Denton Local History Society


Issue 63

It's an Old Lancashire Custom
To have a reet good do
In the Shadow if the Old Peg

It's an Old Lancashire Custom

By Sylivia Lovat Corbridge, Published in 1952

One of my retirement gifts was the above book, I hope you enjoy reding the excerpts is much as I enjoyed reading the whole. A.A.

You would not be long in Lancashire without being told one of our traditional tackler's tales.

These were originally put forward to illustrate the gawmlessness of cotton mill overlookers who, in real life, carry out an important job which requires great powers of concentration. Probably the tales arose- from an impish desire of the operative to get his own back on those immediately over him, but good humour has always been the Lancashire antidote to bad feeling, and there is now no sting left in the stories.

The tales were chiefly invented about fifty years ago, mainly 'for export', and became more or less a national institution, a godsend to comedians. Inside Lancashire, however, they were taken with a pinch of salt, yet without them we should have been deprived of some of our broadest laughs.

There are several classic tales, which every Lancastrian knows. We have grown up with the tackler who leant out of a bedroom window to mend the top of his wife's clothes prop, carried the mangle upstairs because the oil can was there, and, after he had bought a motor cycle, asked the shopkeeper for red oil for his rear light and a cap with a `neb at th'back'. Out on his new cyde for the first time, another passed him at such speed that he thought his own own machine had stopped and got off to find out what was wrong.

We tell the tale of the two disconsolate tacklers who, having risked their wages on their greyhound, which failed to win its race at Wigan, walked gloomily along the canal bank and wondered how to get rid of the dog before they went home to confess to their wives.

`Let's tee a stone round its neck and chuck it into th'wayter,' suggested one. 'Nay, lad, that'd be cruel. Let's run away and leave it,' answered his mate.

Probably they were the two mythical tacklers who went to Blackpool and were sold a sixpenny bottle of sea water by an Edwardian spiv, on the grounds it would cure their rheumatism. Later in the day when the tide had gone out, one said to the other, in admiration, 'Bi gum, that chap musta done a fair trade; he's used up all that wayter 1' On the way home, having spent all their money, they were forced to sleep out, resting their heads on a couple of old drain pipes for pillows. The tackler who stuffed his with straw had, he said, a 'reet good sleep'.

Many of us smile to find these old tales, mouthed silently by cotton workers above the clatter of machinery fifty years ago, cropping up now and then as radio material.

If you hear this on the wireless, then remember that originally it was a typical tackler's tale. A man bought a piano and a few days later was seen wheeling it on a handcart along the street. 'Hasta sold it?' asked a neighbour. `Nay lad I'm rakIcin" it to Professor Smith's to have my foist music lesson,' was the reply.

Lancashire humour has always revolved a good deal around funerals, especially in circles where it is considered good form to bury one's relations 'with ham'; in fact, one of the traditional stories of this kind is of the woman who rebuked her dying husband for fancying a bit of whatever was cooking downstairs and filling his room with a good smell.

`Howd thi' tongue; that's for your funeral!' she retorted sharply.

The Lancashire man who fell out with his 'in-laws' and forbade them to enter the house while he was in it, was the subject of another typical tale. The wife faithfully carried out his wishes until she was on her death bed, and then asked piteously, 'I've always bin a good wife to thi, Jack?' `Aye, lass; noan better,' he replied. 'Then, I hope as 'ow you'll grant my last request, and let our Mary Alice ride in th' first coach wi' thi at my funeral?' 'A'reet, lass,' he agreed heavily, 'but I'm warnin' thi, it'll spoil all mi pleasure!'



A man enjoys pressing shoulders at the Saturday after noon football matches at Maine Road in the same way that his wife, on holiday at Blackpool, likes to 'hutch' her deck chair along the sand until it is only two inches away from its neighbour. Their sons and daughters must buffet their way through three thousand other dancers in one of the gigantic seaside ballrooms if they are to go home feeling they have had a `good do' for their money.

Blackpool will laugh with you, or at itself. A classical story, for instance, commemorates one of its pioneer entertainment managers, Mr William Holland, who, at the end of the last century, put down an expensivecarpet in the new Winter Gardens pavilion, while local people shuddered at the expense.

