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Post by Stanley » 22 Apr 2012, 08:49

A sketch of his career and work by an outsider.

[printed by W&LF Mappin, artisan printers, Bolton. No date. Also printed by W & T R Morris, Hotel Street and Chancery Lane, Bolton. 1898]

[I have found a reference to a book or article called ‘A Life of Peril. The Lancashire Steeplejack’ by George Falconer published c.1902. I do not know whether there is a connection with this work but one of the sections of this publication bears this sub-title.]

The copy I have worked off is so bad that the original illustrations are too degraded to use.


Anyone undertaking to write a sketch of the career of Mr J[oseph] Smith, the ‘Lancashire Steeplejack’ is confronted with a formidable task. Volumes have been written and published about men who have done less and seen less than this celebrated expert of church spires and tall shafts ; certainly books have been produced from much more scanty data than that which is afforded by the
large number of magazine articles and newspaper accounts of his doings which Mr Smith has in his possession.

It is a good thing that these cuttings are available, for it is very difficult to get Mr. Smith to talk enough about himself and his affairs to enable one to give anything like an adequate understanding of him in print. He is a man of deeds not words as I found on first making his acquaintance. That was on the occasion of his felling a large stone stack in Lancashire. It was needful for me to get certain information from him and I never had details more readily or succinctly furnished. It was a mere question of saying exactly what I wanted; and getting it, neither more nor less. At that time Mr Smith was as perfect a stranger to me as I was to him, and not for a considerable period did I really learn how wonderful his history is, and how varied and extensive his operations are. If Mr. Smith were in want of a motto, and I had to furnish it I should select one word; ‘Thorough’. From what I have seen of him and his work and apparatus, I should say that no other word would better express his character.


The " Lancashire Steeple-jack " is a man who would delight the heart of Dr Samuel Smiles. Just as much as any of the historic characters in Self Help he has forged ahead in his calling until he stands to-day admittedly at the very head of it. It is questionable whether there is either in Great Britain or on the Continent, a man in the same line of business who can boast of such a record as Mr. Smith holds. To his own intelligence, his indomitable courage, his self- restraint and his incessant labours during a long number of years, he owes his present enviable standing as an expert in all matters relating to the tall and costly structures without which it would be impossible for English manufacturers to hold their own in these days of fierce competition.

Mr. J. Smith possesses the record in many ways. He is the largest employer of labour in Great Britain and Ireland as a master steeple-jack. In the extensive period during which he has repaired and destroyed stacks and steeples in his own country and abroad, he has never had a real accident either to himself or any of his men, although he has had some marvellous escapes. He has felled more chimneys than any other member of the trade, and he has been more prominently brought to public notice than any other man holding a like position.


Mr. Smith and his doings have been considered worthy of a special illustrated article in the Strand Magazine and numberless contributions of lesser moment have been published in other quarters. It is only a few months ago that an article appeared in such an unlikely periodical as the Durham University Journal entitled ‘The greatest steeple-jack in the world’. The writer of that paper, and I think it is advisable to quote, where possible, so that there can be no opening for supposing I am in any way biased, describes Mr Smith as follows:- ‘He is 53 years old, was born in Coventry but when quite young came to Lancashire which he now proudly proclaims to be his own county. He has a remarkable presence, and although only five feet five and a half inches in height, his striking personality immediately arrests the attention of the casual passer-by, as his clear cut features demonstrate the old saying ‘There goes a man who would tackle the Devil himself’. He does not know the taste of tobacco, and a total abstainer for nearly forty years, not a rabid, senseless exponent of the Lawson absurdities, but as he aptly puts it, ‘A man that has to do the jobs that I do can't drink and be successful’. He began life as a scaffolder, and from that slowly but surely glided into his present occupation which he has followed for the last thirty five years amidst scenes of unparalleled excitement and danger. When I met Mr Smith I was immediately struck by his features, every line of which showed strength and indomitable pluck.’."


What has been written above gives some small insight into the character of Mr Smith but there are several sidelights of very considerable interest. Mr. Smith has had his fancies. In this respect he is not perhaps much different from most men but he has been more fortunate than they in having the power to carry his desires into prompt effect. The hobby of a well-known nobleman is to travel about in a Pullman, such also is the means of recreation adopted by an author of considerable repute, but both these gentlemen were anticipated in this form of locomotion by Mr. Smith. Some years ago he fancied that he would like to live in a Pullman and that in view of the extensive journeys which he had constantly to make about the country it would be more comfortable and pleasant for him to take his home with him, than to trust himself to landlords and landladies, and possible damp, and therefore dangerous beds. In accordance with his desire he had a large and handsome
Pullman car built at a heavy cost, and in this residence he spent many happy days. Some difficulty however arose with the Corporation who did not appear to he quite able to classify the structure, and eventually Mr. Smith abandoned his home on wheels, but not without genuine regret. He now lives in a luxurious and charming house in Rochdale where he has surrounded himself with pictures and articles of vertu collected from almost every city on the continent, where from time to time he has visited.

A visitor to Mr. Smith when lie lived in his Pullman describes what he saw. In the centre of one side of the room was a very pretty, American stove which lent a cosy aspect to its surroundings. Principle amongst these were a miniature chiffonier, which also formed a kind of knee-hole desk, fitted with drawers, etc., backed by, ornamental mirrors, and covered with objects of art and vertu. This piece of furniture was specially designed and made for Mr Smith so that he could keep separate and classified, the correspondence relating to his business and music-hall affairs. Sliding tables and upholstered seats on hinges made the most of the space available. Another car was specially fitted up with all necessary cooking appliances and a third van was known by Mr Smith as his ‘country house’. This was also furnished with all the necessaries of a habitable abode, including couch, table and flap seats, American cooking range, etc., thus providing accommodation for two or three persons while engaged on a piece of work distant from home. In addition the vans were ingeniously arranged for the conveyance of ladders, planks, ropes, and any other material required in any branch of the business. By this means he found that frequently much precious time was saved consequent on having only one journey to make; and by using the vans for sleeping purposes he and his men were able to begin operations at once, early, in the morning.

In these days Mr Smith finds both change and profit in theatrical and music hall matters. He has considerable interests in these directions, and it has been often suggested to him that he should abandon his more perilous calling in their favour. Mr Smith however clings to his first love, the chimney work, and there is little doubt that he will remain associated with it to the end of the chapter.


In what has been written above an attempt has been made to give some idea of Mr Smith’s personal character and an attempt may now be made to afford a glimpse of the business side of his being. Generally speaking, the work he has done is evidence enough of his fitness to discharge any task relating to the mending or ending of chimneys, but there is something more substantial than this to work upon, and this takes the form of a testimonial the like of which is not too often given. In 1890 the Borough Surveyor of Rochdale, Mr S. S. Platt wrote a letter in which he testified to the very satisfactory manner in which, in his opinion, Mr. Smith had carried to a successful issue the straightening of one of the chimneys belonging to the Brimrod Mills, Rochdale owned by Messrs. A. Brierley and Sons, Ltd. The chimney was about forty yards high and more than a yard out of plumb. Mr Smith brought the shaft to a true plumb line, said Mr. Platt, “and I was surprised and pleased to observe this work being carried out without fracturing a single brick of the shaft near the line of cutting, so gently was it brought over. I have had previous experience of his work and this only strengthens my opinion that in arranging and executing work of this character he has no superiors and very few equals."


It would be easy to quote from many more testimonials to the same effect; but I have selected the above because it comes from a practical man and a public official and expresses in a few clear sentences just what practical business men who are likely to need Mr Smith’s services want to know. This part of the subject may be left with the statement that the Lancashire Steeple-jack has had to do with eminent business men, public men, the clergy, noblemen and gentlemen, and in no single instance has his skill or the genuineness of his labours been called in question.


So numerous are the ramifications of Mr Smith’s business that it is somewhat difficult to know exactly where to begin a description of his work; but in as much as during recent years he has made such a speciality of felling tall stacks, it may be advisable to offer a short description of his method of procedure in these tasks of destruction.

A special study of the art has been made by Mr. Smith, and so well known has lie become as an expert in this direction that he has been engaged to raze tall stacks in various parts of the United Kingdom. One of his latest achievements was the destruction of a tall stack on the estate of Lord Wantage, V,C. This work was carried out in the presence of 4,000 or 5,000 people, the necessary match to light the props being struck and applied by a niece of his lordship. Lord Wantage was not able himself to witness the destruction but on his behalf Mr Smith was warmly congratulated by Colonel Carter, his lordship’s agent, upon the way he had discharged his task.

