Picture of Henry Broadhurst

Henry Broadhurst

places mentioned

In Journeyings Often

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With the completion of the church at Wheatley began what I may call the third phase of my life. As every student of political economy is aware, there is a certain percentage of the industrial life of the nation which must be migratory in character by force of circumstances. Just as when you look into a kaleidoscope, after taking your fill of one pattern you give the instrument a turn, and the pieces of glass fall away into new positions, some scarcely moving, others covering a wide area before they find a fitting resting-place,—so in the sphere of labour the changes and chances of commercial life and the caprices of fashion keep a large army of working men in a state of motion, sometimes over short distances, sometimes from the southern counties to the western, or the eastern to the northern. Few men escape this experience; my turn now arrived, and for five years I was like Cain, a wanderer on the face of the earth.

As I have said, the church at Wheatley was nearing completion, and the discharge of the hands in the mason's yard began. My turn soon came, and I found myself—a hobbledehoy—out of employment. All my endeavours to get work in Oxford and the surrounding district failed. Business was slack, and masons were a drug in the market. So, as it happened in Robinson Crusoe's case, "my head began to be filled with rambling thoughts." I quickly made my decision to seek my fortune farther afield, and from that moment I never again permanently resided under my parents' roof. I started on my venture into new life one Monday morning with high hopes and a cheerful countenance. The night before my foot had kicked against something in the pathway, and patient search in the blackness of a pitch-dark night had been rewarded by the discovery of a rough purse full of coppers. I took this treasure-trove for a happy omen; and, indeed, before the end of the week I had found employment in the town of Buckingham. My life there, and subsequently at Banbury and in Bedfordshire, where I stayed nearly a year, passed uneventfully in the exercise of my trade.

About this period I paid my first visit to the Metropolis, where I found employment for a short time in the firm of George Myers & Son. Like all country-bred lads, I was astounded at the life and movement of London. The teeming masses of humanity rushing in all directions, bent, as it appeared to me, on getting clear of their neighbours, yet never succeeding in shaking off their pursuers, the roar inspired of the streets, the glare of the lamps at night-time, inspired in me a curious mingling of fascination and distaste. The same conditions were reproduced in the workshop. Above, below, and around me machines throbbed and whirled ceaselessly. The homely surroundings and social interests of country life had no existence here: life seemed a new thing, almost unearthly. I began to long for the sunlight on the quiet fields, the green hedgerows, and the music of the woods. Even the Houses of Parliament, with the great Clock Tower, my chief delight, could not compensate for the absence of the joys of rural life. A month's stay in modern Babylon was quite sufficient for me, and, gasping like a fish out of water, I set my face towards the open country.

After a week's wandering I found employment at a country house near Pangbourne, in Berkshire, a most delightful spot. The beauty of these new surroundings, and their contrast to the close air and grimy streets of London, inspired me with a strong desire to make a long stay here. Unfortunately, the work I was engaged upon was soon completed, and in a short time I found myself back in London. My return route lay through Reading and Windsor, and as I possessed a little money I made the journey by easy stages. In those days railway fares were much higher, and most working men, even though they had the means, regarded travelling by rail as an expensive luxury, only to be indulged in by the lazy and foolish.

On my arrival in London I found that a firm of builders, Lucas Brothers, were in want of masons at Lowestoft, and that they were paying the passage by sea to Great Yarmouth of employees engaged in London. Here was a chance offered which just suited me. I had never seen the sea, much less sailed upon its heaving breast. Accordingly, I found myself aboard a crazy old tub of a steamer pounding heavily down the Thames. Besides ordinary passengers, I found a number of other masons bound on the same errand as myself. In such company the day and night passed rapidly and jovially, and so liberally did I contribute my quota of the entertainment that when the steamer reached Great Yarmouth I had not a halfpenny to bless myself with. My companions were in no better case, so we had perforce to tramp to Lowestoft, though this proved less of a hardship than we expected, as the distance turned out to be only ten miles.

After a stay of a few months I left the coast and found my way to Norwich, little suspecting that my wanderings were to cease for some six years. My employer was a Mr. Lloyd, who had a thriving business in church erection and renovation and also in gravestones. He was a splendid master, and a bit of a character in his way. He insisted upon thorough accuracy and finish in all work done for him, with the natural consequence that in his "shops" was displayed some of the finest mason's work I have ever seen. I well remember my first conversation with him. I had asked him, as is usual in the trade, if he were in want of hands. He asked me what I was, and I replied, "A mason." Turning a keen and searching glance on me, he suddenly rapped out in a grating voice, "Are you a mason, or only a man calling yourself a mason?" Somewhat taken aback, I assured him that I had gained my livelihood as a worker in stone for some years; and after a few moments' consideration he consented to give me a trial. Apparently he found his startling question satisfactorily answered by the manner in which I handled the chisel, for after eight hours' work he readily complied with my request for an advance of half a sovereign (two and a half day's wages), of which I stood in sore need.

