Picture of George Head

George Head

places mentioned

North Lancashire

Previous Selection


THE site of the town of Preston is remarkable for rural beauty, the effect of which is more singularly striking as the stranger suddenly emerges from the smoky atmosphere of the manufactories upon the adjacent scenery: among the suburbs of the southern extremity, where ample space has been allotted to the streets and houses, many of which, of a superior description, have been erected within a few years, the eye is refreshed by handsome elevations of bright red brick, embellished by healthy young trees; and from hence a public walk and raised terrace form a commanding eminence. The prospect below extends over a charming valley, wherein the river Ribble meanders through a country rich in groves, pastures, and stately timber, and further ornamented by gentlemen's seats and white farmhouses, which latter are scattered among the green fields in considerable profusion. It was on a summer evening at the approach of night that I visited this spot, when the gaslights, one after another starting into existence, reflected an emerald lustre from the green leaves, bearing the hue of glow-worms in the shade, but so vivid, as to raise before the fancy the picture of an illuminated garden.

A steam engine is erected immediately under the descent, only a few hundred yards distant, but is so concealed by trees, and the undulations of the surrounding ground, that no bad effect is thereby produced on the landscape.

The purpose of this engine is to draw coal wagons about two hundred and fifty yards up an inclined plane, which terminates a railroad communicating, four miles and a half from the spot, with the Wigan Canal; by which route the passage of laden boats from Preston to Manchester is effected in about fourteen hours. One man at the bottom merely hooks on the wagons to a link of the endless chain, which, being set in motion, draws them up two at a draught, when they are received and unhooked by another man at the top.

Among other means adopted by the temperance societies in the town of Preston to reclaim the deluded victims of habitual intoxication, recourse has been had to "Temperance Hotels:" the landlords of which, according to the plan of these establishments, are bound to afford to the traveller or visiter every usual accommodation of an inn, with the single exception of fermented liquors—at the same time receiving an adequate remuneration in the form of a small gratuity, (a penny or twopence an hour,) as an equivalent for the restriction.

I had some conversation with the landlord of one of these hotels, a man who might very well have been selected for the sake of his chubby, smiling, healthy countenance; nevertheless, I thought—well inclined as I was naturally towards him and his vocation—that he was a great deal more sanctimonious in his manners than necessary, when addressed professionally. Though formerly, as he said, a victim of intemperance, he had the fortitude entirely to renounce the use of strong liquor; evidently without detriment to his health, for his face, though totally void of expression, was that of a fat, good-natured boy. There existed still within the walls of the hotel a partial adherence to ancient forms, a remnant, as it were, of evil ways, in the usual array of bottles exhibited in the bar; these, instead of being filled with brandy, rum, or gin, contained, upon inquiry, capillaire, lemonade, raspberry vinegar, &c.; whence, according to my opinion, the reclaimed sinner is subjected to unnecessary tantalization; for it were certainly better entirely to fly from the substance, than to be mortified by the needless parade of the shadow. One way or other, either in flesh or in spirit, poor Bibo is sure to suffer by the display of the bottles: provided he drinks not thereof, his bowels yearn for their contents; but if peradventure he boozes, then wo to his inwards.

The late Lord Derby's cock pit has either been purchased or is rented by the temperance society for the purpose of their meetings; a change in circumstances, though perhaps not anticipated, nevertheless the more satisfactory to behold in the heart of a densely populated manufacturing town; and it is surely pleasing to see a building now converted to this best of purposes, instead of the former brutal, unchristian like amusement.

I had not an opportunity, while remaining at Preston, of attending a temperance meeting; but in a visit to the neighbouring town of Bolton I heard one or more of their principal speakers, and observed the proceedings of a full assembly.

The meeting alluded to was held in the Primitive Methodists' chapel, and previously placarded during the day in ail parts of the neighbourhood: a couple of hours before the time appointed a red flag was also displayed at the door. About half past seven the audience or congregation, consisting chiefly of the poorer classes, began to assemble, and at eight o'clock the building was full to overflowing. Among the company were several well-dressed women, and some Quakers; which latter people, never slow to do good, are here not the least zealous in the good cause. The noise occasioned by taking seats in the pews, and opening and shutting doors, having ceased, the business of the evening immediately commenced: the speakers addressed the meeting from under the pulpit.

