Category Archives: Random History

Hope Over Elland

According to my Little Oxford Dictionary, the definition of “wandering” is to aimlessly move from place to place in a casual fashion. That being the case, I declare myself a wanderer, indeed I will consider putting that down as my religion when the census forms arrive in a few weeks time. The Lockdown places a severe restriction on my ability to aimlessly wander, of course, but even within the confines of a definable “local area”, I am still able to practice my religion. Yesterday we wandered around the lower part of Elland and up Exley Bank (like all good religions, wandering needs a bit of sacrifice in its devotions – that’s why hills were invented), and for the first time in my life, I discovered Elland Cemetery. For those who haven’t been, it is one of those expansion cemeteries, added to towns in the nineteenth century when the local churchyard became too full. It occupies a spot high on the hill, looking down on where Elland Hall used to stand, and where endless vehicles now by-pass Elland. There are some fine gravestones and monuments, but one in particular caught my eye – a fine stone statue that appeared to be pointing departed souls in the direction of Ainley Top and the road to Huddersfield.

One of the great things about wandering as a religion, is that it can be practiced just as easily from a desktop; and so on my return home I went wandering through the records to find out more information about the statue – which was on top of the grave of Eli Garnett and his family. After consulting the sacred texts – the prophets Google, Malcolm Bull, Census records and the British Newspaper Archives – I eventually found the following piece from the Halifax Guardian of 21 September 1889.

“A WORK OF ART – At the monumental works of Mr J Noble, West Vale, there is a monument which is about to be erected in Elland Cemetery to the memory of the late Mr Joseph Garnett, son of Mr Eli Garnett, of Lowfield House, Elland. The monument is in classical design, and stands on a massive pedestal, and an inscription stone containing a marble panel, which is an exact facsimile of a medallion representing an emblem of music copied from the monument of Jenny Lind. The total height of the monument is 13ft, the pedestal, which is 7ft 6in high, being surmounted by a life-sized figure of Hope. The whole is executed from Bolton Wood stone, and has been done at Mr Noble’s works at West Vale. The figure itself has been carved by Mr Arthur S Rogers, Holywell Green, and is a fine example of delicate and skilful workmanship”

I too, think that the figure of Hope is a fine example of skilful workmanship, but I will leave it to my brother to provide a proper professional assessment. Skilful or not, meeting Hope standing high over Elland, made my day.

The Socialist Matrons Of Brighouse

Someone was saying to me the other day that they had just been to a Labour Party meeting (virtually, of course) and it had seemed terribly old fashioned – like something from the nineteen seventies. That’s nothing, said I in the way only annoying old men can, when I was a lad, Labour Party meetings were positively antediluvian. Reading a copy of the Brighouse News from February 1910 a couple of days later, I came across a report of a meeting of the Brighouse Independent Labour Party (its complicated, but the ILP were at the time affiliated to the wider Labour Party), which seemed to prove my point. It brought back fond memories to me, but surely even I cannot be old enough to remember going to political meetings in the run up to the Great War!. If that is the case, however, how come an embroidered silk bookmark from the 1913 ILP Conference fell out of the back of one of the books I was reading recently?

ILP MATRONS’ EFFORT. The matrons connected with the Brighouse Independent Labour Party have been the promoters of many profitable functions in the past and a tea, concert and dance held by these untiring ladies on Saturday was quite up to the average, if not more successful than any previously held. Tea was first served to a large number of persons in the Institute, Bradford Road, the matrons being responsible for the placing of an excellent repast before their guests. These proceedings concluded, an adjournment was made to the Oddfellows’ Hall, across the way, where the first half of the evening was occupied by an entertainment sustained by the matrons. The programme consisted of the following items:—Chorus, “The dawn of day”; song. “And a little child shall lead them.” Mrs. Cottingham; recitation. “Broken hearted.” Mrs. Tattersall; musical sketch, “Our night out.” eight matrons; song, “Grandma,” Mrs. Smith: dialect, “The baby lapped in flannel.” Mrs. Morrison; musical sketch. “Caller herrin,” eight matrons; song. “The light of day.” Mrs. Cottingham; recitation. “The old maid’s soliloquy,” Mrs. Tattersall; duet. “Silver moonlight.” Mrs. Bottomley and Mrs. Bates; musical sketch. “Could we but rule.” eight matrons; recitation ” Uncle Joss.” Mrs. Cottingham; song, “Home. dearie home,” Mrs. Smith; sketch, ” An unexpected entertainment,” five matrons. Mrs. Truelove acted as accompanist. The remainder of the evening spent in dancing to music supplied by the Clifton Prize Band. 

