George Marsh of Tankersley Autobiography

A Sketch of the Life of George Marsh of Pilley Green, Tankersley, Barnsley


Originally published by Pawson & Brailsford, Sheffield, 1912

Contains references to three Couldwell men.


In publishing this short sketch of the life of one of the most respected inhabitants of Pilley, in the Parish of Tankersley, Yorks., it is hoped that the example of sterling British pluck, overcoming great difficulties, which to 99 men out of 100 it would have seemed impossible to fight against, may be a spur and incentive of young men of the present day who have to face Life, but who are brought up to believe that it is the duty of the State, or of the more fortunate public, to support them, and whose last principle in life is that every man worth his salt should depend on himself.

The life of George Marsh is given in his own words and has not been tampered with in any way, but is a true statement of facts as far as his memory, which is an exceptionally good one, can vouch. Never having had any education, he has succeeded where many who have had great opportunities have failed. I have personally known him for over 40 years, and he has always borne a character of scrupulous honesty and veracity, and beyond the fact that in later life he has taken occasional holidays in the Isle of Man, I have never known him when he has not been busily engaged in one occupation or another, and I think there are very few men who could so honestly say this of themselves , that he never wasted a moment in his life that it was possible to turn to good account.

This small booklet is being issued with the hope that it may bring in a small return to help him end his days in comfort.

To those who do not know the circumstances, it might be well to explain that about six years ago, feeling that he was not likely to live much longer, and that his strength was failing, he decided to divide up his property among his sons, giving them each a good start in life and handing over his posting business to his son, Frank. Luckily, he has lived many more years than he expected, and the small amount which he has set aside for himself has been expended, and it is very much against the grain for him to ask his sons to return some of the money he handed over to them. I therefore hope that the public will respond and buy this very interesting account of the life-history of a Yorkshire Collier.

HENRY S.WALKER, Lt.-Col   15th February 1912



I was born on August 21st, 1834 at Poole Folds, Hunshelf Bank, Penistone.

I was about four years of age when my father died. I was one of eleven children, and when about  six years of age my mother took five of us to the Guardian Rooms at the Wortley Arms. The workhouse at Grenoside was not then built.

Dr Corbett was chairman.

Mother applied for some further relief, and Dr. Corbett said he could keep us for the amount of money which my mother was allowed. She replied “the children are here, keep them,” and she went away and left us; we were there about three hours, and when the meeting was closed a man named Mathew Stanley (who kept a shop in the Wortley churchyard) took us home again in a spring cart, with the following provisions:- eight loaves of bread, 1 1/2 stones of flour and six pounds of treacle.

After this was eaten, three of us had to go out to beg, and when we arrived home again, mother divided what we had got amongst us. We used to go out into the garden (when berries were in season) and bite a bit of bread and pluck a green berry to eat after each bite of bread.

Mr. John Couldwell, of Hunshelf Hall Farm, was very kind to us indeed. He supplied us with some oatmeal for porridge, and also took a sister for 4 1/2 years (meat for work) and all the broken victuals from the Farm were given to us; even then (when the weather was too bad and we could not go out to beg) we have been without bread in the house for three days at a time.

There was another man named Thomas Poole, who was very good to us also, sometimes he would give us a stone of rye-flour.

In the depth of winter, when snow was on the ground, we have had to go out with bare legs, bare feet, and the jar that we carried was frozen to our fingers.

Mr. Crawshall, Park House Farm, once a week gave us broken victuals and a quart of milk.

When I was a little over six years of age I went to Mr. W. Newton’s Croft Nook Farm to milk the cows, and for this I always got a good breakfast and very often something to take home. After a time I drove a mule for him in the day hole at the back of the now Rising Sun Inn, at Stocksbridge, for 5 pence a day.

I took the first coals to Mr. Hemingway’s blacking mill, then to Mr.Wilson, plug maker, then to Mr. Fox, Stocksbridge (now Samuel Fox and Co. Ltd.). Afterwards I went to work for Mr. Willie Jubb, with my brother Jim, and Ben Marshall, from Bullhouse, hurrying in belt and chain from light to dark.

At that time my brother Jim used me so cruelly that one day I could not walk home, so I laid in a coke basket beside the fire until midnight, when my mother came and found me, and I had to lay in bed for 4 days.

