Halstead, David (1833-1913)

Local preacher

Family portrait of David Halstead
Kate Askew
Caledonia Works, heavy wire shop, 1899
Caledonia Works

James Halstead was born in Halifax in 1791. He became a woolcomber. He married Amelia Smithers, a weaver. They had six children: three girls, Mary Rachel and Sarah, and then three boys, Robert, Henry and David.

David Halstead was born in 1833. Eighty years later, the Halifax Courier of November 1st 1913 printed his obituary. It begins:

“A well-known veteran local preacher passed away on Saturday evening in the person of Mr.David Halstead, Arden Rd. Eighty years old, he had been in failing health for some months, but was only confined to bed a fortnight. His was a life of service for others, and in preaching during sixty years he trudged thousands of miles.”

Then the obituary gives an account of his life.

“Mr Halstead was born in Halifax, and as a child attended the Square Sunday School (Congregational) which was then held in a building in Blackledge. He did not attend long at the Square, but commenced to attend the old Ebenezer Sunday School.”

A page of David Halstead’s copy book, made when he was a pupil at Blackledge Academy in 1845 and 1846, when he was twelve or thirteen, contains statements of the rules of arithmetic with worked examples. Sunday schools in the 1840s taught reading and some writing, but this does not look like Sunday school work. The 1842 and the 1847 editions of White’s Directory have a schoolmaster, John Shaw, running a little academy in Blackledge. It seems that David was still a schoolboy at twelve and thirteen, when many of his contemporaries had already been four or five years at work.

A woolcomber’s family

David’s father James Halstead, was a woolcomber, and 1845 was a bad time for woolcombers.  When James and Amelia began their little family, before 1820, machinery had scarcely begun to threaten the hand-combers. Spinning and weaving were speeded up by technology and woolcombers were in a strong position. Of course inventers put their minds to inventing combing machines and hand-combers got into difficulty. They combined, struck and lost.

When the Halifax masters passed a resolution similar to that which had previously been voted at Bradford, to compel their workpeople to sign a declaration that they were not connected with the Union, an address was issued by the operatives in the worsted trade, in which it was stated that they could not view the conduct of the masters without surprise and indignation, and that it was no part of their duty to submit to such ‘unprincipled oppression’. They added that they ‘were resolved not to be their absolute slaves, or to suffer themselves, their wives and children to remain in the abject and degraded condition of irrational animals, but to enjoy that share of happiness and mental improvement designed for them by that gracious Providence which had placed them here as probationers for another and better world.” (my italics)

That last sentence perhaps shows why James and Amelia would not abandon their children’s education if the little school fees could possibly be found. Nevertheless it is surprising that they could manage it in view of the following:-“In 1845 a committee was appointed to enquire into the condition of the woolcombers of Bradford. It appears that there were upward of 10,000 in Bradford and the neighbourhood, the major part of whom were compelled to make workshops of their sleeping apartments, and to live amidst the vapours of charcoal. Unable to pay the rent for a comfortable dwelling, a large number huddled together in one apartment, this rendered their situation still worse.”

(The quotations are from Wool and Woolcombing, James Burnley, 1889)

The 1841 census shows that five big brothers and sisters were still at home when David was eight. Perhaps some were still there and chipping in four or five years later. Women commonly worked in the clothing districts. Amelia was a weaver, so perhaps that is why the Halsteads escaped the worst horrors of a dying trade. James died of an apoplexy in 1848. He was fifty seven.

Becoming a teacher and preacher

David Halstead “was soon drafted onto the teaching staff at Ebenezer, and was barely eighteen when he was put on probation as a local preacher. The local plan then covered an area which stretched from Mytholmroyd to Shelf, from Ogden to Brighouse, Elland and Norland. Shanks’s pony was the only method by which such places could be reached in those days and in sunshine and storm, Sunday by Sunday, Mr. Halstead tramped to those out-districts. Time after time he was soaked with rain, and had to change his clothes before he entered the pulpit. At most places where he preached he was provided with meals by friends connected with the chapel, but when he preached at a little place at Ogden, standing on the reservoir embankment, he had always to take his meals with him for the day. In those early times a number of lads at Ebenezer used to hold prayer meetings regularly in Shroggs Wood. Prior to having his Sundays occupied with preaching, this was his Sunday programme at Ebenezer more than sixty years ago:-5am bible class;7am prayer meeting;9am Sunday School; 10.30 Church service; 1.30to 4pm,Sunday School; 5pm outdoor service; 6pm, Church service 9pm, prayer meeting.”

