3: The Treats
Almost immediately after she set up the Kind Hearted Band Maggie decided that she was going to put on a 'Treat' for the poor children of the town. The venue was to be the skating rink - this after a great deal of research in the directories by the staff at Archives, turns out to be the now derelict baths in Henry Square - about four doors down from her house. She never ever refers to it as the baths either then or in subsequent years so it must have been well known as a skating rink in Ashton - interesting.
The first 'Treat' on January 9th 1892 was not reported on in any great detail in the Herald apart from the mention in the column 'Chats with Children'. Apparently 800 poor children turned up in January 1892, astonishing in itself but the following year 1200 children appeared and in January 27th 1894 it was reported an amazing 1500 'little ones sought out and selected from the neediest of the population of Ashton, Stalybridge, Hurst and Dukinfield assembled for dinner and entertainment'. The Rector of Ashton called it 'practical Christianity'. The Band would have had to be very practical indeed to provide enough food, on time and clear away and entertain so many little children and probably half again as many helpers but this is where Maggie seems to have really shone. Organisation was obviously her forte.
From the onset Maggie had the help from lots of gentlemen named and thanked in the paper, who came every year. Either Mr. Machell, the owner, or her hubby Joseph assigned a Herald man, Arthur Brown, to assist her. In 1892 she gives whole paragraph to the manager of the Baths/rink. Mr. Chadwick and his son Samuel (he found enough spoons for her), and Mr. T Crossland lent his grand piano (free of charge) and continued to do so every subsequent year.
Councillor Joe Fisher always decorated the huge hall with red and white curtains and draperies which gave off such a warm colour all around the room. He also erected among the other embellishments the motto of the Kind Hearted Band - Be Just and Fear Not. This was designed and executed by Walter Moorcroft of Stalybridge. And Mr. Smethurst of Stamford Street supplied 6 ladles (they had 14 of their own which Maggie mentions as an aside she was prepared to hire out to any hot pot committee if needed!). This was catering on a massive scale. Maggie roped in Ashton Cooperative Society who loaned her chairs and tables AND ferried them back and forth. Their leader, Herbert Johnson, said "I am only too proud to be of service in this good cause and should not for a moment think of making charge for this service."
Maggie seems to have had quite a variety of entertainers.
In 1892 G B Broadbottom wrote:
I was glad to see so many of the poor children in Ashton at the feast Tuesday week and that so many of our members attended the entertainment. I and our friend Mr. Sykes enjoyed ourselves during the evening. It was a great treat for us to see how delighted the children were to see our friend Mr. Rowe give his performance with his little boy doll. Next came the minstrels and their enjoyable programme.
Rather interestingly amongst other entertainers she always had a ventriloquist, a Mr. Maguire of Stalybridge - he gave up after a particularly rowdy Treat in 1895 but I can't begin to imagine how he managed to make himself heard and I would have thought that was the whole point of ventriloquism. I suppose it was a little sentimental given her Father's profession I wonder if he even knew her father.
She is held to task in 1892 because she didn't speak. She wrote:
"The only disappointment I find was about me. Some of the cousins have written expressing their disappointment not hearing me speak from the platform. I am sorry, dear disappointed ones, but I have never appeared on a platform yet and I'm sure if I had attempted to speak I should never had been heard. For instance Alderman Machell has a good speaking voice from a platform and he was scarcely heard. I'm sure if I had attempted to speak my voice wouldn't have been heard at all."
She also added:
"I trust that you are all satisfied with the manner in which I have spent your pennies. Don't you think it was good for a first attempt?"
In 1893 she writes about the distribution of the tickets:
"You should have seen the rush for tickets for admission (bear in mind 1200 children actually turned up on the day) by the poor children on Wednesday morning. It would have done your heart good. They came in great crowds and fairly blocked the way to the Herald works; they were all sizes and ages; some plump and rosy, others thin and sad looking frightened. I hope the poor things will enjoy their dinner and entertainment.
On January 27th 1894 the Herald reported:
Fine weather lent itself in large measure to the unequivocal success which attended Tuesday's event - though cold it was dry - a fact in favour of so many ill clad little ones while the sun shone benignly upon them as they made their way to the prospective feast.
The number of tickets issued this year was 1300. So far as Ashton and Dukinfield was concerned these were committed for distribution into the hands of the Headmasters and Mistresses of several schools, (to prevent the siege on the Herald offices?) - regardless of course of denomination.
