Thornton’s Temperance Hotel 1854-1909

IN OCTOBER 1909 THE HUDDERSFIELD EXAMINER announced the closure of Thornton’s Temperance Hotel, which occupied the upper storey at 21 New Street, a site now occupied by Marks & Spencer’s store.  For over half a century it had provided a forum for local radicals, philosophers, scientists and poets to discuss religious and political subjects, or modern theories, frowned on elsewhere such as the Mechanics Institutes. Such was its influence on local intellectual and political activity that it earned itself the reputation, probably first coined with some sarcasm, as the ‘Centre of Light and Knowledge’.   The names of over 130 local ‘frequenters’ are recorded, most of them self-employed tradesmen and small manufacturers, along with a smattering of farmers and schoolmasters. In 1875 one frequenter claimed that at least half of the councillors and aldermen of the town, and a fair proportion of members of the School Board and Board of Guardians, had been regular visitors to Thornton’s.  At the heart of this homespun intelligentsia was the ‘hotel keeper’ Joseph Thornton and his circle of like-minded friends, veterans of the political campaigns of the 1830’s and forties. 1

Joseph and Mary Thornton

Joseph and Mary Thornton

Joseph was born in 1818 in Leeds and as a young man moved to Paddock where he worked as a cropper at Pedley’s Mill.  He became involved in the struggle against the New Poor Law and marched, and possibly fought, alongside Richard Oastler under the notorious black Paddock ‘Bastille Flag’.  As that movement merged into Chartism he became a supprter of Feargus O’Connor and attempted to put his Land Plan into effect by founding  his own model farm.  Although O’Connor aimed at settling workers on individual small-holdings, Joseph apparently saw no contradiction between this scheme and Socialism, as he was also a fervent admirer of Robert Owen.  No one in Huddersfield was said to have a better grasp, not only of Owen’s ideas, but also those of the French socialists, Saint-Simon, Fourier and Louis Blanc.  He was also familiar with the writings of a now largely forgotten advocate of a co-operative economy, John Bellers (1654-1725).  With the collapse of Socialism and Chartism in the late 1840s Joseph  joined the Secularist movement which united the remnants of political reformers, socialists, co-operators, republicans and freethinkers into one body.  2

Around the beginning of 1855 he acquired the Temperance Hotel opened about five years previously above the shop of James Wormall & Co. grocers, by Henry Wimpenny of Berry Brow, a tailor reputed to have introduced the first sewing machine to Huddersfield.   Whether or not Joseph acquired the hotel with a view to providing a suitable venue for Secularists, often banned from meeting halls, soon the Committee of the West Riding Secular Union (later Association), was meeting there.   Joseph never appears as a leading organiser or platform speaker, but acted as treasurer for organisations, including the WRSU, a sign not only that he was trusted, but that he was at least comfortably off.  He was able to afford a donation of ten shillings to the Secularists’ national ‘Special Institute Fund’ in 1858.  His wife Mary, born in Hartshead, and his only child , Sarah Ann, born in 1839, helped him with the running of the hotel.  Possibly there were medical reasons why Mary could not bear other children.  In the Burial Register for 11 October 1855 is the melancholy entry ‘Joseph Thornton’s child still born’.  The fathers occupation, ‘Temperance Hotel keeper’,  leaving no doubt this is our Joseph.   Sarah Ann lived on the premises with her husband, Samuel Bottom, a joiner and carpenter from Paddock, and  two sons George (born 1860) and Joseph (1865). 3

Joseph was not just a political animal but also a music lover.  He taught and conducted a temperance fife and drum band. Edwin Swift of Linthwaite, a handloom weaver’s son, was so inspired by Thornton’s tuition that he went on to become a leading brass-band conductor and score arranger .  Thornton  was himself an accomplished flautist and French horn player in ‘Old Moore’s Quadrille Band and his talent was deemed sufficient to judge brass band competitions at Belle Vue, Manchester.  He also had a passion for literature, particularly Shakespeare and for football.  4

The ‘Frequenters’

One of Joseph’s contemporaries, long associated with ‘Thornton’s’, was William Armitage, born at Honley Woodbottom , near Crosland Factory in 1815. William practically imbibed his hatred of injustice with his mother’s milk.  The shock with which his mother greeted the news of the Peterloo massacre in 1819 left a profound impression on him.  Begining work as a piecer in Wrigley’s Mill at Netherton aged six he worked his way up to become an engineer moving to Stoney Batter in South Crosland  around 1837. where he lived until his death. His involvement in politics began with the agitation against child labour and for the Ten Hour Bill, which led him, as it did many others,  towards Chartism.  During the campaign for the Charter in 1839 he pledged to abstain from excisable items and never again smoked or drank. He was on the reception committee which met Feargus O’Connor on his release from York Castle in 1840 and developed such a fervent admiration for the Chartist leader that he earned himself the nickname ‘Feargus O’Connor’, which stuck with him for the rest of his life.  Described simply as a ‘Chartist operative’ by the Leeds Mercury he raised questions about the separation of church and state at a meeting in the Philosophical Hall in 1847.   Armitage, who is referred to as an ‘Engineer’ in the 1851 Census, was reputed to have been blacklisted for his opinions, perhaps explaining  why in 1861 and 1871 he appears as a self-employed ‘card dealer’.   In 1859, almost  a decade after the demise of the local Chartist movement, when he called for the whole Charter at a parliamentary reform meeting,  he was still referred to by the Huddersfield Chronicle  as ‘Feargus O’Connor!   According to local historian D.F.E.Sykes however, who probably knew him, William did not have the oratorical prowess of his hero,