A full and excellent description of chimney-felling was published in the Strand Magazine for December 1895 (double Christmas number). The article was based on information supplied by Mr. Smith and went into considerable detail as to his method of work. It was illustrated by a number of photographs, the blocks of which have been kindly put at the disposal of the present writer for purposes of illustration.

The contribution to the Strand Magazine covered the matter so well that no excuse is needed for quoting from it. “A lofty chimney stack which has taken several months to build can be made a heap of ruins in less than twenty days. The special process of demolition by which this result is attained is simplicity
itself. The greater part of the base is removed, and stout props are inserted to keep the chimney temporarily erect. The props are rapidly burned by a fire of intense heat and as soon as they collapse the structure falls. Given space in which he may do his work, an expert steeple-jack will bring a chimney down without damaging either life or property. Many shafts are so built that they cannot be destroyed except from the top. There is not enough room in which to fell them, their immediate vicinity being too thickly crowded with buildings. In such cases scaffolding must be erected, and the work of destruction is naturally much slower and far more costly than that of razing a stack”

The accompanying blocks explain better than any further description could do the mode of undermining and propping the condemned stack, the actual fall of the chimney when the fire has done its work and the scene immediately after the end has been reached. The first photograph represent the felling of a chimney just outside Walsden railway station which Mr Smith had been commissioned by the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company to destroy.

The next photographs show the destruction of a square brick chimney for the Bury Corporation.

The Walsden chimney was of stone, was 135 feet high and weighed about 400 tons while the structure at Bury was 120 feet high. Mr Smith works on a very methodical plan when he is commissioned to fell a stack. First he visits the structure and thoroughly examines it and if he can find a piece of open ground on which to allow the brick or stone work to fall. Having made this examination, the necessary material has to be got on the ground. As a rule this consists of between thirty or forty stout props of timber about five feet long, a ton of coal, some solid pitch, a couple of barrels of paraffin, a barrel of tar and some shavings. The material being in readiness the base of the chimney is carefully measured and a calculation made as to the extent to which it is advisable to cut away for the insertion of the props. The first portion of the brick or stone work having been removed a prop is at once inserted and this method is followed until the necessary quantity of masonry has been removed and about two thirds of the stack supported on these props. The props are arranged horizontally and vertically the horizontal ones being next to the lowest course of stones or bricks. The masonry on being taken out is mostly made into a low wall at the foot of the chimney so as to make a fireplace for the combustibles; the remainder of the debris being made into a wall inside the chimney itself; so that the flames shall be confined as much as possible to the props, and by burning them swiftly, allow the chimney to collapse at the earliest possible moment.

Making the fire is distinctly a work of art and an art in which Mr Smith excels. When once the lighted match is applied there is a blaze which would delight the heart of a fireman and take a pretty smart brigade to extinguish. But even now, perilous as his duty is, the steeple-jack does not forsake his duty. Having ordered everyone away to a safe distance he calmly feeds the fire with pitch and oil and paraffin and not until his quick and trained ear detects the collapse of the blazing props and the ominous groan which is the sure precursor of the downfall of a stack, does he himself seek refuge in a place of safety. It is then, while the enormous mass of masonry is actually poised in the air, as if uncertain where to fall, that the steeple-jack selects his road of retreat and takes it. But it must be remembered that what appears to the spectator a position of deadly peril does not strike Mr Smith as being anything but a place of absolute security.

Like a good general, he has made exact dispositions; he knows that by scarcely any possibility can anything go wrong. He has determined that the stack shall fall at a certain spot and at a certain spot it falls. So exact are his calculations that, given the necessary space he can draw a couple of parallel lines and guarantee that the ruins of a chimney shall fall between them.

But the greatest structure which Mr Smith has felled was at Higher Broughton near Manchester, The stack was 270 feet high and 92 feet in circumference at the base. The total number of bricks in it was about 1,100,000 and the total weight about 4,000 tons. This was an exceptionally heavy undertaking and it took Mr Smith and five of his men no fewer than eight working days to cut away five parts of the base of the stack and insert the props. There were 130 in number each being 5 feet 6 inches long and 7 inches by 5 inches thick. One
Difficulty in the way of bringing down this stack was that the shaft leaned in the a direction opposite from that in which it was intended to fall. The razing, however, was perfectly successful. When the bricks reached the ground they were practically uninjured. This feat, in view of the great proportions of the stack and the large population in the district attracted a great crowd of spectators amongst whom were Sir Leader Williams, engineer for the Manchester Ship Canal who complimented Mr Smith on the underpinning. The fall was witnessed by over 20,000 spectators. The accompanying block and the one on the following page show the destruction of a chimney at Gorton. [Beyer Peacock’s according to captions. SCG]


On Saturday afternoon at three o’clock precisely, the mayor and mayoress, accompanied by Miss Clayton, daughter of Mr Clayton, contractor of Oldham, appeared on the scene and were conducted to the base of the chimney by Mr Smith who handed to the ladies tapers with which they set fire to the inflammable material now supporting the huge structure. It quickly blazed up and the mayoral party retired to a safe distance, an example wisely followed by most of the huge crowd. Mr Smith alone remained in close proximity to the chimney and he could be discerned through the great volumes of smoke and lurid flame flitting about and literally adding fuel to the fire throwing buckets full of oil upon the blazing pitch-pine which cracked and roared as the great red tongues licked around them. He continued this operation until some of the crowd, apparently more concerned about his own safety than he was, shouted him to come away, a caution which he could not hear because of the roaring of the timber and which had he heard he would doubtless have considered superfluous. At the right time he retired out of harm’s way though to those uninitiated in the subtleties of chimney-felling he seemed to be perilously near when the monster collapsed as it did, sixteen minutes after ignition. It gave very little premonition of its descent. The smoke, which had been belching from the mouth in volumes black enough and dense enough to horrify the sanitary committee, suddenly thinned to the ‘moderate’ classification and a cry went up; “There she goes!” and there she did go, toppling over with such a crash and a smash that what had been three thousand tons of solid masonry lay scattered in 50,000 pieces-or thereabouts-the next. The precise number could not be ascertained for reasons probably obvious but every single brick seemed to have been separated from the others. Fifty thousand, on consideration, seems to be an absurdly moderate estimate but ‘twill serve. The fall took place in the direction indicated my Mr Smith precisely and was the signal for a lusty cheer from all the crowd excepting a score or two who had taken up position in proximity to the old lodge from which arose great clouds of sludge, dislodged violently by the weight of falling brickwork and masonry. They were plentifully bespattered with the mud and many, in ‘Sunday Best’, presented a sorry and grotesque appearance. When the dust had cleared the crowd moved forward to inspect the ruins and Mr Smith came in for much congratulation on the success of his performance.


The belting of a chimney is an operation which is frequently undertaken by Mr Smith and one that results in a renewed lease of life for the doctored stack. A very good example of encasing a chimney is that of the stack at Atlas Ironworks, Bolton belonging to Messrs. Thomas Walmsley and Sons and carried out by Mr Smith. The intense heat caused by thirty or forty furnaces which consumed one hundred tons of coal daily cracked and bulged the stack in all directions and as there was no site available to build another the plan of practically encasing the old shaft in iron was adopted. At all corners, the erection is octagonal, large iron flanges were placed and joined together with iron rods, the belts being continuous from top to bottom, a distance of 70 yards. The unusual extent of the belting made it advisable to carry the scaffolding the whole length, as the accompanying illustration shows, a work that took two or three weeks to accomplish but which had the advantage of allowing the men to proceed with their work in all weathers. There were 27 stages or platforms and some four hundred feet of poles and 7,000 feet of scaffold boards were used.


