Brownbacks Home Early Days Transport & Work Services Wartime Entertainment Memories & People News & Weather Links The "factory hands" are an entirely different class. They are as insignificant physically as the "brownbacks" (quarrymen) are prodigious.
Brownback's were classed as the lowest of the low, people didn't want to know them or discuss them in conversation.  Not all quarrymen were hard fighting hard drinking men  some were conscientious workers of good sober character.  Of one thing there is no doubt without these men there would be no mills, or houses built of local stone in Bacup or Stacksteads.  Quarrying was a very strenuous type of work  that demanded great stamina and ingenuity. Extract from a  letter published by the Sheffield Daily Telegraph. 1878 November reprinted in the Bacup Times 1878. The "factory hands" are an entirely different class. They are as insignificant physically as the "brownbacks" (quarrymen) are prodigious. Cadaverous faces, sunken eyes, leaden looks and general ricketness - such and their clogs are the distinguishing peculiarities of the mill workers. They are strangely ignorant. They have not enough character to make them interesting as a study, but are not just a dull stolid, depressed class, about whom no one would care to concern himself. Of the outside world they know little and care less - being - being wholly wrapped up in themselves. Their life reflected by their newspaper is one of beer- drinking and tea-drinking, both in extremes. The "brownback" is a picturesque, if not romantic being, He swears with perhaps more real grace, vigour and effectiveness than any other person whatever. Everything about him his massive but his understanding. His dress is primitive, consisting of a "slop" (or overall) a red handkerchief and a hairy cap. If he wants to be particular he adds trousers, but these when first introduced were considered luxuries, and avoided by the steady conservative ones. The "brownback" is engaged in the delphs or quarries, and partakes of the roughness of the material among which he works. When not blasting on his employers behalf, he is "blasting" on his own private account. He might be put forward to out-swear, out-drink and out-eat any competition. He is indifferent to his lodgings and will sleep anywhere. A saint existed in the old time in Cyprus who allowed the dirt to accumulate on his body till he was encased in a suit of armour. The "brownback" imitates the saint largely not from love of sanctity but love of ease. The hours away from the delph he considers time for drinking beer, or if he has no money, to stand on street corners, envying those who have. He fights policemen and maltreats his wife, if he owns a slave of that description.
So if your ancestor was one of these men who tramped the hillsides day after day to get to his work what would that work have entailed. Locating the rock in the ground was the first job of quarrying, known as Baring  which involved removing first the moorland grass which covered a layer of peat anything from two to four feet deep. Below the peat there came a layer of clay interspersed with pebbles which in the days before machinery was very hard to remove because the clay stuck to the spade. The clay could be anything from 3ft to 6ft thick and then under the clay came what the quarryman called  rag, this was rock of very poor quality. Once all the above had been removed the quarryman hopefully arrived at a good piece of rock which was workable. At this point the Rock Getter took over. The Rock Getters job was very hard and called from some ingenuity also to out do what mother nature had laid down for thousands of years. Once a slab had been raised high enough to pass a heavy chain under and around the sides of it , it was then gently eased from its bed by the crane. Both the getter and the crane driver had to be equally aware of the amount of strain that was being exerted on the crane. Once the rock was free from it's bed the rock getter had to work out from it's size if the crane was powerful enough to wind it onto the staging  of the cutters.  If  the rock was too heavy then the getters had to cut it into more convenient sizes and weight to lift it. Once the rock had reached the Cutters then the rock could be cut to whatever was required by forming a slot known as a wedge hole  using a  heavy shaped pick this was then completed by using a smaller pick known as a bottomer the better the shape of the wedge hole then usually the  cleaner cut. The wedge had to sit snug on the sides of the holes yet not touching the bottom the wedge was then struck by a heavy hammer. The number of wedges and holes depended on the size of  the piece of rock about to be cut and also on the type of rock. After the Cutter had cut the approximate sizes for whatever was required i.e. edging stones, kerbstones, channels, flags etc usually ordered by corporations, councils or contractors then Masons took over. Masons got the cut stone onto a Banker by using a hand crane, each mason helping one another when a stone needed dressing. A good mason would make use of every bit of stone keeping it true and square. The working area needed for cutting, dressing and storing the stone was known as the Hillock. Probably because it was a raised area usually about four feet above the railway lines the wagons were shunted alongside the Hillock in such a way that the hand crane could jib round with a few kerbs through the dropped doors of the wagon. The time allowed for a wagon leaving the main line siding to go up to the quarry shunted about, loaded and returned  to the main line siding was about three days. Anything over that was charged a penalty by the railway companies. The carrying capacity of the rail wagons was 8, 10 or 12 tons.
