Burnley Civic Trust Heritage Image Collection


From the Burnley Express of 14 May 1932

Reminiscences from New Zealand.

Burnley Man Who Became Minister.

MR. Henry Robert WILKINSON, J.P.
Formerly of Smallpage's, Gannow, 1873.

Christchurch, New Zealand. Mr. Wilkinson makes reference- to people and places now unknown to many of the present generation, but which will be recalled with interest by many of the older people of the town. His letter reads as follows :

MR. Henry Robert WILKINSON, J.P.

MR. Henry Robert WILKINSON, J.P.

23, Woodvilie-street,
To the Town Clerk of Burnley, Lancashire.

Dear Sir,

I am taking the liberty to forward you a copy of our city council's Year Book for Christchurch, New Zealand, and trust it may be of interest to yourself and possibly to members of your own Council.

I spent the early years of my life in Burnley, my parents removing there while I was still a very young child about 1855. My father was John Wilkinson, of the Inland Revenue Department. The first home I remember was in Dawson square, a three storied house beyond an entry. The stepping stones at the bottom of the square and the two dipping walls on the side of. the river are still pleasant memories associated with playtime at St. Peter's School, when Mr. Grant and Mr. Shepherd were masters. When I was four in 1858 my mother was widowed, left with seven children, myself the youngest. Shortly after this bad times came to Lancashire for the American Civil War broke out. The cotton ships were stopped, and the cotton factories, had to close down.

When seven.... years old I was employed in Stephen Cork's reed shop. My work was to turn the wheel of wire to supply the reed making machine. My wages for full-time was the princely sum of Is. 6d a week. When the master was away at the Manchester market the boys of the shop had to scour the district for gallons of beer which were usually chalked on. My next work, was as a layer on at Turstill's factory near Hammerton street, and Victoria Market. After that "I was a half-time "tenter" in Knowle's weaving- factory near the-river not far from Towneley Park Lodge gates. Then for about a year I was message boy and delivered the "Burnley Gazette" and "Burnley Advertiser" for two good Catholic ladies, who had a book-shop near the entrance to Market-street. At this time I began to take an interest in night school studies. First attending classes held by my brother, Charles, at one time conductor of Finsley's Brass & Reed Band and afterwards lead cornet in the volunteer band of "Johnny Ford". I remember two of the band's successors, a first and a third at Belle Vue. I would give something to hear again the old "Eclipse Polka" they used to give at the Penny Readings.

My next night school was at the Literary Institute, where the panorama of the American War was shown and Box Brown, the escaped slave, gave his lecture. There, too, Professor Pepper's ghost illusions in Faust startled the natives. There followed night classes at the Mechanics Institute.

Those were great times I had with my dear friend and student companion, William Henry Atkinson. "If you want to get a tiling into your own mind tell it to somebody else" was his idea, and I was the fortunate receptacle.

At an earlier period than that here suggested, I was a "tenter" at Slater's, in Sandygate. There I had the misfortune to stop a flying shuttle with my forehead, and narrowly escaped passing west.

Brunswick's Influence.

For a few years, as a boy, I attended the services and Sunday school at Westgate the Rev. Geo. Gill being the pastor and a Mr. Greenwood my teacher. One Sunday a boy classmate tore a flower from my coat, so I left Westgate and my friend Atkinson invited me to Edward Berry's class at Mount Pleasant. There I met the finest Sunday school teacher I have ever known. In about a fortnight a move was made to Brunswick, the minister at the time being the Rev. Joseph Garside. My connection with Brunswick had much to do with shaping my afterlife. What a blessed helpful fellowship centered round that church and Sunday school. There I met straight men, clean men, men with big hearts, and hands ever ready to help. Mr. Baron, Mr. Richmond, Mr. Ed. Berry, the Rev. John Stuttard and his brothers Francis and William, Baxter Farrer and Mr. Brierley, Daniel Duckworth, John Redman, -and that master of music Mr. Tom Pollard. Though the world hangs between me and them or their sacred dust, the influence of their goodness still rests upon my life, and I thank God that I once knew them.

