Adventures and Recollections
by Bill o'th' Hoylus End
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Transcribed by Steven Wood from the Keighley Herald (1893).


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[Bill o'th Hoylus End might be termed a local Will-o'th-Wisp. He has been everything by turns, and nothing long. Now, a lean faced lad, "a mere anatomy, a mountebank, a thread bare juggler, a needy, hollow-ey'd, sharp looking wretch;" now acting the pert, bragging youth, telling quaint stories, and up to a thousand raw tricks; now tumbling and adventuring into manhood with yet the oil and fire and force of youth too strong for reason's sober guidance; and now—well and now—finding the checks of time have begun to grapple him, he looks back upon the past and tells his curious stories o'er again. Verily, as Shakespeare declares in All's Well, "the web of his life is of a mingled yarn, good and ill together;" and through it all there is a kind of history, just as

"There is a history in all men's lives, Figuring the nature of the times deceased."

This son of Mischief, Art and Guile has stooped to many things but to conquer himself and be his own best friend; that is, according to the conception of the ordinary, respectable, get-on folk of the world. He has followed more or less the wild, shifting impulses of his nature—restless and reckless, if aimless and harmless; fickle and passionate, if rebelliously natural; exhausting his youth and manhood in fruitless action, and devoting the moments of reflection to the playful current of the muse's fancy, forsooth, to the delectation of the more prosaic humanity in this his locality. A life of pleasure was ever his treasure, and he agrees, after experience of life's fitful dream, that

E'en Pleasure acts a treacherous part, She charms the scene, but stings the heart, And while she gulls us of our wealth, Or that superior pearl, our health,

[Yet, and these are the two lines he substitutes for the melancholy truth of an old poet],

Yet she restores for all the pains, By giving Merit her exchange.

Though the poetic flame has flickered from time to time, it has never been extinguished. There is health and buoyancy still in his muse. It is the one thing essential, the one thing permanent in his nature—ever ready to impart the mystic jingle to pictures of fun and frolic, or perchance judgement and reflection. Thus, as the local Burns, he stands unrivalled. His poetic effusions speak for themselves, but there are other traits in his career which he wished to convey to the public, which might while away an occasional half-hour in the reading of his stories of the tricks of his boyhood, the adventures of his early manhood, and to learn how he became—well, what he is! He has been caught in divers moods and at sundry times, and his words have been taken in shorthand, the endeavour always being to keep the transcript as faithful as circumstances would allow. No pretence is here made to evolve a dramatic story, but rather to present Bill's career simply and faithfully for public perusal; for to use Dr. Johnson's words, "If a man is to write a panegyric, he can keep the vices out of sight; but if he professes to write a life he must represent it really as it was."]


It was on the 22nd day of March, 1836, in a village midway between Keighley and Haworth, in a cottage by the wayside, that I, William Wright, first saw light. The hamlet I have just alluded to was and now is known by the name of Hermit Hole: which name, by the way, is said to have been given to it owing to the fact that a once-upon-a-timeyfied hermit abided there. At the top end of the village stood a group of houses which, also, distinguished themselves by a little individuality, and go by the name of "Hoylus End." My parents' house was one of this group. All this is about my home. My father was James Wright, at one time a hand-loom weaver, latterly a weft manager at Messrs W. Lund & Sons, North Beck Mills, Keighley, a position which he held for somewhere about half a century. He was the son of Jonathan Wright, farmer, Damems. My mother was a daughter of Crispin Hill, farmer and cartwright, of Harden, and she enjoyed a relationship with Nicholson, the Airedale poet. I can trace my ancestry back for a long period. The Wrights at one time belonged to the rights of Damems. Then according to Whitaker's "Craven" and "Keighley: Past and Present", "Robert Wright, senior, and Robert Wright, junior," ancestors of mine, fought with Earl de Clifford, of Skipton, on Flodden Field. I believe I am correct in saying that since that event the name of Robert has been retained in our family down to the present time—a brother of mine now holding the honour. Several of my ancestors, along with my grand father, are buried in the Keighley Parish Church-yard, at the east end. But it strikes me that I'm going astray a little.


Many old townsfolk—especially those musically inclined—will remember my father, who was a vocalist of no mean repute;—at least, this was said of him in general. Possessing a rich tenor voice, he was in great demand, both publicly and privately. He occupied the position of leading singer in the Keighley Parish Church Choir, at the time when the late Mr. B. F. Marriner and other gentlemen were prominently associated with the Church. His services were often requisitioned on the occasion of anniversaries of places of worship, &c. In those days, mind you, "t'anniversary Sunday" was regarded as a big and auspicious event. Great preparations were made for it, and when the service did take place people attended from miles around; I believe the singing was relied on as the chief "fetching" medium. But somehow or other I never did care much for singing—I really didn't. Nevertheless I ought to say we had an abundance—I was going to say over-abundance—of singing in our house; indeed, the word used is not nearly sufficiently expressive—I had singing to breakfast, singing to dinner, singing to supper, singing to go to bed—Ah! My pen was going further, but I just managed to stop it. One really must, you know, represent things as they stand.


But, as I have told you, I didn't take to singing. I would ten times ten rather be "away to the woods, away!" I recollect that when I was a little boy—my parents said I was a little naughty boy—I got into endless scrapes. But people will talk. Roaming in the woods had an especial charm for me; and Peace Close Wood was my favourite haunt. Some people had the bad grace to let me hear that my visits to the wood were not very much sought for. It was said that I had a habit of peeling bark off as many trees as I could conveniently—sometimes it got to be inconveniently—manage, and, in fact, doing anything that wasn't exactly up to the nines. I now feel rather sorry that I should have given my father and mother so much uneasiness, and cause my father so much expense. Of course the keeper of the wood soon got to know me and my eccentricities; it was a bad day for me when he did. It's a sad thing for you when you get suspected of aught; if all doesn't go like "square" you may look out for squalls. In my case, my father had to "turn-out" and pay for the damage I was said to have done to the trees; those upon which I left my mark had generally to come down—young trees—trees with plenty of life in them I took immensely to. But I have since thought they needn't have pestered my father as much as they did. I had many a narrow "squeak" in my boyish days. When I was about an octave of years old, I remember very feelingly an escapade which I was engaged in, as a wind-up to one of my devastating expeditions to Peace Close Wood. The steward dogged my footsteps and waylaid me, and, by Jove! he pursued me! Fortunately for me, perhaps, there was a house near the wood, the roof of which, at the rear, sloped almost to the ground. I mounted the roof and walked along the rigging. The steward took it into his "noddle" to follow suit. He did so. It was an exciting chase. I ran to the extreme edge of my elevated platform and then actually jumped—I remember the jump yet, I do—onto the road below. The result was a visit to Baildon, to a celebrated doctor there, for an injury to my heels which I sustained by my fall. Of course the steward had more sense than to follow me. He complained, I believe, to my father; but my revered father, and mother too—how I bless them for it!—gave all attention to their little darling. I recovered. I was sent to school, which was carried on in the "Old White House," near our house. It provided for the education of all the young blood of the village—my little self included. This school, I must say in passing, turned out some very good scholars: there was no set teacher—the "learned 'uns" of the neighbourhood came forward and gave their services. It used to be said I was a wild dog, a harem-scarem; and I was often caned for my pranks. Caricaturing the teacher was one of my favourite attractions and principal offences—at least I had to smart most for it. But I got over it, as all boys seem to have done. Perhaps the best description of my antics before I was ten years of age will be found in the following "opinion" of the old wives of the villages of Fell-lane and Exley-head; the lines came from my pen more than thirty years ago:—


Dancin', an' jumpin', an' fair going mad— What can be done with this wild, wicked lad? Plaguin' t'poor cat till it scratches his hand, Or tolling some door wi' a stone an' a band; Rolling i't' mud as black as a coil, Cheeking his mates wi' a "Ha'penny i't' hoil;" Slashin' an' cuttin' wi' a sword made o' wood, Actin' Dick Turpin or bold Robin Hood— T'warst little imp 'at there is i't' whole street: O! he's a shocker is young Billy Wreet!

Playin' a whistle or drummin' a can, Seein' how far wi' his fingers can span: Breakin' a window wi' throwin' a stone, Then ligs it on Tommy, or Charley, or Jone; Mockin' a weaver when swingin' his spooils, Chief-engineer of a train made o' stooils; Last out o' bed, an' last in at neet— O! he's a imp is that young Billy Wreet!

Ridin' a pony wi' a rope round its neck, Tryin' to cross a ford or a beck, Lettin' off rockets or swingin' a gate, Walkin' on t'riggin' on t'top of a slate; Out a birds' nestin' an' climbin' up trees, Rivin' his jacket an' burstin' his knees; An' a body can't leave ought safe out o't' neet, But what it's in danger o' daft Willie Wreet!

Breakin' down hedges, an' climbin' up trees, Scalin' the rocks on his hands an' his knees, Huntin', or skatin', or flying a kite, An' seein' how much he can take at a bite; Plaguin' a donkey, an' makin' it kick, Prickin' its belly wi't' end of a stick; An' you who are livin', you'll yet live to see't, That something will happen that scamp Billy Wreet!


