Yorkshire Oddities, Incidents and Strange Events/A Yorkshire Butcher


The subject of this memoir has been dead but a few years, and therefore I do not give his name, lest it should cause annoyance to his relatives. He was a tall, red-faced, jovial man, with a merry twinkle in his small eyes; a man who could tell a good story with incomparable drollery, and withal was the gentlest, kindest-hearted man, who would never wound the most sensitive feelings by ridicule. He had a splendid bass voice, and sang in the church choir; his knowledge of music was not inconsiderable, and for some time he was choir-master, and performed a feat few other men have been able to accomplish—he was able to keep the discordant elements of a choir in harmony. His inimitable tact, unvarying good nature, and readiness to humour the most self-consequential of the performers, made him vastly popular with them, and prevented or healed those jars which are proverbial among professed votaries of harmony.

This worthy butcher thus narrated his courtship:—

"It's a queer thing, sir, hoo things turns oot sometimes. Noo it war a queer thing hoo I chanced to get wed. I war at Leeds once, and I'd na mair thowts aboot marrying na mair 'an nowt; and I war just going doon t' street, tha knaws, sir, when I met wi' my wife—that's her 'at's my wife noo, tha knaws. I'd kenned her afore, a piece back; soa shoo comes oop to me, an' shoo ses, 'Why, James, lad, is that thee?'—'Aye,' I ses, 'it is awever.'—'Weel, James,' ses she, 'what's ta doing wi' thysen noo?'—'Why,' I ses, 'I's joost getten me a new hoose.' Soa wi' that she ses, 'Then I lay, James, if tha's getting a new hoose, tha'll be wanting a hoosekeeper.' Soa I ses to 'er, ses I, 'Tha ma' coom and be t' wife if ta likes; tha mawn't be t' hoosekeeper, tha knaws, but tha ma' coom and be t' wife.' And soa shoo ses, 'I ain't partikler. I don't mind if I do.' So we never had na mair to do aboot t' job."

I asked him if he ever had found occasion to regret such an expeditious way of settling the matter. He shook his head and said, "Noa, sir, niver. Shoo's made a rare good wife. But shoo's her mawgrums a' times. But what women ain't got 'em? They've all on 'em maggots i' their heads or tempers. Tha sees, sir, when a bone were took out o' t' side o' Adam, to mak a wife for 'm, 't were hot weather, an' a blue-bottle settled on t' rib. When shoo's i' her tantrums ses I to her, 'Ma dear,' ses I, 'I wish thy great-great-grand ancestress hed chanced ta be made i' winter."

When he was married he took his wife a trip to Bolton, and spent a week on his honeymoon tour. As soon as he was returned home, the first thing he did was to put his wife into the scales and weigh her. Then the butcher took out his account-book, and divided the expenses of the marriage and wedding-tour by the weight of the wife. "Eh! lass!" said he, "thou'st cost me fourteen pence ha'penny a pound. Thou'st the dearest piece o' meat that iver I bought."

He had a barometer. The glass stood at set-fair, and for a whole week the rain had been pouring down. On the eighth day the glass was still telling the same tale, and the rain was still falling. Our friend lost his patience, and holding the barometer up to the window he said, "Sithere, lass! thou'st been telling lees. Dost thou see how it's pouring? I'll teach thee to tell lees again!" And he smashed the glass.

He was laid up with gout. The doctor had tried all sorts of medicines, but nothing seemed to profit him. At last the medical man said, "Try smoking. I daresay smoking would do you a deal of good."

"Ah," said the wife, "it's possible it might. But thou seest, doctor, chimleys is made so narrow nowadays that one cannot hang un up i' t' reek (smoke) as one did wi' one's bacon i' bygone days."

His wife was dying. She was long ill, and during her sickness was always exclaiming, "Eh! I'm boun' to dee. It win't be long afore I dee. I shan't be long here"—and the like. Our jolly butcher heard these exclamations day after day, and said nothing. At last he got a little impatient over them, and said one day, as she was exclaiming as usual, "O dear! I'm goin' to dee!"—"Why, lass, thou'st said that ower and ower again a mony times. Why doan't thou set a time, and stick to it?"

On another occasion his wife slightly varied the tune to "Eh! the poor bairns! What will become o' t' bairns when I dee? Who will mind t' bairns when their mother is dead?"

"Never thee trouble thy head about that," said her husband; "go on wi' thy deein'. I'll mind t' bairns."