The minutes of the Ebenezer teachers’ monthly meeting contain entries like this:

!5 May, 1851. Resolved that David Halstead and James Garforth see James Chapman, James Shaw and Samuel Harwood as to their neglecting school on April 13th last.

That B Robinson and David Halstead request James Hargreaves to become a Teacher in the Boys’ School.

That David Halstead and Benjamin Washington become Librarians from this time until the next yearly meeting.

In 1852 the minutes are signed by David Halstead as Secretary. There is mention of his sister Rachel as a teacher, and also of Elizabeth Brook:-

30 June 1851 That this meeting declares its sympathy with Elizabeth Brook in her grievances and advises her to lay the same aside and live above them, and affectionately requests her to resume the office of Teacher.

It seems that she did so:-

25 July 1851 That Elizabeth Brook invite Miss Clayton to become a Teacher.

Married life

In 1854 David and Elizabeth were married. Elizabeth was the daughter of Thomas Brook, a cloth dresser, and his wife Susey, nee Lister. David was a wire-drawer.

“His association with Ebenezer covered a period of seventy years, but he had a break in the long record, due to working in other towns.” 

David and Elizabeth were in Warrington when their first child, Martha Ann, was born. They brought her to Ebenezer for baptism.

In 1853, the year in which Dickens wrote of Esther Summerson’s disfigurement, vaccination of children against smallpox was made compulsory. Most infants were vaccinated, but many, especially amongst the poor, were inefficiently done. In an epidemic in London in 1863 50,000 children were examined. Of those whose vaccination had been inadequate 360 per 1,000 were scarred by smallpox. Of 15,000 seen at the smallpox hospital 37% of those without satisfactory vaccination scars died. The government then concentrated on training vaccinators and providing good vaccine. Martha’s vaccination certificate is dated 17th October 1855.

The Halsteads were in Duddeston, Birmingham when Emily arrived in 1860.The chapel there was Bethel, in Lord Street. Its neighbours were a beer retailer, a shopkeeper, a blacksmith, a japanner, a painter, a lampmaker, a coal dealer, a designer on glass, an oil of vitriol manufacturer and another beer retailer; small scale bustling activity. The chapel building was sold for industrial use in 1942.

David was living in Halifax when his mother, Amelia, died in 1864, and back on the Ebenezer Sunday School committee in 1866, speaking at a Christmas meeting and acting as chairman at  a Christmas day tea party. Elizabeth resumed teaching in 1867. They were off again in 1868.

A wiredrawer

“By occupation a wiredrawer, he was for many tears employed by Messrs. Fdk. Smith and Co. Ltd., Caledonia works.” 

I visited the Caledonia works, where the secretary to the managing director received me with great kindness and showed me round.  The men had gone home at the end of the day and I took photographs. The secretary sent me a photograph of the heavy wire shop, taken in 1899, just a year after David Halstead retired from it. She also spoke of my enquiries to the recently retired managing director of Smith’s, Mr. Firth. He wrote, enclosing an account of wiredrawing. A good part of the fun of this sort of enquiry is coming across of people with enthusiastic expertise in subjects which it had not occurred to one to consider before.

Mr. Firth says

“In the 1800’s there were many journeyman wiredrawers who travelled around from area to area. They took their own tools (punches, hammar, pliers etc.) and worked on a piece rate system. They were paid per cwt. Or stone according to the size of the wire drawn and the number of holes it had to be drawn through. Usually the company provided the drawing blockor capstan, the pay off unit and of course the wire to be drawn.