About this time the country was in a state of great turbulency on account of the Plug Drawing and the Chartist Riots. Soldiers were stationed at Keighley, where the late Captain Ferrand had a troop of yeoman cavalry under his charge. One day, I recollect, the Keighley soldiers had a rare outing. This is just how it came about. An old inhabitant, with the baptismal name, James Mitchell, but the locally-accepted name, Jim o'th' Kiers, saw what appeared to him to be the "inimy" on Lees Moor. "Nah," thought Jimmy, "we're in for't if we doan't mind;" and he straightway went down to Keighley and raised the alarm. It was Sunday, and the soldiers, as luck had it, happened to be on a Church parade. Captain Ferrand at once gave the command—like any dutiful general would do—"To arms!" "To arms!" The soldiers thereupon proceeded to the indicated scene of action; I saw the noble warriors gallop past our house "in arms and eager for the fray." But upon reaching the spot marked out by Jim o'th' Kiers, the soldiers were somewhat puzzled and "sore amazed" to find no enemy—that is to say, nothing to mean aught. Jimmy couldn't understand it: he rubbed his eyes to see if he was awake, but rubbing made "not a bit of difference." The nearest thing which they could even twist or twine into "the inimy" was a poor old man with a pair of "arm-oil" crutches. Jimmy having been severely questioned as to the sincerity of his motive in "hevin' t'sowgers aht," the poor old fellow whom they had fallen upon came in for a turn; but the only explanation he could give was that they had been holding a Ranters' camp-meeting, and that he, not being able to get away as rapidly as he could have wished had been left behind. Now they did make a fool of Jim o'th' Kiers, they did that, and the soldiers were jeered and scoffed at a good deal by the crowd. I, a little, wandering, curiosity-seeking specimen of humanity, was among the latter, and I trow I had as much fun out of the affair as was good for me.


Soon after this skirmishing—you will have to excuse the absence of any dates, I didn't bethink me to keep a diary—my parents removed from Hoylus-end, and went to live at a farm called Wheat-head, in Fell-lane, now known as the Workhouse Farm.


My stay at Wheat-head Farm, which lasted about ten years, was to me a very interesting one. I cannot refrain from making a passing allusion to my acquaintance with a character who created quite a sensation at the time. This "character" was no other than "Old Three Laps"—an individual who at his baptism was known as William Sharp. This singularly eccentric specimen of humanity lived at Whorl's Farm, and, as it will be generally known took to his bed through being "blighted" in love. He kept to his bed for about forty years. During the period he was "bed-fast," I often used to go and peep through the window at this freak of nature—for I can scarcely call it anything else. Then, while I was a lad, we had such a thing as a hermit in Holme (House) Wood. The name of this hermit I used to be told was "Lucky Luke." For a score of years did "Luke" live in Holme Wood. I remember my mother giving the old man his breakfast when he used to call at our house. His personal appearance frightened me very much. He wore the whole of his beard, which was of iron-grey colour and reached down to his waist. His garb was composed of rags, tied to his body by the free use of rope. He once told my mother that he had more than once changed clothes with a scarecrow. Sometimes this queer person would never be seen by mortal man for months together, unless it were that I disturbed his solitude occasionally; but then, of course, I was only a boy. "Luke" had a bad name amongst us lads. I know people couldn't fairly make out where he lived; he was wonderfully "lucky," and no doubt he had a comfortable lair somewhere among the rocks and caves. Still the fact remains that farmers often found occasion to complain of pillaging being carried on by night in their gardens and turnip fields. This seems indisputable proof that "Luke" was a vegetarian—maybe, such a one as the Keighley Vegetarian Society might be glad to get hold of! Old Job Senior was not a vegetarian; he went in for a higher art—music. It used to be the boast of the Rombald's Moor hermit that he had been a splendid singer in his day—could sing in any voice. Job frequently came as far as Keighley and tried to earn "a' honest penny" by singing in the streets. His legs were encased in straw and ropes, and although at times I own I'm rather backward incoming forward, I hasten to say that Job's "outer man and appendages" charmed more people than his singing did. But, then, "it's all in a life-time."


During my sojourn at Wheat-head Farm I took a fancy to trying my "prentice hand" at writing poetry. I got a little encouragement in this at home. My father held singing classes, and gentlemen from the neighbourhood used to meet at our house to have their "lessons." I remember that the present Mr. Lund, of Malsis Hall, was one of my father's principal pupils. Some very good "talent" was turned out in the way of glee parties particularly, and just before Christmas my father used to be very busy training singers for carolling. I often wrote a little doggerel-rhyme to please those who came to the classes. One of my earliest efforts was a few verses anent my first pair of britches, which I, in common, I suppose, with other juveniles, regarded with a great amount of pleasure and pride. I must apologise for introducing three verses of the piece I wrote and styled


Aw remember the days o' mi bell-button jacket, Wi' its little lappels hangin' dahn ower mi waist; And mi grand bellosed cap—noan nicer, I'll back it— Fer her et hed bowt it wor noan without taste; Fer shoo wor mi mother, an' I wor her darlin', And offen sho vowed it, an' stroked dahn mi' hair; An' sho tuke me ta see her relations i' Harden, I't' first pair o' britches 'at ivver aw ware.

Aw remember the time when Aunt Betty an' Alice Sent fer me up ta lewk at mi clooas, An' aw walked up as prahd as a Frenchman fra Calais, Wi' mi tassel at side, i' mi jacket a rose, Aw sooin saw mi uncles, both Johnny and Willy, They both gav' me pennies an' off aw did steer; But aw heeard 'em say this, "He's a fine lad is Billy, I't' first pair o' britches 'at ivver he ware."

Aw remember one Sabbath, an't' sun it wor shinin', Aw went wi mi father ta Hainworth ta sing, An't' stage wor hung raand wi' green cotton linin', An't' childer i' white made t'village ta ring. We went to old Mecheck's that day to wur drinkin', Tho' poor ther were plenty, an' summat ta spare; Says Mecheck, "That lad, Jim, is just thee awm thinkin', I't' first pair o' britches 'at ivver tha ware."



Anything that bordered on the romantic and nomadic style of life had an especial fascination for me. Many a time and oft have I bestridden horses that had been peacefully pasturing, and ridden them bare-back around the fields, in a kind of Buffalo Bill style, you know. I got "nabbed" occasionally, and then I was candidly told that if I continued "ta dew sich a dangerous thing ony more, ah sud be sewer to catch it."


Of course I had divers other pranks, as all boys have—albeit to the anxiety and sorrow of many up-grown, and, therefore, unsympathising persons. "Tolling" doors was another favourite occupation of mine. Modern-time boys have not generally the same opportunities for "tolling" as boys had in my time. Our folks provided an everlasting amount of apparatus for me to carry on my "professional duties," and that unknowingly. My mother was a heald knitter, and there was always plenty of band throwing about. One night's "tolling" I remember with particular liveliness. I thought what a "champ" thing it would be to have a "lark" with "Jim o' Old Jack's"—an eccentric old man who lived by himself in an old thatched dwelling in our locality. I had no sooner turned the thought over in my mind than I resolved to "have a go" at the old chap. Poor old Jim went out to his work during the day-time, returning home at night. So I took advantage of his absence by hammering a stout nail into the cross-piece over the doorway. When night approached, and Jim returned to his homestead—poor old fellow! it makes me long to ask his forgiveness as I recount this incident—I hooked a fairish-sized stone, by means of a piece of string, to the nail which I had placed over the doorway. Near the stone I next fastened a longer length of string, and then I ensconced myself on the opposite side of the road. It so happened that the house stood on one side of a narrow lane, the opposite side of which was on a much higher level than the roof of the house, and, besides, faced by a wall. This suited me to a T. All serene! Having allowed Jim nice time to get comfortably sat down to his evening meal, I gently pulled the string, with the result that there was a gentle tapping at the door. Jim naturally answered my knock, and he seemed rather put about to find that his ears had evidently deceived him. So he slammed the door to and went inside—I guessed to resume his seat at the tea table. Then I "tolled" again and once more Jim came out. He must have felt a little "nasty" when he found that no one wanted him at the door.


However, he again closed the door. Before I had time to pull the string again, I actually heard a knock myself at the door. I could also see that a person was standing outside. Now Jim must have determined to drop on somebody, and stationed himself behind the door, for as soon as he heard the knock which I also heard, he hurriedly opened the door, bounced into the open, and commenced to belabour mercilessly, with a stout cudgel, of which he had possessed himself, the "wretch 'at dared to knock at 'is door like that." I sincerely congratulated myself that it wasn't my tender carcase that Jim o' Jack's was playing with. The visitor hadn't had time to announce himself: Jim didn't allow that; but by-and-bye he managed to let Jim know who he was, and it turned out that he was a near neighbour. I believe they managed to "mak' it up ageean." At other times I would "toll" the door, and the poor old chap would rush unceremoniously into a gooseberry bush which I had before-hand placed on the door-step to give him a sort of porcupine reception.


Still further, I recollect fastening a donkey to the handle of the door. I knocked, and got the donkey into my way of thinking: Billy would pull for dear life and Jim also would pull to the same end, and would remain a prisoner in his own citadel. I now feel sorry for Jim o' Jack's, I do. But a life of all play and no work would tend to make Bill a bad boy.


I was packed off to school—the National School at Keighley, of which Mr. Balfrey was master. He was no doubt a learned man, having written several works, including a useful book, entitled "Old Father Thames," which he published while he was at Keighley. For some time the master regarded me as his favourite pupil, but by writing uncouth verse and drawing questionable pictures bearing upon himself, during school hours, I got very much into disfavour with him. I don't wish to say anything mean of Mr. Balfrey, but still he didn't encourage native talent as he might have done: he might have been jealous, there's no telling!


