24 October 1903

By Aaron Miller
No. 1 – Topographical and Personal

(Quick links — Nicknames, Schooling, Beerhouses, Sanitation, Streets, Tinder-box, Wages,
As I was born in Hurst Brook, and have lived in Hurst all my life, I propose to begin describing Hurst Cross. First let me say that the land in Hurst and a good portion of the land in Ashton has been so transformed that it is different from what it was seventy years ago.

Owing to brickmaking, which has been going on all that time, and longer, the land from Oldham-road to Cockbrook is at least two yards lower than it was originally, and then the dingles are gradually being filled up with the refuse of the town, so a great levelling up is in process.

Hurst Cross was a very small hamlet in those days, being composed of only one street, commencing at where the cemetery now is and ending at Prospect Cottage, opposite where St John’s Church is now. The church was not then built. There were from twenty to thirty houses which stood close to where the cemetery is now, and a few more on the other side of the road, called Leech’s Fold. A little lower down was the old harbour, a farmhouse now converted into cottages.

Just before that was a short street of about a dozen cottages, now called High-street. The cottages on the right hand side going down had their backs to King-street, and were three storeys high, the bottom rooms being used for handloom weaving. They have since been new fronted, and are now made to front King-street.

The next building was the Methodist New Connexion Chapel, which has been superseded by the present chapel in Queen-street, and the old chapel made into two cottages, and one cottage on the opposite side to the chapel. The next building was Prospect House, the residence of Mr John WHITTAKER, senior, the father of Mr John WHITTAKER, of Hurst Hall, and his brother, Mr Oldham WHITTAKER. Adjoining Prospect House was Whittaker’s factory, a very old mill since pulled down. They had no power looms at that time, but they had put out hand-loom weaving, and employed most of the hand-loom weavers in the district.

I remember every brick of the present mills being laid. Where the old weaving shed is, but at the corner of King-street and Queen-street, there were a few cottages, and at the end cottage there was a reading-room and library over the cottage, approached by a flight of steps at the end of the cottage. A little lower down the road was a block of about a dozen cottages, George RILEY having a butcher’s shop at the corner.

Next to those was the Hunter’s Tavern, now called the Hare and Hounds Inn, a fully-licensed, adjoining which are six or seven cottages known as “the pavement,” and back to back with these were six cottages known as Sott Hole, now known as Sun Alley. Next to the pavement was the Miners’ Refuge beerhouse, and across the road was a farmhouse tenanted by John SHAW, who was also owner of the Miners’ Refuge. Then there were eight cottages in Lark-street, now called Carr-street, and leading down Carr-street to Lower Carrs there are still standing five cottages opposite at the end of the Methodist New Connexion in Queen-street.

From Lower Carrs the road wound round to Higher Carrs, a farmhouse just inside the lodge gates in Queen-street. From thence it emerged into Mossley-road, nearly opposite the road leading to Chamber Hills, where the present workhouse is built. Carr-lane was the only cart road from Hurst Cross to Mossley-road, except the one going up by Moss-de-Lee and out at the Junction Inn in Hazlehurst. Lees Fold and Prospect Cottage, opposite where St John’s Church in now built, and in which Mr Oldham WHITTAKER lived in his early married days, completes the list of houses in Hurst Cross seventy years ago.

The Church Inn was not built then. Queen-street, Whiteacre-road and Mossley-road were not made then. It was all farm land. Hurst Nook is practically the same now as it was sixty years ago. The next to Prospect Cottage was Hurst Knowle, and about halfway between the two there were some coke ovens and a sett for the sale of coal, belonging to the Steveacre Coal Pit, with a tramway leading to the pit, which was just behind Lower Carrs. There was also a sett at the pit, the road to it being by a lane in close proximity to Lees Fold.

At Hurst Knowle there were six old houses, one being a grocer’s shop kept by old James HADFIELD. They were pulled down and the same number of stone houses built on the site. There were also two cottages and a farmhouse down a narrow lane, also the Oddfellows’ Arms, a full-licensed house and kept by a man named CURLY. The land on each side of the lane leading down to Hurst Brook was then farm land, and very much higher than the lane itself.

The lane was very narrow, just wide enough for two carts to pass each other, and high thorn fences on each side. The lane itself was called Longshutts, or Longshoots, and in severe snowstorms would become completely blocked with snow, and carts would have to go through the field on the side that the District Council offices are built upon.

