Cowling Past and Present by Alfred Teal.

Reprinted from the “WEST YORKSHIRE PIONEER “, November 1902.
Supplied By: Mrs Anne Akeroyd
I am not going to take my readers back, even in imagination, to the time when Cowling was one vast forest, or the time when our sturdy forefathers first took the axe in hand and began to cultivate the soil. As Englishmen, or to become more homely, as Yorkshire men, we believe there is no place like home. Still, the familiarity with its hills and dales, its rocky heights, and woody ravines, appears to most of us commonplace. Why? Because we never try to find anything new in them. We are surrounded in summer with an almost illimitable variety of flowers, herbs, and ferns whose names are almost unknown to us hundreds of varieties of insects, birds, and animal life of whose names and habits we know little, yet whose study would be worthy of our spare moments. The watercourses abound in fossils, such as the Lepidodendron, Ligillaria, Calamite, etc, which reveal to us the fact this neighbourhood was once a tropical clime. Also the rocks, shell fossils, encrinites, foraminifera, etc, teach us that it was once an ocean bed. The ” HITCHING STONE” and Crags remind us that glaciers once did their silent work in this locality. But leaving geology, let me first take my reader upon the breezy moor, by way of ” Dean Moss “over ” Andrew Hill ” to what we term as the “New Hut “a good substantial stone building which was opened this last summer. It has been built by public subscriptions, and fitted with stoves and cooking utensils, and through the season it has been a public health resort for the people of Cowling. We are far away from the madding crowd ; nothing breaks the stillness except the call of grouse, a passing moortit, the bleating sheep, or the distant wail of a peewit. In days gone by we should have been standing on the shores of a lake, or reservoir, known as the ” Old-Dam “and standing on the heather covered bank, one longs to see the opening where it burst through, made up again, and a few boats on the spot for sailing, which would make the ” New Hut ” almost as popular a pleasuring place as the sea side, as well as a rendezvous for skaters during the frosty season.
Behind us we have a peculiar range of hills, known as ” Timothy Scaurs ” and as we wander about amongst the hillocks we wonder how they came there.

This was once a busy centre of industry, along with another place just across the moor known as Round Holes, or in broad Yorkshire ” Ra’and Hoils “. These were both lime works fifty years ago, and the lime was exported across the moors to Ponden Scartop. and other villages bordering on the moor on the other side. If we crossed the moor we should find remains of a causeway which was once extended over the moor ; over this causeway the lime was conveyed.
Perhaps twenty or thirty ponies were used for this purpose ( or gals as they were known in those days ). The gals carried the lime in bags across their saddles, the leading gal having bells fastened to it, and the others following single file ; and those who are to young to remember them are left to imagine the procession as they crossed the moor daily to the musical tinkle of the bells, and the crack of the drivers whip.

Near to the Round Holes at this period the Laneshaw coal pits were in operation. Though the coal was far from our ideal class of coal, yet it supplied the village with its apology for coal. Before we leave the moors let us visit that monster stone, ” Hitching Stone ” standing in solitude on the bleak moor as a boundary mark, and one which cannot be easily moved. Here used to be celebrated the Hitching Stone Feast on the 12th of august when the grouse shooting commenced. Racing and various sports took place, but uneven ground made racing difficult, though it helped to put action into the competitors.

Now let us visit Gill Bottom. As we stand on the bridge, and look up at the ruined mill and the ivy covered houses, all is silent except the murmur of the brook and the rush of the spring from the closed mine . Once it watered the farm houses scattered along the hillside, but the mines drew it away, and left the cottages with a meagre supply.
Last summer they had all their water to fetch from a distance for months, but this year the supply has been greater than the demand. Standing on the bridge, we ask yourself the question Has this quiet valley ever been disturbed by the humdrum of life? Yes and I will try to take you back in imagination to the time when this was one of Cowling’s busy centres.

Just opposite the row of cottages to our right (which are now unoccupied) stood a mill or “weaving shop “as they were called in those days. This place was filled with handlooms and bobbin engines, and business was transacted after the quaint methods of the day. The rules of a weaving shop were different to rules in our factories to day. Each weaver had to pay rent for his stand for a loom, which was called “shop rent ” and if a weaver was off work for a week he had to weave the next week sufficient to pay his rent before he could start for himself. He also had to find his own candles when “lighting up time” came. I might just add here that since power looms were introduced into the neighbourhood weavers had to buy their own candles, weft forks, brushes etc. It was quite common to see a weaver at two looms, with black warps in, and an “eights” candle swung over him was the only light he had. This reminds me of a notice given out from the pulpit of one of chapels ” A preaching service will be held at Moss – Bar, on a certain night, and it is requested that the congregation bring their weaving candles with them.” Even since gas was introduced into our neighbourhood the weaver had to pay half the gas bill.