After leaving the day school, I was sent to Lund's mill, where my father was manager over the weft department. My school career did not finish at the National School, however. I attended a night school, which was held in a thatched cottage in Greengate and kept by a man of no small ability in the person of Mr. John Garnett. He was, I believe, of Scottish extract, and a great admirer of Burns into the bargain.


He had generally a volume of Burns' poems at his finger-ends and it was through him that I began to "take to" Burns and long to pay a visit to the Land o' Cakes. I had subsequently the pleasure of fulfilling that visit.


Severing my connection with the school in Greengate, I attended a night school in Fell-lane—much nearer home. This was kept by an elderly personage known as Mr. John Tansey, and under the guidance of that gentleman, the present Mayor of Keighley (Alderman Ira Ickringill) and myself spent a portion of our time in obtaining knowledge. His Worship and myself were twin companions, I may say, being both born on the same day—March 22nd, 1836.


I spent a good deal of time in my youth in the workshops of the woolcombers in our locality, as, I believe, Ira Ickringill did. Hand woolcombers, by-the-bye, were rare hands (no pun) at telling tales, and I listened to these with great relish. With all my boyish pranks, I was generally a favourite among the combers. There used to be an Irishman named Peter O'Brady who lived not far from our house. His wife was a good singer, and what is more, she had a varied selection of good old Irish and Scotch songs. She was occasionally good enough to sing for me. This woman taught me the song "Shan Van Vocht," and other Irish Gaelic songs.


A visit to Pablo Franco's circus, which came to Keighley, led me into the belief that with a little practice I should make a passable trapezist, or tight-rope walker. So when I got home the first thing I did was to procure some rope &c. With this apparatus I constructed a kind of trapeze and tight-rope in my bed chamber. I used to practice nightly just before jumping into bed. But my ambition was one night somewhat damped, when I fell from the bar and hurt myself. This small beginning ended badly for me; for my father learned that part of his homestead had been converted into a circus; he was, or pretended to be, greatly displeased with the discovery, and he straightway cut down the ropes and things. Then I had to find some other means of following up my practice. When you once start a thing it's always best to go on with it. So I got a lad about the same age as myself into my confidence, and one Saturday we resolved to have a night's "circusing" on our own account in a barn. We had had a fair round of trapezing, rope walking, turning somersaults and the like—wearing special costumes, you know, for the occasion—when in the wee sma' hours of the morning the old farmer, who claimed the ownership of our circus—in other words barn—suddenly came upon us. He had evidently heard us going through our rehearsal. His unannounced appearance startled Jack and myself very much indeed. The old farmer bade us in language certainly more forcible than polite—to "Come down, ye rascals." Jack and I naturally hesitated a little, but that irritated the farmer, and he said that if we wouldn't come down he would fork us down—he was evidently thinking of hay-time. We two, perched on the haystack, did not take the words at all with a kindly meaning. However, I told Jack in an under-tone to pack up our clothes and get away, suggesting that I would spring down and tackle the old man. Jack obeyed and got away, and I seized the farmer and held him tightly in a position by no means agreeable to him. He soon promised that if I left loose he would let me go away. I released him and doubled after Jack, finally landing at Cross Lane Ends, where Jack was waiting for me. We put on our usual garments and departed each on his own way. During the day I went to a neighbour's house. I was rather startled on seeing the old farmer there; but exceeding glad was I when he failed to recognise me. He was telling the family about two "young scoundrels," and how one had attacked him in his own barn early that morning; he little thought that a little "scoundrel" in that house was the "attacker" he wished to get hold of. Little Willie Wright could not help but smile interestingly at the old man's vivid description of the incident. That incident, I may say in passing, served to mark the termination of my career as a circus hand.


Instrumental music next turned my head, or, more definitely—a violin. I bought a fiddle on my own account. Of course my father saw the instrument; if I could keep it out of his sight I could not very well keep it out of his hearing. Then, besides, little boys should not be deceptive. He says: "What are you going to do with that?" I says: "I'm going to learn to play it." Then he asked me where I had bought it, and I told him like a dutiful son—"Tom Carrodus's in Church Green." He summoned my mother and asked: "Mally, what dos'ta think o' this lot?" She—good woman—said it was only another antic of her boy's, and "let him have his own way." But my father, on the contrary, got rather nasty about the matter, remarking that if I didn't take the thing away he would put it into the fire. He said he was sure it would only turn out a public house "touch," and informed me that it was only one in a thousand who ever got to be anything worth listening to. He endeavoured to impress upon me what a nuisance the old fiddler was on the Fair Day; and "concluded a vigorous speech" by again reminding me that if I didn't take the fiddle out of his sight he would burn it. He did give me the chance to play out of his sight; but, knowing, young as I was, that the unexpected sometimes happens, I decided to get rid of "the thing," as my father was pleased to call it. Fiddle and I parted company the very day after we came to know each other.


next fascinated me; and I induced several lads and lasses in the village to form a "troupe." We got up a show—not a very showy show, but a nice little show—and charged a reasonable sum for admission—only a half-penny! The "company" managed, by working together, to possess itself of a creditable wardrobe. But the "Fell-lane Nigger Troupe" did not live long. I, for example, began to soar a little higher, that is to the dramatic stage; but my father evidenced the same bad grace as he did in regard to my fiddle.


I had somehow or other scraped together close upon a couple of hundred reprints of plays, which cost me from 6d to 2s a-piece. He said he would have no acting in his house. I pleaded it was only a bit of pastime; but it was all in vain, and what was more he threw all my books on the fire. This greatly disheartened me—I should be about 14 years old at this period;—but though my father burned my play-books he did not quell my ardent ambition to go on the stage. A few days after, a theatrical man, called Tyre, visited Keighley. (Oh! how I have blessed that man!) He advertised for some amateur performers to play in a temperance drama of the title "The seven stages of a drunkard," at the old Mechanics' Hall (until recently the Temperance Hall). The piece was to be played nightly for a fortnight. I mentioned to my father that I should very much like to take part in the performance. He asked the advice of somebody or other as to the character of the play, and being informed that it was a temperance piece, he consented to my serving a fortnight with the company. I applied, and was gladly accepted. The part of a boy—a boy who, in manhood, was a drunkard—was allotted to me. The company played for a fortnight before crowded houses. But my stage career was not destined to end there. Tyre, seeing that the Keighley public appreciated the efforts of his local talent, arranged for the performance of another piece, styled "Ambrose Guinnett." He asked me to take a part in that piece also, and I agreed on the spot to do so. I was put in as a sailor, and I purchased in the Market-place a sailor's suit and a black wig, on "tick"—you see I was determined to have them. By-and-bye, it reached the ears of my father that I was going "reight in for t'business." However, the day fixed for the first performance came round, and then the performance commenced.


The curtain had risen and all was going on nicely when on the stage, behind the wings, appeared a policeman—a real policeman—a policeman to the heart, into the bargain! "Robert" turned out to be nobody else than my old friend, Mr James Leach, now of Balmoral House, The Esplanade, Keighley: this, I ought to mention, was my first meeting with Mr Leach. My father it seemed, had heard definitely that I should be acting that night, and so he had induced Police-constable Leach (No. 5678, X division, A.1.), to look after me. Well, as I said before, P.C. Leach came on the stage. I happened to be the first soul he encountered. Says he to me: "Have you got a young man here called William Wright?" [I saw he did not "ken" me.] Says I to him: "I have not." Says he to me: "I want that lad, wherever he is; his father has sent me for him, and if he won't go home I have to take him to the lock-up." The last word rather frightened me; but I managed to say to him: "To save you a deal of trouble, sir, young Wright isn't going to play in this piece at all," and, with that, directed him down the staircase. I was allowed to go on with my acting without interruption after that; but I hadn't to go on the stage another night. My parents then put their heads together to keep me out of mischief.


I was packed off to Lund's Mill—the late Mr William Lund was at the head of the firm at the time, and Benjamin Lamb and I became favourites with him. Mr Lund often used to take us into the staircase at the mill, provide us with chalk, and tell us to draw animals or anything we liked. He would offer a prize for the best production. We had also to try our hands at "making" poetry, and for this Mr Lund would give rewards. Ben could generally "best" me at drawing, but I managed to get the poetry prizes all right. One day Ben signed teetotal, and I remember I wrote a few lines of doggerel on the occasion. It is rather uncouth, but here it is:—

Benjamin signed teetotal He signed from drink and liquors; And it gave him such an appetite Begum he swallow'd pickers.


Ben and I also took a fancy to making various models, especially ships. Mr Lund caught us at the job, and, taking an interest in our work, he offered a prize for the one of us who made the best-sailing three-rigged vessel. We made our ships and gaily decorated them. The day fixed for the trial was regarded with keen interest by the mill-hands. The trial trip was to take place in the mill dam, and the banks of the dam were crowded with workpeople. The conditions were that we should sail the ships, with the aid of a warp thread, from the head to the foot of the dam. And the contest began. Ben's ship had scarcely been launched when it upset, being side-heavy. But my ship sailed gallantly before the breeze, right on to the finishing post. The spectators cheered lustily; I felt very proud, I did. I got the prize, and was made quite a "hero" of for a few days. But they little knew the grand secret of my success. I had driven a spindle into the keel, so as to allow it to protrude downwards into the water; with this in it, it was almost impossible for the ship to upset!