The next houses were at Pot Hill, in Hurst Brook, where there were nine houses, and in Botany-lane six houses and six houses in Bengal. Bengal-lane was a narrow lane extending from Pot Hill to Bengal, and from thence by a footroad into Botany, emerging at the end of two old houses in Holden-street which are still standing. At the bottom of what is now Diamond-street, off Whiteacre, leading to Bengal, was Bengal Coal Pit.

There was a great hollow below Bengal Houses, and a dirt rock formed by the dirt wound up from the pit, and brook of clear water running at the back of the rock, also a little old cotton factory, which was used at that time as stables for the coal pit. The dirt rock, the factory, and the hollow have been filled up. The brook has been made into a sewer, and lies a good many yards below the present surface.

The next house below Pot Hill was a one-storey house in Hillgate-street, built in a large garden, in which an old Johanna named Joseph LEES lived, and he was the proprietor of a banding walk on the opposite side of the road, extending from Pot Hill to what is now back Taylor-street, which was quite open in front then, nothing to obstruct the view only LEE’s banding walk, which was as open as the street.

Next below LEE’s houses was Garden-walk, now called St Mary’s-street, in which were four houses and one at back. One of the houses was a beerhouse called the Cheshire Cheese house, kept by Nicholas ANDREW. There was also a large orchard in the front of the house, and an arch from the jawbone of a whale. This orchard belonged to the beerhouse. The landlord was also a farmer and general carrier as well between Ashton and Manchester, before the railways were made.

The next houses below St Mary’s-street and fronting Front-lane, now called Hillgate-street on the left hand going down were three houses, then Collier-street, which is just the same as it was then with the exception of Messrs WAGSTAFF’s pickle and jam works, one of the houses being a beerhouse. Next house below was the Colliers’ Arms, a full-licensed house, and below that Paradise-street – fourteen houses.

Below Paradise-street and fronting Hillgate-street was COURTMAN’s grocer’s and draper’s shop. The approach to it was up two or three steps, and a small bow window on each side of the door. Mr COURTMAN built a shop and some cottages in Ashton and removed there, and the shop was afterwards occupied by the late Mr James WHITWORTH, also later by his brother Samuel.

Round the corner of COURTMAN’s shop were four cottages, and one house in what is now Marland-street. Next below were four houses nearly opposite the Methodist New Connexion Sunday School in Hillgate-street, then seven houses in Matley-street and two at the back, one being a garret. Then below Matley-street five houses in front and two cellar dwellings, then seven houses in Garden-walks and two closets.

Below Garden-walks was Mr William HEGGINBOTTOM’s cotton factory. Then there were seven houses in that portion of Botany which is within the boundary of the Hurst District Council. Next to those were a shoe and draper’s shop in the square and the Jolly Miller beerhouse. Next to the Jolly Miller was one house, and next to that was Sack-street, afterwards made into a hat shop by Mr GRIMSHAW. Sack-street contained eight houses.

The next above Sack-street was Holland’s Court – six houses without back doors and one closet to the lot. Next to that is Wood-street – five houses, two of them being beerhouses; then Pedlar’s Row – a narrow street leading from the bottom of Botany to Wood-street – ten houses. Then Moss Fold – three houses with one closet. Coming back to Pot Hill, and then going down Hillgate-street, then called Front-lane, on the right hand going down there was LEE’s banding walk, extending to Back Taylor-street.

In Back Taylor-street and Saxon’s-yard there were four houses and four garrets, then two houses fronting Hillgate-street, one being a beerhouse – the Trumpet Tavern, kept by Luke BRAMMAH. Then Taylor-street – five houses. The next building below Taylor-street was the Methodist New Connexion Sunday School, adjoining which was an orchard extending down to Oldham-street, belonging to Joseph PLATT, a butcher in Oldham-street; lower down was Botany Pump. Then the Seven Stars Inn and two cottages in the square.

Then Factory-yard – eight houses and one garret, without back doors and only two closets for the lot. Mr WRIGLEY’s school was the high school for Ashton at that time, and the school in which Messrs John and Oldham WHITTAKER received their early education. In what is now Mount Pleasant-street there was CHAPMAN’s factory, and also nine houses, one being the residence of Mr William CHAPMAN, and one a beerhouse.

Coming back to Pot Hill and going down Union-road, then called Back-lane, there was one house next to Saxon’s-yard. The next lower down was Blue Botton Hall, which was a farmhouse and two cottages in the same fold. The farmhouse and cottages stood just at the entrance to the footpath into Brown’s fields, and it was pulled down in order to widen Union-road at that point, and the barn was converted into a hat shop for Messrs BUCKLEY and FISH.

