Livesey autobiography — chapter 1

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In sitting down to write my autobiography, as promised, I feel several discouragements. In going over the events and collecting the incidents connected with so long a life, it is very difficult to make a selection such as shall not omit what would be deemed by my friends as important, and yet not to tire them with details of little moment; and to do this without exposing myself to the charge of vanity and egotism is still more difficult. Next, my memory of late has become very much impaired, and this increases the labour required, to be certain that facts, events, and dates are truly narrated. Fortunately, I have the benefit of a very copious memoranda, which I made while residing nine weeks at a Water Cure Establishment on the Rhine, in the year 1853, which has been laid by, unperused till now. The following is the first paragraph, giving the reasons for drawing up the sketch, which was not intended to appear during my lifetime, and little did I think that fourteen years would elapse before it would be disturbed.

My experience of sixty years may possibly, if placed upon record, be of some service to those who are but just beginning to tread the active stage of existence. If it should convey to such, useful hints that may enable them to escape any of the ills of life, and prompt to a course of virtue and usefulness, I shall be well rewarded for the trouble of my narrative; and, if not, the writing will beguile away a few hours, which I now find myself, from infirmity, unable to appropriate to a more useful purpose; and, at any rate, these memoirs will be read with some interest by a few whose friendship I have had the happiness to enjoy. It may also be pleasing to my numerous family to have condensed, ready to their hands, the most striking incidents of my life, some of which they may have never heard of or forgotten; and, possibly, they may here trace some of the advantages which they at present enjoy over the children of many other families.

I drew my first breath in a humble cottage in the village of Walton, on the 5th March, 1794. This village is beautifully situated on the banks of the Ribble, one mile and a half from Preston. I was born in that part called “Walton Cop,” and there I resided in three different houses, almost contiguous, till after my marriage, when I came to Preston, in the winter of 1815. I was named after my grandfather, Joseph Livesey, my other grandfather being William Ainsworth. They were both small farmers in the township of Walton; the former occupying a farm in Toad House Lane; the latter, one called “Watering Pool,” near Tardy Gate. My father’s name was John; my mother’s Jennet. I never had a sister, and only one brother—William, who died early. My parents both died of consumption, in the year 1801, within ten weeks of each other, leaving me at the age of seven without father or mother, sister or brother. I was taken by my grandfather, Livesey, whose family consisted of my grandmother, and one uncle, Thomas, and I remained with him, as I shall show, till I was married.

My father, from the time of his marriage, resided in the same row of houses in which I was born. He was a hand-loom cloth manufacturer, had his warehouse close by, and, of course, was among the earliest makers of cotton goods in this district. He had received a good education, as is evident from his productions at school, which I have still in my keeping. Being taken away in the prime of life, at a short notice, nothing remained but for my grandfather to carry on the business in which he had already invested all he could spare. I was taken to my grandfather’s farm, but as he had now the cotton business in hand, he shortly relinquished farming, and came and resided at my late father’s house in the village. Here, his troubles, poor old man! commenced. He knew nothing of the business, and my uncle, upon whom most of the management devolved, knew as little. Either from “bad times” or bad management, or both, the concern came to grief. I don’t recollect how long, but I suppose they did not carry on the business more than three or four years. Their embarrassments kept increasing; and I remember well the old man, on a Tuesday night, upon the return of Thomas with unfavourable reports from Manchester market, crying like a child. Young as I was, I busied myself in the warehouse, sometimes at the warping-mill, sometimes helping to hook pieces, or weighing out the weft. The “moutre” trade was then carried on to a great extent, and the disputes with weavers and threats of “bating” were frequent. Both yarn and cloth were enormously dear, so there was a great temptation for weavers to sell cops, to take off “half beers,” and, by obliterating the “smits,” to get longer fents than they were allowed. Not long ago, there resided in Preston a female who had a cambric petticoat, the material of which she said she bought of my father, at seven shillings a yard. Warping only was done on the premises; winding, sizing, and weaving were all done out. Ridgway’s and Ainsworth’s waggons (bleachers) used to call weekly for the goods. It was about this time that Mr. Bashall commenced manufacturing at Bamber Bridge, and he and my father, I understand, were on friendly terms; and the success of one family compared with the other, having about equal means to start with, forms an instructive contrast. My poor old grandfather lost all he had—the savings of his farming and his industry—and the only consolation that remained connected with his misfortunes was, that he was just able to pay, in full, all his creditors. In those days, all the small farms in Walton, Penwortham, and the adjoining country places, were “weaving farms,” having a “shop” attached, to hold a certain number of looms; and as grandfather and uncle had both learned the trade, nothing now remained for them but to return to the loom, and for many years they had to rely on this alone for a livelihood.