He was going to York with his son, a boy of eighteen. He took a ticket for himself and a half-one for the boy. When the train drew near to York, the ticket-collector came round, and exclaimed at this half-ticket, "Where's the child?"

"Here," said the butcher, pointing to the tall, awkward youth.

"What do you mean?" asked the indignant ticket-collector. "He ain't a child; he's a young man!"

"Ah! so he is, now," answered the butcher; "but that's thy fault, not mine. I know when we got in at Wakefield he were nobbut a bairn; but tha'st been going so confounded slow that he's growed sin' we started!"

Many years ago, on a rare occasion, James took a glass too much. It was the last time such a misfortune took place with him. His clergyman was obliged to speak to him about it, and in doing so said—"You know, James, beasts do not get drunk."

"There's a deal o' things belonging to all things," answered the worthy butcher, who never suffered himself to be cornered. "If a horse were o' one side o' a pond, and another on t' other side, and t' first horse ses to t' other, 'Jim, I looks towards ye!' and t' other ses to the first, 'Thank y' kindly, Tom; I catches your eye.' And the first horse ses again, 'Tha'll tak' another sup, lad, and drink ma health'; the second will be sewer to say, 'I will, and I'll drink to lots o' your healths.' Why, sir, them two horses will be nobbin to one another iver so long. Lor bless ye! them two horses win't part till they's as drunk as Christians."

James at one time was not well off. He had a brother whom we will call Tom, who had some money.

Now James happened to hear that his brother was very ill, and as they had not latterly been very good friends, he was afraid lest, if Tom died, he would not leave him his money.

So he immediately set off to his brother's house, and on his arrival found him ill in bed. He went up to the room in which his brother lay, and began—"Weel, Tommy, an' hoo art a'?"

"Oah, James!" said Tom, "I'se vara bad. I thinks I's boun' to dee."

"Eh!" said James, "well, mebbe tha'lt outlive me, Tommy; I nobbut feels vara middlin' mysen. I hain't felt weel for a long while, and I war just thinking, Tommy, o' sending to Mr. Smith, t' lawyer, to mak' me a bit o' a will, tha knaws. Hast a' made thy will, Tommy?"

"Noa," said Tom, "I hain't; but I was thinking wi' thee, James, o' sending for Lawyer Smith. Noo, who wast a' thinking o' making thy heir, James?"

"Weel, tha knaws, Tommy," said James, "mebbe thou and me hain't lately been vara particklers; but I war thinking it ever owt ta be, 'Let bygones be bygones'; and soa I was thinking o' leaving my bit o' brass to thee. Noo, Tommy, hoo wast a' thinking o' leaving thy money?"

"Why," said Tommy, "as thou'st been sa good as leave thy money ta me, I think it wadn't be reet if I didn't do t' same by thee, and leave thee my brass."

"Weel," said James, "I think thou couldn't do better; and soa let's send for Mr. Smith to mak' our wills, and I think mebbe, Tommy, thou'd better ha' thy will made fust."

So these two men sent for the lawyer to make their wills. Tommy's was made first, and a very few days after he died. His money then came to James, who in reality was not ill in the least, but had only pretended to be so.

One of James the butcher's sayings I well remember. He was addressing a young man who was courting a girl, and was very hot and eager in his pursuit of her.

"I'll gi'e thee a bit o' advice, Joa: Don't bother to shuttle a happle-tree to get t' fruit; tak' it easy; wait, and t' apples will fall into thy lap o' their selves. Don't go coursing over hedges and threw ditches after rabbits; wait a bit, and t' rabbits 'all come into thy springes without trouble. Don't take on running after t' lasses; take it easy, and thou'lt find, Joa, lad, that t' lasses will run after thee."

At one time James rented some land of a neighbouring gentleman of large fortune and estates who was well known for his hospitality. James was invited with other tenants to dine on Court day at the Hall, and dinner was served up in the best style. On his return home to his wife, he gave her an account of it. "Eh! Phœbe, but it wad ha' capped owt. There were beef and mutton, and chickens and game, and ivery thing one could think of. I's sewer I were fair an' bet wi' it all; but what bet ma moast o' all were 'at we'd ivery one on us a small loaf lapped up i' a clout."

Liqueurs were handed round after dinner. Our good friend took his little glass of the, to him, unknown tipple, and after drinking it off at one gulp, and considering a while, turned round to the waiter and said, "John, bring us some o' this 'ere i' a moog."

