Of the writing of books there is no end, and this
is particularly true of the spate of biographies and autobiographies that
have been published during recent decades. Some have a story to tell
worth telling. Whether the authors have played a prominent part in public
affairs or not, their reminiscences, discreetly culled from a full life, may
contain much that will prove both entertaining and instructive to their readers.
The publication of what follows has been prompted by a desire to tell whatever is known to me about the nature of the lives of my kindred forbears, -however ordinary. It is good surely for a man to know his roots, and to acknowledge them. Fortunately the leisure hours of my retirement have enabled me to devote the necessary time to correspondence and research. Unfortunately, however, I have had to write virtually poles apart from the ancestral homelands, consequently many gaps remain unfilled. A visit to the West Riding of Yorkshire during the last week of June, 1968, proved not unrewarding despite the drizzly weather. So much for the motive of my "Scribendi cacoethes".
All the members of my own generation in this hemisphere were born upwards of six thousand miles from where the family originated. This is equally applicable to the distaff, my wife's side, as to the spearside of the family. Some of her forbears have been rooted at the Cape since the 17th century. South Africa is a country with an altogether different climate, way of life, and without any very old historical landmarks and associations. Whereas many of my relations have indeed travelled overseas across the Equator and visited the land of their early forefathers, the great majority of my children and grand-children have not, and they are thus entirely dependent upon their imagination and secondhand information in these respects. They have little or no knowledge of the emergence and development of the family from its original habitat in Midgley Township in the Parish of Halifax of the West Riding during the course and against the background of English history. The ancestral background is thus outlined herein.
Most family histories, especially in young countries such as North America and South Africa, customarily have two beginnings; the one, not always so easily determinable as the other, has to do with the earliest progenitor and his arrival; the other, about which there are no doubts, has to do with the first member of the clan to distinguish himself.
So many family records were destroyed by fire or the plough in North America that guesswork has been a considerable factor in most family histories that go back beyond the War of American Independence. Few family Bibles, tax rolls and church records of pre-Revolutionary times survived the numerous fires, for nearly everything in a household or church was highly inflammable.
At the Cape, however, Christoffel Coetzee de Villiers' work has been invaluable in tracing my wife's forbears on the distaff side back to the 17th century. His work is unique not only in our country but also in the whole world, for in no other country does a book exist that contains the genealogical records of all its families from the very year of its foundation until more than two centuries afterwards.1
In the West Riding of Yorkshire, in cases other than the aristocracy, the old landed noble families, one is almost entirely dependent upon Parish records of baptisms, marriages and burials, for literacy was practically non-existent in the homes of the mass of ordinary folk until comparatively recent times.2 These records were introduced by law only in the closing years of the reigns of Henry VIII and his daughter Elizabeth I. The farther back one goes into these records the script becomes harder to decipher, moreover research is rendered well-nigh impossible by the frequent omission of the necessary details of parentage in the registers, and to the frequent use and repetition of the same Christian names in the different branches. Consequently it is now practically impossible for me at this distance to trace our precise genealogy farther back than the early eighteenth century.2
So much for the earliest definitely known progenitor of our branch of the Midgley family. Similarly as no member of the family has particularly distinguished himself or herself in any special way, the history has no beginning in this respect. This lack of information and distinction is obviously due to the family's isolated place of origin and livelihood in the heart of the Pennine Range, somewhat remote from and seldom disturbed by the hurly-burly of outside events. T. W. Hanson says of his 'Story of Old Halifax' that it is principally
"a peaceful account of turning woods and moorlands into fields, and of the development of the cloth industry in this highland corner of Yorkshire"
Because our origins are rooted in a somewhat unspectacular part of the West Riding from a historical standpoint there are no walled cities, castles, ruined abbeys or ancient battlefields within the Halifax Parish and no bearers of famous names that crowd the pages of English histories I have been emboldened to sustain the interest of the reader by providing the barest outline of English history a rather presumptuous undertaking at best - and by filling in the contemporary background in greater detail whenever it is relevant to Halifax Parish in which Midgley Township was situated. External events did impinge on the life of the Township from time to time.
