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Wills, Inventories and Economic Activity in the Parish of Halifax at the end of the 17th Century: Alan Petford

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Faced with a pile of seventeenth century legal documents written in an impenetrable script and full of unrecognisable words like swingle trees and hookseams, we might be tempted to think that rewards of deciphering them wouldn't justify the effort involved.  But as Alan Petford showed in his talk to the Hebden Bridge Local History Society, a study of wills and inventories can illuminate brilliantly the daily lives of men and women in this area over three hundred years ago.

Death Bed

Death bed

A group of volunteers have been transcribing probate documents from the ancient parish of Halifax covering the years from 1688 to 1700 opening up a study of these times to other historians. Inventories were particularly important, as an accurate account of all the deceased's property was needed in order to assess the total value of the estate.

There is a long established understanding that in the Parish of Halifax there was a dual economy of farming and textiles, and the inventories make it clear that almost every profession had some involvement in agriculture. Alongside the cattle that are listed, the agricultural equipment adds detail to our picture of the farming methods of the time. The listing of 'three oxen' and 'ox harrow and plow' shows that oxen were still being used to work the land. Sleds were as frequently listed as carts, being more suitable for work on the hillsides.

The importance of textile production is also confirmed through the equipment listed in the inventories, with everything from the raw wool, through the spinning wheels, looms, tenters, shears  presses and pieces of cloth valued by the appraisers. It is clear that the most profitable part of textile production was the finishing process, which added value to the cloth after the initial weaving.

After weaving, cloth would be fulled and felted, and dried on tenters which stretched the cloth back to size. To get a smoother finish, the nap on the cloth would be raised with teasels and then carefully cropped with shears. All the equipment needed for this is found in the inventories: 'tenters in the croft'; 'shears, shear board, handle brake and raising peark'.

The 'screw press, piece paper and planks' were required for a finishing process where the cloth was put into hot and cold presses; a final touch was to use the contents of a 'tub oyle and butter in it mixt' to add the extra smoothness which would bring a premium in the market. The high value given to this equipment in the inventories points to the profit that such processes could command.

In the course of Alan's talk it became obvious that information about agriculture and textiles was only the beginning of the insights available from these inventories. The way the houses were used becomes clearer, with no designated bedrooms but beds found in every room except the kitchen. We can learn much about the cooking methods from the pots pans trivets and fire irons, as well as the ubiquity of the oatcake with its required bakstones (for cooking) and bread fleaks (where the finished oatcakes hung to store).

The variety of furniture and valuables listed points to a comfortable life for the occupants of the larger houses; a life which a study of these fascinating inventories opens to our modern gaze.

There are two books of probate document transcriptions (for Midgley and Sowerby) with explanations and glossaries already available from the Society (click here for details), and more should be following.

On Wednesday, 10th December Nick Wilding will be celebrating the anniversary of Stoodley Pike. All are welcome to the fortnightly talks held at Hebden Bridge Methodist Hall at 7.30. Details are available on the website www.hebdenbridgehistory.org.uk

Many thanks to Sheila Graham for this report

Previously, on the HebWeb

Local History Society Archive explored - Following the 65th AGM, members of Hebden Bridge Local History Society were treated to a sample of some of the treasures to be found in the Society's archive. (19 Nov 2014)

Views from two communities on the outbreak of war in 1914 - Mike Crawford, Wolfgang Hombach and Nick Wilding (27 Oct 2014)

The Listed Buildings of the Hebden Bridge area with Peter Thornborrow. (14 Oct 2014)

Valley of a Hundred Chapels by Amy Binns (29 Sept 2014)

History Group Study Day report: Power and Potability (11 Sept 2014)

Whose land is it anyway? How parliamentary enclosure shaped the landscape of the Calder Valley: speaker, Sheila Graham. Read more (6 April 2014)

Yorkshire Life between the Wars: speaker, Ian Dewhirst. Read more (20 March 2014)

Industrialisation and the Calder Valley: Communities in a unique landscape - Talk by Dr Stephen Caunce Read more (3 March 2014)

Quarrying in Calderdale: George Bowers gave a talk on the history of stone quarries in our local area. Read more (15 Feb)

Calder Valley Buildings of the Seventeenth Century: the craftsmen and their patrons Read more (27 Jan)See Small Ads (12 March)

Some thoughts on historic buildings and their repairs by Alan Gardner

Anne Kirker tells of Sam Hill of Making Place, Soyland Read more (22 Dec)

Local History Talk: A Postcard from Sunny Bunce's, a local destination that became known as the playground of the north. Read more

Withens Reservoir, the subject of the latest Local History Talk, was part of a fascinating story . . . not so much Cragg Vale's reservoir as the property of distant Morley. Read more (19 Nov)

Local History talk on Witchcraft in the Upper Calder Valley: As make-believe witches come knocking on our doors John Billingsley, folklorist and author of many books on the subject, told members of the Local History Society that to our ancestors witchcraft was very real indeed. More info (27 Oct)

Local History talk on Mytholmroyd's Moderna: Joan Laprell spoke to the Hebden Bridge Local History Society where she recalled the village within a village that was the Moderna Blanket Factory in Mytholmroyd, where she worked for ten years. More info (12 Oct)

Local History talk on maps: The first meeting of the new season of lectures for the Hebden Bridge Local History Society was launched by Tony Morris speaking about the history of maps and map-making as well as cartographic crime. More info (30 Sept)

Bridge Mill: History on our doorstep. Justine Wyatt, with the support of the mill's current owner David Fletcher, has uncovered more of the story of the building, and gave a fascinating talk to the Hebden Bridge Local History Society. Read more (3 April)

Working from home in 1825; Working from home is not a new concept, Malcolm Heywood told members of the Hebden Bridge Local History Society. William Greenwood's described his several different occupations. Read more (20 March)

The Grave of Robin Hood: mysterious goings-on in Calderdale. Kai Roberts told the local history society about Robin Hood in Calderdale and especially the monument known as Robin Hood’s Grave. Read more (11 March)

Todmorden Weavers and the Great War. Alan Fowler, former lecturer in Economic and Social History, told a meeting of the Hebden Bridge Local History Society that the local Weavers’ Association had 4000 members at its peak. Read more (19 Feb)

Our Railway Station in the 19th century. David Taylor told a meeting of the Local History Society about how the early railway developed in Hebden Bridge. Read more (28 Jan)

Untold Stories: A glimpse into the lives of local people - Tony Wright has for the past ten years been collecting personal life stories on film and audio tape. Read more (18 Jan)

City in the Hills - Corinne McDonald and Ann Kilbey told a meeting of the Local History Society of Dawson City, the building of the Walshaw Dean Reservoirs and the publication of a new book. Read more (16 Dec)

Lament for the Mills - Robert Cockcroft, poet and academic told of his childhood spent close to mills owned and operated by his grandfather, John Cockcroft and his father, Keith. Read more (2 Dec)

How much thought do you give to a war memorial? - Mike Edwards told a meeting of the Local History Society, war memorials can be found in many forms and in unusual places. Read more (17 Nov)

Clubhouses: self help and co-operation - A small row of houses in Old Town, called Clubhouses, encapsulates some of the history and spirit of the Calder Valley explains Julie Cockburn. (30 October 2012)

Small Town Saturday Night - The story of a love affair with rock 'n roll at its peak in the 1950s and 60s from speaker Trevor Simpson.

The world of Cornelius Ashworth, speaker Alan Petford, Local History talk of 10 October 2012

Hebden Bridge Local History Society

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