Yorkshire Oddities, Incidents and Strange Events/David Turton, Musician at Horbury



David Turton was born in Horbury, near Wakefield, a.d. 1768, and died August 18th, 1846.

He was by trade a weaver of flannel, and his loom, which was in the upper room of the cottage in which he lived, might be heard by passers-by going diligently from early morn to dewy eve. In this way he supplied his few earthly wants, for he was a man of a very simple and unobtrusive character; and he did not change either his dress or his habits with the growing luxury of the times.

In matter of diet he was frugal, and he always stuck to the old oat-cake and oatmeal porridge he had been accustomed to from childhood. "Avver bread and avver me-al porritch" was what he called them, for he spoke the broadest Yorkshire. Alas! the delightful oat-cake, thin, crisp, is now a thing of the past in Horbury. There was an old woman made it, the last of a glorious race of avver bre-ad makers in Horbury, some years ago. But she has gone the way of all flesh; and the base descendants of the oat-cake crunchers, the little men of to-day, sustain their miserable lives on bakers' wheat bread.

David did not, as is the custom with Northerners now, speak two languages—English and Yorkshire, according to the company in which they find themselves; but on all occasions, and for all purposes, he adhered to that peculiarly racy and piquant tongue, both in pronunciation and phraseology, which was so well known to those who dwelt in the West Riding of Yorkshire half a century ago, and which still more or less prevails in that locality. Half a century ago every village had its own peculiarity of intonation, its own specialities in words. A Horbury man could be distinguished from a man of Dewsbury, and a Thornhill man from one of Batley. The railways have blended, fused these peculiar dialects into one, and taken off the old peculiar edge of provincialism, so that now it is only to be found in its most pronounced and perfect development among the aged.

The figure of David Turton was spare, his legs long and lean as clothes-line props. He wore drab breeches and white stockings, a long waistcoat of rather coarse black cloth, with a long coat of the same material, much the pattern of that now affected by our bishops.

His features were small and sharp, his eye especially bright and full of life; and having lost nearly all his teeth at a comparatively early age, his pointed chin and nose inclined much towards each other.

Music was his great delight, and in that he spent all his spare time and money. He was a good singer, and could handle the violoncello creditably. All Handel's oratorios, besides many other works of the classical composers, he knew off by heart, and he was for a long time the chief musical oracle in the neighbourhood in which he lived. He even aspired to be a composer, and published a volume of chants and psalm tunes. Some of the former, but few of the latter, have survived. His chants have found their way into various collections of Anglican chants along with those of Dr Turton, Bishop of Ely, also a musician and composer of chants. But they have ceased to sound in his own parish church, where they have been displaced by Gregorians. Not one of his hymn tunes has found its way into the most popular collection of the day—"Hyms Ancient and Modern"—which is the more to be regretted, as Turton's tunes were often original, which is much more than can be said for a good many of the new tunes inserted in that collection.

A considerable number of choristers in cathedral and parish church choirs owed all their musical skill to the careful training of old David Turton.

His efficiency in music, together with the simple goodness of his character, made him a favourite among musical people in all grades of society, and there was seldom a gathering in the neighbourhood where any good class of music was performed in which his well-known figure was not to be seen.

On one occasion he went to Hatfield Hall, then the residence of Francis Maude, Esq., who was a great lover of music, and a friend and patron of old David.

His own account of his débût on that occasion is sufficiently characteristic to be given:—

"I went t' other day," said he, "to a gre-at meusic do at ou'd Mr. Maude's at 'Atfield 'All. Nah! when I gat theare, a smart looking chap o' a waiter telled me I was to goa into t' parlour; soa I follows efter him doun a long passage till we commed to a big oppen place like, and then he oppens a doo-ar, and says to me, 'Cum in!' soa I walks in, and theare I seed t' place were right full o' quality (gentlefolks), and Mr. Maude comes to me and says, 'Now, David, haw are ye?' 'Middlin',' says I, 'thenk ye!' Soa then there comes a smart chap wi' a tray full of cups o' tea, and he says to me, 'Will ye hev sum?' 'Thenk ye,' says I, 'I'm none particular.' 'Why, then, help yer sen,' says he. Soa I taks a cup i' my hand; and then says he, 'Weant ye hev sum sugar and cre-am?' 'Aye, for sure,' says I; soa I sugars and creams it, and then there comes another chap wi' a tray full of bre-ad and butter, and cakes like, and says he, 'Will ye hev sum?' 'I don't mind if I do,' says I. 'Well, then,' says he, 'tak sum wi' thy fingers.' Soa I holds t' cup and t' sawcer i' one hand, and taks a piece of spice cake i' t' other. 'Now, then,' thinks I, 'how am I ever to sup my te-a? I can't team (pour) it out into t' sawcer, for boath my hands is fast.' But all at once I sees a plan o' doin' it. I thowt I could hold t' cake i' my mouth while I teamed (poured) t' te-a into t' sawcer, and then claps th' cup on a chair while I supped my tea. But, bless ye, t' cake war so varry short (crumbling) that it brake off i' my mouth, and tum'led onto t' floor, and I were in a bonny tak-ing. Howsomever, I clapt t' cup and t' sawcer onto t' chair, and kneeled me down on t' floor, and sammed (picked) it all up as weel as I could; and then I sups up my tea as sharp as I could, and gave t' cup and t' sawcer to t' chap who cumed round again wi' his tray. 'Will ye hev some more?' says he. 'Noa,' says I, 'noa more, thenk ye.' For I thowt to mysen I had made maugrums (antics) enough, and all t' quality 'at war theare mun ha' thowt me a hawkard owd chap. Weel! when tea were finish'd we gat to th' music, and then, I promise ye, I war all reet, an' a rare do we had on it."

