Read CHAPTER XVIII of Adventures and Recollections , free online book, by Bill o'th' Hoylus End, on


This great dispute in the iron trade of Keighley, about the year 1871, was known as the “ticket-of-leave” strike. The “Iron Lords” of Keighley amalgamated and practised a system of boycotting upon their workpeople. If a workman left one firm and took up with another, the latter would enquire of the man’s late employers what were the reasons of his leaving, &c. The reply took the form of a “Ticket,” sent under cover, of course, and practically decided the fate of the workman. Containing as this ticket usually did particulars as to the class to which the workman in question belonged; as to the wages he was worth, &c., the scale of ironworkers’ wages in the town got to an unbearably low ebb. The masters held the full sway for a while; then the workpeople broke out in open revolt against the pernicious system of their masters, and thus commenced the great “ticket-of-leave” strike. Early in the dispute I was applied to by the strike authorities to write and expose the unfair dealings of the “Iron Lords” of Keighley, and on the first day of the strike I composed several verses to go to the tune of the National Anthem. This was sung at the first great meeting of the strikers held in the Temperance Hall. The verses were as follow:

Men of the iron trade,
Whose hands have England made
Greater than all!
How can you quietly stand
With the chains on your hands?
Hear you not through the land
Liberty’s call?

Long have you been the slaves
Of these conniving knaves
Now’s your relief.
Swear you no longer will,
Neither in shop nor mill,
Tremble for pen or quill,
Or ticket-of-leave!

Strike while the iron’s hot,
And let it not be forgot
’Tis sweet liberty.
Stand like true Britons, then,
Show you are Englishmen,
Make your shouts ring again,
“We will be free!”

This is only one of the many effusions I manufactured at the request of the Strike Committee. I wrote pamphlet after pamphlet (some sixteen pages in length) denouncing the unfair system which the masters had put into operation. The strikers went into the outside districts, as far as Bradford and on to Leeds, collecting towards the strike funds. They took with them supplies of my pamphlets and verses, which, so the men told me, won them much sympathy, and, what was infinitely more desirable much money. But this system of collection to the strike funds was much abused, as has been the case in the present coal strike men went out begging, ostensibly for the general strike fund, but in reality for their own private funds. Individuals managed to possess themselves of strike “literature,” and with its aid found themselves able to rake in the shekels more abundantly than they had been doing by their ordinary work; and so the strike proved a sort of harvest to them. The strikers received much support, I must say, from the publicans. In particular, one Owen Cash the landlord of the “Devonshire Tap,” provided free dinners as well as suppers. Then “Bob” Walton and a pork butcher in Upper Green each gave a whole pig; and there were many other gifts in kind for the out o’ work workers. Of course there were those among the strikers ever ready to take a mean advantage of a kind action. A good many of the shopkeepers allowed goods on credit; but many of the people to whom they extended this privilege failed to show up again after the strike was settled. When this settlement was arrived at, it was at the expense of the masters. At this juncture the Strike Committee was not altogether without funds, for they had a surplus of something like 40 pounds. There were various suggestions made as to the disposal of this money, one of them being that it should be handed to Bill o’ th’ Hoylus End for his services in the “strike literature department.” This suggestion was embodied in a motion, but the proposer got no seconder, and thus there remained wanting a bridge over the chasm existing between the money and myself; but the bridge is still wanting!


Perhaps a reference in my “Recollections” to William Speak (alias “Bawk"), the parish pinder, will not be out of place. “Billy,” as the gentleman was ordinarily called, occupied the position of pinder for a score of years. He was well known in the town, not merely on account of his official duty in taking care of stray animals, but of personal peculiarities which made him a public character. Yes; he certainly had his eccentricities had Billy Speak. One peculiarity about him in the eyes of the townspeople was that he was seldom, if ever, seen abroad in the daytime; but at night he always appeared to be very busy. Of course rumour is rumour; but some people went so far as to say when his “trade” was slack, Billy would not object to opening a gate and allowing the animals in the field to come out upon the highway, thus affording a nice capture for the pinfold. It was also said that the pinder had received many sound thrashings from farmers whom he had met at night for these little acts of misdemeanour. In this connection I may mention that on one occasion a goose belonging to Jerry Wells was placed in the pinfold (which was then in Coney lane) by Billy. The walls of the pound, however, were so low that Jerry’s goose flew over them, and went away the pinder did not know where. Now, old Jerry Wells was a man who enjoyed a good “lark”; and although his goose had come home, he sued Billy in the County Court, on the 12th January, 1853, for “clappin’ his gooise in’tat’ pinfowd.” How the case ended I forget; but I think it would teach the too ardent pinder a valuable lesson. Now, for a long time Billy had to go without a uniform, but at last Barney McVay and others said it was a shame that anyone holding an official position of this kind should not be provided with a uniform. So that a public subscription was started, and the pinder to enable him the better to uphold the dignity of his office was presented with a uniform; and at the same time opportunity was taken to uniform the town’s crier, Jack Moore, who kept the “Dusty Miller,” at Damside. The question of suitable headgear was a momentous and difficult one, but eventually a helmet was selected for the pinder, with a cocked hat for the town’s crier. “Bawk” did not live long to enjoy his uniform. He died in May, 1875, and was followed to the grave by his wife a few days afterwards.


