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The (All Mouth) Weaver’s Lad who became a Viscount – But the Moor’s(sic) the Merrier

 Dalesman: Febuary 1984. Supplied by: Dr John Laycock, Hants

PHILIP SNOWDEN, who was born and spent his early years in the Pennine village of Cowling, beside a major road leading from the West Riding into Lancashire, was a man without frills.

 

Blunt, shrewd, at times obstinate, he was no better, no worse, than his forebears, who over the long years had to fight for everything they wanted.

 

His father, John Snowden, was one of many hundreds of handloom weavers robbed of their independent way of life by industrialisation.

 

Philip, the weaver’s lad who became Viscount Snowden of Ickornshaw, was a fighter himself.

 

He fought against poverty,against ill health, and against a system in which there did not appear to him any relationship between work and its rewards.

 

He was a Socialist in an old Liberal stronghold.

 

He did not like the idea of revolution or class war; his was a moral creed, developed in the fervent worship of Wesleyan Methodism at Ickornshaw.Snowden called himself a “stolid, unimaginative, unpoetical, truthful Yorkshireman” !

 

At first glance, he did not seem to have anything heroic about him.

 

He was small, spare, with a lean, ascetic face (someone likened the face to that of Cardinal Manning!).

 

A frail body was supported on sticks for over 40 years.

 

Cowling straddles at the sides of the main road.

 

It consists mainly of mills and terraced houses that over the years have soaked up grime as well as rain.

 

I was there on a bright day.

 

The masonry, with sunshine full upon it, and a blue sky beyond, looked black. It gives the impression that Cowling is a dirty place, which it is not. Local people, “foreverscrattin’ “, keep the interiors of their homes immaculate.

 

They cannot be held responsible for over a century of industrial pollution

 

Cowling is, in fact, the modern bit, dating back to the Industrial Revolution, and there were no planners then to object to linear development.

 

Ickornshaw, the older place, snuggles in a hollow.

 

Middleton, on the hilltop beyond, is a curiosity – a single busy street in a country setting.

 

Once there were shops as well as houses: now Middleton is entirely residential.

 

Philip Snowden was born in a house at the end of the street.

 

A Busy Street.

 

It was something of an adventure to walk down Middleton for this street was full of interesting people, with lots of children at play.

 

I found the variety of architectural styles quite breathtaking, and I got the impression that Middleton had grown piecemeal.

 

A local lady mentioned the stone quarries.

 

Some of the quarrymen would be accommodated in this busy little street which juts into the countryside.

 

Middleton narrows into a ginnel.

 

The last house on the right, as a plaque proclaims, was the birthplace of Philip Snowden.

 

I wandered down the ginnel and entered a large field, where cattle were grazing, and a party of Pennine Wayfarers were striding briskly southwards.

 

John and Matha Snowden, their two daughters and young Philip had four rooms at their disposal.

 

Their small home also had a large outbuilding where the winter fuel could 
be stored.

 

John Snowden had a lively mind.

 

He immersed himself in good literature, and he enjoyed meeting his friends, discussing politics, promoting radical ideas.

 

John Snowden had

been a handloom weaver, and was now weaving at a loom in one of the impersonal sheds that had sprung up at Cowling.Martha Snowden was “a fair-haired little woman, something of a chatterbox – and faddy.”

 

This assessment was given to me by alady who had heard it uttered by her mother.

 

“Faddy” means fastidious, and in this Martha was typical of women in the mill towns.

 

It was as though they were determined that none of the filth from the mill would cross their threshholds. Martha was”always clean, always scrattin’ about.”

 

She also had wanderlust.

 

It took her no further than her native district, but it meant that the Snowden family did not spend much time in one spot.

 

They moved regularly.

 

Most cottages were rented in those days.

 

Philip Snowden did not remember much about Middleton; his formative years were spent in a cottage on Nan Scar, where he lived with his mother.

 

It was here, under the kitchen lamp, that he and some young cronies could gather of a night.

 

It is said that when a friend told Philip they must have moved 29 times, he lapsed into his broadest dialect and said: “Nay, th’art wrang.

 

It’s nobbut twenty-four.”

 

A Top-ender.

 

Having been born in Middleton, Philip was a Top-ender, as compared to the native of Cowling proper, who was a Low-ender.

 

Middleton has declined in status,for once it had four shops – a Co-operative store, “Mrs. Hill’s” (which was also the area’s first post office), a butcher’s shop and – for a time – a fish and chip shop.

 

A resident of the street mentioned the occasion, just 60 years before, when Philip Snowden returned to his native village in triumph, having become Chancellor of the Exchequor in the Labour Government.

 

There must have been some misgivings at that time, for most of the local people were staunchly Liberal.

 

To the credit of all, the local lad was made welcome.

 

The lady who mentioned the visit, and who was just 10 years old at the time, said that Philip was driven up the street in a fine car.

 

Theschoolroom of Bar Chapel, largest meeting place in the village, was packed for the speeches of welcome and Philip Snowden’s response.

 

Many people could not be accommodated, and some of those inside afterwards complained that they could not hear all that was said.The United Methodists built Bar Chapel – a huge structure, now demolished, that had been intended to cater for a village of much greater size. Philip Snowden’s family went to Ickornshaw Chapel.

 

Indeed, Philip was 11 years old when the present chapel was built.

 

Though it was constructed at a low level, near the stream, it dominates Ickornshaw by its sheer bulkiness.

