Items relating to New Mills and district do not appear in a great many 19th century books. However, where they do appear they can reveal a lot about life and people of the time. Two of the most interesting from a New Mills point of view are Memories of Marple:Pictorial and Descriptive Reminiscences of a Lifetime in Marple, Leisure Hours on the Banks of the Goyt, the Tame (1899) by Joel Wainwright. And A Treatise on the Growth and Future Management of Timber Trees, and on other Rural Subjects (1859) by George William Newton.
I would heartily recommend that if you find these brief excerpts interesting that you seek out the volumes and look through them at greater length.
Joel Wainwright was for many years manager of Strines Printworks. It is his association with Strines Printworks and memories of that former corner of the Parish of New Mills, which are primarily of interest here. His writings are the result of a lecture he gave at Marple, which proved so popular, he decided to expand and produce them into the form of a book.
Printing at Strines
The Strines Printing Company is the oldest firm in Manchester. I remember books at the warehouse, which showed shipments of prints, with samples of work, prices, and every particular in 1792. Plate printing was no doubt carried on at Strines before Peel invented roller printing, as the weather vane on the pigeon box is, I know, made out of a piece of plate copper, which has a pattern engraved upon it; and a few years ago another piece of plate copper, having a different engraved pattern upon it, was found in the old foundations during some building alterations there.
The Legend of No Man’s Land
Linen bleaching was, however, carried on there long before this, as will be seen from the legend of “No Man’s Land,” those large flat meadows still called ‘No Man’s Land,’ on the ordnance survey. “Whitecroft” Cottage, where I lived for twenty years, and which in former days was occupied by “Old Bruce” for a still longer period, is situated on this land and was originally built for a watching station. Linen, as everybody knows, used to be bleached exclusively bleached on the grass; and it is the best bleach even yet. The legend, no doubt, has a good substratum of truth in it; anyhow, I give it to you as I have heard and believe it. A man was convicted of stealing the linen, then a capital offence, and was hung a gibbeted where Lyme Cage now stands. The trial was in Cheshire, and was very expensive. When the bills came to be paid, the Cheshire people found out by old plans that this piece of land was not in Marple, Cheshire, but was in the township of Whitle, and belonged to Derbyshire, the river having formerly having run on the other side of it. The Derbyshire people contested this, and proved by equally old plans that it did not belong to Derbyshire. Both proved it so clearly that the expense could not be saddled upon either County, and it was paid by the Crown. Marple then gave up all its claim to the taxes, fearing that if they were collected this other claim might be made upon them; and so it remained until very lately, when poor rates have been collected; but even now no one could be arrested for debt, and no County rates could be levied on this place.
A few years ago, this plot, and one in Essex, and another somewhere in Wales, where inserted in a bill before Parliament authorising them to be added to their adjoining Counties, but through some local influence about the Essex plot, the Bill was never passed. Lord Egerton applied to the then Strines partners, and asked if they had any wish one way or the other, and he said it was a matter he did not care about either way, though he was reminded that my old house was a capital place to live in to prevent his being arrested for debt. My immediate predecessor lived in the house for a great number of years, and was never called on to pay any rates or taxes of any description. He had a large family born there, and all were baptised in Marple Church, as of the parish of Stockport, in the diocese of Chester, and in the province of York; whereas, my children, born in the same house, had to be baptised and registered as being in the parish of Glossop, in the County of Derby, in the diocese of Litchfield, and in the province of Canterbury. A little brook runs just behind the house, which is now said to divide York from Canterbury. An important brook, that! And if it should go rambling across the meadow some day, I really cannot tell what would happen. It may proudly say “Men may come, and men may go, But I go on forever!”
The Strines Journal
In September, 1852, a junior clerk and myself commenced a manuscript journal, which we continued for eight years; I was then book-keeper at Strines Printworks, and Mr John M. Gregory and I lived and lodged together through many happy years. Fortunately, for me, he was of a literary turn of mind, and were we not both ambitious? For did we not call our Journal ‘ a monthly magazine of literature, science, and art?’ and I find in one place that we condescended to speak of the Manchester Guardian as ‘our contemporary!’