At a club dinner, a wedding breakfast, or a funeral lunch, James was overflowing with anecdotes. He was generally the hero of his stories; but I do not believe that they all in reality happened to himself. The stories often told against the principal actor in them, and therefore he may have thought it legitimate to appropriate to himself tales which made him appear in a ludicrous light.

I can remember only a few of these stories.

"It was one night in November last that I and my wife Phœbe was sitting tawking i' t' house. It were a dark night, as black as Warren's best. Now I mun tell thee that our Rachel Anne—that's our grown up daughter—were at that age when they mostly likes to ha' a sweetheart, Shoo'd gotten a young man. I don't like to name names, but as we're all friends here, I don't mind saying he were a downright blackguard. It were old Greenwood's son, tha knaws; t' lad as were locked up by t' police for boiling a cat. Well, Rachel Anne were mad after him, and nother her mother nor I liked it. We were nicely put out, I promise you.

"To go on with my tale. Phœbe and I were sitting by t' fire, when all at once I ses to my old woman, 'Phœbe, lass, where's Rachel Anne? Shoo's not at home, I reckon.'

"'Nay, James, lad,' said she, 'shoo's at a confirmation class.'

"'At a confirmation!' said I, and I whistled. 'I thowt confirmation was ower.'

"'Ah! I dunnow sure; but that's what shoo said.'

"'Is owd Greenwood's son, Jim, going to confirmation class too?'

"'I cannot tell,' shoo said.

"'No more can I,' said I; 'but I'd like to know?'

"'So should I,' said she.

"'Win't thee look out o' chamber window and see if there's a leet i' t' school?' said I. So my owd woman went upstairs and looked, and when shoo came doun, 'No, there ain't,' said she.

"'I thowt not,' said I.

"Well, we sat by t' fire some while, and then my owd lass went into back kitchen to get a bit o' supper ready. Shoo hadn't been there long afore shoo come back and said, 'James, lad!'

"'Ah!' says I; 'what's up?'

"'Why, this,' says she; 'there's summun i' t' back yard.'

"'How dost a' know?' says I.

"Says she, 'I heard 'em taukin'; and there's a lanthorn there.'

"'There's impidence!' says I. 'Who is they?'

"'I think Rachel Anne is one,' says Phœbe.

"'And Jim Greenwood is t' other,' says I; 'and I'm glad on't.'

"'Why?' says Phœbe.

"'Lass,' says I, 'I'll pay yond chap out, I will. I'll go out by t' front door, and I'll come on him, and I'll let him know what I think of him, coming arter our Rachel Anne. And when I've gotten howd on him, I'll hollow. Then do thou run out o' t' back door, and I'll howd him tight, and thou can poise him behind as much as thou like. Since we've been man and wife these fourteen year,' says I, 'we've taken our pleasure in common,' says I. 'We've been to Hollingworth Lake together,' says I. 'And we've been to Southport together,' says I. 'And wunce we've went together to t' exhibition i' Wakefield together. So,' says I, 'we'll ha' the kicking, and the shuttling, and the rumpling up o' yond lad o' Greenwood's together. O glory!' And then I run out o' t' front door as wick as a scoprill,[1] and came shirking round towards t' back door i' t' yard. Well, t' night were dark, but I could see there were some folks there, and I could see the glint o' a lanthorn, and t' leet from t' back kitchen window came on a bit o' gownd, and I know'd it belonged to Rachel Anne.

"'Drat him!' said I to mysen, 'what is lasses coming to next, when they brings their young men under the noses o' their parents wot can't abear them?'

"So I came sloping up along the wall till I was quite near. Will you believe it?—her young man, that's owd Greenwood's lad Jim, was sitting as easy as owt i' a chair.

"'Oh, you charmer!' says Rachel Anne. I heard her voice. I know'd it were she. 'You're near perfect noo!'

"'Oh lawk!' thinks I, 'there's no accounting for tastes.' Jim he ain't ower much o' a beauty, I promise thee. He's gotten a cast i' one o' his eyes, and when he washes his face he's gotten a black stock on; and when he don't, why, then he's all o' a muck, face and neck alike.

"'Can I get thee owt?' says Rachel Anne, as shameless as owt. 'Ah! tha wants a pair o' boots. I reckon father's gotten an owd pair he win't miss. I'll get them for thee.' Then sudden, as she was going away to t' back door, she turns and says, 'My! he ain't got no pipe. I mun get him one o' father's.'