From this period, being then about ten or eleven years of age, I remained with them till I was twenty-one. For some time my chief employment was winding weavers’ bobbins. My grandmother grew infirm and died soon after, and as we were too poor to keep a servant, and having no female help except to wash the clothes, and occasionally to clean up, I may be said to have been the housekeeper. We lived in a house of £5 a year. From necessity I became pretty proficient in all kinds of labour connected with domestic life, and I never regretted this, for in speaking to the poor during my visitations, I have found my early experience of great service; and in the event of any reverse of fortune, I always felt that I was prepared to live where others would be beset with difficulties, or perhaps starve. The cellar where my grandfather and uncle worked held three looms, and so soon as I was able I was put to weaving; and for seven years I worked in a corner of that damp cellar, really unfit for any human being to work in—the fact that from the day it was plastered to the day I left it the mortar was soft—water remaining in the walls—was proof of this. And to make it worse, the Ribble and the Darwen sometimes overflowed their banks, and inundated this and all the cellars adjoining. It has to me often been a subject of perfect surprise how I bore up and escaped with my life, sitting all the long day close to a damp wall. And I can only suppose that this was counteracted, in a great measure, by the incessant action of almost every muscle of the body, required in weaving. “All fours” never cease action on the part of the hand-loom weaver. Yet, it is very probable that the four rheumatic fevers that I have had to endure, and the seven years’ chronic rheumatism in my lower joints—rendering me unable to walk without great pain —which followed, had their remote cause in that miserable place. I remember taking our pieces to Messrs. Horrocks and Jacson’s warehouse, and I never wove for any firm but this, and the late Mr. Timothy France, of Mount Street.

I never regretted that poverty was my early lot, and that I was left to make my own way in the world. It was here, I believe, I learned to feel for the poor, to acquire the first lessons of humanity, and to cultivate my own energies as the best means (in my case the only means) of self-advancement. Up to this time I had had little schooling, only about sufficient to read the Testament, and write, and count a little. This cellar was my college, the “breast-beam” was my desk, and I was my own tutor. Many a day and night have I laboured to understand Lindley Murray, and at last, by indomitable perseverance, what long appeared a hopeless task, was accomplished without aid from any human being. Anxious for information, and having no companions from whom I could learn anything, I longed for books, but had no means with which to procure them. There was no public library, and publications of all kinds were expensive; and, if I could succeed in borrowing one, I would devour it like a hungry man would his first meal. Indeed, few of our young men can have any idea of the contrast betwixt the present and the past, as to the advantages of gaining knowledge. At the period I refer to there were no National Schools, no Sunday Schools, no Mechanics’ Institutions, no Penny Publications, no cheap Newspapers, no Free Libraries, no Penny Postage, no Temperance Societies, no Tea Parties, no Young Men’s Christian Associations, no People’s Parks, no Railways, no gas, no anything in fact that distinguishes the present time in favour of the improvement and enjoyment of the masses. Most of the articles of necessity for a poor man’s home, during the war with France, were nearly double their present price, and all felt the pressure of the times. My only pocket money, when a lad, was “the Sunday penny;” and I have a distinct recollection how proud I felt when I went among my companions on the Sunday afternoon with threepence in my pocket, which was my increased weekly allowance.