 

Philip’s father was the Sunday School superintendent; the whole family was expected to attend the Sunday services and mid-week meetings, helping to sustain the lusty hymn-singing, offering prayer and testimony in a way that characterised the Methodism of the times.

 

It is said that Philip, as a child, was “a little monkey”.

 

He was not always keen to go to chapel, and so was given the choice ofattending or staying at home.

 

If he remained at home, he would be locked in!

 

They had known he was “up to something” since the day he had stood on the wall of the Chapel and made his first political speech!

 

Stayed at School.

 

The 1870 Education Act led to the establishment of a school at Cowling.

 

Hitherto, if parents wished their children to receive some education they took them to the Baptist chapel on the hill, or to the Quakers at Lothersdale.

 

When the council school was erected, the weekly charge was 2d for a young child and 3d for an older child.

 

The certificated teacher, John Heaton, later commented that Philip was the best scholar he had ever had.

 

Such a comment would not be unexpected in view of Philip’s rise to distinction, though as a small boy he refused to leave school and go to the mill, and in due course he became a pupil teacher at Cowling, being taught by Mr. Heaton from 7.a.m. until school time; taking a class of children during the day: and spending his evenings on extra study.

 

By the age of 15, Philip Snowden was familiar with a wide range of subjects, including Latin and French.

 

Then the Snowdens left the village, not because they had grown weary of the place but because the mill

at which father, mother and daughters worked closed through bankruptcy.

 

Work was sought in Nelson.

 

Philip Snowden avoided a job in the mill; he began work as an insurance clerk.

 

He also attended some political meetings in a townwhich was so politically charged it was being called Little Moscow.

 

Philip joined the Civil Service; and eventually he was stationed in Plymouth.

 

He fell off his cycle became dreadfully lame and spent the next year lying on his back at the home in Cowling to which his mother had returned.

 

(It may be that the lameness was caused by an obscure disease of the spine; it was convenient to attribute his lameness to the accident).

 

The year spent lying on what the Methodists would have called “a bed of sickness” was well spent.

 

Philip who deeply respected work and achievement, studied hard, and persevered with his disability. In due course, he managed to walk with difficulty.

 

His long political career began when he joined the Independent Labour Party in its formative period; he married Ethel Annakin, apolitical campaigner; he became M.P. for Blackburn.

 

Returning to Cowling to visit his mother, he was preceded by a brass band playing “See the Conquering Hero Comes”.

 

He gave a speech – in the Liberal Club.

 

The school was closed for the day.

 

Philip Snowden, the apostle of Socialism and Peace.

 

He leant heavily on a stick, and his face was twisted with pain.

 

He had only recently come from a sick bed, and it was during this period of enforced leisure that he had mastered the contents of Socialist text-books and become a passionate convert.”

 

He brought to politics something of the emotional quality of religion.

 

The weavers of Blackburn crowded to his meetings, held by the spell of his oratory, and although he had no party organisation to help him, and no party funds, and was the representative of a party Which seemed to consist of a few wild voices crying in the wilderness, he put up a fierce and memorable fight . . .”H. G. Wells was to write of “a slender, twisted figure supporting itself on a stick and speaking with a fire that was altogether revolutionary.

 

It was Mr. Philip Snowden, the Member for Blackburn.”Philip’s political convictions, and his puritan austerity, derived from religious teaching.

 

When he was Chancellor, not a drop of intoxicating liquor crossed the threshhold of No. 11.

 

Yet he was not without a sense of humour.

 

In 1932, when addressing the Press Club in London, he said: “I have often been criticised by you gentlemen for my pronunciation of certain words.”

 

And he told the story of a Southern schoolmistress who took up a positon in Yorkshire.

 

She did not care for the way in which a child would say “putten” instead of “put”, and declared: “Tom has

putten putten where he should have putten put .”

 

Philip Snowden had many loyal friends, and many confirmed enemies.

 

A political writer of the 1930s noted: “Mr. Snowden gives the impression of being a kindly man notwithstanding his splenetic phrases.

 

He will project his envenomed darts with a wistful and disarming smile.”

 

It it said that when he was a civil servant in the Excise, a lady lodged a complaint against him for incivility.

 

He pleaded in defence that he had never said a word.

 

“No,” replied the lady, “that was the worst of it, but you looked it!”

 

His final years in politics – which have been well documented elsewhere – were confused and bitter, as were the years of Labour Governments of the time.

 

He was raised to the peerage and became Lord Snowden of Ickornshaw.

 

He died in 1937, following a heart attack, at the age of 72.

 

The Memorial Cairn.

 

Philip Snowden’s ashes were scattered on Ickornshaw Moor, and when his wife Ethel died in 1951 her ashes were scattered in the same area.

 

I motored along byroads, and parked the car 300 yards from the memorial cairn.

 

The last 100 yards was across typical Yorkshire moor, with a little heather, much coarse grass and “rush bobs” from which a snipe sprang with a sneeze of alarm.

 

I roused a sheep and its lamb from the shady side of the cairn, on which was written :

 

” In this place, mingled with the soil, and near thefriends he loved, are the ashes of Philip Snowden, 1st Viscount of Ickornshaw, who lived his whole life in the service of the common people, and died in the love of his native land, on May 15th, 1937.

 

“W. R. Mitchell 
With acknowledgements to the older folk of Cowling who spoke so interestingly about Philip Snowden.

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