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Edward J Law.


Several books recording the financial affairs of the Firth family of Toothill, Rastrick, have been preserved. They relate not to the extensive business conducted in Huddersfield but to the household accounts, and have a wider interest than a set of business ledgers. The earliest of the books, and the most interesting and informative, is a day-book covering the first twenty years of the 19th century, which chronicles the day-by-day income and expenditure of Joseph and Sarah Firth.

Joseph Firth was a descendant of a Quaker family with origins in Shepley. His father, Thomas, had gone to Huddersfield from Shepley as a young man, set up in business as a drysalter, prospered, and in 1763 purchased the Toothill estate. Joseph, the eldest son was 26 and had been married just a year when his father died in 1782; it seems likely that he continued to run the Huddersfield business together with Robert, a younger brother. However, the day-book gives no indication of any involvement in trade. There are not, as one might have expected, periodic receipts of income from the enterprise, and it is probable that by the 1800s the business was solely conducted by Robert, who lived in Huddersfield.

What the book does show is that Joseph had extensive interests in canal promotion and derived income also from investment in turnpike trusts, money lending and property rents. Whilst he evidently had a great interest in farming it does not appear to have been pursued as much more than a hobby, probably to utilise some of the amenity land which adjoined his mansion at Toothill. He sold one or two pigs a year and bought cattle at about the same rate:-

27.8.1800 Sold a pig 3 weeks old 3-6
26.9.1800 To pig Bramel Dyson Mo. 10 last 11-0
30.12.1800 Wakefield cow sold to Bates & Co. 18-17-0
30.12.1800 Leeds cow bought there. 19- 7-6
10.1.1804 Bought a cow at Huddersfield to be called Firtown 18- 5-6

The expression of the months is invariably in the Quaker form of Month 10, rather than October. All his cows were named and included Fruman, Haughs, young Haughs, Belisha, Huddersfield, Strawberry and Jowitt, the latter probably named from a family connection, for his sister Grace was married to Joseph Jowitt.

Joseph would also keep cattle for other people and in 1800 received 10 for keeping John Medley's cow for a year. In a similar vein in 1805 he paid 3-7-6 for two heifers summering in Derbyshire. Crops included turnips, barley, which was ground at Brighouse mill for feeding to the pigs, and oats which were ground and dried for feeding to his horse, Harry. He probably had another horse for the use of his wife and certainly had at least one for farm work, and probably two, for in 1804 he purchased two new ploughs from Joseph Leeming at 30 shillings each, "one for horses in line, the other to plow abrest."

He appears to have been quite a generous man. There are numerous entries of "charity" 6d, 1/- etc., but his main donations related to his religion. Every month there was "collection for monthly meeting"; in 1800 it was 7/6d, by 1805 10/6d. In 1800 there were subscriptions of 1-1-0 to Sheffield Meeting House (his second) and to Ackworth school. Huddersfield Meeting House received a subscription of 10-10-0 in 1804, and 2-2-0 was given to Todmorden Meeting House in 1807. The largest gift noted which does not appear to have been related directly to his religion was 2-2-0 "paid to Hooper for the distress in Germany" in December 1805.

Among the purchases of comestibles were the following:-

1800 Figs 7d per lb.
  Potatoes 1/0d per stone
  Lemons 2d each.
  Tea 12/8d per lb.
  Cockles 3d per quarter.
  Coffee 4/0d per lb.
  Almonds 4/0d per lb.
  Isinglass 8d per lb.
  Liquorice powder 1/0d per lb.
  Pepper 3/0d per lb.
1801 Sherry Wine 2/4/8d per dozen.
  Ginger 1/8d per lb.
1805 Candid Orange (24th December) 1/8d per lb.
1806 Mustard 10d per lb.
  Flour 4/2d per stone.
  Brimstone 4d per lb.
1810 Nutmegs 2/6d per ounce.
  Mace 4/0d per ounce.
1816 Rum 18/0d per gallon
1817 Brandy 30/0d per gallon.
  Gin 12/0d per gallon.

The household goods included:-

1800 4 decanters 8/0d.
  Patent Saucepan 2/6d.
1805 Tea tongs 16/6d.
  1 doz. napkins 1/13/0d
  29 yards of carpet @ 4/- 5/16/0d.
  Tooth powder 6d.
1806 2 pewter pints 3/l0d.
  Snuffer 10/- Tray 16/- 1/6/0d.
1810 Silver Staffordshire pitcher 2/9d.
  Silver thimble 2/0d.

The two latter items were no doubt gifts for his wife, the pitcher probably a piece of lustre ware and the thimble one of the small but elegant products of the Georgian silversmiths, so prized by present-day collectors.

A regular monthly item was payment for magazines; other reading matter seems to have been more informative than entertaining. In September 1800 besides paying Sikes & Smart (Huddersfield printers and booksellers) for a magazine, he purchased the Agricultural Survey of W. Yorks. for 3/6d. Other titles over the years were History of Friends of Ireland, French Grammar, Young's Farmer's Calendar, Agricultural Survey of E. Lothian and, in 1805, the year of its publication, Forest Pruner by Pontey, the Huddersfield nurseryman. On 27th November 1800 he "spent at Lancasters relating to Brighouse library 1/-" and "Pd J Goldthorpe for library one year now due 8/-". Presumably this is the reason why his name is not found amongst the founders of the Huddersfield library some seven years later with his fellow Quaker, William Cooper.