In a few years after I was tasked to do so much, and all that I could earn over I was allowed for myself. It was then I got my grammar, exercises, and key, Cann’s Bible with references, and a few other books, as my means would allow. I seldom got a meal without a book open before me at the same time, and I managed to do what I have never seen any other weaver attempt—to read and weave at the same time. For hours together I have done this, and without making bad work. The book was laid on the breast-beam, with a cord slipped on to keep the leaves from rising. Head, hands, and feet, all busy at the same time! I had a restless mind, panting for knowledge, and incapable of inaction; and I remember that sometimes—there being nothing else that I could see out of my window—counting the number of people that passed in an hour, distinguishing males from females. That part of the loom and the wall nearest my seat were covered with marks, which I had made to assist me to remember certain facts, and these hieroglyphics were there when I left. This cellar is only a short walk from where I am now writing, and I feel a pleasure in making a call at this hallowed spot. The privations connected with poverty, in my case, admitted of no exceptions. The day seemed too short for my love of reading, and as often as I could, I remained to read after uncle and grandfather had retired to bed; but I was allowed no candle, and for hours I have read by the glare of the few embers left in the fire-grate, with my head close to the bars. It was a fault I had then, and which has continued with me through life, to skim over a book. If I took one up I seldom felt content to lay it down till I had reached the last page. Looking back sixty years, I cannot help constantly exclaiming “What a contrast there is betwixt the present advantages of poor people and their children compared to that period!” And, I may add, “How little do the wealthy really know of the suffering and adversities of those who all their lives have to toil for their daily bread!” While thousands of costly volumes lie dormant, unopened and unread by their owners, the backless volume of a borrowed book was read by me with eagerness; and this doubtless has been the case with many others. What would I not have given at that day to have had the opportunity afforded by the Preston Institution—to have availed myself of its valuable library—a privilege too much undervalued by the working-classes of the present time. And yet it is a question, in many cases, whether want or plenty makes the most sterling character. My first bookcase consisted of two slips of wood, value about eightpence, hung to the wall by a cord at each end, and the first work placed upon these anti-aristocrat shelves was “Jones’ Theological Repository,” a periodical of a number of volumes, which I had got at second-hand. I shall never forget, as I descended the cellar stairs, how I sometimes turned back to look and admire my newly-acquired treasure!

So far my history is of a cold and chilling character, and the reader will feel it more than I did myself. I had always a hope that better days would come. Surely, thought I, when looking at my condition, I am not doomed always to spend my days on the loom; and brighter days did come, as my subsequent history will show. I made several early efforts to get off the loom. I went to learn the shuttle making business, but did not succeed. I followed, at one time, “twisting in” for weavers, and in this I succeeded better. Once I tried for a situation as jobber, lost a week, but got no wages. Naturally precocious, I was always thinking of the future. When reading the Scriptures, I often pictured myself in the pulpit dividing the text after the manner of ministers; and, at a very premature age, I thought of the miseries of single blessedness, and wished for a house of my own. With the country habits of my uncle and grandfather, there was little that was interesting in the way of social intercourse among us, and not caring to mix much with the lads of the village, I was a good deal isolated and left to my own resources. I never could join them in their rough sports; and by the fighting parties, for which the village was famous, I was always put upon and called “soft,” and, of course, had to endure many humiliations. I generally made the girls my companions, in preference to the boys.