The constable (there were no policemen in those days) came and wanted to take my brother and lock him up, but mother would not let him. I did not go to work there afterwards.

I went to work at Spink Hall for Mr. John Grayson for a short time, afterwards at Knoll Top, and leaving there in a very short time, I went to work at Clow for Mr. Webster, who gave it up, and Mr. Couldwell, Royal Oak, Deepcar took the place. We went on working, and every Deepcar Feast he gave the lads a pork pie and threepence each. Afterwards he had us running races, and bought spice and other things from the stall at the feast and divided them amongst us.

After this I went to work for Mr. Abram Windle, chemical works (which is the place now occupied by Messrs. Lowood & Co.).

I had to work from day light to dark hurrying for George Helliwell with a belt and chain. I moved from there and went to work in Ellen Cliffe Pit for the Hunshelf Overseers, hurrying ganister and coal for about 18 months.

After that I went to work for a man the name of George Pell, at Hand Bank pit, above Midhopestones. I was only allowed one candle per day when working in this pit (at the time 3 persons were working together, so we burnt first one candle and then the others, but only one at once). I ran from Poole Folds to there all one winter, with bare feet and bare legs, passing by White Row, Barracks, and Hunsliven Bridge, Manchester Road, and through Midhopestones. For my lunch I had a little dry bread to take with me, and I went up to Obadiah Denton’s Farm near Langsett, where the reservoirs are, for a pennyworth of old milk, which was supplied in a large piggin. When coming home I had to pass Mr. John Helliwell’s house in Underbank Lane, who, when snow was on the ground, always gave me my tea. After this I became apprenticed to George Pell (who lived in a house called Clough, just below Wickwell, near Bolsterstone, now known as Fox’s Glen) for 2 years, meat for work; then he died. During that time I worked in Hunshelf Bank for Mr. Armitage. Whilst living there I went to gather sticks and take them to Spink House and Pot House to Mr.John Philips, and for this I received two-pence per bundle, which was the only money I got. I also gathered manure from the roads, and took it to Mr. James Atkinson’s Farm.

At this time I was 9 years of age, and George Pell persuaded me to go to the Ebenezer Sunday School at Stocksbridge, which I did, and while attending the Sunday School I learned the first and second chapters of St.John. One day I stood upon a form in my bare feet in the school and repeated them. After this Mr. Amos Riddle of New Hall, Mr. Joseph Mills of Whitwell and Mr. John Jeffreys of Stocksbridge asked me to choose which I would have, some clothes or a pair of boots. I chose the clothes, which through their kindness were given me, so I could go to the Sunday School in some good clothes.

During the blackberrying season I spent what time I could in the fields and lanes, tramping many miles to gather them, and mother would go to the houses round about, and even as far as Oughtbridge to sell them at four pence per quart.

When out on one of these rambles I disturbed a hare which ran away. I blew a tin trumpet and 4 hounds came to me, and after a while I went to the place again with the dogs. Up jumped the hare, and the dogs at once gave chase and turned the hare into Green Lane, where I was, and there killed it. A man named Thos. Couldwell tried to take the hare from me, but one of the dogs flew at him but did not hurt him. He let me keep the hare and I took it home, mother cooked it, and I had never eaten anything so good in my life before. It did make us a great feast. After about two weeks, the Huntsman, Mr. Crossley Marsh (my own uncle) and others came to see me about it, so I had to apologise and promise not to take the dogs out on an errand of that kind again. After the huntsman had let me off, one Abram Sykes said, I was a brave boy, and he was glad we had had a good feast, and to improve matters he gave me a shilling, which in a moment I ran with to my mother.

My playmates and I used to play football, bare-footed. We punched the ball up a  bankside, and it rolled back again to us. We also in frosty weather went to slide on Peck’s pond (the reason it was called Peck’s pond was because a man of that  name was drowned there, it is on the road side between Greenmoor and Penistone), and once when sliding, Mr. Frank Blacker from the Hotel at Greenmoor came riding by and gave us twopence, and told us to go home. However I went up to Uriah Syke’s house, because I was hungry, and I was always fed with bread, and sometimes half a loaf was given to me to take home.