First, a stout, heavy man having been called upon to open the proceedings, exhorted his hearers to temperance in a prosing harangue, wherein he treated the subject in a trite, commonplace way, and spoke in a nasal tone, which conveyed to my mind a greater resemblance to the style of a field preacher than the straightforward address of a sensible citizen. This dull exordium lasted about a quarter of an hour; previous to resuming his seat, he gave the meeting to understand that the speaker next about to address them had been formerly a confirmed drunkard, but now, having forsworn his evil ways, was a strict proselyte to temperance.

A member of the lower classes now rose, and stated it to be his object to set forth to his hearers his own individual case, which he proceeded forthwith to paint unreservedly, and with such truth and force, that red noses soon became absolutely personified in the imagination as warnings or beacons whereby drunkards might steer and reach the shore, who, like himself in his days of abasement, were sinking in the gulf of intoxication. This person, quite an illiterate man, possessed humour and considerable natural talent; he spoke with great fluency for nearly half an hour; in the course of which speech or confession, he described his services as a soldier in India, and bore testimony to the strength, courage, and hardihood of the natives, sheer water drinkers; emphatically contrasting their constitutional vigour with that of Europeans. He then proceeded in the following strain: "A drunkard !" said he, "why everybody gets the upper hand on him! A fool gets the upper hand on him! A child gets the upper hand on him! A wife gets the upper hand on him !" Which latter sentence especially, delivered with great naivete, set many of his hearers laughing, and made a powerful impression; neither was it averse to the present purpose thus to enliven the subject as much as possible by reasonable merriment; all the orators, in fact, availed themselves of the jeux d'esprit that lay in their way.

In the end he clearly made out that, from being once an habitual sot, he had subscribed to the most rigid pledge of abstinence from all spirituous liquors whatever. To conclude, he was about to give an account of his conversion, wherein his imagination so far outstripped plain Batter of fact, that he became involved in a confused narrative connected with an extraordinary vision, ia which he introduced no less a personage than the devil among other dramatis persona;; however, the chairman now interfered, and brought the story to an end. He called to the rostrum a celebrated partisan and orator—"Mr. Anderton, from Preston."

Up jumped Mr. Anderton, a little, dapper man, as lithesome as an eel, who plunged at once rhapsodically into the middle of his subject, in a speech more than an hour long, and remarkable for an energy and fluency really very uncommon; his utterance was distinct, yet he might be said to talk in demisemiquavers, for he never for an instant stopped, but continued incessantly to spit forth words and syllables with surprising volubility; at each inspiration inhaling breath to the utmost capacity of his lungs, be expended all, even to the last thimbleful, and then, out not before his voice had almost sunk to a whisper, did he refresh himself by a strong gulp, and, like Richard Lalor Shiel, talk as fast again as ever. All the time he flung his arms about, stamped with his feet, bulled with his head at the audience, tossed forward one shoulder, and then the other striking (like Homer's heroes) the palms of his hands as hard as he was able against one, or both thighs together, and twisted a body, naturally unusually flexible, into many uncouth attitudes.

The matter of his oration evinced strong talent, notwithstanding that, as it appeared to me, every word had most probably been previously committed to paper; at all events, the style, frequently diluted by the introduction of comic scraps of poetry, was generally very superlatively redundant and inflated. He descanted physically and metaphysically, availing himself abundantly of metaphor and allegory; whence each particular sentence became a highly wrought dense mass of thought and material, so strongly compressed, and containing figures of rhetoric, one so close on the heels of another, that it was really difficult to bestow on his speech, seriatim, the attention it deserved; and, consequently, long before he had finished, the pew doors began to creak, and thick-soled shoes might be heard on their way out of the chapel.

Hitherto in the progress of his harangue, although he wandered from his subject now and then, first on one side and then on the other, he never, in point of fact, altogether lost sight of it; at last, after expending his artillery of anathema and denunciation against gin and gin drinkers—" Wretches,'' said he, "who pour down their throats liquid damnation !"—he then palpably digressed, and finally wound up by a flourish in politics. As regarded the good cause he was pleading—a subject as to which the hearts of all sorts, conditions, sects, and parties of men are in accordant unison—nothing surely could be more ill judged than to resort to one whereupon of all others their minds are most disturbed and at variance; to introduce politics in any shape was, at all events, inapposite, and more particularly as this little man, as nimble as a pea upon a tobacco pipe, when once let loose, gave way to furious radical intemperance. In the line of argument which followed, he urged the practice of temperance upon his hearers, less as a moral virtue than the means of concentrating their energies, thereby to oppose more formidable resistance to tyranny and oppression.