There was no particular blame or credit due to us that our weakness should have taken this particular form; what else could we do that was so harmless and withal so useful and self improving? We were seven miles from any railway station. Our hours of work were generally from six in the morning to eight at night, though we had many privileges. Lawn tennis had not penetrated as far as Strines; football and golf had not been heard of; cycling was unknown; and we were a bit too restless for that ‘awfully jolly game of croquet.’ At this time, I believe, I had once seen a piano, though not in that county, but I had certainly never seen a billiard table, and I am not sure that I had ever even heard of one; nevertheless we were not without physical recreation. Skating, for which we enjoyed grand facilities, was our special winter pastime, and many skating scenes are depicted in the journal. In the summertime our favourite pursuits were Entomology and Botany, our rendezvous were nature’s own haunts, the fields and woods, the abodes in which she dwells and where she likes to be studied. Many such scenes are reproduced in or illustrations. Most of this work was done, not by the help of the midnight oil, but by the aid of the half-penny dip candle, as gas was unknown in the works. Electric light of course, was only a dream, and even the Yankees had not then ‘struck ile.’ Happily for us, there was an excellent library at the works, close to our lodgings, established and supported by the Strines Printing Company, on the initiation of the late Joseph Sidebotham, one of the partners, who himself contributed about 700 volumes. The plan of our venture was to issue a number, or part, of 32 pages, every month, which we carried out with commendable punctuality for four years, as shown in the first four volumes. About 1856, however, we began to be a bit ashamed of the poor character of a large proportion of the volumes, and we determined that in the future the work, such as it was, should be more carefully prepared, even though we might produce much less of it. The last volume, therefore, covers 1856 to 1860, and, as a fact, is much more free from faults than any of its predecessors. Each monthly part, of which there was only one copy, was circulated among such of the work-people as would be likely to be interested, and among other friends and neighbours. For the sake of uniformity in appearance, paper, binding, and such like, all the actual hand-writing was done by ourselves. Most of the illustrations were our own handiwork, though we had many admirable drawings sent to us by others. The late Joseph Sidebotham was a constant contributor of watercolour drawings, photographs, scientific articles, and other interesting matter. Through him we were introduced to Nasmyth the Great, who contributed an article on the Moon, and one of his inimitable pen and ink drawings finds a place in our pages. Glaisher, superintendent at Greenwich Observatory, Mr. Lowe, the famous meteorologist, of Nottingham, and Mr.Piazzi Smythe, the Astronomer Royal of Scotland, also contributed through the same channel. The celebrated ladies of the Thwaites, at Coniston – Miss Mary and Miss Susan Beever – in whose honour Ruskin published his loving “Messages from the wood to the garden” - were also among our valued contributors, though through Mr. Sidebotham we had besides, correspondents in India and America, of the latter, George W. Morgan eventually became editor of the American journal, and a very prominent American citizen.
Old Bruce the Clockmaker
Strines has produced some remarkable men, and none more so than Old Bruce, who lived on “No Man’s Land” in the cottage known as “Whitecroft.” He was full of what the great Nasmyth calls ‘resourcefulness,’ the sort of man who could cut a plank with a gimlet, and bore a hole with a saw, and if he had not a stick, he would make a stone answer his purpose. In the early days of calico printing by rollers, he used to turn the patterns off the copper rollers at his own house at five shillings a roller, and the copper turnings given in, and though fourpence a roller has been paid for years, (without the turnings), still he richly deserved his five shillings, as all had to be done by hand, and there was no fear of his shaving off too much copper when it was all handwork. He contrived a domestic water-wheel for his assistance, and manufactured his own gas, thirty years before it was adopted in the works; and if he was not the original inventor of the slide lathe, he certainly made the first slide lathe that was ever seen in this part of the country. Nobody ever knew exactly whether he was originally a wheelwright or a watchmaker, but he made Disley Church Clock, and the large clock at Strines, both eight-day Clocks. The latter was cleaned a few years ago, for the first time for a quarter of a century, and the then millwright, declared it to be as good a bit of workmanship as he had ever seen in his life.