A Waste Of Time

Throughout my life I have experimented with psychogeography (the non-structured exploration of urban environments by chance). As a child, some 65 years ago, my father and I would often go to Halifax Bus Station and catch the first bus that was leaving to “see where it took us”. Ten or more years ago, I embarked on an exploration of West Yorkshire by visiting 500 metre squares chosen by a random number generator. Such exercises in psychogeography are activities for sunnier months – and months when we are not locked down at home. In winter months, therefore, I restrict myself to psychogeography’s first cousin – psychohistory. And by that I mean, the random exploration of history, driven by chance and a delightful lack of purpose. So let us jump on any old newspaper and see where it takes us.

For my exercise today I have not used a random number generator, but simply gone back 100 years to the 11 January 1921. My newspaper of choice is the Daily Mirror, for no other reason than it had an attractive front page, which is useful if I have to live with it on my desktop for the rest of the day. And, as expected, my pointless exploration of the byways of history had fascinating results.

100 years ago today, the Hereford by-election took place and the front page of the Daily Mirror (then a ultra-conservative, right-wing paper controlled by the Harmsworth family) was full of photographs of their favoured candidate in the election, Alderman Ernest Langford. “Alderman Langford, a local man, liked by all who know him, smiles in anticipation of victory” runs one of the captions. Langford was the anti-waste candidate, and the Mirror was a big supporter of the Anti-Waste League (a political party established in 1921), indeed the Mirror owners’ son was the leader of the party. 

You can forget your twenty-first century interpretation of the name of the campaign – this had nothing to do with pollution and the environment. The “waste” they were against was the waste of public expenditure on such things as benefits for the poor, house-building or any kind of state social provision. They wanted a small state and an even smaller rate of income tax. Given their media backers, they were remarkably successful, and soon had the ruling Conservative party fearing an electoral rout: so it quickly took the policies of the League on board and began to push, what we would now call “austerity” in a bid way. They appointed a commission under Sir Eric Geddes to look into public expenditure, and the Committee eventually recommended sweeping cuts in spending on education, health, housing and pensions – the so-called “Geddes Axe”.  Most people now agree that the impact of this was to seriously exacerbate the economic crisis that dominated the 1920s and 1930s.

Who says you can’t learn anything from history!

Somebody’s Short Of A Happy New Year

I am a man of simple tastes. As far as food is concerned, all I ask for is a fried egg and a plate of chips. In the drinks department, you can cast me adrift with a crate of pale ale and a bottle or two of single malt whisky, and I would complain to nobody. My friends and relatives are aware of my uncomplicated requirements, and for Christmas I managed to acquire three bottles of malt, two crates of beer and a 10kg bag of Maris Pipers. Only yesterday, I finished the first crate of beer and went in search of the second; only to find it contentedly waiting for me under the Christmas Tree. I shouldn’t have worried, except earlier in the day I had been reading a copy of the Halifax Courier from January 1922 (papers are so boring these days, full of the same old stuff), and found an advert for Whitakers Brewery – one of the holy Trinity of former Halifax breweries. In the advert, Doc Shire comes across a crate of beer that has evidently fallen off the back of a wagon, and declared: “There’s somebody short of a Happy New Year“. I was so pleased that somebody wasn’t me, I adopted the advert as my daily calendar image – and even added a touch of colour for good measure.

Free Insurance For The Coming Year

There is nothing like the 1st of January appearing on the calendar to start a rush of New Year Resolutions. I suspect I have now lived long enough to realise that – if you are going to turn over a new leaf, or set out on a new and better trajectory through life – it would be better to start it on a cold Thursday afternoon in the middle of March. Nevertheless, I can’t seem to shake the habit of wanting to start a new diary on the 1st of January: it is a resolution that lasts, on average, about eight to ten days. When my descendants gather my papers together to examine my strange existence, they will be intrigued by the fact that I did so much during the first eight days of the year and then went into wordless hibernation for the remaining 357 days. This year I am limiting myself to the promise to keep my picture calendar going …. until the 8th of January at least.

Had I been tempted to start the more traditional type of diary I could have done worse than take up the offer made by the Halifax stationery and printing company, E Mortiner Ltd, in an advert in the Halifax Evening Courier exactly 100 years ago today. From their shop at the corner of Silver Street and Commercial Street you could buy, for just a half crown (twelve and a half pence to those of a shorter life-span), a Foolscap Diary – three days to a page – and they would throw in a free insurance policy for £1,000 for the coming year.

What with Covid, economic meltdown, social and political crisis and all the other problems we are likely to face in the year ahead, that is an offer I doubt that we will see repeated for 2021.


A welcome Christmas present from the British Newspaper Archives – they have finally got around to making a start on digitising back copies of the Brighouse and Rastrick Gazette. Three full years are already available – 1881,1882 and 1889 – so there is plenty to keep my occupied during the coming Merry Little Christmas. Perhaps I will go and get myself a new set of artificial teeth to celebrate.