The orator was evidently now on his favourite topic and his feelings, as he proceeded, becoming more and more forcibly excited, vented themselves in sheer bombast, his style became ludicrous, and he himself to all intents and purposes morally intoxicated. Harping upon the hackneyed theme, piling paraphrase upon paraphrase, and soaring still higher and higher, he became to me, if not unintelligible, wholly uninteresting, and the consequence was, that in a few minutes I had almost ceased to listen.

At last, all at once, my attention was again aroused. Drawing to a close, he had reached his climax: this was neither more nor less than to draw a parallel in character between the Saviour of the Christian world and—George Washington !!

Notwithstanding the distance by land from Preston to Kendal is less than by the canal, this natural disadvantage is compensated by the ease and rapidity with which passengers are conveyed by the quick passage boats, in a sufficient degree to raise an effective opposition against the coaches; and reasonably, for no sort of locomotion can possibly be more agreeable. The distance by the road is forty-four miles, by the canal fifty-seven, seven or eight locks moreover are encountered by the way; all contiguous to each other, and about twelve miles north of Lancaster; nevertheless the voyage is performed by the boats within seven hours. The time of leaving Preston is half past eleven in the morning, that of departure from Kendal half past seven, the latter boats arriving at Preston at half past one; when, according to arrangements made with the coach proprietors, passengers are conveyed to Manchester by vehicles which wait upon the boats.

The "Water Witch" is a sheet-iron boat, a little more than seventy feet long, by five feet four inches broad, and draws, when light, only six inches of water. The "Swiftsure" is two feet shorter, four inches narrower, and heavier by about a ton and a half. Notwithstanding the difference in figure, both boats have a light canoe-like appearance, and are fitted up in a similar manner; a light awning of stout calico, dressed with linseed oil, effectually protects the passengers from the weather, though it sheds a yellow, watery light on the peoples' countenances.

This simple mode of preparing calico, or linen cloth, is now much in fashion among the navigators of the Humber; the material, merely paid over two or three times with a brush dipped in linseed oil, is rendered totally impervious to water; jackets thus anointed afford the wearers the advantage of light water-proof apparel, instead of the heavy Flushing garments formerly in use.

The embarkation at Preston is most commodious. A covered shed, thrown over the canal, encloses on both sides ample marginal space, so that passengers and their luggage are equally protected from the rabble and the weather.

My luggage was no sooner on board the Water Witch at Preston, than all being ready, at the shrill sound of a whistle, the horses started instantly on their way at a canter; of two horses, a boy rode the hindermost, driving the other in front by rope reins. The steersman regulated the pace by the said whistle and a horn, the former being a signal to the postillion to increase the speed, the latter to halt; the intelligent cattle evinced their sagacity, by eagerly anticipating not only each of the two sounds, but also every motion of the driver.

The proprietors of these canal boats have endeavoured to establish a theory, which, setting philosophy aside, is surely a bad one for horses: they maintain that the animal works more at his ease at the rate of ten miles an hour, than at eight, or even less; because the swell at the head of the boat is, they say, by the greater velocity, surmounted before it accumulates, whereas at less speed the increase of the obstacle more than counterbalances the diminution in labour. Much depends, at all events, upon the width of the canal, the depth of water, and so forth; but, in practice, I think the experiment fails; I never saw horses more defeated than these, although the stages were usually only four miles. At the end of each they sweated and panted, as if they had undergone a severe burst with fox hounds; there they stood planted as it were, reeling and shaking their tails till led away. We were generally on these occasions very soon out of sight, for on changing the cattle no other ceremony was requisite than merely to unship the eye of each trace from the hook, and fix the other instead; nay, so quick were our movements, that frequently, on whisking round a corner, a traveller was seen waiting for a passage; and within the space of twenty seconds from the moment the boat stopped till she proceeded on her way—from the blast of the horn to the sound of the whistle—the packages and our new companion, the owner, were all together gliding away on our voyage. Even with the advantage of short stages, the cattle, unless high bred and in tip top condition, are unequal to the work assigned to them; twice during the passage, one horse, on both occasions, overpowered by the draft, as narrowly as possible escaped being soused in the canal. Such casualties having frequently happened, have at last suggested an alteration in the towing path, now gradually carried into general effect. Instead of making the slant inward, it is now inclined the contrary way; thus not only are accidents in a great measure prevented, but a better foothold and purchase against the draught is afforded to the animal; it is extraordinary for how long a period, in many cases, principles, diametrically opposite to common sense, are acted upon.