            ‘…he was not a platform orator. He mainly confined himself to giving to and begging for the cause, to distributing literature, and to quiet, unobtrusive but caustic advocacy in private circles, or , in the declining years of his life, in the famous forum at “Thornton’s”…’

He is mentioned speaking on at least two occasions during the agitation for the second Reform Bill in 1865/66, at meetings starring the former Chartist leader Ernest Jones.  5

In 1847 William was reported in the Chartist paper Northern Star seconding a resolution against oppression in Ireland.  Forty two years later his passion for this cause was undiminished and he was among a group who held discussions with Irish MP William Redmond at Thornton’s. Referring to the treatment of O’Brien MP and other Irish prisoners, Armitage (who the Examiner still referred to as ‘alias Feargus O’Connor’ ! ), recollected how Chartist prisoners had once suffered similar degrading conditions.  6

In 1885, for the first time in his life, he was able to cast a vote in a general election as a result of the Reform Act he had struggled so long to see. That year a presentation ceremony was held at Thornton’s when he received a portrait of himself and two purses with cash totalling £26.18s.  Fellow Thornton regular, Frank Curzon, dedicated a sonnet eulogising his principles,

‘…You recked not if you seem uncouth,

But spoke out nobly for the good old cause-

That rich and poor in right should brothers be:

For all who breath in Britain -equal laws.

This in some measure, you have lived to see;

We think, speak, act in freedom. Let us pause.

And thank you for your fearless fight for liberty.’

Among the causes he championed, apart from universal suffrage and Ireland, was the liberation of Poland and support for the North against the slave owners in the American Civil War. William Rowland Croft, another of Thornton’s circle, dedicated his ‘History of the Factory Movement – or Oastler and His Times’  to Armitage in 1888 as ‘…one of the few surviving connecting links.’ with that era of struggle.  7

That link broke with Armitage’s death in late November 1894. Two months later W.R.Croft, on his way home after a particularly exciting discussion evening at Thornton’s,  collapsed and died aged only  58.  As well as being a local historian Croft was active in local radical politics from the 1860s.  A grocer at Rashcliffe, (working later as a commission agent while his wife ran the shop), he appealed in 1862 in a letter to the Examiner, which concluded with the rousing slogan Roma o Morte,  for donations to support the wounded and gaoled Italian liberation fighter Garibaldi.   Joseph Thornton acted as treasurer and he later received a signed photograph and letter of thanks when Garibaldi visited England 1864.  Croft was ‘much indebted’ in his views to John Stewart Mill, whose work ‘On Liberty’ he frequently quoted in speeches or letters to the press.  He was opposed to any interference in individual freedoms and opposed the Sabbatarian campaign to outlaw beer selling on Sundays.  His abhorrence of slavery led him to challenge the one-time Chartist and Secularist, Joseph Barker, speaking in 1863 on behalf of the pro-Confederate Southern Association.  The meeting in the Philosophical Hall ‘broke up in confusion’ when Croft insisted that Barker give an explanation why his anti-Southern views, expressed in a letter from America in 1856, had changed.  It is also probably Croft who signed himself ‘W.R.C.’ in a letter to the Examiner suggesting that Huddersfield operatives, made idle by the disruption of cotton supplies from America ,should also benefit from the fund set up for distressed Lancashire cotton spinners.  8

His constant support for the extension of the vote to working men also led him to become secretary of the Huddersfield branch of the National Reform League in 1865/66.  He helped organise a demonstration in St Georges Square on 24 July 1866 addressed by Ernest Jones.  The Thorntonites, W.Armitage, F.Curzon, W.White and Charles Denham, (possibly including a John Thornton, who may be Joseph’s brother of that name), as well as Croft himself, spoke in favour of an extension of the Reform Bill to encompass ‘Residential Manhood Suffrage’. 9

Croft’s international interests extended from the  Balkans to France.  He was involved in the widespread local protest meetings against Turkish atrocities in Bulgaria in 1876 and led conducted tours of the sites of battlefields of the Franco-Prussian war, helped by his ability to speak French.  Ireland was another perennial issue and in 1889, along with Armitage and other regulars, he met William Redmond MP at Thornton’s.   Moving the resolution of support, he commented ‘  For thirty or thirty five years that room had echoed to the voices of men who had played a part, though it might be an obscure part, in the struggle for freedom…’.  Among those voices were three in particular who, in different ways, were to have an influence on the life of Huddersfield.   10

