Livesey autobiography — chapter 5

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If “order is Heaven’s first law,” I may feel thankful that I have not been altogether disobedient to it. From a boy I had a strong feeling for keeping everything tidy, in good repair, and in order. For some time after our marriage we changed residences frequently, and we have lived altogether in ten different houses. It was my habit always to be making alterations, and improving the appearance of the places. I am fond of fields and flowers, and there is nothing I have prided myself in more than a nice garden in good order. I have always tried to get a house, however humble, where we had trees and fields to look out upon, and not bricks and mortar and other people’s windows, or, if possible, as Mr. Cobden expressed it, a house that the wind could blow round. Attached to our first cottage was a garden, which, when we entered, might have belonged to one of Solomon’s sluggards. I soon metamorphosed it—made a nice walk, planted flowers, and for a poor man’s garden made it charming to look upon. At the front of the next I levelled the street, a work not belonging to a tenant, and planted flowers behind, though they withered and died for want of sun and air. At a little farm we occupied, at Holme Slack, I spent a deal of money in ridding up hedges, draining, planting shrubs, and re-modelling the gardens, and we were often complimented by visitors for the nice order in which everything was kept. This place was to me a most pleasant retreat, especially in the evenings on returning from the town, weary with the toils of business, or distracted with the turmoil of some conflict on public affairs. Oh how I did enjoy the tranquillity of those delightful walks, and the perfumes of those ever enchanting flowers! I felt a sense of repose as I opened the gate, and the quiet of walking under those shady trees, how it seemed to obliterate the recollection of crowded streets and long chimneys. For about 20 years we remained there, and long before the end of that period I beheld the ivy covering the walls to the eaves, which I had planted with my own hand. There were also the fine Portugal laurels, the tall Irish yew, the holly bush, the acuba, with a variety of roses, forming a pleasant avenue, and rendered ten-fold more interesting from the recollection that all these were put down tiny plants by myself at moments stolen from the calls of business. It was some time before we erected a dwelling of our own at Windermere, and there I have had the credit of good taste and a love of order in laying out the grounds with shrubs and flowers. The last little service I did in this way was, the presentation of a dozen choice Araucaria plants to our Park about two years ago, one of which I assisted to plant myself.

I thought it not inappropriate to mention the above as an introduction to a statement I have to make of my exertions, at different times, in assisting to carry out improvements in this borough. A residence of more than fifty years, with a connection with public bodies, has given me many opportunities of effecting improvements, of following up my inclination to remove nuisances, and adding to the enjoyments and conveniences of the inhabitants. Before entering upon these, it may not be amiss to say a few words as to the town itself. As a manufacturing town, Preston is considered second to no other in Lancashire. It is “Proud Preston,” not because the people are noted for their pride above others, but because of the eminence of its situation, having to be approached on all sides by advancing ground. Its staple trade is spinning and the manufacture of cotton cloth, and so exclusively so that, during the “cotton famine,” it was among the greatest sufferers in the county. To show its progress, a year before I became an inhabitant it had only a piece of a Church, the steeple built of red sandstone, being in a dilapidated condition; it has now thirteen. It then comprised little more than three main streets, Churchgate, Friargate, and Fishergate, and in each was fixed a bar where a toll was collected, there being no ingress or egress for horses and conveyances but through these. I remember well the channels in Church Street running down the middle. The changes which have taken place are not less in the extent of the streets and building’s, and the increase of population, than in the personnel of those who were connected with its business. With the exception of Mr. John Taylor, druggist, it is stated that I am the oldest tradesman. Mr. D. Longworth, in his Monthly Advertiser, places me second, and says: “Mr. Joseph Livesey, cheesemonger, Church Street, has been in business fifty-two years, and presents a bright example of how a person placed in the humblest walk of life may, by patient and steady perseverance, rise up to a position honourable to himself and useful to his fellowmen.” To remember the former occupants of our long streets and shops, and to find that they have disappeared in one’s own time, and numbered with the dead, impresses one’s mind strongly with the fleeting tenure of human life, and the importance of “numbering our days and applying our hearts to wisdom.” Looking back also to the names of those who, at that time, were considered the “heads of the town,” it is painful to think of the changes which have taken place—to think of so many names of high standing, either extinct or scarcely to be met with, and so many of their families gone into obscurity. It is still more painful to know that this great change is not traceable to any act of Providence. I once had a list of gentlemen, tradesmen, and professional men who had killed or ruined themselves by dissipation, but I abandoned it, finding that I could not turn it to any practical purpose without hurting the feelings of surviving friends.