After five minutes' delay at Lancaster, for the purpose of exchanging passengers, we glided rapidly onward, over the aqueduct thrown on five circular arches across the river Loyne; hence is a fine view of Lancaster Bridge, about a mile below—an elegant structure, level in its surface, like that of Waterloo, and on five elliptical arches.

The locks, as has before been observed, are all contiguous to each other, and here the dexterity and despatch with which they were surmounted, one after another, were very remarkable; the rise is nine feet each lock; the passengers disembarked during the process, and re-embarked on the summit of the-level, after the Water Witch had completed the whole ascent. On this occasion a couple of ladies, with their gawky footboy, very narrowly escaped a serious ducking; being exclusives, they preferred remaining on board to accompanying the herd of passengers ashore, while the boat was mounting; during one of which feats the Water Witch herself had wellnigh been smashed. Notwithstanding the skill of the postillion, who in ordinary cases no sooner managed to get his vessel clear of one lock, than he towed her forward in a smart canter about a hundred yards along the intervening space to the next, the catastrophe aforesaid was with difficulty prevented. The Water Witch had entered the lock with considerable impetus; the horses, as usual, were speedily detached, and a rope was thrown ashore. The man on shore giving the rope a turn round a short post on the bank of the canal, then applied his strength to check the way of the boat, but by misadventure it slipped over the head of the post, the Water "Witch meanwhile making headway, and dragging the man along the bank towards the head of the lock. He on shore, a sturdy little man, held on like a bulldog, nevertheless, the boat overpowered him, and collision within a few seconds appeared inevitable: at this crisis another individual very seasonably threw his weight into the balance; yet both together hanging upon the rope, and straining with all their might, notwithstanding their utmost exertions, were but barely able to restrain the vessel from striking with tremendous force against the inner gates of the lock.

The above circumstance refers to the only point of management regarding these boats, as to which a little additional precaution seems necessary. While under way, and with an impetus upon them, they have no other means of stopping suddenly than by the aforesaid mode of throwing a rope ashore; notwithstanding it happens not unfrequently that barges are encountered unaware, either at the bendings of the canal, or on passing through bridges. On more occasions than one during the passage, the Water Witch ran bump on shore, with a momentum neither agreeable to the passengers, nor profitable to her owners.

The Legh Arms, at Newton, is a spacious inn, immediately adjoining the Liverpool and Manchester Railroad; and as the front rooms are furnished with French windows and balconies, the situation, on a summer day. is particularly suited to the purpose of observing the numerous and various trains of steam carriages as they rush by. Each train, as it approaches, is preceded for many seconds by a sound as if a legion of winged horses were cleaving the air at a distance; and as one continues to listen, they seem, as they advance, as if furiously panting and clapping their pinions against their sides, till whizzing along, like sky rockets, they pass, one after another —a succession of moving objects rapidly glancing onward in the variety of a magic lantern. Frequently a heterogeneous group, drawn by a single engine, is seen on its way such as, for example—first, two or three carriages laden with pigs, packed as closely as pigs can possibly be, notwithstanding that two or three Irishmen take leave to stand in the midst—as to how the latter rind space, nobody knows but themselves; following these, half a dozen high railed vehicles, having two stages or pens, the one above the other, and both containing lots of patient sheep; next, in large, deep, open carriages a lot of calves—perhaps oxen or cows; then logs of timber, huge in size, and of unusual length; and finally, bringing up the rear, ten or a dozen laden wagons, each covered with a tarpawling, altogether like so many little hay stacks; upward of a hundred tons of matter, moving forward with the impetus of a thunderbolt.

The Legh Arms, besides affording to the visiter such advantages of sight and sound, being nearly midway between Manchester and Liverpool, thus becomes one of the most desirable rural points in the vicinity; however, on the present occasion, I had a specific purpose to answer in coming hither; my object was to remain till the next morning, in order to depart by the branch railway train to Wigan, on my way to Preston, thence by the canal route before mentioned to Lancaster, and across the sands of Morecambe Bay to Ulverston and Whitehaven.