At Christmas and New Year I went out to wish the inhabitants the compliments of the season, and once I got one shilling and five pence, so I borrowed the mule from Mr. Newton and rode to Thurgoland to buy a pair of clogs to keep my feet out of the snow, which was five or six inches deep. I went to a shop next door to the Green Dragon, and they only had men’s sizes in, so I still had to go barefoot. Several young men were standing outside the Green Dragon, and they made a collection amongst them, and with my one and five pence they bought me a new suit and cap, and this left me with three pence halfpenny.

Shortly after this my mother died and was buried by the Parish at Penistone. My three brothers, Charles, James and Mathew, then took a house at the Cross, Bolsterstone, and took all the furniture except one bedstead and bed, and a chaff mattress to lay on the floor, one chair and a table. After this another brother named Amos came to live with us, after having lived with a man named William Tordoff of Rat Row, for 5 years.

After my brother had been in the ganister pit for a time he found out he could not do so well as in the coal mine, so he persuaded me to go and work for him at one shilling and tenpence a day at Messrs. Shaw & Hyde’s  pit at Pewill Hill, so I went, and we lodged at Jenny Pratt’s, Thurgoland Bank.This left my three sisters, one in service, and two at home, by themselves, and I paid the rent for them for 2 years at 1 1/2 per week. I also found them half a pound of butter and one pound of lump sugar per week. Then my oldest sister died and was buried by the Parish at Penistone.

I persuaded my uncle, Henry Hives, of Stalybridge, to take the youngest sister, and the other I took to my lodgings, until I could earn some money to buy her some clothes, so that she could go into service. This I did in time, and she went to be servant to Mr. Plant, of Wortley, and stayed there until she got married. During this time I was working to clothe her and myself and find something to eat, and for three years had not a shilling to spend; but, thank God, after that I got on better. This was the time that made me very careful, and I have been careful ever since.

I had to go barefoot until I was eleven years of age.

At this time the woman I lodged with was named Mrs. Pratt, and I took a piece of land about ten yards wide and ninety yards long in from the roadside, and the fence was moved back by the landlord, and this I had for three years rent free (and I may say here that during the five years which I lodged there she only charged me one shilling and sixpence per week for lodging). This I cultivated and set with potatoes, and the profit I made out of it made up for the money that I payed for my sister’s rent, &c, when they lived in Poole Folds.

When I was about 18 years of age I went to Belle Vue by a trip from Wortley Station, and for carriages we had ordinary trucks, and planks put inside for seats, and when coming back the night the platform at Ashbury was so crowded that unfortunately a woman was pushed off the platform on to the line. I was on the other side, and I ran across and picked her up, put her on the platform and scrambled up myself, when the train came by, and her umbrella and satchell as well as my cap were cut to pieces; but the woman and myself were unhurt.

Some people on the platform began to make a collection for me, amongst the passengers, but they did not give me the money – they gave it to the stationmaster, who took my name and address, and in the course of seven or eight weeks the stationmaster brought me 50s. or 3 pounds (I am not sure which) with very great thanks for my prompt action. This money was spent by Mrs. Pratt on my sister for more clothing.

Once while playing at cricket with two other companions on top of Huthwaite tunnel, we heard a great noise, and on looking round I saw the tunnel had fallen in, so I sent the other two down to Thurgoland Branch Bottom signal box, to inform the signal man of what had occurred. I ran to the end nearest Penistone where the gateman was, and we put fog signals on the line, and in less than half an hour a train came and was pulled up at the end of the tunnel. The guard, after enquiring what was the matter, received a satisfactory reply, and turned to me and asked for my name and address, which I gave to him, and in the course of time other people came on to the scene, and I was questioned first by one person and then another.

I was sent for to Manchester twice (of course I had a free pass both times) to tell them what I had seen and done, and during my second visit I was given three pounds, and was very cordially thanked for my services to the Company. I gave each of my comrades one pound, so that we all shared alike.

It took about three weeks to carry out the repairs, and during that time the passengers had to walk from one end of the tunnel to the other,  where trains awaited them, and the temporary stations were named as follows – the one nearest Penistone was called Inkerman, and the other nearest Wortley was called Balaclava, these names coming from the battle of Inkerman and Balaclava, which had just been fought.