The next houses lower down were two houses and a workshop built by my father in 1822. The workshop was used for making hand-looms and shuttles, and all kinds of weavers’ work, also for making coffins. The houses and shops are still standing, and the business of undertaking still carried on by my nephew, Joshua BARBER. The next houses below my father’s were two houses built by my maternal grandfather.

The next to these were three old houses fronting the end of what is now Canterbury-street, one being a beerhouse, the Fox Tavern, kept by old Jenny HYDE. Then three more houses, one being a grocer’s shop kept by John SIDDALL, now occupied by Mr James HILL, tripe dresser. The next was Back Water-street, in which were about ten houses, one being a beerhouse and greengrocer’s shop kept by a man named WHITELEY.

Next was Water-street, in which were seventeen houses and five at the back, and one cellar dwelling. Next was Oldham-street, in which were five houses and a garret used as a chapel by the Primitive Methodists. It was approached by a flight of steps at the end of the cottages.

Opposite to the Fox Tavern in Union-road, and at the end of the Canterbury Arms was the entrance to Crooked Withens. A walk or path, with gardens on each side, and an open brook, running along the right hand side of the footpath, which was crossed by a plank bridge at the bottom end of the pathway, and was continued into Brown’s Fields, until it met the footpath leading from Blue Button Hall, at a hollow by the brook side, in Brown’s Fields, locally called Little Hell, owing to the great prevalence of gambling there. The gardens at Crooked Withens, together with their high thorn fences, and the brook, was made into a tip and filled up with rubbish.

At the end of Crooked Withens was a great meeting in summer time, which was called the Parliament, where the hand-loom weavers, hatters and others congregated together to crack jokes and hear the newspaper read, discuss politics, and settle the affairs of the nation generally.

The nomenclature of Hurst Brook was marvellous. Nearly every person had a nickname, such as Harlequin, Spanem, Boggart, Towler, Owd Horse, Copper Nob, and a host of similar names, every one genuine and representing some original character; and although the names may sound outlandish, they were found very useful in fixing the identity of the person named.

For instance, a man from Salford came into Hurst Brook one Sunday morning, and asked the landlady of the Fox Tavern, who was standing at the door, if she could tell him where John LEES lived. “Which John LEES dun yo want?” she said. “Is it Horse LEES, or Lion, or Friday that you want.” He mused a little, and remembered that he had heard him called Owd Horse, so he said “I think it is Horse LEES I want. So she directed him to the house which was only about 50 yards away.

And not very long ago in my own family circle, my son-in-law was relating an anecdote about a John LEES, and I said I did not know him, when he said he was sure I knew him. I protested that I did not. “Did you know Friday?” he said. “Yes,” I said, “I knew Friday.” “Well he is the man we are talking about.”

There were two schools in Hurst Brook beside Mr WRIGLEY’s, in one of which I finished my education. The school was in the kitchen of a cottage house, and the school furniture consisted of an old shop counter against the wall used as a writing desk, a round table in the middle of the floor used for the same purpose, and the slopstone was used as a third desk.

In speaking to the scholars the schoolmaster always spoke in the vernacular, of which the following is a sample. It was common occurrence for the girls to come into school with their hair hanging down like candles, when the master would exclaim, “Whowse getting thi yuire deawn agen asto; awl tee it thi up with a wax bent, beguy.” (Not sure I understand that myself! –Ed.)

The other schoolmaster was a hand-loom weaver as well. He had also two gardens, one in Crooked Withens, and one in Garden Walks; and he got a nice handy wheelbarrow made for the use of the scholars, and a reward for being good, the boy who had behaved himself best during the day had the great privilege of taking the master’s barrow and gathering horse manure for the master’s gardens, and in summertime when butterflies were plentiful, he offered prizes of a penny for every cock butterfly the scholars could catch; they must take them to him and he would judge them. Cock butterflies proved to be very scarce, as they were nearly all hens. So the master managed to get a plentiful supply of manures for his garden, and he kept his cabbages pretty free from caterpillars at the same time.

You will perhaps have noticed the large number of beerhouses in comparison to the population, but the landlords could not keep their families out of the profits from the sale of drink, but had to work at various occupations and their wives managed the ale selling. Most of the beerhouses were in cottages of from three shillings to three shillings and sixpence per week rent, and I believe were closed by Act of Parliament in the following manner.

That the present tenant should have the license during his lifetime, and when he died the license should be transferred to his widow during her lifetime, after which the license should lapse. By that means all the houses of that stamp were extinguished in one generation, and I don’t remember any outcry being raised about compensation or confiscation.

