MEMOIR AND POEMBY J. W. EASTHOPE.
The district of Busk, Chadderton, including Hunt Clough, Twelve Acres and Burnley Lane, was quite a beauty spot some seventy years ago.
Approached by winding lanes, bordered by sweet smelling hawthorn hedges, there were several well stocked farmsteads with orchards, trees, and rich green meadows.
Irregularly dotted here and there were quaint old cottages with neat and well kept gardens of sweet scented ﬂowers, giving the neighbourhood an appearance of pastural beauty, quite typical of an English rural countryside.
In one of these cottages, with a loom-house attached, situated in Burnley Lane, Chadderton, Mr. J. T. Taylor was born on the 22nd of January, 1851.
His parents were hand-loom silk weavers, in very humble circumstances, and worked in the loom-house of their own home. Where weaving was done under such conditions, it was usual for the members of the family to share the duties, and at a very early age the subject of our sketch was put to the task of winding the bobbins of silk his parents required in their work.
During his early years the fortunes of the family were adversely affected by stagnation in the silk industry, and, what was more serious still, the father’s health failed.
These circumstances made it impossible to give the children the education they needed, and which the parents desired, and they had to be sent out to work as half-timers to assist the family income. These hard times are vividly described by the author himself in the “Reminiscence,” in the present volume.
The school days of young John Thomas were of short duration. He attended a small school kept by Mr. John Buckley in Burnley Lane.
It was only a very limited education that could be acquired in two or three years under such conditions. Before he was nine years of age he went to work in a brickyard on the site where the Wren Mill now stands, in Middleton Road, Chadderton. But brick-making was uncongenial, and also unremunerative, on account of its irregular nature during the winter months. He sought other employment, and in the year 1861 obtained a situation at Messrs. Platt Brothers, Hartford New Works, Featherstall Road, Oldham. At that time youths who were engaged as half-timers in the iron trade went to work and to school on alternate days. They had to work from 6 o’clock in the morning until 6 at night, and obtain what little education they could by attendance at night school after working hours were over. Fortunately for the rising generation in those days, the Sunday schools were a valuable help to education, as in them they taught Reading, Writing, Arithmetic, and Grammar, and the subject of this sketch received much sound instruction in these matters at the Unitarian Sunday School, Lord Street, Oldham, which he attended regularly.
Early on Sunday mornings he might have been seen with his brother and sisters walking up Burnley Lane carrying their dinners, which their mother had tied up in a handkerchief, and which they partook of at noon, sitting around the stove in the schoolroom. The task of carrying the handkerchief containing the food was always distasteful to young John Thomas, so he used to bargain with his sisters, and say if they would do it he would look after the food being warmed on the stove, and ready for them at dinner time. That matter settled, he often got the food warming done by proxy too, through the kindly help of “good old Sammy Holt.” He often said those were happy days, and he looked back on them with pleasure and appreciation to the end of his life.
About this time the family removed further up into Chadderton Road, where he lived with them for many years until the time of his marriage. As the cottage where he was born has been taken down, we give an illustration of this one where he spent his boyhood days. When a youth he often went with his mother and sisters to King Street Stores for the purchase of the weekly necessaries for the family, and these visits were the beginning of his interest in the Co-operative Movement. He began to take advantage of the facilities for education provided at the store by using the Reading and Reference Rooms, and borrowing books from the Circulating Library.
The Reference Library is a mine of information on almost any subject, but in politics, which J. T. Taylor intensively studied, there was a unique and complete collection of nearly 1,000 volumes of “Hansard” records of the British Parliament from the year 1066. He made himself well acquainted with this great work, and in his case, as in others, it was productive of excellent results.
He became a great reader and a clear thinker, and, by persevering in self-education, he laid the foundations of a literary and political knowledge which gave him conﬁdence in himself, and made him courageous and fearless in the expression of his thoughts and opinions. This ability proved of great advantage to him in the vigorous political activities in which he engaged from the year 1869 and onward.
His energy and enthusiasm were soon recognised by his colleagues, and though only quite a young man, he was appointed District Secretary for the Liberal Party in the Election between Mr. J. M. Cobbett and the Hon. E. L. Stanley in the year 1872. The town had received the sad news that one of its Members of Parliament — Mr. John Platt — had died suddenly in Paris.
This gentleman was the head of Messrs. Platt Brothers & Co., of Oldham, the great textile machinists, and was a capable politician, a great believer in the education of the people, and a generous supporter of it.