At Brunswick I was introduced to a Methodist class meeting, to work in the Sunday school, and to the Prayer Leaders' Plan. Then came the call to the work of a local preacher' on trial. Before the year of trial was out, arrangements were made, through the generosity of Mr. John Baron, for me to enter the training college for the ministry at Manchester. Unfortunately, the college could not receive the number nominated, so after examination and trial sermons in Liverpool-street Church, Manchester, some of us were appointed probationers in various circuits. It was my good fortune to be sent to Oxford. After a year, and while still very young, I was sent in sole charge to Evesham. The influence of Rev. Geo Gill was still with me, and I was offered for service in Ningpo, but was invite by the Missionary Committee to accept service in Christchurcb, New Zealand.

In 1873 I went to Oxford, in 1875, March 19th, I sailed in the ship "Forfarshire" for New Zealand. On May 7th and 8th a terrific storm struck us and we lost parts of two masts. But what a wonderful change has taken place in ocean travel. After about eleven years I resigned from the ministry and entered the teaching profession. I have never felt quite comfortable about the change, but perhaps it has all been for the best. My five sons and five daughters have all been trained in my own school. They have had considerable success, winning nine scholarships four have matriculated, two hold their degrees from Canterbury College. As masters off secondary schools, surveyor chemist, builder and engineer they hold positions their father could not hope for. And through the influence of one who was the best of mothers they are; trying to make this old world a better place' to live in.

About two or three years before I entered the ministry Mr. Crinnan, the manager of Smallpage's, asked me to take work in the warehouse as cutlooker's assistant. I owe much to the kindnesses of that man, and his memory has been pleasant through all the years. In 1905 I had the joy of visiting Burnley for a few brief weeks and of renewing friendships which had existed for more than thirty years. I am afraid that pleasure will never be mine again. While in the old town I had the honour of speaking to your Literary and Scientific Club, the Sunday afternoon Co-op meeting, the Sugden Lund's meetings and at the Town Hall and to the friends of Brunswick. There are people out here now who were present at those meetings. Many years ago a Lancashire Society was established her of which for a considerable time I was secretary.

The late Right Hon. Richard Seddon, the greatest Premier New Zealand has ever had and a typical Lancashire man was patron of the Society, and always presided at the annual meetings. Part of our programme was to give a welcome and further the interest of any visitors from Lancashire who made themselves known.

For some twelve years I have been on the retired list of teachers and thanks to a splendid superannuation scheme comfortable provision is made for old age. I have not done all the work I hoped to do in life. Many purposes have been broken and failed. I regret to say broken threads and floats have been in the piece from causes sometimes hard to trace. Mistakes and faults have brought due regrets and yet some good work has been put into life that I know the Great Observer will note.

When the final halt comes, and I hear the last call, that comes from the greatest Commander of all. Whatever there is in the past to regret I shall hand in my sword and just hope He?ll forget.

Trusting that prosperity and happiness may increasing measure be the lot of all my old town folk I ever remain

Yours sincerely,

Henry Robert Wilkinson.

Burnley Express of 27 August 1938

It is nearly nine o'clock, and the returning officer and poll clerks are in their places ready for the business of the day. The returning officer has seen to it that all officials have been supplied with electoral rolls, ballot papers, and stamps, that the ballot-box is empty, and that all requirements of the law have been complied with. The clocks strike nine, and soon in come the free and independents to record their votes, none daring to make them afraid. But it was not so always. Often a man's vote cost him his employment; sometimes his removal from the place where he had lived for years. Yes, this freedom which we hold so lightly has been bought with a great price.
The first election in Burnley that I can call to mind was about 74 years ago. It must have been a municipal one. I remember, somewhere near St. James's Church, there was a long table in the open street, at which the recording officers sat, with what appeared to be rate books before them. As the voters approached the table they had to run the gauntlet of a hundred eyes and a hundred ears of a crowd watching and listening as to whom they voted for. Agents of the various parties and employers were there to note the voting of their people, and woe betide them if they had opinions of their own!
It was not until 1872 that the Gladstone Government brought the evils of open voting to an end by the Ballot Act.

First Parliamentary Election

The first Parliamentary election in Burnley was in 1868. Two years before, Lord Russell had introduced a Reform Bill, but it was rejected, and he resigned. Lord Derby came into power, with Disraeli as Leader in the Commons. This Conservative Government found itself forced to pass a Reform Bill in 1867. The Bill gave the franchise to all ratepayers and lodgers whose rooms were of, an annual value of POUND12 Thirty-three Members were transferred from rotten and pocket boroughs to towns with better claims. Till then Burnley, though it had near 30,000 inhabitants, had no Member of Parliament.