Many foolish practices prevailed here when I was young. I never saw the “ducking stool,” but I have seen—what I never wish to see again—a bull baited, near the House of Correction. I witnessed, before I was married, the leaping of the colt-hole on “Collop Monday.” This was a large hole, some yards across, on the Marsh; and persons called “Colts,” who had been elected freemen or bailiffs, had to leap it. It being too large for any man to leap over, substitutes were hired, who, for a consideration, did the leaping, but, of course, leaped in and got a good wetting. On this occasion there was a succession of follies. The colt hole performance being over, the crowd proceeded to Water Lane End, where, by stopping the courses, all the filthy water was thrown across the road; coppers were thrown in—the boys and roughs all scrambling in the dirty water to pick out as much as they could. Next, they came to the Castle Inn, and threw out of the window to the crowd a quantity of pence heated in the fire. After this, I remember, they made to the top of Lord Street, where there was a pump, and the ” Colts” were made to run round the pump, the people laying on with hands, hats, or other convenient instruments. Edward Toy, grocer, in Cheapside, I distinctly recollect, was one who was thus honoured in his initiation to municipal honours. Great changes have taken place; bull-baiting, cockfighting, and the races have all been given up. The time of the latter was a great holiday, and the Derby family paid an annual visit to Preston at the races. The old Earl (grandfather to the present Earl), was strongly attached to the sport of cock-fighting, but both this and the races, and also their visits, were given up upon the defeat of the Hon. E. G. Stanley (the present Earl), at the election in 1830, by Henry Hunt. The Mansion was razed to the ground, and the stables made into shops. The Mansion in Church Street was nearly opposite a shop we then occupied (No. 107), and on the occasion of the races we witnessed the great excitement which used to prevail in this part. The Earl took his airing in an open carriage, with a pair of ponies; but the Countess had a splendid equipage—a coach and six, with the attendants in livery. When the Derby family took offence and left Preston, it was thought by many that its sun had set for ever: but we have survived, and almost forgotten the shock then felt; and I presume we have learnt this useful lesson—that self-reliance is far better than dependence on patronage and favour.

In the course of my long residence in this borough, I have served the offices of Select Vestry-man, Member of the Board of Guardians, Commissioner for the Improvement of the Borough, and Town Councillor. In connection with the Commissioners, I tried to effect several improvements. I was on the general committee, and every Thursday we had a tour of inspection, and here it was that I found scope for my desire to remove nuisances, promote cleanliness, and to recommend such alterations as I thought the town required, especially in the back streets. I would often go ahead of my coadjutors, and but for them holding back, I should have incurred more expense than was justifiable; though what I proposed was not in the way of ornament, but for purposes of real utility. The office of “Inspector of Nuisances” was just the one I should like to have filled. Hence, when I have visited Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dublin, Liverpool, or London, unlike those who are taken with the rich parts of the towns and with the splendid buildings, my “lions” were generally found in the streets where poverty, misery, and vice were most conspicuous. I have visited some of the worst places in these towns; for instance, I have visited some of the cellars in Dublin, the miserable holes in St. Giles, and similar places in Westminster, Edinburgh, and Glasgow; and I have hence a pretty correct knowledge how the people live who reside there. Though when in office as an Improvement Commissioner I got on much slower than I wished, yet I did accomplish something. The opening out of Orchard Street, joining Friargate to the Orchard, was effected chiefly by my perseverance; and I got the shops, erected where Lord Derby’s stables stood, placed a yard back, after the walls were up about three feet, thus widening the street to that extent. Many a dirty corner I got cleaned out—pig-styes and other nuisances removed; I took considerable interest in the regulation of the markets and the sweeping of the streets; but when on the one hand you have parties to deal with who are conservators of dirt, and on the other, persons who are afraid of incurring expense, you can only get on slowly.

I was elected one of the Councillors for St. John’s Ward in 1835, at the first election under the Municipal Reform Bill. I began in good earnest to attempt such reforms as the abuses under the old regime had made most urgent. At the second meeting of the Council, Mr. Swindlehurst and I carried a motion to sell all the wine which the old Corporation had left, and which produced the sum of £226 3s. 7d. At a subsequent meeting, among other “articles not necessary to carry into effect the Municipal Corporation Bill,” “two japanned wine waggons, five dozen wine glasses, ten decanters, and cork-screw,” were also ordered to be sold. I succeeded in carrying a motion for fixing seats along the Ladies’ Walk in Moor Park, though it was strongly opposed by some who alleged that they would only be useful to the young men and young women who frequented that part. At my recommendation a scale was fixed just within the entrance of the Town Hall, to be used, without charge, by persons to weigh their purchases; but, though it is so important to the poor to be sure that they get proper weight, this scale was very little used. I committed a great mistake in persuading the Council to consent to a motion for abolishing the small tolls—my object being to induce the country people to increase their market supplies of vegetables and fruit—but the payment was restored the following year. As all tradespeople have to pay rents for their premises, it is but reasonable that the country people should pay for the accommodation they get in the market. I proposed to abolish the Mayor’s salary, as an unnecessary expenditure, and, from a return I obtained from all the boroughs in Lancashire, I found that there was only one borough besides Preston (Liverpool) which gave a salary to the Mayor. In this, as in an attempt to abolish the Sunday processions of the Mayor to the Church, I was unsuccessful. The Council chamber is not exactly the place that I seem fitted for. My notions of personal duty, and of despatch, don’t find much countenance in municipal bodies. At the end of my term of office, I did not ask for re-election, though some years after I was unwise enough to make the attempt, but was beaten, not by any superior qualification or experience on the part of my opponent, but by that mighty electioneering lever—cash and beer. The Council consisted of forty-eight—thirty-six Councillors and twelve Aldermen, and in looking over the names at its first meeting, thirty-two years ago, I find but one of the same gentlemen now in the Council, Mr. William Humber. And out of the whole forty-eight, there are, besides myself, only three living, Mr. Monk, Mr. W. Humber, and Mr. E. Threlfall. Either nine or ten Magistrates were then appointed for the borough, and out of these there is but one living, Mr. John Bairstow. In the good old Corporation times eating and drinking were orthodox duties; and although Councillors now-a-days, when invited to a Mayor’s dinner or other celebrations, do not “with one consent begin to make excuse,” yet no part of the corporate funds is applied to these purposes, and upon the whole, there is an improvement in favour of temperance.