Long Days and Dark Nights
The cotton operative of today has no idea of the time and labours of his predecessor of seventy or eighty years ago. The hours were frequently fourteen or fifteen per day, Saturday included, and it was considered a great boon when the factories closed at four o’clock on Saturdays, after which most of the cleaning had to be done. When I laboured in a cotton mill one could rarely leave before five o’clock, even on that day.
Just consider what it must have been like with such long hours, before gas was used, say seventy years ago, and before matches, giving instantaneous light were invented. Some of us remember those dreary winter mornings when the poor operative crept downstairs in the dark, and groped about for the tinder-box left near the fireplace to be secure from damp, and very fortunate he was if he found it without stumbling over the three-legged stool, or grazing his shins on the sharp fender. Then if he were happy enough to find neither cat nor children had made playthings of the flint and steel, how carefully he settled the box on his knees and struck the shower of sparks over it, watching eagerly for the first that caught fire, and if the brimstone match held out until he lighted his inch of candle, and the candle got safely fixed in the old horn lantern, how lucky he thought himself, and in what a favourable temper he started the day. The tinder-box has now disappeared altogether, and I hardly know of any more simple invention of more value than the half-penny match box and its contents, as compared with the time when a light once lost was difficult to recover. You can remember the flint and steel, and the cumbrous old tinder-box, will agree with me. Who can estimate the amount of time saved and comfort enhanced, especially to sick people (not to mention smokers), and of ill tempers avoided by that same ‘box o’ lights sir?’ The poet sings of ‘the light of other days’; but none of us would like to go back to the darkness thereof.
The Flood of 1872
The memory of this flood on the 18th and 19th of June, 1872, will not readily fade. I was on the Strines Bridge at 3 o’clock on the morning of the 19th, when I saw a chasm in the pavement at my feet, and darted for my life, and in a moment down went the bridge. We had had an anxious three hours before that, and at one o’clock the fire brigade was summoned by the fire alarm – true, not to quench a fire, for the flood had already put out all the boiler fires – but to prevent damage from the ever rising daughters. Some thousands of pounds of madder-roots were removed, by the brigade, high and dry; still damage to the extent of thousands of pounds was done. Both bridges, and both gas-holders were washed down and injury to goods in the lower part of the premises was sustained. The works of course could not start next day, as coal could not be delivered; all communication with the outer world, so to speak, was cut off by the bridge being in ruins. By a great effort, a temporary contrivance was erected in 24 hours and the road was restored.
From time immemorial, cowdung has been an article of great chemical, and, indeed I may add, mechanical utility in dyeworks. This, at Strines, in the summer-time, when the cattle were left out all night, had to be collected in the fields and meadows. It was a lazy sort of job, and any kind of intellect was good enough for it. One hot day Mr Thomas was walking in the fields when he found the collector on the ground at full length beside his barrow, fast asleep. Of course he roused him up, and the man exclaimed, “Eh! Mesthur, what time is it?” “Why its three o’clock” was the reply. “E’gol; I’ve lost my dinner hour!” said the man.
The Brierley Family
I have seen a register of the Brierley family in a bible at a cottage, at Brookbottom, near Strines, at which place many of the family worked. It appears from this register that there were nine sons, namely: - Joab, Jesse, George, Daniel and Abishai, Gideon, Didymus, Asahel, Ittai.
And worthy men they were. Old Joab eventually went to keep a farm on the top of Cobden, and at that time there was a bone-mill kept at the Printworks, where the farmers used to send bones to be ground, toll being taken in kind as was formerly the case with millers. In 1847, Joab took a number of sacks of bones to be ground, and these were followed by many more. Mr Robinson one of the partners, asked where he got all his bones, and after a little time, when they were all ground up, he said they had come from a large heap on top of the hill, and that they had dug them all out. About two years afterwards, my informant, also a partner there, went to call on these Brierleys on Cobden Edge, and he saw an old man in a field making hay, so asked if he were Joab Brierley. He said, ‘Nowe, its my fayther; he’s theer, mowing,’ and there he found these two old men, father and son, one ninety and the other seventy, busy with their hay. One of the asked, “Are yo Mesther Sidebotham, as knows so many things?” and continued, “Con you tell me what ‘Urmin and Thummim” were meant for?” but my informant found they knew more on such points than he did.
