Gateway to the Classics: The Counties of England by Charlotte Mason
The Counties of England by  Charlotte Mason


I. The Moors and Ribblesdale

The Moors of the Pennine Chain, often called the " backbone" of England, fill the greater part of Lancashire south of the Eibble. They are often bleak and dreary, these rounded, swelling heights—wide wastes of heath, with scattered boulders and stretches of spongy bog.

Now and then the moors swell into distinct hills, higher than the rest, as Pendle Hill (1830 feet), the highest in this part of the county, and Bivington Pike, near Bolton, the water brought from which supplies the pipes of Liverpool, more than twenty miles distant. The high lands about Bolton, "Bolton-le-Moors," rise to more than 1000 feet above the sea. Sometimes, under the name of edges, they take the form of a long, rounded swell, several miles in length, as Blackstone Edge, between Lancashire and Yorkshire. The highest moors are in the east, on the Yorkshire side; towards the west the land sinks into the low plain which borders the sea, and stretches for some miles inland.

The great South Lancashire coal-field lies in this moorland country, between the Ribble and the Mersey; hence, there are many villages in the dales; and busy towns, with collieries round them and tall chimneys rising from them, marking the "mills" where many people labour; for this part of East Lancashire is about the busiest bit of England.

There are not as many beautiful and clearly marked dales on the Lancashire as on the Yorkshire side of the "backbone"; two, however, Lancashire has, as lovely as any in the adjoining moorland county, the fair and fertile dales of the Ribble and the Lune.

Stonyhurst College lies within Ribblesdale, and Mr. Howitt thus describes his visit to the spot: "From the first opening of this splendid vale, you have Stonyhurst lying full in view; Rib-Chester, the celebrated Roman station, to the left, in the level of the valley; down the vale to the north-east, you have the castle of Olitheroe, standing on its bold and abrupt eminence; and as you wind along the eastern side of the dale, with the Ribble below you on your left, and above you, on your right, woods and cottages with their little enclosures, the ruins of Whalley Abbey come in view, and, high beyond, the bare and cloud-mottled heights of Pendle Hill."

The Roman Catholic College at Stonyhurst is a large and handsome building.

Broad meadows and pasture fields are common in Lancashire; the feeding of cattle and the making of butter and cheese are the chief kinds of farming work done in the county; perhaps, because most of the people are at work in the mills and cannot attend to crops. In the river valleys, however, the vales of Lune, Eibble, and Mersey, crops are raised; wheat and oats, and capital potatoes, for which last Lancashire is rather famous.

II. Furness and the Sea Board

Furness is a bit of Lancashire entirely separated from the rest of the county by the waters of More-cambe Bay. The little Winster stream alone divides it from Westmoreland, and the Duddon from Cumberland ; but nowhere does it touch the shire of which it forms a part.

Furness is in every way like the two counties between which it is wedged; it is a bit of mountain country, full of the slate mountains of the Cumbrian group. Like Scotland, it consists of highlands and lowlands: Low Furness is the peninsula at the end of the district, which has low shores and low islands lying off the shores; the largest of these is Walney Isle. Slate is quarried in the slate mountains of High Furness, and veins of lead and copper are worked. In Low Furness, where the rocks are not of slate, but of mountain limestone, a great treasure has been found of late years, enormous beds of iron-ore, which yields iron of the very best kind. This valuable "find" has changed much of Low Furness into a Black Country, fall of smoke, and noisy with the roar of blast furnaces and the clang of many hammers. Barrow has become, quite lately, a large and busy iron-working town. Ulverston, the next largest town, is also busily engaged in the iron trade.

Just beyond the din and bustle of Barrow, in a narrow, fertile vale, are the grand and peaceful ruins of Furness Abbey; the roof is gone, but there are still walls and windows and glorious arches, lofty and wide, to fill the beholder with awe.

The whole of the Lancashire coast is low, and it is in many places skirted by bogs or "mosses." The wide inlet of Morecambe Bay stretches far into the land, and the tide comes in sudden, strong, and high, as into all the openings upon this western coast. At low water there is an endless stretch of white sand, called, near Morecambe, the Lancaster sands.

The town of Lancaster stands on the slope of a hill rising from the river Lune; on the top of the hill is the strong and stately castle, "the honour and grace of the whole town." It is now used as the county gaol. The low level land between Lancaster Bay and the mouth of the Ribble is called the Fylde; there are two or three bathing places, for the folk of the busy towns* upon its coast—Fleetwood and Blackpool. The sea is now drawing back so far from Southport, a watering place south of the Ribble, that the long pier hardly reaches the water.