At eleven o'clock in the morning, on the arrival of the trains from both extremities of the line, the Liverpool and Manchester passengers having been collected, the whole were consigned to a single covered carriage, and taken in tow by the engine appointed to the service. Nothing in the world can be more exhilarating than locomotion on an established railroad; but of all travelling, that on a branch line is the most irksome; delays and impunctuality being unavoidable, owing to the uncertain number of people to be conveyed. In the present case as there was only one carriage load of passengers, after frequent stoppages and detention in hopes of more, the surplus power of our engine was expended in pushing before it half a score of laden coal wagons; in our rear, heavy goods and enormous logs of timber were hooked astern: between such heavy, uncontrollable bodies, we were, especially on going down the inclined plane, most cruelly jerked and bumped all the way to Wigan.

It is singular that at the present moment there is no other regular public conveyance by land for passengers between the two opulent towns of Wigan and Preston, than a vehicle, licensed to carry four inside and four outside, luggage unlimited, yet drawn by one unlucky horse. I know not whose province it may be to regulate the maximum of load allotted to an unfortunate animal nowadays on the public roads; for, I believe, so long as the proprietor pays for his license, little trouble is taken to ascertain particulars; however, my object is merely to remark that, notwithstanding the apparent want of traffic on the line, a railroad is actually in progress. Hence it would appear that the canal traffic between any two points is no criterion whereby to judge of the necessity of a railroad; the change of circumstances, by the virtual diminution of distance, being alone sufficient to engender new purposes and objects connected with trade and locomotion; precisely as is the case on a pond of water, whereupon shoals of water fowl solace themselves during the summer, but which, when covered with ice in the middle of winter, attracts a new description of visiters altogether. By this projected railroad the present steam communication between Liverpool and Wigan will be extended eighteen miles to the northward, as far as Preston, and thence, by the Preston and Wyre branch, to the mouth of the river Wyre. In the mean time, the proprietors of the Preston and Kendal canal conduct operations with undiminished energy, having, besides those already described, launched a new iron boat during the present year. Having availed myself, on the present occasion, of the one-horse vehicle aforesaid from Wigan to Preston, my purpose was to go by the passage boat as far as Lancaster, and depart from thence across the sands of Morecambe Bay the next morning; this voyage was rendered particularly agreeable by the companionship of a young and highly educated Quaker couple, with, whom I really regretted it was not then my lot to proceed as far as Kendal; however, when we arrived at Lancaster, although the halt is longer here than during any part of the passage, I had scarcely time to look around, and deplore the change of scene and destiny, whereby I was left, bag and baggage, pacing alone on the quay, when the whistle was blown, and the horses cantered away, and the boat quickly glided out of sight.

In a humour, the first moment of landing, to be out of conceit with my present quarters—in due course, as I proceeded up the town, I found more reasonable grounds of dissatisfaction, and particularly when, on requesting an apartment in the principal inn, I was conducted to the garrets. The assizes were unluckily on that very day at their zenith: a festival, of which the signs and phenomena below stairs, and in the streets, were apparent; bloated country coachmen, in their best liveries, stood lounging in the stable yards and gateways; every servant in the house jostled and trod on the heels of his fellow; dinner tables were laid in all the parlours; sand, in preparation for the scuffle, was spread on the floor instead of carpets; the lawyers ran to and fro in their wigs, and a group of hungry farmers in the passage, all panting and eager for the fray, whetted their large teeth, and licked their lips, as they snuffed up the sweet savour, or fragrant odour, from the kitchen.

The state of things being thoroughly at variance with my fancy, I resolved to take myself off as soon as I possibly could; and to that end, in the space of an hour, I mounted a Kendal coach, having arranged with the coachman to be set down at the village of Slyne, three miles distant; thence I proposed to make my way a mile to the coast, and remain at the small marine village of Hest-Bank till the next morning. At the latter place, the vehicle, which departs every morning from Lancaster oversands to Ulverston, calls daily on its way.

