bridge, and learnt that the scholars at the Mytholm sewing school now numbered 100. On an average, the Guardians give 1s-4d farthing per head relief, which is supplemented to various sums, in some instances to as high as 3s per head. Previously the relief by the Guardians was 1s-6d per head. The number employed on the quarries and roads was increased, the sum paid being one shilling per head for a day's work of six hours. There is now a day school established at Blackshaw Head, under the Stansfield Committee.

It is complained that the operations of the Todmorden Committee do not extend far enough towards the limits of the Hebden Bridge district, and it is contended that those operations should reach to Sandbed, which is quite overlooked, being beyond the limits of the Hebden Bridge Committee. This latter committee got another sum of £500 for five weeks voted to it on Monday by the Manchester Central Relief Committee.

The Heptonstall sewing school now numbers 230 scholars, and there has been a considerable increase in the number of men employed on the roads since my former visit to this district. I learn that in Heptonstall, Wadsworth, and the 'lower third' of Stansfield constituting the Hebden Bridge district, not fewer than 1,400 of the unemployed received the extra allowance of 8d on Christmas-day towards a good dinner, by virtue of the liberality of the Mansion House Committee. It gladdened many a heart, and doubtless will not be without its effect in the kindly remembrances of the recipients in days to come.

The Birchcliffe sewing school has been agreeably affected by a large decrease in the number of its scholars who have recently found temporary employment in a cotton mill. It is to be hoped that ere long the horrible strife across the Atlantic will cease, and thus liberate hundreds of thousands from the galling bonds of enforced idleness and poverty.

 

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