III. Liverpool

Liverpool contains nearly half a million people; there are in it streets of warehouses, full of the goods which its "merchant princes" have brought from over the sea, or are going to send forth in ships to all parts of the wide world. There are streets full of fine shops; there are handsome buildings—St. George's Hall, with its magnificent organ, the Sailors' Home, the Town Hall, the Custom House. There are endless narrow streets, where the poor folk live; but there are not factories, as in Manchester, for everybody is busy about the shipping, or, in some way, about commerce. The chief business of Liverpool is to send abroad the cotton goods of Lancashire, and to bring in the raw cotton from America and elsewhere. But this is far from being the only business of this great port, which has the largest foreign trade in the kingdom. Linen, woollen stuffs, iron goods, salt, soap, and sugar, earthenware and glass, and most British manufactures are sent abroad; and whatever things are produced in all lands upon the face of the globe—pleasant to the eye, or good for food, or in any way useful or precious—these are brought into England by the ships of this mart of nations, this crowning city, whose merchants are princes, whose traffickers are the honourable of the earth.

The ships from Ireland bring not only butter and eggs, pork and bacon, but a constant stream of Irish people. Many of these settle in Liverpool, which has a large Irish population, mostly poor folk who have no clear way of getting a living. But many come merely to take their places in the emigrant ships which carry them over the ocean to find a home and work and wages in the New World. English and Scotch people also sail in these huge, crowded ships, for Liverpool is the chief emigration port in the kingdom.

It is very important that there should be abundant room for the countless vessels which are always to be seen in Liverpool harbour, waiting to be loaded or unloaded, or to be repaired after some stormy voyage. The town stands at the mouth of the river Mersey, whose wide estuary forms a splendid harbour; it is three-quarters of a mile across at Liverpool, and still docks  has been made in these waters for shipping as is not to be seen anywhere else in the world, except in London; there are thirty-eight of them, stretching more than six miles along the river side. What are docks? They are simply basins for the ships to stand in, hollowed out of the bank of the river. Each one is large enough to hold many ships, and they are divided from the river by strong walls with huge gates, which are opened to let the vessels pass in and out.

There are two kinds of docks, wet and dry. Wet docks are used for the loading and unloading of vessels, and are generally full of water, so that the ships may keep afloat. This is contrived by shutting the gates before the tide goes out, so that the dock remains full when, along the river banks, the water has gone down. Ships which are to be repaired are floated into the dry docks, so that the workmen can easily get at them, the tide is allowed to ebb from these docks, and the gates are shut when they are empty of water. Around the docks are quays, mostly crowded with sea-faring folk, and with warehousemen busy about the lading of the ships. Truly a wonderful sight, full of interest and busy life, is the shipping of Liverpool.

The first wet dock made in our country for merchant ships was in Liverpool; and Lancashire may also boast of the first railway for passengers (between Liverpool and Manchester), and of the first English canal.

The Tame and the Goyt, two streams which rise in the moorlands, join at Stockport to form this Mersey river, which is so famous for its traffic.

The land is low between the Mersey and the Moors, sinking here and there into bogs: Chat Moss, which. has been partly drained, is one of the largest of these.

IV. The Cotton Towns

There are more people in Lancashire than in any other county of England, and by far the greater number of these are employed in some way or other about cotton; they spin, or weave, or bleach, or print, or buy, or sell, cotton.

Manchester, a city with more than half a million of people, is the centre of this great manufacture. It stands on the Irwell, a tributary of the Mersey, and these are the two hardest worked rivers in the world.

Salford, on the other side of the Irwell, is joined to Manchester by bridges; the two make one monster, crowded town, or city, for Manchester is a bishop's see, and the cathedral is the fine old church of St. Mary. It is one of the richest cities in the world, and has gay shops in Market Street, and some handsome buildings—the Town Hall and the Exchange, the Free Trade Hall and Owens College; but statues and buildings are alike grimy with the smoke of the tall mill chimneys. Everywhere there are warehouses, some of them handsome, in which the cotton is stored—raw cotton for the mills, or manufactured goods for the shops. These, and the mills, and the endless streets of small brick houses where the mill "hands" live, show that Manchester is a great manufacturing town.

A circle drawn round Manchester at a distance of ten miles or so from Market Street would take in a district which is almost one huge town, or, indeed, one huge factory. Bolton, Bury, Middleton, Rochdale, Oldham, Ashton, Staleybridge, Stockport, which are all cotton towns, lie within this ring, and between them and the centre, Manchester, are endless "cotton " villages and mills.

