Matthew Balme’s cottage


In the quiet churchyard of St Wilfrid’s, Calverley is this impressive stone memorial. Matthew Balme (1813-1884) was the registrar of births & deaths for Bolton, Idle, and Eccleshill. In 1865 he had been elected clerk of the Bolton Local Board. Victorian historian William Cudworth mentions him as a ‘gentleman of some note’ devoted to ameliorating the lot of factory workers. As a young man he was an associate of Lord Shaftesbury, and the famous Richard Oastler, in such enterprises as the Ten Hour Bill (1847) which placed some limit to the slavery in dark satanic mills. I looked for Balme’s entry in the 1881 census which was very helpful. There, in a newly built Blakehill Cottage, Matthew Balme (67) lived with his daughter Mary (37) and Elizabeth Priestley (61), his widowed sister. Cudworth mentions that Balme lived first at Delph Hill Farm and then at Ivy Cottage. It is possible that Ivy Cottage was also known as Blakehill Cottage, but more probably Balme made a final move to a new house during the last three years of life left to him. Matthew Balme died in Idle. In monetary terms he was not a wealthy man leaving less than £200. The fact that his friends inscribed on his tomb ‘Defend the poor and fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy‘ (Psalms 82:3) reveals how rich he was in other ways.

Rather remarkably we know a little more about his daughter Mary’s interests. Bradford Museums & Galleries curates an adjustable reading desk once the property of the Bradford Scientific Association. Mary Balme joined the association in 1906 and the desk was made with a legacy she left them when she died in 1931. You can read Heather Millard’s most interesting account of this object at:

It is fortunate that the Local Studies Library has a plan of the cottage in which Balme lived at the end of his life. On Idle Moor was a large stone extraction site called Blake Hill Quarry which at one time was associated with a brick works. It was a little further north than Five Lane Ends and lay between modern Highfield Road and Bradford Road. In fact the whole area was extensively quarried but in many cases the individual quarry names are unrecorded or inaccessible.


As you can see the surveyed land is situated on ‘Dunk Hill Road’. I cannot identify this thoroughfare by name but Dunk Hill as an area is included on Victorian OS maps. So, where could this plot be? I think we are looking at Bradford Road and the junction between two adjacent OS maps rather inconveniently passes between the two properties!

The land outside most of the perimeter of the plan belongs to Messrs Nowell & Robson; in one place there appears to be a quarry edge. I attempted to locate this partnership in various trade directories. Nowell & Robson were clearly quarry owners and stone merchants. They also operated a coal mine in Raistrick. They had a London office at Westbourne Park Road, Bayswater from which they seemed to be providing paving slabs for London and working on the metropolitan sewer system. Possibly Robson provided a London contracting arm of the business. Certainly in the 1881 census, next door to Blakehill Cottage, was Blakehill House, where Joseph Nowell (57), a stone merchant born in Dewsbury, lived with his wife and children. Assuming that there was only one house of this name it must have had a rather lurid reputation at the time of the census. At Blakehill House, Eccleshill in 1874, Joshua Armitage, ‘a lunatic’ was charged with the murder of John Howard his attendant who was apparently strangled with a bath towel.

The major landowner identified by the map was James Hargreaves. There was of course a very famous man of this name who invented the Spinning Jenny. Well, it cannot be him, nor the man Cudworth describes as James Hargreaves of Delph Hill. This second man was a farm labourer who learned to weave after working hours. Having saved some money he took Delph Hill Farm. He carried his first cloth pieces to Bradford market to sell. His sons William & Joseph took Frizinghall Mill & Red Beck Mill for worsted weaving. But this James Hargreaves had died in 1816 so our man cannot be him either. The truth is that there are many men called James Hargreaves. Since on the map he is described as ‘late’ the man from the plan is likely to have died in the mid-1880s. Since the plan also shows a short terrace and a partly completed road I imagine him as a developer rather than an occupant of one of the houses. Assuming that, as a man of property, he would have left a will I started with probate records.

The most plausible man was James Hargreaves (1834-83), ‘late of Eccleshill’, who died in Staverton, Wiltshire in 1883. His wife Elizabeth sought probate on a will leaving excess of £30,000; a huge sum for those days. The money was unsurprisingly earned as a cloth manufacturer. Another hint is that in 1883 one Henry Hargreaves, son of Elizabeth and James (manufacturer) was baptised at St Luke’s, Eccleshill. This was an adult baptism since Henry had been born in 1861. One possibility is that Henry had originally been baptised in another denomination and now wished to become an Anglican. James and Elizabeth Hargreaves, with Jonas Hargreaves a brother, are in the 1871 census living at Lands Lane, Eccleshill. I can confirm this from the 1879-80 PO Directory. Why their son Henry is not with them in 1871 and how James came to die in Wiltshire, I shall leave to better family historians than myself to uncover. At least I got you started, or at least this tombstone and plan did.


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