However, old Joab went with him to the place on top of the hill where they had got the bones. It was a circular sunk plain, about twenty feet in diameter (it had been a raised mound until they excavated it). With red burnt clay al about, and a little search enabled him to find a few more bones. On another visit with professor Williamson, they found many more bones, which the professor said at once were human remains. No doubt, it was one of the numerous barrows found hereabouts, where the Ancient Britain’s buried their dead. Old Joab told him that on another hill (which he pointed out), near Mellor, there had been a similar mound, and that he remembered it being dug into and some curious old pots being found.
There is a spot close by, called on the Ordnance Map, the “Stone Cross,” and in the wall there I have seen a very large stone hewn in a peculiar fashion, with a square box hole carefully cut in it, which is thought to have been the base stone into which the pillar of a cross was fitted.
“Urmin and Thummim” maybe a biblical reference.
John Pearson’s coach, which went from New Mills to Manchester, every day, Sundays included. It was happily named “Mercury,” who was the patron saint of travellers, and appointed messenger of the gods, as he had wings even on his head and on his feet. One of its faults was its elastic capacity. It was constructed to carry twenty-two, reckoning six for the inside, but that inside was certainly no larger than an ordinary cab, and it was no wonder that an acquaintance of mine christened it the “Crimping Machine.” I once saw it with a load of fifty-one passengers! Who as one of the countrymen observed “had to cling like Martins to a wall.” Of course, any ordinary walker would have done the distance from Stockport to Marple in less time than the coach, especially on Saturdays and Sundays. The passengers had to dismount and walk up the hills, and then the horses who did the work wanted water, and the passengers who did the play wanted something much stronger, at nearly every public-house.
George William Newton was a local man, a passionate gardener and planter of trees and guardian of the land and local landscape, but also a less than shrewd businessman. Many of his memories relate to long forgotten details of the town’s history and development.
His book first published in 1859, in Mr Newton’s 71st year, is largely a record of his experiences, and an encouragement to others to plant trees. As he records, “He is highly favoured who is spared to witness such results of his own amusement and occupation in his earlier days.”
These are some of his memories.
The Bridge at Hague.
………….I have only one more case of county bridge building to record: the bridge over the Goit called ‘Hague bridge,’ where the townships of Whitle, in Derbyshire, and Disley, in Cheshire, meet; the repair and rebuilding of which falls on each of these counties. The old bridge was also a packsaddle bridge, with its dangerous approaches on both sides, at right-angles, was so narrow as not to leave room for the drivers of the carts, and the battlements were eventually knocked off into the river by the collision by wheels of carts and carriages passing over it. Powers for rebuilding it on a wider scale and of an elliptic form of arch having been obtained from the Quarter Sessions of each county, and the matter entrusted to the late Thomas Legh, of Lyme Esq.; John White, of Park Hall, Esq.; and myself; the plans and specifications were prepared (at my particular request) by the late Mr Samuel Fowls, of Northwich, a most intelligent and valuable servant to the county of Chester for many years, for an elliptically arched bridge; and in the absence of my coadjutors on the Continent, and of the other in Leicestershire, the letting of the erection of the bridge by ticket devolved on myself single-handed, and took place at the Ram’s Head hotel at Disley.
More than a dozen tickets of bidders were handed into Mr Fowls and Mr Bodkin, the Derbyshire bridge inspector. On scrutinizing which, and the names of parties from whom they preceded, I riddled them (to use a homely phrase) and let four remain. But observing to Mr Fowls that the party whose bid was the highest was the only one I should feel satisfied with, acting as I was, alone in the matter, I sent for the party into the room, and told him his ticket was the highest in amount considerably, and begged that he would send me an amended one at the next round of bidding. To which he replied, “That he and his father and brothers well considered what they were about before they bid for any contract, and had never lowered their bid made in the first instance; and he declined sending in a second ticket, observing that if floods or any casualties diminished their fair profits in such undertakings, they never asked to be indemnified or reimbursed for their losses,” on which I said, “ Then Mr. S, you shall build the bridge; I accept your ticket, although it is the highest.” This letting took place early in the year. The public convenience required the bridge to be finished before the winter.
