CHRIS Helme made a welcome return visit to Todmorden Antiquarian Society
On this occasion Chris, a former policeman and now ardent local historian, spoke of "One Week in May". Many years ago he had come across a few written lines about workers rioting in his home town of Brighouse; this inspired him to delve into the full story during the past 20 year period.
The opening slide of the evening showed the Cavendish Memorial at Bolton Abbey. "Who has ever read the inscription?", he asked. It commemorates the 7th Duke of Devonshire, Lord Frederick Cavendish, who was assassinated in Phoenix Park, Dublin in 1882. Lord Cavendish was also the Liberal MP for the West Riding of Yorkshire.
Chris set the scene in Brighouse in the 19th-century. The town was crowded, large families in closely packed houses often sleeping six in a bed. There were narrow alleyways and few facilities of tap water or sewerage. The slides gave feeling and atmosphere to the unsavoury living conditions. Mills and foundries dominated the streets, with a few chapels and stone quarrying surrounding the town. Many of the industrial labourers were Irish immigrants, who had fled from poverty and starvation to Liverpool. Thence, some intrepid souls had moved on to Manchester, then along the newly constructed railway inland to Brighouse. They too would live in overcrowded lodging houses.
The only relief in their dirty and dingy living conditions were the town parades on festive occasions. The whole community would be out on the streets for such events. Though Brighouse is 65 miles from the sea, Chris said, a lifeboat would be part of the procession. Sometimes, Lord Sanger's Circus would come to town.
As unemployment grew worse in the 1870s many were out of work, living below subsistence level and beer induced trouble was waiting to erupt.
Meanwhile in Dublin, Lord Frederick Cavendish had been appointed Chief Secretary and together with the permanent under secretary, Thomas Burke, walked towards the Viceroy's Lodge in Phoenix Park.
The extensive park is larger than Hyde Park in London. Chris pictured that on a sunny afternoon the park would be an inviting place to promenade, but not a place to loiter after dark.
The two British representatives were stabbed to death on May 6, 1882, along a short walk to the Viceroy's Lodge.
It is thought that Thomas Burke was the target, as he signed many eviction orders for unpaid rent, but that Lord Cavendish was in the wrong place, at the wrong time. In those days, there was no police protection for important people.
The Irish police mounted a huge investigation for the criminals, thought to be "The Invincibles" in evil gang led by one James Carey. There was an enormous reward offered for information leading to conviction, but the police were struggling.
Back in Brighouse folk were most upset to learn of the murder of their well-respected MP. The locals suspected the Irish workers in the town and gangs formed. "Who murdered our Member of Parliament?" was the cry, said Chris. An Irish family ran the Sun Dial Inn in 1882 and here the beer drinking mob wrecked the place and terrified the immigrant publicans. The local police were grossly outnumbered and some 200 reserves came from Barnsley to help defuse the mob baying for Irish blood. The Catholic priest hid the valuables, but the church windows were all smashed.
Local worthies asked for calm and eventually the reinforced numbers of police brought back peace to Brighouse.
In Dublin the offenders were arrested for murder; the high profile case reported around the world. The knives used in the assassination were found in James Carey's house, though he "grassed" on the gang in exchange for a free passage to South Africa. Chris continued that justice will out, as traitor James Carey was tracked down and shot dead. The rest of the sinister group were hung or imprisoned for life.
The body of Lord Cavendish was buried at Edensor Church, Chatsworth, where a glass encased wreath from Queen Victoria can still be seen. Thomas Burke was buried in Dublin's main cemetery.
The next meeting of Todmorden Antiquarian Society is on Tuesday, March 8, at 7.30 pm in the Town Hall Courtroom when there will be a computerised slide show by Frank Woolrych and member Bill Marsden. Visitors are welcome.