Yorkshire Oddities, Incidents and Strange Events/Job Senior, the Hermit of Rumbold's Moor



Job's mother was Ann Senior, of Beckfoot, near Ilkley; he was an illegitimate child. His father, a man named Hacksworth, left him a little money when he died. Job grew up a spruce, active young man, very strong, and not devoid of good looks. He was employed as a labourer by the farmers round Ilkley; but afterwards went to live at Whitkirk, near Leeds. He there fell into disorderly ways, drank, and became careless in his dress and dirty in his habits. Yet he was a good workman, and when he returned to Ilkley he was readily engaged by the farmers to plough, mow, and reap for them. He was a good fence-waller, and being a man of prodigious strength, is said to have used very heavy stones for the purpose, and when days were short he was frequently seen walling by candle-light. Some of his walls are still pointed out, and the large stones he lifted elicit surprise. In winter he employed himself in wool-combing at a place called The Castle, near Ilkley. It is related of him that he once laid himself down on the combing-shed floor, and that some of his fellow-workmen chalked out his figure on the floor. By this outline he used to cut his shirts, the material being coarse harden, sewed with strong hemp-string.

Job was at one time an hostler in the village, and a person who knew him well at the time says that at this period his dissipated habits made him the subject of many a practical joke.

He was afterwards employed by the farmers at Burley Woodhead; but as he became old and infirm, and troubled with rheumatism, he could not work as formerly, but did what he could, making no stipulations for wages, but asking only for his board, and that his employers should pay him whatever extra they thought his labour entitled him to receive.

About this time he became acquainted with a widow named Mary Barret, who lived in a cottage near Coldstone Beck, on the edge of Rumbold's Moor. The widow had a little garden and a paddock which, together with the cottage, had been left her by her husband, who had taken the land from the common and built the cottage on it. Job thought if he could secure the hand of the widow the house and land would be his for life. So one day he paid her a visit.

"I'll tell ye what I've been thinking," said Job Senior.

"What hast a' been thinking on then, Job? Out wi' it, lad," said the widow.

"Well, I've been thinking thou'st getting ou'd, and thou lives all by thy sen i' this house. And I'm a young man"—(he was about sixty)—"and I lives all by my sen by yond crag. Why should not thou and me make it agreeable to live together?"

"Dost a' mean that I'm to take thee as a lodger?" asked Mary Barret.

"Nay, nay, lass!" answered Job; "I mean we'd better goa to t' kirk together and be wed."

"I reckon I'm ower ou'd for that," said the widow. She was in her eightieth year.

"I doan't know if tha be ou'd," said Job; "but I knows vary weel thou'rt bonny."

No woman's heart, not even in her eightieth year, is proof against flattery, and the fair Mary blushed and yielded to the blooming Job, and married they were.

"It's an easy gotten penny by the light o' the moon," said Job, looking over his domain.

Mrs. Senior did not long survive her second marriage. She had a long sickness, and Job was kind to her in it. "It's cou'd, Job," she said to her husband one evening when he returned from his work on the moor. "It's cou'd i' this bed, and I cannot feel t' warmth o' t' fire."

"Thou shalt be warm, ou'd lass, if I can fashion it," said Job. "But as I cannot bring t' fire nigher thee, I mun bring thee nigher to t' fire." So he pulled up a couple of flags in the floor beside the hearth, dug a pit, and made the old woman's bed in this premature grave, so that she could be close to the fire and comfortable, and if she wanted a cup of tea, could put out her hand and take the pot from the hearth.

"Eh, Job!" said old Mary another day, "I think I'd like summut good to eat afore I dies."

"Ah!" answered her husband; "then I'll get thee a rare good morsel, that'll set thee up on thy legs again, ou'd lass."

So he bought a pound of bacon, roasted it, caught the melted fat in a large iron spoon, and ladled it down his wife's throat.

"It's rare good now, isn't it?" exclaimed the husband, as the old woman gulped it down. "Open the trap and I'll teem (pour) down some more."

The old woman lay back in her hole and groaned. "I'm boun' to die!" she said.

"Nay, lass! take another spoonful first."

But the poor creature was dead. Job looked at her disconsolately for a minute, and whilst doing so the fat of the frying bacon fell into the fire and blazed up. "Eh! but I mustn't waste the fat," said Job. "If t' ou'd lass cannot take it, why, I mun eat it mysen. Ah! it's varry good; but it's hot. I reckon 't were too hot for her ou'd insides."