The wire as drawn through plates, into which were punched holes – cone shaped – of various diameters. When the diameter wore out the plate was heated in an oven and then hammered to close the hole. Then the punch was used to make it the correct size. The skills were in punching the plates and setting them so that the wire came out straight and not curled like a spring.

Wire drawers were very proud men, who often went to work in frock coats and top hats.”

Indeed, David Halstead seems to have come to wire drawing when there was a boom in the market for transatlantic cable, Australian sheep fencing, crinolines, mines, bridges, but they still used the old technology, which the craftsmen controlled. In 1850 they could earn between £3 and £5 when engineers were getting £1.10.0.

The Mather Family

In1875 the Halstead family was in Sheffield and so were the Mathers, living nearby. I don’t know how they met. On 29 March 1875 young Thomas Mather married Martha Anne Halstead. He was 21; she was 19. They both signed the register. So did David Halstead, as witness. Elizabeth Mather made her mark. Young Thomas’s grandmother was Elizabeth Mather. I lost track of her when she disappeared from Wollaton between1851 and 1861. She would have been 66 in 1875. The witness is much more likely to be Thomas’s sister Elizabeth, living in the same household. She was 18, much the same age as Martha. They were both old enough to have missed compulsory schooling, but Martha was literate and Elizabeth, it seems, was not, nor were such of her siblings as I could check. There were ten little Mathers to look after and only two Halsteads, but there was already some disparity of education between the two families. In later life Elizabeth’s brother Thomas, my grandfather, used to borrow my father’s books. Her sister Lavinia was able to run a little post office. They had tried to catch up.

The coincidence between early nonconformity and book learning was not random. Those who wanted to study the texts of their faith and organise their religious life for themselves often took up education even in adverse circumstances. But remember what the 1842 Report said about the children of collier families: that they were as willing to learn as any, but they were stupefied by exhaustion. The Stevenson and Mather men were miners.

When did they join the Primitive Methodists?

Thomas and Martha were married in Bethesda Primitive Methodist chapel in Stanley St., Sheffield. When did these people become Primitive Methodists? Kendall’s History of the Primitive Methodist Connexion says that the first meetings in Halifax were held at the house of a Mrs. Halstead. Kendall’s huge work carries no source references, and no-one I have asked has been able to tell me how he knew or which Mrs. Halstead this might be. Amelia was too young and probably in Ovenden at the time. Ebenezer chapel was built in 1822. David was four and his big brother Henry was ten when they were baptised there in 1837. Was this when this family joined up?

On 15 May 1854 the minutes of the Ebenezer Sunday School committee record;-

1. That there be 300 cakes baked for the Whitsuntide Festival.

2. That Mrs. Halstead bake them and get the flour of John Sutcliffe.

These minutes were signed by David Halstead, secretary, and that Mrs. Halstead may well have been the widowed Amelia.

There were Primitive Methodists about in the parts of the Nottinghamshire coalfield where the Mathers were worked  and they were active in the Trade Union. The Mather children were baptised in the parish church. It looks as though Thomas, brought up ordinary CofE, married into a keen Primitive Methodist family.

Joining the Trade Union

Young Thomas and Martha Mather set up house together, and in the next sixteen years they had six sons: William Henry, Frank, Frederick, David, Thomas Halstead and Ernest. Their last child, Emily Elizabeth, was born in 1893. Fell Rd., where they lived then, still has its name plate, but there are no houses just a little stump of a street, disappearing under the Don Valley Stadium. Thomas was mining again, but in the 1880s he was listed as ‘stoker in steel works’, ‘boiler fireman’, fireman in ironworks’.

In 1881 David Halstead was working in Warrington again. Times were harder for wiredrawers. German competition increased and new technology was easier for blacklegs to learn. Manufacturers organised to cut wages. In 1882 there was a strike in Warrington and the men lost. I do not know whether Halstead was involved in that. He came back to Halifax in that year, where he joined the Union, the Thick Iron and Steel Wiredrawers’ Society. He paid his two shillings a month subscription regularly, but did not become an official of that society.