David was returning through a pasture one day in which was a furious bull, who seeing old David with his red bag, made at him. The musician did not fly; that would not comport with his dignity, and his bass viol that he carried in the bag might be injured by a precipitate retreat over the hedge. The bull bellowed, and came on with lowered horns.

"Steady!" soliloquised the musician; "I reckon that was double B nat'ral."

Again the bull bellowed.

"I am pretty sure it were B," said David again, "but I'll mak' sure;" and opening his bag, he extracted the bass viol, set it down, and drawing his bow across the vibrating string, produced a sound as full of volume and of the same pitch as the tone of the infuriated beast.

"I thowt I were reet," said David, with a grim smile.

At the sound of the bass viol the bull stood still, raised his head, and glowered at the extraordinary object before him. David, having his viol out, thought it a pity to bag it again without a tune, and began the violoncello part in one of Handel's choruses. It was too much for the bull; he was out-bellowed, and turned tail.

When David was getting a little advanced in years he was coming home on a dark night from a musical gathering, and tumbling over a large stone which happened to be lying on the road, he fell down with great force and dislocated his hip.

This was a sore trial to him in many ways. In the first place, it quite prevented his going on with his customary means of obtaining his living, and, besides that, it deprived him of the pleasure of going about among his musical friends.

For a long, weary time he was quite confined to his bed, and time hung heavy on his hands, for he had no other resources except his loom and his music. His constant companion in bed was his violoncello, and as he could not for a long time sit up sufficiently to enable him to use the bow, he spent a great part of the day in playing over pizzicato the music which he loved so well.

After some time he got about a little on crutches, and ultimately was able to go by the help of a stick. His little savings had now dwindled away, and poverty began to look him in the face. But at this crisis his musical friends came forward, and gave with great success for his benefit the oratorio of the "Messiah" in the town of Wakefield, and by this means raised for him the liberal sum of £70, of which they begged his acceptance.

He was afraid to have so large a sum in his own charge, and he therefore requested that it might be placed in the hands of the Vicar of Horbury, so that he might draw from time to time just as much as he needed. This was accordingly done, and by his careful expenditure of it, it sufficed to make him quite comfortable during the rest of his life, and to erect the simple memorial-stone which now stands over his grave in Horbury churchyard.

He had a married sister living in London who had often invited him to pay her a visit, and when he had recovered from his accident sufficiently to go about pretty well by the aid of a stick, and having now plenty of time at his disposal, on account of his being lame and unable to work at his loom, he determined to embark on the railway to London.

His sister lived in Kensington, and his own account of his visit, and of what he saw in the great city, was highly amusing:—

"I went up," said he, "on a Setterday, and o' t' Sunday-morn, while we was getting our breakfast, th' sister's husband says to me across t' table, 'I reckon ye'll goa wi' us to chapel this forenoin,' for ye see they was chapel-folks. 'We'll see,' says I, 'efter a bit.' But I knew varry weel mysen what I were boun' to do, though I didn't say so to them.

"Soa I just watches my opportunity, an' when they was all gone out of the room, I nips out, as sharp as a lark, and goas to t' end o' t' entry. For t' sister's house war not to t' street, but up a bit on a entry like; and away I goas till I sees a homnibus, and I calls out to t' fellow, 'I say, are ye for Sant Paul's?' 'Aye,' says he.

"Why then,' says I, 'ye're t' chap for me!' Soa he oppens t' door, an' I jumps in.

"'How much is it?' says I. 'Nobbut sixpence,' says he. Soa I rode all t' way thro' (from) Kensington to Sant Paul's—and ye know it's a rare way—all for six-pence.

"Eh! and bless ye! we just hed a sarvice! Think nobbut o' me goin to their ou'd chapel, wi' nowt but a bit on a poor snufflin' hymn or two, an' some squealin' bairns and women to sing 'em, and a ram'lin, rantin' sarmon iver so long, when I had t' opportunity o' going to Sant Paul's to hear thinks done as they sud be done. Nay, nay!—I warn't sich a fooil as that nauther. I warn't born i' Yorkshire to know no better nor that, I'll uphou'd ye.

"Howsomever, when I gat back hoame, they was into me weel for giving 'em t' slip, an' turnin' my back, as they said, on t' blessed Gospel invitin' of me. But I let 'em say what they'd a mind to. When a beer barrel begins to fiz out o' t' bung hoil, tha' mun let it fiz a bit, thof't mak a mucky slop, or it'll bust t' barrel. I said nowt; I just set and thowt o' what I'd heard, and I played it ower again on my in'ards.

"T' next day I thowt I sud like to goa and hear t' band of t' Orse Guards. Now t' sister 'usband had a nephy 'at was one on 'em; soa I went wi' him. And after they'd played iver so mony things—eh! an' bless ye, they just did play 'em—he says to t' leader o' t' band—'Yon ow'd chap'—meaning' me—'knows a bit about meusic.' Soa t' fellow says to me, 'Is there owt partickler ye'd like?' 'Nay,' says I, 'owt 'at ye've got'll be reight for me.'

"'Nay,' says he, 'owt 'at ye've a mind to ax for.' Soa I picks two or three things 'at justs comes to my mind like. And, bless ye! they play 'em like owt at all, and then I menshuned another or two, an' they were never fast wi' owt till it was time for 'em to lap up. Soa they says, 'we mun goa now, but ye mun come agean another day!' 'I sall,' says I, 'ye may depend.' And I went reg'lar every day as long as I war i' London; and rared pleased they war wi' me an' all, and so ye mind war I wi' them.

"That, and Sant Paul's, an' Westminster Habbey, war t' main o' what I seed and heeard all t' time I war in London."