There are several reasons why this particular district should be the chief seat of the cotton manufacture. Five centuries ago, when Edward III. married the daughter of the Earl of Hainault, a province of Belgium, he thought a great deal of the skill of her country people in spinning wool and weaving cloth— cotton was not then known—so he invited a number of these Flemish clothiers to settle in England that they might teach his own people. Many of these came to Bolton, and were soon busy with their spinning wheels and looms. Three centuries later, in the reign of Elizabeth, the king of France grievously persecuted his Protestant subjects; wherefore they also came, clever, industrious people, skilful spinners and weavers, to take refuge in friendly England, where they were made very welcome. Many of these followed the strangers who had first come to Bolton. They came in the sabots which may still be heard clattering through the streets of many a foreign town; and these same sabots, wooden clogs with brass buckles, have been worn in Lancashire ever since by men and women, lasses and lads, and a wonderful clatter they make as they come pouring out of the mills at noon.

Again, the high moor lands give rise to many streams which join the Mersey, and, on their way, supply water for bleaching-works and dye-works. Then, the towns within this circle lie upon a wide coal-field, in which the coal measures reach a depth of 7000 feet and yield capital coal. The beautiful cannel coal, which is bright and smooth like jet, is found in this district; it burns with a clear flame and hardly any smoke.

The collieries supply fuel for the mighty engines which do the work of the mills; and, close at hand, in Furness or in one of the neighbouring counties, is iron to make these same engines.

Lastly, the Mersey and Irwell, with which many canals are connected, carry the bales to the broad Mersey mouth, and on to Liverpool—the great port of the west—where ships are waiting to carry the cotton stuffs of Lancashire over the wide world, and whither others are returning with the raw cotton to make fresh supplies.

There are several large cotton towns beyond this circle, most of them upon out-lying collieries;—Burnley, Blackburn, Preston upon the pretty river Bibble, Chorley, Wigan, a very black coaling town with a beautiful old church; and Warrington. In Manchester, Wigan, and Warrington there are iron and brass foundries where engines are made. Rochdale still carries on the old woollen manufacture, and a great deal of silk is made in Manchester.

V. Inside a Mill

What is cotton? Just the tiny white hairs, which, all twisted and pressed together, make a warm soft bed for the seeds of a plant of the same family as our common mallow. This plant needs a warmer climate than ours, and grows best in the Southern States of America, in some little sea islands off the American coast, in the East Indies, in Egypt, and in some other warm lands. It is a grand thing to "find out the knowledge of witty inventions"; and a truly witty invention it was to make cloth of these tiny filaments of cotton. There are other plants whose seeds are wrapped up in fine, soft, white hair beds; but these hairs cannot be spun into such threads as can be woven into cloth, and for this reason—they do not twist. It is because the tiny hairs round the cotton seed are inclined to twist round one another that they can'be joined together and made into a thread; and so fine are they that many thousands of them go to form the thickness of a single thread in the finest lace.

The cotton as the ships bring it in from America, and elsewhere, is called raw cotton. It is just as it has left the pod; hard and matted; full of little lumps and bits of stick and seed and dirt. In this state it is carried in bales to the mills. A crane hoists these bales to a large room at the top of the mill. Here are engines, called "blowers" by the workpeople, which blow with a deafening roar; the hard, lumpy cotton is put into these, and comes out a soft cloud like swan-down.

Seven times over is the cotton thrashed and fanned in this way, until at last it pours out, at the end of the engine, a beautiful white stream of cotton wool, quite clean after all its beatings and blowings.

The next thing is to make these millions of tiny curling filaments, each almost too small to be seen or felt, lie straight side by side. We must go into the carding-room to see how this is managed; this is a huge room with, perhaps, a hundred great carding-engines in it, standing side by side. You think, perhaps, that a card  is a card upon which the cotton is wound; nothing of the kind. A card is an iron roller set all over with steel wires, shorter and closer together than the hairs of a clothes-brush. There is a large card and a number of smaller cards in a carding-engine. The cotton is drawn through the prickles of one card after another, until, after the last combing, every filament lies straight and even like the hairs of your head.

The soft cloud of cotton that leaves the engine after the carding, is pressed together and rolled and drawn by one engine after another, until it becomes a sort of soft cord about the thickness of a candlewick. It is then wound upon bobbins and is ready for the spinning-frame.

Each cotton filament upon the bobbins lies straight and even, and is so far ready for use. The next thing is to take a few thousands of these ends off the bobbin and twist them into a thread—a thread such as you may see in the ravellings of calico.

A hundred years ago, the plan in Lancashire was, for every weaver to buy as much carded cotton as he wanted. This he took home to his cottage, where wife and girls spun it into threads with a spinning-wheel. In working this wheel, the woman kept the filaments straight with her hand, while the turning of the wheel caused them to twist into a single thread. Each woman or girl could only spin one thread at a time, and the father would weave this thread into calico.