I was getting on for twenty years of age when I got married, and left Thurgoland to live in Pilley Brickyard, and to work for the Wharncliffe Silkstone Coal Co., on the the seventh day of May 1856. I begun to get coal, and I found the work so comfortable that I thoroughly settled down, and being steady I found I had some spare time in the evenings, so I began to do a little joinery work , such as making chairs for children, and clothes horses. The latter I used to sell at two shillings each, and the chairs at three shillings each.

At that time I thought I should like to go to the Isle of Man, so I put the money that I saved out of selling chairs &c., away, until such time as I found I had sufficient to take me to the island, so that the first time I was there the cost was defrayed by what I had done in my spare time.

I might say here that I have been to the Isle-of-Man twenty-nine years, for 14 days each time, and can honestly say that I was never once in a public house, nor had I any intoxicating drink on the island during all these visits.

My spare time afterwards was taken up by going about killing pigs, killing as many as three or four in a night and cutting them up the next day. For this I got an average of two shillings each.

Mr. George Walker and his son Horace, got a wagon load of cold frames, and divided them between myself, Thomas Beaumont, James Hawkins, Frank Burkinshaw, John Bruck and John Tasker. There was no glass in them when we got them. I put glass into mine and then commenced to travel the country (during my spare time) as a glazier to put panes in windows &c. By so doing my spare time was partially taken up, and I had no time to spend in public houses. When coming home one day with the scratch on my back, past Tankersley Church (the tower of which was being rebuilt), I was accosted by the Vicar, Mr. Fenn, who asked me if I could contribute anything to the building fund. I promised I would if I could have my initials put on a stone underneath the bottom window in the tower. This was done and the stone is still there, so I sent a subscription of two pounds two shillings to the fund.

I left Pilley Brickyard and came to live at Pilley Green in the house which I now occupy, and began to build a hothouse, twenty yards long by 4 yards wide, which took up my time for about twelve months.

Then I began to grow cucumbers and several kinds of flowering plants in it.

The first year I had the hot house I made sufficient money by selling cucumbers to take me to Paris for ten days; then I had not spent up.

I also went to Stocksbridge, every other Saturday during the summer to sell celery, cucumbers and plants. I used to stand with my horse and dray on Smithy Hill, in the Coach and Horses yard, and the inhabitants came there to buy from me. On the other Saturday I stood in the market at Hoyland Common. I also went round the surrounding villages selling celery, cucumbers and flowers.

This was so profitable that I began to build another hot house, and with the help of my children I was prepared to grow different kinds of seeds, and transplant the plants out. I was in this way able to supply vegetable plants, celery plants, and all other kinds of plants for gardens to anybody that came to buy.

I might say here that my family of children numbered nine.

During this time I was still working in the pit, my day’s work having ceased at two o’clock p.m., I had plenty of time to look after my work at home without it interfering with my work at the pit.

I was the eighth member to pay into the Miners’ Union, at the CrossKeys, Hoyland Common, and I am now the oldest paid up member in South Yorkshire. I have never been in arrears since I joined the Union, and I am proud to say that I have never needed a penny from its funds for the last thirty years.

I have a piece of Wharncliffe Silkstone Best Coal got by me in the year 1856, and since then (with the exception of about 4 years) I have headed the procession on Miner’s Demonstration day and have always carried the piece of coal.

The second time I went to Paris for ten days I went with the money I had made out of selling roses. When I was returning I got into conversation with a cab driver about carriage licenses, and he told me they paid fifteen shillings for a hackney licence, so when I got back I went to see Mr.Booker, of Barnsley, and asked him if he would go with me to see the Exciseman, because we were paying two pounds for each licence (I had become a cab proprietor before this). We went to the Exciseman and got our licences reduced to fifteen shillings each, also twenty-five shillings returned on each licence for the past three years.

Before this, I ran a little waggonette to Hoyland Common market, and when I had the money returned from my licences, and only had to pay fifteen shillings instead of two pounds, I bought a large waggonette from Mr.W.H. Haigh, of Sheffield, and began to run from Pilley, Hoyland Common, and Birdwell to Barnsley on Wednesdays, leaving Pilley at 10.30 a.m., and returning from Barnsley at 4.0 p.m., on Saturdays, leaving at 8.30 a.m., returning at 12.0 noon, and again leaving at 3.30 p.m. and returning at 8.0 p.m. prompt.