Watts Balmforth, born in Slaithwaite in 1826, worked first at Fishers silk factory then at Starkey’s, Longroyd Bridge.  He moved from Manchester Road to  Rashcliffe becoming a machine knife grinder at the Engine Bridge Machine Works at Folly Hall.  In the 1871 census he is described as a ‘mechanic’. A keen vegetarian as well as temperance adherent, he was, like Joseph Thornton, an admirer of Robert Owen, so much so that he called his eldest son Owen.  Along with Joseph he was on the committee of the West Riding Secular Association in the 1850s and took part in Reform League activities in the 1860s.  Lockwood Mechanics Institute, the Lowerhead Row co-operative society and the Friendly and Trades Societies Club all benefited from his involvement.  In a letter to the Examiner in 1889 he strongly contested Tory claims that coercive powers dealing with unrest in Ireland were any less severe than those under Gladstone.    His sons Owen and Ramsden, though not directly mentioned in relation to Thornton’s, were also prominent in local Secularist, Republican and Radical organisations and must have attended discussions there.  Owen continued in the tradition of radical liberalism, eventually being elevated to  Mayor,  while Ramsden, who became a Unitarian minister, was involved in the revival of the Labour and Socialist movement until his emigration to South Africa in 1894. 11

Frank Curzon, originally from Devon, is best known for his association with Huddersfield Mechanics’ Institute, which he served as secretary between 1854 and 1862.  He was also organising secretary of  the Yorkshire Union of Mechanics’ Institutes and in 1883 co-authored  ‘Huddersfield: A short Description of the Town…’ for delegates to a conference here.  One former student and Thornton frequenter, John Blackburne, concluded that ‘Mr Curzon’s labours in the cause of education had been of incalculable benefit to the neigbourhood’.  Curzon had met Robert Owen, who he admired as a great social pioneer, and along with other Thorntonites was involved with Huddersfield Reform League, chairing, in 1865, a meeting at the Gymnasium addressed by Ernest Jones.  He was so closely associated with Thornton’s that it was joked that as a correspondent for the Leeds Mercury  his reports on the state of the cloth trade were based on what  manufacturers ordered for dinner there – meat and potatoes meant trade was flourishing, coffee and a bun that it was depressed.  He was remembered as a’ very amusing lecturer…ever true to art, education and good fellowship.’  A specimen of his wit is preserved in a report of a dinner speech at Thornton’s in October 1898, when, aged 80, he was a guest along with other ‘veteran attenders’,

            ‘…he owed more to that room than it could possibly owe to him.  He had had the misfortune to be a stump orator for nearly 60 years and before he went to deliver an address anywhere he came to that room, for he got there ideas so original and mysterious that when he gave his lectures people were “flabbergasted.”  (Laughter)’

He also entertained people with his drawings and verse –  a sample of the latter is  recorded in the sonnet to W.Armitage partly reproduced above.  12

Someone whose career took a different course due to association with Thornton’s was Benjamin Shaw.  The story of how he trundled his hand-cart with non-alcoholic botanic porter and ginger beer to Thornton’s, thus founding his mineral water empire has been oft told.  Less recognised are his political interests.   Born in 1836 at Fenay Bridge he worked as a woollen spinner until he began his new business in 1871.  He was a member of both the Reform League, speaking at the St George’s Square meeting in 1866 and the Republican Club, chairing a meeting in 1875 at the Cambridge Temperance Hall on the ‘Land Question’.  Like many self educated men he was eager to promote intellectual and moral improvement, advocating in a letter to the Chronicle the founding of a Working Man’s Club in Huddersfield, congenial to informed discussion,  with a reading room, library, smoking room and games room, but prohibiting betting and, of course, ‘no intoxicating liquors are allowed on the premises’.  Described in his obituary in 1901 as ‘a great frequenter of Thornton’s’,  it was said to be there that he first met town councillors and became interested in municipal affairs.  Unlike some other frequenters, however, his Radical and Republican views mellowed, becoming an opponent of Home Rule for Ireland and joining the Unionist Liberals in 1885.  He was elected to the council, but his better known as a founder of the Yorkshire Mineral Water Manufacturers’ Association which pioneered in Huddersfield a ‘bottle exchange’ to collect bottles for reuse.  Some of Ben Shaw’s own bottles bear the lofty motto  Amicus Humani Generis   –  Friend of the Human Race 13

Other ‘frequenters’ who have left less of a record include Samuel Mitchell one of  Joseph Thornton’s comrades from his Owenite and Chartist days.  Mitchell, born in 1815 started work as a bobbin winder and drawboy for a handloom weaver, was employed at Starkey’s factory and in 1854 opened a grocery business in Portland Street.  A lifelong supporter of  freethought in 1886 he was  treasurer of Huddersfield Secularist Society.  He apparently visited the US in 1887 and at the meeting with W.Redmond MP at Thornton’s  in 1889 he referred to the irony that while the Irish were prominent in American politics they had little say in the running of their own country.   Along with contemporary William Sykes he was a guest at the veterans dinner in 1898.  Described after his death as ‘strong in Radical faith’, it was said he would insist on paying for a glass of water as a contribution to the hotel.  Charles Denham, a leather currier, one of the speakers at the 1866 Reform demonstration,  bought more than water – he claimed in 1876 to have taken dinner and tea at Thornton’s almost every day since it opened !   14

