[From H Stowell Brown, Notes of my Life, 1888]
MR. MACFARLANE had a partner in the survey of Biddulph, Mr. Robert Wyatt, and had an uncle, another Mr. Wyatt, who kept the Black Lion in Congleton. I was to have gone to that hostelry, but by some mistake was put down at another, the Lion and the Lamb. "Is this the Black Lion ?" I asked. "Yes," said the landlord, "this is the Lion," and thinking one Lion quite enough for so small a town, I supposed that it was all right, and stayed there, the victim of a small swindle, my first night of any experience in hotels. The next morning it rained cats and dogs; but I set out to walk to Biddulph. Not quite sure of the way, I asked a woman whom I saw on the road whether that was my way to Biddulph. To my amazement she had never heard of such a place. However, when I had proceeded a few yards, she turned and shouted: "Hey! happen its Biddle you want; yes, that is t reet ro-ad, and when yo coom to t next hausen, yo mun turn to t reet, and t place is nelly two moile further on." The woman spoke right good English, with the fine old Saxon plural for house; but I hardly understood her. However, I got to Biddle, found the gate that led to Whitmore Cottage, in which lived Farmer Birks, and in which lodged the two surveyors, who were glad to see me, and gave me a hearty shake of the hand. The rain had kept them in that day, and they were busy plotting their maps. The next day was Saturday, and soon after eight in the morning (a cold raw morning it was) I set out with my master for the survey. I carried the chain, and he the rods. We walked to the gate of Kinnersly Hall ; there I threw the chain, and so began life. The morning was spent in surveying a part of the park, I drawing the chain and my master driving. In the afternoon we returned and had dinner, and then the three of us walked to Congleton. As there was neither rail, coach, nor carriers cart, it was our custom to go into Congleton every Saturday evening, to purchase our provisions and carry them to Whitmore Cottage ; and many a loaf of bread and shoulder of mutton I carried on these Saturday nights. On that night, the first, our landlord, Mr. Birks, went with us ; our marketing done, we went, of course, to the Black Lion Inn, where Mr. Wyatt, such a big, burly, honest, good-tempered Boniface! presided. We remained there for some hours. I had never smoked a pipe: I had hardly drunk a glass of ale; now I was almost compelled to smoke and drink, and we all smoked and drank. At last we rose to go home, and we were all tight. I can recollect very little of the walk to Biddulph that night; but I do remember tumbling with Macfarlane into a ditch, to the great damage of the quartern-loaf that was to form part of our provisions. I think I ought to make an exception in favour of Mr. Robert Wyatt ; he was not drunk, though a little touched. But I now found that Macfarlane was, like his father, a great toper. For four months I remained at Bidduiph, each Saturday night being very like the first, only that I did not again get the worse for drink. I got accustomed to both tobacco and beer, and neither had any effect. My chief business was to keep Macfarlane on his legs as we went home.
On Sunday evenings I generally went to Congleton Church; Macfarlane and Wyatt went also; and after the service we always went to the Black Lion and had a grand supper of toasted Cheshire cheese, which we washed down with flowing tankards of the Black Lions home-brewed ale. I sometimes walked to another church, of which the clergyman was a little man named Jones. His church was crowded; he was an excellent preacher of a thoroughly evangelical school. Twenty years after, that unhappy parson found me out in Liverpool. He had fallen into drinking habits; he went almost mad with drink, nearly killed his wife, left her, and took to himself a woman off the streets of Liverpool, taking sittings for himself and her in Myrtle Street Chapel ; and there they sat, just under the pulpit, laughing drunk, crying drunk, in various stages of imbecility. It did not last long ; but for a time he attended i~egularly with the woman, and went about the town praising my preaching, and boasting that lie and I were great friends.
Land-surveying is a fine occupation, healthy to mind and body. The worst of it in my case was, that at almost every public-house we were all but compelled to have some drink. Still it was always wholesome ale, and the air and exercise prevented it producing ill effects. But out in the open air for eight or nine hours a day, exercising the mind in the construction of triangles and other figures resorted to in surveying, drawing the chain, climbing stone walls, clambering through thorn-hedges, crossing streams that had no bridges, it was very wholesome work. Nor do I think that it was a bad exercise of the voice for one who was to become a preacher, that all day long my master and I kept up a conversation a chains-length (sixty-six feet) apart. It compelled me to speak up. Afterwards, when at Wolverton, a similar necessity was laid upon me, as I had to speak among the roar of machinery; and to such training may perhaps in part be ascribed the fact that I have never suffered from a parsons sore throat.