Still, at the earlier part of this period, I had my play and favourite amusements as well as others. With the present Mr. George Longworth (late cryer of the court), and the late Mr. Robert Snell, and others, I used to play marbles, but nearly always to a disadvantage. Lads and lasses together, we used to romp, and play at “hare and hounds,” “prison bars,” “hide and seek,” “tig and touchwood,” and in-doors at “forfeits.” We used to beguile the evening hours in telling about “Jack the giant killer,” and all the other legendary tales. We all believed in the existence of bogies, and the exploits of the “Bannister Doll,” a noted Walton bogie that had some connection with the Bannister Hall Printworks. Thomas Jolly’s house was our chief rendezvous; with their own large family, and the collection of so many other children, the crowding and the noise was such that Mrs. Jolly many a time got out of patience with us, and drove us all home. We use to go a nutting in Cuerdale woods, but always in fear of the keeper. I once had a day’s hunting, and only once; following the hounds all day in my clogs, I never desired a repetition of this sport. I delighted to wade in the river, and fishing was my favourite sport. For hours together I could sit at the Ribble side watching the swimmer, if I did not get a single bite. In the season, I laid night-lines in different parts of the river—at Cuerdale, at the “Church deeps,” and above and below Walton Bridge; but sometimes I had the mortification to find that both lines and fish had been taken away. During my boyhood, I remember one visit to Preston which had a special interest. It was at the Guild of 1802. I was then eight years of age, and in Cheapside, a relative of mine seated me on his shoulder while the imposing procession passed by. Mr. Watson and Mr. John Horrocks had then introduced cotton spinning into the town, and this rising and profitable business was strikingly represented at this gala. The following notice is from Mr. Hardwick’s “History of Preston:”—

The gentlemen’s procession commenced on Monday morning, immediately after breakfast; it was preceded by the Marshal, armed cap-a-pie, on horse-back, trumpeters on horse-back, &c.; then came twenty-four young, blooming, handsome women, belonging to the different cotton mills, dressed in a uniform of peculiar beauty and simplicity. Their dress consisted wholly of the manufacture of the town. Their petticoats were of fine white calico; the head-dress was a kind of blue feathered wreath, formed very ingeniously of cotton, so as to look like a garland; each girl carried in her hand the branch of an artificial cotton tree, as the symbol of her profession. The gentlemen walked in pairs, preceded by Lord Derby and the Hon. T. Erskine. They amounted to about four hundred, consisting of all the principal noblemen, gentlemen, merchants, and manufacturers of this and the neighbouring counties. On Tuesday was the ladies’ procession. A numerous body of gentlemen, holding white rods in their hands, walked before, and filed off, making a line on each side of the street, through which the ladies were to pass. The girls from the cotton manufactory led the van as before; afterwards came the ladies, two and two. The Rev. Mr. Shuttleworth, rector, and Mrs. Grimshaw, the mayoress, and queen of the guild, walked first; after them came the Countess of Derby and Lady Charlotte Hornby; Lady Stanley, daughter of the Earl of Derby, and Lady Ann Lindsay; Lady Susan Carpenter, and the Hon. Mrs. Cawthorne; Lady Gerard, and Lady Houghton; Lady Jerningham, and Lady Fitzgerald. Several other baronets’ ladies, and the rest of the other ladies, followed, walking in pairs; in all, near four hundred in number, consisting of the most distinguished ladies in this and the neighbouring counties. They were all superbly dressed, and adorned with a profusion of the richest jewels.

It has been this cotton which has converted our aristocratic town of six or seven thousand into a hive of industry, with a population now approaching 100,000.

Among the places where drunkenness prevailed, I am sorry to say, Walton was no exception. The weavers crowded the public-houses, and they regularly kept “St. Monday.” The villagers all thought well of drink, and at the dame’s school, kept by Jenny Holmes, to which I was first sent, there was spiced ale or wine at the Christmas banquet, and the little folks, I remember, were showing off by imitating the drunkard. We had a sad wet lot connected with the Church. The grave-digger and his father were both drunkards; ringers and singers, both were hard drinkers, and I remember the latter singing in my father’s kitchen, one Christmas Day morning, in a most disgraceful condition. The parish clerk was no exception. When the Church clock was standing for want of winding-up in a morning, as was often the case, the remark was “the clerk was drunk again last night.” The hospitality of my father’s house always included the bottle. One of my uncles (Ainsworth), a timber dealer in the village, a fine healthy man, killed himself in the prime of life with drinking, and left a large family unprovided for.

I was surrounded by mental darkness and vice, without the companionship of congenial spirits, but, cherishing the aspirations of future advancement, it was to me a great consolation and a source of future hope to become acquainted with a family of the name of Portlock, the heads of which and some of the members were decidedly religious. I began then, when about sixteen, to feel the value of existence, the importance of sacred things, and to enjoy the comforts of religious and friendly intercourse.

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