But to return to Gill Bottom. Opposite the bridge we notice the heaps of shale and gravel which have been excavated from the bowels of the earth. Once upon a time an enterprising party, after prospecting, came to the conclusion that this quiet valley was not without its wealth. So miners were engaged and machinery got to the place and with pick and shovel the miners in process of time struck the lead ore, and the miniature Klondike did its daily round and common task. Just above the bridge stands in ruins another mill, which was burnt down a little over 30 years ago. This place once employed many hands and did a prosperous business. But let us go twenty yards further up the valley, and we shall see the ruins of a rope walk. The crumbling walls are covered with brambles and other creepers. It is situated in one of the most picturesque places in Cowling. In early spring the hill side is literally covered with primroses. This place furnished our village with ropes and twine of various kinds. Not only from this village but from many a village and town, orders were sent into this sequestered valley. No doubt the visitor will have noticed the waterfall just below here. There used to be a water wheel, which, by means of a long rope ran the works of this “Band Mill “. I think I have said sufficient to show that this quiet valley with no human habitation today, was once a busy part of Cowling.
We will now leave Gill Bottom and following the road it leads us to Cowling Hill another almost deserted place but once the village proper, situated on the old road to Colne. It possessed its village green (which is now en closed ). Here in bygone days were held the sports and pastimes. It was the centre of sport. Often men from the country around have assembled here to indulge in the popular winter “bone hunt”. They kindled a fire upon the village green and got a large bone and placed it in the fire.

When sufficiently burnt they took it out and tied a string to it, and trailed it over the snow around the whole countryside, and finally buried it in the snow. The competing dogs were then let loose, and followed the scent of the burnt bone and the dog which discovered it first won the prize ! Let us now come back again to Freegate and Ickornshaw, where decay and ruin meet the eye at every turn. Freegate has its tumbled down mill and similar cottages, yet it has had its day. Here Cowling used to celebrate its feasts. It was the centre of attraction at a feast time when everybody was full of life and mirth. Long rows of stalls attracted the juvenile portion where they spent often their only pence during the year on small novelties which had to last them until another festive occasion. Here was seen the ” toppler ” displaying his antics and the box organ grinding out its popular airs. The races which were always run on the main road were one of the principal features. When these events came off a man stood in a prominent place and rang a big bell for a considerable time until the people all flocked around him, and then he gave out in lound tones the rhyme which had been handed down to him from his ancestors : –
“Three, an’ a’ race Fra Hoggit loin top An’ this place.”
The race run twice off and on, between Freegate and the place named.

Now let us look at Ickornshaw Mill and our minds go back to the time when it was in the possession of that good and noble man Abram Binns, who was the founder of Methodism in Cowling. Not only did he found it but he supported it at his own expense for 17 years until the day of his death. Ickornshaw Mill was carried on by Abram Binns as a cotton spinning factory and as we view it today we wonder what its future will be and wish we could bring back to it its once popular trade of cotton spinning. Spinning was also carried on at Royd Mills. Middleton in the days of hand looms, possessed two weaving shops and Winkholme Providence Place and Flood Root each had similar establishments whose history would furnish us with many an interesting incident. To finish our ramble let us take a stroll down the ” Bottoms ” . We come past the old stables now in ruins where once the fine bred hunters were kept, and the dog kennels by old Carr Head now a relic of the past and as we gaze at the Carr Head with its towering trees and lovely surroundings we can almost imagine the old hall again full of activity and hear the crack of a gun as the pheasants rise above the trees, or see the bright coloured riders as they clear the fences in wild pursuit of their quarry. But now a stillness reigns over the place and as we pass the old stables on a night we think of the ghosts and goblins, and start at the screech of an owl.

Many things in Cowling which helped to make it picturesque have disappeared the waving cornfields which once added beauty to our hills desire no longer to be seen the three windmills which helped to break the monotony of the landscape as they lazily turned on a summers day are gone and long smoky chimneys are the most prominent monuments of today.

In those by-gone days one might hear the click click of the hand loom, and the buzz of the spinning wheel, in almost every home, singing to the music of the loom, as they picked the shuttle to and fro and we can picture the weaver as he rests a little from his toil, smoking his pipe in peace outside his cottage door, enjoying a freedom which is almost unknown in these days of push and hurry. The business of today is the “get up” of a thing the shoddy passed off as good substantial cloth prints you can scarce detect from the real woven colours, mercerised for silk and a thousand articles all show which are scarcely worth anything when it comes to service.

But only the real thing stands the test of time; the quality of handloom cotton woven by our forefathers stands in the estimation of the people of today as “the best”. I have now shown as best I could, what Cowling was like fifty or sixty years ago.

Let me now call your attention to the difference between our forefathers and us. Enter one of our village homes today, and you find the carpeted floor the fancy sideboard, easy chairs and luxuriant furniture, a living room and a room for special occasions, a sewing machine papered walls, and ( no homestead is thought complete without it ) a piano. But contrast this with the homes of our grand fathers. A handloom in place of a sewing machine sanded floors in place of carpets a stool instead of an easy chair. The special room was the one filled with peats, the walls were all white washed both living place and bedrooms without any under drawing and in many cases a man sitting by his fireside could see the blue sky above him through holes in the chamber floor and the roof. On many a winter’s morning the people had to be very careful when getting out of bed lest they should step into one of the snowdrifts in the bedroom made during the night. Some of the homesteads possessed four or five handlooms the principal furniture.
The warp sizing was often done on a Saturday night, and put on the stretch to dry and at some of the houses combing was done by hand. We have had a glimpse at the homes now let us contrast the fashions of today with those of the past. Walking along our streets when everybody is dressed in their Sunday best a stranger would find it hard to distinguish an employee from his employer or a schoolmistress from a mill operative. How different to the days when starch and linen did not trouble anybody, when a cloth suit classed a man as a gentleman; when a brown velvet jacket and vest fustian trousers, and a white hat were too good for everyday wear and were only worn on a Sunday with a pair of iron sided clogs. And this kind of suit for Sunday had to used with great care. Big leather aprons, known as “leather jumps” were used to protect them from becoming shabby.

