Livesey autobiography — chapter 3

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The last chapter left me at Walton, just settled with my dear wife, who has been a treasure to me, as I stated, for nearly fifty-three years. Our cottage, though small, was like a palace, for none could excel my “Jenny” for cleanliness and order. I renovated the garden, and made it a pleasant place to walk in. On the loom I was most industrious, working from early in the morning often till ten, and sometimes later, at night; and she not only did all the house work, but wound the bobbins for three weavers—myself, uncle, and grandfather; and yet, with all this apparently hard lot, these were happy days. Hope springs eternal in the human breast; and young people just beginning life, however poor, if they are united and affectionate, sober and industrious, feel its inspiration, and work on with joyful anticipations of better days. I soon learnt the truth of the old saying, “In taking a wife you had better have a fortune in her than with her;” and if all men were guided by this, and the females knew it, we should have happier marriages, and the girls would aim to acquire substantial instead of artificial attractions.

Living in Walton, for various reasons, was found to be inconvenient, and we removed to Preston in less than a year. Our first house was in Park Street (at the back of Paradise Street), at 2s. 6d. a week. Here our first child was born, bringing with him a little brother. It was in our wedding year that the cursed Corn Laws were passed, the House of Commons being surrounded by soldiers with drawn bayonets. Under the blighting influence of this measure, food was enormously dear, and the price of labour much depressed. In such circumstances, to have two additional mouths to fill all at once was rather discouraging, but one died soon after birth, and the other is now in his fifty-second year. We struggled on for some months, when unexpectedly, in the autumn of 1816, an incident occurred which gave an important turn to our affairs. My health was bad, the house was not adapted for weaving in, and a family coming on, our prospects just then were very gloomy. The turning point was a trivial circumstance, which it may be interesting to relate, as it has led to results of which I had not the remotest idea. The doctor I consulted said I ought to live better, and that a little cheese and bread and a sup of malt liquor (the old remedy!) about eleven o’clock in the forenoon, would be of great service. I forget whether we got the malt liquor, but I distinctly recollect our purchasing a bit of cheese. It was of a common quality, sold at 7d. or 8d. a pound. Just at that time (Oct. 11) was the Lancaster cheese fair, and I heard some people stating that prices had declined to about 50s. the cwt. Calculating this, I found it was only 5d. per lb.; and it occurred to me, that if I could purchase a whole cheese and divide it among our neighbours, it would be doing them a good turn and be a saving to ourselves. Farmers then stood with cheese in the market. I went to enquire the prices, and met with a farmer of the name of Bradley, from the Hill House, Wheeton, who had just two cheeses unsold. To finish, he offered to take 4¾d. per lb. for them. This, I thought, was a fine chance, but where was the money to pay for them? I had none; indeed, I remember on one occasion, that we had to wait till I returned from the warehouse with my piece money before we could raise the necessaries for our next meal. John Burnett (a good friend to everybody in time of need) kept a draper’s shop in Friargate, and I stepped down to tell him the case, and he at once lent me a sovereign, with which I paid for the two cheeses. In a short time these were in Park Street, and what a sight! Two whole cheeses on a weaver’s table! What was to be done as to the division and distribution? I told the neighbours of my achievement; each consented to take a piece, and in order to cover any loss by weighing out, they paid me 5½d. per lb. John Burnett also kindly lent me a scale and weights. Persevering as I always was, after the neighbours were served, I took a stool, with the scale and cheese, and stood during the remainder of the Saturday afternoon at the bottom of Vauxhall Road, and sold a quantity in small pieces. I had still some left; but, in the evening, I counted up my money and weighed what was remaining, and found to my surprise that I had made about eighteen-pence profit. Being more than I could have made by weaving in the time, I was quite lifted up, and on the Monday morning, determined to finish, I went hawking the remnant till all was sold. I then resumed my weaving, but the people in the town came through the week for my cheap cheese, so that I was induced the next Saturday to renew the attempt, Mr. Burnett finding me the means.

