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John Holmes (1812-1868) and Jane Tomlinson (1816-1894)

It is not clear why Adam Holmes should have moved from Kendal as, at the turn of the century, it had yet to lose its pre-eminence as a wool town and would have offered him some security at an increasingly difficult time. The bald facts tell us little: he married Jane Thwaites in 1811 at Crosthwaite just outside Keswick, where Jane had been born; and shortly afterwards they had their first son, John, in Bowness on the Eastern banks of Windermere. The journey to Keswick was over thirty miles, and that back to Bowness not much less, so what did Bowness have to offer the young couple that neither Kendal or Keswick did?


Bowness was a small fishing village, tucked between the low hills next to the lake. Apart from Ambleside, it was the only significant settlement in the area and its narrow streets, with small houses on each side, wound their way down towards the waterfront. By the time Adam and Jane arrived, the village had filled up the flat land and was beginning to creep up the hill, at the top of which, shortly after they arrived, a chestnut tree was planted to celebrate the victory over Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815. . William Wordsworth was a frequent visitor, using the ferry to cross Windermere and mentioning this and the local pub in his poems. Later in his life, Wordsworth was to be one of those strongly opposed to the arrival of the railway, because he did not want his beloved lakes to be seen by 'uneducated persons' but now the railways were thirty years away and Bowness, although already popular with tourists, had yet to reach the popularity that the railways brought.


It is tempting to see Bowness as nothing but lakes, mountains and romantic poets, whereas the truth is that for nearly all its residents working hard to live was their main pre-occupation. That was certainly the case for Adam and Jane who lived in small hamlets - Clearbarrow and Lindeth - a mile outside Bowness, where Adam worked as a husbandman/labourer. Nearby there were several large houses looking out across the lake, but most inhabitants did not have time for much recreation. One of those houses was Storrs Hall which had been bought by John Bolton a few years before the Holmes' arrived. He had made his money through trade in the West Indies, including slaves, and it was suggested that the cellars in the mansion had been used to house slaves, one of whom had put a curse on the building. Bolton was an enthusiastic sailor and organised regattas on the lake. Those staying at his house while these events were taking place included Wordsworth, Southey, Sir Walter Scott and other famous men; but the whole village would have enjoyed the spectacles on the water. Later in life Adam became a 'gentleman's servant' so it is possible - but unlikely - that he was one of the twenty servants at Storr Hall.


Bowness about twenty years after Adam and Jane's arrival, but little changed


Bowness from across the lake


Kentmere quarries

Following John, three more children were born in Bowness; but after only seven years the family was on the move again as Adam presumably continued to look for work in difficult times. Kentmere, several miles further North, was home for only four years, which isn't surprising; the odd thing is that they went there at all. It had suffered following the industrial revolution because it was too far from the turnpike which ran between Kendal and Cockermouth. Wealthy farmers were buying up farms, enclosing the common pasture and improving the land with the locally quarried lime; but their wealth did not help those needing a job. Adam and Jane's house, Quarry House, indicated how he earned his living; it was probably a large house shared by several families of quarrymen. Until the 19th century the poor roads had made it too uneconomical to quarry the local slate,but at the start of the new century the local population grew rapidly and the demand for slate grew with it. Adam worked as a 'slategetter' and the work was hard and conditions tough. The slate was produced by small teams working together using the gunpowder and candles supplied by the quarry owners. Holes were drilled by hand into which the gunpowder was placed and then, after the rocks had been blown up, the blocks were manhandled to the sheds where the dressers could shape the slates. Whereas about a third of men were still employed in farming, only about 1% of the population worked in the quarries and many needed to combine their quarrying with farming to make ends meet. Presumably Adam found it too hard to find enough work, so he and and Jane were forced to move once more, and this time, now with six children, they looked towards the industrial towns further east, and travelled more than fifty miles to Skipton, just over the border into Yorkshire. It would be home to the Holmes family until the present day.

Sitting on the Leeds-Liverpool canal, Skipton should have boomed during the Industrial Revolution, but it took until 1850 for major developments to make a significant difference. It was true that the first industrial mill, High Mill, had been built in 1785, and an extension was being added as Adam and his family arrived in 1824; but change in Skipton was hampered by Lord Clifford's unwillingness to sell any of the huge amount of freehold land he owned. At the turn of the century Skipton had been described as 'this nasty, filthily inhabited town' and in 1812 it was still seen as 'one very spacious street, which serves for a market place, and some straggling lanes'. In 1809 it was said that 'there is perhaps not a town in the West Riding feels the pressure of the present times more than Skipton in Craven' and the plight of the weavers was becoming more desperate each year. In 1826 the poor were being offered just 6d (2.5p) a day to work on road building and the town was viewed as 'little better than a large country village of some 4000 inhabitants' where many families had to leave the town to seek employment elsewhere. There were rich men in the town - a local banker employed two liveried footman to take his daughters to school in a sedan chair - but the vast majority were poor, and it would continue like that for some time: even in 1841 it was said that a weaver earned only 3s 4d (17p) a week. Initially it cannot have been the haven that the Holmes family was seeking.

