The Corn Law Rhymer

Ebenezer Elliott (17 March 1781 – 1 December 1849)

Ebenezer Elliott's grave in All Saints Churchyard, Darfied

Ebenezer Elliott’s grave in All Saints Churchyard, Darfied (behind railings).

There is one grave that stands out a little from the others in the peaceful churchyard of All Saints in Darfield. It seems slightly better tended with a fresh coat of paint on its iron railings. This is the grave of Ebenezer Elliott.

Known as the Corn Law Rhymer, Elliott was a vociferous champion of the industrial poor and critic of the Corn Laws (or Bread Tax) at a time of great political upheaval. Internationally famous during his own lifetime, he struck an odd figure in that he was a radical of the factory owning class. He was also something of an early exponent of the right to roam, taking to the countryside on a Sunday, freed of the weekday chains of the factory.

Footpaths(excerpt)

The poor man’s walk they take away,
The solace of his only day,
Where now, unseen, the flowers are blowing,
And, all unheard, the stream is flowing

Elliott was born in Masbrough, Rotherham, the son of a foundry owner known as ‘Devil Elliott’, on account of his fiery Calvinist sermons. A rather solitary child, the young Ebenezer preferred to play truant from school and spend his time exploring the countryside around Rotherham. It was his love of nature that influenced his early poetry.

At the age of sixteen he was set to work in his father’s foundry, where he remained until 1816 until the firm failed after his father’s death and he was declared bankrupt. With funds from his wife’s sister, he moved to Sheffield in 1819 to set up as an iron merchant and steel manufacturer.

Throughout this time he continued to write poetry, but his experience of impoverishment forged an affinity with the poor. He could see the effect that the hated Corn Laws (which he named the Bread Tax) had on the poor and blamed them for his own downfall.

The Corn Laws were introduced in 1815 and imposed restrictions and tariffs on imported grain, designed to keep prices high and favour domestic producers. The effect of this was to raise food prices and ensure that shortages left people hungry.

Becoming increasingly politically active, Elliot’s views demanding change to benefit both manufacturers and workers were well  known in Sheffield, where he was often disliked by other business owners. He set up the Sheffield Mechanics’ Anti-Bread Tax Society,  campaigned for the 1832 Reform Act and became active in the Chartist movement.

He earned the name of ‘The Corn Law Rhymer’ following a burst of published poems, The Village Patriarch (1829), The Ranter (1830) and the Corn Law Rhymes (1831). These were followed by the even more incendiary Corn Law Hymns in 1835.

His poems gained him international fame and his most celebrated poem, The People’s Anthem was even sung in schools.

When wilt thou save the people?
Oh, God of mercy! when?
Not kings and lords, but nations!
Not thrones and crowns, but men!

Upon the advice of his doctor, who considered that he may drop dead during one of his furious tirades against the Bread Tax, Elliot retired in 1841 to a house at Hargate Hill near Great Houghton, on the outskirts of Barnsley. Here he lived a quiet life, following his literary interests. He lived to see the Corn Law repealed in 1846, before his death in 1849 after an attempt at self-surgery.

He was buried in the churchyard of nearby All Saints Church at Darfield, where his tomb can still be seen. A monument to Elliott was erected in 1854 outside the post office in Sheffield market place, later moved to its current position in Weston Park on 1874. The statue depicts Elliott sat on his favourite rock in Rivelin Valley. The rock bearing his name can still be seen at the top of Black Brook waterfall.

Celebrated during his lifetime, Ebenezer Elliott has been largely forgotten in the century and a half since his death. He struck an odd figure as a bourgeois factory owning exponent of free trade, yet was ferocious in his defence of the rights and struggles of the working class. His poetry should be remembered for not only casting light upon the conditions that working people were forced to endure, but for his love of nature too. He wrote many poems about the beauty of the Peak District and his beloved Rivelin Valley.

from Win-Hill, or, the Curse of God

High on the topmost jewel of thy crown,
Win-Hill! I sit bareheaded, ankle-deep
In tufts of rose-cupp’d bilberries; and look down
On towns that smoke below, and homes that creep
Into the silvery clouds, which far-off keep
Their sultry state! and many a mountain stream,
And many a mountain vale, “and ridgy steep;”
The Peak, and all his mountains, where they gleam
Or frown, remote or near, more distant than they seem!