The location of Thornton's Temperance Hotel, New Street, Huddersfield

The location of Thornton’s Temperance Hotel, New Street, Huddersfield

Visiting Celebrities

As well as the frequenters, the names of over 30 occasional stayers at the hotel of national renown are recorded.  They include Socialists, Chartists, Co-operators, Secularists, Republicans, Radicals, Liberals and single issue missionaries.  The most famous, and a close personal friend of Joseph Thornton, was Charles Bradlaugh, known as ‘Iconoclast’, radical, republican and leader of the secularist movement for around thirty years.  A former frequenter who worked at the Examiner office later recollected visiting Thornton’s one evening for supper and being shown into the parlour by Sarah to find a full bath-tub and all the chairs ranged in front of a roaring fire,  warming a complete outfit of clothes, which she explained belong to Bradlaugh.  It was the orator’s habit to have a bath and a complete change of clothes when he finished a meeting.   This apparently happened in the 1880s but Bradlaugh visited the town at least 15 times, and possibly more, between 1860 and 1890, usually staying at Thornton’s.  Credit for first inviting him was claimed by David Woofenden (1813-1892) a bill poster and newsagent of Lockwood who sold secularist and radical literature in the Shambles open market.  In recognition of his work  he was presented with a portrait of himself in a ceremony at the Secular Institute on East Parade in 1884.  15

Bradlaugh, along with a constellation of Secularists celebrities, addressed a massive meeting at Castle Hill in July 1860 and again in 1874.  Several times he spoke at the Philosophical Hall, or the Theatre Royal as it became in 1866.   November that year saw one of the more lively events there.  Booked one Sunday to deliver three lectures – ‘Temperance’, ‘Reform’ and ‘The Twelve Apostles’ –  Bradlaugh and his supporters arrived in the morning to find found themselves locked out in the rain by the owner, opposed to infidel preaching.  In the afternoon he returned with a crowbar and forced open the Bull and Mouth Street entrance, only to be arrested before he could commence his speech.   As an angry crown gathered outside the police office Sam Mitchell and William Armitage sped off in a cab to try and arrange magistrate’s bail, while Bradlaugh appealed to his supporters to disperse and vacate the occupied theatre .  Charged with 24s’ damage to the door and a breach of the peace he conducted his own courtroom defence and was acquitted ‘amid great confusion and clash of tongues’.   16

Topics he lectured on included Ireland  (1868 and 1887), and (chaired by Ben Shaw in 1877) the population question, which covered controversial views on birth control.  On 11  October 1884, now a MP,  he was in Huddersfield addressing a massive Reform Bill demonstration, (which flew banners invoking the heady days of   agitation for the first Reform Bill in 1832), and packed out meetings in the Armoury and Town Hall.   He was to visit the town, and no doubt Thornton’s, at least four more times before his death in early 1891.  17

On at least one occasion, 1878 when he spoke on ‘the Eastern Question’ Bradlaugh visited Huddersfield with his close colleague, Annie Besant, who is also mentioned as staying at Thornton’s.  Other Secularists or  former Owenites who visited the hotel include G.J. Holyoake and his brother Austin, John Watts, Isaac Ironside, Lloyd Jones, Harriet Law, William Maccall and the eccentric Joseph Barker, mentioned above, whose career ranged from Methodism (New Connexion), through Chartism to Secularism and back to Methodism (Primitive). Another stayer was Robert Cooper a former Socialist who briefly lived in Huddersfield in the late 1840’s.  18

The  list of  Radicals and parliamentary reformers said to have stayed runs like a role-call of the surviving leaders of the Chartist movement.  As well as Ernest Jones, there was Henry Vincent, Thomas Cooper, George J.Harney, Bronterre O’Brien, Samuel Kydd and R.C.Gammage.  Irish Home Rule MPs include William Redmond, John O. Connor and J. C. Biggar, the latter demanding the release of all Fenian prisoners at a meeting in 1877.  Other personalities include David Urquhart, obsessed by a conspiracy theory of Russia’s plan for world domination; C. Dobson Collett, secretary of the society against the tax on newspapers (a cause dear to many Thorntonites); Edmund Beales and George Howell, president  and secretary of the National Reform League; and Joseph Arch the agricultural labourers union leader. 19

The Light Goes Out

Not everyone who frequented the hotel was sympathetic to the views of Thornton and his group.  Some came knowing they could have a good argument, others came to discuss artistic, literary or scientific topics, or just to play chess or draughts in a congenial atmosphere.  One ‘Mr Calvert, the painter, was a very strong Tory,’ it was recollected,  ‘When he had “fratched” his best, and could stand the Radicals no longer, he used to rush out of the room in a great temper, using very strong language…’.   Joseph Thornton was renowned for dealing with such situations.  At a  surprise testimonial presentation on  eve 1875 (where Joseph and Mary were presented with portraits and an marble clock  with a dedicatory inscription), a close friend, John Blamires, paid tribute to

‘the uniform attention he [Thornton]  had given to all classes of persons who attended the house, where both employer and employed, all classes of politicians, all sects of theologians often met, and many times he had heard political conversations commenced which had warmed up into hot discussions and sometimes to personal remarks.  Then their host dropped in a jocular remark, which acted like oil on troubled waters ’  20