It was in 1872 that James Leach and David Hey and myself purchased a large shark at Hull. The shark had apparently been harpooned at sea, and washed into the Humber. It was secured by some fishermen, and they offered it for sale by public auction. A brother of George Swire, of Keighley, chanced to be in Hull at the time, and hearing of the sale, he sent word to us at Keighley about it. My friend Leach who would be close upon sixty years old at the time was deputed to Hull to purchase the shark, and he effected the bargain for 3 pounds 17s 6d. The shark was seventeen feet in length; it was brought to Keighley by rail, and there were many people to witness the landing of the monster. We took it to the Burlington laithe (now used as an auction room by Mr T. S. Lister). I painted a glowing scenic piece for the entrance to the exhibition picturing the shark swallowing a whole boat-load of people! I was also put on to act as showman, and in that capacity not in my capacity as a private citizen I told stories of the voracious appetite of the shark when alive. Many blankets had been found in the shark, not to mention a barrel or two of beer. Leach stood at the door turning a box organ, which we had bought cheaply; and David Hey undertook to look after the naphtha lamps, &c. Well, for a week the show went on very well, and we had large numbers of visitors. Towards the end of the week, the fish began to smell, so we paid Joseph Gott, taxidermist, Market-street, 5 pounds to cure the shark. In the meantime we purchased a tent and additional naphtha lamps, and when the curing process was completed, and we had had a box made in which to place the shark, we started on our first expedition, going to Haworth. Our visit here was attended by a slight misfortune. We had got the tent pitched, and a good audience in it, when one of the naphtha lamps exploded and set fire to the canvas top. Luckily we succeeded in extinguishing the flames before they had done more than burn a hole in the canvas top; and the aperture was covered with a shawl, which my friend Leach was wearing. As on the occasion of my visit to Haworth in the garb of a monkey, with Jack Spencer, the Haworth folk thought it a joke, and swore that the shark “wor made o’ leather.” But after they had examined it, I think they were convinced it was the real thing. We next took the show to Clayton, and here we were unable to get lodgings, and had to sleep in the tent along with the shark. Before daybreak we were leaving Clayton for Vicar’s Croft, Leeds. It was moonlight, and I shall never forget an incident which happened on the way. Certainly we must have formed a very curious spectacle. A grey galloway and cart, with Dave Hey as driver; myself on the cart balancing the long box; and James Leach sitting with the box organ on his back. Leach saw our shadow in the strong moonlight, and rather astonished us by exclaiming “There’s Bill o’ th’ Hoylus theear he can wag his tongue like a lamb’s tail; and Dave o’ th’ Damside he can whistle an’ sing an’ he’s a houseful o’ little barns; by gum, I wish I wor at home wi’ ahr Sarah!” The rest of the journey he seemed to be occupied in deep thought; and when we got the tent erected in Vicar’s Croft he “broke out in open rebellion,” and refused to play the organ. “Nay,” says he, “no more organ playing for me; I’m bahn ta dissolve partnership wi’ ye, an’ tak t’ first train ta Keighley.” He suited his words to action and returned home. Of course this rather upset things, but Dave and I determined to go on with the business. Our visit to Leeds brought in a few pounds. Hey then insisted on our going up in the Lake District. I objected strongly, but had eventually to give in, and, to make a long story short, we landed at Windermere. We did very poor business, barely paying expenses; and such was the case when we moved to Keswick and other places around the Lake District. We next shifted to Morecambe, where we passed a very profitable week, and then embarked in a fishing smack which was returning to Fleetwood. We were overtaken by a fearful storm, and the fishermen were fully occupied in keeping their boat right side up. Hey was down in the hold, having left me to take care of the shark. The sea swept over the sides, and I had great difficulty in retaining the box containing our treasure. I shouted to Dave to come and help me, but the only answer I got was that if he was going to be drowned he “wod dee happy.” When we got to Fleetwood, some time elapsed before we were able to land, and when we at last did set foot on the shore, I said to myself, “No more shark showing for me.” Luck seemed to be in the way just then, for a gentleman who came in to see the shark asked me what I would sell it for. I told him I would take 20 pounds for the whole concern shark, tent, box organ, &c. But he said he only wanted the shark. After much bargaining I brought the price down to 14 pounds for the lot, and he accepted this, and returned the tent, box organ, lamps, &c., and out of these Hey and I made another sovereign. The gentleman purchased the shark for a museum in Fleetwood. Dave o’ th’ Damside and Bill o’ th’ Hoylus End were now rich for once in their lives, but I almost shrink from telling it by the time they got to Skipton they had spent every penny of the money, and had to walk to Keighley, from where they had been absent about six months.