One instance of straightening a stack will show the system which the Lancashire Steeplejack invariably adopts. He had to deal with a stack 120 feet high and 44 feet in circumference at the bottom and weighing nearly 350 tons. This chimney was not less than three feet one and a half inches out of the perpendicular. In itself, the chimney was sound but through the too close proximity of a well the foundations had subsided and the shaft had got out of plumb. Mr Smith, in order to straighten the stack, cut out with chisels a course of brick from about two thirds of the convex side. A series of iron wedges varying in size from three feet to six inches were temporarily substituted for the course of brick and when the cutting had been accomplished the delicate and dangerous operation was begun of restoring the chimney to the perpendicular. The smaller wedges were first withdrawn, followed by the larger, the apertures being refilled with a thinner course of bricks and a mortar which was specially prepared at Mr Smith’s works for this particular class of work. As the wedges were taken out the shaft gradually returned to the perpendicular by the action of gravitation and finally it was brought back to a true plumb line. So gently was the stack brought over that in spite of the enormous weight above the line of the cutting not a single brick was fractured. No better testimonial than this could be afforded to Mr Smith’s care and ability. What would happen as the result of an incompetent operator bungling the job can readily be imagined. Just a little violence or a little too much material taken out of the side of the shaft and the whole structure would topple over. Experience shows that frequently a single cut will be enough to straighten a chimney but occasionally it may be necessary to make as many as four. Mr Smith, in dealing with a chimney in Lancashire that was no less than four feet six inches out of plumb, made three cuts. In this case the stack was round, made of brick and was nearly 200 feet high. In speaking of the chimney work it must be understood that all matters relating to towers, spires and steeples come within Mr Smith’s province as the shafts of factories and chemical and other works. A chimney is a good deal out of plumb when the deviation amounts to three feet and when it is in that state it needs, as a rule, prompt and skilful attention. The accompanying illustration is an admirable illustration of a leaning shaft inasmuch as the view of the stack is taken through two straight walls which serve the purpose of showing the deviation from the perpendicular.


The repairing and fixing of lightning rods on steeples towers and shafts form an important part of Mr Smith’s business and a part to which he has devoted a great deal of study and attention. It frequently happens either that a [pages 26-31 inclusive are missing.][Inserted later from a copy found by Robert Aram.] ..lightning rod is bad in itself or that the earth connection is inadequate. In either case there is a very serious risk of danger from the electrical force. A large number of chimneys are not protected with conductors and are left entirely at the mercy of the lightning; but on the other hand, many shafts are protected by two or more conductors according to their requirements. On some chimneys, especially those which belong to the electrical works, as many as half a dozen rods may be observed. Periodical inspections are necessary in order that rods may be kept in a state of efficiency and such inspections are frequently made by Mr Smith, apart from the examination of the chimney or steeple itself. It is necessary to carefully ladder a chimney in order that the inspection may be thoroughly made. The accompanying illustration shows Spen Brook Mill chimney undergoing repairs by Mr Smith after being struck by lightning. Prior to the accident the shaft was unprotected.


Scaffolding a church is carried out the same way as scaffolding a shaft, and the photograph which is reproduced herewith gives a very good example of this particular form of scaffolding,. The building represented is at Darcy Lever, in Lancashire, and has the distinction of being the only terra-cotta church in England.


Laddering and scaffolding a chimney is a very important piece of work. A very excellent example of both is given by the accompanying illustration of the chimney of the Sanitary Works at Rochdale. The structure belongs to the Rochdale Corporation and is 255 feet high with a circumference of 70 feet at the base. It has frequently been examined and repaired by Mr. Smith, and not long ago it was thoroughly overhauled and repaired by him, the work extending over a period of several months. This chimney was completely laddered on one side in two hours, but of course the scaffolding shown was gradually erected according to necessity.

To ladder a stack is a simple enough process to Mr. Smith and his assistants, especially as they have at their disposal a large stock of the latest and very best appliances. The ladder which Mr. Smith uses is of the most modern and perfect description. It is narrow, light, and very strong, and is from 18 feet to 21 feet in length. In fixing it an iron dog is driven into one of the joints of the wall, and to this the ladder is lashed. The climber gets to the top of this section and then drives in another dog to which he lashes the top end of the first ladder and the bottom end of the second. Then he goes up the second section, and from the top rung of that on which he sits cross-legged in order that he may get as much leverage as possible for driving the holdfasts into the wall he gets in his next dog. In this manner he proceeds until the top is reached, the sections of ladders being hauled up to him from the ground as he needs them.

One finds it easy enough to talk about laddering and sitting cross-legged on the top rung of a swaying piece of woodwork 200 feet or 300 feet-and often more-in the air, and for men like Mr. Smith the performance has no terrors ; but the average man cannot be blamed for excusing himself in the event of receiving an invitation to experience personally the sensation of these mid-air achievements.

It is worthy of note that when ever he is engaged in carrying out a particularly interesting or hazardous task, Mr. Smith is perfectly willing to explain his method of working and allow his apparatus to be tested by interested parties. There is a good deal of the humorist in his disposition, to judge from the cordiality with which he will invite the intelligent spectator to accompany him up a 300 feet mill chimney in order to see how the country looks from the platform at the top. Mr. Smith is apt to forget that what to himself, an expert climber, and a pretty experienced balloonist, for he has made several aerial voyages - is a mere nothing, is enough to send a most uncomfortable chill down the back of the average outsider.

Another photograph which is reproduced herewith shows a structure which is a good example of how a chimney may be preserved and kept in order. In this case the chimney, sometime after it was built, was found to have “given” at the top, and consequently part of it was removed and a new stone coping put on.
The shaft was also belted with a score of strong iron bands, and the whole of the brickwork was pointed. A considerable quantity of scaffolding was needed, and the operations covered a period of several months. The picture illustrates the system of belting, and what is technically known as “clip-and-pole" scaffolding. A scaffolding of this description is clipped, and lashed in such a manner that, provided the material is good and the workmanship sound, there is no fear whatever of a downfall, unless the chimney itself collapses. This picture also shows the method of using the seat-board, an appliance which is extensively employed in the repair of chimneys. This seat-board is so contrived that the man who is using it has entire control of the ropes by which he is suspended, and may raise and lower himself at will.

As may readily be imagined, it is no easy task to raise the planks and poles to the summit of a high chimney. It requires the efforts of two strong men to haul a single plank or pole to the top. They work from the ground, and the plank or pole is under their charge until the men above have fastened it securely in its place. To lower a scaffold is naturally an easier task than to raise one, but very great care is necessary lest a piece of wood or iron should fall to the ground. It is imperative that such a descent should be avoided, as the fall of even a small object, to say nothing of a substantial piece of timber, from such a height, would mean death to anyone on whom it alighted.


“Cramping" the stone copings of chimneys, or taking them away altogether, is an important branch of repairing shafts. When the structure is first built the stones of the coping are secured with iron cramps, these cramps being equivalent to the familiar dogs with which wooden beams are fastened together. Being of iron, the cramps corrode, and this corrosion causes the stone to burst and become a source of much danger, as the detached pieces are liable to fall to the ground at any time.

The importance of having a stone coping examined and attended to will be appreciated when it is remembered that on the top of a tall chimney the coping alone will weigh as much as thirty tons. It is necessary to exercise the greatest care in the removal of part of a coping, to ensure that the coping does not become top-heavy and fall to the ground.


Such an accident happened a few years ago it Widnes, when part of a coping fell upon a scaffold on which two men were working. The scaffold was wrecked, and the workers were dashed to the ground and killed on the spot. Mr. Smith himself has to remember a very narrow escape from the same fate. He was once employed in removing a dangerous coping, when it suddenly fell, and carried the scaffold from beneath his feet. Happily for him, he was working at the very top of the chimney and managed to throw himself on to the wall, or rather edge, which was nine inches thick; his legs being over the outside and his head and shoulders over the inside. The Lancashire Steeple-jack was somewhat scorched and suffocated by the hot air and smoke, but managed to work himself round to the ladder, by means of which he safely reached the ground.


In the Ludgate Magazine for August, 1897, there appeared an article on “Doctoring Lofty Chimneys” which, like the article in the Strand Magazine already referred to, was based on the work which is done by the Lancashire Steeple-jack. The article being, as it was, admirably illustrated from photographs of chimneys and steeples in the hands of the Lancashire Steeplejack, attracted considerable attention at the time of its appearance. The writer of the paper dealt generally with the steeple-jack's calling, and got together a good deal of reliable information concerning the repair of chimneys and steeples, and the cost that such repairs entail.

Straightening chimneys which are out of plumb has long been made a speciality by Mr. Smith. A task like this is one requiring great judgment, nerve and experience-all of which happily Mr. Smith possesses in a marked degree. It must be remembered that the most disastrous and fatal results may, and in all probability will, attend the efforts of improperly qualified persons to lengthen, strengthen, straighten or destroy a lofty chimney.

That appalling catastrophe, the collapse of the Newlands Mill chimney in Bradford on the 28th of December 1882, an accident in which 54 persons were killed and many were injured, while damage to the extent of many thousands of pounds was done to property, was caused by attempts which had been made to straighten the structure. Again, at Huddersfield on the 18th of November 1893 a chimney was brought down by a gale of wind and two men were killed to say nothing of the material damage that was done. In this case the chimney had been lengthened by a man who had simply been in the habit of ‘sweeping the flues’ of the boilers. Acting on his advice the owners added 30 feet to the structure making it 105 feet high. He did the work and not only added the ten yards but also said it would be quite safe to put on another ten. The stack was raised without any alteration being made to the base which was only six feet square. The chimney was destroyed three years later by a storm. The work of course was done to the best of the operator’s ability but obviously the shaft had been made dangerously top-heavy.