The reader will find that in the course of the narrative I have made liberal use of dates and have inevitably dwelt on certain periods of that history. As the well-known historian G.M. Trevelyan has noted
"Dates and periods are necessary to the study and discussion of history, for historical phenomena are conditioned by time and are produced by the sequence of events. But unlike dates periods are not facts, It is difficult to think about economic and social history in periods because there is always an overlap of the old and the new continuing side by side for generations or even for centuries "3
According to the best of my delving the Midgley family appears to be descended originally from the ancient Britons or Picts who inhabited the Pennine Range in northern England during the millennia of the Stone and the Bronze Ages. With the coming of the Iron Age Celts - Brigantes - in the centuries preceding the Christian era, impregnation and assimilation must have been inevitable.4 This process of the mixing of the bloods was undoubtably continued in whatever varying degrees during the subsequent invasions and occupations by Romans, Anglo-Saxons and Northmen respectively, down to the final Norman Conquest.
In the course of time with the advance of civilisation the original hunters became pastoralists or agriculturalists or engaged in home manufacture of their produce. Where some were content to remain hirelings, others moved up from tenant farmers to become their own landlords. William the Conqueror had of course parcelled out the land of Britain among his own followers and, while the Feudal System or lack of system endured, vast areas remained in their hands for many generations.
During the rapid growth of the woollen industry in the West Riding of Yorkshire, as described later in Chapters 5 and 6, and the ensuing prosperity in the 16th century onwards, not a few yeomen, including members of the Midgley family, acquired their own manors and entered the Squirearchy. To the best of my knowledge no member of any branch of the family attained at higher rank or revealed any political aspirations beyond an obligatory interest in parochial affairs, and a readiness to withstand any tyrant of his fields.
Were they any the less good citizens by this abstention from the wider realms of politics? Perhaps by such avoidance they felt that 'Whoever meddleth least, shall save himself from smart', in no negative spirit, and believed with Swift that
'Whoever could make two ears of corn or two blades of grass to
grow upon a spot of ground where only one grew before, would deserve
better of mankind, and do more essential service to his country, than the
whole race of politicians
Judging from my observations of conditions in the area of the old Midgley township during 1968, life there is no bed of roses. The few farming folk are fully occupied in the struggle to make both ends meet, and in the industrial field this competitive age keeps the noses of all others to the grindstone. There are now hundreds of the old Midgley stock scattered about the West Riding and farther afield who are apparently equally busy earning a living, some commendably in the service of their fellowmen, for instance as medical practitioners. Whether it is due to lack of opportunity or conscious aversion the fact remains that all have eschewed politics as a career -. at least I know of no exceptions. [ margin note by Milnethorpe Midgley "In 1944 a Midgley led the Opposition in the Parliament of Ulster, Northern Ireland"] They are not exempted however from taking an intelligent interest in political affairs.
A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing, though one may well ask where is the man who has so much as to be out of danger!5
The following pages will reveal much of the effect on the lives of the ordinary people of uncontrolled political power wielded by the aristocracy and absolute monarchs down the centuries, and enough will have been revealed to disabuse the credulous who harbour romantic notions about the "Good Old Days" or that virtue is always pre-eminent and that villains always meet their just deserts. Beyond references to the growth of Parliament and the stand made in Stuart times it has not been relevant to dwell at any length on the revolt against the power of privilege as continued later during the rise of democracy in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Democracy itself has already shown that it can breed a new kind of despotism,
that popular power may be tarnished with the same poison as the personal power
of monarchs. Many years ago now the historian Lord Acton was much concerned
with this aspect and felt that the authority of the people must be established
by such constitutional checks as will safeguard freedom and the protection
of minorities. The will of a whole people cannot make just what is unjust.
To-day man's inhumanity to man persists.
For more than two centuries in recent times the direct forbears of our particular branch of the family have been occupied in the Worth Valley and beyond as farmers, weavers and clothiers under the Domestic system or latterly in business as drapers and butchers or in one of the professions. Few had any intimate part in the Factory System which marked the later development of the woollen industry or in the coal mining industry of the West Riding.6 Thus they had no direct personal experience of the exploitation by avaricious coal owners and millmasters of their workers, who found forgetting hard because they had been brought up to remember and thus became very politically minded -rather like the 'Anglophobes' in our Repubblic to-day. As will be recorded in due course, those members of the family who sought pastures new followed other careers.
