Picture of George Head

George Head

places mentioned


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I ATTENDED the Old Church at Manchester one Monday morning, in order to behold the solemnization of several marriages I had reason to suppose were then and there to take place. I had heard on the preceding Sunday the bans proclaimed as follows: For the first time of asking, sixty-five. For the second time, seventy-two. For the third time, sixty. Total, one hundred and ninety-seven.

Having been informed that it would be expedient to be on the spot at eight in the morning, I repaired thither at that hour. Operations, however, did not commence before ten. The latter is the usual time of proceeding to business, although in cases of persons married by license, eight o'clock is the hour.

A full quarter of an hour before the striking of the clock, two beadles in their parish liveries had taken ground opposite the church door, and a sufficient number of persons (chiefly young women) had assembled, whose curious and anxious looks testified that something extraordinary was about to take place. By this time also, suspicious-looking persons in pairs had begun to arrive on foot, whose countenances were scrutinized without mercy by the loiterers. As the church door was not open, everybody waited to be let in. The couples were all poor people, and as to the brides and bridegrooms, as few were dressed in special costume, and all were very generally attended by friends and relatives, it was not easy to say which was which. One party arrived at the church door belonging evidently (as everything in this world goes by comparison) to the higher classes, and though dragged by one solitary horse, they made an effort to outshine. The carriage was a narrow vis-a-vis fly, intended for two persons, though it now contained four, besides a fat man with bushy whiskers (probably the bride's brother) on the box with the coachman. Within, packed as close as they could possibly sit, on one side were the two bride-maids. Opposite sat the bride and bridegroom; the latter a spruce, sandy-haired young man, looking flushed and eager. One of his arms was round the waist of the young lady, on whom he bestowed glances of the very tenderest description. In fact, attitude and all considered, I hardly knew whether to compare him, in my mind, to the statue of Cupid regarding his Psyche,. or a Scotch terrier watching at a rathole. The coachman and his companion wore white favours; the former, meditating effect, inflicted some smart strokes of the whip on the horse, intending to bring him on his haunches with a jerk, but the poor jaded animal, evidently over driven, had sense enough to anticipate the object proposed, and stopped dead short a few paces before, by which both men on the box were very nearly pitched over his head. The people sat in the fly till the church door was opened, and then the ladies got out and tripped across the pavement into the church. They wore short petticoats and white satin bonnets, scooped out in the hind part, with sugar-loaf crowns, and their back hair underneath combed upward.

When all was ready and the church doors were opened, the clergyman and clerk betook themselves to the vestry, and the people who were about to be married and their friends seated themselves in the body of the church opposite the communion table, on benches which were placed there for the purpose. Not less than fifty people were assembled, among whom I took my seat quietly without being noticed. The party who had arrived upon wheels most exclusively paraded, in the mean time, up and down, (as if unwilling to identify themselves with the humbler candidates for matrimony,) in another part of the church. The people at first took their seats in solemn silence, each one inquisitively surveying his neighbour, but as the clergyman and clerk were some time in preparation, the men first began to whisper one to another, and the women to titter,, till by degrees they all threw off their reserve, and made audible remarks on the new comers. There was little mauvaise honte among the women, but of the men, poor fellows! some were seriously abashed; while among the hymeneal throng there seemed to prevail a sentiment that obtains pretty generally among their betters, namely, the inclination to put shy people out of conceit with themselves. Thus at the advance of a sheepish-looking bridegroom, he was immediately assailed on all sides with, Come in, man; what art afraid of? Nobody'll hurt thee: and then a general laugh went round in a repressed tone, but quite sufficient to confound and subdue the new comer.

Presently a sudden buzz broke out—" The clergyman's coming .'" and all was perfectly silent. About twelve couples were then to be married, the rest were friends and attendants. The former were called upon to arrange themselves all together round the altar. The clerk was an adept in his business, and performed the duties of his office in a mode admirably calculated to set the people at their ease, and direct the proceedings. In appointing them to their proper places, he addressed each in an intonation of voice particularly soft and soothing, and which carried with it the more of encouragement as he made use of no appellative but the Christian name of the person spoken to. Thus he proceeded: "Daniel and Phebe; this way, Daniel; take off your gloves, Daniel. William and Anne; no, Anne; here, Anne; father side, William. John and Mary; here, John; oh, John; gently, John." And then addressing them all together—"Now all of you give your hats to some one to hold." Although the marriage service appeared to me to be generally addressed to the whole party, the clergyman was scrupulously exact in obtaining the accurate responses from each individual. No difference was shown towards the exclusive party, other than by being placed on the extreme left.