The Cleckheaton chimney disaster also tells its own tale. The stack was at Marsh Mills, Cleckheaton, Yorkshire and was undergoing repair when, on the 24th of February 1892, it collapsed and killed fourteen persons. The chimney was 180 feet high and 45 feet in diameter at the base. It was circular in form and weighed about 500 tons. In falling, the shaft crushed down for 60 or 70 feet before leaning over and falling upon and destroying the mill. This crushing down is a special feature of the collapse of a chimney which has had the whole of the base removed and replaced by props that are to be burned through in order that the chimney may be felled. This complete undermining of the base has to be accomplished when it is necessary to bring a stack down within a limited area. Mr Smith has successfully carried out some of the most important structural alterations to chimneys and spires in all parts of the country. He has long had in his charge the most crooked shaft in England. This is at Heywood where there is an octagonal chimney 190 feet high which was considerably out of plumb. The structure weighs about 2,000 tons and thanks to the periodical inspections which Mr Smith makes of it, is kept in a condition which relieves the owners of all anxiety as to its stability. This is one of the cases of owners taking a pride in their stack and seeing that neither time or money is spared to keep them in a safe and efficient state.

It may be remarked by the way that no money is better spent than that which is devoted to the maintenance of a tall chimney. It seems astonishing in view of the costliness and usefulness of these structures that it should be needful at any time to urge the necessity of exercising such care as this.


At the time of writing Mr Smith has just finished what is perhaps the record contract for repairing and putting into thoroughly good order a massive chimney. This stack is the property of Messrs. Dobson and Barlow of Bolton, Lancashire. The shaft is the largest in England. It was completed in 1843 by Mr Blinkhorn, a chemical manufacturer, and the premises, in 1846, became the property of the predecessors of the existing firm. The chimney, which rivals St Paul’s Cathedral in height, is 367 feet high and 127 feet round the base, and 34 feet in circumference at the top. The repairs were being carried on at the time of the Queen’s Jubilee, 1897, and Mr Smith, under the direction of Sir Benjamin Dobson, the head of the firm, fixed eight arc lamps of 240 candle power each which were lighted by electricity during the festivities, a sight never to be forgotten by the inhabitants of Bolton and the surrounding towns.

During the time the chimney was under repair, the well-known sportsman and theatrical manager, Mr J. F. Elliston of Bolton, a friend of Mr Smith, accompanied him to the top and calmly walked round the scaffolding being rewarded by a splendid view of the surrounding country. However, on reaching terra firma he was heard to mutter “Thank God Joe but never no more”. Nearly 1,000,000 bricks as well as 120 tons of stone were needed in the construction of the stack so that the task of executing the repairs was a very heavy and expensive one. It took Mr Smith and his employees eight months to carry out the works. A photograph showing the chimney under repair is given on the preceding page. Mr Smith may be observed standing on the very summit of the scaffolding a feat that many a man would rather rush into battle than dream of attempting. The celebrated church of Chesterfield is said to have been dedicated in 1232 though there must have been one in existence before that time. William Rufus gave it to the Dean of Lincoln. The present church is a handsome cruciform edifice partly in the Early English but principally in the Decorated Style with Perpendicular additions. It is chiefly remarkable for its lead covered wooden spire, 230 feet high, which is so much bent out of the perpendicular that it appears to lean in whatever direction it is approached. Hence Chesterfield is frequently called ‘The Town of the Crooked Spire’. Quite a storm in a teacup was once raised about the peculiarity and it was hinted of those that asserted the obliquity that the bend was in their own eyes. However, in the year 1548, measurements were taken and the ball was found to incline six feet towards the south and four feet towards the west thus conclusively restoring the reputation of the eyesight of the maligned parties. There can be little doubt that the crookedness of the spire is due to the use in its construction of green timber which became warped by the action of the sun but picturesque traditions as to its origin are not wanting. One there is to the effect that the spire bowed in admiration of a young and beautiful bride (albeit of lowly birth) who came to the church to be married and it was unable to regain an upright position.


It goes without saying that such a life as Mr Smith has followed has not been without its adventures. His career has been marked by plenty of strong incidents but as has been said, neither he or his staff have been the worse for the perils through which they have passed.

What is probably the most widely known of adventures to steeple-jacks befell Mr Smith, and within sight of his headquarters. This was the famous struggle on a chimney top with a workmen who suddenly went mad. Mr Smith was engaged on a scaffold fixed inside a chimney at Sutcliffe’s corn mill near the old railway station Rochdale. Suddenly, the one assistant who was with him gave a loud cry and leaped into space. As he disappeared his employer seized him by the ankle and the unfortunate madman hung, a dead weight, in mid air. It was a desperate moment and no man but one of iron strength and courage could have faced and overcome it. The Lancashire Steeple-jack was the man for the occasion and he rose to it nobly. The sole object of the unhappy maniac was to shake himself loose and dash himself to pieces on the ground below while the single purpose of Mr Smith was to save him. A most terrible struggle ensued a struggle which as one may readily believe was as likely to prove disastrous to the rescuer as the rescued. By an almost superhuman effort Mr Smith managed to pull the hanging body up until he could seize the belt. Having got hold of this he dragged the still-struggling workman on to the platform where the struggle was renewed more furiously than ever. Remember, these two men had to fight it out between themselves on a narrow scaffolding on a high factory chimney far beyond the reach of all human aid. So desperate was the madman that finding his repeated attempts to throw himself off ineffectual, he tried to bite himself free and to this day the Lancashire Steeple0jack bears the marks of this appalling contest. At last, becoming weak himself, and knowing he must resort to the most extreme measures for their joint safety he seized a small crowbar and with it struck the struggling man a stunning blow to the head. But even this was not enough and before the unhappy man could be subdued another was needed. Then the Lancashire Steeple-jack found it was possible to lower the man to the ground by means of a rope attached to his belt. By the time the ground was reached the maniac had almost recovered consciousness again and the terrible nature of his attack may be understood when it is stated that on a stone bottle of brandy being applied to his lips as a restorative he bit the neck off with his teeth. The man eventually recovered. This terrible encounter was witnessed by a considerable number of people at Rochdale railway station who were waiting for their trains and created amongst them an almost indescribable sensation.

So much for the Lancashire Steeple-jack’s most marvellous adventure. He has had other experiences which would upset once and for all the equilibrium of the average man and destroy his confidence in himself. In the month of August 1889 Mr Smith, having safely installed a lightning rod on the new steeple at Friarmere church Delph made ready to install one on a mill chimney at Linfitts. So that he might ascend the chimney, which was 75 feet high he had, as usual, fixed ladders one above the other. While fixing the last section of laddering at the top of the stack part of the ladder collapsed with the result that Mr Smith was thrown to the ground below. The horrified spectators naturally enough expected to find that after such a horrific descent the steeple-jack no longer lived but to their amazement they found that although badly hurt he was still breathing. He was carried into an adjacent cottage and a medical man was immediately sent for. Before the doctor arrived the steeple-jack’s wonderful constitution and good fortune permitted him to seat himself in a chair. No one was more amazed than the surgeon at finding the patient living after such an accident but what astonished him most was that on making an examination he found that no bones were broken and that with the exception of a few bad bruises Mr Smith was none the worse for his fall. A cab was sent for whereupon Mr Smith still further showed what he was made of by walking to it without assistance and getting inside in order to be driven home. This was practical proof of the value of abstinence in every way and rigid attention to exercise and cleanliness.

