Livesey autobiography — chapter 2

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I must bespeak the patience of my readers while I linger a little longer in my native village, Walton. From the time I lost my parents to my removal to “Proud Preston” was fourteen years, and it is not easy to cram the incidents of such a period into a few pages. It will already have been seen that I had hard exercising ground; but still, I think, well fitted, in a case like mine, to qualify for the battle of life I had to fight. I referred in my last to the total absence of those conveniences, comforts, arid advantages now enjoyed by the working classes, and I may here take up the same tale. For instance, in my young days, there was no water-supply from any public works, and I had to fetch all we needed, for common purposes, from the river; and, as a beverage, from a neighbour’s pump. “Kitting” milk had not then been invented, and I had to fetch it daily—about a mile and a half—from “Cockshot Farm,” not far from the Brownedge Catholic Chapel. I remember the first coach that ran through Walton; it was called a “boat coach,” from its form, and a Mr. Cooper was the proprietor. The inside was not unlike our omnibuses, and the passengers sat on the top without seats. At that time the travelling luxury for common people was the hind part of a waggon drawn by eight horses with stumped tails, at the rate of about two and a half miles in the hour. The wisdom of those times decided that if you cut off the tails of the horses you increased their strength; and though this was an act of great cruelty, having only to be done once, I don’t think it was so cruel as the modern fashion of punishing these noble animals, by always “reining up” their heads when at work. A pack of hounds was kept at Walton Hall, by Sir Henry Bold Hoghton, and our gentlemen hunters always cut a dash by appearing in red coats, but our parson always retained his canonical black. At church we had some singular practices. At the close of the forenoon service the sales and other notices were read out in the church-yard. At a wedding the minister was privileged to salute the bride as soon as the ceremony was over, but whether he always availed himself of this favour I am not certain. In anticipation of the old ringers being done up (and their habits were no guarantee against this), a new set was formed, and, though only sixteen, I joined them; I rang the second bell. We had fines for being too late, and for other offences, and these accumulated till Christmas. We had no one to teach us better, so we decided to spend the money in a jollification at the White Bull. We had a supper, and afterwards, as much liquor as we pleased; mulled-ale, rum-shrub, and raspberry-brandy, and whatever we pleased to call for. I need not say what was the effect. It is very much to be regretted that even now, for want of better guidance and better instruction, young men in such cases are left to themselves, to indulge in drinking practices that often end in their ruin. Every Sunday, “Watson’s Apprentices,” as they were called, attended Walton Church. They were workers in the cotton mill, known as “Penwortham Factory,” and came in order, under suitable superintendence, wearing a uniform of brown coats, with cuffs and collars of yellow. It was said they were obtained from a Foundling Hospital in London. Many of them were crooked-legged, becoming deformed with having to stop the machinery by placing their knees against it. Sir Henry Bold Hoghton, who resided at Walton Hall, was afflicted with gout, and could scarcely walk. He always came to Church on a cob, but Lady Houghton came in the carriage. When the carriage drove up, we boys, who were sauntering in the church-yard, always ran to see her get out. We had several distinguished families in the village, some of whom will still be remembered. After Sir Henry, who resided at Walton Hall, we had “Squire Ashton,” of Walton Lodge; Mr. Charles Swainson, of Cooper Hill; Mr. E. Pedder, of Darwen Bank; Mr. Jacson, father of the late Mr. Charles Jacson, of Preston; Mr. Tongue, father of the late Mr. Tongue, of Forton Cottage; Mr. Fisher, father of the late Mr. John Fisher, of the Lancaster Bank, and his brother Samuel, and others. The most distinguished ladies, all unmarried, were the Misses Sergeant, three sisters, noted for their kindness and benevolence to the poor; the Misses Cooper, the Misses Woodacre, Miss Rhodes, and Miss Barton.