In her interview given after the Bazaar in 1897 Maggie is at great pains to emphasis that she wished to cut across the religious and political divide in Ashton:
"Of course I never thought of religion or politics in this enterprise but when I commenced canvassing help I soon found that some folks did. One by one I had to drop those who were too sensitive to withstand mental or moral sirocco or who held very decided views and wished me to submit my judgment to theirs."
She just wanted to help ALL poor children. The report continues:
In Stalybridge a different but no less satisfactory plan was followed. A fair proportion of the tickets judiciously distributed and a new departure this year in connection with Stalybridge was the provision made for the conveyancing of the children to and from the Ice Rink. For this purpose 3 roomy vehicles were hired from the Ashton & Stalybridge Carriage Company and ran at appointed periods until the whole of the guests were collected and redelivered - Stalybridge Town Hall being the starting point. A few stragglers "toddled" their way into the Skating Rink and others with cup or basin as passport got a lift by the way. A little band of expectant waifs, we are told, trudged all the way, unbidden from Mossley, (all 300 of them) and were rewarded for their zeal by free and ready admission to the ample feast.
According to Google maps this was a distance of 5 MILES! Some distance to set out poorly clad in January, even if the sun is shining, it won't be by 4 pm, with a cup or a basin in the HOPE by no means a certainty, of getting some part of the feast. They must have been VERY hungry children indeed.
It was reported:
Between 3 and 4 o'clock a constant succession of arrivals at the door of the Skating rink from the "tiny little toddlekins" in the charge of big brother or sister to the older but no less eager anticipants of "good things provided" within. In some cases the sartorial equipment of the children was the poorest but clean faces and hands were almost an invariable rule and even rags were surmounted by kempt hair and shining faces.
And again it was reported:
Arrangements were made to obviate any unseemly rushing and struggling for seats by men named again in the Herald newspaper, who were unremitting in their endeavours to give effect to the plan of campaign, which of course was inspired and directed by Cousin Maggie.
The tables were arranged in long lines across the width of the hall and down its entire length. They were treated to hot pot!
"Steaming and savoury with a generous supply of bread" served by a "ready and active band of waiters and the little ones fell to with a sort of appetite which is not easy of description and not less difficult even of imagination to those who have never seen a thousand hungry children in the presence of a square solid meal." Then came "a copicious 'baptism' of raw milk! which never fails to commend itself to the special appreciation of the K H B guests on these occasions".
I can't begin to imagine any child of today being given that fare - but it gets better. The report continues:
The introduction of each course was the signal for cheers so vigorous that they almost "rent the roof" and when the plum puddings came in due course the cordiality of their welcome was nothing abated by the fact that something more than the edge had been taken off the appetite by the previous courses. By the time the 'dumpling' had gone the round an air of appeasement and general satisfaction had settled upon smiling and cheerful faces and the process of evolution soon developed a disposition towards a romp. Such a disposition under the circumstances could not well be encouraged and those who discharged the congenial duty of 'waiting on' had a somewhat more arduous task to endeavour to preserve order.
Believe it or not several members the Borough Police were roped in the be the waiters with the aid of many more volunteers - again Maggie organising a forerunnner of the PCSOs of today discharging the coffee and chat Thursday afternoons in our local OAP hut. The report goes on:
All things considered, however, the conduct of the children was good. In the interval between dinner and the entertainment their lungs were well exercised in singing such popular ditties as After the Ball, A bicycle made for two, etc with such choral precision which would not have discredited the baton of Dearnaley. (Dearnaley was the renowned choirmaster and organist of the parish church. He had worked with Halle and rather appropriately he lived in Handel Terrace AuL) When the dinner was over the 200 to 300 ticketless applicants who besieged the doors were admitted to the feast to feast on the remains of the hot-pot and pudding. The latecomers were no less hearty. The keener appetite of the children this year was a subject of general notice. The difference may be accounted for by the fact that last year we were in the thick of the cotton war when relief dinners were prevalent and not a few of last year's guests had probably "been the round" They had not had the same opportunities this year. Does that account for the 5 mile walk?
