In order to refresh my memory I was induced to look through my collection of private papers, and I find that I have upwards of ninety memorandum books, a few large, but mostly penny ones, in which I have made entries and remarks in connection with the various movements, agitations, subscriptions, societies, institutions, &c, in which I have been engaged during the last fifty years. One of the oldest, dated 1817, was my ledger, which I carried in my breast pocket, and which was deemed quite bulky enough for my business at that time. Some day, perhaps not distant, my friends and survivors may feel interested in reading a number of the remarks to be found in these books.
My aim was always to devise something that would improve the condition of the working people; and in those early times so little was thought of or attempted in this line, compared to the present day, that I never was at a loss for an opening in which to employ my inventive faculty or absorb my youthful energies. One of my earliest efforts which I can recollect, either just before or just after my marriage, was to assist in Mr. Dilworth’s adult school at Walton. Mr. James Dilworth resided there and was what they called a “fester-out;” that is he gave out weaving for some other employer; this was before he started the commission business in Preston. He built the house in Ribblesdale Place now owned and occupied by Mr. John Horrocks, and his name is still retained in the Manchester firm of “J. Dilworth and Son.” Soon after our marriage my wife and I devoted as much of our time and means as we could spare to instructing our neighbours. We started an adult Sunday School of our own, she teaching the females and I the males, in a cottage at the west end of Paradise Street, the rent being about 2s. a week. Afterwards I took a large room in Shepherd Street for a similar object, and the following printed bill will briefly explain the character of the school:—
youth’s sunday school
Poor people in Preston and the neighbourhood are kindly informed, that a Sunday school, for youth of both sexes, from fourteen to twenty-one years of age, is kept in a commodious room, No. 4, Shepherd Street.
The scholars are confined to those of the above age; and as every attention is paid to their instruction, with the liberty of going to their own places of worship, parents and guardians of youth will find this a favourable opportunity of providing for the education of those who are obliged to labour through the week—such as have no learning, or are in danger of losing that which they have. School hours from half-past eight to a quarter past ten in the morning, and from a quarter past one to a quarter past two in the afternoon. All Gratuitous.—Preston, February 1st, 1825.
This room in Shepherd Street was used for various purposes. I have a placard announcing a “Weekly meeting for Religious Investigation ” in this place; and among the rules by which it was to be guided I may give the following:—
1.—A subject to be proposed and agreed upon the week before it is discussed, to be decidedly of a religious cast. Any person engaging in the discussion, to have the liberty of proposing a subject.
2.—Meekness and charity are especially to be cultivated, and to form a prominent feature in every discussion.
3.—As an increase of knowledge and the promotion of Godliness must always be kept in view, the discussions of the meeting are not intended as matters of entertainment, or for the displaying of ability—in this respect it will differ from what are called “Debating Societies.”
At that day there were few opportunities for the working people to see a newspaper, excepting at the public-house. Owing to the three-fold duty—that upon paper, upon the stamp, (3d.), and the advertisements—the general price was 7d., and the charge at the newsrooms was made by the year. In a prospectus dated January 16th, 1827, I announced that a “General Reading Room” would be opened in Shepherd Street, to be supplied with all the leading newspapers and periodicals, the charge to be 3s. 3d. per quarter. I took the whole responsibility upon myself; it was a success, and sometime after it was removed to more respectable premises, a large room over the Chronicle office in the Market Place, where it remained for many years. Though this project secured sufficient support to make it permanent, it did not meet with the support of the class for whom I specially intended it. The operatives fell off, and it became more a newsroom for the middle class, the members consisting of shopkeepers, clerks, &c. I have at least six times fit up or helped to fit up small places for the operative classes, as reading rooms, some quite free and some at a low charge, and I confess with grief that in every instance I have been disappointed. It is true that men who labour hard are not in a condition after work for reading; but the numbers who attend the public-houses and beershops, especially on the Saturday nights and Sundays, show that their love of liquor is far stronger than their love of mental improvement; and as it respects the reformed characters, those who are saved from drink, they are generally fully engaged with their trades and family matters, and if not, as a body they seldom manifest much disposition for reading.