The work commenced and carried on with vigour, and the keystones of the arch being on the point of being placed on the crown of it, when one of those floods in August, which have left such records of disaster in our valleys in times gone by, carried away the centres of the arch and all the mason-work raised on the timbers, leaving nothing but the foundations and the haunches of the bridge; and yet the bridge was built in the time specified, and, “true to their words” Messers. never asked for a shilling more from either county than the sum for which they contracted to build the bridge.
Tor Top Estate
This formerly belonged to the ancient family of the Bowers, of whom John Bower was the last male representative and owner of that and other family estates in Bowden Middlecale. By his marriage to Mary Needham, of Rushop, he had issue one son, John Bower, who died December 28th, 1756, under age, and one daughter, Sarah Bower, who on her father’s demise, succeeded to all his real and personal estates, which were very considerable. She died in the prime of life unmarried.
“Disappointment, like a worm in the bud,
Had fed upon her damask cheek.”
For she possessed great personal attractions. She bequeathed the whole of her landed and personal property to her mother, who survived her, and at her decease it passed into the ancient and respectable family of the Needhams, of Rushop and of Perry Foot, at which latter place the family has descended in regular succession from the reign of Charles II. in the names of Robert Needham, until the decease of the last member of that family of that name, which took place in 1844.
The family residence at Torr Top still remains, and the surrounding lands, now in the occupation of and forming part of the extensive calico printing works of Charles Yates, Esq., “overhang the Tor” on three aspects, east, south and west, through which, after its conflux with the stream flowing down from the Kinder, “ the Goit” pursues its course. This ravine, from its sylvan beauty, the stately timber which adorned its brows, was named “Little Matlock,” and the view from the residence southward was one of great beauty and extent and variety of scenery. On its right, the Wirksmoor Wood, extending over a number of acres, spreading itself widely from north to south, and was first invaded by the passage of the Pak Forest Canal through it; and in a few years after it was felled to the ground en masse, with the exception of two remnants which still remain at each extremity of it, by the father of the present Francis Joddrell, of Yeardsley, Esq., his youngest son surviving, “and the large extent of acreage which once it covered has for many years past been occupied as meadow and pasture land, and has continued to furnish sites for mills and dwelling houses, railways and railway-stations, canal wharfs and warehouses, and a straight and broad turnpike-road affording an approach to all of these.
The story of Sarah Bower is a melancholy one. She inherited a considerable personal property, and many good estates within Bowden Middlecale, in addition to the Tor Top estate, and several farms in the vicinity. She was a remarkably handsome person, and received attentions from many “would-be suitors;” when “in an evil hour,” during the sojourn of her mother and herself at Buxton in the summer months, a gentleman apparently, of good manners and prepossessing exterior, who was a visitor in the place, obtained an introduction to Mrs Bower and her daughter, which led to an engagement and proposed matrimonial alliance.
While matters were thus proceeding, and as the summer advanced, the northern summer circuit was near approaching, and some three or four barristers, who were on their way to York assizes, took Buxton en route after their toils during term, for the baths and the bracing air of our limestone highlands. On taking table d’hote of the hotel where Mrs Bower and her daughter were inmate, they recognised in the person of “the accepted suitor” a “rogue of the first water,” well known among the gentlemen learned in the law and about the Inns of Court in London, and who among other appointments and occupations, had once filled that of “a Judges Associate,” or some other confidential employment which bought him into personal communication with one of our “highest legal functionaries.” They inquired of the Duke of Devonshire’s agent of that day who this elderly lady and her strikingly handsome daughter were, and exposed the scoundrel who was in their company.
This unhappy affair produced too strong an effect on her wounded feelings and on her mind; and the shock of such a discovery, and the blighting of her future hopes and happiness, she was unable to bear, and it bought on decline and its fatal consequences.
The head of the other branch of this family was George Bower, the uncle of Sarah Bower’s father, John Bower, who married Ellen Andrew, the sole heiress of a wealthy landowner of that name, in the hamlet of Thornsett, which branch will likewise become extinct on the demise of the narrator. In the former case, the last branch was blighted and withered in its prime and strength of growth and beauty; in the latter it will have dropped off from decay and age, like the leaves in winter.