The Mayor of Ashton, Andrew Ely, and his entourage attended and usually a nurse sat on the platform in Uniform. She was Miss Anderson from Crumpsall Hospital, Manchester and Stalybridge. There is never any explanation as to just who she was and why she attended and not a nurse from the Infirmary, but obviously Maggie had the foresight to realise that given the vast numbers of children attending her services may well be required. And lastly thanks were always given via the newspaper for the huge numbers of 'Cousins' who attended and helped. They sat upstairs in the balconies/gallery - typically in a letter written in the Chats with Children column dated February 3rd 1894.
Annie Rushworth of 10 Edward Street, Hurst Brook, states:
I'm very glad to say I went to the Treat and also my sister Edith and my brother Albert. We enjoyed ourselves very much but it was very noisy in the gallery we could scarcely hear anything. We liked the magic lantern show.
Obviously not too much mingling between the social classes.
In the report for 1895 there are still the vast numbers of children turning up and it is noted:
1200 in number can be accounted for by either the popularity of the occasion or as far as a measure of the distress being a consequence upon the severe weather and continued blackness of employment. Both circumstances are taken into account for the general arrangements.
It then states that it's Messrs George Hill & Son (John) of Ryecroft who have the culinary facilities to supply the hot-pot - I don't know if this is Ryecroft Hall or some place in the neighbourhood. 110 lbs of meat was supplied by Mr Slater of Old Street - 60lbs of onions and the potatoes came from Mr Gibson in the market and Mr. Harrop of Warrington Street peeled them - 20 1 lb loaves of bread - 3 churns of milk and 47 six pound cakes cut up into 1630 solid pieces. Mr. John Band lent the dishes.
In 1895 the plum pudding was 'supplanted' by 'substantial and well seasoned fig cake!' And the change seemed to give general satisfaction. It doesn't say in taste or bowel movement. But there was also 'A liberal supply of bread and the usual plentiful liberations of milk which is always among the best appreciated item in the feast, served to clear the way and whet the appetite for the next course.' Ugh!
'The behaviour in the rink was in apple-pie order under the disciplinarian efforts of a small body of police who were there courtesy of the Chief Constable.'
It also states that:
'There were, among the sea of little faces around the tables many pinched with cold and still sharper pangs of hunger'.
The proceedings were, of course, 'carried out under the direction of Cousin Maggie, the founder and Leader of the KHB.'
The Magic Lantern show was run by Mr. Joseph Hutchinson with the assistance of his two sons. It was an oxy-hydrogen triple lantern on the latest and most approved principles which was fixed in the centre of the rink (Health & Safety would have a field day) and the reflected pictures were on an 18 foot high screen. Mr. Hutchinson junior played the piano to accompaniment of the hymns thrown upon the screen. The combined voices of 1600 people! (I assume children and helpers etc) was 'most effective'.
Amongst the religious pictures were some of Stamford Park, Daisy Nook, the Mason Monument and St Peter's church. The song Goodnight was the signal for dispersal and in a few minutes the Rink emptied and the juveniles from Ashton and Dukinfield were trudging homewards in the moonlight while the Stalybridge contingent were redelivered to their native borough in the Carriage Company's vehicles.
What was interesting in that report was amongst the endless list of people named for thank you there was also a quite long list of people who hadn't been able to attend. Their names and 'excuses' were all printed out for all to see. There was notably Miss Bertha Mason (she'd allegedly been ill for 10 days), the Liberal Mayor - Mr. & Mrs. Ely (they were in Southport), Miss Chapman the relatively new Infirmary Matron (she was busy at work), Thomas Hegginbottom of Stamford House (it had been his intention to look in but business had overtaken him), and Major Bradley of the Armoury who only the night before had agreed to Mrs. Morton to come but had developed a headache.
The aid was dividing along the usual political and religious lines but Maggie would have the last laugh (well almost the last one).
If the previous 4 years of organising the Treat had showcased Maggie's organising abilities 1896 for the fifth Treat proved just how well she coped with potential disasters. To start with she had difficulty raising the funding. The previous October/November she had organised a Bazaar in the Town Hall to raise funds for the Hospital cot she wished to endow in the new Children's Hospital (more about that later). What with Christmas, etc. I suppose her Cousins were running short of pennies and aid fatigue had set in. She admonished the Cousins several times in her Chats with Children column and tried several new competitions - the bread one, etc. but to no avail. Maggie was apologising every Saturday as gradually the Treat was put back week by week until finally she managed to get a date fixed at the end of March the 28th.
The usual 1500 turned up plus...