He also referred to Joseph’s ‘irony, sarcasm and wit’ in conversation.  Just how wide a range of friends he had is revealed by a report in the Huddersfield Weekly Examiner of  13 September 1884  which recorded that  Mr Thornton of the Temperance Hotel had received a message from his friend  W B Harmston,  circus proprietor, now in York,  that the clown Little  Bell died from heart disease that morning.   Thornton also had a mischievous sense of humour and entertained patrons with his amusing recitals, however no one was in doubt about his erudition and the sincerity of his deeply held beliefs.   His death left a great void and it was perhaps partly as a result of the loss of his conciliatory influence that  one of the resident bards, objecting to the  level of acrimonious debate, left an anonymous satirical ‘Sonnet to Thornton’s’ on the mantle-piece of the smoking room on the anniversary of Shakespeare’s birthday in 1890.   It concluded:

‘…Yet still retain thine intellectual might –

Learn to restrain thy wild tempestuous brood,

And let Love’s lamp aye keep thy steps aright !

For satire fierce and declamation rude,

Scarcely are Knowledge, and still less are Light !’  21

Following the death of Mary in March 1886 Joseph’s health declined rapidly and he died on 3 October 1887 from a combination of illnesses.  He was buried alongside Mary in Huddersfield Cemetery two days later.   The procession of Thorntonites including Armitage, William White and Ben Shaw left the temperance hotel.  W.R.Croft was himself recovering from a serious illness and confined to a carriage. The service was conducted by the Rev. Rawlings of the Unitarian Chapel, Fitzwilliam Street,  who read lines from one of Joseph’s favourite poets, William Cullen Bryant.  On the coffin was a large wreath, ‘A Tribute of  Respect from Frequenters of Thornton’s’  .   His obituary commented that his ‘comrades in arms’ and others would feel. ‘that the light has gone out at Thronton’s’.  22

Sarah Bottom ran the hotel for a while until a number of frequenters formed the Thornton’s Temperance Hotel Company Ltd and employed George Judson as manager.  There was still a vibrant intellectual atmosphere and in 1894 the Thornton’s Temperance Hotel Literary and Scientific Society was formed with Joseph Rayner and Henry Weintz as president and secretary.   But in 1896 the Yorkshire Factory Times ‘snapshot’ column lamented the passing of Thornton, Armitage, Croft and others, ‘some of the brilliance of the place is departed…True and good company goes yet but not the same company as ten years ago.’  23

Part of the decline is attributable to the growing popularity of some of the very ideas espoused at Thornton’s.  However, a new generation such as those who wrote for and read the Factory Times, like the weavers’ union leaders Ben Turner and Allen Gee saw the realisation of their aspirations in Socialism.  Turner recollected fondly,

‘Thornton’s was a regular debating place and when I used to go there one could learn about politics, science, religion and social topics, including town affairs’.

Symptomatic of the sea change which was taking place at a national level, Annie Besant  broke with Bradlaugh and Secularism.  She visited the town as a missionary of the Fabian Society in  February 1887,  to speak on ‘The Message of Socialism’ at the Friendly and Trades Club.  In October of that year William Morris of the Socialist League spoke at the Victoria Hall.  Around this time, or possibly even earlier, a local Fabian Society was established becoming,

‘undoubtedly the first organised effort in the direction of Socialism.  Its members were few in number and so meagre were its resources that it was perforce compelled to hold its meetings in that well known temperance hotel called Thornton’s …the members being cordially welcome to discuss the ideals of  Fabianism without paying rent beyond the purchase of a cup of tea or coffee “for the good of the house”.’

D.F.E Sykes also records that local Fabians first met in Thornton’s after a visit by William de Mattos in 1890,  but it is clear that the Socialist revival was already well under way.  Sadly, there is no record of what the old Owenite Socialists thought of the new ideas, or how their views influenced young men like Turner and Ramsden Balmforth.  One result of the resurgence of Socialism was the creation of new clubs and a new political culture which passed Thornton’s by.  24

The links with the past were severed one by one.  Sam Mitchell died in 1900 and Ben Shaw the following year.   In 1902, at a presentation to the retiring managers Mr and Mrs Abraham Crossley, John Blackburne declared himself now the oldest frequenter of the hotel.   In 1904 Watts Balmforth died and the next year John Culley.  The latter, born in Almondbury in 1823,  had been a fancy cloth designer who had worked in America  before returning to Huddersfield in 1860 to open Culley’s Temperance Hotel.  He then became a cloth dealer on Cross Church Street.  A radical ‘of the old school’, according to his obituary,  he spent ‘a good deal of his unoccupied time discussing politics and other subjects in the front room of Thornton’s…’.   But by now the political influence of Thorntons had decreased and it was mainly a debating society.   Its role as a temperance house was also emphasised more, since from about 1897 it was the headquarters of  James Firth’s Huddersfield and District Temperance League.  25