Notwithstanding the kindness which I received at the mill, I could not settle down. I had a strong inclination to get out into the world and see something. My ambition again returned to the stage. I began to visit travelling theatres which came to Keighley, staying in Townfield Gate. I joined an amateur dramatic society, composed of Keighley people. The names of the members were:—Arthur Bland, John Spencer, William Binns, Mark Tetley, Thomas Smith, Thomas Kay—all of whom, I believe are dead—and Joshua Robinson, James Lister, Sam Moore and myself. There were also a number of females, who must be all dead by this time. We had weekly Saturday night performances in an old barn in Queen-street, which is now used as a warehouse by Messrs W. Laycock & Sons, curriers. After a short course of training in the society, Arthur Bland, John Spencer, and myself became rather—ambitious I suppose I shall have to call it—and joined the profession altogether. I should be about sixteen years old; and I was about the youngest member in the company. My companions and I joined Wild's Travelling Dramatic company. I was called the "juvenile," owing to the fact that I was the youngest member of the company. We fulfilled engagements at Bradford, Halifax, Dewsbury, Keighley, and other towns in the district. I considered (myself) that I made a "rare fist" at acting, but the advice was unsympathisingly hurled at me—"Come home to your parents and start afresh." Well, I took the advice, and went home to my parents. I often think it was very good of them to allow their errant son to come home as often as they did. I returned to my position as a warpdresser at Lund's mill, being about eighteen years old at the time. Things went on very peaceably and agreeably for another little while, but I—just verging on the age of manhood—again felt a strong desire to go out into the world.


I had been reading a book about the life of a sailor—how nice it is to read about a sailor's life!—and got the idea that I should like to be a sailor. So, one morning I got up betimes, when lazy people were snoring between the blankets. I clad myself in my best suit—one of splendid black, put on my watch, provided myself with plenty of money—my parents were not badly off—and started in search of a sailor's life. It didn't look like a very good beginning, did it? I tramped to Leeds, and there I had the—misfortune, I may safely say, to fall in with some of my thespian friends. They very willingly helped me to spend my money, so that when I left Leeds I had scarcely a penny in my pocket. But it was, perhaps, all for the best, as things turned. I walked to Goole, and from there to Hull. I lingered about the docks for some time, and then I fell in with the skipper of a vessel who was looking out for an addition to his crew. He asked me who I was. I, of course, told him and said I should like to be a sailor. He smiled when I said that, and said I looked more like a tailor than a sailor. But, then, I have said all along that appearances are deceptive, and that it isn't always wise to rely on the label of the bag. It was simply a matter of taste with the skipper: he saw in me a nice chance of a suit of good clothes, &c., if nothing else. He questioned me: "would you run away if I took you on? You know some of you get tired of the first voyage." I assured him that I wouldn't run away, what other boys did. Whereupon it came to pass that he said that I was a likely young fellow, and I was engaged—I mean to the skipper, of course. I had to say a fond "Good-bye!" to my suit of black, watch, and other articles, and bedeck myself in a canvas suit, with red shirt, belt, and oil-skin cap. The name of the vessel was "The Greyhound," and "The Greyhound" was laden with prepared stone and bound from Hull to London. We started. The voyage was a very rough one, and I was very, very sick the first day. I often think of my first day's sailoring; I do that, I do. I was put to all manner of drudgery, such as scrubbing the decks. The cooking for the crew also fell into my hands; there were about a dozen of us. Fortunately, I had no need to complain of the lack of food. There was plenty of salt pork and biscuits; but, then, biscuits and salt pork and salt pork and biscuits have a tendency to become a little monotonous to the palate. I got very roughly handled by the crew. The voyage to London occupied about six days. We stayed at the English capital about a fortnight, in order to exchange our cargo for one of goods suitable for the Hull trade. Even while we were moored in the Thames, I was very anxious to make my escape, but a too close watch was kept over me. We started on the home journey, during which I was not affected by sea sickness.


I determined that as soon as ever I got into Hull I would make straight for Keighley. Many a time on the vessel did I think of Mrs Hemans's beautiful poem "There's no place like home." I shall never forget, I think, the feelings of ecstacy with which I was seized on the vessel sailing into the port of Hull. It was four o' clock on a cold, dreary December afternoon, and I could not help but cry as, going on the quay, I heard an organ grinder giving off the strains "Home, Sweet Home!"

Of all the spots on earth to me Is Home, Sweet Home. And that dear spot I long to see— My Home, Sweet Home. Where joyfully relations meet, Where neighbours do each other greet. If ought on earth there can be sweet, 'Tis Home, Sweet Home.

It seemed to me as if my father and mother were calling their prodigal son home. I straightened myself up, and says: "Here goes for Keighley, without a ha'penny in my pocket:" the skipper was not by any means kind-hearted, and did not give me even an "honorarium." But my troubles were not by any means past and gone: many who read these lines will, I trow, know what it is to tramp a long distance with a purse, as Carlyle said, "so flabby that it could scarcely be thrown against the wind." My trudge from Hull to Bradford seemed beset with thorny places.


Leaving Hull, I walked all night in stormy, winterly weather, and before morning I was on the near bank of Howden Dyke. There was a ferry at the dyke, and, not having the wherewithal to pay the toll, I had to stay where I was—about three miles from Goole. As I afterwards learned, I had gone about eight miles out of the right road. I loitered about for a short time. Then a farmer, with a horse and cart, chanced to come along. I unfolded my tale to him, and he took pity on me; he said he was allowed to take a man with his horse and cart, besides himself, and I could go over as the man. And in this way I crossed over on the ferry, which was a sort of raft. When I got into Howden—it was now early morning—it turned out to be the Fair Day. So I wended my way into the fair-ground, thinking that possibly I might meet with some of my former theatrical acquaintances at some of the shows. But I was a doomed man: there were none. There was any number of wild beast shows, fat women shows, art galleries, pea saloons, with the ubiquitous Aunt Sarah, but of "mumming" shows there were none. When I was in this low pitch of despondency, a flashly-clad individual walked up to me and asked me what I was. Being a truthful sort of a lad, if nothing else, I told him I was "all sorts," but had been doing a "bit o' sailoring" last. He said he kept a boxing show, and asked if I had done anything in the noble defence line. I had to confess that I had done a little at home, with towels round my hands. "Oh (says he) I'll teach you how to box in twenty minutes. I'll introduce you to the public, and if there is any big farmer to tackle I'll tackle him; and I have got a little black man who will stand up for you. I want a man to p'rade outside the show, you know, and you look a likely fellow." After this magnificent speech, how could I but take the job? I did so. Seeing that I had not been over-fed lately, he treated me to a loaf and coffee: that these were welcome I need hardly chronicle; they were decidedly welcome. After a good night's sleep, the next day I was dressed for the occasion. The fair-ground was thronged with people from far and near. A big crowd collected in front of our show. I p'raded on the platform outside the show, and the proprietor announced that I was a champion boxer, and that I would "set to" with any man in the whole fair! Some men would have felt honoured at this, but I didn't. The announcement fairly made me tremble, and I should have been very thankful to drop through the boards. But I had to stay where I was. Fortunately nobody came forward, and the only "set to" I had to have was with the little black man. The show commenced, and we went inside; of course we had only exhibition games. One night produced 7s 6d for me. But I had no more sense than spend my money on a number of showmen who had gathered together, as was their wont, in a drinking-saloon on the fair-ground after the night's business. Therefore I was as bad as before. I left the show, and began my walk to Selby. There were two toll bars on the way, at which passengers had each a penny to pay to get through. But I hadn't a penny and at the first "break" the keeper asked me if I had got a "knife or owt." I couldn't boast the possession of either of these. A cotton-hawker chanced to come by and he took pity on me and paid my toll. He reminded me there was another toll-bar about 7 miles further on, and said he was sorry he could not go forward with me, because he had some calls to make by the way. Notwithstanding, I trudged on, and when I got to the second "break" Fortune again smiled upon me; for I came upon a kind-hearted lady, who, when she became acquainted with my position, gave me a sixpence. This coin got me to Selby. From Selby I made to York. Late in the afternoon it began to rain heavily; so I called at a roadside inn for shelter. In the inn I found seated a company of hunting gentlemen, wearing their bright apparel. They had evidently been driven inside by the wet weather. One of them espied me and conducted me into the room. They chaffed me very much, and one asked me whether I would have a glass of brandy or sixpence. I said I should prefer the sixpence. He said: "Well, if you had said the brandy, I should have given you neither; now you shall have both." And it so happened that I got two things with one asking. Well, after the shower had ceased I resumed my journey, and tramped all night. I wanted, and still I did not want, to get home—you understand me? Next morning I got into York. I had hoped to find a travelling theatre staying there, but the theatre had the day previously moved on to Ripon. Then did I determine to try my hand at earning an honest penny somehow. I had done a little at chalk-drawing. I thought I might become a street artist; so I accordingly got on to the city wall at the top of a flight of steps near the Castle. On the pavement, in chalk and charcoal, I drew bold likenesses of our good lady the Queen and Prince Albert. I sat there on the wall, waiting for passers-by to throw me a copper. I had not waited long when a party of ladies and gentlemen—apparently visitors, like your humble servant—came up. They surveyed my production; then one of the gentlemen threw me a shilling, and the rest made a collection which they presented to me, and for which I thanked them from the bottom of my heart. I did not wait for a second batch of patrons, but straightway turned my back upon York. I had abandoned the idea I at one time entertained of going to Ripon, with the intention of joining the theatrical company there; and the next move was to get to Bradford. So I walked on to Bradford. I was "fairly jiggered up" when I got to that town—one Thursday afternoon I recollect it was. I made up my mind to go to the office of the Keighley firm of Messrs William Lund & Son, for whom I had done a little work. I was scarcely in a presentable condition, travel-stained as I was. After some demur I obtained permission to wash and "tidy" myself at a tavern, and this carried out, I made for Messrs Lunds' office.


