HARD TIMES RECALLED
INSTRUMENTALIST, VOCALIST, & HYMN WRITER
Taken from Craven Herald 1st July 1932. (Marian Swales’s scrapbook).
Mr. John Smith of no. 9 Middleton, Cowling, on Saturday attained his 84th birthday, which was celebrated by a gathering at his home by members of his family and friends.
Mr. Smith, who is hale and hearty, has led an active life, and has a retentive memory. He is known by most as “JACK AT `MOOR TOP”, a name which he derived as a lad from a short residence at the Moor Top Farm near Lothersdale, and which has always stuck to him. Born at Mire Close Farm, Cowling, as a youth he worked for farmers in many districts, including Bradford and Barnoldswick, and at the age of 23 came to work for Messrs. John Binns & Sons Ltd., Cowling, being engaged in “making gas” for the lighting of Croft Mills during winter time, managing the gas retorts, and acting as general mechanic. Later, for eight years, he worked for Mr. Dennis Davy, blacksmith, Cowling. He then removed to Lothersdale, and served Messrs. James Wilson & Sons as engineer and mechanic for twelve years, afterwards returning to Cowling and farming Woodside Farm for another twelve years. He retired in 1900, and lived for three years at Oldham; in 1903 he returned to Cowling, where he has resided ever since.
He is a member of an old Quaker family, and well remembers attending meetings at the Quaker Meeting House at Lothersdale. He has very vivid recollections of the hard times of his youth, the long hours worked, and the difficulty which country folk had in procuring a decent livelihood. In his own word, there was no starting or giving up time, and he well remembers working twelve and fourteen hours a day. His earliest task was at the age of six when he wound bobbins at Moor Top Farm for his father, who was a hand-loom weaver. As he grew older and stronger he took a more active part in both the farm work and the hand loom weaving. Each week he and his father shouldered a heavy load of cloth pieces and made the journey from the farmstead near Lothersdale, through Cowling, and over Earl’s Crag, into Keighley Parish, where they sold their goods and returned with a supply of warp and weft for the next week’s work.
He well remembers the scarcity of food and the complete absence of any kind of luxuries, and often tells an amusing story of a meal which was common in his home as a youth. This was called “stirabout”, a queer mixture of bacon fat and meal which was heated in a huge frying pan over the fire. When it was hot, a small quantity of treacle was put in the middle, and the frying pan and its contents deposited in the middle of the table. The family sat round the table and the meal was always relished, for there was nothing else to eat. “Everyone helped himself or herself”, said Mr. Smith, “and those who could eat the quickest got the most”. Dry bread and meal was the general diet during week-days, and butter was only supplied on Sundays as a special treat.
Mr. Smith can recall most of the interesting events which occurred in the district half a century ago, such as the Middleton Spring incident when, through a violent demonstration on the part of the villagers, an attempt to close the Spring was frustrated and the Broughton Hall affray, when a band of Cowling poachers killed a gamekeeper in Broughton Woods. He remembers helping his grandfather to thresh corn in the barn, and going to the doorway to watch the gang of poachers, who were notorious in those days, march past.
Mr. Smith has been actively connected with musical institutions in the district, and he is fond of music today, as he was as a youth. He received his first music lessons at the age of 14, at the hands of Mr. James Shuttleworth, who was for many years a prominent chorister at the Lothersdale Parish Church, and acknowledged to be one of the best vocalists in the district. Mr. Smith learnt what used to be known as the “old notation”, and took to music readily. He developed a voice of some quality and of remarkable range, and often took the baritone, tenor and alto parts in solo work. He was a member of several glee unions in the district, and later choirmaster at Cowling Hill Baptist Church, for several years. His ability as a music teacher was widely recognised, and he has the distinction of having trained the choirs at every place of worship both in Cowling and Lothersdale for anniversaries and special occasions. In addition, for many years he gave private lessons.
SECRET OF GOOD HEALTH.
He also developed a liking for instrumental music, and became a well-known cornet player and brass band conductor. He was the solo cornet player in the first Cowling Brass Band, which had its headquarters in Winkholme. There are now only two surviving members of this band, Mr. John Smith and Mr. Edward Smith of Summerhouse Farm. The conductor of this band was Mr. Simm Redman, also a noted musician in his day. During his residence in Lothersdale, Mr. Smith formed a Brass Band, of which he was conductor, and on returning to Cowling also formed the present Cowling Temperance Brass Band, which he served as conductor for many years.
From early youth Mr. Smith has possessed a remarkable facility for music writing. In the old days he often copied out parts for choirs when printed copies were too expensive to buy, and has done much work in the way of transposing music for brass bands. Some years ago he published a book of hymn-tunes, containing a collection of tunes which he had composed during his life, and this publication has been much in demand. Brass Bands in many parts of the country have played his hymn tunes, and he has had many letters of appreciation of his music, including some from abroad. The first of these tunes called “The Green” was composed on the village green at Cowling Hill when he was 20, and the last, appropriately named “Eventide”, he wrote at the age of 80. He gave many of his tunes attractive titles derived from local place names, such as “Cowling”, “Wood House”, “Scar View”, “West View”, and “Gill Top”.
Mr. Smith has enjoyed sound health throughout his life, and today at the age of 84 is more vigorous in body and mind than many a man twenty years his junior. He is a man of remarkable activity, and during last week actually spent several hours a day fence-walling on his property. He is extremely proud of the fact that he can still work without undue fatigue, and holds that he can still compete with most labourers at an eight-hour job. He attributes his long life and good health to plain living and moderate habits. Although he has never been a teetotaller and is fond of a pipe of tobacco, his motto has always been “moderation in all things'”.
He has had ten children, of whom three sons and four daughters are alive today. He has also ten grandchildren and one great grandchild. His wife died 25 years ago.