This I continued to do for 20 years, and during that time anybody who was going to the hospital I only charged them half fare, and I found by doing this that my custom was greatly increased. I began to take Sunday School children and other parties to places of interest, such as Wharncliffe Craggs, Stainbro’, Conisbro’ Castle, Askern, Roche Abbey, Beaumont Park (Huddersfield), Chatsworth House, and to any other place when needed, and this I found  was a very good thing.

I went to the Isle-of-Man, and a I had a Char-á-banc made there, and I paid 15s. to have the coat-of-arms put on, and I was told it would be the first time the coat-of-arms had ever come over to England on a Char-á-banc.

The first time turning out with a four in hand (my son driving) we went into Wortley Park and met the late Lord Wharncliffe walking in the Park. I told the driver to pull up, which he did, and I passed the usual “Good morning, my lord.” His lordship looked at the cattle and conveyance and was surprised. He said he  was not aware that a tenant of his had such cattle and such a turn out. I asked him if he would get up and have a ride, which he did. I took him round to the front of the Hall, he got down and went to fetch her ladyship to have a look, and she was amazed.

After this he engaged me to do all his work, which his own coachman could not do, and moreover he gave me all the conveyance work belonging to the shooting. This I did right up to his lordship’s death, and he also introduced me to Squire Wentworth of Stainbro’, as a very steady, reliable and trustworthy driver, and  through this I got the conveyance work for their shooting parties for several years.

I had another  good friend in Mr. George Blake Walker, the Grange, Tankersley, who found me a considerable amount of work for years, driving the family and the visitors to different places.

Then I had a very good patron in Mr. Drew of Chapeltown, for a long time, until he got a motor car, when he wrote me a splendid letter thanking me for having been such a steady and competent driver.

Mr. Dawson, of Chapeltown, was another good patron, engaging me with the four-in-hand and Char-á-banc to drive to Stone or Roche Abbey with his team of cricketers for several years.

At this time I took to delivering all parcels sent to Birdwell Station, Great Central Railway, and when I went to Manchester to sign on, Mr. Smith offered me a half-crown to get some whisky with, and I asked him a second time if he really meant me to have whisky with it, and he said “Yes.” I threw the half-crown down and told him I could do without it, and without the whisky, too, because I have never tasted it in my life. Eventually after a time the half-crown was sent to Birdwell Station for me.

I began to pull down my hot houses to make more room for stables and carriage room, because I was increasing my stock. I bought a horse and some kind of vehicle each year for six years until I was the owner of six waggonettes, one Char-á-banc, four cabs, one mourning coach and one hearse, and these I carried on with for ten years. Then unfortunately I lost my wife, whose loss was very keenly felt, but I could comfort myself with the thought that everything possible had been done for her during her illness.

Two of my sons, after suffering for 5 years, went off in consumption, so I had to look around for a respectable woman for a housekeeper, and to look after the lads. Fortunately I found one who was a second mother to them, doing everything she could for them, and everything possible was got for them, regardless of expense, which was during the five years very heavy indeed.

In regard to my own health, I have a great deal to be thankful for, because I was sixty-four years of age before I required the help of a doctor. Since I recovered from that illness I have not needed a doctor.  This I consider to be greatly due to my having been a teetotaller all my life and leading a steady general life, and having plenty of plain and substantial food since I was sixteen years of age.

I got so much custom from Deepcar and Stocksbridge district, that I promised to take all the women above 60 years of age (free of charge) for a ride to Bordhill, and when coming back I paid for teas for all of them, at the Horner House Chapel, Stocksbridge, and one woman was so bad with rheumatism that she had to be lifted in and out of the waggonette and carried to a seat. I promised this poor woman I would fetch her from Stocksbridge and take her to Denaby to see a doctor, and she said she would gladly go (the woman received a benefit by going for a considerable time), so arrangements were made and I went to Stocksbridge to fetch her and her friends, about six of them, and when coming back from Denaby we stopped at my home, and each of them had a good tea, then we journeyed to their homes, and when they got out of the waggonette they wanted to pay me, but I said No, it is all free, and they thanked me very warmly for a grand outing.

