Two Boys and their Diaries
by Ian Dewhirst
“It as been a very wild day. I have been to school twice. There was a preaching this afternoon”… “Jane Wellock ran away because they mewed at her like a cat and she did not like it”… “I have taken a Bag of fire wood up to Ben Lambert on Thursday August 5th and Harry Smith as cut my nose and I have finished my working over now until 12 month time”… “We have got a new Engine Tenter on Oct. 23rd Frank Goodyier.”
Half a century, and two contrasting ways of life, separate the first pair of those quotations from the last, yet their tone is the same, an uncompromising matter-of-fact. When children keep diaries, they notices the inconsequentialities their elders might overlook, and can record a refreshing view of their times.
Francis Middlebrook was ten years old in 1860, when to help his rather shaky spelling his mother pressed him into writing a diary in a slim exercise-book. His father farmed at Hainworth Shaw, high on the edge of Harden Moor between Keighley and Bingley and young Francis attended Sunday and day schools, the identities of which can be deduced from his references to the Rev. William Busfield, Rector of Keighley, and Mr. Crabtree, a master at the Free Grammar School. He had a brother ‘Henery’ and another called Thomas who was twenty-four – on his birthday he “gave us some money for some toffey”. His father was “fifty-eight years of age he was borne in 1802”.
His daily chronicle flits from one engaging triviality to another: “Henery has been to the wood top and he saw a burry two inches long”… “My ewe has lamed a tup lamb”… “I have had a ride up to Bradford more in a cab”… “My Father has been to Shipley and as got nearly blown away”… “Easter Sunday, I went to School twice there was plenty of Easter babies” – children wearing new clothes for the first time – “But I was not one because Joseph Wright did not get my shoes made”.
Naturally holidays were important. On Pancake Tuesday “we have had holiday since the bell rung at eleven o’clock”, and he played at shuttlecock, it being a very fine day. His mother meanwhile had been “frying pancakes this morning and fritters all the afternoon” – poor mother, the day before she had been frying eggs and collop!
He hoped – and was not disappointed – for a day off school for Keighley Fair, when his father gave him a shilling for a fairing, “but I have not spent it all.” Keighley Agricultural Show provided another holiday: “Their has been a deal of cattle horses pigs and sheep all sorts of powltry of all kinds also a deal of farming implements and a thrashing mashie with an engine of six horses powr”. The Sunday after that, school closed for the day because the superintendent, John Spencer, had died that morning. “I am afraid,” Franks touchingly recorded, “that we shall not get another what we like so well.” Next Sunday, all the scholars were given a funeral card.
But principally this boy’s diary takes us through the farming calendar for 1860. In February, Mrs. Middlebrook was busywhite-washing, while Jackson, the hired man, went to Heaton for some straw. In March they took two young cows to Bradford Fair – neither sold – and killed two pigs. Lambing started on April 2nd, and they sold a cow at Shipley Fair. By the end of the month all the young beasts had been turned out “because we have not any hay for them”. A ewe was “very much hurt with a stack bar falling on her.”
Lambs’ tails were cut in May, and ‘Henery’ took two heifers to Skipton market. Sheep were clipped in early June, turnips sown in July, and haymaking began in the Big Ing. By August 19th “they was a great many people working in the hay”, and four days later the first cartload was led out of the Little Ing. The hay was all in by September 10th – “it has been very wet hay time it is eight weeks since we begun”. They “begun to shear the wheat” in October and had a “wheat stack in the corner lotment” by the 24th. That year there had been thirteen wet Sundays in a row!
Routine was enlivened by a variety of occasions. Farmer Middlebrook took his wife to Bradford and bought her a frock, and once she got weighed on a “new machine” at Shipley – “she weighs eleven stone short weight”. Another time he came home with “some wine glasses and tumbler glasses”. John Holmes, a Keighley grocer, threw a tea party for three hundred widows, to celebrate is fortieth wedding anniversary, and the Hainworth Sunday School anniversary in June raised £10.9s.5d. Two circuses came to Keighley and Francis’s mother bought him and his brother a brown billycock – “she gave a half-a-crown each”.