The great, day of nomination came, and the whole town rose to make it a red-letter day. The candidate selected by the Conservatives was the hero of the "thin red line," commander of the Heavy Brigade at Balaclava, Sir James Yorke Scarlett, of Bank Hall, one of the oldest homes in the district. His name and doings are preserved in a poem of Tennyson's. Locally, he was respected and honoured as a brave soldier and a fine old English gentleman. His wife belonged to the wealthy family of Hargreaves, coal mine owners, employing hundreds of men. One of your chief streets is named after tbt family.

Scarlett was a churchman, and received strong support from that direction. Then was an active volunteer force in the town? the old 17th?and the General had always taken a deep interest in it. As a youth I was on the waiting list as bugler, and my brother Charles was not only a lead cornet with Johnny Ford, but bugle major, and on all field days attended the General. He was the strongest candidate the Conservatives could bring out, and everything seemed in his favour.

The gentleman selected to lead the Liberal Party was Richard Shaw, a cotton spinning mill owner. Until the election he was scarcely known. He was a good-looking, well-set-up man, keen and ready, well-informed, and an' excellent speaker.

The Hustings

Sketch of the 1868 Election Hustings at the Cattle Market Burnley

For nomination day the hustings, something like a football grandstand, divided down the middle, were set up in the New Market Place, a newly-acquired open space for fairs, circuses, and, travelling theatres. Many thousands of people gathered in front of the hustings, each party facing its own half of the stand. Where the supporters fell in I don't know, perhaps near the Bull and Red Lion.

There is a movement in - the crowd, and two processions of supporters make their way to the stands. They are linked arm-in-arm and walk three abreast. When all are ready and the order of speakers is arranged a supporter of one candidate rises, and for about 15 minutes sets forth the policy and qualifications of the one he favours. He finishes by moving that Sir James Yorke Scarlett is a fit and proper person to represent the Borough of Burnley in Parliament. This is seconded in another speech. The same thing takes place on the other side. The gentleman presiding puts the issues to the crowd and calls for a show of hands. If he makes a declaration in favour of one side the other side demands a poll, and the meeting then breaks up.

Knuckles and Fists. When polling day arrives there are signs of commotion and keen "interest all through the town. Great numbers are wearing the party favours; blue for Scarlett, and red and green for Shaw. As we pass some public-houses we notice that business is unusually brisk. The fact is that the "Blues" have arranged for a number of free or open houses. Many who show signs of coal-dust on clothes or persons having a great time, and are getting ready to exhibit their Dutch courage, with fists and clogs, on their opponents. Up and down the streets tramp little mobs of ten or twenty brawny men, eager for anything. Coal-dust and cotton-fluff are prepared to back their opinions with knuckles and clogs, and before the day is out black eyes and broken heads are plentiful.

The "Red and Greens," in solid mob, march up Bankhouse-street. A similar mob of "Blues' comes along North-parade. The mobs, right and left, wheel at the junction, and every man takes the man in front of him. Right and left-hooks and clogs are again in action with considerable effect, and the fallen stretch across the road. At another point, near Zion Chapel, a man with an open knife pursues another, who, fortunately for both, makes good his escape. Near the Park Tavern a poker cracked a crown, and a doctor was needed.

As the day wore on the roughing got worse, and next day there were many unfit either to throw the shuttle or use the pitman's pick. But most of the weavers were smiling, and did not mind their bruises, for Mr. Richard Shaw was the first M.P. for Burnley. He held the seat for several years, then at his death Peter Rylands, a great temperance and social worker, was elected.

1868 Election Husting notes

Abuse of Power

It is well that the evils of the old system of open voting have passed away, and also that the franchise qualification is no longer land and property. But there is a real danger that the great power of the people in universal suffrage may at times be used without sufficient regard to all the conditions and interests that cover civic and industrial life.' The wrong use of electoral power is still possible, even to-day. Selfishness and class greed are not yet extinct. Unions and associations can be as unreasonable and unjust as the old-time squire. We are waiting for the time when the law of the Great Teacher shall be observed and men shall do to others as they would be done by. Bobbie Burns had learned of Him when he wrote that "Man to man the world o'er shall brothers be and a' that." 'Whatever electoral system may be in operation, in itself it is of small value. The essential thing that matters is that men and women become possessed of the spirit of righteousness and kindness, then policies and parties will be eclipsed by the one-ness of true brotherhood.