On 5 October 1909 another William Armitage who ‘was for a great number of years a well-known and welcome visitor at Thornton’s’  died aged 60.  He was a pit manager at Fieldhouse Colliery, a Liberal, a Wesleyan and honorary secretary of  the Thornton’s Temperance Hotel Company whose chairman, Alderman Andrew Chatterton, attended the funeral.   Less than three weeks later the obituary appeared for Thornton’s itself, which finally closed its doors on 23 October.  Some of the ‘Ex-Thorntonites’ continued to meet in Robinson’s Café, John William Street, where, in March 1910, they held a lecture by Bradford stonemason and anti-Socialist campaigner ,Robert Dawson, followed by a debate with local Socialists.   26

The physical atmosphere of Thornton’s,

‘ [of] converse warm and wild, wise and witty, whimsical and windy, of deeply studied and keenly fought games of draughts and chess, of cups of coffee, hot , strong and aromatic, consumed in clouds of smoke of the fragrant weed, and of humorous anecdotes.’

may have been possible to recreate, but not the intellectual excitement  of its heyday.   A  few lines of strained and archaic verse, dedicated to the veterans at their reception in 1898, describe their resilience, and that of other Thorntonites,  in maintaining the struggle for social and political reform throughout the nineteenth century:

…Centred within

Their memories Huddersfield’s history

Still shines with coruscating brilliance,

And to the younger generation gives,

An impetus to loyalty and truth

Which must rejuvenate remembrance.

On, on into hopeful futurity,

Singly, in pairs, or in full company,

Move after move they made on life’s great board,

Attacking and attacked; defeated now,

          And then victorious….       27


I would like to thank the staff of Huddersfield Local History Library (HLHL) and West Yorkshire Archive Service (Kirklees), in particular, Lesley Kipling, for support during my research. The local political background to this article can be found in the closing chapters of Brooke, A.J. The Hall of Science (Huddersfield 1993  and the national context in E. Royle Victorian Infidels  (Manchester 1974).  Account of closure of Thorntons: Huddersfield Examiner (Weekly) ( HEW)  30 Oct 1909; 6 Nov 1909, reprinted in Parkin,s Almanac 1925.  The political career of Joseph Thornton before the opening of the Temperance Hotel is complicated by the fact that two Joseph Thornton’s, both originally cloth dressers were active at the time.  John Halstead has worked on disentangling the two and his findings, which he has kindly shared with me, are presented in the Appendix to this article.

2.         Thornton’s obituaries are in HEW and Huddersfield Weekly News 8 October 1887;  For the local Chartist background see Brooke A.J. ‘The Whole Hog’  Chapter 3 , Aspects of Huddersfield,  I. Schofield editor  (Barnsley 1999).

3.         The Reasoner   4 Nov 1855; 26 May, 5 Sep 1858;  Royle op. cit.  P. 227.

            Census 1861, three female servants and one boarder are also recorded at the premises;  Huddersfield Cemetery, Register of Burials 1855.

4.         Swift’s obituary  HEW 13 Mar 1904.

5.         Obituary  HEW 2 Dec 1893; ‘Stoney Batter Chartist’, Huddersfield Echo 20 Aug 1887;  Leeds Mercury 6 Nov 1847;  Census 1851;1861;1871. Huddersfield Chronicle  (HC)19 Mar 1859;  D.F.E.Sykes, History of Huddersfield and Vicinity  p302.; HC 9 Sep 1865; HC 28 Jul 1866.

6.         Northern Star 18 Dec 1847; HEW 9 Feb 1898.

7.         Huddersfield Echo 20 Aug 1887.

8.         Obituary HEW 3 Feb 1894; Census 1881; HEW 27 Sep 1862 (Garibaldi); HEW 13 Dec 1862; HEW 30 Jan 1864 (Sunday beer selling); HEW 26 Sep 1863 (Barker); HEW 14 Nov 1863, (Cotton operatives).

9.         HC 24 Sep 1866; HC 28 Jul 1866.

10.       Obituary; HEW 16 Sep 1876 (Turkish atrocities); HEW 9 Feb 1889 (Redmond MP).

11.       Obituary HEW 30 Jan 1904; HEW 9 Mar 1889; HEW 22 Oct 1906 (Owen); Yorkshire Factory Times (YFT)  26 Jun 1896 (Ramsden).  Owen also became a Unitarian.

12.         See, for example, J. O’Connell, ‘From Mechanics Institute to Polytechnic’ in Huddersfield  – a Most Handsome Town , H.Haigh ed (Huddersfield  1992); HEW 9 Sep 1865;  HEW 22 Oct 1898 (Veterans dinner).

13.       Obituary, HEW, HC 16 Mar 1901: HEW 6 Mar 1875; HEW 15 Sep 1877.

14.       Obituary HEW 25 Aug 1900; the reference to his departure to the US is in Thornton’s obituary; HEW 1 Jan 1876 Denham speaks at Thornton Testimonial presentation.

15.       Story of Bradlaugh’s clothes is in HEW 6 Nov 1909, no doubt the proprietors of the Examiner , Joseph and Ernest Woodhead, were themselves at least occasional frequenters of Thornton’s; HEW 4 Oct 1884, Wooffenden, for his obituaries-  HEW and HWN 8 Oct 1892.

16.       HE 28 Feb 1860; Royle op.cit p.189; HEW 11 Jul 1874; H.Bradlaugh-Bonner, Charles Bradlaugh – a Record of his Life and Work by his Daughter,   pp.240-243  (London 1908); HEW 1 Dec 1866.