"'Oh, ye abandoned profligate!' groaned I, 'robbing thy parents to bestow all on this owdacious waggabone! But I'll be even wi' thee! I'll let my fine gentleman know the looks o' my back-yard! I'll let un ha' a taste o' my baccy! I'll let un know the feel o' my boots!'

"'Father's breeches fit un rare!' said Rachel Anne.

"Well, now! if that warn't too much. I yelled—

"'Ah! ye dirty waggabone! Thou stealing rascal! Thou cock-eyed raggamuffin!' And I wor upon him in no time. I caught un by t' neck and shook un furious. I wor nigh brussen wi' rage. He were fair down capped, and said nowt. But, as you'll see presently, he were gathering up his rage for a reglar outbust. He were nigh brussen too.

"'Well,' says I, 'wot is't a doing here? I knows! Thou'rt arter my Rachel Anne. Well. Tha'lt never marry my daughter if I can help it. I'll never own thee wi' thy ugly face for a son-in-law. I win't run the chance o' a cock-eye i' my grand-children. If my dowter will ha' thee, I'll disown her; I win't speak to her again.' Then I shook him. 'Take that,' says I, and I gave him a blow o' the fist on his nose, and I reckon I flattened it in. 'Dost a' like it?' says I. 'Take another taste—a little stimulant will do thee good.' Then I kicked un off t' chair, and dragged him up, and shook, and shook, and shook him till I were all of a muck wi' sweat. So I hollered to my Phœbe. 'Phœbe, lass! come and poise un i' t' rear. I'll hold un i' position.' Well, she came out, and she gave him a crack.

"'Now,' says I, 'I'd like to look i' thy ugly face and take stock o' t' damages. I've done thy beauty. Phœbe, lass! give me t' candle.' Shoo went to t' lanthorn, and browt out t' candle and gave it to me.

"Jim Greenwood hung all limp, like old clothes i' my hand, and never spoke. But I didn't know what fire and fury was in him then. He wor just one o' them chaps as endures what you may say and do up to a certain point, but when that point is passed, then—Lor'!'

"I took t' candle from my owd woman—that's my wife, I mean, tha mun know—and I held it afore me. Lor-a-mussy, I were flayed! I let go hold, and let t' candle tumble on Jim—that's owd Greenwood's son, tha knows—and I stood shakin' i' all my limbs. I'd smashed his nose right in; I'd broken t' bridge and knocked it in, and there weren't nowt on it remaining. And his eyes—Lor'! I hadn't time to think, for I had passed t' point, and t' chap couldn't stan' no more. I'd let t' candle fall on him, and set him on fire. Folks don't over much like being set fire to—leastways owd Greenwood's son didn't; for he did blaze, and bang, and fizz, and snap, and crackle away! He reglar exploded, he did! I stood in a sort o' maze like—I were dazed. Phœbe screamed. And then came a great haw-haw from my boys, who were all there. I could see 'em now by t' leet o' t' burning sweetheart. 'Lor', father!' said Rachel Anne, as innocent as owt, 'What hast a' been doing to our Guy Fawkes?'

"Well, sir, will you believe it?—it was nowt but a Guy Fawkes full o' straw and squibs and crackers 'at I'd involuntarily set on fire."

This story was told, scarcely above a breath, during a missionary meeting, whilst a colonial bishop was addressing us. James did not laugh himself—was as grave as was proper on the occasion; but his little eyes twinkled roguishly, and those who could hear the whispered tale with difficulty restrained their laughter.

"I think I can tell you summut as happened to my brother Tommy," said James, after we had sung "From Greenland's icy mountains," and were walking at a judicious distance from the colonial bishop. "Well, my brother Tom were a rare bird to drink. He'd been to t' Horse and Jockey one day, and had supped enough beer for once, and when he came out about half after ten, he warn't ower clear as to t' direction he sud go. Howm'ever, he took t' loin (lane) all right. Presently there come some one along t' road. 'Now,' thowt he, 'I mun keep clear o' he, or he'll run hissel' again' me, and knock me down.' T' mooin were up, just settin', and castin' shadows; so he made a great roundabout to avoid lurching again' t' man as were comin' along; but seeing his shadow, ma brother mistook that for t' man, and thowt t' shadow had cast t' feller. So he tried to step ower t' chap and avoid t' shadow. As tha mun see, he came wi' a crack again t' chap.