Having arrived at Slyne, as I found no means of removing my luggage, I was induced to accept an offer, made and received somewhat in a hurry—in fact, during the moments of rumination, and while I was thinking how truly and properly the word luggage among the ancients was rendered by "impediments," the cargo had been adjusted, and my property was actually trundling along in a wheelbarrow, whose master, together with myself, trudged along the lane together. I had no sooner time to scan the dimensions of the former personage, than I was really lost in admiration at the spirit of an ancient volunteer—a little wizened old fellow, as dry as a bundle of sticks, and as light as an owlet—driving the barrow manfully before him, and as he stalked onward, his joints and jaw bones most awfully quivering under the vibratory motion; nevertheless he still maintained his pace, and when I asked him whether the labour was not too heavy for him, all he replied was, that the barrow was a good barrow: and a good barrow indeed it was—a machine, well poised, long and narrow in the body, with a small cast-iron wheel. "He earned his livelihood," he said, "by his barrow; sometimes he gathered whin sticks or muck; and these articles he swapped for coal: his wife was older than himself, and he had a son, a lad turned of eight-and-forty." I asked his own age. "A good way aboon seventy," said he; and then he related part of his history—how, "once upon a time, he possessed fifty pounds, and a friend; and how he lent his money to his friend, and how the latter died and he lost all;" and how again "he worked hard, and put by fourscore pounds more, and put it into a country bank, and how the bank broke, and away went his eighty pounds after the fifty"—and here the poor old man set down the barrow, and drew the back part of his sleeve across his forehead. "I'll give you a spell," said I; so the old man walked on at my side and I wheeled the barrow. As he continued his simple narrative, he proved himself, in my estimation, a piece of good English stuff, without a grain of selfish pity in his composition; and he had scarcely concluded his story, when we turned round a sharp corner, and all at once I unexpectedly encountered the full front of the Best-Bank Hotel. I drove the barrow up to the door, discharged my voiture, gave the old man an extra shilling to pay his journeyman, and then addressed myself to the landlady, by whom I was conducted to the parlour of a quiet country inn, quite as respectfully as if I had arrived in a chaise and four.

Notwithstanding the good intentions of my hostess, the parlour smoked so dreadfully that it was impossible to remain in it; and as there was only one other apartment disposable, I was accordingly ushered into the public room, then occupied by a Yorkshire farmer and his wife; the former of whom sat in an easy chair, a pipe in his mouth, and a glass of gin and water on the table before him. When I entered, he very politely offered to lay down his pipe, fearing the smell of tobacco might not be agreeable; but I begged him, by all manner of means, to puff on, and so we entered into conversation. He said, that "he had been residing here some days, by order of his doctor; but that, somehow or other, he thought the sea air was no more use to him than the air on his own farm;" and here he reached over sidewise, towards a small triangular implement on the ground before him. "He had been troubled," he said, "with a sort of liver complaint," and then he nodded to his wife, who presented him with his glass of liquor.

The cause, and its effects, were, to my mind, in a moment clearly visible; gin had made its first inroads on a fine English constitution; the farmer had a dry, grunting cough, and his complexion, once like a rosy apple, had 'already begun to turn yellow. His obedient wife, whenever he had occasion for a sip, (and this was tolerably often,) was always at her post, and having presented him his glass, remained standing while he drank, and then placed it again on the table; all the time he made her no acknowledgment, but sat leaning backward in the elbow chair. Early the next morning, I saw this happy couple drive away from the inn together, in a light shandry cart, drawn by a stout, long-tailed, black cart horse.

The Hest-Bank Hotel is situated on the banks of Morecambe Bay, the sands, from eight to twelve miles in breadth, being fordable at low water. As the tide recedes from this wide space, the former tracks of vehicles, not yet effaced by the waves of the sea, have an extraordinary appearance; tracing various curves, all converging in a direction leading, one would imagine, into the middle of the sea. On the opposite coast, the Cumberland mountains rise in the distance, and form a noble panorama. The intervening watery space, when viewed by a stranger, seems to portend a perilous passage, though without reason, for among the thousands who, in the course of their ordinary occupations, undertake it, even old women occasionally officiate as carriers. As the main channel is never perfectly dry, appearances are rendered still worse by observing the numerous carriages from the shore on their way across, one after another; for although actually keeping together, and following nearly in the same line, that line is so extended and circuitous, owing to the uncertain ground and quicksands, that, seen at a distance, they appear to diverge apart, away from one another, and spread themselves at hazard all over the bay. Accidents, with proper precaution, are nevertheless rare, and carriers depart from hence every day, and return the next.

A couple of hours before low water, the carriage arrived from Lancaster, in which I had engaged to cross these sands to Ulverston; it resembled a baker's covered cart, and was drawn by a pair of well-bred horses, one in the shafts, and the other on an outrigger. A few years since, the journey was performed by a four-horse coach, which continued to run regularly for a considerable period; but the breakage and casualties, in the end, overawed the proprietors, and forced them to abandon the line; the same coach now travels by the circuitous road inland; and the said proprietors, as a matter of course, now denounce the passage as dangerous, and threaten with difficulties and drowning those who venture on their ancient track.