There flows the Ashop, yonder bounds the Wye,
And Derwent here towards princely Chatsworth trends;
But, while the Nough steals purple from the sky,
Lo! northward far, what giant’s shadow bends?
A voice of torrents, hark! its wailing sends;
Who drives yon tortured cloud through stone-still air?
A rush! a roar! a wing! a whirlwind rends
The stooping larch! The moorlands cry “Prepare!
It comes! ye gore-gorged foes of want and toil, beware!”
It comes! Behold! – Black Blakelow hoists on high
His signals to the blast from Gledhill’s brow.
Them, slowly glooming on the lessening sky,
The bread-tax’d exile sees, (in speechless woe,
Wandering the melancholy main below,
Where round the shores of Man the dark surge heaves,)
And while his children’s tears in silence flow,
Thinks of sweet scenes to which his soul still cleaves,
That home on Etherow’s side, which he for ever leaves.
Now expectation listens, mute and pale,
While, ridged with sudden foam, the Derwent brawls;
Arrow-like comes the rain, like fire the hail;
And, hark! Mam-Tor on shuddering Stanage calls!
See, what a frown o’er castled Winnat falls!
Down drops the death-black sky! and Kinderscout,
Conscious of glory, laughs at intervals;
Then lifts his helmet, throws his thunders out,
Bathes all the hills in flame, and hails their stormy shout.
High on the topmost jewel of thy crown,
Win-Hill! I sit bareheaded, ankle-deep
In tufts of rose-cupp’d bilberries; and look down
On towns that smoke below, and homes that creep
Into the silvery clouds, which far-off keep
Their sultry state! and many a mountain stream,
And many a mountain vale, “and ridgy steep;”
The Peak, and all his mountains, where they gleam
Or frown, remote or near, more distant than they seem!
There flows the Ashop, yonder bounds the Wye,
And Derwent here towards princely Chatsworth trends;
But, while the Nough steals purple from the sky,
Lo! northward far, what giant’s shadow bends?
A voice of torrents, hark! its wailing sends;
Who drives yon tortured cloud through stone-still air?
A rush! a roar! a wing! a whirlwind rends
The stooping larch! The moorlands cry “Prepare!
It comes! ye gore-gorged foes of want and toil, beware!”
It comes! Behold!—Black Blakelow hoists on high
His signals to the blast from Gledhill’s brow.
Them, slowly glooming on the lessening sky,
The bread-tax’d exile sees, (in speechless woe,
Wandering the melancholy main below,
Where round the shores of Man the dark surge heaves,)
And while his children’s tears in silence flow,
Thinks of sweet scenes to which his soul still cleaves,
That home on Etherow’s side, which he for ever leaves.
Now expectation listens, mute and pale,
While, ridged with sudden foam, the Derwent brawls;
Arrow-like comes the rain, like fire the hail;
And, hark! Mam-Tor on shuddering Stanage calls!
See, what a frown o’er castled Winnat falls!
Down drops the death-black sky! and Kinderscout,
Conscious of glory, laughs at intervals;
Then lifts his helmet, throws his thunders out,
Bathes all the hills in flame, and hails their stormy shout.

Marsden Moor & Upper Colne Valley Part Two

Millstone Edge, looking into Saddleworth.

Millstone Edge, looking into Saddleworth.

The moors of the Pennine hills have a fine tradition of playing host to sedition. From Brigantine rebellions against the rule of Rome, to the class struggles of the Industrial Revolution. It is as if the will to fight against oppression is a tangible element, embedded in these liminal places of rocky outcrops and quaking peat bogs. The Pennine winds sing songs of noble causes past, open spaces bring forth new ideas and the plentiful rain washes it down the hillside streams, into the numerous reservoirs that surround the watershed. The history of Marsden Moor and the Colne Valley is not just about geology and natural history, it is also about people.

Despite its comparatively remote location, Marsden found itself embroiled in the forge of the industrial revolution and the tumultuous politics of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, as transport routes improved along Colne Valley bringing both commerce and ideas.

A milestone below Pule Hill, on the old Wakefield to Austerlands turnpike.

A milestone below Pule Hill, on the old Wakefield to Austerlands turnpike.

The view from the Roman road and turnpike road, as it is just about to crest Standage into Saddleworth.