The sanitary conditions of Hurst Brook was simply deplorable. I am almost afraid describe it, it was so bad. Although at that time it was much larger than Hurst Cross, it was in a very dirty and insanitary condition, as there was no local authority in existence to govern the hamlet, the Local Board or District Council not having been formed, and people built houses as they liked, without any consideration for proper drainage, consequently there were accumulations of all kinds of filth, and cesspools in various parts of the hamlet.

Only one road was paved, and that with small cobble stones, and just wide enough to allow two carts to pass each other, namely Back-lane, now called Union-road, it being the main road through Hurst Brook, Hurst Cross, and Hazlehurst to Mossley. All the other streets were unpaved, and not one street in Hurst was drained only by channels on each side of the street, or soughs, which the owners of the property made to convey the suds and dirty water from their own property on to some one else’s.

The land from Water-street to Whitworth-street, and from Union-road to Hillgate-street was all waste land and divided into three portions. The first portion extended from Water-street to Oldham-street. It was a disused brickyard, and very much lower than it is now, as it has been filled up at least two yards.

That portion was called Bottom Green. From Oldham-street to Blue Bottom Hall was called the Middle Green, and from Blue Button Hall to what is now Whitworth-street was called the Croft, because that portion had never been a brickcroft up to then, but was made into one later on, so that there was a steep brow between the Greens, the depth of clay taken from it.

I mention the waste land here to show how the sewage was disposed of. The owners of the property higher up made soughs to the top end of the Middle Green, and emptied their sewage there. Then one side of Winter-street and Back Winter-street was the same, consequently about a third of the Green was a huge cesspit, and no provision was made for taking it any farther.

The same thing obtained at the Union-road end of what is now Whitworth-street, where there was another large cesspool formed from the sewage from Taylor and Back Taylor-streets; and the same in other places. There was no one to stop these nuisances. It is true we had a surveyor, but he was likely to trouble himself much as his salary amounted to the munificent sum of £5 a year, and he was expected to do the greatest part of the work himself.

Water-street and Hillgate-street were one mass of sludge, owing to those streets being the main thoroughfare for carts to pass on. The other streets were bad, but these were the worst I ever saw. Carts were constantly up to the axle in the ruts and sludge. It was almost impossible to get across Water-street in wet weather without having the shoe-tops covered. There was great demand for patterns in those days. Girls of five or six years of age wore them.

In addition to the dirty streets there was no water in the houses; all the water had to be fetched from the pumps or wells in the district, or got from the raintubs placed under the spouts at the doors. There was no gas; all the artificial light in the neighbourhood was got from the reflection of the candles in the shop windows, which usually had one on the counter and one in the window, to show off the bright colours of the goods exhibited there.

Then in the dark nights of winter, when there was no moon, people had to grope their way along the roads, for they could not see them, or else they must turn out with a horn lantern, or a piece of lighted pitch rope, to light them on their way. As there were no Lucifer matches in those days, it was a rather tedious job to get a light on a cold winter’s morning.

It was a necessity that every household should possess a tinder-box, to hold a piece of flint and a piece of steel about six or seven inches long. The tinder was obtained by charring a piece of cotton or linen rag until it was quite black through; then to obtain a light the operator would take the steel in his right hand, and the flint in his left hand, and strike sparks from the flint into the tinder-box. When a sufficient number of sparks had been obtained, he would blow gently with his mouth until the tinder was well aglow, then he would apply a brimstone match to the tinder, which would set it ablaze, and from the match he would light a candle.

In addition to the other disabilities, food was dear and wages were low. Joiners’ wages 24s per week, and hand spinners from 18s or less to 35s in very fine counts; strippers and grinders, about 14s per week; colliers, owing to the system of Charter masters, from 3s 6d to 3s 9d per shift; waggoners’ lads, from 5s to 8s per week; jiggers, 4s per week work or play.

Children went to work in the coal pit at a very early age, at from six to seven years old. My brother-in-law told me he went to work at Ridgehill coalpit when he was so young that his mother carried him on her back to the pit, and he used to cry when being sent down. His mother was left a widow with four children, and she was compelled to send them to work as early as possible, or let them go without sufficient food.

I said food was dear. Flour was 3s 6d per dozen, soft sugar 8d per pound, the commonest tea 5s per pound; a very small quantity had to suffice for our family. Father and mother had to have the first coming off, and if any of the children complained about the tea being weak, we could always make it stronger by adding a little mint to it, or if it was summer time we could go into the garden, and get some a black currant leaf or two.

Such is a description of the good old times of seventy years ago, and I have been careful not to exaggerate, but to give as faithful a description as I could.

(To be continued)

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