Early unionists had been in trouble for taking secret oaths. It was for that that the Tolpuddle labourers, Primitive Methodists, were transported in 1834. Their initiation ceremonies were keen on secrecy. One early woolcombers’ ceremony, conducted in front of a memento mori skeleton and a bible, was done in verse like that of the Mummers’ plays, as:-

“Strangers, within our secret walls we have admitted you,
Hoping you will prove honest, faithful, just and true.
If you cannot keep the secrets we require,
Go hence, you are at liberty to retire.”

The new member’s oath ended “and if I ever reveal part or parts of this my most solemn obligation, may all the Society I am about to belong to, and all that is just, disgrace me so long as I live, and may what is now before me plunge my soul into the everlasting pit of misery.”

A charge to keep I have
A God to glorify
A never-dying soul to save,
And fit it for the sky

To serve the present age,
My calling to fulfil:
O may it all my powers engage
To do my Master’s will!

Arm me with jealous care,
As in Thy sight to live
And, O, Thy servant, Lord prepare
A strict account to give.

Help me to watch and pray
And on Thyself rely,
Assured if I my trust betray
I shall forever die.

Here is the hymn which the wiredrawers used as their anthem. Charles Wesley wrote it in the eighteenth century, and for other purposes, but it was part of these men’s world, and their own oaths show them quite willing to include ‘forever’ in their own capital threats.

David Halstead was not on the Halifax Union register after 1884. I don’t know whether he had left the Union or had gone away to work. In 1891 he was in Halifax, responsible for the funeral of his sister Mary, twenty-two years his senior.

Illuminated address

“For fifty eight years he laboured for the school, first being a scholar, then teacher and superintendent; he was a member of the church sixty-seven years. In November 1901, in celebration of his Jubilee as a local preacher, 250 friends assembled at Ebenezer, and he was presented with an illuminated address, in which representatives of the leaders’ meeting, circuit quarterly meeting and the school, expressed recognition of his long and faithful service. In 1903 he was further honoured by a diploma of honour from the London Union. This was also presented at a special meeting at Ebenezer. Accepting the gift at the hands of Mr. J. Walker Clark, Mr. Halstead said that it was then more than fifty years since he joined the Sunday School Union. The best hours of his life had been spent in that work, and he regarded the presentation as the greatest honour which could have bee conferred. He gave reminiscences of the early days, when teachers received payment, generally 10s a month, and he mentioned a school in the neighbourhood where quarrelling had ensued among teachers about the division of the money.

Passionately fond of music, especially good hymn singing, he, some years back, arranged a most interesting service of song. Outlining circumstances under which the hymns were written, his explanations causing them to be sung with greater intelligence.” 

In the 1860s he had been holding classes in tonic solfa in the Sunday School, to improve the children’s singing.

End of his life

In 1898 David Halstead retired from Messrs. F. Smith & Co. Ltd.  Six  months later he moved into almshouses built by Joseph Crossley, a philanthropic member of the local carpet making family.

“Sir George Fisher-Smith called to see him so recently as last Thursday week. Other occupants of the Almshouses were fond of him, and in their sickness he was a welcome visitor. They liked also to hear him preach in their own chapel, and that many of the old folk can show their respect, it has been arranged for the funeral service to be held in the Almshouse chapel. 

Interment took place at Lister Lane cemetery. The coffin, of polished pitch pine with heavy brass mountings, bore the following inscription:- 

Born April 9, 1833
Died October 25, 1913

The chief mourners were Mrs. Mather,(daughter) and three sons and daughter, and Mrs. Spencer,(daughter). There was a large attendance at the funeral. The undertaker was M. Earnshaw.” 

David Halstead was the fourth and last name to be added to those of his father James, his mother Amelia and his wife Elizabeth, on a flat stone slab. When we went to look at it, in the old part of the municipal cemetery, the man pushed the grass aside for us to read the inscription. The stone was dark, the clouds were heavy and my photograph came out an indistinguishable black.




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