The view from the Roman road and turnpike road, as it is just about to crest Standage into Saddleworth.

The first Wakefield to Austerlands Turnpike road was constructed in 1758, following an old packhorse route running from Huddersfield, through Longroyd Bridge and Thornton Lodge before starting the long climb up Crosland Moor to Holt Head. Then close to Marsden, before passing the base of Pule Hill and following the route of the Roman Road along Thieves Clough. This was upgraded to the Coach Road by Blind Jack Metcalf in 1790, sections of which were floated over the peat bogs on rafts of heather. In 1839, the new coach road (now the A62 Manchester Road) was opened.

The famed Standedge Tunnel, part of the Huddersfield Narrow Canal, which enters the hillside at Diggle, runs under Standedge and Pule Hill, and exits at Marsden, was started in 1795 and finished in 1811. Progress was surprisingly slow, with work stalling for lengthy periods. These stoppages caused considerable hardship to the miners, tradesmen and labourers, who were not paid during lay-offs (1). Signs of the tunnel can still be found on the surface, with air vents on Pule Hill and Redbrook Engine House, opposite the Carriage House Inn. Built in 1803, this was used to bring spoil to the surface and still sits surrounded by huge heaps of rubble.

Snow clouds over Standedge from Pule Hill, overlooking the A62 Manchester Road. The route of the old turnpike road can also be seen crossing the moor from left to right, crossing the A62 and up Thieves Clough.

Snow clouds over Standedge from Pule Hill, overlooking the A62 Manchester Road. The route of the old turnpike road can also be seen crossing the moor from left to right, crossing the A62 and up Thieves Clough.

Redbrook Engine House (built 1803), sits on spoil heaps from the construction of Standedge Tunnel.

Redbrook Engine House (built 1803), sits on spoil heaps from the construction of Standedge Tunnel.

Colne Valley was flooded on 29th November 1810, when Swellands Dam (on Bobus) burst its banks at one o’clock in the morning. Factories and homes were destroyed from Marsden to Paddock. The event became known as the ‘Night of the Black Flood’ and took the lives of six victims (2).

Colne Valley has been at the heart of the textile industry for centuries. The steep hillsides of the valley, dotted with weaver’s cottages. Then variously water and steam powered mills. By virtue of this, Marsden played a unique role in the story of the Luddites.

The cropping frames, so hated by the Luddites, were made at the Marsden foundry of the Taylor brothers, James and Enoch. Ironically, the hammers used by the Luddites to destroy the frames were made by the same foundry and were known as ‘Enochs’, leading to the Luddite cry of, “Enoch makes them and Enoch shall break them.”

Another major player was William Horsfall, the outspoken, anti-Luddite owner of Ottiwells Mill in Marsden. He fortified his mill with gun loops and his quoted desire to, “ride up to his saddle girths in Luddite blood”, led to his assassination by four men, while riding back to Marsden from Huddersfield Cloth Hall, across Crosland Moor. He stopped briefly at the Warren House (which stood on the corner of what is now Charles Street and Blackmoorfoot Road) for a stirrup cup before continuing up the turnpike road. Four men were waiting for him in a walled plantation (on the corner of what is now Dryclough Road and Blackmoorfoot Road). They fired on him and fled, while he fell from his saddle. He was taken back to the Warren House, where he died the next day.

The view from Crosland Moor, overlooking Milnsbridge and Golcar, towards Scapegoat Hill and Slack.

The view from Crosland Moor, overlooking Milnsbridge and Golcar, towards Scapegoat Hill and Slack.

His assassins were pursued by the magistrate Joseph Radcliffe, of Milnsbridge House (3), where he would interview suspects in his ‘sweat room’. George Mellor, William Thorpe and Thomas Smith of John Wood’s Cropping Shop in Longroyd Bridge (Benjamin Walker’s life was spared for turning evidence), were hung at York in January 1813. The evidence for their guilt was never truly proven and their alibis ignored, but the appointment of a hanging judge sealed their fate before the trial had begun.

The Luddites were just one chapter in the long tale of the Labour Movement in this area, agitated by the poverty induced by the Napoleonic Wars, the outlawing of Trade Unions and the hugely undemocratic state of suffrage in nineteenth century Britain. The 1819 Peterloo Massacre in Manchester only served to antagonise the situation, as did the Corn Laws and the monstrous 1834 New Poor Law.