In Mr. Lloyd's "shop" I spent some of the happiest days of my life. The wages were only twenty-four shillings a week of sixty hours. If you were late in the morning you forfeited a quarter of a day's pay, not, as is now the case, simply half an hour's or an hour's wages, according to the time lost. On the other hand, there were many compensations. Frequently I have taken a half-holiday without any deduction of wages, and as frequently I gave a few hours' work late at night or early in the morning without putting it down as overtime. It was a give-and-take system, and I am not far wrong in saying that I took a great deal more than I gave, though always with Mr. Lloyd's approval. I remember one autumn being in his yard six weeks without doing a stroke of really profitable work. Twice during that period I gave notice to leave, promising to return when work was found for me, but on neither occasion would my generous employer listen to my request. Fortunately, when matters were beginning to look desperate orders came in, enabling me to make up for the period of inaction.

A particular feature of this firm was the friendly and indeed familiar relations of master and men. Mr. Lloyd was in special request for small repairs and rectifications in churches and country houses, which could only be carried out by a mason. Consequently, we were often obliged to drive a long distance to the scene of our labours. Many a score of miles did I travel with Mr. Lloyd in his little trap on such journeys, taking our lunch together in roadside inns and enjoying our pipes while the pony was baited. Pleasant times were these. Jack was as good as his master, and his master scorned to be better than Jack. Times have changed since then, and manners with them. The struggle for a living wage has put an end to the friendly relations often subsisting between employer and workman, and to-day I fear it would require a long and exhaustive search to discover such conditions of employment as I have described.

During a period of terrible depression in trade—I think it must have been the winter of 1858-9—I left the city of Norwich in search of work on what proved to be a disastrous journey. My time of setting out was not well chosen, but necessity knows no law. I started about the middle of December, only to return after nearly four months' absence, during which I tramped about twelve hundred miles without succeeding in finding a single day's work. I directed my steps in a southerly direction, making Southampton and Portsmouth my goal. My reason for steering in that direction was that I had heard of the construction of the Royal Victoria Hospital at Netley, and that many hundreds of masons had found employment on the works. Unfortunately for me, the same idea had attracted many others out of work by reason of the slackness of trade, and I found the road swarming with men imbued with the hope of finding employment on the Government buildings. Alike in our hopes, we were also destined to be alike in our disappointment. When I arrived, footsore and weary, at Portsmouth, my boots refused to be held together any longer by string, or any other device of the mechanical mind, and utterly collapsed—like the famous "One-hoss Shay." The hard and flinty southern roads had done their work, and through the holes in the leather the stony places had inflicted wounds and sores on my feet. Faint, weary, with spirit broken, I knew not where to turn. Happily, in my hour of need I met some good Samaritans. They were fellow-masons who, tired of the weary search for non-existent work, had enlisted in the Militia, Battalion of the Cheshire Regiment, called out for service at Portsmouth, to replace the regular battalions decimated in the terrible Crimean War. Tolerably well fed, warmly clothed, and securely housed, these militiamen appeared the picture of prosperity and happiness.

They lent a ready ear to my necessities, and at their suggestion I entered my name on the sick-list of my trades-union, and obtained a week's lodging in its headquarters in that town. My militia friends generously guaranteed to provide me with food during that period. Accordingly, they proposed to their comrades in barracks that they should be allowed to introduce an old chum, fallen on evil times, to the mess, that he might share the bounties provided by the garrison commissariat. Tommy Atkins, true to his traditional character for good fellowship, agreed to the proposal with acclamation. I was at once installed in barracks, and, so far as meals w ere concerned, became a private in the Cheshire Militia. Discipline, especially in the militia, was much slacker in those days, and I had no difficulty in eluding the notice of the sergeants. For the time being I lived, as it seemed to me, like a lord, while the accumulation of my sick-pay (ten shillings a week) meant the possibility of new boots. With such a contrast as was afforded by my past destitution and misery and my present plenty and comfort, it was little wonder that the service of "the Widow at Windsor" presented an alluring prospect. Moreover, just at this time two of my militia friends were transferred, at their own request, to the Royal Engineers. The bounty received for this transaction was temptingly large. I resolved to don the scarlet tunic, and accordingly presented myself to the recruiting officer. But for some reason or other her Majesty was at the time not anxious to avail herself of my services—I believe my height was below the standard; so I was obliged to content myself with joining in the high jinks which accompanied the spending of the bounty received by my two friends.