Even for a ten-year-old in 1860, death was no unfamiliar. Francis Middlebrook was quick to catch news: “There was a boy named Holdsworth killed at the Walk Mill about five o’clock in the afternoon”… “There was another boy got killed at the Bottons Mill called Craven about ten years of age”… “They interred Mary Smith alais Mary a Bobs”. One Elizabeth Rhodes merited a more detailed obituary: “Their has been a funeral to day at Kesty Wood of a woman they called Dumbett her right name is Elizerbeth Rhodes she is 73 years old and has lived their all her life…”
HE WAS A GENEROUS LAD, EARNING EXTRA COPPERS BY TAKING FREQUENT BAGS OF FIREWOOD UP TO BEN LAMBERT’S
When John William Bell decided to keep a diary in 1909, he bought a notebook at Arthur Tatham’s in Keighley’s North Street, and a bottle of black ink at Billows and Co., High Street – plain statements which would typify his literary style for the next six years.
John William Bell was probably in his middle teens in 1909, employed by J. Haggas and Co., worsted spinners, of Ingrow. He was living with his parents at 16 Colne Street Back, and they moved to Albion Terrace in 1914, as the Great War engulfed his generation. Nobody encouraged him to keep a diary; his prosaic, laborious notebooks fulfilled some personal need not unconnected with his limited spending-money. They were eventually found abandoned in a building under demolition.
He chronicled his expenditure to the last halfpenny. He bought a Bible for a shilling, the same price as a pair of brown gloves from a stall in the Market. “2 Boxes of Lord Kitchener Cigars and one packet of Ciggarets” cost 2s.2d.; a new pipe twopence; a hair slide “for Mabel Raine” sixpence; a pair of “Strong Sunday Shoes” from the Airedale Boot Works 6s.11d.
When he took eight ounces of “union worsted” to Mrs. Pick Ogden she refooted him two pairs of stockings for ninepence. He bought his “Meteor Self-Filling Fountain Pen Marvel of value Thoroughly Reliable” (he was obviously copying off its box) for a princely fourpence! His visit “to the Keighley Bath for the first time in my life” cost him fourpence too, whilst he made a momentous decision on February 1st, 1911. “I am going to Start And get Shaved Twice a Week instead of once And my Haircut as well. Price 2d. and 1d. shave”.
Footwear formed a constant theme; he was a good customer for Harry Swire of South Street: “I have paid him for my Clog Irons 6d”… “I have got two front irons on for 2d and some Leather in Between them Price 4d”… “I also got one front Iron on and two Heelrings on”… He got his “lace-up clogs” repaired for 1s.6d., and his strong shoes converted into clogs for 1s.7d.
John William Bell’s hobby seems to have been horology, for he was always buying, selling or giving away watches. “One New hand on at Ingrow Parish Church Clock face on Feb. 16th, 1910” was an event that did not escape his notice – that was the day “Charley Norris went to Halifax to List for a Soldier”. The following month, “Primitive Methodist Mission Oakworth Gold and Silver Tree. I have put a sixpence in this envelope on Behalf of Sister Maggie. And I have given my Mother a Sixpence as well to go to the pictures.”
He was a generous lad, earning extra coppers by taking frequent bags of firewood up to Ben Lambert’s; and if his Mother had to be satisfied with “sixpennyth of Best Turkey Rhubarb for a Christmas gift”, his Aunt Jane got a “Jockey and Jinnie”. He regularly paid his father’s sick club and contributions to the Amalgamated Toolmaker’s Society. When his brother Tom fell on hard times – he had got “Lamed at Hall and Stells Park works And they have taken him to the Keighley Cottage Hospital” – he lent him 1s.6d. “to pay for Some Trousers and he will give me it Back Some Day.”
“Some Day” could be a long time: “I have sent my sister a five shillings Postal order on Sept. 17th 1909 to Pay a Rate and she says she will pay me it Back as soon as she can.” Two months later he printed in the word “DEAD”. “My dear Sister Clara has Died at the Bradford Infirmary on Wednesday Morning December 15th at 8 o’clock,” he added. His “Dear Little nese Betres Mary” died too, early in the new year.
Young Bell recorded little of his working life, save holidays – “I have ask Jack Bailey off for a week on July 15th and he says all right Johnny we will try and manage” – and bad news. He cut his head at the mill, Bob Pickles broke his arm falling on some sets, George Pamment was killed in an accident. It was not a happy period: “We are Starting on Short time at J. Haggas and Co. Ingrow. Going at Breakfast time and Playing Saturday. Start on Jan. 1912, untill further Notice.”
And worse, of course, was to come: February 26th, 1915: “I have started to pay Mrs. J. Bell 10 shillings instead of 9 shillings a week owing to the food wich as gon up terribly…”