[From H Stowell Brown, Notes of my Life, 1888]



AT last came the year 1839, which was to witness the great change in my history. It came in with a tremendous storm on Sunday morning. On that night we lads were of course sleeping like tops, but my father came and roused us up. I shall never forget the howling of the tempest, as it raged in the trees and round the house. Some of the trees were broken or blown down, and my father was afraid that the house would fall, for it shook with every gust. So we all turned out into the field. It was a south-west wind and almost warm, though in the beginning of January — but the isle of Man knows very little of cold weather, so little that I never had the opportunity of learning to skate while I lived there. Our hay-stacks and corn-stacks were whirling away in the wild whirlwind, the neighbours’ cottages were unroofed; such a storm no one could remember; such another I have never witnessed. It was severely felt in Liverpool. My present wife, then an infant in her father’s house at Islington, was carried in the middle of the night to a neighbour’s house that was considered safer. There were wrecks and great loss of life in Liverpool Bay, and fatal accidents in the town.

My parents, my mother in particular, had intended to bring me up for the ministry of the Established Church; indeed, from my very early days I had been placed on what was known as the Murray Foundation, which provided £5 2s. 6d. a year and schooling at the St. Matthew’s Grammar School. I never caught sight of the £5, but my mother gave me the odd half-crown, for which I was envied by my brothers, who thought they too ought to be placed ‘on the foundation.’ How ever, I had no desire to become a parson; I asked to leave home to see something of the world.

In the next parish there was an old Scotchman named Dr. Macfarlane. He had been an army surgeon, and had served in the Peninsular War, and was one of the immigrants who, after the peace, were attracted to the Isle of Man because of its cheapness, and especially because drink was so cheap, there being no duties on foreign spirits nor on wines. The little wine we had was fairly good, and the port, if I remember rightly, was one shilling and nine pence per bottle. Dr. Macfarlane had never been known to be sober since his return from the wars; he was always drinking and always drunk. To do my father justice, he always took kindly to any poor devil on whom society frowned, and he was friendly with the doctor, though certainly it was not a case of like to like, for my father in the midst of this drunken generation was always a perfectly sober man. We never knew what it was to have either beer or spirits in the house. The doctor had a son David, who was a land-surveyor, in want of an apprentice, and it was arranged that I should go to him.

Accordingly, on the 19th February, 1839, I left home to make my way in the world. I had before this visited Liverpool, staying there a few days with my brother Robert, who lodged in Upper Parliament Street. And now a second time I crossed from Douglas to the great port in the Mersey. It was a night passage, and I crossed by the old.’ King Orry,’ a wooden steamer, built in the shipyard opposite St. Matthew’s School, when I was a scholar there. An awful old tub she was ; she took her time, and was certainly ten hours on the passage. The captain, and such of the passengers as were of the same mind, spent the night in heavy drinking. This was the constant practice with those old sea-dogs, Gill, Quayle, and Kermode, but though they drank they did not get drunk. At any rate their steamers never came to grief. In a rough sea one night, when the vessel was in danger of getting on a sandbank, Quayle shouted down to the stokers, "Work, you rascals, or you’ll all be in hell in five minutes." It is said that the Arch deacon of the island was on board, and that on anxiously asking the captain whether there was any danger, the reply given in consideration of his cloth was, "Sir, you are very likely to be in heaven before morning;" on which the venerable gentleman lifted up his eyes and exclaimed, "The Lord forbid!"

David Macfarlane was then engaged in the Tithe Commutation Survey of the parish of Biddulph in North Staffordshire, some three miles from the town of Congleton in Cheshire. Accordingly, a day or two after my arrival iii Liverpool, I set out for Biddulph. This was my first railway journey, and was a source of exquisite interest to me. On my former visit to Liverpool, I had spent many hours watching the trains as they crossed the Wavertree Road, which was not then bridged. Now I was to travel by rail. The lines had just been completed through to London ; I say the lines, for you went on the Liverpool and Manchester to Earlstown, by the Grand Junction on to Birmingham, and thence by the London and Birmingham to London, the journey occupying about twelve hours. I went to Lime Street Station and booked for Crewe, the station nearest Congleton. It was literally booking, for I gave my name, which was entered in a book, and I got a ticket which bore the number of the seat I was to take in the carriage. Young fool that I was, I must needs have first-class. However, the second-class carriages were open at the sides, having no shelter but a roof supported by iron stanchions at the four corners. And so we started at 9 A.M., a lady and gentleman in the carriage expressing their wonder and delight at the prospect of being in London that night. Lime Street Station was then a mere wooden shed behind the handsome curtain wall that was taken down some years ago to make room for the London and North-Western Hotel. Up the dark tunnel, through Olive Mount Cutting, past Muspratt’s great chimney, near the Sankey Viaduct, by Warrington, where for the first time I saw a cotton-mill just opposite the station, and so on to Crewe. And what was Crewe? It is now a great town of some thirty thousand inhabitants. Its railway workshops extend almost for miles. It has its mayor and corporation; and it is aspiring to representation in parliament. It has churches and chapels of all denominations. From Crewe, railways extend in six directions: eastward to the Potteries and Derby, southwards to Birmingham and London, south-westwards to Shrewsbury and Wales, north-westwards to Chester and Holyhead, northwards to Scotland, and north-eastwards to Manchester. The station is one of the largest and busiest in all England. When I first saw it, it consisted of a little hut and a public-house; and the railway staff was made up of a clerk, a porter, and a policeman. The public-house is there still, enlarged and improved (the ‘Crewe Arms,’ I think), the hut has perished, and with it, I have no doubt, the clerk, the porter, and the policeman. I reached Crewe at 11 A.M., but the coach for Congleton did not start until six in the evening.


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