Indeed stragglers and those who were unfortunate enough to have no tickets but an awful appetite bombarded the entrance and were to number 200!
They were duly given tea and cakes after the 1500 had partaken of theirs. Indeed, Mr. Butterworth kept his bakery open and was baking up until proceedings began.
The poor mites, many of them barely able to toddle along and of them in garb that were tattered and torn hurried along the street from all parts of the town hold a cup or mug in one hand and their ticket in the other. Those who had the hue of health laughed merrily regardless of their forlorn condition but those who had been pinched either by sickness or extreme poverty had sad frightened faces with a haunted look around their eyes. To most of us a food feed of cakes and tea and a magic lantern entertainment are not attractive in the least but to those poor little ones it meant a very great deal - a right royal day.
They changed the menu: 'George and John Hill's good nature and resources had been taxed too much" and the new caterer in Stamford Street, a Mr. Butterworth, in premises just opposite the Avenue got the nod. He 'took the whole responsibility off the shoulders of Cousin Maggie and provided not only the cakes but the tea and other refreshment for the helpers.' The feast now consisted of bags of buttered bread with coverings (sandwiches), current cakes and pots of tea. No more gallons of fresh milk 'The cakes etc supplied were of superior quality and the catering was at a price that left no margin for profit for Mr. Butterworth.' Umm.
It was reported that
'After tea, which was speedily consumed the setting sun STILL smiled upon proceedings, to the utter bewilderment of the lantern man.' (it was March, not January, ergo lighter nights) 'Mrs. Morton who was the initiator of the Band' (suddenly for the first time she gets her correct title in the paper) 'exercised a cousinly - if not motherly care over all. To while away the fleeting half hour with such a throng is experience which, if one can realise who has not seen something of it. The Mowgli pow wow in the jungle, as depicted in Rudyard Kipling's fascinating story, is nothing to it. These youngsters seemed not to be but bundles - so producing nerves endowed with more elasticity than India rubber.'
Why use one word like 'Mayhem' when 50+ will suffice?
'A little high class music was thought of and Mr. T Crossland had given permission to use his grand piano an effort was made in that direction. But the fates intervened. The piano was locked and the Herald's man's latch key failed to pronounce the 'open sesame'. Such a trifling difficulty was but a grain of sand on the sea shore. It was overcome in a novel way. About half a dozen youngsters from the front rows were transferred on to the platform and speedily transformed into a powerful choir who led off one or two well known songs and the rest joined in with vim and verve which is in those young folks distinguishing characteristics.'
If she had had difficulty getting the 1896 treat off the ground, the 1897 never materialised at all. Nor does it appear to be mentioned in her Chats to Children column and the reason I think was because Thomas Machell died very unexpectantly at the very end of December 1896.
The Herald newspaper printed on the 2nd January 1897 had every column edged in deep black and banner headlines announcing Mr. Machell is Dead.
Thomas Machell had just been re-elected as Mayor for Stalybridge for the 2nd time the previous November. He had apparently caught a chill on the train returning from the Lord Mayor's parade in London and had not rested as he was told. When it came to the churching of him being the Mayor at St Paul's, Staley, he had joined in the procession against doctor's orders and, rather bizarrely, the Volunteers' Band had really got the blame for his demise because they played the march too fast going up the hill and Mr. Machell had taken ill trying to keep up with the pace!
He lingered for several weeks in his sick bed (this is all related in graphic detail in both the Herald and the Reporter - Victorian melodrama at its best) and finally died at 3 am in the morning on the 29th December 1897. And that really sealed Cousin Maggie's fate. Obviously he had underwritten all her activities.
Her letter to the Children in her column on the 2nd January was quite incredible considering she is writing to under 12 year olds. It's all about how much Mr. Machell meant to the Kind Hearted Band, his saintly deeds and about his amazing love for his wife and children etc. She, and indeed Joseph too in his editorial, are quite obviously stunned.
Machell had employed Joseph as Editor to give voice to the Conservative point of view in a very liberal town and supported him constantly, even writing pieces for Herald - he was a frequent contributor mostly in a political capacity to this paper and his words were always marked by incisiveness, vigour and knowledge. He was a master of phrases and had a wonderful gift of repartee. Thomas Hegginbottom then bought the paper and he had been one of the people singled out and mentioned (complete with his various excuses) on more than one occasion for NOT attending Maggie's functions. Personality clash?