In hopes of a joyful resurrection
near this place was interred the body of
Sarah Bower of Rushop
daughter of John and Mary Bower
of Torr Top,
who died December 25th 1779 Aged 32 years.
Also the body of John Bower
son of the aforesaid John and Mary Bower
who died December 28th 1756 Aged 13 years.
Also the body of Mary Bower
daughter of Robert and Hannah Needham
of Perreyfoot, and mother of the above
named Sarah and John Bower who
died February 14th 1781 Aged 59 years.
Planting Timber for Shelter
When the wind takes the direction of a valley, and woods and plantations are, by their situation, constantly exposed to it from the points of north-east or south-west, the consequences are destructive to the quality of oak timber growing thereon, for when sawn or prepared for building purposes it proves shaken. Instances of this I have known to have occurred in timber felled on such a site, as on the Beard estate, belonging to Colonel Cavendish; oak felled in the “Beard Wood” and “Ox Hey” plantations has, in many cases, proved shaken, while oak felled in “Beard Hall Clough” and “Shedyard Clough” has proved “sound as an acorn.”
In the two former named sites some of the oaks were sheltered, the ground being concave and convex, and the land being alternate deep clay and rock, the latter understratum being the roof of the coal lying ungotten on the southerly range of Beard Hall Farm, under which it lies in a “trough” rising east toward Shedyard, and again from “its dish” towards the west, where its roof rises towards “the day,” and breaks out in ragged form in the “Beard Wood” and “Ox Hey” sites before mentioned, whereon sycamore, ash, alder, or any other timber without tap-root, would grow to perfection.
On all parts of this estate the oak is sound and well-hearted, being sheltered from west, north, and east, by the township of Whitle and the adjoining township of Ollersett, the lower portion of which latter forms a bay and is protected by the “Bold Beard Farm,” which like a “mow cop” in miniature, stands “boldly” forth, and bids defiance to the winds from every quarter; and the oak grown on Colonel Cavendish’s High Hill estate, and the Ollersett Hall and other farms in this township, is perfectly sound and well hearted; and I sold a lot of oak for £500 some years ago, which Mr Lewis Wyatt thought worthy of a place in the west wing of Lyme Hall, when he restored that noble edifice for my late lamented, kind, and steadfast friend, Thomas Legh, Esq.
I entreat those of my readers who are the proprietors of land in North Derbyshire, who are on the right side of the meridian of their age, not to let slip another planting season before they plant extensively of this most valuable and indispensable timber-tree, for the growth of which both the Low Peak and the High Peak are alike most suitable in their soils and climate.
Among the many and various forms of timber imported into this country from Norway and Sweden, America, or any other country, “non has yet supplanted the sycamore.” No foreign timber has hitherto been found as a substitute for sycamore, for the uses of the calico printer, for his blocks for printing, for his rollers, his squeeze bowls, nor excelled it for the wood engravers. For kitchen dressers it stands equally unrivalled. It is extensively used in the fitting up of our merchants counting houses, wherever it can be obtained, and its smooth surface and durability render it most useful and valuable for all these purposes; and it is again most serviceable from its so easily being kept clean, and it is now more scarce, and commands a higher price in the market, than any other timber now required in the manufacturing districts. It will at any time command five shillings a foot if of very large dimensions. Indeed it is scarcely to be found within any reasonable distance wherein it cannot be dispensed with, except from Wales, from whence it is bought to Stockport, Manchester, and all adjacent manufacturing towns, by railway, and I have no doubt that for the next half century or more, the Manchester and other customers, as I have described, must rely on the Principality for their future supply of this indispensable timber; for there are non left within thirty or forty miles on any side of Manchester, and beyond that distance southward the tree is seldom seen, and in many counties it is rarely met with, and if growing, in few instances is its value known, or not duly appreciated, and it shares the fate of every other form of coppice timber, and is sold for faggot wood.