The parish of Biddulph is a portion of a valley running north and south. It is about four miles long and three broad. On the west the hill is some four hundred feet high, something higher at a well-known place called Mow-Cop, on which stands an old and ruined tower. From Mow-Cop the view is very fine, extending over the greater part of Cheshire, the long range of the Welsh mountains, and to the southwest, that pride of all Salopians, the Wrekin. The eastern side of the parish contains Biddulph Moor, a wild district inhabited by wild people, who lived a kind of gipsy life a large part of the year, going about the country selling earthenware from the neighbouring Potteries. I remember a public-house on Bidduiph Moor which much resembled some Irish or Highland house; the donkey lived at one end and the family at the other. I must say, that defective as was the civilization of the Isle of Man, Bidduiph was a great deal worse, and it was very difficult to understand the peoples language.
The survey was finished in April, and as Macfarlane had no more work to do, I went back to the Isle of Man, and spent the summer there in a pottering and uncomfortable way. At last, in November, a few weeks after the birth of my brother Alfred, I heard from Macfarlane. He was surveying in the neighbourhood of Shrewsbury, and wanted me to go to him, which I accordingly did. I took the coach at Birkenhead (there was no railway communication between Birkenhead and Chester, but the line was being made); I was an outside passenger, and the weather was bitterly cold. I think it was about noon when we left Birkenhead, and at nine oclock in the evening we pulled up at the Lion, heavy snow having fallen most of the journey. Macfarlane lodgod at the house of an exciseman in the Abbey Foregate. He had two surveys on handthe parishes of Donington and Condover but the former was nearly finished, and I had to do only with the latter. It is, I think, a four-mile walk from Shrewsbury to Condover, and we walked out and in every day, having some five or six hours of surveying while there. Here again was more drinking; we almost always went to the village public before leaving for Shrewsbury. Cold, wet, and hungry as we generally were, the big fire and the beer were very welcome, and once or twice I was not exactly drunk, but nearly so. One night Macfarlane was so screwed that he fell into a ditch, and as I could not get him up I lay down along with him, and we had a sleep, and then rose and got to Shrewsbury about five on a raw December morning. Our landlord, the exciseman, was a great toper, and he and Macfarlane drank heavily together; but from that time I was so disgusted with such work, that although I did not become an abstainer I never went over the line. While at Shrewsbury Macfarlane did not go to any church, but spent his mornings in drawing his maps, his evenings in drinking with the exciseman. I tried most of the churches, St. Marys, St. Alkmunds, and St. Chads, but they were all intolerably dull. I went once or twice to the mdcpondent Chapel, where an old man, Mr. Mener, preached, and the hymns were started to a pitch-pipe. The conventicle was also very dull and very poorly attended. I found Shrewsbury a very stupid place, and it is a very stupid place still. My stay there, however, was brief. Macfarlane took another tithe commutation survey, that of the parish of Harborne, near Birmingham, and in January 1840 we went thither. The journey from Shrewsbury to Birmingham was performed in or upon an omnibus, one of those wretched ramshackle things which began to take the place of well-appointed coaches, as the railways were beginning to cover the land. We were most of the day upon the road, passing through Wellington, Shifnal, Wolverhampton, and the Black Country. It was very severe weather: the rivers and canals were frozen; there was snow, sleet, hail, and general discomfort. The night before we started, Macfarlane and the exciseman had a final booze, which lasted far into the morning, and when we began our journey my master was very drunk. He stopped at every public-house on the way, and at every one had a swill, but singular to relate, he got nearly sober by the time we reached Birmingham. At Birmingham he had an uncle, a middle-aged Scotchman, who with his family lived in a court off a third-rate street. Thither we went that night, and we often visited the place afterwards. I dont know what his uncles business was. He was evidently a poor and struggling man. He never went to any place of worship, a perfect specimen of the lapsed Presbyterian. We spent most of our Sundays at the house in the court, and memorable Sundays they were. However, they were sober. I shall never forget the forlorn appearance of Birmingham in those days; the houses were very bad, but one shop in four was open in Bull Street, and the street-corners were the resort