Leigh Journal 9 January 1885:
RECOLLECTIONS OF THE OLDEST MAN IN LEIGH
The oldest man living in Leigh, Samuel Tyldesley, is the son of John Tyldesley, and was born March 1st, 1796, at Choughy Hill Parm, Lately Common, Bedford, where his grandfather had died the previous Christmas.
Sam's great grandfather's death took place at Little Carr's Farm, near Tyldesley, doubtless about the beginning of the last century, and this confirms the family tradition to a considerable extent that they sprang from the Tyldesleys, of Tyldesley. Indeed, Sam has often told us that his great grandfather, who lived to be 105 years old, was, according to what the patriarch had told his (Sam's) father, " one of Sir Thomas Tildesley's lot".
Peter Tyldesley, grandfather to Sam, a long time ago, was tenant at Cheetham House Farm, Coalpit-lane, Bedford, now or not long ago in the occupation of Mr. James Hampson.
In Sam's early life the family combined farming with muslin weaving, and they appear to have finally abandoned the pursuit of agriculture so long ago as 1813. Good-natured Sam never rose above the position in which he was born, and in the last decade of his long life he has subsisted mainly on charity, with a small pittance from the parish. He has many friends; in fact, so harmless a veteran—frank, cheerful and jocular always—has no enemies.
Sam married at 26, his wife being also a handloom weaver. The pair set up house in Blackhorse-street, Bedford, and left there for Welsh Hill, where they lived 30 years, and afterwards moved to Ellesmere-street, Leigh. Prior to the death of his partner in 1878, he often proudly boasted that they were the oldest couple in the parish of Leigh. Sam is still able truthfully to say he is the senior male resident in Leigh, the oldest inhabitant being the venerable Mrs. Peters, Low Common, Bedford, who is about 93.
Old Sam must be one of the last of the hundreds from this district who were employed in the making of the first Manchester and Liverpool Railway over Chat Moss, under a sub-contractor named Blacklock. He regularly left his loom at haymaking time, and made a point of reminding us that he worked in the field for the father of Mr. John Hayes and Mr. James Hayes. The old man is still brimful of reminiscences of "Leyth" silk weaving of the past. And well he may. To use his words, "There never wur sich a set of men as the masters. Weavers at one period went home mostly with about half the money they had earned. Many thought well if they got off with being only bated five shillings a cut." He recollects the time when there were 21 "silk meathurs in Leyth." As showing to what lengths hunger will drive people, Sam once sent his boy with a cut to a silk master over Leigh Bridge. His family had not tasted food that day, yet the boy came back in the afternoon with the message that he could get no money for the finished work. Sam thereupon took a good stout stick, intending to use it to sorne purpose; but he was forestalled, for another irate weaver had thrashed the fellow into a juster frame of mind. At any rate Sam got paid off with 15s. He worked for the late Mr. Bryce nearly 30 years, and these two, for Mr. Bryce never shirked from a few rounds, fought many a battle.
When Sam's grandmother, who died at Choughy Hill, was to be buried, the sexton desired them to attend with the remains at eight o'clock in the evening, as until that hour the vicar would not be back from Newton races! In those days there were drunken singers and drunken ringers; ale used regularly to be carried in the gallery of the church in a forenoon. "I lived next door to a man named Richard Jackson, who went drunk to church very often. The then vicar (Birket) was one day burying a corpse, and as he was saying, 'I am the resurrection and the life,' he heard a great row going on at the Saddle. He finished as soon as possible, and then asked what the row was about. Jackson told him 'Smashum' was in the fight. The parson pulled oft his surplice, walked across the Market-place, and said, "Which is the man they call 'Smashum?" Being told "Smashum" was undermost, the reverend admirer of a fight remarked that "Smashum" didn't "shape to his mind." As soon as the battle was over the parson and a man named Faulkner made a bet of a crown as to their respective weights. The parson won, and the money was spent in rum, which was drank at the King's Head. Mr. Irvine, the vicar before Mr. Stanning, was a different stamp of man. He said he must mind the sick and the dying, aud he was no respecter of persons. Mr. Pownall, silk manufacturer, sat in the family pew of the Athertons, and the vicar said he had no right there. There was a lot bother in Mr. Irvine's days. He was strict in many ways. I do not recollect that at charity sermons in his day, as was the case previously, that the box was brought out of the church and taken into the Correction, the Fox, and the Walmsley Arms.
I well recollect "The Peudies," a number of old houses up to the graveyard, which I think were taken down in 1815. When the churchyard wall was built that portion where the paupers were buried was carted away. Scores of coffins were put into a ditch near Bedford Church. People began to be afraid to go by. I was once in the ditch, and created a great stir by calling out in sepulchral tones, "Who brought my bones here ?" Many skulls and human bones were removed when they began to put up buildings up in Chapel-street.
I can go back to a time when Darwell and Isherwood were the only two butchers in Leigh. I was the father of eight children. You ask me how the poor were fed in my young days. My wife used to tell a story of being sent once for sixpennyworth of bread. She was then only seven years old, but so hungry that before she returned she ate biggest part of the loaf. My father gave five shillings for a dozen of barley flour, and it was "wick." There wasn't a pound of flour at one time in my day to be bought that would make bread. In 1818 I saw corn out at Christmas on Brick House Farm, over Butts Bridge, now belonging to Mr. Thomas Lancashire.
Though I have known what it is to go short of food, I only went to bed once without tasting food during the day. Porridge was the regular dish, but often enough it was porridge without salt, as at one time salt was a very scarce article. We could not always afford to buy milk for our porridge. In Blackhorse-street, from top to bottom, I believe it has been the case that there wasn't a pint of milk consumed a day. If we got potatoes and buttermilk for dinner we thought that was a "good do."