In conclusion, if I have to dedicate this work to any persons in particular, I should include the following, namely to the late Edward Foulds (Uncle Ted) who had a printing business in Main Street, Bingley, Yorkshire, and produced in 1898 Harry Speight's "Chronicles and Stories of Bingley and District", a copy of which he presented to me and in which I first read of the "good family traditions" of the Midgleys and made up my mind one day to inquire further:
to the co-operation of several friends and relations: then to my wife Thelma, nee Starke, whose patient typing from the minuscule manuscript made the effort possible,and lastly to my wise choice of parents 7
The first three chapters introduce the reader successively to the peculiar terrain of the West Riding, with a description of old Halifax Parish and Midgley Township in particular, and then the ethnic origins and composition of the inhabitants down to the Norman Conquest in A, D. 1066. Thereafter the account of their experiences and vicissitudes continues to the end of chapter ten.
1. Dr. C. Pam in his foreword to De Villiers's Genealogies of old S.A. families p. xxvii. Or nearly all J.F.M. War of American Independence 1775 - 1783 see my wife's genealogical tree pagee 70.
2. Education in England was dependent upon voluntary effort mainly through the Church, until the Acts of 1870 to 1891 introduced free and compulsory elementary education. Mr. W.E. Forster M.P. for Bradford had the giant's share in the first Act of 1870. See chapter 11 page 58 for my genealogical tree.
3. For instance, following on the Norman Conquest A.D. 1066 and lasting
for some five centuries there is the period of the Middle Ages which has no
definable date for its beginning or its end. It was the time of the
Feudal System and the rule (and misrule) when the Church and the Nobility
acquired vast estates and wealth. It witnessed the catastrophe of the Black
Death in the 14th Century, the Hundred Years War in France,
and The Wars of The Roses
in the 15th century which were a struggle for power between two groups of
aristocratic families. The refusal of all reform by the Church, to preoccupied
by secular interests, and its failure to do anything to satisfy the general
discontent led by Tudor Henry VIII, through the instrumentality of Parliament,
effecting the anti-clerical revolution which more than any other single event
marked the end of medieval society in England.
Succeeding periods saw the internal peace and expansion in the Golden Age of Elizabeth of the 16th century, the war of ideas in Church and State of the 17th century, and in the 18th century the rule of law secured by the events in the preceding century, and lastly the specific work of the reform in the 19th century.
4 Brigantes or Brythons. The practice of tattooing was almost universally prevalent in Britain and survived among the remoter tribes whom the Romans called the "Picti". Sir Charles Oman. The Midgleys had thus the humblest of primitive origins.
5. Nor was money grubbing "per se" or at the expense of their fellowmen
a focal point of existence. I am not suggesting that any member of the family
should take up politics as a career, a hazardous one at best, though there
is a vital need in every country for persons of integrity to be properly trained
for such a role.
Ignorant amateurism is the curse of politics. Politics is the only profession requiring no academic qualificaion or other necessary hall-mark by tuition and examination as a minimum test of fitness and suitability. Just as certain standards are required for teachers, architects, lawyers, medical practitioners and so forth, even progressive farmers take diploma courses- so compulsory conditions should be laid down for aspirant politicians. A course of study in history for one should be obligatory. Did not Aristotle say that those nations who ignore history are doomed to repeat its tragedies. What is not earned has no verity!
In this twentieth century since the payment of members of parliament and the introduction of universal franchise, every Tom, Dick and Harry considers himself eligible, and more have tended to enter the field of politics not so much to render service to their fellow men as to seek personal aggrandisement, position, prestige, power and property. This tendency has been facilitated by this very 'one man one vote' bringing the uneducated proletariat into the picture, clay in the hands of the unscrupulous politician.. Again what is not earned has no verity. Hence the dictatorship of the masses, and thus the pendulum has sung from one extreme to the other!
Nothing more surely paves the way for despotism than legislative bodies whose individual members lack the necessary intelligence and 'Humanitas' in all its connotations. Why should millions of men be slaughtered because of the manipulations of scheming politicians and the merchants of death, the munitions chiefs. National interests must be subordinated to the wider interests of humanity if the peoples of the earth are to escape another world war.
6. My grandmother's uncle George Jaques owned the prosperous Waterloo mills, Silsden. His grandfather Colonel Henri Jaques escaped from France during the Revolution. see p. 60.
7. Also to Olga Starke, whose selfless devotion has helped to raise three
generations, and who held the fort during our absence overseas in 1968. I
used to ride along the moors above Bingley round Eldwick in my Uncle Ted's
pony trap, especially over Rumbles Moor to Ilkley.
8. Gulliver's Travels by Dean Jonathan Swift 1726. This satire was the product of the bitterness and misanthropy of his tormented and emotionally intolerant spirit.
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