Three guides, who receive a yearly stipend by ancient municipal regulations, besides any small gratuity that passengers may be willing to give, are in constant attendance, al the three critical points, or fords, where rivers obstruct the passage; wherefore, every day, that period of ebb tide when the water has sufficiently fallen is the time of rendezvous, and then accordingly the various carriers and persons about to cross, assemble at Hest-Bank, and in a line so far extended as barely to keep each other in sight, start at straggling intervals, one after another; however, there is sufficient time between ebb and flood to allow a moderate share of caprice or delay.

On the present occasion, the vehicle already described, as is usually the case, the first in the train, made the descent upon the sands, almost close to the inn, the ground being tolerably sound under foot; while the landing place on the opposite shore was not perceptible, being eleven miles distant. We had proceeded but a little way when the first guide overlook the carriage, and immediately took his place in front; a hardy, weather-beaten veteran, in point of dress resembling an oldfashioned Kentish or Sussex smuggler, and mounted on a very old, sporting-looking, white mare. We soon arrived at the river Keir, across which stream, according to the duty of his office, he prepared to conduct us; accordingly, holding the skirts of his coat together with one hand, over the pummel of his saddle, as the white mare plunged up to her girths in the water, our driver kept his vehicle close to the animal's tail. The breadth of the river was about a couple of hundred yards; the tide set out exceedingly strong, and the water reached above the bottom of the carriage, on which a heavy stress was laid. The horses, both active and well bred, reeled occasionally from side to side, exerting their utmost strength to stem the torrent; in the mean time it became indispensable, in order to counteract the delusive impression on the senses caused by the motion of the water, to keep the eyes fixed on some stationary point ahead; such as a small pool of water, or a hillock of sand. Every one must have experienced the sensation I allude to, in fording a river on horseback; in short, it seemed as if we were carried away, horses and carriage, with a celerity equal to that of the stream, and in an opposite direction.

The white mare and her rider had no sooner emerged, than the latter, turning short round, rode to the side of the carriage, and had no sooner from myself, the only passenger, received his gratuity, than he made his way back again homeward, through the stream, and left the remaining carriages to follow one another.

The river Ken, a few miles ahead, was our next obstacle. The guide was true to the rendezvous, and a rougher-visaged personage I never beheld. This man's duty is more laborious than that of the former; instead of living close to the point of his occupation, he resides on the northern bank of the bay, two or three miles from the ford; consequently, in order to be ready at his post, he is obliged to remain in this unsheltered spot, exposed to the wind and rain, at times, for hours together. He, however, provides himself accordingly, and regularly makes his appearance in a small covered cart, drawn by a hardy, long-haired cob; this vehicle not only serves his purpose as a sentry box, but affords, at the same time, a partial shelter to the animal. The owner seated within, so soon as he perceives the approach of travellers, saddles his cob, mounts, and rides him across the ford, in order, on his return, to perform the office of guide, in the manner before related.

Previous to reaching the northern shore of the bay, I observed some fish "balks" on the sands; a contrivance commonly adopted hereabout, and consisting of two straight rows of stiff stakes, surmounted by strong netting; altogether about six feet high, and meeting in a right angle. The fish are taken on the sand within the balk, at low water, and the driver informed me that the owner had taken on a particular occasion, twenty cartloads of herrings at one tide; four thousand being reckoned as a cartload. Of late years the herrings have visited this coast in increased numbers, although at a period too late in the season to be in good condition.

We now landed upon that nook of land which divides Morecambe Bay from Leven Sands, which sands receive their name from the river Leven. Here we were met by a third guide, who conducted us across the said river, precisely in the same manner as the other two. As this ford is not far removed from the shore, many persons are in the habit of crossing without a guide; consequently, for their convenience and safety, the track is marked out by sprigs of broom—these, firmly stuck in the sand, although covered by the sea at every tide, yield and bend to its force, and remain a very long time before they are washed away.