of hundreds of dirty, ragged, and half-starved workmen. John Angell James was then in the height of his popularity; I went to hear him once or twice, and was not at all impressed but with the extreme plainness of the preacher. The parish of Harborne is some three miles from the centre of Birmingham; one half of it joins the town, then called the village, of Smethwick, and in Smethwick we took up our abode. Macfarlane was scarcely sober the day we went to Smethwick, but on his arrival there he made a discovery that sobered him at once. His undertaking was not exactly to make a new survey of the parish, but to correct an old map, and form one with all the alterations that had been made in the course of some twelve or fifteen years. Consequently he had taken the job at a very low rate per acre, expecting to have very little work to do but to go over the parish with the old map, and to jot down the new houses, fences, etc. The old map showed Smethwick as a place of green fields with a few farmhouses. To my masters consternation he found instead of green fields and farm-houses, a town with miles of streets, with forges, factories, and glass-works, and I know not what beside. Evidently the work that was to have been done in a month would take at least four months. Macfarlane was in despair. He swore at and cursed the land agent from whom he had taken the unfortunate contract. But he had the good sense not to get drunk ; he became all but a teetotaller, and continued sober all the time we were at Smethwick. He also became very penurious, and almost starved me. Drink had so damaged his stomach that he cared little for food, and could not understand the raging appetite of a strong healthy lad of fifteen, engaged all the cold and bitter day in the work of land-surveying. I grew very weary both of my master and my occupation. The many engine-works around me excited in me the desire to become an engineer, and as the survey approached completion, I went one day to Boulton and Watts Works, Soho, and applied for work in any capacity; but the times were so bad that I failed in my application. On the completion of the survey I bade Macfarlane farewell. I do not think that I ever saw him afterwards, and in the month of May I returned home with very little idea what was to become of me.
However, I did not remain there long. In a week or two a friend of my father who had some influence at the Ordnance Office obtained for me a very subordinate appointment on the Ordnance Survey, and I was instructed to proceed at once to York. It was midsummer, and very glorious weather. On my journey, I saw Manchester for the first time. From Manchester the railway was open as far as Littleborough. At Littleborough we took coach and climbed Blackstone Edge, then down into the valley of the Calder, through Halifax and Bradford to Leeds, where the coach pulled up at the Bull in Briggate. The journey from Liverpool to Leeds, half by rail and half by coach, occupied about nine hours. The next day 11 went on by rail to York. There were no third-class carriages; I travelled by the second-class, an open truck without seats. We called it a stand-up, and it also went by the name of a tub. At York I was instructed to go to Coney Street and take the carriers cart for Gate Helensburg, a few miles out, where was the surveying party that I was to join. 1 reached the party on Saturday night, and went to lodge with the surveyor, an Irishman named Hugh McCarthy. We had not been long in bed when the house was attacked after a very rowdy fashion. Four other Irishmen engaged on the Survey, very rough customers, had come in from a distance. They were very drunk and determined to lodge with us; they came and battered at the doors and windows. They forced their way into the house, and then demanded admittance to the room in which I, McCarthy and his nephew, a lad engaged on the Survey, were lodged. McCarthy seized a water-jug, opened the door and flung the jug with its contents at the heads of the drunkards. There was a scuffle, not a bad-tempered one, for it was all horseplay; the drunkards prevailed, got into the room, and two of them wearing their boots got into the bed where I was. Such was my first night in the Government service! A few days afterwards we returned to York, having to survey a part of that city, and we lodged in a tumble-down old house just within Micklegate Bar. The part of the city which we had to survey was that in which the Minster stands. That our operations might not be hindered by traffic we rose at three oclock on these sunny summer mornings, and went to our work in the silent and deserted streets. I remember that on one of these mornings we surveyed the glorious cathedral, and I have the satisfaction of knowing, or at least supposing, that on the Ordnance Map the grandest Minster in England is laid down from measurements made by my own hands.