The Lancashire Steeple-jack regards as his most hazardous undertaking the climb he made to the summit, 265 feet from the ground, of the spire at Rochdale Town Hall some years ago on the anniversary of the birthday of the late Mr John Bright. As all the world knows, Mr Bright was proud of Rochdale where he now lies buried in the unpretentious Quaker graveyard, and Rochdale was proud of him, and so that proper honour may be done the statesman it had been resolved to place a flag on the summit of the spire so that the world might see and approve. The height of the point to be reached was great but that in itself was nothing. It was a question of shinning, swarming, hanging on by one’s teeth or eyebrows almost, anything so long as the top was reached and the emblem displayed. Undaunted, the Lancashire Steeple-jack began climbing hand over hand by the lightning rod which was attached to the side of the spire. To his dismay he found that the conductor was in a very insecure state. But it was not the time for turning back nor was he a man to entertain thought of a retreat. He went shinning up and at length reached the top of the spire. But here another dangerous task awaited him. There was in those days, and on that building, it is no more, an antique and fearsome public ornament in the shape of a figure of St George, a substitute for the weathercock which was supposed to adorn the summit, and finish it gracefully off. It was the Lancashire Steeple-jack’s duty to climb upon the shoulders of this singular being and lash around his chest an 18 feet pole to which the banner was attached. Mr Smith climbed, and lashed and conquered and descended to the ground amid the shouts of the admiring multitude. To this day the achievement is spoken of with pride by Rochdale people, in fact, like many more of his doings it has become an established part of the history.

One more instance must suffice of Mr Smith’s escape from a fate which no man, however bold, can contemplate without a shudder. When a chimney is being felled and is on the point of collapsing it gives what is technically known as a groan and the operator knows that the time has come for him to run as swiftly as possible to a place of safety. Mr Smith has cause to be grateful for a groan like that because on one occasion he undoubtedly owed his life to such a note of warning. He was working on a lofty chimney which was greatly out of plumb when he heard the ominous sound. To hear it was almost to listen to the knell of death itself and no man knows this better than Mr Smith. He was then, as he is now, a man of wonderful activity and like a cat he slipped down the life line and reached the ground in safety and fled from the falling stack. Long experience had told him which way the stack would fall and he did not lose his head even in the moment of deadly peril. He had only got to a distance of about ten yards when the entire structure fell, with a sound like thunder, to earth, debris piling itself up on the side opposite to that on which the steeple-jack was escaping.


It must not be forgotten that climbing a chimney is an art which is peculiarly confined to the few; so is sitting on a seat board whilst at work on the side of a stack and walking on narrow scaffold boarding high in the air, especially when the stack amuses itself by performing a stately waltz which it will do if properly built and a good breeze is blowing. No less a distinguished person than the late monsieur Blondin, clever as he was at cooking and riding and walking on a tight rope stretched across Niagara, had to confess that for some reason or other he could not climb a chimney. He was once performing in a town where the Lancashire Steeple-jack was putting a tall shaft in order. Mr Smith, with his unfailing politeness invited the celebrated Frenchman to make an ascent of the stack but M. Blondin declined on the grounds that he had not the head for that sort of thing. Apropos of this incident a writer in the Ludgate Magazine said “To a man who thinks no more of climbing a chimney or a church steeple than he thinks of going upstairs, it is a mystery that other people cannot look at the matter in the same way. “You would think nothing of walking a plank placed on two chairs” said a steeple-jack (This was Mr Smith) “Why should you be afraid of walking a plank lashed to two poles even if it is 200 or 300 feet in the air?” I was only able to answer that I couldn’t, which I thought was a sufficient explanation.”


I have tried to show something of the character of the Lancashire Steeple-jack as a man and to give some idea of the chimney and church work in which he is so constantly and extensively engaged. But it must not be supposed that what has been written exhausts all the available material.

Quite apart from his primary calling Mr Smith is prominently engaged in a flourishing music-hall undertaking at Rochdale, is manager of another large theatre of varieties and director of another and was for many years closely connected with a successful theatre undertaking in Manchester, while for ten years he was manager of that successful fete; the Rochdale Infirmary Gala.

Whatever work he sets his hand to do, he does to the best of his ability and his theatrical and other ventures have been just as successful as his ordinary business operations. It is foreign to the purpose of this sketch to do more than allude to these outside ventures. What the writer has tried to show and what he believes he has accomplished is that in his own peculiar calling the Lancashire Steeple-jack stands unrivalled.


“Good God, look at Smith!”

Look indeed, of all the thrilling, horror-inspiring sights commend me to that to which my gaze was suddenly directed by a friend at whose house I was visiting a few years ago.

We were on our way to the railway station at Rochdale in Lancashire. I had just completed my stay at that smoky dirty noisy town and was about taking my departure after having had my fill of all the various sports and amusements that Lancashire’s lads are adept at providing. I was not however to leave without witnessing something the like of which heaven forbid I should ever look on again.

Who Smith was I did not then know. I know him now. He filled my mind on the occasion I am referring to to such an extent that the very sound of that very common name now means to me what consummate coolness, confidence, strength and nerve mean to others, it embraces and implies each and all of those virtues we read of many men possessing but which I vouch we rarely see exhibited under such terrible circumstances as those to which my eyes were then attracted.

High up above the town, some 200 feet, at the top of a factory chimney, a life and death struggle between two men was taking place. One moment I looked; the next I turned my back. A crowd was hurrying towards the chimney, faces were turned upwards, a look of awe on every one of them. “By God, he’s o’er!” “Nay, he’s howd on him”.

At my first glance I had seen a man falling from a narrow stage round the top of the chimney. What did these loud ejaculations mean? Had the man not fallen? I was impelled to turn and look again. And at that giddy height was the man hanging head downward, held by the ankle by another man, Mr Smith. The screams, the shouts, the rushing away from and rushing towards the chimney made it impossible to form any conception of what the previous actions of the two men implied, I was too overcome to ask any questions. I could hear and I could see.

“They’ve been wresting and feighting and Smith threw t’other, who went o’er th’edge on’t stage. Smith copped him be th’onkle, I seed it ah, and by God if he lets go of yon mon’s foot he issel ul hev to hang in a different fashion” says an old Lancashire lad next to me.

“He’ll noan let go” says another, “when Smith means sticking he’ll stick. What beats me is why t’other can’t be still. If they’ve been feighting it’s a damn rum shop for t’job and it’s time for one of ‘em to give in at ony rate. Sithee again, he’s kicking and squirming same as if he meant to give Smith sommat. I’ll go to hell if I can make it out lads.”

The idea that Smith and his assistant had had words at the top of the chimney, that the words had come to something worse and that the struggle had been brought about by the present awful position was generally believed by those who had heard the first speaker who had “seen it all”. Others thought an accident had happened and expected it to end by one, if not both of the men at whom they were gazing being shattered to pieces at their feet.

To me the whole thing was appalling, horrible, ghastly. I thought not of how the terrible scene had been brought about or was that kicking, struggling, writhing piece of humanity held by one foot going to fall, a mangled mass of flesh, blood and bone at the bottom of the chimney or was the hand that held it strong enough to save it? The suspense was too painful. Suspense is always painful. The feeling almost made me cry out let him go. Some did so cry out. I wonder if Smith heard up there? Did he see a crowd of white faces before which he was playing a drama more grim than ever the wit of man conceived? If the man would but be still! Why does he swing about so? Why does he whirl his arms and endeavour to free his foot from the grasp of Smith? If the hand doesn’t release him both will come down together. Perhaps he wants to bring Smith down with himself. So long as Smith is killed he does not care about himself. Surely such murderous hatred as that cannot exist. Yet why does he struggle so and why did the two men fight in the first place? Choosing such a place looks as if they knew one at any rate must go to his death.

“If Smith lets go of yon mon’s foot he issel will have to hang in a different fashion” the same speaker repeats the same words as before. “They’ve quarrelled” says this witness and if the result of the struggle which followed results in the death of the man now suspended in mid-air then Smith is guilty of manslaughter or murder. Realising this he now holds on tightly to the man’s foot. Whilst doing this his own life is in the greatest jeopardy. The stage he is now leaning over looks to my inexperienced eye just large enough for a decent sized sparrow to roost on and no more. “He’d better let him go than come down himself”.

Smith holds on! The man’s struggles seem worse than ever. At last Smith seems to make an extra effort. He draws the man upwards. The end must come soon now. It’s beyond human strength to hold up another in such a way as that for more than an instant. Smith knows it and lets go of the foot with one hand and shoots the other out. Heaven knows how he did it without over-balancing himself but “He’s getten him by t’belt, he’s getten him by t’belt” proclaims the success of his daring effort, another one and the man is on the stage!

A short curtain; a sigh of relief from every individual in the crowd, a sort of shaking ourselves together and “Why! They’re feighting again!” Every eye turned upwards once more. The curtain has just risen for the final act. Smith raises his hand in which we just perceive he holds a hammer or some other implement and with it he delivers a blow on the head of the man he has just lifted out of the reach of death! No more struggling! The man is quiet enough now.

