A DESCRIPTION OF THE SCENERY AND PEOPLE OF TODMORDEN IN 1821
BY WILLIAM COBBETT
In 1821 William Cobbett started a tour of Britain on horseback. Each evening he recorded his observations on what he had seen and heard that day.
THIS WORK WAS PUBLISHED AS A SERIES OF ARTICLES IN THE POLITICAL REGISTER AND AS A BOOK, RURAL RIDES, IN 1830
THERE IS MORE ABOUT WILLIAM COBBETT HERE
William's observations on Todmorden and vicinity is transcribed from an article in the
The Hull Packet and Humber Mercury (Hull, England), Tuesday February 2, 1830; Issue 2359. It seems he was sitting in Todmorden at the time he wrote this particular article.
Yorkshire and Lancashire
From Cobbett’s register
This part of England is the most interesting that I ever saw. I thought that nature was in her most sportive mood when she formed the hills and dells of Hockley and Selburne, and Thursley and Hascomb, when she formed the Devil’s Punchbowl on the side of Hindhead, and the Devil’s jumps on the north side of that immense hill. I had admired her works in the South Downs, from which I had seen the clouds moving about in the valleys below, while others came out from the sides of the hills, like the smoke from a pipe, and went directly and shed rain upon the valleys. But it is here where nature has been sportive indeed.
Here are never ending chains of hillocks; hill after hill, and hill upon hill, the deep valleys winding about in every direction, and every valley having a river or run of water, greater or less. By the side of the river or rivulet, where it is of any considerable size, which is the case here, there is a canal.
The water is made use of for all the various purposes of machinery; for the conveyance of goods of all sorts, so that you see no such thing as a team of horses or a waggon; and the land being a bed of stone, one bed of solid stone, with a little slight covering of earth upon it, and there being not the slightest appearance of corn field, barns or ricks; not the slightest appearance of cattle being kept; I having seen with my own eyes more corn collected together, and more sheep folded on one single farm in Wiltshire than I have seen, put all together, in all the miles and miles that I have ridden in Lancashire and Yorkshire.
This being the case, one would naturally wonder whence the food came to sustain this immense population. But reflection teaches us that this judicious application of the coal, the water, and the stone, creates things in exchange for which the food and drink come and will come. Lincolnshire, Leicestershire, and indeed all the rich agricultural parts of the country, not forgetting Ireland, send hither a part of their produce in exchange for the goods made in that very factory that I have above mentioned. Nay, Barn Elm Farm itself will supply several of these towns with mangel wurzle seed to plant plots of ground for the raising of milk, which is the only farm produce in this part of the country worth naming.
From this place (Todmorden) to Halifax you go nearly all the way upon a road which runs parallel with the canal, and there are mills and houses almost the whole of the way. Every now and then a cross valley comes twisting down into this main valley; the view is never the same, riding in a post-chaise, for two minutes at a time.
From foot of hill to foot of hill, the main valley is not, on average, more than from two to four hundred yards wide, and the hills rise up almost perpendicular. Sometimes they are covered in trees, of puny size to be sure; sometimes with rough grass, but in height, width, form, and every other circumstance, the variety is endless. The buildings, whether for manufacture or for dwelling are all of solid stone, executed in the best possible manner. The window frames and doorframes are generally of stone. The floors of passages to houses are of stone. The field fences are of stonewalls; and the gateposts and stiles are made of stone.
When I came to the north before, I used to call the country on this side of Warwickshire the iron country. Everything appears strong and hard and made to last forever. At Rochdale, this very interesting scenery began. That town is nice and clean and solid; and it is very curious that all along there and through this place and to Halifax, I have seen no squalid miserable wretches. It appears to me that there are more rags in Preston, more wretched persons in one single street, than are to be found amongst all this immense population from Rochdale to Halifax, both these towns included. I have not seen a single ragged person in Todmorden, nor in any of the villages all the way along this most interesting valley.
I am sitting at a window, and this is Sunday. Hundreds of the working people have passed by this window this day, and it is a very long time since I have seen working people so well dressed as they are here. Probably it is partly owing to the uncrowded state of the people; to their being scattered in so long a line as this valley consists of; there may be, and there must be, less immorality than in places like Blackburn and Preston, where there is such an immense mass in so small a circle, but something must also be owing to the conduct of the employers, to their conduct towards their people, and to their own excellent example.
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