We are proud of our two Parks—Avenham Park and Moor Park—for there is no town in Lancashire where the people have the same outlets for health and recreation as are afforded by these Parks, and by the walks on both sides of the river Ribble. Many persons now living will remember how difficult it was for pedestrians to make their way along the margin of the river from Jackson’s Gardens to Penwortham Bridge. I long felt anxious to put this path into thorough repair. The Corporation had neglected it, and I was the means of making it a pleasant footpath. In 1847 trade was bad; great numbers of people were out of work, and both male and female beggars abounded. Large subscriptions were being raised for the relief in Ireland, and this suggested to me the advantage of making an effort to get these poor people some relief through the medium of employment. I mooted the project of making a walk along the Ribble; a public meeting was convened, and a “Labour Association” formed. A subscription was commenced, Mr. Isherwood being treasurer, and Mr. Edward Smith secretary. A number of unemployed able-bodied men were set to work, under the superintendence of William Shepherd, and, besides help from the Corporation, £445 14s. 7d. was raised and expended. I don’t know that I was ever connected with any undertaking that gave me more satisfaction. The following extract from the closing report of the Association will give an idea of the extent and kind of work we undertook, and will be read with interest by many Preston people:—

Preparatory to commencing the Ribble Walks, your committee levelled Pottery Hill, and also the vacant ground adjoining Bridge Street and Mount Pleasant. They cleared and cindered a large square of open land at the front of Hammond’s Row, now enclosed. Vacant pieces of ground in Glover Street and at the top of Great Avenham Street were cleared of rubbish, levelled, and made tidy. A large pit of stagnant water was filled at the bottom of Chapel Walks, and the ground made level. New footpaths were made and cindered on the South side of Meadow Street, on the West side of East View Street, and across the vacant ground from the latter to St. Paul’s Square. The East side of St. Paul’s Square was levelled, sidestones set, the stagnant water removed, and the whole cindered. After these jobs were completed, the embanking, staking, levelling, and laying out of the Ribble Walk from the corner of Mr. Jackson’s garden to Penwortham Bridge was undertaken. At this the men were employed less or more fifteen months, and the great satisfaction expressed by their townsmen as to this improvement assures your committee that in this undertaking they have had the approbation of the public. They very much improved and beautified the walks leading from Ribblesdale Place along Mr. Wyse’s garden to the river, and also that from the Tramroad along Mr. Jackson’s garden, where they fixed three flights of stone steps. At Swillbrook, at the foot of Avenham Terrace, where the Improvement Commissioners had built a tunnel, your committee removed an immense quantity of earth from a distance, filling up the chasm, and making it into land as at present, which is admitted by all to be a great improvement. The whole length of South Meadow Lane, from Fishergate to Mr. Dent’s (New Bridge Inn), was cleaned, levelled, and gravelled. The new walk along the East boundary of the Marsh was undertaken and finished by your committee; also the re-gravelling of the oblique one running across the Marsh towards Ashton, and the foot-roads connected with the Spa Brow were all put into good order. One of their last undertakings was to level, re-lay, and cinder the foot-road leading from the top of King Street, past Frenchwood, all the way to Walton Bridge. This road, which had been almost impassable, they made into a good road.”

I have always felt it a pleasure—as I think every citizen ought—to render any little service I could for the improvement of our town. Formerly we had a number of pumps in the public streets for the use of the inhabitants, but they are nearly all removed, and so far their only substitutes are the eight fountains which I have provided in different parts of the town. These are preachers of temperance day and night to all the passers by, and thousands slake their thirst at these constantly running streams, who might otherwise be tempted into the beer-house. I felt anxious to erect a superior one in Avenham Park, but after naming it several times I met with very little encouragement. I placed a small drinking fountain in the Temperance Hall, another in Walker Street School; and in the Spinners’ Institute I fixed a fountain, lavatory, and bath, and the same in the Weavers’ Institute. At Bowness Bay, near the landing of the Windermere steamers, I erected a beautiful fountain which is supplied with excellent water from the grounds of Messrs. Crossley, of Halifax. There is a nice fountain on Douglas pier erected by my eldest son. I name these that others, possessing means, may be induced to do the same; and if temperance men were sufficiently alive to the advantages of water fountains there would not be a town or a village, or any public grounds or buildings without them.

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