The Whole, Neatly Furnished

“The new Cemetery is situated in Lighteliffe Road, and contains an area of about nine acres. The frontage towards the above-named road is enlosed with a atone wall and also ornamental wrought-iron railings, and has two wells for water, one for domestic purposes, and the other for the use of cattle….. The buildings include the Lodge and two Chapels. The former is situated on the left hand side of the entrance, and is a new and plain building in the gothic style of architecture… The Chapels are placed on the summit of a natural eminence in the midst of the Cemetery, and form a simple, but not ineffective group of buildings in the geometrical gothic style of architecture. They are surmounted in the centre by a tower about 65 feet high. In the tower is a door leading into the porches, and from there into the Chapels, which are finished inside with open temple roofs, boarded. There is also open benches for seats, and the whole neatly furnished”.   BRIGHOUSE NEWS 8 AUGUST 1874

Anti-Vaxxers Take To The Streets Of Wyke

I have been cranking up the random news generator again, and today it has taken me back to the 6th August 1887, and a report in the pages of the Brighouse Echo which, once again, proves that there is little new happening in the world. It tells the case of a certain Sam Kellet, a coal miner from Wyke, which is a village between Brighouse and Bradford. The bailiffs had turned up at his house in order to seize property to meet the unpaid fines which the magistrates had awarded against him for refusing to have his child vaccinated. The whole process of the seizure and sale of goods (“four chairs, two tables and a kitchen dresser”) was watched by a crowd of 50 to 60 people. Mr John Rushforth, of Brighouse, president of the Wyke Anti-Vaccination Society, “mounted a wall and addressed the crowd, vigorously condemning the laws relating to vaccination”.

In the 1880s, thousands of people through Britain took to the streets and mounted opposition to laws that had been introduced to make vaccination against smallpox compulsory. A century later, vaccination against the disease eventually led to its worldwide eradication. If, and when, we get a vaccine against COVID19, let us hope it is as successful, and that the efforts of the modern-day equivalents of Mssrs Kellet and Rushforth are as unsuccessful.

ANTI-VACCINATION AT WYKE – On Saturday morning excitement was caused at Wyke by the seizure and sale of certain household effects belonging to Sam Kellett, collier, Garden Fields, under a distress warrant, which had been issued in consequence of Kellet having neglected to comply with a magistrate’s order to have his child vaccinated. The services of Mr Jonathan Benson, auctioneer, Calverley, had been secured, and the sale of the goods “marked” was effected without hindrance from the crowd, which numbered about fifty and sixty persons, mostly women. The amount of fines and costs incurred by various processes of the Court amounted to 33s, and that sum was raised by the sale of four chairs, two tables, and a kitchen dresser. The dresser and a table were bought in on behalf of Kellett by Mr John Rushforth, of Brighouse, president of the Wyke Anti-Vaccination Society. Kellett himself bought in the chairs and the other table. Sales were to have been effected at two houses in the district, but one of the men paid in at the last moment. The sale was conducted amid a running commentary on the evils of vaccination, and Mr Rushforth afterwards mounted a wall and addressed the crowd, vigorously condemning the laws relating to vaccination.

Sounds Familiar


With nothing much to do other than read old newspapers, I found this article in a copy of the local Brighouse News from exactly 140 years ago. It was a report by the Chief Medical Officer, Dr Britton, on efforts being taken to combat the outbreak of scarlet fever (Scarlatina) in the town. Reading through the list of measures – social distancing, quarantining, closing schools, limiting funeral ceremonies, even gratuitous disinfectants – you are suddenly reminded that little is new in this world. Granted, we have yet to see the reintroduction of “Nuisance Inspectors”, but it is probably just a matter of time. All I need to do now is to find a copy of the newspaper from a year later to see whether things will ever return to normal.

Precautions Adopted:  I now come to a very important part of this report, viz. – the precautions already adopted to put a stop to, and limit the spread of, the disease. I may say that everything has been done by your authority, and by your officers, with one exception, and that is “isolation”, to which I shall refer later on. Bills of “Precautions” have been twice distributed from house to house, and have also been posted in the district. The masters and mistresses of the various schools have been visited, and requested to exercise the greatest caution not to admit children from infected houses. All cases of which we have had any information, and also all suspected cases, have been regularly and systematically visited by your nuisance inspector, in many cases daily, and by myself at intervals of a few days. Not only have the cases been visited themselves, but careful inquiries have been made in the immediate neighbourhood of any cases, in order to ascertain if any more could be heard of. This has been done both at the inspector’s daily rounds, and also at my occasional visits. At these visits to infected houses, the occupants have been cautioned about admitting friends into their houses, and especially children; if they have had any children who remained well, they have been requested to keep them away from school, and not to allow them to mix with other children. They have been supplied with disinfectants gratuitously, and shown how to use them; they have been instructed to use every care in disposing of the slops and secreta from the houses; to observe thorough cleanliness, and to admit as much fresh air as possible into their houses. In cases of death, they have been requested to bury early, to avoid funeral teas, and not to allow children and friends in, to see the corpse; to make a thorough cleansing of house and contents afterwards, as well as after every case of recovery. This is a thing. I am happy to say, that the public generally do.

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