But if you notice how many threads cross each other in a piece of calico, you will see this must have been rather slow work. A certain weaver, called Hargreave, found it so; and invented a machine called a spinning-jenny, which could spin eight threads at once. A few years later, a barber of Bolton, Richard Arkwright—who came to be Sir Richard Arkwright— invented another machine by which many more threads could be spun at once; and a Mr. Crompton, also of Bolton, invented the mule-jenny, a wonderful maohine which will keep one or two thousand spindles at work.

How these machines double the filaments and twist them into threads is too deep a matter for you to understand.

The great mule-frames stand in pairs all through the length of a very large room; the machines do all the spinning, better, perhaps, than if they had sense. All that the men and boys who watch them have to do is to join any one of the many thousand threads which happens to break, and this they do with a wonderfully quick twist.

The cotton goes through much more before the warp is made ready for the loom; at last one or two hundred bobbins of spun cotton are put on the bars of a horse, something like a clothes-horse. From all these bobbins the ends are drawn out towards a roller just the breadth of the cloth required; round the roller they wind, a broad sheet of calico without the cross-threads. These cross-threads are put in by the loom. The business of the loom is to lift every other thread as a darning-needle does when you are crossing a hole; then, when the threads are lifted, to throw the shuttle across with a cross-thread; then, to lower these threads, and raise the others, and again to throw the shuttle back. The cross-thread carried by the shuttle is called the weft, and self-acting arms fling it backwards and forwards—the arms of the power-horn—which must also press each weft thread up close against the last. In the old days, the weaver had to throw the shuttle; now the machine does it all; and the women and girls who attend to the weaving only see that there is plenty of thread, join the thread when it breaks, and stop the engine if anything goes wrong. Easy work, you will say; so it might be, were it not work which does not allow the weavers to look off or pause for a moment.

How the looms do their work is another matter too hard for you to understand. The power-loom, which converts the threads into actual calico, was invented by Dr. Cartwright.

There is much to be done yet; the calico must be bleached, perhaps dyed; perhaps it is to have a pattern printed upon it. But we have no room to describe how these things are done; indeed, before it reaches the loom, the cotton goes through many processes of which we have said nothing.

The noise in each of the vast rooms is so stunning that you cannot hear yourself speak, especially is this the case in the weaving-room, which is usually on the ground floor. There, 1000 or 2000 looms, each as big as a flat piano, are ranged side by side over an immense floor, in such a way that one woman can look after two looms.

The thing which takes away your breath most of all is the enormous quantity of work which is being done in every room of the factory. Who does it all? Not the "hands," men and women, boys and girls; they are, for the most part, "minders," that is, their business is to see that all goes on right; but it is the iron machines which clean the cotton and card it; spin it and weave it. These machines are cunningly contrived, each one to do its work; if you can but keep it in motion, each machine will go on doing the same thing, in the same way, until it is worn out. The thing is, how to keep the machines moving. This is work too hard for men, too hard for horses; for as a single machine often does the work of hundreds of men, it would require the strength of hundreds of men to keep it in motion. Let us go into a single room—the spinning-room—of the factory, and see how the machines are kept at work: "18,000 spindles and bobbins are whirling round in a giddy waltz"; that is to say, the work of 18,000 persons appears to be going on of its own accord." A heavy iron shaft, rising through the floor and piercing through the ceiling, turns, just before its exit upwards, but one cogged wheel, and this quickens to life the 18,000 bobbins, as the last and least of its effects. A bright iron shaft traverses the middle of the ceiling; tackle is joined to this shaft near each frame, and thus the frame is kept at work." It is a sort of "house that Jack built"; the moving of the tackle keeps the machines in motion, the moving of the shaft along the ceiling keeps the tackle in motion, the cogwheel works upon that, and the shaft which comes up from the floor turns the wheel. You see the same sort of thing in each of the rooms—a great shaft working up and down through floor and ceiling, and turning a wheel which moves a shaft, which moves the tackle, which moves a thousand machines.

But we have not yet got to the root of the matter; what sets the great shaft in motion? In a remote part of the factory, in a house all to himself, lives the giant who really does the work; a fellow with the strength of two or three hundred horses, and with power, as we have .seen, to work in many places at the same time. Steam is his name, and here is the great steam engine in the boiler of which this mighty workman is born. A huge prison-house for the giant is this engine, with enormous wheels and cranks, and the great shaft which, set in motion, gives motion to all the other shafts in the building. Everything about the monster is kept bright and clean and beautiful as may be, for the engineer usually takes great pride in his engine.

A great deal of the work of the mills is done by little hands; boys and girls make, as good "minders" as men and women; and as they work for less wages, the mill-owners are willing to employ them. It would never do, however, for English boys and girls to grow up without any schooling, so the law compels these young" hands" to be sent to school for half the day.

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