We look at one another. We want to know what it all means. “Might as well have dropped him to t’foot o’t chimney as knock his brains out wi’ an ‘ammer. What’s he agait on now?” Smith is standing up working at his ropes. He kneels down and in a few moments we see the head and shoulders of his companion hanging over the edge of the stage and that Smith has attached a rope to him. The next minute he pushes him off and slowly lowers him to the ground. There is a rush to the chimney; “He’s dead!” passes through the crowd. “Let me pass please” and a gentleman pushes his way through “Aye, let t’doctor come chaps” I look up at the chimney and see Smith coming rapidly down like a spider and as he gets to the bottom there is a smile on his face, he’s actually laughing! “Have I hit him too hard? He had hold of my thumb in his teeth and struggled so I had to quieten him with a bar of iron.” “No” says the doctor, “I don’t think the blow has done more than stop his struggles, he’s still in the fit!”

In a fit at the top of a factory chimney! I look at Smith and I feel I must shake hands with him and am just about to approach him when my friend pulls me by the arm saying “We can just catch the train if you are slippy” I leave most reluctantly. “I want to see and hear more of Smith.” “So you shall but it will take a month of Sundays to tell you all about him. We are both fond of a wrestle, and we have seen one at the top of a mill chimney today. It’ll satisfy us for a bit won’t it?”

“It will” I reply and jumping onto the train I try to compose myself.

What my friend told me about Smith, the Lancashire steeple-jack some time after I must leave for another time, but should the reader ever meet that remarkable man he will find if he looks on the thumb on one of his hands the marks of a man’s teeth and if he asks the cause of them he will get the tale I have just told confirmed.


Mr L N Fowler, the eminent phrenologist of Imperial Buildings, Ludgate Circus, London gives the following sketch of Mr J Smith. Several of the most striking developments strikingly illustrate Mr Smith’s natural aptitude for the calling of ‘Steeple-jack’. It may be incidentally remarked that Mr Fowler had no intimation of the profession of his subject until after the sketch had been written.

Manchester, April 1st 1887
Mr J Smith has a powerful constitution, unusual muscular strength, great self-reliance, unconquerable will and determination of mind. He has also great forethought and calculation. He takes everything into account and prepares beforehand whatever he has to do and adheres very tenaciously to course he has laid out. He is also noted for his originality of mind, he has thoughts and plans of his own, is quite original, easily comprehends the situation and takes a large and broad view of things. He has vivid imagination and is liable to express himself in vigorous, if not extravagant language. He is sentimental, emotional poetical, enthusiastic and inventive. He has great power of observation, he judges very accurately of distance and can measure correctly by the eye, he would make a good shot. He is remarkable for his kindness of disposition and is not inclined to severity, cruelty or quarrelsomeness. He is very well adapted for any sphere of life that demands presence of mind, perseverance, judgement, thoughtfulness and care. He also has a very active sense of duty, obligation and makes very nice distinctions between right and wrong. He has great power to resist disease, to overcome impediments where others would give over. He can go longer without food than nine men out of ten. Few men have such power to do vigorous work with so much mildness, gentleness of character and good nature for he dislikes quarrelling. He dislikes to see blood or see anything die. As a speaker he would have good conversational talent and could get himself off much better than many with an education superior to him.
L N Fowler.


Albert Mill, Bacup.
Albert Spinning Co. Heywood
Ashworth’s, Stansfield Print Works, Littleborough.
Mr M Ashworth, cotton waste Dealer, Rochdale.
Aughton Pumping Station, Ormskirk.
A Ambler and Sons, Wilsden.
Messrs W & J Almond. Darnsworth.
Albany Spinning Co. Middleton.
Arkwright Spinning Co, Rochdale.

A Brierley & Sons Ltd. Cotton manufacturers, Rochdale.
A Brierley & Sons Ltd. Sparth Bottoms, Rochdale.
Mr William Brierley, Borough Brass Works, Rochdale.
J Baker and Sons, ironfounders, Rochdale
Bulcock and Holden, brewers, Walsden.
J Barcroft, Carpet Works, Newchurch,
Butterworths, Elbow Lane Mill, Rochdale.
Broadley Wood Spinning Company, Broadley.
Bridge Mill Spinning and Manufacturing Company Ltd. Norden.
J Baron and Sons, Summercastle Works, Rochdale.
J Barnes, Firgrove Mill, Rochdale.
R Beaumont and Sons. Slaithwaite.
Balsgate Spinning and manufacturing Co. Norden.
G F Buckley, Linfitts House and mill, Delph.
Blackitts Cotton spinning and manufacturing Co. Norden.
Broadbent Brothers, Milnrow Road, Rochdale.
Burn’s Ring Spinning Co Ltd, Heywood.
John Bright and Brothers, Rochdale
Bamford Brothers, Crossfield Mill, Wardle.
James Barlow, Bridge Mills, Whitworth.
Broadbent and Sons, Phoenix Works, Stalybridge.
Britannia Mills, Haslingden.
J Bulcock, Rake Head, Burnley.
Bentley’s Yorkshire Brewers Ltd.
Bairstow and Sons, millers, Keighley.
Barnes and Company, Moses Gate, Bolton.
Beyer Peacock and Co,. Gorton. (9 chimneys)
Blair and Sumner, Mill Hill, Bolton.
Burnley Cooperative Society.
Burnley Corporation Baths.

Crosses and Winkworth, Bolton.
Crawford Spinning Company, Rochdale.
Commission Street Brewery, Bolton.
W E Carey, Redbank Axle works, Manchester.
Messrs Chorlton, Bankside mills, Rochdale.
E Clegg and Sons, Albert Mills, Milnrow.
E Clegg and Sons, Shore Mills, Shore.
Castleton Spinning Co, Heywood.
Calderbank Printing and Bleaching Co, Littleborough.
A Chadwick, Pike House Mill, Littleborough.
T Crabtree, Fallinge Road, Rochdale.
Castleton Chemical Co.
J Coupe and Co. Rose Hill Mill, Littleborough.
Mr Christie Hector, Settle.
Cowm Waterworks, Rochdale.
Coal Clough House, Burnley.
Cook Sons and Co. Liversedge.
J Croysdale and Sons, Whitely Bridge.
Crawshaw and Co. Cinderford, Gloucestershire.

Duchess Spinning Co. Shaw.
Derby Mills Cotton Spinning Co. Heywood.
Duckworth Brothers, Mere Lane Mill, Rochdale.
James Duckworth’s Hotel, Rochdale.
John Duckworth, Haslingden.
Palace Theatre, Manchester.
J Duckett and Sons, Sanitary Ware Works, Burnley.
Dobson and Barlow, Bolton.

Ebor Ironworks, Littleborough.
Ewood Bridge Mill, Ewood Bridge.

T F Firth and Sons, Flash Mill, Heckmondwyke.
Colonel Fishwick, Rochdale.

Grant’s Estate, Ramsbottom.
Thomas Gerrard and Son, Adlington.
Globe Bobbin Works, Garston.
G Gleave, Oil and Tallow merchants, Bolton.
Mr Grindrod, Mayfield Mill, Rochdale.
Gale Print Works, Littleborough.
Grimsworth Dyeing Co., Midge Hole Mill, Hardcastle Crags.
Glodwick Spinning Co. Oldham.
Greenwood Head and Co,. Hebden Bridge.

Mr E Healey, Smallbridge Mill, Small Bridge.
R Healey and Sons, Dob Wheel Mill, Smallbridge.
T Healey and Co, cotton manufacturers, Rochdale.
Mr Holt, rope and twine manufacturer, Rochdale.
Hollingworth Lake Company.
Healy Brothers, rope and twine manufacturers, Rochdale.
Joshua Hoyle and Sons, Summerseat.
Mr Heap, Two Bridges Mill, Newhey. (Later Kirks)
Hoyle, Petrie and Co, cotton manufacturers, Rochdale.
Hargreaves and Son, Hey Mill, Heywood.
Hall and Rogers, Smithy Bridge.
Hamer Hall New Mill Company, Rochdale.
Heywood Spinning Company, Heywood.
Haugh Spinning Co. Newhey.
Mr W Hall, Victoria Mill, Stacksteads.
Hardman Brothers, Acre Mill, Stacksteads.
Holroyd and Co. Warp sizers, Rochdale.
T Holt, Grease Mills, Castleton.
T Heap and Sons, Newhey.
Heap Clough Spinning Co. Haslingden.
S Heap and Sons, Caldershaw.
W T Heap, Eversleigh House, Rochdale.
Mr Hartley’s house, Littleborough.
Mr Hill, Union Slipper Works, Waterfoot.
J Howarth, Red Lumb Mill, Norden.
James Hoyle, Acre Mill, Hebden Bridge.
Hartfords’ Coal Pit, Oldham.
Hooley Bridge Mill, Heywood.
Hick Hargreaves and Co, Bolton.
Holdsworth and Gibbs, Swinton.
Hutchinson and Hollingworth, Dobcross.
Hitchon, Son and Lancaster, Burnley.
J Hurstwood and Sons, Cobden Mill, Moses Gate.
J E Hartley, Littleborough.