Mr James Lund happened to be there. He was not a little surprised to see me, and wanted to know all particulars as to my wanderings. I offered an explanation as best I could. Mr Lund provided me with refreshment, which I badly needed, and paid my railway fair to Keighley. When I got into this "Golden Valley of the West Riding," as Keighley has been called, I had no little difficulty in getting to my home at the North Beck Mills. My feet were intensely sore with my long tramp, and I could scarcely put one before the other—which, of course, is a necessary performance if one wants to walk anywhere. However, I reached home in time—after an absence of something like nine months. I was received there with all the welcome it was possible for a prodigal son to be. My mother said she dreamed the night before I was coming home. I don't exaggerate facts much when I say there were great rejoicings in the camp at my home-coming. Of course, with paternal regard, my father wanted to know where I had been, and, when I had given him a hurried account of my peregrinations, he strongly recommended me to "jump into a peggytubful o' water an' hev a wesh." I accordingly executed the order of the bath, and donned a suit of clothes, which I had left behind me. My father said, "Well, I don't want them to lose anything by you at Hull;" and with those few, but expressive remarks, he took my sailor's suit and pitched it into the North Beck—which ran near by our homestead. I regret I have no proof before me that the clothes ever reached Hull. But we will let byegones be byegones. I was put back to warp-dressing at North Beck Mills, where I remained for a few months.


Then my father determined that I should have a trade of some sort. I began to have a little taste for sculpture in a primitive kind of way, and I used to smuggle big stones into my bed-chamber, and, when opportunity offered, try to carve figures, busts, &c., out of them, with tools which, I must confess, were far from having a razor's edge on them. My father came to know of my efforts in this line, and he and my mother held a confab, the result of which was that I was apprenticed to an uncle of mine, a mason named Joshua Hill, of Harden. I remained at this business for a fair time and helped my uncle to build Ryecroft Primitive Methodist Chapel. He gave me every opportunity to become efficient in my new calling if practice goes for anything. When I pass the chapel at Ryecroft I look with some amount of pride on the two stoops, enclosing the door, which I hewed out. After finishing the chapel my uncle Joshua commenced the erection of a tavern, called the "Moorcock," at Harden. But in my new situation my pocket-money was very limited. I didn't appreciate this limitation, and I left the service of my uncle and went to Bingley.


It happened to be the Tide, and going into the Gas Field I fell in with the proprietor of a travelling theatre, a Frenchman, rejoicing in the name of "Billy Shanteney." He asked me to join his company, which I eventually did. At night, before the performance commenced, I paraded on the platform outside as a gay spangled warrior, and while thus engaged I was somewhat astonished to behold my uncle Joshua making his way to what seemed the entrance, but he darted on to me and attempted to drag me, as he himself said, "back home." However, I didn't go back home, and we went on with the performance. At the close of the Tide week, the company went to Idle, and I went with them; and thence to the Bradford Fairground. It goes without saying that when Bill o'th' Hoylus End was playing as a king one night and next morning getting a red herring to his breakfast, there was something radically wrong somewhere. Still I had a hearty reverence for the "silvery fish," as will be apparent from the sentiments in the following


Wee silvery fish, who nobly braves The dangers o' the ocean waves, While monsters from the unknown caves Make thee their prey, Escaping which the human knaves On thee lig way. No doubt thou was at first designed To suit the palates of mankind; Yet as I ponder now, I find Thy fame is gone, With dainty dish thou art behind With every one.

. . . . .

When times are hard we're scant o' cash, And famine hungry bellies lash And tripe and trollabobble's trash Begin to fail— Asteead o' soups an' oxtail 'ash, Hail! herring, hail! Full monny a time 'tas made me groan To see thee stretched, despised, alone; While turned-up noses past have gone O' purse-proud men! No friends, alas! save some poor one Fra' t' paddin' can.

. . . . .

If through thy pedigree we peep, Philosophy from thee can reap, To me I need not study deep There's nothing foreign, For I, like thee, am sold too cheap, My little herring!



I left the employ of my friend the Frenchman, and joined "Mother" Beach's "grand theatrical combination." The business was formerly owned by Mr Beach, and at his death the widow undertook the management of the concern, with assistance from her son William, whose stage cognomen was "Little Billy Beach." Mr Beach, junior, was a better class comedian. The company consisted of, in addition to the last-named, Tom Smith, Jonas Wright, Edward Tate, Jack Buckley, John Spencer, Arthur Bland and myself, and a quartette of ladies, viz.—"Bella," afterwards Mrs William Beach; Ann Tracey, afterwards Mrs John Spencer; and Mrs Wright and "Mother" Beach, who were sisters. Certainly not a very powerful company as regards numbers! We visited such towns as Batley, Adwalton, Gomersal, &c. Well do I remember being with the company at the Roberttown Races. Races were not actually run there at the time of our visit, but they had been, and the name was kept up. It was really the Feast or Tide, for which Roberttown was somewhat notorious, and the old race course was used for the fair ground. There was a conglomeration of scores of twopenny circuses, penny "gaffs", round-abouts, swings, cocoa-nut shies, shooting ranges, &c. People flocked from far and near to the Fair. Our company made a great "hit." It was the custom for a few of us, myself included, to promenade in front of the assembled crowd, in "full dress," and then, after we had executed a picturesque Indian dance, the manager would strongly recommend the people to "Come forward, ladies and gentlemen, the show's just a-going to begin." The performance consisted of a short play, a comic song by "Billy," and a portion of the pantomime, "Jack and the Beanstalk," the whole lasting under half-an-hour. We gave about a score performances a day: it was very hard work, and, what was more, hot weather. I don't want to figure in these pages as a champion boozer—for I know that the Herald is a warm advocate of temperance principles;—but it is nevertheless a fact that one hot day I drank no less than three shillings' worth of "shandy-gaff," at a penny per pint. It was dry work I can tell you, and made a dry stomach. Just before the close of the fair, strangely enough, there was a split in our ranks owing to the "matron" having engaged new blood, in the shape of three fellows—Harry McMillan, Tom Harding, and Paddy Crotty—who were to play the leading parts. It has always been said that much jealousy exists among the theatrical profession, and jealousy existed and caused an "eruption" among us. We had a "regular rumpus," and Spencer, Buckley, and myself seceded and "set up" on our own account. In the evening of the very day of the upheaval, we made a pitch on the greensward opposite to the theatre we had seceded from. Spencer, I ought to mention here, was "the great man of strength;" Buckley, the "marvellous jumper;" while I myself filled a double role—being both the "clown" and "cashier" of the establishment. The latter is generally a safe post to hold. Spencer would willingly allow a stone to be broken on his chest with a sledge hammer, bend bars of iron across his arm, and the like; and Buckley would volunteer to jump over as many as five boat horses. But now it comes to myself. I have to confess I was always rather backward at coming forward. Suffice it to say that I didn't make a bad clown; which, perhaps, is not so much to be wondered at seeing that I was said to have been "born so." Our entertainment took immensely. We removed to Skelmanthorpe, near Denby Dale, where we put the inhabitants into a state of great excitement. On a large board we writ in chalk that on such a night we would "give a wonderful entertainment" in the backyard of the tavern at which we were staying; John Spencer, the great man of strength, would pull against five horses, and as a grand finale, Jack Buckley would jump over five horses, and a cab thrown in. I, albeit the poor clown, saw that this was a gigantic fraud, and, fearing unpleasant consequences, I cast about for some scheme to make our position safe. I arranged with a policeman, by putting half-a-crown into his hand (from behind, of course) for him to show himself in the backyard just as that part of the performance was commencing, and solemnly pretend to stop the performance in the course of duty. Well, the entertainment was begun before a crowded "house," and when the particular part in question was coming off, Mr Policeman, true to his promise, stepped forward, and said he would not see anybody killed. Spencer had got ready to draw against one horse when he was interfered with by the gentleman in blue—good soul! There's many a warm heart beats beneath blue cloth and plated buttons. The audience took as gospel the interference on the part of the law, and duly dispersed after witnessing other "harmless" portions of the entertainment.


Next morning we were up betimes and on our way to Halifax, where we knew it was the Fair Day. We had an inkling that we might be able to engage ourselves at some of the shows. And so it came to pass. Spencer re-engaged with Wild's, and Buckley got a situation at Pablo Franco's. But clowns were at a discount.


However, there happened to be on the Fair Ground the proprietress of a new theatre. She was in search of "talent"—you know what I mean—eh? Oh, yes! The theatre was a wooden one, in Barnsley. It was not quite finished, but would be ready for opening in a week or so, and the old lady—"Virgin Mary," I believe she was commonly called—wanted to get a company together in time for the opening. She fully explained matters to me, and, as a result I was engaged—that is to say I was professionally engaged by her.


