Friday 26 January 2024

Working Without Hands

Reproduced below is an item from one of our early newsletters that tells the story of one local man's triumph over a terrible industrial injury that occurred long before anyone thought of compensation.  It was originally published in the Preston Guardian in 1906.  Some photographs from our archives have been added in this post, which did not feature in the original document.

Working Without Hands

by John Wood, Shepherd (1835-1919) - Published 1906

Mr Whitehead (Secretary of Edgworth Agricultural Society) having asked me to give a brief sketch of my life, and here I give it to you.

I was born close, to the Turton Tower on April 2nd 1835, in a cottage called 'Old Kiln' where once they used to dry their corn, the mill being below in the clough, now called Horrobin Mill. There's been many changes since then. There were no railways in those days, the railway from Bolton to Blackburn being made in the 40s, and opened in 1848.

Old Kiln Cottages near Turton Tower
(Fig. 1) Old Kiln Cottage near Turton Tower (now demolished)
John Wood's birth place

The Old Tower of Turton--

Mr Kay lived in one part of the Tower, and a farmer, in the other part. The name of the latter was James Crowshaw, and there being no police then, he was a sworn constable. He farmed the Chetham's Close as well as the farm about the Tower, until he and the landlord differed and then he gave up the farm.  I was sent to the Chetham's College in Manchester, in 1845, and came back home in 1849, and then I was bound apprentice to Messers Thomas Appleton and Co, Horrobin Mill, where I worked until I met on February 10th 1854, with an accident by which, I lost both hands and one arm, having been thrown into the calender wheels by trying to put a strap on which was turned by a nine inch shaft. After being fast about twenty minutes they got me loose, when I walked home from the works to my home between my father and another man, a distance at about a quarter, of a mile, and then I was sent down to the Bolton Old Infirmary where Drs Chadwick, Mallett and Garstang cut my hands off. After lying in the Infirmary and at home for twenty weeks I was returned to mother earth again to eke out my living as best I could. When I got to going about again I got some artificial arms with hooks at the end.

I was told to ask the masters if they could find me anything to do, but they said they could not do, so I was idling about until Mr Kay, at the Tower (who had the farms in their own hands) engaged me to look after their sheep and cattle, which ran over most of the land. I was their errand boy too, until they let the farms to a tenant, who brought men with him, so I was thrown out of place again. But my father being clerk and sexton at the Parish Church, and also a kind of undertaker, I went with hatbands, scarfs and gloves, and pall and bier, to the house where the funerals were to come from, sometime a mile or two away up on the hillside, and I tolled the bell for the funerals.

Sometimes I was called away to go and look after sheep for different people, either in spring or in the winter, to different places in the country. On March 4th 1860, I was asked to go and look after, 100 in-lamb ewes, and walk them from Rivington Pike to a place named Fairbottom, between Ashton-under-Lyne, and Oldham, and in the Spring of 1861 I went with 200 in-lamb ewes to look after whilst they got through lambing to a farm called Standworth, near Withnell. In the winter of 1861, I shepherded about 300 around the village of Chapeltown, and in the winter of 1862-1863, I took to shepherding 200 hoggets for John Hick Esq M.P, Hill Top, Belmont and F Coates. I set out with them October 18th 1862 and came back with them on March 26th 1863, not having lost one, to a place called Bell-in-the-Thorn, at the top at Oswaldtwistle, near Blackburn. Then I went to shepherd for Mr Francis Coates at the Clough House Farm, which was built for one of Mr Kay's sons, Thomas Kay, who was lost at sea and was to have been called Soloman's Temple had he landed and lived in it. While shepherding for Mr Francis Coates I was allowed to keep some poultry in an old farmhouse up on the moorside. I had over 200 and I looked after them myself, picking up the eggs and cleaning the pens out, and doing all for them myself. I have picked as many as 90 eggs up in one day, and I have sold between four and five score of cock chickens in one season. I reduced them down to 80 pullets. When I picked eggs up I got nearly 7000 from the last day of April to March 1st next year. Then there was going to be a change in tenants, so I sold out, Mr Coates going down to Tower Farm, and Mr Slater coming to Clough House Farm, but I kept on with Mr Slater, until 1873, when I broke down in health.

