THE FORGOTTEN DIARIST
CONTINUING THE SERIES ON FAMOUS ECCENTRICS BY GEORGE C. MILLER
This week: Charles Tiplady
He was a fair poet, too
PROBABLY the cult of the diary is as old as history itself, for all through the ages men have felt an urge to record the pattern of their lives.
In this sense even the primitive hunter, scratching his vivid drawings of wild and domestic animals on the wall of his cave, was a diarist. But not until the character of the individual creeps into his story does he part company with the historian proper, for the latter must be essentially impartial.
England in the 17th century was particularly rich in diarists, stylists such as Dugdale, Whitelock, Fox, Evelyn and Samuel Pepys and they succeeded in establishing a tradition sustained by later generations.
Of such were Creevey and Grenville, while nearer home, John Byron, the Manchester poet, kept a journal which sheds much light on the early days of “Cottonopolis”, as does that of John Wesley on the later aspects of Lancashire Nonconformity.
We had our own local diarist, although the name of Charles Tiplady may not be familiar to many for, like the prophet, he is without honour in his own country.
It would almost seem as if Blackburn were ashamed of its colourful past and resented the efforts of its historians to pry into the obscurity lest, unaware, they turn up the remains of some particularly unsavoury skeleton.
For this reason, Tiplady’s diary was never made public (as undoubtedly it ought to have been), and now the manuscript has disappeared.
Fortunately, W. A. Abram, while editor of the “Blackburn Standard”, had it in his custody for some time and with his usual prescience, published a series of extracts. Fragmentary as these are, they reveal him as a critical observer of the passing pageant of his times, as well as a reliable and painstaking analyst.
Charles Tiplady was born in Blackburn on June 23rd, 1808, although the family was of Yorkshire origin. For the greater part of his life he was in business with his brother William as a printer and bookseller in premises adjoining the Golden Lion Inn, Salford.
Our illustration shows the sit as it was at the beginning of this century with the ivy clad mansion of Dr Pollard at Woolworth’s corner, and Tiplady’s shop three doors lower down.
In addition he was so preoccupied with the town’s affairs that it is almost impossible to follow his innumerable activities during the 33 years covered by his diary.
He was at various times, churchwarden and sidesman, Sunday School teacher and superintendent, both at Grimshaw Park and Thunder Alley; he was a Freemason and an Oddfellow; an Improvement Commissioner before the town’s incorporation and a town councillor for St. John’s Ward from 1860 to 1865 when he became an alderman.
As a Conservative he served his party in various capacities; he was a principal of the Philanthropic Burial Society, a director of Darwen Gas Company and a shareholder in several of the earliest railway companies.
Altogether a busy little man and one to be reckoned with when the affairs of the township were in question. I cannot resist giving an extract from his journal made during the stormy election of 1841, when the Old Bull Hotel was raided by a body of disgruntled supporters of defeated Turnerites.
“It was my lot (he writes) to be stationed in the Bull Inn during the whole of the fray, in which I witnesses three of the most astonishing transitions of human passions that I recollect ever to have beheld, viz, despondency consequent on a false report that we had lost; excessive triumph on the announcement we had won by one vote; and dreadful terror when the mob attacked the inn.
“In the first instance, all was solemn silence and dejected countenance – you might have heard a pin fall; in the second men appeared positively intoxicated with joy – I never saw anything equal to it.
“It was in the height of this bewilderment that the sound of the first missile crashing through a window reached the ears of the assembly. The transition, awfully sudden, was yet somewhat ridiculous, as showing the effect of fear on the strongest nerves, when suddenly and unexpectedly attacked.
“In an instant men of the most undoubted courage fled panic-stricken into holes and corners, over roofs and buildings, into cellars, attics, stables, etc. I remained with a few friends until the riot was quelled”.
The plain unvarnished narrative style is typical of the man and is evident throughout the whole of his diary. In another extract he makes an unfavourable comparison between the polluted state of the Blakewater in later years as compared with the clear pellucid stream of his childhood days.
“Then, how beautiful to stroll by its devious courses along the fields to Brookhouse, to the rookery at Little Harwood Hall and on the confines of Sour Milk Hall farm.
“Then, following its mazy current, we came to Whitebirk. There we sat down on its banks, listening to the sweet carolling of the birds; ever and anon refreshing ourselves with copious draughts of the pure liquid, and pulling our homely crust of ‘pie and other prog’ from our pockets, feasted right merrily. Ah, those were happy days. But now, poor old brook, how art thou fallen”.
Although not mentioned in Hull’s “Poets and Poetry of Blackburn”, Charles Tiplady was a severe satirical poet of no mean order.
Abram, who knew him well, describes him as in person thin and somewhere below middle height. “His face was pale, his head somewhat square-shaped and his air iron-grey. His features were regular and expressed intelligence and dogged determination”.
Such is the picture of a useful, if somewhat erratic, public-spirited citizen who deserved well of his contemporaries and is worthy of remembrance even today, when so much appertaining to the past is being quietly shoved underground or blotted out from public records.
He died on October 15th, 1873.
Focus on Yesterday
Some bygone Blackburnians
LOCAL history is far more than a mere topographical survey or a dry compilation of statistics. It is essentially a vital story of human achievement, a poignant record of the lives and fortunes of individual men and women, an epitome of the everlasting struggle between spiritual and material things. It is a massive volume, embodying in its pages material for a hundred romances, in which tears and laughter are strangely mingled.
Blackburn has produced many gifted sons, poets and inventors, industrialists and statesmen, all versed in the lore of their native hearth and moulded by its traditions.
In this new series of articles I propose to take a cross-section – a sample cut, as it were – on order to show of what manner of stuff our fathers were made. I begin the series with a character of many and varied attainment, Charles Tiplady.
The cult of the diary is probably as old as history, for in one sense primitive man, scrawling crude drawings on the wall of his cave, was a diarist, and in “Charlie” Tiplady Blackburn had a diarist very close to the tradition of such masters as Evelyn, Pepys, Grenville or Creevey. But his name is not familiar as such. For one reason, his diary was never printed, as undoubtedly I ought to have been, for now the manuscript is missing. Fortunately, W. A. Abram, whilst editor of the Blackburn Standard, had it in his possession for some times, and with is customary prescience, published a series of extracts in that journal. From these fragments we gather that he was a keen and critical observer of the passing scene, as well as a reliable annalist.
Born in 1808, for the greater part of his life our diarist was in business as a printer and bookseller in premises adjoining the Golden Lion, Church-street. In addition he was at various times church-warden and Sunday school superintendent; an Improvement Commissioner before the town’s Incorporation; a town councillor from 1860 and a prominent shareholder in the first railway companies. Altogether a busy little man, for he was also an inveterate rhymster and a severe satirist. According to Abram “his face was pale, his head somewhat square-shaped, and his hair iron-grey. His features were regular and expressed intelligence and dogged determination”.
As an example of his narrative style, take this extract from his diary concerning the pollution of the Blakewater:
Then, how beautiful to stroll, by its devious courses, along the fields to Brookhouse; to the rookery at Little Harwood Hall; and on to the confines of the Sour Milk Hall farm. Then, following its mazy current, we came to Whitebirk. There we sat down on its banks, listening to the sweet carolling of the birds; ever and anon refreshing ourselves with copious draughts of the pure liquid, and pulling our homely crust of “pie and other prog” from our pockets, feasted right merrily. Ah, those were happy days. But now, poor old brook, how art thou fallen.
Geo. C. Miller
Blackburn Times, 5th February 1954.