After seeing the above interesting ceremonial, I went to the warehouse of a large establishment in the town, to see the operation of a powerful hydraulic press, employed in compressing bales of cotton yarn, previous to exportation to Russia. However well known and general in its use this wonderful machine may be, by which, with the assistance of a few gallons of water, so stupendous a power is obtained, there are few objects better worthy of the trouble of inspection.

When I entered the warehouse there were two presses in an apartment on the ground floor, the larger of which was about to be put in operation. The iron plate on which the bales were raised and pressed against the upper part of the machine, was about five feet six inches long by three feet six broad. As the workmen had just returned from dinner, no other preparations were at the time visible, except the two presses, fixtures in the apartment, but as soon as they were ready to begin, a signal having been made to those in an apartment above, a shower of brown paper parcels, each weighing exactly ten pounds, suddenly rolled thumping and thundering down, along a funnel nearly perpendicular, with a tremendous clatter, upon the floor. These parcels contained each thirty skeins of yarn, and as each bale consists of a hundred, it consequently weighs one thousand pounds.

The first operation, that of placing the parcels in order, so as to form the figure of the bale, was performed with wonderful adroitness, and, at the same time, apparently in the most careless manner; the parcels being tossed about from one man to the other in forming each layer, as if their position were a matter of chance altogether; yet they were handled so quickly, that the whole hundred were piled in a very few seconds in a cubic form, a thin shaking of straw and a few loose sticks being introduced between each layer. The performance seemed the more void of regular design, as the layers contained unequal numbers of parcels, some of sixteen, and others seventeen, though the interstices were arranged so as to give every layer a similar periphery. This inequality in the layers was what one would not have expected to see as a practical example in the theory of packing, exercised by professed artists. To the force of the hydraulic press it was committed, by squeezing all together, to reconcile such minor differences.

The bale being ready for compression, two or three pieces of new blue iron hoop plate, or binders, were laid transversely underneath on the plate of the press; upon these was placed a piece of ordinary matting, and upon this the bale, which was at present without its canvass covering, the parcels being loosely held together by cords. The canvass covering aforesaid was now laid on, and on the top of all, three or four strong wooden bars, placed transversely, in order to preserve space to allow the binders to be brought round from the bottom, after the bale was compressed, so that the former might be riveted before the other was liberated. A couple of men now repaired to the pump, which they worked with the greatest facility, and the bale slowly began to ascend; not only was the resistance occasioned by raising the weight of one thousand pounds inconsiderable, but also the greater effort applied in the first moments of pressure, when farther ascent was obstructed by the top part of the machine, nor was there any visible increase in the exertion of the men till after its size was reduced by at least one third. Then indeed the handles of the pump seemed to move stiffly, though even then there was no obstruction or decrease in the speed of the ascent. The men continued to pump till it became one third of its original size, and by that time the action of the machine seemed somewhat slower, and theirs a little more laborious, while a peculiar creaking sound bespoke the gigantic power in operation. All this time labourers standing by with long-handled heavy wooden mallets, whenever a parcel showed the least disposition to bulge forth out of its place, hit it a clinking blow with the mallet, and drove it back again; and thus they went on, in co-operation, pumping and thumping.

It was curious to remark, how little the men, who are employed every day in managing this wonderful engine, seem aware of its power, that is to say, how little trouble they give themselves to define its extent. In answer to several questions I proposed to them, I could obtain no satisfactory reply.

As soon as the bale was pressed to the proper size, the next process was to invest it with its hempen covering; and as the canvass previously laid over the top was cut to its proper shape and size, this was very soon performed —namely, in about a couple of minutes—by a couple of men, with packing needles, one sewing it on one side and one on the other.