Ince Coal and Cannel Co. Wigan.
Mr J A Ingham, Todmorden.

Mr Jamieson, Salford Bridge Mill, Clitheroe.
Jackson, McConnan and Temple, Liverpool.

Mr Kay, Mill, Heywood.
Kelsall and Kemp, Rochdale.
J King and Sons, Moss Mills, Rochdale.
Kershaw and Co, Dickens Green Mill, Rochdale.
J & W Kirkham, Brass Founders, Bolton.
J Kenyon and Sons, Bury.
Killet and Ellis, Wigan.

Lord, Schofield and Co, Smallbridge.
Lee and Hargreaves, Hooley Bridge,
Lord Brothers, Rainshore Mills, Norden.
Littleborough Gas Works.
A & W Law, Durn Mill, Littleborough.
E Leech and Son, Green Grove Mill, Smallbridge.
Littleborough Manufacturing Company, Frankford Mill.
J Lee and Sons, Flannel Manufacturers, Rochdale.
Lord Brothers, John Street, Heywood.
A & W Law, Lydgate Mill, Littleborough.
Littlewood and Heap, Low Hill Mill, Smallbridge.
Ladyhouse Spinning Co, Milnrow.
E Lord and Co, Roche Mill, Smallbridge.
Leach and Sons, Harridge Mills, Spotland.
Levi Lumb, Brotherhood Mills, Spotland.
Leach and Sons, Kitcliffe Hall, Ogden.
Liversedge and Sons, Huddersfield.
Liverpool Corporation.
Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Co.
Littleborough Dyeing Company.

Manchester Ship Canal Company.
J & W McNaught, Rochdale.
Midge Hole Mill, Cragg Vale.
Moss Brothers, Eastwood.
J Maude and Son, Hebden Bridge.
Mr Francis Mather, Whitefield.
Middleton Corporation Baths.
E Mills and Company, Globe Ironworks Radcliffe.
Colonel Mellor, Crooked Chimney, Heywood.
Milnrow Gas Company.
Melland and Coward, Burnley.
Mr Morris, print manufacturer, Birkenhead.
Mitchell Hey Mills, Rochdale.
John Mason, Globe Works, Rochdale.
Musgrave and Sons, Bolton.
J & J Makin, Rochdale.
Moss Lane Spinning Company, Oldham
Manor Brewery, Salford.
Mutual Spinning Co. Heywood.
T & W Meadows, Heaton Norris, Stockport.
McCall and Robinson, Blackburn.

Nuttall Spinning Co, Ramsbottom.
Newhey Spinning Company. (Ellenroad Mill)
Norreys brothers, Heywood.
New Bacup and Wardle Commercial Co.
Nicholson and Sons, Farnworth.

J & E Orr, Castleton.
Messrs O’Neill, Linden Mill, Castleton.
J Ormerod and Sons, leather manufacturers, Castleton.
Ormskirk Waterworks.
Oxford Mill Company, Whitworth Road, Rochdale.
Oldham, Rochdale and Middleton Coal Company.
J Oates and Sons, Dewsbury.

Pearson and Knowles Coal and Iron Co. Warrington.
Powder Magazine, Facit Moor.
Thomas Piercy, Nelson.
J Petrie, Phoenix Foundry, Rochdale.
J Pilling , Norwich Street Mills, Rochdale.
S Porrit and Sons, Rochdale.
W A Peters and Sons, Rochdale.
Platt Brothers, Oldham.
Phoenix Brewery, Heywood.
Perseverance Mill Company, Heywood.
J Parker and Son, Builders, Rochdale.
Park Street Spinning Company, Heywood.
W Pilling and Son, Moss Lock and Victoria Mills, Rochdale.
J Parker, Sun Bank House, Shawclough.

J Radcliffe and Company, Moss Hall Mill, Rochdale.
J Radcliffe and Sons, Balderstone.
Rochdale and Oldham Brewery Company.
W Rumney and Company, Ramsbottom.
Rochdale Corporation Sanitary Works.
Rochdale Cooperative Corn Mill.
Rochdale Equitable Pioneers.
Rochdale Cotton Spinning Company Ltd.
Ramsden Wood Print Works, Walsden.
T Robinson and Sons, Railway Works, Rochdale.
Rochdale Union Workhouse, Dearnley.
W & R Robinson, Woollen manufacturers, Rochdale.
Rochdale Cooperative Malt Works, Castleton.
Mr Radcliffe, Balderstone Hall, Rochdale.
Rochdale Spinning Company.
Rochdale School Board.
Rochdale Technical School.
Rylands and Sons Manchester.
Thomas Reed and Sons, Pendleton.
Rochdale Free Library.
Reddish Brick and Tile Company.
Rhyl Waterworks.
Messrs Robinson, Belfield Mills.

Southport Waterworks.
J Schofield and Sons, Stubley Mills, Littleborough.
Sanitary Works, Rochdale.
Standard Mill Spinning Co, Rochdale.
School Street Mill, Rochdale.
Smallshaw Mill, Rooley Moor.
J Smith, Uncouth Bridge, Milnrow.
Stead Dyeworks, Hebden Bridge.
Shaw and Sons, Victoria Mill, Huddersfield.
Springfield Pumping Station.
Smith and Sons, Phoenix Mill, Heywood.
Sharp and Son, Prospect Mill, Bingley.
Smithson Brothers, Facit.
Sowerby Bridge United District Flour Society.
Colonel Sandys, MP. Graythwaite Hall.
Scout Cotton Spinning Co. Newchurch.
Stansfield and Co. Baltic Mill, Waterfoot.
Schofields New mill, Littleborough.
Stuttard Brothers, Sizers, Whitworth.
Sutcliffe and Smith, Britannia Mill, Bacup.
Smith and Sons, machinists, Heywood.
Schofield Foundry Company, Littleborough and Rochdale.
Mr Southwell, bobbin manufacturer, Rochdale.
Mr Standring, Clover Spring Works, Rochdale.
Stubley Hall, Featherstall.
J Schofield and Company Buckley Hall Mills, Rochdale.
W Shaw and sons, Vale and Rydings Mills, Rochdale.
S Sidebottom, Woodbine Street, Rochdale.
Mr E Schunck, Wicken Hall Bleachworks, Newhey.
Schofield and Sons, Flannel manufacturers, Milnrow.
Stott Brothers, Wasp Mills, Wardle.
J Schofield and Co, Green Vale Mill, Littleborough.
Lionel Smith and Co, Bury.
R Schofield, woollen manufacturer, Oldham Road, Rochdale.
Shaw Spinning Company.
S Smith and Sons, Dyers, Bradford.
Spen Brook Manufacturing Co, Brierfield.
Sieber and Co. Shawclough.

John Tattersall Ltd, Manufacturer, Bamford.
E Taylor, builder, Littleborough.
Jacob Tweedale and Sons, Healy Hall Mill, Healey.
S Taylor, and sons, Crossfield mill, Rochdale.
Mr Tomlinson, Soho Ironworks, Rochdale.
S Turner and Co. Clod Mill, Spotland.
Thorney Lee Spinning and Manufacturing Co, Whitworth.
Taylor Brothers, Waterworks Mill, Ogden.
James Taylor, Clough Mill, Wardle.
J Thomas, Hanging Royd, Hebden Bridge.
Joseph Taylor, Preserve manufacturer, Radcliffe.
Trafalgar Mill, Smithy Bridge.
Tweedale and Smalley, Castleton.
Two Bridges Mill, Newhey.
Townhead Mill, Rochdale.
Taylor, Ormerod and Sons, Walsden.
Tynewydd Brickworks, Rhyl.
Taylor’s Dyeworks, Bolton.

Union Paper Mill, Rochdale.
Union Spinning Co. Bolton.

Vacuum Timber Seasoning co. Canada Docks, Liverpool.