When I got better, Mr Appleton, at Horrobin Mill, where I lost my hands, sent for me to look after his water rights for him. This I did and I assisted the farm bailiff, who died in 1878, when Mr Appleton put me in his place, which, I have filled up to August 1904. The Appletons having died out, the estates and works had to be sold, so I was thrown out of place, and am living idle now. I got married on the 2nd of May, 1882 to Mr Francis Coates' daughter, and having to go up to London the same day we were, married, I took her with me, and spent our honeymoon. We had a look at the home of our good old Queen Victoria, and our present King of Peace, Edward VII, and his wife Queen Alexandria at Windsor Castle.

While with the Appletons they bought Turton Tower Estates, about 1889. I had to superintend all the draining under R Ashworth Esq, their steward, and I may tell you that when I was away shepherding I washed and dressed myself, for I had to be up early in the mornings before the lark got on the wing. I could not depend on anyone else. One lambing season, from the middle of March until the middle of, May, my average hours in bed were four per night, for when you put the rams to about 17 score of ewes in the back end it means some shepherding in the spring, and there is not much, time for bed. And that's been done at the Clough House and Tower farms. I once helped to wash 1,600 sheep beside Belmont. There were eight washers, four being in the water at a time, I being a catcher for them. So I think you will agree with me that I have done my best to earn my living, though I am without hands. I have been a member of the Edgworth and District Agricultural Society since it commenced.

When I lived with Thomas Slater at Clough House Farm they had typhoid fever in the house. When their servant man advised me to begin smoking, which I did, you may wonder how a man without hands could charge his pipe and light his tobacco. I struck the matches with the same implement I write with putting the match in the screw where the hooks are.

I also may tell you when Mr Kay's two sons, Johnny and Jimmy, first commenced to play football, as they do now - Association, - I played with them at night by moonlight, so you will now know that I was one of the first Association footballers. I remember getting three goals one night, and they would have it I was offside. All I know, I got them through.

It was on March 12th, 1856, whilst shepherding for Mr Kay at the Tower that I found a man in a plantation on Chethams Close behind Turton Tower. He had been there two months. The last time he was seen alive was in Bank Street, Bolton, on January 10th. He turned out to be a young gentleman from London, who had been living with his uncle, a doctor, in Manchester. There was a letter in his pocket addressed as follows: 'To the finder of this body, but to no inquisitive person or persons'. Inside the letter it read:- 'Dear, love or lovers - Now do not be an idiot or idiots. Now don't try to find out who I am, for that you can't. In my pocket there is sixpence; with that get a gill, and stick my body into some hole and take my clothes for your trouble, and don't get up a coroner's inquest to talk about something you know nothing about. The verdict must be in some great consideration for some person or, persons, he destroyed himself to save them the trouble'. His name was so scribbled that it could not be made out, but ultimately turned out to be John Francis Hobler, son of John and Jane Hobler, of Canterbury Square, Islington. He was buried at Turton Church, and a stone was put over him to mark the last resting place of this young man who was only 20 years of age, and who would have become very wealthy at the age of 21. I and my father had all to do with the funeral of this man, all expenses being paid by his relatives from London.

Burial entry of John Francis Hobler
Burial at St Anne, Turton 14 Mar 1856
John Francis Hobler - Son of Francis Hobler & Jane
Aged 29 yrs., Abode: London. Found Dead

There was also a present sent by the father to me on his being acquainted, through the late James Kay of Turton Towers, and Thomas Gorton of Hey House, Holcombe, who was then the Master of Holcombe Hunt. You may be surprised to know that Mr Gorton was a very hard rider to hounds, although he must have been over 12 score in weight, and he used to ride an entire (ungelded stallion).

Old Kiln Cottages near Turton Tower
(Fig. 2) Another view of Old Kiln Cottage
Turton Tower in the background

Camera angle of fig. 2

Camera angle of fig. 1