I was told a short time ago by some eminent nurserymen and foresters in Suffolk and Norfolk, that they ceased to raise it amongst their other nursery stock, on account of the little enquiry they received for it from customers. It would seem that the cold climate of the Low and High Peak districts, and the dry soils of many parts of these most congenial to the slow growth and general character of sycamore, from the large supply of it which has been obtained during the last thirty or forty years by the timber dealers who trade in it, for the manufacturing towns before mentioned.
About half a century ago it might be seen in fine specimens ornamenting the farm and other dwellings in some of the most exposed situations and coldest districts of our division of our country, attaining great size, (and excelling in quality and soundness, the sycamore obtained from many more distant counties,) as in Fairfield, Peak Forest, Wormhill, Blackwell, Pig Tor, Kings Sterndale, Taddington, Flag, Chelmorten, Hardlow, Hucklow, and many other of our Arcadian plains. Our forefathers cherished its growth around their homesteads, and were attached to the tree, from the beauty of its foliage in summer, and its friendly succour in the winter months, by its defiance of storms from every quarter. But it has of late years disappeared from the scene of its former days, and has ceased to breath the pure air of a limestone or gritstone plain or sloping dingle, and has met its doom on the stools of the blocking room or in the heated atmosphere and odoriferous vapours of the washhouse or drying rooms of the calico printer.
Plantations in the Parish
The plantations in this parish are chiefly those which belong to Lord Edgerton of Tatton, in the townships of Mellor and Whitle; those on the Ollersett estates, Lord Edward Howard’s Glossop Dale demesnes; and all the plantations on slopes, in dells and dingles, belonging to John White, Esq., at Park Hall. Few landowners of North Derbyshire have contributed more extensively, or shown more taste and judgement, than Mr. White, to the improving and enriching the aspect and general appearance of their localities, and in the cultivation of their estates and clothing them with wood and plantation. Mr. White has been his own landscape-gardener and planter from the commencement of the alterations and additions, which he has so judiciously executed at his family residence and estate. Although ornament must have been in a great measure an object with him in his operations and in his choice of his timber trees, especially near the hall and in the adjacent park enclosures, still he has not neglected the main chance (if I may so express it), for his covers and plantations abound with healthy oak and sycamore timber, which will doubtless be of great value in due course of time, to his successors.
Lord Egerton of Tatton’s plantations are on Mellor Moor, containing over 22 acres, which was planted nearly sixty years ago, on land then covered with heather, chiefly with larch and Scotch and spruce fir. They have been thinned during successive years, and those which remain have evidently ceased to grow, and are about to be felled and sold, and the ground when cleared of timber converted into pastureland.
The Broadhurst Edge and Castle Edge plantations were portions of the lands and allotments awarded by the commissioners appointed under “The Whitle Inclosure Act,” which was obtained in 1826, and the award signed in 1828, and have been planted about twenty eight years, with a large portion of larch and Scotch firs, and some oak, sycamore and beech. A few years ago, and subsequently, from twenty to thirty thousand oak plants have been put in, and which are in a most thriving condition; a small portion of sycamore and elm and beech were planted at the same period, but have not made so great a progress as the oaks.
This is a beautiful site for the growth of timber, being a gentle declivity, with an eastern or “morning sun” aspect, and a very good dry stone wall fence all around it. This and the neighbouring lesser sized “Castle Edge Plantation” were completed about twenty eight years ago, and the ground was planted at my suggestion and earnest request made to the respected owner, Wilbraham Egerton, Esq., and executed by his instructions by his agent B. R. Lingard, Esq., my friend and schoolfellow, who solicited the “Whitle Enclosure Bill” through the Session of 1826, and also the “Ollersett and Phoside Enclosure Bill” through the Sessions of 1828, on both which occasions I accompanied him on his mission to Parliament, and I remained with him till both Acts were obtained.
