Newcastle Courant - Saturday 11 November 1899
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A NORTH-COUNTRY MARKET.
BY HARWOOD BRIERLEY.
Pocklington, an ancient country town thirteen miles to the east of York, is famous for three things -its parish church - "the Cathedral of the Wolds" - its Grammar School, where William Wilberforce was partially educated; and its Martinmass Hiring-market.
Everinghams shop only hung their coats outside the shop for 'Hirings Day'
The town is situated midway between York and Hull, where Wilberforce was born on August 24th, 1759; and at the Pocklington Grammar School one of the masters' houses is known as "Wilberforce Lodge." It was there that the eminent philanthropist penned a letter, while in his fourteenth year, to a York newspaper, in which he first denounced "-the odious traffic in 'human flesh." This showed the early bent of his mind. It was not until his twenty-eighth year that he resolved to devote himself to that cause, which, even as a schoolboy, had been the subject of his thoughts. In 1807 the Abolition Bill passed the House of Lords, and great must have been the joy and pride of the projector when he heard Sir Samuel Romilly in the Commons conclude his speech by "contrasting the feelings of Napoleon in all his greatness with those of that honoured individual who would this day lay his head upon his pillow, and remember that the slave trade was no more." The name of Wilberforce is perpetuated at Pocklington, and the schoolboys there, who ought never to forget it, have in him the memory of a great example of patience, perseverance, and philanthropy. The school is at present more flourishing than it has ever been. Not very long ago the premises were enlarged, and a splendid new laboratory added, at the joint expense of the Governors and the East Riding Countv Council. There are several scholarships and exhibitions. A curious fact it is to relate that a favourite country ramble with the boys is to the neighbouring village of Wilberfoss.
On every high-road and bye road leading into Pocklington town on the morning of November 9th, you may see farm-servants of both sexes in the single or plural number wending their way to the hirings. A goodly proportion of them do not, of course, go to be hired - they are too easy, or too content with the old dispensation, to change their quarter, so they take advantage of the occasion for a good day's outing - With the majority of these sons of the plough, it is astonishing how fond they are of moving on year by year from place to place; one would think that such men would get attached to their masters and cattle and field-implements, and that so they would evade a change unless as a real betterment. Even if they have been so fortunate as to get on to a big estate, where there is always scope for a shrewd, careful, persevering man, they are too frequently ready to attach themselves on the following Martinmas to a small farmer of no prestige. No reasonable master would expect any work to be done on the morning of the local "sittings" and, if he did, the men would defy him to his face. Yet, in passing the hedgerows of one field I beheld a boy drawing up turnips with a hand-drag, slashing off the roots, and sending them over the tail of a cart with a rapidity that his human mechanism must have been utterly strange to. Unquestionably, the man under whom he worked had "put on him" this morning, and set off to the sittings two or three hours previously, leavintg the boy to follow when he had got through his imposition. A farmer told me there would be more devilries played at Pocklington, on that day, than during any other forty days of the year.
It was the publican's harvest-day. Lots of good-for-naughts would get their "fast-penny" ("fasten-penny") who had not the slightest intention of owning up to their too liberal new masters. He showed me how he himself had been duped by a big lad, to whom he had proffered a bran-new crown-piece. It was arranged that the lad should begin his work on the Monday week; but instead of keeping the crown as a reminder, he had gone straightway and dissipated it at the public-house; then, as afterwards transpired, he had fastened himself to another farmer, and to a third. At any rate, his speculations had won him a sovereign. My informant deplored the system as a very demoralising one, its effect upon that big lad being an initiation of drunken habits which had cleaved to him ever since. I walked right along to Hayton : with this ancient farmer, and was ready to congratulate him on a sage remark he made to a passing gang of elated sons of Hodge, "If ye'd been good lads ye'd hed a home o' your oan, an' nut hed ti gaw ti t' slave-market." He was right enough; he had struck the keynote of the widespread boorish (dis)organisation known as the Martinmas Hirings. The slave-market! where men and girls, in spite of the ransom procured for them by William. Wilberforce, held themselves willing slaves to their own peculiar love of change, and their consistent patronage of an ancient custom which required them to act as cattle or slaves to be hired or sold in the market-place! A deliberate search for a new master every twelve or twenty-four months, but not always a better master, often a worse, some- times none at all! They are willing to take their chance of being chosen, and rather than return to the farms they have set their backs upon, they will go to work, like the men in the Bible, in somebody else's vineyard for a penny a day. A Hayton lad, with puffed face, swaggering air, and shambling walk. passed us with a new clay pipe in his mouth. Here was another raw youngster, suddenly developed into a man-in fact, the protege of that farmer's sister-and now on this way to the hirings. When the farmer gave him - this passing shot, "Thoo'll tak that paipe ootn'n thi mooth," the lad merely shambled by with a broad grin. I had also pointed out to me the professional country pickpocket, Who confines his scene of operation to markets, fairs, and hirings, and tramps on from town to town where such are about to take place. Concerning the picturesoue side of the Martinmas fittings of the farm-hands much might be written. The small agricultural town is the "slave-market" for all the villages within, say, a radius of ten miles, and thus it comes about that the men do not usually move far from their original homes.