Job now thought that the house, garden, and paddock were his own; but he was mistaken. The family of Barret, the first husband of Mary, claimed it and took possession of the field. Job clung desperately to the cottage and the potato-garth. One evening when he returned from his work he found that the cottage had been pulled to pieces. He had hidden some money in the walls, and this was either lost or stolen. His rage and disappointment completely disturbed his brain, and from that time forward he lived in a miserable hovel he erected for himself out of the ruins of the house, in idleness and squalor.

His hut was like a dog-kennel; to enter it he was obliged to creep on hands and knees. Within it was only large enough for him to lie down in and turn himself about: it was thatched, and provided with a rude door, but no window. The garden had contained fruit trees; but these he stubbed up, and instead planted the whole garth with potatoes. He made large, unsightly ridges, and put in a great quantity of seed, always planting for the following year when he gathered his crop in autumn. In one corner of his garth was a peat fire where he roasted his potatoes. His custom was, when eating, to sit with one leg on each side of the fire of peat, his little bag of oatmeal before him; then with his staff he poked the potatoes out of the embers, peeled them with his dirty fingers, rolled them in his meal bag, and then ate them. He always drank his water warm.

"Do you drink your water warm, Job?" asked a visitor.

"Yes," said the hermit, "I reckon I does."

"And your butter-milk too?"

"Aye, aye. Sithere." And he poked two stone bottles out from the embers. "I do it to clear my voice," said the hermit. "Now thou shalt hear my four voices." He then got up, set his face to the crag, and began a wonderful performance of four voices—treble, alto, tenor, and bass. He said he had picked up his "four voices" by listening to the choir in Leeds parish church. He usually sang sacred hymns, such as "While shepherds watched their flocks by night," "Christians, awake," and the Old Hundredth. He went about the country in winter, singing in four parts for money, and his performance was sufficiently remarkable for him to be brought to perform in public at the theatre at Leeds, and in the Headingly Gardens and the Woolsorters' Gardens at Bradford, where he stayed for weeks at a time. He would sleep in any outbuilding or blacksmith's shop; indeed, he was so dirty that few people would like to have given him a bed in their houses.

He used to walk leaning on two rough sticks, wearing a pair of heavy wooden clogs on his feet, stuffed with hay, his legs bandaged with straw. His coat was of many colours and much patched; his trousers were to match. He wore no braces, but kept his trousers in position with a hempen belt, part of an old horse-girth, which he buckled round his body. A bag on his back was fastened at the front to his belt. His head was adorned with a hat of the most antique shape, without a brim, and stitched together with hemp-string.

The condition of his skin, which had not seen water for years, need not be described. His hair, once jetty black, now hung in heavy clotted locks on his shoulders. His eyebrows were black and prominent; his eyes low-set and watery. He wore a coarse beard, grizzled with age, and very dirty. From his hat depended a tobacco-pipe, hung by a string.

"Never," he would say to his visitors, "never take to nowt, but whenever you can get a penny, felt (hide) it, and let nobody know about it, and then they cannot get it from you. Get all the brass ye can, and as soon as ye can buy a bit o' grund like this o' mine, ye see, set it with potatoes, and it'll keep ye. There'll be a peck or two to spare; ye can sell them, and so ha' brass agean. Are ye married?" said the hermit to a young man who went to see him.

"No," answered the visitor.

"Then ye are right there, young chap. Keep so. If ye get a wife, ye'll see shoo'll be coming on wi' a family, and then that'll take all your brass. I' th' first place, ye'll want a house and furniture, and then there'll be rent and taxes, and your wife'll be always wanting summat for hersen or the bairns. And besides, just look how more flour ye'll want, and sugar, and soap, and candles. And look how mony more potatoes ye'll want for them all to eat. Eh! but they're the animals 'at eats brass. They say that maggots eats cheese, and weevils eats cloathes, and mice eats corn; but wife and bairns eats brass, and it's t' brass as gets cheese, and cloathes, and corn. Nay, lad! have nowt to do wi' them soort o' cattle. And then—if th' wife takes to bonnets and gowns, ye're ruined directly. Nay, nay, grund is better nor a wife, and potatoes nor bairns. If ye want to save your brass and snap up a bit o' grund, ye munna be married."

Job's end came as he was on one of his singing rounds. It is thought that some youngsters drugged his drink, in prank, at Silsden, and the consequences were a violent attack of English cholera. He got back to Ilkley, and crept into a barn belonging to the White Sheaf Inn; but the landlord seeing that his end was near, sent for the parish authorities, and he was moved to the Carlton work-house, as he belonged to Burley. He died in the course of a few days, at the age of seventy-seven, and was buried in Burley churchyard, near Otley.

  1. "The Hermit of Rumbold's Moor." Bingley: Harrison (n.d.)