She, of course, saw the whole of my personal belongings at first sight. And it is often said that first impressions are lasting. She paid my railway fare and gave me a "lift" of half-a-crown, and also mentioned, by the way, that I might walk over to Barnsley if I liked and expend the amount of the fare on myself. With this understanding we parted company. Next morning I started for my new sphere of life, deciding to utilise


It was a glorious morning. When I set off, my feet were encased in a pair of high Wellington boots, but as I walked along one of the boots began to pinch my foot very badly, so I stopped somewhere between Halifax and Brighouse and changed the offensive boot for one of my stage pumps.


The Wellington I deposited in my green bag, which by the way, contained my stage "properties," to wit, tights, tunics, and the like. About this time I was overtaken by a man who would have me believe he had seen me before somewhere. I didn't like the look of that man a bit. He told me he was walking to Sheffield and would have no objections to accompanying me as far as I was going. I should liked to have told him that I was of opinion that "one's company, two's none," yet his request of itself was not in any way a peculiar one. So we jogged on together for some time. He noticed that I limped somewhat, and in consideration thereof, I, on his invitation, allowed him to carry my green bag—my only belongings—my all. We chatted very pleasantly on the road, and it was agreed, with no dissentient, that I should call at the first tavern we came to in Brighouse, and do a bit of busking. He said he did not care to call at the tavern, seeing that he was so shabbily dressed: he would wait at the other end of the town. Of course I took in all he said as gospel, or the next approaching it. I entered the first tavern that hove insight, he promising to "stay about."


There was a "druffen Scotchman" in the house, and as soon as he became aware that I had read much about the Land o' Cakes and Barley, he showed a kind of rapturous paternal affection for me. When he learned that I could "recite a wee bit," his delight knew no bounds. I recited several pieces for the entertainment of the company, such as "Young Lochinvar" and "Jock o' Hazeldean," and they rewarded me with fifteen pence for my efforts, besides treating me to some light refreshment.


But I became anxious to join my travelling companion, whom I had left waiting outside—or who had left me waiting for him. So I bade the company "Adieu!" and quitted the tavern; but loo! my anonymous friend had vanished like a vision from my sight. I searched for him high and low in the "publics" at "the other end of the town," but all in vain. Meanwhile it had begun to dawn upon me that the stranger wasn't my friend at all. What greatly disheartened me was to know that he had my green bag, containing my stock-in-trade, in his possession wherever he was. This was a great blow to me. Having satisfied myself that he was not in Brighouse I pushed on my journey. I asked each person I met if he had seen a man with a green bag, but none of them seemed to remember having seen either a green bag or a man carrying one of those articles. I now began to think I was truly on my "last legs."


But I did not utterly forget the sentiment of Shakespeare—"There is a tide in the affairs of men which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune." I stayed the night at a little village called Kirkburton, and the following morning I walked to Clayton West. Here, I found out, a good deal of fancy weaving was carried on; and, looking at my case from all its bearings, I came to the conclusion that it was advisable for me to abandon my theatrical career, for the present at least, and try my hand at warp-dressing again. This was duly resolved upon. Accordingly, I applied at a factory at Clayton West, belonging I believe, to Mr Norton. I got employment without much trouble: luckily they were in want of a "man o'my sort."


I started work at noon and worked during the dinner-hour. The first of the hands to return from dinner was a good-looking young wench, a twister-in. She thoughtfully asked if I had had my dinner. Of course I didn't think I had, as it was too far to go home to it. "Oh! but you shall have some dinner" says the big-hearted factory-lass; "for I'll go home and bring you something." "Thank you," said I, and she was gone. But not for long; not many minutes elapsed before she was by my side with a big jug of coffee and a goodly-sized, appetising, real Yorkshire pasty, the size of an oven-tin or thereabouts. I don't want to go into fractions, besides, it isn't at all necessary. Suffice it to say that I presented her with my heart felt thanks.

Bards hev sung the fairest fair, Their rosy cheeks an' auburn hair, The dying lover's deep despair, Their harps hev rung; But useful wimmin's songs are rare, An' seldom sung. Low is mi lot, and hard mi ways While paddlin' thro' life's stormy days; Yet ah will sing this lass's praise Wi' famous glee. Tho' rude an' rough sud be mi lays Sho'st lass for me.

As to the repast itself—well I enjoyed that with much warmth, as we sometimes say. Then I resumed the work which had been set out for me, and finished by five o'clock in the afternoon. There I left off until next morning. I had obtained in advance a few shillings to tide me over the night.



I went in search of lodgings about the village. In the end I came across an old lady, and, after I had had a consultation with her on the above-mentioned subject, she said she could take me in as a lodger if I cared to sleep with another lodger she had—a young butcher: if I was in by eleven o'clock, she assured me, I should be all right. I accepted her offer. Sometime before eleven o'clock, the "other lodger" came home. He was not by any means what Keighley teetotallers would term a "temperate, upright, law-abiding citizen," for he was as drunk as a pig. When he heard that I was to be his bed-fellow, oh! there was a "shine," and no mistake. He vehemently declared that he'd never "lig" with me; and, under the circumstances, I sustained his objection, and we parted. Tired and weary as I was I felt that I could well spare all I possessed if only I could get the use of a bed:—

Oh! bed, on thee I first began To be that curious creature—man, To travel thro' this life's short span, By fate's decree, Till ah fulfill great Nature's plan, An' cease ta be. When worn wi' labour, or wi' pain, Hah of'en ah am glad an' fain To seek thi downy rest again. Yet heaves mi' breast For wretches in the pelting rain 'At hev no rest.


However, the butcher and I parted company. I went back to the tavern I had been resting at, and explained matters to the landlady and her good master. He did not receive me very acceptably, and told me that he "could sleep on a clothes-line this weather." I didn't like to contradict him. His wife rather pitied me, and said there were half-a-dozen harvesters in the taproom and I might arrange to spend the night with them. Acting on the principle that half-a-loaf is better than no bread, I allowed the landlord to introduce me to the company in the taproom. The company consisted of half-a-dozen Irish harvesters "on the spree." "Can you take this man as a lodger?" asks the landlord. "Oh, yes, if he behaves himself," one readily exclaimed, and another chimed in, "If he doesn't, be jabers! we'll mak' him." I fully ingratiated myself into their good graces for the night by "standing a gallon round." I took part in the general amusement, and sang for them the song, "Shan Van Vocht," in Irish Gaelic, until they all swore I was a countryman of theirs. The night wore on with song and clatter, And ah! the ale was growing better.


Sometime late at night we retired to rest—or to try to rest. The prospective scene of our slumbers was a barn at the back of the tavern. By the light of a candle we had with us, I saw there was a depth of almost twelve inches of straw on the floor of the barn. One of our lot fixed the candle on a projecting stone in the wall, and I guess it was not long before we were all asleep. I could not have been asleep long, however, when I was awakened by great noise and unbearable heat. On "turning over," I heard groans and shouts, and, by Jove! saw that the barn was on fire! I was dumbfounded for the instant, and scarce knew how to act. Being greatly fatigued by my previous day's journey, I was not over wideawake; I was by no means the first to awake; in fact I believe I was the last. I had taken my coat and boot and slipper off, but there was no time to look for any of my apparel, and when I recovered my senses, I beat a hasty retreat.


It's always a safe plan to look before you leap. I didn't look before I leaped, with the result that jumping through a loophole in the wall at the rear of the barn, I found myself on alighting outside with the star-bespangled firmament above me, and—what do you think under me—I hardly like to say, but nevertheless it was a manure heap! I was booked to remain in this—perhaps more healthy than agreeable—predicament for some time; for, despite my struggles to regain liberty of thought and action, I could not extricate myself.


Meanwhile, the alarm of fire had been given, and a number of people from the neighbourhood appeared, in response, on the scene. I could not see them, being at the rear of the building, but could hear their shouts. The half-dozen Irishmen, I afterwards learned, all answered the roll-call, but I was missing. On this occasion, if it had never occurred before or since, my absence caused indescribable consternation. Many thought I had been burned to death or killed, for the roof of the barn had fallen in. After some little time, however, and after much struggling on my part, I was able to allay their fears by appearing before them. It required no small amount of pluck—as I call it—to face them—bootless, coatless, vestless, hatless, penniless, and, withal, with my feet and trousers besmeared with cow dung. But there is a time in every man's life when he shall come to evoke sympathy from his fellows. "He's coming!" they said, "Here he is!" they shouted, and as I passed along the ranks I was the object of universal sympathy in my woe-bestricken condition.


A policeman came up to me and said they thought I was in the flames. I rashly told him that I might as well have been, considering my appearance. "Oh, you will get over that," said the gentleman in blue cloth. "Where do you belong to?" I said I was a native of Keighley. "Who is your police superintendent?" he queried. "Mr Cheeseborough," I replied. "That's true," he said. "Know you any in the force there?" "Yes," I said, "I know Sergeant Kershaw, and another little ill-natured dog, Jack o' Marks. Jack goes about in plainclothes, and is about as fly as a box of monkeys." "All right," returned Mr Policeman. "Now that you have told me the truth, were any of you smoking in the barn?" "No, we were all asleep," said I. Then he said that would do, and as he had no orders to arrest me, I could go—till further orders. I learned from him that Mr Norton—the gentleman for whom I had been working at the mill—owned the barn, but he was away and would not be home that day.