For some time I continued weaving through the week, and cut cheese out on the Saturday, first at a corner of Syke Hill, and then in the Market Place. Here I fixed my table, and produced considerable excitement by cutting out cheese at 5½d. per lb., the general price being 7d. I soon succeeded in retailing as much as three hundred-weight in a day. Shortly after this my wife took the table, and I became a sort of wholesale man, selling whole cheeses, and sometimes a hundred-weight. She was quite as active, as persevering, and as successful as myself. Winter though it was, we stood out in all weathers, caring little for present comfort, in hope of future success. I then began to attend Chorley, Blackburn, and Wigan markets, and thus filled up the week. I gave up the loom, and made a present of it to a poor man in Queen Street, named Joseph Woodruff, and some years after I sought it out, gave him a sovereign for it, and out of the various parts a writing table was made, on which I am now correcting this article. Turn it over and you will see the several pieces that constituted the cradle of my future usefulness; and when I am in the grave, may this remind my children that their father was a poor man, and that of all the duties incumbent upon them they should never forget the poor! Seeing my success, I had two or three friends who lent me money on interest, with which to keep up my stock. It will be remembered that there were then no railways, and when, in addition to the other markets, I began to attend Bolton, (20 miles,) I walked there, stood market, got dinner in the street, and walked back the same day. By and bye, I got a pony (“Billy,”) and began to go into the country among the farmers to buy their cheese. I was my own ostler, for I did not spend a penny that I could spare; and I remember I used to think it very hard, after returning from Bolton quite fatigued, when seated in the corner, to have to go to the stable to clean and feed the pony. For twenty years I scarcely missed a Monday going to Bolton, first walking, then on horseback, and afterwards in a gig; for, next to Preston, it was the best market I had. Till 1824, when a part of the Preston new Corn Exchange was allotted for the sale of cheese, I stood on the Saturday for eight years, along with other cheese dealers, in the street, near the Castle Inn, Cheapside. Imbued as we all were with the old delusive notion that drink would keep the cold out, we used to run across the Market Place to Mrs. Rigby’s, the Blue Anchor, who was noted for her good twopence-halfpenny ale. While on the one hand I was kept from going to excess, on the other I fear that my example induced the others to go, and once there, they would sometimes remain till they were intoxicated. Cheese buying in the country, too, was a dangerous business, the farmers generally keeping the bottle to bring out over making a bargain. Many have been ruined, and it is a mercy that neither I nor any of my sons were ever overcome by it. Sometimes I would make a venture to a distant place, to Ulverston for instance; and I remember leaving Ulverston one evening to catch a coach at Levens Bridge, when I had to go through a district in which I was quite a stranger. It came on dark, with a heavy dew. Not knowing where I was, nor what course to pursue, I kept on the road till I came to a farm house. I was afraid to knock at the door lest I should be misunderstood, and lest some dog might be within, so I quietly got into an outbuilding, and laid on the hay (I cannot say I slept) till break of day, when I crept out, nobody being the wiser, and found my way to Levens Bridge. On another occasion, going on foot over the Eleven-mile Sands, from Hest Bank, where so many have been drowned, I had nearly been overtaken by the tide. I saw it rolling in westward, and I ran east with all the speed of which I was capable, and recovered the land, but had a very narrow escape. These are a few incidents connected with my early experience in the cheese trade. This business for fifty-one years has gradually increased, especially since several of my sons have taken a part, and whose exertions have contributed very much to our success. For most of that time, it has had a larger connection than any similar establishment in North Lancashire.

Though almost interdicted, I cannot do justice to my feelings if I do not say a few words as to the excellencies of my dear wife. In our early struggles, when commencing business out of nothing, she was not only my counsellor in difficulties, but an active and efficient helper to the extent of, and even beyond her power. She was no lady wife; though respectably connected, and accustomed to plenty before marriage, she willingly shared my poverty and privations, and bore a full part of our burdens. She shared my joys and more than shared my sorrows, for she wiped them away. Whenever I was cast down she was the one to revive my spirits. For a long time she did all the house work as well as attending to business, and she would sit up past midnight making and mending the children’s clothes. And when she first got a servant, and, indeed, ever since, her ideas of cleanliness are so extreme, that she would always put a hand to herself. No pen could do justice in describing the sympathy she showed towards every sufferer that came within her reach; nor set forth her willingness to undergo any toil to give them relief. If ever a “good mother” existed she deserves that name. No labour was ever too much,; no anxiety too great, or sacrifice too severe to provide for the wants of her children, to get them well-educated, and to bring them up respectably. Her motherly kindness never waned, and never will; for, to this day, her happiness is bound up with the happiness and well-doing of her family. Though delicate from the first, the amount of endurance she has manifested is truly wonderful, If ever we had a bit of a tiff (and these are sometimes useful in clearing the connubial atmosphere), it was almost always about her working too hard; and yet, I am strongly inclined to think that this exercise, and the pleasure she had in seeing her house and children nice, have contributed far more to her lengthened life than the opposite would have done. A lady’s life of soft indulgence, rising late in the morning, lolling on a sofa most of the forenoon reading novels, with little exercise, fed with rich food, and pampered with delicacies—these have killed many a thousand with better constitutions than Mother Livesey’s. One day I received this positive injunction from her: “See thou sayest nothing about me.” We always thou’d each other, and, for equals, I am fond of this Quaker’s style. However, I have ventured to state the above, for which I may perhaps get a “curtain lecture,” but I know it will be short and sweet.