A few years after this I took a large room over the “ Cock-pit ” (the place where the temperance meetings were held for twenty years) and for seven years I kept a Youth’s Sunday School here at my own expense, assisted by clever devoted young men. The ages of the scholars and general rules were much the same as the above; but perhaps the greatest attraction which secured a regular attendance on the part of the young people was that, in addition to reading and instruction, we taught them to write. It was either here or at my own house, that I taught a grammar class certain nights in the week, the rules of which I find in one of my books, and to this class probably some persons may have been indebted, in part, for their rise in the world. Among the list of members, the names of whom I still retain, I notice that of Mr. George Toulmin, the present proprietor of the Preston Guardian. As I have said before, I had a restless spirit, and was always projecting something new, not for my own ease or gratification, but for the improvement and elevation of the poorer classes. I seldom chimed in with existing institutions, or felt disposed to act in a subordinate character, and consequently was frequently trying to initiate something, as I thought, in advance of what was then in operation. And I had this peculiar characteristic (some might call it a weakness) which has followed me through life, that in starting any project I would go into it at first with all the energy I could command, difficulties seeming rather to be an advantage. After seeing an institution fairly and successfully started, I generally began to feel indifferent, leaving its management to others. The temperance cause may be considered the only exception, but I dare say if I had seen this as successful as I could have wished, I might have felt here also a disposition to retire and engage in something else in its place.
In 1827 I was renting rooms in Cannon Street, now occupied for printing and machining the Preston Guardian. These rooms were used for various educational and progressional purposes. A Mr. Templeton about this time came to Preston in low water, and appearing to be a man of genius as to teaching, I got up a subscription for him, and one room was fit up as a school, in which he introduced the “arithmetical rods,” and a peculiar copy book. Not succeeding so well, he was taken by the hand by Mr. John Smith, of the Liverpool Mercury. They brought out “Smith and Dolier’s copy book,” and the white enamelled tablets to write upon with the pencil. Mr. Smith delivered lectures on education, assisted by Mr. Dolier, at which the utility of these and other inventions were illustrated. On one occasion I induced the Town Council to engage Mr. Smith, who lectured several nights in the theatre to all the school children of the town. A “Mechanics’ Institution” had often been spoken of, and letters recommending one, had from time to time appeared in the papers. I sympathized strongly with this feeling, and one day without consulting any other person I sat down, wrote a circular, sent it to the printer and caused it to be delivered to the most likely persons in the town, inviting them to attend a preliminary meeting for starting such an institution. It was to be held in one of the Cannon Street rooms. This circular was responded to by six individuals! If the reader of this will imagine half-a-dozen persons seated on a form, with a single candle to enlighten their proceedings, and the writer of this opening out his plans, he will have a view of the origin of that Institution whose building is now among the first in the town, an ornament to Avenham Walks and the vicinity, with a library of 8,000 volumes. This meeting was held “on the 11th September, 1828, and the original circular is now framed in the institution. It was agreed to call it “The Institution fcr the Diffusion of Knowledge.” Great efforts were made to collect subscriptions, to get a library and museum, in which I took my share. The making of the first catalogue was my sole work during my convalescence following a rheumatic fever. No other gentleman gave so much time at the beginning as the late Mr. Gilbertson, surgeon, and next to him I may name Mr. Ascroft, attorney. Many a long evening did we spend till a late hour, numbering and labelling the books, arranging the library, planning the museum, forming the classes, and providing for the lectures. The Institution soon secured the support of the town, but still not the support of the operatives to the extent we expected, much less that class technically called “mechanics.” Yet to meet the condition of these we fixed the subscription as low as 1s. 7½d. per quarter, or 6s. 6d. per year. I well remember when this was discussed, observing in favour of this low charge, that it was just 1½d. per week, the price of a glass of ale. A considerable sum was spent in purchasing first-class books in the arts and sciences, but few of these were ever asked for. At the present time but few of the working classes are members of this Institution. The operations were carried on in Cannon Street for twenty-one years, the present building being entered upon in 1849, which, though for many years it laboured under pecuniary embarrassment, is now out of debt, with funds in hand, the proceeds of the last Exhibition.