17.       H. Bradlaugh-Bonner op.cit.   p.260-261 this lecture on 25 August 1867 was the first memory his daughter, Hypatia, then aged ten, had of her father lecturing, the ‘eager sympathetic faces’, of the Huddersfield audience, and an old man in the front row with an ear trumpet..; Huddersfield Echo 18 Jun 1887; HEW 15 Sep 1877;  HEW 14 Oct 1884;  Bradlaugh’s obituary HEW 31 Jan 1891 says his last visit to Huddersfield was on 21 Sep 1890.

18.       HEW 16 Mar 1878; for potted biographies of some of these see Royle op.cit  Appendix V.  For Cooper,  Brooke, Hall of Science ;  Holyoake visited in 1857 and left his own account, including a trip to the town’s ‘pleasant’ new cemetery,  Reasoner  11 Jan, 15 Feb 1857;  for Barker’s visits HE 28 Feb 1860; HE 28 Dec 1861.Holyoake stayed in May 1877, when he came to the town to open Marsh Coop. He referred to Thornton as his ‘old friend’ and commented particularly on the quality of the cream served ! (HC 2 Jun 1877 Thanks to David Griffith for this reference).

19.       John O’Connor’s visit to town in HEW 8 Feb 1890; Biggar, HEW 24 Mar 1877; Arch, HEW 30 Nov 1872, HEW 30 Jan 1875.

20.       HEW 30 Oct 1909; HEW 1 Jan 1876.

21.       HEW 26 Apr 1890, the poet signed himself ‘Censor’.  As well as Curzon, a number of Thorntonites had poetic aspirations. One, J. Donkersley, wrote a satire ‘Thornton’s Gallery of Portraits’ about other frequenters.  W.E.Thomas wrote under the name ‘Viator’ for the Examiner.  Both were schoolmasters.

22.       Burial register, 25 March 1886, Mary Thornton aged 69; Obituaries HEW and HWN  8 Oct 1887; an obituary also occurred in the National Secular Society’s National Reformer  according to HEW 22 Oct, but I have been unable to obtain this.

23.       HEW 30 Oct 1909; Census 1891 shows George N. Judson, 36, manager, born Kirkby Moorside, his wife Mary, 48, from Tordmorden and three sons of school age, born in Brighouse, plus two servants, two boarders and two visitors; YFT 26 Jun 1896.

24.       B.Turner   About Myself  p82;  For A. Besant Huddersfield Echo 18 Jun, 8 Oct 1887;  Morris HEW 13 Nov 1887;  Handbook to ILP Conference, quoted in Huddersfield Citizen 20 Apr 1928,  D.F.E. Sykes History of Huddersfield and the Valleys of  the Colne, Holme and Dearne  pp.448-449.

25.       HEW 6 May 1905.

26.       HEW 9 Oct 1909; HEW 19 Mar 1910.

27.       HEW 30 Oct 1909.


The Companies (Consolidation) Act, 1908.

THORNTON’S TEMPERANCE HOTEL COMPANY Limited. AT an Extraordinary General Meeting of the above named Company, duly convened, and held at the Offices of the said Company, in New-street, Huddersfield, on the 21st day of September, 1909, the subjoined Special Resolution was duly passed ; and at a subsequent Extraordinary General Meeting of the said Company, also duly convened, and held at the offices of the said Company, in New-street, Huddersfield aforesaid, on the 12th day of October, 1909, the subjoined Special Resolution was duly confirmed, viz.:—Resolution. That the Company be wound up voluntarily under the provisions of the Companies (Consolidation) Act, 1908, and that Andrew Chatterton, of Princess-street, Huddersfield, be hereby appointed Liquidator for the purposes of such winding up. ALFRED LAYCOOK, a Director of the Company.



(With thanks to John Halstead)

Research by John Halstead for his chapter on ‘The Ramsden Estate Dispute 1850-1867’ (in Power in the Land: The Ramsdens and their Huddersfield Estate 1542-1920, edited by Edward Royle) has led to work on a Joseph Thornton of Paddock.  This Joseph Thornton, who was born on 21 March 1811 at Lockwood and died on 11 September 1890 at Paddock, is different from the Joseph Thornton of Paddock, about whom we write above. The Joseph Thornton who moved to New Street and his Temperance Hotel was a younger man, born on 1 March 1818 at the Little London area of Leeds. He died at Huddersfield on 3 October 1887. This presents a problem for the historian, as it isn’t always easy to distinguish the two men from sparse references in many sources.