The plantations on the Ollersett estate were commenced about forty years ago, previous to the plantations in Beard being made by the direction of the late venerable Earl of Burlington, who fixed on the sites to be planted when he paid his last visit in person to his estate in Beard. The Hollinhurst Clough Plantation was formed in part and principally by my predecessors, and I made additions to it for shelter on westerly, northerly, and easterly sides, about forty years ago. The rest of the plantations, completed at the same time were so placed as to afford barriers against the storms of wind, hail and rain which beset estates so exposed to the north and west as the farms in this township are. On the east it is otherwise. Ollersett Moor and Ollersett Pieces, the property of miss Dewsnap, rising toward the east and sloping to the west, form a natural barrier against the dry east winds, or “Kinder winds,” which are so prevalent, and for as many as six weeks continuously not infrequently, in the early part of spring in North Derbyshire.
State of the Land
Few of the present generation of landowners can form any idea of the exhausted condition of the land in our own and adjoining division of the county of Chester, during the continuance of the long war and at the close of it. The high price of grain, flour, and oatmeal, being nearly equal in price not infrequently, and the latter in greater consumption among the middle and working classes than in the present day, was an encouragement to the tenant farmer, to convert into tillage every part of his occupancy which would yield a crop of wheat or oats at from 10shillings. to 12s. and 15s. the bushel.
To produce the former, all the manure of the farm was used to raise a crop of potatoes, to be succeeded by a crop of wheat, and in succession oats, and clover, and oats again. The meadow lands were starved, the only help which they received being the scanty deposits left by the flocks of sheep, called “Winterers” sent from the more elevated and colder districts by the sheep farmers of our own adjacent counties. To keep these in bounds during their sojourn with you until Lady-day, or from free quarters over your entire township or the adjoining ones, would have been as practicable as to have held your tenants bound to the restrictive clauses of their lease against over tillage.
There was scarcely a farm which lay at a distance from any town from which manure could be carted, which was not utterly exhausted by such treatment on the part of its tenant as I have here attempted to describe. Lime, the best of all manure for raising a crop of wheat or oats, was double the price it now is; and could only be obtained at enormous cost, from the Peak Forest Canal Company’s wharf’s, or by sending your team of three or four horses to the lime kilns in Peak Forest, at three o’clock in the afternoon, and consider yourself fortunate if you saw it safe back again, and your carter sober, after his bivouac in Dove Holes, at the same hour on the afternoon of the following day.
The exactions levied upon you in those days, in tonnage and wharfage and canal dues: and by land in a succession of toll-bars and concomitant weighing machines; were grievous to be borne, and rendered it difficult for a tenant farmer to do his land justice, where there was a desire in him to do so. There was one advantage at least in sending direct to the lime kilns in Peak Forest for your lime, for you bought it by estimated loads, and you had what you paid for; whereas if you bought it at second hand, and within a certain period of its being burnt, it became heavier in weight during the short interval while it passed from the retailers cart into yours, from some chemical action which subsided very soon after its changing hands. Happily, these obstacles are removed, and these odious extractions by land and water carriage became matters of history, like the monopoly of the East India Company, and are alike held in as fond remembrance by those who writhed under them, and have seen “the end of them.”
………………………What a happy change has taken place since the return of peace, in England! The lands of our hilly districts are fast recovering or recovered from the former exhausted state, from the effects of time and rest; coltsfoot, thistles, and couch-grass, symptoms of the beggary of the land, similar to those of poverty of blood in the human frame, are fast disappearing or no longer seen on the surface; and we enjoy this, among the other blessings of peace, without the conversion of our swords into ploughshares, of seeing our greenswards intact, while we with all others who toil for it can now eat untaxed bread - to quote the words of a great statesman.
The most disastrous times I can remember for the working classes was during the Luddite riots, when for a short time wheat and oats alike fetched the enormous price of twenty shillings a bushel. This price I realized myself in Stockport market on two successive Fridays only, - as did the late Major Marsland of Henbury Hall, who at that time had a considerable extent of excellent land in Heaton Norris in his hands, which while under his management was the perfect model of a highly cultivated farm. …………During these eventful times, the great impoverishment of the land was occasioned by the demand of cowdung from the calico printers, and the high price they offered for it caused it to be cleared from the pastures and meadows extensively. This practice is still continued, but, where permitted, bone-dust dressings, pari passu, should repair the injury. It is indispensable at the printing works for fastening their colours; and the manure produced by horned cattle fed with any other provender than grass, corn and hay, or otherwise than with simple food, will not suit their purpose.