The townspeople felt they had lost a real friend, and a few years afterwards — in 1878 — they gave permanent expression to this feeling by erecting a ﬁne bronze statute to his memory by public subscription at a cost of over £3,000. This statute now stands in the Alexandra Park.
The loss of Mr. Platt placed the Liberals at a great political disadvantage, as they had no candidate in the ﬁeld, while the Conservatives had two available from the previous election. The Hon. E. L. Stanley was selected and adopted. Although he fought a very ﬁne battle, in which he was greatly assisted by the strenuous efforts of J. T. Taylor and others, he failed to secure election against his opponent, Mr. Cobbett, whose name at that time was a household word.
The result of the Poll was: J. M. Cobbett (C.), 7,278; Hon. E. L. Stanley (L.), 6,984. When the Oldham Liberal Union was started, our subject took a prominent part in its formation. I believe he was the ﬁrst Chairman of the Committee for a number of years, and surprised his colleagues by his business aptitude and organizing powers. They have expressed the opinion that he was one of the most capable men who ever held the position.
In addition to performing much valuable work in committee, he displayed abilities as a platform speaker which brought requests for his services at political meetings. He lectured on behalf of Liberalism on many occasions, and his lecture on “Peers and People” used to rouse his audiences to enthusiasm.
As propaganda, he wrote a number of political sketches and song-poems, which were set to popular tunes and sung at political meetings in different parts of the country with great success. One or two of these are included in the present volume.
He was an ardent and staunch Liberal, a member of the Oldham Reform Club, and a frequent attender at that institution to the end of his life.
In the year 1877 he married Miss Betty Taylor, daughter of Mr. John Taylor, of Rastrick Street, Greenacres Road, Oldham, a lady who did not need to change her name on the occasion of her marriage.
The union was a happy one, but Mr. and Mrs. J. T. Taylor were very unfortunate with their children. They had two sons — Herbert, born on September 8th, 1881, and Wilfrid, born on November 22nd, 1885. Both boys grew up to be young men, and were intelligent and well educated young fellows. Herbert was a draughtsman, and Wilfrid a commercial clerk. They were of good moral character, and were both devoted workers in the Unitarian Church and Sunday School, Herbert playing the Organ and Wilfrid acting as Registrar in the School and Secretary to the Church.
Just when attaining manhood Herbert had a serious illness. His parents spared no effort or expense to try and restore him.
He was sent on a voyage to Australia, and on his return went to reside in the Isle of Man. He lived in the island for about two years, and died at Castletown in 1906. His body was brought home and buried at the Chadderton Cemetery. A few years later, in 1913 — in marked contrast to his brother — Wilfrid died with a comparatively brief sickness, at the age of 27 years.
To Mr. and Mrs. Taylor, the death of their two sons was an almost overwhelming calamity, and it was a great loss to the Unitarian Church. As both sons were musical, they were used to having something of a cheerful nature often taking place in the home. But after their bereavement, they suffered an experience of silence and loneliness which was almost unbearable. When thanking the writer for a letter of condolence I had written to them in their trouble, Mr. Taylor remarked that had it not been for such messages of pity and comfort they had received, and the high esteem in which their ruins were held by those who knew them, he was sure the trial would have proved beyond what they could possibly have endured.
In the month of November, 1913, Mr. and Mrs. J. T. Taylor presented a large three-light stained glass window, representing the four Acts of Mercy, to the Unitarian Church, Lord Street, Oldham, as a Memorial to their two sons.
It is very beautiful indeed, in subject, design and tone of colour, and tends to produce in the mind of the spectator just that calm, reverent and religious atmosphere required in a place of worship, and is thus a distinct asset to the Church. The window was unveiled by Mrs. Taylor in the presence of a large gathering; and Mr. Taylor, in a beautiful, tender and appropriate speech, presented it to the Church and assembled congregation. It was gracefully accepted by Mr. Partington, President of the Church committee, and Mr. and Mrs. Taylor were thanked for their generous gift. Two Unitarian Ministers, the Rev. J. A. Pearson and Rev. W. S. McLauchlan, spoke in high appreciation of the lives and characters of the two brothers and their valuable work on behalf of the Church.
It has before been mentioned that J. T. Taylor began work at Messrs. Platt Brothers & Co., Hartford New Works, at the early age of 10 years. When about 14 he began to serve his apprenticeship as an Iron Turner in the New Cellar, and afterwards in the Tool Department, which at that time was known as the Chapel. After working for some years as a Journeyman Turner, he was promoted to be foreman of the Tool Turning Department, and later, over the Tool Fitting Department also.