When very young, I remember the Methodists attempting to get a footing in Walton, but with little or no success. They held their meetings in the house of Joseph King, clogger, and I attended some of them. Mrs. King and other females belonging the Society, wore “Quaker bonnets,” and I presume, at that time, more respect was paid to the advice of Wesley, by his followers, as to ribbons and dress, and, I hope, smoking and drinking too, than at the present day. I was about seventeen when I became acquainted with Portlock’s family. They were Baptists, and very kind to me. I was soon impressed with the importance of religion, and began to attend the Baptist Chapel (Leeming Street, Preston), sometimes the Independent’s (then at the North end of Chapel Street), sometimes the Methodist’s (then in Back Lane.) Charles, one of their sons, and Thomas Jolly, jun., and I, became close companions. Our souls seemed knit together, and many a happy night have we spent in talking upon religious subjects. The result was that Charles and I were baptized together, I believe, in the year 1811, in the Baptist Chapel, which stood where St. Saviour’s has been newly erected. Thomas Jolly was baptized some time after. I felt a strong conviction that I was doing the will of God in this service, though it was in opposition to the wishes and entreaties of my grandfather and other relatives. To me it was a day of great enjoyment. I remember well, after the baptism was over, joining with great fervour in singing the hymn—

Jesus, and shall it ever be,
A mortal man ashamed of Thee;
Ashamed of Thee whom angels praise,
Whose glory shines to endless days.

The return of Sunday was to me a feast of good things; all the fervency of youth and the zeal of a new convert were added to a deep conviction of the importance of religion. With what delight did I use to go, in my clogs, to Preston, to the evening prayer meetings held in the vestry! I have still, in my possession, Watt’s hymn-book, which I bought at the time. On the inside of the front cover is written, “Joseph Livesey’s Book, 1811.” On a blank leaf is the following, “Is any merry, let him sing Psalms. James v. 13.” And, at the end, is this verse—

Hope is my helmet, faith my shield,
Thy word, my God—the sword I wield;
With sacred truth my loins are girt,
And holy zeal inspires my heart.

The congregation was too poor to pay a minister; and, at that time, a Mr. Baker, tailor and draper, regularly officiated as such; but, unfortunately (I don’t exactly remember the cause), a division ensued; one part of the people adhering to Mr. Baker, and the other wishing to get without him; and this division became so strong that, one Sunday morning, the chapel having been locked up by one party, was broken open with violence by the other. The ordination of the Rev. Mr. Edwards was about to take place at Accrington, and it was then agreed to refer the quarrel to the decision of the ministers who would then be assembled; but this was attended with no satisfactory result. Sometime after this I left the Society, and joined what were then called the “Scotch Baptists,” whose meeting place was in Mr. Charnock’s school-room, over the “Horse Shoe smithy,” in Church Street.

I cannot refrain dwelling a moment upon our mission to Accrington on this unpleasant business. Along with others I walked from Walton; the distance would be about 14 miles. The Rev. Mr. Stephens preached the Ordination Sermon from the text “One is your Master even Christ, and all ye are brethren.” Equality was what I admired, and I was much pleased with the discourse. At the close of the service it was announced that any one who wished to take dinner could be accommodated at a certain inn, at 1s. each. But I learnt that there was a free dinner for the ministers and other rich friends. I felt as one of the poor who really needed a dinner, and not having a shilling to spare, that the doctrine of equal brotherhood, though brilliant in the pulpit was not so in “word and deed.” But what offended me most was, that, being allowed to enter the large room after the dinner, I saw the ministers and other friends enjoying themselves with their long pipes amid the fumes of tobacco, drinking spirits and other liquors. Though physically feeble, I was never deficient in moral courage, and when we were introduced to the rev. gentlemen who were to hear our case, I could not forbear giving vent to my feelings. I protested against this eating and drinking, and said that in primitive times men were ordained to the ministry with “prayer and fasting.” A poor, simple, ill-dressed, illiterate, unknown lad lecturing divines on the primitive duties of self-denial! A regular laugh was the response, and indeed what else could be expected? I believe this exhibition gave a cast to my mind of which I have never got clear, and I should be glad to believe that nothing similar is to be met with in the present day.

My mind from this time was directed to religious subjects, and whilst my connection with the Scotch Baptists was a valuable defence against all the worldly temptations with which youth is surrounded, in another respect it was rather a misfortune. They attached so much importance to what they called “soundness in the faith,” that it was with reluctance they held fellowship with others who did not hold the same belief. There were but a few in the society, and imbibing the same views, my religious intercourse was greatly circumscribed. I became the zealous advocate of opinions rather than the promoter of charity among all good people. At any cost I would “stand up for the truth.” I gave my mind to controversial theology, and spent far too much time in settling (as I thought) disputed points—especially those betwixt Calvinists and Arminians, Unitarians and Trinitarians—points which have occupied polemic champions through all ages and are yet unsettled. There was what would be called a “self-confidence” about me that was not inviting to others. I remember getting a severe rebuke from a minister in Manchester. In a long controversial letter I wrote to him, I used the words, ‘I never see anything wrong, but I am determined to set it right.” Coming from a youth of about 18, it was not very modest, and the minister at that time performed a friendly service in giving me a check which I never forgot.