The merciless fiend did its work, and before the arrival of anything worthy the designation "fire extinguishing apparatus," the barn had been razed. A farmhouse joined up to the barn, and a portion of this building, along with some of the furniture, was damaged. The morn was now breaking, and there was the usual gathering of quizzing onlookers. It turned out that I was the last man out of the barn. Some of my bed-fellows, I found, were as guilty as myself in disregarding the force of the proverb "Look before you leap," for one of them, in making his hurried exit, jumped through the first opening he came across to find himself in the stables—"in a manger for his bed." Through the fall he sustained a broken arm. One or two of the others were a little hurt.


But to return to myself. As I said a short time ago my person carried no other covering than a pair of trousers, and these were almost worse than nothing in their present condition. If my friend Isaac had been about, his second-hand clothes shop (for no "monish") would have come as a boon and a blessing. I didn't ken him, however. But a cloth weaver thoughtfully came up to me and put it to the crowd, "Nah, weear can t'poor beggar goa in a staate like this?" "Aye, aye," says my friend the policeman; "An' if ye hev a heart in yer belly, ye'll get him some clothes, for I'm sure he's spokken t'truth ta me." Upon this "fetching" speech, several persons in the crowd were observed to leave by the "back way." In a very short time they returned, each bringing some part of a man's wearing apparel. Together, they brought the different items I was minus. There were waistcoats and to spare. For this display of kindness to a fellow in distress, I thanked them heartily. Having attired myself, I walked away with the policeman, who proved a true friend to me. He thoughtfully mentioned that if I stayed in the place there was a probability I should be arrested on a charge of "sleeping out." So I took the hint so kindly offered me, and after bidding my friend "Robert" a cordial good-bye, I made my exit from Clayton West.


I was only about eight miles from Barnsley, and I decided to make for that town, cutting across the fields. I passed the house, I remember, where the father of Bosco, (best known as "Curley Joe"), the famous conjuror, was born. I walked into Barnsley about eight o'clock the same morning. After weighing the matter over in my mind, I sought out and made for the wooden theatre in connection with which I had accepted an engagement at Halifax the week previous.


I saw the old lady, but she would not believe at first that I was the actor she had engaged. I related my wanderings and troubles, but with a' that it occupied some time to convince her that I was the man. When she did come round a bit, she taunted me that I had sold my clothes for drink. However, we came to terms, and I was "put on." By-and-bye, she sent me to a second-hand clothes shop, where I rigged myself out in a sort of la-di-dah style, my habiliments comprising a pair of white linen trousers, a double-breasted frock coat, with military peak cap, and a few other little accessories, so that I was a perfect (or imperfect) swell again, despite the fact that my wardrobe did not amount in value to more than 5s of lawful British money.


The theatre had been completed in my absence, and, indeed, temporarily opened. Of course, I took part in the performances. We could usually draw full "houses," which were largely made up of colliers and their wives and children. But very soon some of the boys and girls of colliers wanted to go to the theatre oftener than their parents wished, and to this end, it was surmised, carried on a series of petty thefts to enable them to raise the admission fee. In fact, thieving in the town got to such a pitch that the police authorities interfered, and when the licensing sessions were held they opposed the renewal of the theatre license. The proprietress of the theatre, and the company, along with myself, had to appear at the sessions. I had not been in the court very long when my kind benefactor, the policeman from Clayton West, came up to me and shook me by the hand. His sudden intrusion on my confused senses somewhat upset me, for I was afraid of the sight of him;—his parting words to me, after the fire at the barn, that I might be charged with "wandering abroad without any visible means of subsistence," crossed my scattered thoughts. But it was needless fear, for he soon showed me that he was still my friend, not my foe. After we had exhausted the usual preliminaries, I questioned him on the subject of the fire at the barn. "Oh," said he, "You needn't be at all afraid about the fire. When Mr Norton came home he took it all in very good part. He was especially pleased when we told him that no lives had been lost. You were mentioned as having worked half-a-day at the mill, and he said he would much rather that you had gone on with your work." But a stop was put to our conversation, for our "case" was called on. Superintendent Burke—I mark him now—stood up and denounced the theatre in the interests of the community. He instanced several cases of petty thefts committed by juveniles for the purpose of raising money to go to our theatre. The presiding magistrate—Mr Taylor, I believe his name was—heard all the evidence which was brought against us, and then said that he was very sorry that anyone should go to the expense of putting up a theatre in Barnsley and then be unable to get a license to carry it on. He said he would allow us to continue our performances a fortnight longer, provided admission was refused to children. The decision fairly upset "Virgin Mary." She thanked "Your Worship" as she stood in the box; but in the green room at her theatre she invoked the gods for vengeance on the court—and this in real dramatic style into the bargain. The last day of the fortnight came round. It was a Saturday night, and we were playing "Uncle Tom's Cabin" as a finale. This was a comparatively new production at the time, and we had a packed house. At the close of the performance our spokesman thanked the people for their patronage, and explained why we were going to depart from their midst. He promised that the proprietress would "try again" at some future time.


The old lady paid off her company that night, and each of us was not a little astonished—not to mention pleased—to find his or her emolument 4s in advance of expectations. This was explained to be an "honorarium." Some of the company promised to return when the theatre re-opened, if that should ever come to pass, but I did not promise to do so; I was determined to retire from the stage, being now what I considered "tolerably well off." I obtained permission to sleep in the theatre for the night. Before laying me down, I told the watchman to

"Call me early, watchman dear!"

But my parting with the theatre and stage life was not destined to be an agreeable one by any means. I made a shake-down bed on the stage, and "lay down my weary head." It would be about midnight when I heard a rustling at the drop scene. In a few moments the scene commenced to rise, being rolled up by an unseen hand, and when it had been raised a few inches I was not a little "struck" to see a man's head appearing underneath the curtain. Now this was a bit of real, earnest acting—none of your unnatural, unfinished style. It was so realistic that I scarce knew what to do. I, of course, first of all concluded that I was going to be robbed, or that something of much more consequence to myself was going to take place. The curtain was slowly and noislessly drawn up—it went higher and higher, until the human head which had at first appeared developed into a human body—a man. My nocturnal visitor wriggled through the opening onto my side of the stage. Fortunately I had by my side my walking-stick. Quickly and quietly I seized that weapon of defence, and before the stranger would have had time—had he even desired—to say "Jack Robinson," I had dealt him a splendid blow on the side of the head with the stick. He groaned and rolled over, getting to the other side of the curtain. Then he resumed the perpendicular and took to his heels, without offering a word of explanation on the matter. I feel no qualm in saying that his exit was more hasty than his approach. I tried to think who my intruder could be, and my thoughts fixed upon the man who had been told off that night to commence watching the theatre.


There was no more sleep for me that night, after the fore-going. I prepared myself, and in the early morning quitted the place where I spent a very pleasant part of my theatrical life. In the street I came across a policeman on his beat—not the one from Clayton West this time. I wished him "Good morning," and passed on. From Barnsley I walked to Wakefield, and thence to Bradford, forward to Keighley by train.


On my way to Keighley, I could not but turn over in my mind the thoughts relating to the friendships formed on the stage, or in connection therewith. I remember that one of the Barnsley company was an aged actor, Mr John Copeland. He interested himself very much in me, and gave me from time to time good advice. He told me to leave the stage, and take to some more reliable and permanent employment. He pictured himself as a result of sticking closely to the profession, saying he had had more than half-a-century of experience of its ups and downs. In his old age, though he loved the stage and warmly praised the art of acting, he held that the rewards were not commensurate to the skill employed, and that when these were forthcoming the temptations were so insidious as to be ruinous unless the moral atmosphere of the profession itself was purified. The old man's ideal was high and he was fond of saying that with all its defects—defects which were largely caused by the professionals themselves—the drama and the art of portraying it would last as long as human nature. I was drawn to the old man, and felt for him. I often took his part, especially where he had to appear in a gross character. At his time of life, he did not like to blacken his face, and on one occasion when we were playing "Uncle Tiff," the old man was grateful because I relieved him of that character. It was a pathetic part—a sort of nigger being left in charge of children after the parents' death. Old Copeland was a good actor, and he told me of having travelled with Edmund Kean, the great tragedian. He was then about eighty years of age, and was brimful of anecdote and humour about men and things on the stage. He himself was an author of many MS. plays, and the most agreeable of company, being an educated man. But we had to part company as I have already stated, and I went home, pondering over his advice. Now, my pen writes these lines descriptive somewhat of the breaking apart from those noble hearts, and that still more noble art of the drama.

Thespis, O! Thespis, founder of that noble art, Thou didst convey thy actors in a cart; But here the simple Thespian has to pad, And, though it makes his heart feel sad To leave his friends so far behind— Such friendship never more he'll find, Yet adieu! a heart-warm fond adieu! Companions noble, poor and few!

This, I think, marks the completion of my connection with the stage world, and I cannot but feel that those who have scanned these few recollections of mine will have found them something more than an uneventful and cut-and-dried story.