In the year 1901 he was transferred from the Tool Shop to the Textile Section of the works, and appointed to be head foreman in the General Turning Department. This is a very large department in which a great many workmen are employed, and contains a ﬁne plant of thousands of machine tools that are required in the production of the various parts of textile machines. In it the turning and many other operations are performed for Cotton Spinning Mules, Ring Frames, Speeds, Combers, and Looms. In addition to this work, it also includes the Brass Turning and Finishing Department. The magnitude and great variety of the work make heavy demands upon the head foreman, and during a great part of the long period — about 18 years — that Mr. Taylor had supervision over it, the textile machine trade was busy. But it was quite evident he brought much more than the average intellect to the performance of the work.
A well informed mind, clever organizing powers, and a strong personality, enabled him to discharge the duties of the position with conspicuous ability. He was a strict disciplinarian and was regular and punctual at his post of duty.
About the year 1910 he was sent on a visit to America on behalf of the ﬁrm of Messrs. Platt Brothers. Though he only had a brief stay in that country, he made the greatest possible use of the time. He took every available opportunity of visiting their large cities and important workshops, and was busy from early morning till late at night gathering all the knowledge he could of machine tools and methods likely to be of use in the construction of textile machines. He saw many things that interested and impressed him. These he carefully noted down, and on his return presented to the ﬁrm a detailed and comprehensive report which I was told was considered very satisfactory.
While in the United States, travelling from one place to another, he also closely studied the language, manners and customs of the people, and took a great many photographs of their ﬁnest buildings and places. During the following winter he delivered several public Lectures in Oldham on his “American Imimpressions,” illustrated by a large number of lantern slide views which he and his son Wilfrid had made from the photographs taken by himself. These Lectures — one of which I attended — were most interesting and informing, and in them he hit off the speech and mannerisms of the American people in a remarkable way. While never failing to give them full credit for ingenuity, energy, and business ability, he made his audience rock with laughter at his droll imitations of what he called the swank and bluff of brother Jonathan at home.
It is really surprising that in his so-called leisure hours he found time to perform so much valuable work in different channels.
One of these channels was Co-operation. From the time of his marriage, which qualiﬁed him to become a member of the Oldham Industrial Co-operative Society, he entered earnestly into the work of the movement. He attended and took part in all kinds of meetings, and after serving in minor positions such as delegate to Conferences, to the Co-operative Wholesale Society and Co-operative Congress, he was elected on the Educational Committee of the Industrial Society in 1885. He was considered an acquisition to the committee, and ﬁlled the offices of Secretary, Vice-Chairman and Chairman with ability.
On the last occasion of his chairmanship he was mainly instrumental in promoting a Co-operative Exhibition in the King Street Hall, which was a big advertisement and a commercial success.
He was a keen and energetic co-operator, and has rendered useful service by writing papers for conferences and as an advocate of co-operative principles in different parts of the country.
In addition to being an effective and humorous public speaker, welcomed at meetings, he was also a clever author. When only 22 years of age, in 1873, he began to contribute sketches and poems to the Oldham Chronicle, and has been writing under nom-de-plumes, such as, “Jammy o’ Jims,” “Mally o’ Tums,” and “John Jones,” at intervals ever since.
In the year 1894 he was the founder of the Oldham Co-operative Record, a monthly periodical of some 20 pages, containing items of news and reports of the local society, and the movement generally. He edited it in a very interesting and attractive manner for several years, and contributed to its pages many original articles on education, humorous stories and poems.
On the occasion of the Jubilee of the Oldham Industrial Society, in 1900, he was selected by the committee to write the Jubilee History. The book he produced is full of information, describing in detail the commencement and progress of this large and successful society. It is written in a very interesting and readable style, and is a valuable contribution to the literature of the co-operative movement.
One of his latest literary efforts was the editing of the works of the late Mr. James Dronsﬁeld (Jerry Lichenmoss) a Lancashire writer, in the book entitled Ouslewood.
Mr. James Dronsﬁeld was the father of the late Mr. John Dronsﬁeld, the celebrated Lancashire Reciter, and both gentlemen were very intimate friends of the subject of our sketch. Mr. Taylor carried out this task very successfully, the great popularity of Mr. Dronsﬁeld enabling him to get sufficient subscribers to purchase the book, and make it quite a successful business venture, yielding a fair proﬁt. It was a happy idea to spend this surplus in engaging Mr. G. H. Wimpenny to paint a portrait of Mr. Dronsﬁeld, and to present it to the Oldham Free Library and Art Gallery Committee. It is a ﬁne portrait, and does the artist great credit. The picture now hangs among the permanent collection in our Oldham Art Gallery, and is a pleasant reminder of one of our local literary worthies.