Restored in health and spirits, not to mention shoe-leather, by my week's rest, I set out again on the tramp. I was at all times a good pedestrian, and I felt so full of life and vigour that I resolved to walk to Brighton in one day. The distance to be traversed was about fifty miles, and I had no misgivings about my power to accomplish it. But the fates were against me. I started from Portsmouth on a bright, wintry morning, the air keen with frost; but before the lapse of an hour I walked into a storm of rain, which increased as the hours went on, until long before I reached Arundel I had not a dry thread on my body. Dragged down by the weight of my soaking clothes, the water squelching out of my boots at every step, I was only too glad to call a halt for the night at Arundel. Is soon had reason to wish myself back in barracks, for the hostelry at which my slender resources permitted me to stay was not distinguished by its comforts, lacking especially a respectable fire to restore warmth to my rain-chilled frame and to dry my clothes. In fact, next morning, when I rose to resume my journey, some of my garments were almost as wet as when I took them off the night before. The rain had ceased in the night, and the damp weather had given place to frost. Welcome as this keen, sparkling air was to a pedestrian, I soon discovered its disadvantages; for before I had covered two miles of my day's journey every stitch of clothing I was wearing became as stiff as a board. So far as comfort went, I might as well have been arrayed in Greatheart's suit of mail.

Notwithstanding my impeding clothes, I made good progress, and arrived in Brighton at an early hour. A brew of hot tea and a chop sent me to bed in a happy frame of mind, believing my troubles were over, for the frost had every appearance of holding. When morning arrived I found I had reckoned without my host. The frost, gripping my sodden boots, had turned the leather to the consistency of cast iron. With great difficulty I got them on; but when I came to walk, their unyielding surface chafed my feet sorely, reopening the wounds which had all but healed. Walking under these circumstances keenly tormented me; but in spite of all I managed to cover the ground between Brighton and Tunbridge Wells in ten hours. The next day I walked into London; lame and well-nigh exhausted, I thought the long New and Old Kent Roads would never come to an end, while Westminster Bridge appeared to my leaden limbs like a little mountain. I crawled past the Houses of Parliament, little thinking that their corridors and lobbies should one day become as familiar to me as any place on earth, until in Johnson Street, Westminster, I hailed with delight the masons' club-house, where I was entitled to four days' and nights' rest and the sum of one shilling per day. I remained the prescribed period in London, and then, having been totally unsuccessful in my search for work, I once again set out upon the high-roads, and by devious routes found my way back to Norwich. As I have said above, my tramp had lasted nearly four months, a time of much suffering and considerable privations, and totally unrewarded by any work.

I think my readers would be interested if I turned aside for a moment to describe the conditions under which such a long tramp was possible to a man with scarcely any means. Before I started on this unfortunate journey I had been out of work for a week or two, so that my entire capital amounted to less than ten shillings, and I finished the tour with the sum of sixpence in my pocket. At no time during my progress did I possess more than ten shillings, and on many occasions I was without even a penny. My trades-union had relieving-stations in nearly every town, generally situated in one of the smaller public- houses. Two of the local masons are appointed to act as relieving-officer and bed-inspector. The duty of the latter is to see that the beds are kept clean, in good condition, and well aired, and the accommodation is much better than might be expected. When a mason on tramp enters a town, he finds his way to the relieving-officer and presents his card. On this card is written the applicant's name and last permanent address. In addition he carries a printed ticket bearing the stamp of the last lodge at which the traveller received relief. He was entitled to receive a relief allowance of one shilling for twenty miles and three pence for every additional ten miles traversed since his last receipt of relief money. Thus, if fifty miles have been covered the man receives one-and-nine pence. In addition he is allowed sleeping accommodation for at least one night, and if the town where the station is situated is of considerable size, he is entitled to two or three nights' lodging. Besides a good bed, the proprietor of the official quarters is bound to furnish cutlery, crockery, and kitchen conveniences for each traveller, so that the relief money can all be spent on food. There is also no temptation to spend the small sum received on intoxicating drink, unless its recipient chooses to do so. The system is so perfect that it is a very rare occurrence for an impostor to succeed in cheating the union. Unfortunately, the stations did not exist everywhere, and when they were separated by forty or fifty miles—not a rare occurrence in the southern counties—the traveller's life became a hard one. I have frequently had to provide supper, bed, and breakfast on less than a shilling, so it may be readily imagined that my resting- places were never luxurious hotels. When I look back to those days, and compare my condition and surroundings with the present time, it is like a peep into the Dark Ages. During the whole of that tramp, and over all those hundreds of miles, I do not remember more than one occasion upon which I got a lift on the road. Even an ordinary drayman little cares to pick up for ever so short a distance any person having the appearance which I presented at that period. But this was my last big tramp, and it was the longest lapse from employment that I have ever experienced in my life.