I now come to an interesting period. Whatever people may say, I believe there are very few who don’t think something of wedding before they are out of their teens, however long it may be before their wishes are accomplished. My habit was always to act with promptitude: some would say with precipitancy. I never could endure delays with anything in prospect. No doubt there are reasons,—in some cases strong reasons—against early marriages; but on the other hand, there are stronger against late ones. No age can be fixed upon as a standard, for almost in every case there are peculiar circumstances that have to be considered. But with some experience, and a long range of observation, I have come to the conclusion that the advantages are greatly in favour of persons marrying young; of course, making a judicious choice, and being prepared with means to start with comfort, out of debt, and with a fair prospect of resources to meet eventualities. It was not personal acquaintance that decided my choice. I heard of Miss Williams as an amiable, religious girl, and before seeing her, my choice was decided, provided I could obtain her consent. I don’t recommend such a course to others, for though in my case it turned out everything I could wish, to decide so momentous a question without a more extensive knowledge and more opportunities of knowing each other, would in many cases be attended with the worst results. Her father was a Welshman, a master rigger, in Liverpool; he had married a second time, and as the daughter had no peace or comfort at home with her stepmother, she left, and when I first heard of her, she was living at Mr. Jackson’s, an intimate friend of her father’s, who kept an earthenware warehouse and china shop in Swan Street, Manchester. The family were “Scotch Baptists,” worshipping in Cold House Chapel, Shude Hill, and she was a member of the same church. Thus, as it were, exiled from home, she might almost be considered an orphan like myself. On my first visit I attended their meeting, and as I was in the habit of giving exhortations at Preston, I was invited to do the same, and she has often told me since, that it was my speaking that prepared her more than anything else, to give a favourable response when I “popped the question.” We were thus fixed 30 miles from each other, and with the exception of about three visits, all the “love-making,” which lasted about a year, was done by long sheets of paper filled to every corner. There were no railways then; I had to walk all that distance, and I well remember one of the times that, having got as far as Bolton, 20 miles, and it was getting late, I felt unable to proceed. There was a mail coach, and the question was betwixt taking the mail, and staying at Bolton and proceeding next morning. Of course I wanted to reach Manchester, and out of my poor means I had to pay 5s. for riding outside the mail, a distance of only 11 miles. Having no means to furnish a house, if there had been no other reason, I was obliged to wait until I came of age. A relation of mine had bequeathed to me about £30 to be paid then, and with this I furnished a nice little cottage in Walton, rent £7 a year, with a garden attached. I used to attend sales and purchase articles of furniture as cheap as I could, regardless of the jokes and taunts that neighbours would pass upon me; and I hold it to be right that no man should take a wife till he has a house furnished ready for her to come to. To commence in lodgings, as some newly married pairs do, is abominable. The time was fixed, and on the 30th May, 1815, without the attendance of “ten carriages,” or even “one,” the display of “orange blossoms,” or ” Honiton lace,” in St. Peter’s Church, Liverpool, the knot was tied. It was a very quiet affair; the parson took us into the vestry, which is a very unusual thing, and gabbled over the service as quickly as possible. I remember paying him with a 5s. piece, and afterwards remarking what a cheap wife I had got. Mr. Williams, her father, gave a supper in the evening to a few friends. I was turned 21, and Miss Williams 19 and a half; and though very delicate looking at the time, it has surprised us both, how much she improved and the great amount of work she has gone through. There was no driving off to spend the “honeymoon;” our “wedding tour” was from Liverpool to Walton next morning; and I need not say that when we made our appearance in the village we received the congratulations of our neighbours, and no doubt many strange remarks were made by the females, looking on, as to the wisdom of my choice. Here we both settled down to our work, Joseph to his loom, and Jane to her wheel; and though as low in means as most people to start with, we have “lived and loved together,” now more than 52 years, never once having reason to regret the step we took. Some of the incidents connected with this long period, the large family we have brought up, and the favourable change which took place in our circumstances and position will be noticed in future chapters.

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