It is now clear, however, that Thornton 1811-90 must be the supporter of Feargus O’Connor and the Land Plan who founded a model farm.  This Joseph was partner in a cloth dressing firm when he planned to obtain a tenancy for an old quarry plot at Paddock from the Ramsden Estate.  The application was submitted in 1837. A tenancy was granted and the ‘gentleman’s residence’, appropriately named Edge House since on the edge of a worked-out quarry, was completed in 1839 with an access road and  gardens. Crucially however, he applied to the estate for a second piece of land in 1845 on which he constructed a mistal (that is, cow shed or byre) and other outbuildings.[1]  That this Joseph was the man most likely to be the farmer is confirmed by his two entries in the Huddersfield Schedule for the Ramsden Estate (Leasing Act) 1859. The first is for his ‘Dwelling house’, Cottage, Pleasure Grounds, Gardens, Washhouse, Coalplace, and Privy’; the second for ‘Barn, Mistal, Stable, Shed, Piggeries, and Yard’.  The schedule notes that Joseph of Edge House was mortgagee on both sets of property, having borrowed money from the Commercial Inn Money Club.  This had effectively placed the property in the hands of the Club’s President, Lee Dyson, on 13 September 1857. Ironically, Dyson was resident in New Street,  close therefore to Thornton’s Temperance Hotel, which became home, in the 1860s, to the Argus Commercial and Building Society and a Second Argus Money Club![2]

A second point to bear in mind is that the older Thornton was clearly more prosperous on 6 June 1851, the day the census was taken, than his younger namesake. The Joseph of Edge House was recorded as a cloth dresser whose co-partnership employed 24 men, four women and seven boys, whereas the younger Joseph at Paddock Brow was simply a cloth dresser, no doubt still in employment.  This suggests a third point: the frequent references to Joseph Thornton of Paddock in the Huddersfield Vestry Minutes of the 1840s are likely to refer to the older man: the occasional decision to call for a meeting at seven o’clock in the evening, which would enable working men to attend, shows that they usually took place in daytime.  It is clear that the younger Joseph Thornton did not take over the Temperance Hotel from Henry Wimpenny before 1854. The latter was still listed in the premises at 21 New Street in White’s Directory of 1853.

There can be little doubt that both supported Oastler. On the day after the death of the younger Thornton the Huddersfield Chronicle noted his previous ‘association with the musical and Radical movements’ of the district, as well as temperance.[3]  As to the older man, who, unlike the younger, possessed the vote, he was for Oastler at the Huddersfield election of May 1837. Significantly, he was also able to vote in West Riding elections at Lockwood, the place of his birth. We find him voting there for Wortley in 1837, Wortley and Denison in 1841, and again for Denison in 1848.  These were all Conservative candidates.  The younger Thornton appears to have first qualified for the vote in 1864. There is no record of his voting in the Huddersfield elections  of 1852 and 1857, when the elder voted for Stansfield and Ackroyd. When the younger was first able to vote, at the Huddersfield election of 1865, it was cast in favour of Leatham, whereas the elder voted for Thomas Pearson Crosland.

Despite the conservative cast of the elder Thornton’s politics, it was consistent with a position with many others in the Tory-Radical alliance of Huddersfield politics during much of the nineteenth century.  The elder Thornton, like Joshua Hobson, did not vote at the 1868 general election in Huddersfield. The younger did, voting again for Leatham.  The elder was listed in attendance at Joshua Hobson’s funeral of 1876, but there is no record of the younger having been present. [4]

As to O’Connor and the Land Plan, it would have been the elder Thornton who wrote with Edward Clayton an invitation to O’Connor on behalf of their fellow Chartists to visit Huddersfield.[5]  It would have been the elder Thornton also

that O’Connor referred to when he wrote that he was about to redeem a pledge to visit Belgium to examine agriculture in September 1845 and would like to see Lawrence Pitkethly and Joseph Thornton of Huddersfield as patrons of the Chartist Co-operative Land Society.[6] John Nowell of Farnley Wood, near Huddersfield, wrote to Thornton, who was sending him copies of the Northern Star and appears to have been instrumental in the paper’s publication of extracts from his Manual of Field Gardening or Belgian Agriculture made easy containing the Routine of certain Field Garden Operations in Sussex and Yorkshire in 1843 and 1844.[7]

(There is more that could be said about the association with Oastler, which I take to be the elder man. A Joseph Thornton was Chairman of ‘the committee appointed for the protection of Character against intrigue’ on the dismissal of Oastler by Thornhill from his post at Fixby (NS, 22 September 1838) and he was Chairman, with John Leech as Secretary, of the committee for a National Subscription for the purchase of a Freehold Estate Annuity to be presented to Richard Oastler (NS, 18 & 23 August1838). I thought I would leave this out because there is no direct evidence for my attribution. The indirect evidence that leads to my conclusion is the elder’s vote for Oastler in the Huddersfield election of May 1837.)

[1] These details of the tenancy from the case of Thornton v. Ramsden can be conveniently accessed in G.E. Minter and E. Minter, Discovering Old Huddersfield, Vol. 5, 1993-2002, p. 53, which is available as a PDF on the Huddersfield Local History website.

[2] 1851 and 1861 census for Dyson. Huddersfield Chronicle, 3 March 1860, 4, and 29 September 1866, 4, for the ARBS and the SAMC.

[3] HC, 4 October 1887, 3.

[4] Huddersfield Weekly News, 13 and 20 May 1876.

[5] Northern Star, 21 August 1841, 5.

[6] NS, 6 September 1841, 21.

[7] NS, 15 March 1845, 7.  For the full title of Nowell’s Manual, printed by T. Kemp of Huddersfield, see the publications  listed in ‘Huddersfield Typography (Fourth Series – Second Article), HC, 12 November 1883, 4.



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