`The trippers,' they groaned. 'They'll spit on it.' With characteristic gusto, up went the posters—'Come to the Winter Gardens and spit on Bill Holland's hundred guinea carpet!'

Robust and virile, bright and breezy; strangely peaceful on a still, late summer night when the lights of the famous illuminations make patterns of reflections on the wet sands. The place is a mirror to Lancashire character which, in turn, has kept pace with the century's industrial development. It is not really a long step from the crude gaiety of the village fair to the neon lit, electrically driven 'Dodgems' of the Pleasure Beach.

Long ago, Lancashire men and women fasted and watched, or 'waked' with reverence on the anniversary of their parish church or patron saint.

Historians may look still further back, and speak of pagan feasts, calling for the sacrifice of beasts to demons, but the religious wake is, probably, more truly parent of the present holidays.

In the way in which many holy days became holidays, the wakes moved in growingly secular stages from fasts to feasts, adding colour and pageantry as the years went by. Cotton holidays are still, broadly, held in high summer, with strong local resistance to any attempt at staggering in the modern way.

Perhaps, unknown to the unthinking, this resistance has old roots, for the traditional dates of the wakes coincide with the laying of the new rush carpet in the church to keep worshippers' feet warm in the winter.

The custom of rush bearing decayed with the coming of flagged or boarded floors in the village church, and certainly died as the first sexton stoked up the boiler for central heating. While, however, there was some religious significance in the yearly rush-cutting and carrying (which persisted in Pilling Old Church until Victorian days) Lancashire folk found it a ready excuse for a good `do'. In the first half of the nineteenth century, the rush cart was the pride of the village.

The rushes were arranged in conical fashion, with a man seated on the top of a bower of evergreens, flowers and pious mottoes. An older custom of parading village treasures persisted and local teapots, tankards, watches and household silver sparkled on a sheet at the front of the cart. As men or horses drew the rushes through the lanes, banners went ahead, bright with tinsel. The way was cleared by whifflers, with long wands, or, less politely, by carters cracking their whips.

As many as eight or nine of these colourful carts would congregate in such a market town as Rochdale and set the scene for a day and night of merrymaking. The custom only died late in the last century.

Letter From Denton - In the Shadow if the Old Peg.

In this column we can get away from business, ignore the hates and tensions of international affairs that torture men and women in a world grown too small too fast. Providing there is a link with Denton or the Company or the Church of Denton St. Lawrence, then mention can faithfully be made.

At this time of the year there is much to which one can elgive thanks. The almond blossom, delicate and brilliant, elleads the vanguard of flowers that will carry through until next October's frosts cause the last petal to flutter sighfully el to the ground. The trees carry a faint mist of pale green, and the grass will soon he calling for the music of the mower.

And just over the horizon is the cricket season. Much lyrical prose has been written about cricket, possibly he- el cause at its best it coincides with one of our better sum- mers. Even the setting of a cricket field and the contrasting CIcolours of green sward and white flannels and the very CIsounds of the game give warmth and joy to the mind.

This should be a good cricket season. The odds would seem to be against the miserable cold and wet weather of Cthe past two summers being repeated a third time. Then the South Africans are coming over. Our Test Team in MAustralia will soon be back, victorious and with a record of success in sportsmanship. Denton takes part in the glory of that tour, for Brian Statham is a Denton man. Only a few seasons ago, Brian was playing for the Denton West Cricket Club—but that is not the only claim to cricket fame possessed by this old town.

Bob Berry and Norman Oldfield, both Demon men, played for England in Test cricket, and, remembered by an older generation, so did Len Hopwood. Moreover, both Berry and Hopwood played for the Old Peg Church before they played for the county.

That is why this column may seem a bit smug. After all, Cnot many towns— and Denton is not a big town—can boast of four Test players. It's a pretty good indication that cricket is well played in these parts.

What with that, and the possibility of Brian Statham get- 41 ting a fair number of South African wickets during the next few months,' things look:cheerful for Denton chaps. {1955}