"'Ye druffen rascal,' said he, giving ma brother a bang on t' lugs (ears) as made his head spin.

"'It's thy fault,' said Tom. 'What dost a' mean by having a standing-up shadow and solid too?'

"The chap gives him another crack and tumbles him down. When ma brother got up again he went on his road again, saying to hissel', 'I winna go blundering again' no more shadows to-night if I see anybody coming.' Just then he thowt he saw another chap; so to get out o' his way he turned into a field by a gate to let un pass. Now, ma brother had a little too much beer in his head; soa when he got into t' field he couldn't get out again. He rambled round and round, and t' mooin went down.

"'Weel,' ses he, 'I don't care; I'll sleep where I am.' And he ligs him down on t' ground. He hadn't been long asleep afore he wakened wi' cold. T' dews o' neet came falling on him and wetted him, and his teeth were chattering; so then he opened his eyes. And what dost a' think he seed? Why, standing above him were a hawful form as black as a crow. His legs was crooked, his arms was spread, and Tom could see claws on his fingers. His face were like nowt earthly; and he had bristling hair, and great horns like a coo. Tom could see t' glint o' his wicked een fixed on him.

"Weel, now, Tommas weren't that sort o' chap exackly as might flatter hissen angels 'ud come after him out o' heaven; so the thowt came on him it were t' owd chap come to fetch his soul to t' other place.

"Tom lay quite still. He thowt t' owd chap mebbe would let un lig a while if he shammed sleep. He wouldn't be so unmannerly as to wake un up for the purpose o' takin' him away. Tha knaws t' owd chap war' a gem'man once, tho' he's fallen a bit sin'. Yet what's born i' t' bone comes out i' t' flesh—leastwise so Tom thowt.

"Soa Tom lay quiet. But presently he thowt he felt t' owd chap's fingers feeling in his pocket for four and twopence he'd gotten aboot him somewhere. Soa Tom turned round sudden on him and ses, 'Tha mun tak ma soul if tha's boun' to do soa; but I'll trouble thee to let t' four and twopence aloan.'

"Ah! he war' a deep one war' t' owd chap. As sharp as owt, when Tom turned on un, he were standing up stiff and unconcerned, and looking t' other way.

"Nah, as Tom had spoken, 't warn't no use his pretending any more to be asleep. So he thowt, 'What am I to do next? Tha mun do more wi' traycle than tha can wi' brimstone. I'll soap un down a bit.'

"Then Tom opens his eyes and looks at un and ses, 'Owt fresh?' But he wouldn't answer and reveal the mysteries o' his shop.

"So Tom ses, ses he, 'I reckon tha'st coom a rare long way, and it's thirsty work walking, or flying, or travelling by train, or whichiver way tha hast comed. And,' ses he, 'I tak it vara civil o' thee to come for me. There's ma owd woman grummles if shoo's to come for ma to t' Horse and Jockey, and that's half a mile from my home. And mebbe tha's comed for me five thousand mile. It's vara civil. It's not like a north countryman that,' ses he. 'We are outspoken folk, and there ain't much civility among us, but hard rubs. But I won't be outdone by a south countryman i' civility. I daresay tha'rt dry. Tha'll stop a bit, and I'll fetch thee a sup o' home-brewed beer.'

"Soa Tom gets up on his feet, and away he goes as wick as a scoprell, and gets home, and dashes in at t' door. There were Sarah Anne, his wife, as red as a turkey-cock, and swollen fit to brussen wi' he getting home so late.

"But Tommy he out wi' it at once. 'Sarah Anne, lass! run and get a jug o' beer and a mug, and off wi' thee as fast as tha' can to t' owd chap—he's waiting for thee.' He thowt, tha knaws, to get t' owd chap to tak t' wife instead of he. But Sarah Anne she up wi' her fist and knocked him down as flat as ginger-beer as has had t' cork out a fort-night. 'Ah, James,' ses ma brother to me, 'I've tried to send ma owd woman to t' owd chap, but shoo winna go. Tha mun tak' a horse to t' water, but tha canna mak' un drink.'

"Weel, next morning ma brother Tom hoo went to look at t' place where he was i' t' neet, and there he see'd t' owd chap still.… But by day leet—what dost a' think?—he was nowt but a flaycrow (scarecrow)."

  1. As lively as a teetotum.