All that now remained to be done was to rivet the binders, which were brought from the bottom between the wooden bars before mentioned, having been cut previously of the proper length, so as to encompass the bale, and lap one end over the other. But to accomplish this matter, and, in fact, to make both ends of each binder meet, some force was necessary. The upper end of the binder was seized by a pair of pincers, formed with handles like those of scissors, into which handles, a piece of rope being introduced and hauled upon, the pincers join, and the tighter the rope is strained, the faster is their gripe. One end of the rope being thus attached to the pincers, the other end was made fast to a roller fixed at the bottom of the bale, which roller was turned by levers, after the manner of the capstan of a ship, and by this purchase the upper end of the binder was made to overlap the lower.

The operation of riveting the ends thus brought together was easily performed by a punch acting like a pair of nutcrackers, and a few blows of a hammer completed the work; the cock of the pump was then turned, the water flowed off, and the bale descended ready for exportation.

The museum belonging to the Manchester Natural History Society, even at the time I saw it, in 1834, was one of the best establishments of that nature in England; they have since taken possession of a large building then under erection for their use, and have made considerable additions to their specimens.

Among these there is a most interesting assortment of waxen models of fruits and esculent plants of the tropical climates, beautifully executed, and coloured according to nature; thus exhibiting to the view the productions of foreign lands in a state of perfection and beauty, and presenting as correct a picture of their horticulture, as if the plants themselves were present and ranged on either side of a hothouse.

The above specimens were the chief objects of attraction in one of the apartments on the ground floor, in which were also numerous Roman antiquities in Terra Cotta, and in the other apartment a collection of mineralogical specimens, such as is seldom to be met with.

The first floor, consisting of three apartments, one large and two small rooms, contained the most splendid collection of stuffed birds I ever beheld: plumage more brilliant and attitudes more spirited cannot possibly be imagined. The artist who prepared them was, as I understood, entirely self-taught, a weaver by trade, engaged five days in a week at a constant salary. Among those most worthy of notice pointed out to me, were the Trogon Pavoninus, from Central America, a bird of highly burnished green plumage, with two long feathers in the tail; and a white hawk from New South Wales. Notwithstanding the abundance of the collection, the exhibitor informed me that many skins, highly curious, could not be exhibited for want of room; of these forty-two had recently arrived from Bombay, out of which number three specimens only were in the possession of the society before.

Two contrasted specimens of the ancient and modern art of embalming were placed in singular juxta-position with each other; the one the mummy of a female, supposed to have been young, from Thebes, and prepared—nobody knows by whom; the other, the corpse of an old maiden lady of Manchester, preserved by a late Dr. White.

The Egyptian damsel lay entirely divested of her cerements; the colours of her portrait within the centre wooden case perfectly vivid, and bundles of blue bugles and coarse linen cloth in good preservation.

The old maid stood upright in a glass case, not in fashionable costume, but enveloped from head to foot in a dress of blue striped ticking, leaving no part of her person but her face visible, and fitting her so tightly, that it is probable the doctor first paid her over from top to toe with hot glue, and then drew on the garment.

In neither of these specimens, the one of youth, the other of age, was to be seen the slightest trace or lineament of countenance; and neither, though good of their sort, was equal to tattooed heads of New Zealand chiefs, now so commonly met with. But they afforded jointly, at least, a curious instance, with regard to the question of age, as to which ladies are said to be particular, that notwithstanding the services of the toilet were in both cases protracted beyond the grave, a difference even of three thousand years certainly was not perceptible.

Another preparation was, to me, particularly interesting, as affording a singular instance of the longevity of a horse. Old Billy, for so was he named, worked all his life on the towing path of one of the canals adjoining the city, and died on the 27th of November, 1822, at an age testified beyond all manner of doubt, to have been sixty-two years. Before his demise he attained the honour of forming, decorated with ribands, part of a procession assembled at Manchester to celebrate the coronation of his majesty King George the Fourth.

Judging by appearances, Old Billy enjoyed perfect health to the last hour of his life. The head is well shaped, bearing the Norman character; the ears cropped, and the hair of the mane and foretop particularly fine, but bushy.

Besides the above preparation of the skin of the head stuffed, Old Billy's scull also occupies a place in the museum.

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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