By this time my appetite for "seeing the world" had got somewhat satisfied, and I stayed at home for a while. I happened to become acquainted with a man of the name of Howard, who went under the nick-name of Harlequin Dick. By trade he was a wood-carver, and a first-class hand at his job. He was a Liverpool man, and during his stay in Keighley he did wood-carving for many firms in the district. Then he was taken into tow by old James Illingworth (now deceased), who ran the Worth Valley Chair Works, at Ingrow, opposite the Worth Valley Hotel. A new stone building now occupies the place of the old structure. Now my friend Howard's great hobby was making marionettes, and performing with them; and of these Lilliputian mummers he made a set, and then discussed ways and means for appearing with them in public. I was by him put into the trinitarian post of scenic artist, advance agent, and stage manager. It devolved upon me to draw up the advertisements. We had some capital wall posters, each figure—its capabilities, recommendations, &c.—being graphically described in rhyme; yes, it was a remarkable bill—so remarkable that parties interested in other marionette shows appropriated its contents for their own shows. When all the paraphernalia were ready, we went round to various schools in the town and neighbourhood, giving entertainments to the school children. I remember one occasion—yes; I shall never forget it—when we exhibited our show in St. John's school-room, Ingrow. The Rev Mr Mayne was then the vicar of St. John's, and he allowed us to have a night with the children. Well, we removed a partition in the school-room dividing the boys' from the girls' department, and made a sort of shake-down stage at one end of the room, and with a scene and proscenium the place looked like a pretty little theatre. There was a crowded audience for our performance, including the vicar and Mrs Mayne, the curate of St. John's (who, by-the-way, was a coloured gentleman), Mr John Butterfield, brother of Mr H. I. Butterfield, of Cliffe Castle, and, indeed, a good many of the elite of the district. The show opened: the curtain was rung up. The first part was a representation of "The Babes in the Wood," which went very smoothly, and appeared to suit the general taste of the spectators. Then followed a "skeleton dance," and next we gave with the puppets an amusing harlequinade by clown, pantaloon, and butterfly. Yes, and here the real fun of the evening came in. The butterfly took a great deal of catching. Mr Howard and his good lady and myself were leaning over a rail (behind the scenes, of course) near the front of the stage, energetically working the strings of the figures, when, without any warning, the stage front gave way, and we (still energetically working the figures) were thrown right into the auditorium. Talk about tumbling head over heels! Why, words would only belittle this part of our "performance." Suffice it to say that the wreckage just cleared the front seat, on which the Vicar and his good lady and friends were sitting.


was so irresistibly humorous that Mr Mayne burst into a fit of laughter, and, taking up his hat, he left the room, followed shortly after by his wife and the curate, and shortly afterwards by Mr John Butterfield, who, I may say, seemed to enjoy the accident far better than the legitimate performance. The audience roared and roared again with laughter, and, speaking for myself, I can say that I felt "jolly queer." We had only, as it were, pitched the stage together, making it by placing one form above another. Fortunately the people present took the unlooked-for incident in good part, and with a little assistance we managed to improvise another stage, and upon this we went through a little more of our "show."


Before we ventured upon a further public appearance with the "dolls" we provided the show with better equipments. These included a tent, which, along with a magic-lantern, we bought for a trifling matter from a travelling photographer who went by the name of Old Kalo. The first of our second series of entertainments took place at Addingham, where, it being the Feast, we did very brisk "biz." During one of the intervals between the performances, I remember a gentleman coming in and asking me, "Do you think you could study a few lines for me, and introduce them into your play?" "What are they about?" said I. Then my visitor told me that he "had got a little fellow, Jacky Demaine, of Catgill, in the public house opposite, and wanted me to talk about him during the acting." I agreed to carry out his wishes, and my worthy friend, Howard, and I, having been supplied with the "matter," commenced to rehearse the scene we had prepared expressly for Jacky. There were two figures strutting about the stage. "Good morning, Mr Catgill" said one of them. "Why, you are smart this morning." "Well, you know it is Addingham Feast," was the reply of the other figure. "Are you in want of a sweetheart?" "No," said Jacky's double; "I came here to buy some cattle." Upon this the real Jacky Demaine could "stand it" no longer, and he rose from a front seat in the audience and made an "explanation." He wished to know "how the little hound knew him," saying that he never had a pint o' beer with him in his life! Then Jacky wanted to come behind the stage to talk to the "little hound." Of course he was a little fresh. The audience "fairly brought down the house" with their bursts of laughter, and people crowded into the booth and around the entrance anxious to know what was the matter. I have no doubt the little incident would be talked about for a good while in Addingham.


After this, we appeared with our show in the old Mechanics' Hall (now the Yorkshire Penny Bank) at Keighley. A travelling auctioneer who was staying there a week engaged us to give our performances during the intervals at his sales. He paid us very well. But Mr Howard was in the habit of taking more drink than was good for him, and he dispensed with the "mummers" one by one, until there was scarce one of our celebrated actors left to tell the tale and carry on the show.


The marionettes having come to their end, and your humble servant being now practically out of a situation, he began to bestir his imagination for some other line which he might enter into in the show business. It was one morning while I was walking along Back-lane, at the top end of the town, that I "fell in luck." Old John Malloy kept a grocer's shop there—the Ship Inn now marks the spot—and I heard from him that he had a small litter of pigs. I saw them, and found among them a black pig—a puny, rickety, and most dejected-looking creature. I asked John what he would take for the best and the worst, and although he did not wish to part with the best pig, he was not very particular in that respect with regard to the worst—"the leetle blackie." For this he said he would take a shilling, and after bargaining with John I got the pig for ten-pence. I took the pig away with me in an empty herring-box, and consulted my friend, John Spencer. I said, "John; we'll take this pig to Haworth, and show it as the War Pig from South America." John laughed at the idea, but heartily agreed with it. In the next place I got "on tick" a piece of calico several yards long, and with some lampblack I painted in bold type on the calico the words, "Come and see the War Pig from South America, 2d. each." Then Spencer and I engaged the large garret at the Fleece Inn, Haworth. It was a large room, holding, I should think, a couple of hundreds of people, and was entered by a staircase in the back-yard, separate from the public house proper. Mrs Stangcliffe was the landlady, and she readily allowed us to have the room, I having taken it of her once before. Well, to get to business.


We displayed the calico signpost at the front of the inn, and at the appointed hour in the evening we had a crowded audience in the room. I must give my comrade Spencer more credit than myself for the "show;" for he would have two strings to his bow. While he and I were entering the place, he picked up a black cat belonging to some poor neighbour, and quickly stowed it away in one of his capacious pockets. The cat will appear later. As John put pussy away, he said, "If t'War Pig doesn't satisfy 'em, I'll show 'em something else." We commenced the performance. I brought the pig out of the box, and exhibited the animal on a small table in the middle of the room. The audience was on the tiptoe of expectation, and crowded towards the table to see the famous war pig, which, after its long confinement, and also, of course, from its natural condition, was hardly able to stand. In a few words I introduced the war pig—"Ladies and gentlemen,—In opening the performance this evening, I have to show you the famous war pig from South America," &c., &c.


There was an old fellow at the back of the room wearing a leather apron and red cap, with his blue shirt sleeves rolled up—a typical old cobbler. He pushed up to the table, and, after "eyeing" the "exhibit" somewhat critically through his spectacles, he held forth as follows:—"Nah, dus ta call thet a war pig?" in the vernacular peculiar to the natives. I said, "Did ta ivver see a war pig i' thi life?" "Noa," said he blankly "it's t' warst pig I ivver set mi een on." And then the audience saw where the "war" pig came in, and they laughed heartily over the joke. It was a relief to me when they did put the best face on the affair. Under cover of the diversion I stole from the room, and prepared to leave the place. I met Mrs Stangcliffe at the foot of the staircase. She said "she did not know what to think about us, but there had been a fearful noise, and she took it that we had pleased the company." With this I left the inn, and got away to a place where I had arranged to wait for Spencer.


Yes; you will be wondering what has become of Spencer. Well; he stayed behind to continue the show. As he told me afterwards, he appeared before the screen and said, "Ladies and Gentlemen,—You don't seem to be quite satisfied with the war pig from South America. I can assure you that I have here a cat which I brought from India; they call her Tippo-Sahib. She can tell fortunes. Tippo has told the fortunes of all the Indian kings and princes, and I have brought her here expressly to tell the ladies present their fortunes. Now, Tippo (introducing the Haworth-bred cat to the audience), walk round the room and tell the ladies their fortunes." Puss had no sooner been liberated than she bounded out at the open door. Spencer said hastily, "I believe the climate of England is too cold for Tippo; but I'll fetch her back." Upon this he darted out of the door, and down the stairs after the scared cat; and this was the way Spencer effected his escape. Of course, the audience tumbled to it that the whole concern was a swindle, but they "bore up" well, and even seemed satisfied with the swindle, for they had many good laughs out of it. Spencer joined me on the road just out of Haworth, and together we returned to Keighley.


As I remarked in the earlier part of the above incident, I had on a former occasion figured in the large room attached to the Fleece Inn. This occasion turned out a kind of "slope," though not so bad a one as that already described. There happened to be staying in Keighley Wild's Theatre, and John Spencer and I thought we could manage a bit of "business" at Haworth. So we borrowed two costumes. Mine was a monkey dress—a kind of skin covering for the whole body—which I had lent to me by "Billy Shanteney." Spencer obtained the loan of a clown's dress. At this time there was a drummer who lived in Wellington-street. He was well known to Keighley folk as "Old Bill Heblett." Bill used to march the streets in company with bands of music, and caused some amount of wonder and amazement by throwing his drum-sticks into the air and catching them between the beats. On this occasion we induced Heblett to lend us his famed drum; so that with a monkey's and a clown's costumes, and a drum, we were in a fair way of business. We had intended that the show should consist of Spencer lifting heavy weights, and I was to amuse the audience with jokes and funny stories. We went up to Haworth, engaged the rooms from Mrs Stangcliffe, and borrowed the landlady's bed-curtains to hang across the room to form a screen and so make the place look something like a show-room. For footlights we fastened candles on the floor, placing each candle between three nails.

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