My last effort of any magnitude in this line, was in connection with “The Working Men’s Club,” at No. 3, Lord Street. This building had been a gentleman’s large house, but being much out of repair and in an undesirable situation, had been shut up for some time. I long had my eye upon it as suitable for some public purpose, and ventured to take it to try the experiment of starting a working men’s club. The Rev. R. Macnamara, the curate of the Parish Church, was a warm advocate for these clubs, and with his and the assistance of others, a sufficient fund was raised to put the premises into first-rate order. In a pecuniary sense it has been quite successful, yet it has not attracted the drinking men from the public-house as many expected. In the eating department it has excelled, and in this way, no doubt, it has been very useful in preventing great numbers going to the public-house for their victuals, where they would be expected to drink. I was chosen president from the first, which I resigned a few months ago. This Institution now comprises the eating department, an excellent reading room, a gymnasium, a room for meetings, and several smaller ones for amusements. Mr. Geo. Penny, junior, has been the secretary from the beginning. My experience as the proprietor of a temperance hotel may appear hereafter.
It may occur to some to ask the question, how I could find the time or spare the expense necessarily required by my connection with these undertakings, especially the earlier ones, considering that I had to start out of nothing, and with a large family always to provide for. I may explain, first, that in all these movements I adhered strictly to the principle of utility and economy in every detail; I sought for nothing fine, nothing dazzling, and hence the expenses were always far less than where persons are guided by fashion and appearances. And, next, being successful in business and always careful and saving, in which I was joined by my wife, I always had something to spare for what I deemed a good purpose. I avoided all speculations, and with one exception, I believe, I have been invariably better off at the end of the year than at the beginning. This exception, however, was a serious one, and had well nigh upset me. By great exertions and perseverance I had got a little money beforehand, more than I regularly required in the cheese business. A person with whom I became friendly was in the cotton business as a manufacturer, and afterwards as a commission agent. He often repeated to me how profitable his business was, and, with additional capital how much he could make. With little experience of the treachery of the world I was tempted by the offer to become a partner, to let him have a considerable amount. This was in 1827; and under the influence of misplaced confidence I foolishly left the management of the business to himself, and became a sleeping partner. Believing his assurances from time to time that we were fast making money, I let him have all I could possibly spare. The sequel maybe shortly told. Trade became depressed; I could get no satisfactory explanation as to the position of the concern; creditors became pressing, and he left the concern, and the town also, for me to do with as I pleased. It was a trying time; after emancipating myself from the weaver’s cellar, and labouring and toiling, both of us, almost night and day, with half-a-dozen children about our feet, to find as we feared all gone at once by the treachery of one in whom we had confided as a friend, was a condition which experience alone will enable anyone to realise. I was left to wind up a business of which I was ignorant, and to provide for all its liabilities, the creditors pressing to be settled with. At such a moment it is cheering to have a partner to share your burden, and keep up your spirits. “Never mind,” said my dear wife when she saw me cast down, “we shall get through; we worked hard for what we had; it is lost, but we can work for more.” Mr. George Cooper, father to Mr. John Cooper, of the Oaks, was the largest creditor. Time was given me; I turned the stock into money, and by either two or three instalments I paid every creditor the full amount of his claim. By this unfortunate business I lost in money £1,600, and adding the disadvantage of robbing my own business of capital, and the time I was taken from it, I always considered the loss was equal to £2,000. It was a lesson on the question of partnerships which has lasted me for life. On the payment of the last instalment Mr. Cooper proposed that a silver cup should be presented to me by the creditors as a mark of respect for my honourable conduct, but I respectfully declined the offer, considering that I had done nothing more than an honest man ought to do. With our wonted diligence, industry, and carefulness we soon found ourselves prosperous again. I have not the same reason to think so well of the cotton trade as some fortunate ones. As I stated before, my father and grandfather, betwixt them, lost all they had in the cotton trade, and I had to go to the loom as the consequence. My sons will have defective memories if they forget these two lessons.