For a long period Mr. J. T. Taylor was fortunate to possess good health. He was not attended by a doctor, I believe, for nearly forty years. During the whole of that time he led a very busy life, working at Messrs. Platt Brothers & Co., and, by way of complete change, speaking and writing, or engaging in committee work in the evenings. During this period of his life he was actively engaged in the work of the Unitarian cause, as a member of the committee, and served a term as President of the Church. He was a successful leader or teacher of a men’s class in the Unitarian Sunday School, and the men who were members of it have pleasant recollections of the interesting addresses he gave them on such subjects as Carlyle, Tolstoy, Kingsley, Tom Hood, Burns, Mark Twain, etc., and his addresses on Charles Dickens and the Christmas Carol were eagerly looked forward to and greatly enjoyed at the Christmas season of the year.
Unfortunately, in 1918, his good health came to an end, and he had a serious sickness which nearly cost him his life. It was during this illness that he suffered his greatest trial and loss, by the death of his dear wife.
One night while nursing her husband Mrs. Taylor had a sudden seizure herself, and the morning following she was found in a state of unconsciousness from which she never recovered. Her death took place on November 3rd, 1918, and she was interred at the Chadderton Cemetery.
At the time of his wife’s death and funeral, Mr. Taylor lay in bed seriously ill in a semi-conscious state, and did not really know about it until all was past and over. It was an unpleasant experience of the writer, who attended the funeral of Mrs. Taylor, to be asked by Mr. Taylor, when he had recovered, to tell him all about the sad event.
In addition to the skill of the doctor, there is no doubt that his recovery was largely due to Mrs. Urmson, his wife’s sister, and Mrs. Shepley, his own sister, who nursed him night and day with a patience and devotion which was most commendable.
Probably the trying experience of this sickness, coupled with the sad bereavement of his wife, led him to think of a cessation from regular employment. He retired from Messrs. Platt Brothers in the year 1919, having worked for the ﬁrm 58 years. He was presented with a large framed photograph of his brother foremen on the staff at Hartford New Works, as a memento of the occasion.
In a capable speech he warmly thanked his colleagues for their kind and generous gift, and then he presented it to the “Oldham Engineers’ Club,” Park Road, Oldham, where it hangs at present.
In recognition of this gift he was made a life member of the club.
Although he considered himself fortunate and was thankful for his recovery from sickness, he found the loss of his wife, and the change in his home life to be a bitter experience. It was no wonder, therefore, that about 18 months later he was married for the second time, to Mrs. Urmson, his ﬁrst wife’s sister, who, as has been stated, had helped to nurse him through his illness.
This appeared to his friends to be a suitable and satisfactory way out of his domestic troubles, and, in congratulating him, they hoped it might prove a happy event and a compensation to them both.
As he had now retired from regular employment, it was in his mind to buy a little motor car, and try to enjoy in a quiet way the few more years of life that he hoped might remain to them. Alas for human hopes!
Not long after Mr. Taylor’s second marriage he had a seizure which took away the use of one side of his body, and left him but a wreck of his former self.
This attack was of so serious a nature that it seemed to some of his friends to be an indication that the end was drawing very near. Once again, however, he improved to some extent, but was not able to recover completely. Occasionally he tried to go as far as the public park, which was only about one hundred yards from his home, but his friends often had to take him home. He lingered for some three years or more, but had to be assisted to walk about, and gradually went worse in spite of the efforts of his wife and the skill of the doctor, who was in regular attendance until the end.
After great suffering he passed away on Friday, 5th of November, 1926, at his residence, 16, Brompton Street, Oldham. His age was 75 years, and he left a widow and stepdaughter. He was buried with his ﬁrst wife and their two sons, at the Chadderton Cemetery, on a cold, rainy day — Tuesday, the 9th of November, 1926. His last resting place is marked by a tapering square granite obelisk, standing some nine feet high, and is situated about thirty yards, in a south-westerly direction, from the corner of the chapel in the Noncomformist portion of the cemetery.
Here, after a strenuous life, his mortal remains, now rest. We marvel at the happening.
Though he lived more than the allotted span of human life, and his domestic circle was greatly clouded by sickness, sorrow and bereavement, yet through it all he seemed to see the humorous side of things, and was a proliﬁc writer of stories, sketches and poems, which brought mirth and humour into the lives of his readers, sunshine from his shadows, and smiles through his tears.