A single tumbril, borrowed from the farmer whose employ the labourer is leaving, is often quite large enough to contain all the latter's household effects; if not, a waggon is used as a furniture van. Sometimes an old farmer who is past work but still able to keep out of the workhouse may be seen seated in an old armchair, placed in such a position that he can safely ride it on the waggon ; while children are stowed away on straw heaps in odd corners, the infants often comfortably secured in clothes baskets. Valued belongings, such as the clock or some blue and red vase, are often carried by the labourer's wife from the old home to the new ; while the children take care of the birdcage with its throstle or starling, and keep an eye on the cat. And so, with its modest load of cottage furniture. the waggon rumbles and jolts along the miry country roads, pausing now and again when some picture-frame, chair. or bedstead is about to shuffle down. or when a stifled cry from the rear of the vehicle announces that little Tommy or Lizzie has come to grief through the collapse of some sharp-angled box or chest of drawers. As a, rule, the youngsters are somewhat elated at the prospect of exploring a new cottage, with its interesting possibilities in the shape of attics and cupboards: but their loudly expressed anticipations often give place to tearful lamentations when it is discovered that some favourite plaything has, after all, been left behind. To their mother, it is no particular pleasure to go into a new cottage, no matter how fine the woodbine has grown on its walls, or how handsome to her eye the fixtures are. Her regrets for the neighbours and scenes she leaves behind are mingled with forebodings as to what the future may have in store for herself and family.
I was last at Pocklington on the eve of the annual statutes. After a brief rest for tea, the first show: opened for the evening with "God Save the Queen!" A show possessed of verv loyal feeling. truly! This was Mander's Waxworks, a bulky broad-fronted affair which reached from the very doors of Greig's Buck Hotel to the opposite side of the market-place, with the exception of leaving just sufficient room for a cart to pass. Even the country town policeman relinquished his red-tapeism for this, the greatest feast of the year; but then, he may never have been a red-tapeist. By eight o'clock,all the town had turned out to see the stirrings. Long rows of yellow naphtha lamps were then hissing and flaring away, the two or three brazen- throated organettes, pitted heavily against each other, were sending harsh discord all through the town, and when the drummer every now end again vigorously banged at the suspended parchment, my chest felt as though it were thumped by Goliath, and the tympanum of my ear felt as though it would have to give way.
This impressive display was erected right across Market Place from Buck's Inn across to the other side. It must have been an amazing sight !
How the gold. blue, and red of the open-air proscenium of Mander's Waxworks glittered ! There were in front the wood statues of four Indian chieftains with their weapons resting and pointed upwards. But mark the anamalous art display. The first picture represented King Arthur, the second was a portrait of the German Emporor, the third a portrait Of Italy's Queen. the fourth a work of art representing "Noah's Sacrifice." the fifth "Croesus Concealing his Treasures after the Battle of Thymbris." the sixth "Death of Sisera by the Hand of Jael." A Thespian stage, a Waxworks'exhibition, an Art Gallery, and an itinerant dwelling-house all in one! A pale hut, in the false light, pretty young girl in Highland costume, with high-peaked feather in her cap, came to posture and pirouette on the open stage with a fair-complexioned sailor-boy in blue; - a second couple being made by a dumpy and very ordinary little maid and a veritable Tom Thumb of considerable consequence in top hat and lavender suit. When the business of the evening was in full go the organette grinder was hard at work in his shirt-sleeves behind the instrument, first with one hand- and then the other declaring discord ferociously with his adverse neighbor hour in the next show. And this was a penny-gaff containing the Royal Educated Birds, a tribal party that challenged the world for £100. With them travelled "the lady who broke the weighing-machine at Chicago." and also "the only, lady conjurer in the world" - probably the "tottie" clad in green, covered with silver tinsel, and bedraggled, big, white feather in her hat, who in short frock and high boots strutted about at large in front of her itinerent domicile, with a male colleague who looked extremely seedy. Of rifle- galleries, attended by lanky ramrod assistants, there appeared to be more than sufficient for the occasion; and lower down the market-place, were the equine merry-go-rounds, each horse suspended by, a- twisted brass rod. Such is the class of amusement provided for those who buy and sell in the modern North Country hiring market.