I think the more of this sort of work I did, the better results I got, because I was constantly going into that district for weddings and other parties.

After I had been living in Pilley at a time, my oldest brother’s wife died in the hospital at Grenoside of a fever, and when they went to tell my brother (he was living at Stocksbridge) about it, he died in the course of half an hour. The Parish found both the coffins, but I bore all the other expenses, and they were buried at Bolsterstone in one grave.

I got Elijah Askew (the village blacksmith) and his wife to carry out arrangements for both men and women bearers, and to go to the shop and get what was needed to make them all a tea; this was done, and I went over the next day and paid for it.

I had a nephew (called Dan Marsh) who had been a soldier and was invalided home; his father would not take him in, so I did so. He was with me for four months when he died, and had him buried in Tankersley Churchyard. I paid all the expenses of the funeral and the doctor’s bill, and kept him in food, etc., for the 4 months that he lived, thinking I should be paid back out of his insurance money. He was insured for twenty pounds, but his father (my brother Matthew) drew the insurance money, and he would not give me anything, neither did he come to the funeral, so I summonsed him to Barnsley and he was sentenced to six week’s imprisonment for non-payment.

During my younger days I had not the opportunity of going to school to learn to read and write. I can neither read nor write, so I came to the conclusion that my nine children should not be brought up so illiterate as I am. Therefore I sent them all to the Slosh Schools, Tankersley, and each of them got a good, sound education. This I found was a very expensive item, because I had to pay school pence for every one. There was no free education then.

After leaving school I put three of my children under Mr. Laban Solomon, of Hoyland, to learn music, and later on I put two more under Mr. James Nicols, of Stocksbridge, for the same purpose. These lessons went on for two years for each pupil.

During my career when I wanted special information about anything I made a practice of approaching Mr. George Blake Walker, of Tankersley Grange, and he always gave me the best information possible. I also at times approached Mr.Horsfield, the Town Clerk of Barnsley, and he also gave me the best of advice. Then in later years I have approached Mr. Bury, the Registrar, and I am pleased to say that I have received the same courtesy from him.

All the advice received from them has been given to me free of cost.

In the course of time my brother James died in the workhouse at Barnsley, and about two years later my brother Matthew also died in the Workhouse Asylum; he had drank to that extent that they had to put him under restraint. Both my brothers had a better chance, when young than I had, but they would have the drink, and that is where it landed them at last.

Well, I had to bury both of them in due course at Barnsley, having all the expense to bear, both for coffins and everything else, without any help from the Parish or any one, so that readers of my career will see that I have not had a bed of roses to sleep on all the way through life, but by being steady and careful I have been able to put up with it, which I hope is for the best.

After losing my two youngest sons and the Compensation Act coming into force, I began to think about giving up business, because I could not get suitable and reliable men to do the driving, and another thing I had no-one to keep accounts for me and tell me how I was going on, so I thought I had better give up while the business stood well, because if through some unforeseen accident to a waggonette full of people, the compensation no doubt would have been heavier than I could bear, and all my thriftiness would have been swamped at one blow. So I decided to give up, and I had a public sale on the 26th day of November 1906.

I did not sell up because I had a lot of money, but because I thought I could manage, and I am very thankful to say I have done so up to now.

My advice to Parents is, not to give up to the rising generation the place you have occupied in the world so long, because there are some who are very near to you who would turn around and put you out homeless and penniless.

I think I have said all I have to say, so I will conclude with the hope that some one who reads this (especially the young men) may get a deep impression of the necessity of carefulness and soberness during their lives, so that when they grow old they will not be dependent on anybody’s charity.

I was seventy-seven years of age on the fourth day of August, 1911. I must needs say I have lived longer than I thought I should do, but at the same time I am thankful to say that I am in the very best of health, and blessed with all my faculties, and that I can ride a horse to-day (with my boots on) better than I could ride a mule (when I was barefoot) at seven years of age.

Yours truly,


Miner, 8 day February, 1912, Pilley Green

His “X” mark