This may not be an improper time for noticing our family. I was always fond of children, and am so to the present day, and hence, I was not like some fathers, who are troubled when the “little strangers” make their appearance. If the man is “blessed that has his quiver full of them,” I may, at any rate, claim a share in that blessing. Every two years, as a rule, brought an addition to our numbers—thirteen in all—and, without any choice, the boys greatly predominated—ten of one sort and three of the other. Four died in infancy, and nine remain, eight sons and one daughter. Mother often used to pray that she might be spared to see her youngest child grown up, and all settled in life; and her desire in these respects has been realized. However, I find I must curb any inclination to enter upon details, for a full narrative of all the events and circumstances, enjoyments and disappointments, successes and reverses, connected with half a century’s experience in bringing up so large a family, would more than fill a three-volume treatise. Suffice it to say that the good has greatly predominated over the evil; the bright over the gloomy. Mother is proud of her family, and well she may; there are not many at our age who have eight sons, all grown up, the youngest thirty-two, and the eldest nearly fifty-two, and all doing well; and the position of our daughter, the ninth, is equally satisfactory. Seven out of the nine are married, and, counting the grand-children, we find they number twenty-seven. I enter this week upon my 75th year, and Mrs. L. is less than two years of the same age. I said the four we lost died in their infancy, and it is remarkable that since 1840, now twenty-seven years, we have not had a single death in our family, either of children or grand-children. Some couples feel it a hard task to have the charge of a small family of three or four children, and some parents I have known almost at their wit’s end with a single son, as to fixing him to a trade. How would such manage if they had eight boys to provide for? Our last little girl, Priscilla, was a great favourite, and as I was proud of them all, I got a friend one day, Mr. Edward Finch, to make a sketch of the family group—then ten in number—in the drawing-room; the father sitting, with nine children, round the table, according to ages, reading, and the mother close by, in the rocking-chair, with her little darling on her knee. This I have preserved, and, if I am spared to finish this memoir, I intend to get it engraved as a frontispiece.

There are very few families, even among the wealthy, which have not had to lament the profligacy of some of their sons, and I don’t know a greater trouble that can come to parents than to see the objects of their brightest hopes become pests in society, the reputation of the family being tarnished by those who ought to do it honour. We have, fortunately, been saved any such infliction. If I were to name what I think has mostly contributed to this result, so far as we have been concerned, I would say that, in the first place, as soon as ever their progress in education would admit, if not before, I accustomed them all to work. Every one, so soon as he was able to do anything, was put to some kind of employment, and this, in training children, I deem of great importance. Idleness, whether in young or old, nearly always leads to evil. Next; they were not sent from home, either to get educated or learn professions or businesses; and hence they were not exposed to the numerous temptations which are always surrounding young people, unshielded by the watchful care of parents. To this there was a slight exception, but not of long continuance. I deem the watchful eye of the parents of great importance as a protection to youth, and I can trace the ruin of numerous young men, most promising at one time, entirely to their being sent from home at an age the most dangerous—some to college, and some to trades. In the third place, at home, they had not only good lessons given them but good examples; and, as it respects drink, even before we became teetotalers, we kept none in the house, and it was scarcely ever seen on the table. Water or milk was our invariable beverage at meals. Since then my 37 and Mrs. L.’s. 35 years’ teetotalism have benefited them much. Being so numerous, they were company for each other, without seeking for companions elsewhere; and perhaps I ought to add that I myself was their companion. I always took delight in their company; I used to play with them, run with them, romp with them, and, when sitting by the fireside, sometimes I should have one on each knee, and one or two climbing up the chair back, perhaps combing my hair or pulling my whiskers. While we allowed nothing that was vicious or unseemly, we put as few restraints as possible upon their youthful vivacity; no doubt, this endeared them more to home. Thus, being in contact with us constantly, they naturally imbibed, to some extent, the habits of carefulness, economy, steadiness, and industry which they saw in their parents. Then as to businesses; I created trades for most of them myself. The cheese trade kept expanding, so that it afforded an opening for at least three, or more of them, as they grew up. In 1832, I commenced the printing business, and in 1844, the Preston Guardian newspaper, and these found employment for others. One learnt to be an engineer, and the rest have been provided for without much inconvenience. I intended to refer to the great change which has taken place in the town of Preston since my first coming to it, and to some other topics, but these must stand over till next chapter.

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