Pamela Cooksey's talk to the Hebden Bridge Local History Society was a reminder of the addictive pleasure of local history research using original documents. Her subject was Joseph Wood, a Yorkshire Quaker who in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century travelled the country, recording his journeys, his thoughts and his impressions in a notebook he kept in the pocket of his long coat. One hundred notebooks survived, kept safe by the family, like a hidden treasure. Pamela's determination to transcribe them revealed the story of a remarkable man, and his varied and detailed descriptions of his travels shine a light on life two hundred years ago. He has been celebrated as the Samuel Pepys of Quakers.
Joseph Wood was born in 1750 at New House near High Flatts, Penistone, the eldest of seven children. His Quaker parents were clothier farmers, and after Joseph was educated at a small Quaker boarding school at High Flatts. It was expected that he would be apprenticed to his father. However the Quaker meeting recognised his 'gift of ministry' and so the course of his life changed, and he became a public Friend and travelling minister of the gospel. Along the way, he often managed to 'do a little business' trading in cloth.
The notebooks themselves, covered in a selection of brightly coloured Georgian wallpapers that belie the monochrome image of Quakers, include memoranda, journals, letters and articles. They detail the routes he took, the places he stayed, the people he met and his thoughts on some of the events of the time. Now transcribed, they provide a rich resource for social historians as well as a glimpse of a past time through contemporary eyes.
He visited the Calder Valley frequently, recording his amazement at the new Piece Hall, and the 'lately made canal'. He describes the delightful wooded valley and the 'moorish high mountains' and noted that the inhabitants of Heptonstall were 'much addicted to drunkenness'. When he stayed at the Cross Inn he complained he was kept awake until three in the morning by the 'drinking cursing and horrid oaths'. However his public meetings in Todmorden, Sowerby and Luddenden were very popular, and he commended the behaviour of the visitors.
The notebooks are packed with gems of contemporary journalism – detailed accounts of taking the sulphorous waters in Harrogate or using the special 'houses on wheels' which enabled him to enjoy sea bathing in Scarborough. He records serious disturbances in Huddersfield after the 1807 General Election, and notes his own support for Abolitionist William Wilberforce.
After ten years in his company, it is clear that Pamela came to like and admire Joseph Wood, and her enthusiasm and hard work has made these unique writings accessible for future historians. The original notebooks are now held in the Brotherton Special Collection at the University of Leeds.
The Hebden Bridge History Society lectures resume in September – but keep in touch by visiting the website www.hebdenbridgehistory.org.uk
With thanks to Sheila Graham for this report
The group runs a popular programme of workshops and drop-in sessions at the Birchcliffe Centre
Upper Calderdale's suitability for the preservation of local cultural tradition is nowhere shown as strongly as in its wealth of folk tales about places, many of which are still being passed on by word of mouth.
For some years now a small group of friends has been exploring the evidence for prehistoric activity in the South Pennines.