What followed was a ground swell amongst the working classes, demanding suffrage and representation via parliamentary reform, which became to be known under the umbrella term of Chartism.

The first People’s Charter was published in 1838, on the basis of the following main aims:

1. A vote for every man twenty one years of age, of sound mind, and not undergoing punishment for crime. 


2. The ballot – To protect the elector in the exercise of his vote. 


3. No property qualification for members of Parliament – thus enabling the constituencies to return the man of their choice, be he rich or poor. 


4. Payment of members, thus enabling an honest tradesman, working man, or other person, to serve a constituency, when taken from his business to attend to the interests of the country. 


5. Equal constituencies securing the same amount of representation for the same number of electors, instead of allowing small constituencies to swamp the votes of larger ones. 


6. Annual Parliaments, thus presenting the most effectual check to bribery and intimidation, since though a constituency might be bought once in seven years (even with the ballot), no purse could buy a constituency (under a system of universal suffrage) in each ensuing twelvemonth; and since members, when elected for a year only, would not be able to defy and betray their constituents as now.

The Lancashire/West Yorkshire Pennine Moors were often used as venues for mass political meetings that could be termed as seditious by the authorities. They were often accessible by foot and not easy places to be taken by surprise by troops on horseback. Something that would have been considered important after the Peterloo Massacre. Chartist meetings tended to take place out of the gaze of the authorities and mill owners and could attract surprisingly large numbers. A meeting on Blackstone Edge in 1846, attracted 30,000 people to hear Ernest Jones speak.

Millstone Edge on the boundary between Saddleworth and Marsden.

Millstone Edge on the boundary between Saddleworth and Marsden.

When the second Chartist petition, containing 3,250,000 signatures was handed to Parliament in 1842, a motion to hear the petitioners was defeated by 287 votes to 49. This sparked widespread unrest resulting in a general strike, that spread through a number of industrial towns in August 1842 and became known as the Plug Riots.

On 12th August, thousands of strikers streamed out of Lancashire, over Standedge, into the Colne and Holme Valleys. They stopped off at the mill of Sykes and Fisher in Marsden to demand that work stop immediately. Upon refusal, they drew the plugs of the mill’s boilers (which stopped the steam driven machinery). After visiting the Taylor’s foundry, they marched through Colne Valley, stopping off at Slaithwaite, Golcar and Longwood, drawing the plugs at every mill, until eventually, a mob of over 6000 were confronted by troops at Longroyd Bridge and read the riot act (4).

Overlooking Pule Hill and March Haigh Reservoir (which feeds the Huddersfield Narrow Canal), from Buckstones.

Overlooking Pule Hill and March Haigh Reservoir (which feeds the Huddersfield Narrow Canal), from Buckstones.

In 1848, as Europe quaked under revolution (in France, Germany, Italy and elsewhere), the Chartists held a huge outdoor meeting at Kennington Common, on 10th April, which processed to Parliament to present another Charter. In Manchester, Chartists stormed the hated workhouses.

Following the failure of this final Charter, the movement petered out and many moved towards the Trade Union movement. Although the Chartists didn’t achieve their aims during the lifetime of the movement, all but one of their demands (annual Parliaments) were eventually enacted.

It is not overly imaginative to say, that during those years during the first half of the nineteenth century, Britain came as close as it has probably ever come, to revolution and Marsden played a crucial role during those turbulent times.

(1)  www.marsdenhistory.co.uk

(2)  Floods in these valleys were not uncommon. Another flood in Holme Valley, when Bilberry Reservoir burst its banks on 5th February 1852, caused 81 deaths.

(3)  Milnsbridge House still survives and can be found on the junction of George Street and Dowker Street, in much reduced circumstances to those that Joseph Radcliffe enjoyed. It once stood in beautifully landscaped grounds, with two ponds. The industrialisation of Milnsbridge hemmed the house in, although for a while, its gardens were maintained as a park. Now however, the once grand house is now used by a fabrication company and the exterior has suffered greatly.