It is not very easy, without making the experiment, to ascertain the precise degree of danger to be apprehended on crossing Morecambe Sands, as people's opinions on the spot, either owing to interest or prejudice, differ very considerably; some say there is no danger at all, others assert the direct contrary, as it suits them either to think or to say; nevertheless, the discrepancy rests in an exceedingly narrow compass: security depends upon a perfect knowledge of the sands—danger, in the want of such knowledge, and thus, while some maintain that the sands are nearly as safe as a turnpike road, and others assert that the passage is extremely hazardous, both parties, provided one proceeds in his buggy alone, and the other be attended with an experienced guide, are equally right. The first ford, namely, that across the river Keir, without a guide, is absolutely perilous; the torrent being at all times as strong as it is convenient to stem, and very often insidiously increased by precarious freshets from the mountains: guide or no guide, the carriage is always in danger, for a hole or a slough is now and then encountered, where the vehicle unavoidably sticks; in case of such an accident, the traveller must walk, perhaps, four or five miles in distance, the best way he can, across an extent of plain so great, and intersected so frequently by tortuous branches of the rivers, that, without a guide, and unable to swim, the chances are ten to one against his reaching the shore at all.

Close observation and perfect knowledge of localities must of course be indispensable; where the violent forces of wind and tide are in continual action upon a yielding surface of thirty or forty square miles of sand; at every flood, holes and quicksands change their position; even the main channel of the river becomes often blocked up, and then bursts forth in another direction. On the present occasion, I saw a large lake of still water, the only remaining indication of a former course of the Keir; which, accidentally opposed by a bar of sand, the consequence of particular winds or currents, had made itself a new channel, diverging some miles from the old one. The driver of the carriage observed that not only ere long would the aforesaid lake, in common course, disappear, but the present channel of the river, within a few moulds, be abandoned for a new one.

The approach to the town of Ulverston from Leven Sands is in the highest degree picturesque: the town, imbedded among mountains, is clean and thriving; a stream of clear water runs through the streets; and a broad canal, a mile and a half long, leads to the sea. Iron ore is abundantly shipped from hence, as it is also from Whitehaven, to be smelted in Wales. At the latter place especially, a region of coal, one would imagine the material would be smelted on the spot; but it is not the case, neither is there any establishment for the purpose in the vicinity; the ore is all sent to Cardiff. The landlady at the inn, where I was comfortably lodged, placed various sorts of preserved fruits on the table, thus exhibiting the first specimen I had seen of North-country housewifery.

The next morning I pursued my journey to Whitehaven, in a covered car, or "tub gig;" for which vehicle the title of the "conveyance" is generally applied; the emphasis laid on the first syllable, and the word used, not in general sense, but as a particular designation: the passengers, including myself, consisted of five persons inside, drawn by one horse, among these were two ladies in silk gowns, the elder of whom smoked her pipe at every halt, in the chimney corner of the several baiting houses.

As our road lay through an exceedingly hilly country, I was anxious about the poor animal engaged in our service, till I found the driver inclined to make due allowance on the score of speed: eventually we were eleven hours performing the fourty-four miles—exactly four miles an hour; leaving Ulverston at six in the morning, and arriving at Whitehaven at five. We breakfasted at the village of Broughton, at which place the proprietor of the vehicle resides; hither we were driven by the son; from hence, by a fresh carriage and horse, the father took us in charge. Thus far we had passed through a charming country, among the most picturesque spots of a mountain district, the road continually undulating, the hills, nearly approaching the sea, not lofty. I was at first surprised to find the garden at the inn in a more forward state than compatible with the time of year: during the journey, we had enjoyed the appearances of altitude without the reality; whence the genial climate, that of a low, sheltered spot, adjoining the sea, was the more agreeable when contrasted with the bleak temperature of the lofty mountains around. I observed privet hedges particularly luxuriant, and a quick hedge, the fellow to which I never saw, planted in a double row, cut quite square, and so thickly matted together and springy, that one might have walked on its top: literally the surface would have formed a very excellent bed to rest upon, provided only that the sleeper were equipped with a leathern jacket.

The inn was in every way suitable to the inhabitants of a secluded marine village; a few oil paintings in the parlour were above par; one, particularly, a portrait of George IV. when a youth, worthy of a good collection.

From Broughton the road proceeds inland, until it bends again down to the sea at the town or village of Ravenglass; a small cluster of houses, round about which, almost on all sides, the tide appears to rise at high water. I would willingly have remained a few hours to see a taking of salmon at low water, by means of balks, which were then set for these fish close to the town: my reluctance to depart was not inaptly represented by the snail's pace of the conveyance, as it tardily wended its way, through the small towns of Gosforth and Egremont, to the end of the day's journey at Whitehaven.


George Head, A Home Tour through the Manufacturing Districts of England in the Summer of 1835 (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1836) Conversion to HTML and placename mark-up by Humphrey Southall, 2009.

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