The hardships of these journeys in search of work were sometimes lightened in a less official manner. Members of my trade were always ready to relieve to the best of their power a distressed mason, provided he could prove his bona fides . The system worked something after this fashion. A man in search of employment, if a member of the trade society, always carried his card of membership in his pocket. As he went along he gathered the names and places, between town and town, where work was going on. It might be a public institution like an asylum, prison, or workhouse, or it might be a village church or a country mansion. The practice was to make one's way to these on the chance of obtaining work. If, however, no hands were wanted, a friendly gossip would ensue with one or more of the men in the shop. If there was a society man amongst them, he would ask whether you had your "card," and if this was produced it was an established custom for him to endeavour to collect what lie could to assist you on your way. If it was nearing night-time, one or other of the masons would, in addition to the collection, offer you accommodation for the night, and send you off in the morning with such addition as his means or his mind might incline him to add to your possessions. Of course, if there was a relieving-station at hand the official lodging-house would be your sleeping-place, except in the frequent instances where you would meet an old shopmate, who would insist upon your sharing his sleeping-quarters and sitting at his more liberally provided board. The probability was that you had previously offered the same hospitality to him or to some intimate friend under similar circumstances, or that you would be called upon to do so at a future time.

In the course of my wanderings I feel in with many men bent on the same search as myself, though belonging to different trades. Sometimes it would be a bricklayer, sometimes a tanner, and sometimes an engineer. If our goal was the same town or village, we would journey together as long as our ways lay in common. Whatever our callings might be, the member of the party who had met any luck seldom failed to publish the fact; and on several occasions I have either received or provided a homely but welcome meal. The old saying, "The best friends of the poor are the poor," was exemplified in my experience. I have a vivid recollection of reaching a town within fifty miles of London one cold Christmas Eve. I had a shilling to draw and two beds—i.e., two nights's lodging—to my credit, besides an extra shilling for Christmas Day. My pockets were entirely innocent of coin, so that I was obliged to exercise great frugality. Accordingly, I hit upon the obvious expedient of taking my Christmas cheer in a lump, combining dinner, tea, and supper in one meal. But the landlady of the inn— good soul!—would have none of it. Nothing would satisfy her but that I should freely share in the good things of her own table. Many a time have I wished to meet again this kindly hostess who turned my semi-starvation into a feast of fat things.

The larger part of the next two or three years, until I became a permanent resident in the Empire City, I spent in Norwich. The intervals, when slackness of trade drove me forth, were passed entirely in the Eastern Counties, in Beccles, Ipswich, and Colchester. The first employment I obtained after my weary tramp cost me a painful experience. I was employed upon some stone steps worked out of what is called "Rag Portland." This is a rough stone full of little shells with knife-like edges. prom long disuse of the chisel my hands had grown so soft and delicate that almost directly I set to work they became a mass of blisters, which quite disabled me for two or three days. With my straitened means a long rest meant starvation; so I had recourse to drastic treatment. First I dissolved a quantity of salt in warm water, and then, having pierced the blisters with a large needle, I held my hands in the water until the salt had soaked well into the wounds. A constant repetition of this treatment rendered me fit to resume work at the end of two days. After some unimportant changes, I obtained employment in the firm of Lucas Brothers, remaining with them until my removal to London.

From the very first I took a great liking for Norwich, which the lapse of time did not diminish— in fact, I believe that had there been a wider choice of employment I should have settled down for life under the shadow of the cathedral. I found much solace and delight in the surrounding country; in particular the village of Thorpe appealed to me with ever fresh charms. I have always regarded it as the prettiest village in the country. The charming old church, the red-tiled houses, the green slopes running down to the river's edge, backed by high, wooded land, with Whitlingham in the foreground, all combine to produce a scene of exquisite peacefulness and beauty. Even today, after the lapse of forty years, I can never pass the view without renewed admiration.

During this long stay at Norwich the American Civil War was in progress. Amid the strong feeling of sympathy with the Confederates then prevailing in England, I well remember the power and energy with which Mr. Jacob Henry Tillett championed the cause of the Northern States in the columns of The Norfolk News . In later years I became personally acquainted with Mr. Tillett, and for a time we sat together in the House of Commons, enjoying frequent talks of old days in Norwich and the Eastern Counties.

A notable feature in the religious life of the city was the sixty minutes' afternoon service in St. Andrew's Hall, conducted by the Rev. Thomas Wheeler. Mr. Wheeler was a natural orator, possessing in a remarkable degree the ability to tell quaint and effective stories to illustrate his subject. I have never met another man possessing such skill in enchaining the attention of an audience of children, a feat not over easy to compass.

At this time I lived every hour of my life; I do not think the wealthiest or most exalted person in the land obtained half the joy from mere existence that I did.

Henry Broadhurst, Henry Broadhurst, M.P.: the story of his life from a stonemason's bench to the Treasury Bench (London: Hutchinson & Co., 1901)

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