(4)  The History of Huddersfield and its Vicinity – DFE Sykes 1898

Blackstone Edge

The Aiggin Stone

The Aiggin Stone

The Aiggin Stone

This upright stone is thought to be a medieval waymarker, sited on an old packhorse route, overlaying a Roman road crossing the Pennines. A rude latin cross is incised on the stone, with the letters I.T. Possibly used as a stopping point to say prayers for a safe journey over the moors (being a much more dangerous undertaking thatn it is today), or sometimes as a resting place for those carrying coffins, where prayers for the dead would be recited (1). It is also possibly a boundary marker, being so close to the Yorkshire/Lancashire boarder.

The stone once stood several feet tall but has been diminished by falling and being pushed over. It was found laying in the heather in 1930 and was set back up again in 1933. It has been suggested that the name is a corruption of the Latin word ‘Agger’, meaning “a pile, heap, mound, dike, mole, pier – in Roman antiquity, an earthwork or other artificial mound or rampart.” (2)

An alternative suggestion is, ““The name ‘Aiggin’ suggests a pronunciation resembling either ‘edge’ or ‘hedge’ and thus it might mean ‘Edge Stone’. Alternatively it could be derived from the French ‘aguille’, meaning a needle or sharp-pointing rock.” (3)

 

The weather worn boulder Robin Hood's Bed

The weather worn boulder Robin Hood’s Bed

Robin Hood’s Bed

At the highest point on these lonely, windswept moors, sits a weather worn boulder known as Robin Hood’s Bed. The top of the boulder is hollowed out in a large depression. Legend has it that Robin Hood once slept here, while his followers stood guard.

There is a possibility that the Robin Hood legend here could have displaced a much older legend, that the site was the resting place of an ancient leader. In old Welsh, the word bedd means ‘grave or tomb’ (4). The etymology of the nearby village of Walsden means ‘Valley of the Welsh’ (5). Anglo-Saxon settlers called the indigenous Britons, ‘Welsh’, meaning foreigner. So it is possible that the name derives from the old British site of an ancient tomb.

Another oddity is that when I reached here, after climbing from the car park near the M62, I saw a line of people dressed in what appeared to be white robes walking away on the footpath that leads to the car park near Blackstone Edge Reservoir!

 

Blackstone Edge

Blackstone Edge

Blackstone Edge Chartist Meeting

But waved the wind on Blackstone Height
A standard of the broad sunlight
And sung that morn with trumpet might
A sounding song of liberty!

It is hard to believe now that this high moorland outcrop played a part in the battle for our civil rights. Yet on Saturday 1st August 1846, 30,000 people from the surrounding mill towns and villages gathered here at a Chartist’s rally, to hear Manchester radical Ernest Jones speak.

The days of radical uprisings, the outlawing of trade unions, the hangings and deportations of the Luddites and the Peterloo Massacre in Manchester, were still within living memory. The Chartists were the first mass working class labour movement, calling for political reform in Britain, they would often hold their meetings in remote places to avoid the attentions of the mill owners and police. They took their name from the Peoples Charter, first published in May 1838 calling for, amongst other demands, universal suffrage.

“When the State calls for defenders, when it calls for money, no consideration of poverty or ignorance can be pleaded, in refusal or delay of the call. Required, as we are universally, to support and obey the laws, nature and reason entitle us to demand that in the making of the laws, the universal voice shall be implicitly listened to. We perform the duties of freemen; we must have the privileges of freemen. Therefore, we demand universal suffrage. The suffrage, to be exempt from the corruption of the wealthy and the violence of the powerful, must be secret.”

Between 1838 and 1851, five petitions were put to parliament. The second in 1842 containing over three million signatures. All were voted down by MPs (leading to the Yorkshire and Lancashire Plug Riots). Although Chartism itself failed to achieve it’s aims, it did seriously unnerve the political elites and opened to door to winning gradual political reform throughout the remainder of the nineteenth and into the twentieth century.

Though hunger stamped each forehead spare
And eyes were dim with factory glare
Loud swelled the nation’s battle prayer
Of – death to class monopoly!

 

(1)  Ray Spencer – The Northern Antiquarian http://megalithix.wordpress.com

(2)  Herbert Collins (1950) – The Northern Antiquarian http://megalithix.wordpress.com

(3)  James Maxium (1965) – The Northern Antiquarian http://megalithix.wordpress.com

(4)  Paul Bennett – The Northern Antiquarian http://megalithix.wordpress.com

(5)  Kai Roberts – The Northern Antiquarian http://megalithix.wordpress.com