An every day suit was of fustiangreasy and patched, through long years of wear. Among the lads new suits were almost unknown. They were often made from their big brothers or their fathers “cast offs”, and sometimes they were so patched that it was hard to tell which was the patch and which the suit. During two or three months in summer time the children never used to wear either stockings or clogs. ( They must have had better summers in those days ! ) The girls used to wear ” cheka brats ” to go to Sunday school in, with a handkerchief tied over their head. When they got these on they were considered smart. and some of the young women used to wear their “checka brats” even after they were married. When the weather became so cold that stockings for the children were a necessity, reducing became necessary, and the stockings of up grown persons were made to fit their children. The stockings were cut up the middle and sewn to make the size required.

The abject poverty of our neighbourhood in those days made it impossible for anyone to indulge in luxuries. The main reason of their being so poor was that they were not compelled to work, for a man was his own master, and many of them used to idle away the beginning of the week and never start work in good earnest until just before the pay day. Then at the last “push” they would sometimes work all night. If a man had been compelled to work ten hours a day as we are he could undoubtedly have lived in comfort.

Had our forefathers been living today they would have believed in the saying of a middle tonight “that they wod’nt mind gooin’ ta’t mill if they hedn’t ta get up i’th neet ta gooa”. There was however, one qualification of our forefathers which we do not possess – the Cowlingites are not the sturdy, healthy, vigorous set of people they once were when plain simple diet was the only diet when indigestion and biliousness were unknown; when one doctor was not as hard worked as are half a dozen today for the same area. In those days dry bread was above an ordinary meal; with treacle or dripping up on it, it was considered a luxury and often “haver bread”, with a thin slice of white bread upon it was eaten as we eat cheese an”haver bread”. Butter was scarcely ever tasted, and old milk or skim milk was used precisely as we use new milk. The luxury they could best afford to indulge in was eggs which were 36 for the shilling. As we muse upon the strong healthy men of the past many of whom never knew what a day’s sickness was until they broke down from sheer old age we envy them. Many of them walked to Draughton, Beamsley and Addingham and back again on a Sabbath day in order to tell the old old story. All honour to such men. In this respect our village today lacks the grit of our ancestors.

The people of Cowling are now an educated people compared with those of the past. The broad dialect of the village is fast dying out. I will give an example of one of the former schools of learning. It was kept in Ickornshaw by a woman, who had the misfortune to lose her right arm and in consequence had commenced a school. Her name was Betty French and she used to set copies in pencil in a large hand to be traced over in ink by her pupils. She moved about amongst her scholars with her pet cat always perched upon her shoulder drilling them in the art of writing and learning them to spell. I have heard it said that she did not know anything about figures. Imperfect as the places of learning were in those days, it was not everybody who got the opportunity of attending these rudimentary schools. Many of the boys started work at five, six and seven years of age, and so were robbed of any education at all, and as a natural consequence many of the people were ignorant and had no knowledge of things which transpired beyond the bounds of their horizon. In times of war a man would think nothing of walking to Colne for a newspaper and then securing the services of one of the few villagers who could read they would make their way to a certain house and thereto an audience of perhaps a dozen men the news of the war was read.

As showing the ignorance of some of the villagers a story is told of the parson calling to see one of his parishioners, and being surprised at the ignorance she displayed on biblical matters. ” But surely, my good woman, ” said the pastor, “you know the ten commandments? ” ” Nay ” she said”aw’ nobbut knaw fower, and they’re north, south east and west “. But today with our Board school which has done such a noble work for nearly thirty years, we are better educated and more comfortable in every way. Cowling however still remains an isolated village outside the network of railways, and likely to remain so until a generation of agitators springs up in our midst. In this respect we lack the grit and energy of our forefathers, who were men who had to think and plan for themselves while we sit down and expect providence to send a railway. During the past few years the village has been anything but prosperous, and I believe nothing can bring it back to its once flourishing condition but a railway. What is required in the neighbourhood is new trades. There were far more in the old days than now – spinning, lime burning, band making bobbin turning, coal and lead mining, all these are industries we have lost completely. I imagine some people saying ” What’s the good of talking about the past ? ” or to quote from a beautiful poem “The mill will never turn with the water that is past.” ‘Tis true, we cannot live upon the past, but has not the past made us what we are ? If our forefathers were unlearned and uncultivated, they have paved the way for us, and many of them have left us a bright example to follow, for ” A tree is known by its fruit, and a village by the grit of its inhabitants “.