Whitaker and Wild, Heywood.
Walker and Whitaker, Primrose Mill, Rochdale.
Wallis and clough, Castleton.
Watson Brothers, Bobbin manufacturers, Cornholme.
Walsden Chemical Company.
Mr Whitley, Caldershaw Dyeworks, Hebden Bridge.
Mr S Wood, machinist, Cleckheaton.
B Wright, Prospect Mill, Wibsey.
Wood Brothers and Hill, Brighouse.
Wellington Corn Mill, Rochdale.
Wham Bar Spinning Co, Heywood.
J Whitworth and Sons, Facit.
Mr Woods, Birch Mills, Birch.
Mr Wood, Cotton Spinner, Middleton.
Winterbottom, Greaves and co, Spring Mill, Oldham.
J & G Walker, Spotland New Mill, Rochdale.
G Whitaker, Holmes Mill, Rochdale.
E Whitaker, Spotland Bridge New Mill, Rochdale.
Wellfield Corn Mill, Rochdale.
W & R Whitaker, Woodbine Street, Rochdale.
Wolstenholme and Wild, Bamford Road, Heywood.
Wicken Pease and Co, Deptford, London.
Lord Wantage, Berkshire.
Walkers, St Helen’s Mill, Bolton.
Wilson and Sons, Clegg Hall Mill, Rochdale.
J & E Wood, Engineers, Bolton.
Thos. Wrigley, contractor, Salford.
Messrs, Windsors, Rochdale.
Mr Walworth, Gorton Saw Mills.
Walmsley and Sons, Atlas Forge, Bolton.
F Woodward, Clifton Mills, Burnley.

Yew Mill Co, Heywood.
Messrs. Yates, Castleton.

Cathedral Manchester.
All Saints Church, Hamer.
St Luke’s Church, Heywood
Linfitts church, Heywood.
Caldermoor church, Littleborough.
Dearnley Schools
Parish Church, Fallinge
Healey Church
Mytholm church, Hebden Bridge.
St Paul’s church, Norden.
Newhey church
St Martin’s church Castleton.
St Thomas Church, Bolton
Milton Church, Rochdale
Parish church, Milnrow
Town Hall, Rochdale
Cemetery church, Rochdale
St Alban’s church, Rochdale
St Saviour’s church, Bacup
Wardle church,
Town Hall, Milnrow.
Board Schools, Cronkeyshaw
Fire Station. Rochdale.
Studley Pike
Infirmary, Rochdale
Parish Church, Rochdale
Balderstone Church, Rochdale.

Transcribed by SCG. 15/02/06


I first came across this text when Peter Tatham lent me his battered photocopy of the book in about 1975. I copied it and over the years it got mis-filed and I lost it. In a recent search through the files on a quite separate matter I stumbled over the text filed with some old legal documents. I can hear my old secretary now as she lectured me on the folly of not removing a folder from the filing cabinet before inserting the document you were filing. You were quite right Audrey! Now shut up please!

As many of you will know, I have considerable experience of transcribing texts which are so indistinct that they will not allow use of Optical Character Recognition. OCR is a great tool and saves many hours of work but when you are forced to manage without it and have passed through the initial frustration you can settle down to a simple re-typing job. Whilst this takes longer, it has advantages. I find that re-typing a text means that you have to really concentrate on it and gain more insight than a simple reading, no matter how thoroughly this is done. One example is that you tend to want to edit when an archaic construction or word is used but of course cannot do it because this is not editing; however, the fact that the urge arose flags up the difference in syntax between now and 1902.

In the same vein, another thing that struck me in the text was the rigid class barrier. The man who wrote this is evidently deep in the throes of hero-worship but still manages to let slip his surprise almost that Smith was a good public speaker though ‘ill-educated’. Think of Biggles and his mechanic; Dick Barton and the cheerful Cockney sidekick and most recently, Morse and Lewis. But back to Joseph Smith……

Joseph Smith is not a fictional character and neither are any of the exploits noted in the sketch. I have come across small references to him in other areas and Peter Tatham, my old steeplejack in the 1980s told me that his Grandfather, Henry Tatham, who was also a master Jack, told him about Smith long before Peter found the book. Everything in the book was confirmed by Peter as being what his grandfather told him. There is little doubt that he was a top man and some of the tasks, like straightening chimneys, would never be attempted nowadays on the grounds of safety.

Mind you, it did slightly amuse me that the writer thought that the episode of Smith falling off the chimney and surviving was incontrovertible proof of all the qualities that built the Empire when in fact the root cause was being careless enough to use a defective ladder in the first place. Forget the rest of it, it was a totally avoidable accident with a little foresight. I’ve seen Peter test ladders before he would allow them up the chimney and know that he wouldn’t have been guilty of that one.

The other incident that struck me was the climb up the lightning rod on Rochdale Town Hall to put up the flag for the Jubilee. This is straight out of ‘Boy’s Own’ and G. A. Henty and I don’t buy it. The only explanation I can conceive, apart from a severe dose of over-egging by the sketch writer, is that Smith allowed his obvious show-business tendencies to overcome common sense.

I also liked the reprint of the article from The Ludgate Magazine which I suspect is written by the author of the sketch. This manages to combine the Henty view of heroic activity with the worst aspects of the Orwellian ‘Road to Wigan Pier’ syndrome. I say ‘worst’ and shouldn’t really use that word, the patronising attitude of the Southern visitor to the grimy ‘Northern Town’ is of its time and should be noted rather than criticised. Nevertheless, it is a good evocation of the attitudes that prevailed in those days, the ‘working-class’ hero seizing the attention of the cultured writer steeped in the ethos of Empire and natural superiority.

Enough, I am carping, this is a good read, basically accurate and contains much that should be of interest to the industrial or social historian. I commend it to the house.

Lost text added 11 December 2006 from an original copy provided by Robert Aram.
Stanley Challenger Graham
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"Beware of certitude" (Jimmy Reid)
The floggings will continue until morale improves!

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Post by Stanley » 12 Sep 2014, 05:21

Stanley Challenger Graham
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"Beware of certitude" (Jimmy Reid)
The floggings will continue until morale improves!

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Post by malvernc » 16 Jun 2020, 15:00

I've recently being doing research into my family history in Coventry and have come across various references to Joseph Smith, the Lancashire Steeplejack being born in Coventry. This seemed to baffle me so I have done a bit of research. The reference to Coventry seems to trace back to an article in the March 1902 edition of The Windsor Magazine. This article is reported widely across a large number of British Newspapers in March 1902. The Coventry Herald calls him a famous Coventry celebrity and also on his death in 1903 refers to him as the Coventry Steeplejack but both reports reference The Windsor Magazine. There was another article from July 1898 which tells of the work of The Lancashire Steeplejack, Joseph Smith from Rochdale, which is the atricle published above. This attributes the details of his birthplace to the Durham University Journal. The earliest article I can find is from 1889 which tells how he scaled the Eiffel Tower right to the summit. but there is no reference to Coventry. In my search through the Coventry records I could find no record of Joseph's birth in Coventry around 1844.

Further research reveals the following:

Bolton Evening News 16th February 1903 - In the announcement of his death it states "He was 60 years of age and a native of Bolton, having been born in Brink's-Brow, now Chorley-Street."

The 1851 census shows him living at 100 Chorley Street. The occupants of the house are:

William Smith, Head, 34, Shoemaker, born Little Bolton
Elizabeth Smith, Wife, 29, Frame tenter at Cotton Mill, born Little Bolton
William Smith, Son, 8, Scholar, born Little Bolton
Joseph Smith, Son, 7, Scholar, born Little Bolton
Ann Smith, Daughter, 4, born Little Bolton

I then found the Baptismal records from Bolton-le-Moors, St Peter:

3rd July 1842 William son of William and Elizabeth Smith Great Bolton Shoemaker
27th July 1845 Joseph son of William and Elizabeth Smith Little Bolton Shoemaker
6th August 1848 Ann daughter of William Elizabeth Smith Little Bolton Shoemaker

Bolton was in the Diocese of Coventry and Lichfield but this was back before 1540 but It looks to me as if the most likely reason for the Coventry reference is that Chorley Street was taken down in shorthand incorrectly by the interviewer from Durham and this has then been perpetuated in the subsequent articles and reports. Find a Grave states the Coventry birth as does an article in the Manchester Evening News from 2007.

I would love to claim Joseph as a Coventrian but I don't think "The Lancashire Steeplejack" would be too chuffed!

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Post by Stanley » 17 Jun 2020, 02:43

Good post! Thanks for that. I'm sure that will help others who visit the topic.
Stanley Challenger Graham
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"Beware of certitude" (Jimmy Reid)
The floggings will continue until morale improves!

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