Skipton in 1830 with its 'one very spacious street'


John Dewhurst (1787-1864) whose brother and partner probably employed Adam Holmes as a servant

In 1828, shortly after Adam and Jane's arrival, Belle Vue Mills was built by John Dewhurst as a spinning and weaving mill. It burned down two years later, but re-opened as a cotton mill and offered work for some, but Dawson, in his 1882 history of the town, said that 'It is a circumstance illustrative of the popular feeling of that time that the looms were brought with absolute secrecy, and securely boxed up, so that it might not be known what they were'. Adam was soon to have a connection with the Dewhurst family, but does not appear to have worked directly for any mill at any time. In 1825 he had been described as a 'servant' and in 1833 he was known to be a servant working for 'Mr Dewhurst', but between those times he had worked as an husbandman; and, for the rest of his life, he alternated between being a gentleman's servant and a labourer. Over their first ten years in Skipton, he and Jane continued to have more children and both were well into their forties when their eleventh and final child, Isaac, was born in 1833; his name suggesting that Adam was manservant to Isaac Dewhurst, rather than his brother John.

Despite, and partly because of, the building of Belle Vue Mills, life in Skipton continued to be hard for most. The 1840s, known  as the 'Hungry Forties' were particularly bad as a result of the mechanisation of the looms and the Corn Laws. Mill workers in Skipton seemed to have carried on stoically but, in August 1842, those in nearby Colne on the other side of the Lancashire border marched for better pay and conditions. On 16th August 3000 men, women and children left Colne, having put out the boilers in their mills, and headed for Skipton. Armed with thick sticks and walking four abreast up the main street they were confronted by the magistrates. Their aim was to stop the mills and turn out the workers, but the people of Skipton were alarmed and begged them not to use any violence. The locals, whose total population was not much more than the Lancashire crowd that had entered the town, were powerless as the marchers entered all three mills and shut them down. The mob also ransacked the shops for food and demanded money from those they met; but, by now, a company of soldiers had arrived and the crowd were read the Riot Act. Initially it had little effect but soon, after the rioters had been offered shelter in a field, and following a brief fight, the leaders were captured, put on trial, and sentenced to several months hard labour.

A cattle market in Keighley Road, Skipton in about 1880

One imagines that the Holmes family's sympathy was not with the rioters. Adam had been an employee of one of the people most affected by the actions, and his eldest and only surviving son, John, was a manager in one of the mills. John had been a teenager when he first arrived in Skipton and, unlike his father, appears to have worked in the mills all his working life. By his mid-twenties he was already a cardmaster/overlooker and remained in that position until he died. As cardmaster he was in charge of the carding room where the cotton balls were straightened out, so that all the fibres ran in the same direction before being spun. Using the spiked brush on a carding machine was a skilled job, and it may well have been that the manager of that operation was someone who had previously been a carder himself, but he can't have done it for long. It seems odd that someone whose talents allowed him to be a manager at a fairly young age should then do the same job for several decades, but cardmaster may have been the limit for someone without money or much education.

John already had that role when in 1838, he married Jane Tomlinson, the daughter of a stonemason whose family had lived locally for generations. Her father, George, was shortly to die of cholera in one of the many outbreaks that hit tne area throughout the 1830s and 1840s, after which her mother, Alice, came to live with John, Jane and their growing family. After their marriage they had rented a house in Back o' the Beck, a small cul-de-sac close to where the Eller Beck met the Springs Canal. The house was damp and their neighbours were weavers and the less well-off of Skipton. Although John remained an overlooker all his life, the family moved houses regularly but, when the children were young, few places in Skipton were pleasant to live in.


In 1847 the railway reached the town and, slowly, things began to improve; but ten years later, an inspection, looking at the possibility of introducing better sewerage, was damning of the rich living in the town: '''Criminals of our land had seven times as much space allotted to them as some of the poor of Skipton have - the prisons were cleaner, sweeter and purer than some of the dwellings ... although the poor people pay rent for their houses'.'' Those with money opposed the changes and the inspector found that, fearful of what their landlords might do, the poor were frightened to speak. This was something the inspector had not found in any of the other 300 towns he had visited.


However, progress from about the middle of the century was rapid, and Skipton at last realised that there had been an industrial revolution and started to take better advantage of its position on the canal. The increasing size of the town had led to a new church being built by public subscription (including £20 from Isaac Dewhurst) and, in 1855, the first of the Skipton fairs was held. Not that there wasn't any entertainment before that: in 1852 the council had felt it necessary to appoint a constable to superintend the traditional celebrations on Guy Fawkes Night. For years people had carried burnig brushwood through the streets and the parish had paid for fireworks, but the liveliness of the event was reaching a level that worried the council.


By 1861 John, Jane and their family were living in Westfields with Jane's mother. Four of their children had died when very young, but four had survived, although the eldest two were starting to turn their backs on the cloth industry. Thomas, although a bookkeeper and then manager of a cotton factory, went on to be an accountant and surveyor; and George was setting down the foundations of what was to become a successful painting and decorating business. Their father, though still working as an overlooker, was not well. He had Brights Disease, a painful kidney condition, which would have caused him severe back pain, high blood pressure, discoloured urine and puffiness from fluid retention. He would probably have been short of breath, vomited regularly and had regular fevers. How severe the symptoms were will never be known but, in 1868, it was the reason given for his death. His mother, now in her eighties and living with his married sister, Elizabeth, was still alive and would outlive him by another four years.


John and Jane's youngest child, Alice, now 20, was working as a worsted weaver. Her mother lived until 1898, looked after by Alice who remained unmarried and had moved to be next door to her brother George, whose painting business continued to grow. Skipton was unrecognisable from the town she had arrived at seventy-five years earlier and her living descendants, one of whom was to run a university, with dreams and ambitions that she could not have imagined.


A Holmes portrait painted in the 1880s but probably based on a photograph from the 1860s. John's son, Thomas, born in 1839, who went on to become an accountant and manager of a cotton factory, seems the only possible candidate, but there is no evidence to suggest that it is him

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