Among the clothing and accessories were:-

1800 Pr. of new shoes 10/2d.
  New boots 1/8/0d.
  6 yds. dark cotton for gown 15/0d.
  Morocco shoes and clogs 9/0d.
  Knee buckles 5/0d.
  10 yds. Russia 5/10d.
  13 yds, Irish cloth 1/10/4d.
1801 Pair of ceaderay breeches 15/0d.
1804 Great coat paid John Fisher & Co. for it 2/6/6d.
  Great coat waterproofing 2/0d.
1805 Jonn. Patchett for a hat 1/1/-, stamp 3/- 1/4/0d.
  Bonnett 5/0d.
  Silk handkerchief 5/6d.
  Pr of doe leather gloves 5/0d.

The day-book provides an explanation of the following intriguing advertisement which appeared in the Leeds Mercury of 15th September 1832:-

  • HUDDERSFIELD LUSTRES Wanted a person competent to superintend the manufacture of this article in its different processes. Apply by letter, post paid, to G G, Post Office, Huddersfield, stating in whose employ the party has been and where the advertiser may have a personal interview at Huddersfield, on Tuesday, 18th September.
  • Not apparently pottery with lustre decoration, but a type of cloth, for on 9th September 1813 Firth recorded the purchase of "8 yards of lustre at 4/4d."

    Some memoranda in the day-book indicate the stance which the Quakers took against compulsory payments to the established church. In 1803 there is a note that a warrant was issued against him in respect of "Easter dues so called", and at 22nd September 1807 appears the following:-

  • Taken from Josh. Firth of Toothill by Thos. Thornton constable at the suit of Wm. Batty of Birstal for a modus for 5 years demands 5/l0d charges 10/- and take 3 stroaks and 3/5ths of wheat worth 18/- by a warrant dated 7th of Septr. 1807 signed Richard Walker, at the same tim by the sd Thos. Thornton at the suit of Wm. Hy. Coulthurst for vicars dues demand 9/6d charges 6d take 2 stroak of wheat worth 10/- by warrant dated 9th Septr. and signed Richard Walker and Josh. Priestley.
    Thos. Firth 18 years modus 1/14/~ vicar dues 9/~ charges 1/2d take 9 stroak of wheat 2/5/-.
  • The withholding of these items was a matter of principle; there appears to have been no hesitation in paying the various taxes which the State imposed at that time. In the list of clothing above, the 3/- stamp which was paid when purchasing the hat was a tax; anyone found wearing a hat without the necessary duty stamp inside it was liable to prosecution.

    Pasted into the front of the day-book is an assessment to tax dated 1806:-

    To one quarters land Tax Land Tax  
      Window Tax 1-7-6
      House Duty 2-8
      Male Servants 2-6
      Occasional Groom  
      Horse Duty 12-0
      Horses and mules inHusbandry etc. 6-3
      Four wheel carriages.  
      Two wheel carriages and taxed carts  
      Dog Tax 2-6
    One years Hair Powder Duty  
      Armorial Bearings  
      Horse Breakers  

    Joseph must not have considered it worth while to have a carriage or chaise, which is a little surprising, for he travelled extensively. His religion took him four times a year to the quarterly meeting at York and he often attended the monthly meetings at Ackworth. His canal interests found him in Todmorden, Bradford, Skipton, Burnley, Wigan, Liverpool and Blackburn at different times. His journeys to York were generally by hired chaise the cost being shared with two or three companions; his other trips were probably on horseback, though one canal meeting which he attended was reached by boat. His wife had an annual holiday of upwards of three weeks at Buxton and on at least one occasion, in 1806, Joseph accompanied her when they travelled by horse.

    A later ledger in the same collection gives the earliest reference that I have encountered to what I believe may well have been Huddersfield's first newspaper, certainly one which predated both the Huddersfield Chronicle and the Huddersfield Examiner. In an entry in February 1850 Firth notes "G Bond, Huddersfield, advertising a warehouse to let in his Town Advertiser 2/6d." No copy of the Advertiser has been traced, and we have no clues to its size or format, and very few to its content. Its name implies that its main objective was as a medium for advertising, but it would seem to have carried some news or comment on local affairs, for a letter from Barnard Henry Brook which appeared in the first issue of the Huddersfield Examiner on 6th September 1851 states "I told you, in a number of Mr Bond's Advertiser, that ..." It is not known how long the Town Advertiser existed; probably it had a very short life. Messrs Bond & Hardy have been noted as printers and booksellers in Huddersfield from 1846 to 1848, and the records of the Huddersfield Improvement Commissioners contain an item in July 1850 for printing and stationery payable to the estate of Mr G Bond, which would indicate that he was then either dead or insolvent.

    The day-book and other records of Joseph Firth are to be found at the headquarters of the West Yorkshire Archive Service at Wakefield, in the deposit of Messrs Eaton Smith & Downey under reference C296-87.

    1986 Edward J Law.

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