Holt Sidings Brownbacks at work.
Exposed locations with severe weather conditions made for a very rugged tough type of man.  A quarryman would never admit to being cold even when his hands were frozen to the stone, due to indestructible pride. In bad weather the men could not work and there was no pay for time not worked, newly quarried stone could not be worked in frosty weather. It was not uncommon for men to be laid of for weeks at a time during a long cold spell in winter. One such occasion occured in February 1895 when the weather in the whole of the country was very severe described in the local and national papers of the time as Arctic Conditions, the quarry men of Stacksteads and Whitworth were laid of for several weeks receiving a payment of £1 per week from quarrymans association. It seems from census returns and enquiries made to me that quite a lot of the Quarrymen of Stacksteads were of Irish decent,  and the four main areas in  Stacksteads which they  lived appear to be Taylorholme, Sandholes Row now known as Bankfield Street, Huttock End and the Blackwood Road area.   A Typical quarryman's work  attire was thick corduroy trousers tied just below the knee with string  similar to the ones shown right worn by Thomas Caygill other man Jimmy Pick.. Wearing them like this allowed the trousers to be kept baggy around the knee allowing for easier bending. A pair of big heavy clogs or hob nailed boots a tie tied around the neck no collar  and a heavy jacket. Another club, named the Brandwood Labourers Accident Club had been set up by 1888.  The club was described as a “exceptional institution for the quarrymen and labourers of the district”. The members of the club paid sixpence a month in the event that a member met with a accident he would receive 10s per week for the first six months and 5s per week for the next six months. Previous to the club if a quarryman had a severe accident a collection was passed around his workmates to help the man's family. During the year 1887-1888 the club had paid out £93.15s and the club had 396 members. Accidents were common especially to the new comer quite often an injured quarryman would wake up to find himself in the pub awaiting the services of the local Doctor, and it wasn't unusual for many a Quarryman's wife  and even in some cases his children to be in need of the Doctors services suffering from punishment the quarryman had inflicted. Unfortunately the brownbacks reputation wasn’t helped when the following story appeared in the Bacup Times in March 1881. On Saturday last a number of the pigeon flying, cock-fighting, gambling, dog- racing,  fraternity- indeed a large number of the scum of Stacksteads met at a familiar haunt, and added to their multifarious amusements that of a man and dog fight. Most of our readers are doubtless aware that at Stacksteads there is a considerable proportion of the rough element. One of the most notorious of this class is a big, burly, and ferocious looking individual, who occasionally varies the monotony of his everyday life by drinking, fighting, and not infrequently does he go through the performance of worrying and eating rats, to the great delight of his associates. Occasionally he tries his teeth on pots and plates, whilst to him cow heel bones are as ordinary food. Not long ago this individual chewed and swallowed a tot glass, in a well frequented tap room, the circumstances forming an interesting subject of study for several of the younger members of the medical profession. Such a thing as throwing up the sponge is it is said, entirely unknown to him. His last adventure took place on the above named day, when he tackled an animal almost as ferocious as himself. Abulldog named Joe, and he has come off conqueror. The dog is noted for his prowess in combats with his canine neigbours and his master who by the way was on the spree turned in at the headquarters of the cock and dog fighting fraternity and being under the influence of liquor, and in a talkative mood, he at once proceeded to recount the adventures of his wonderful dog, and in the course of his wild rhetoric offered to back the dog against the champion of live rats, glasses and bones, a challenge which was no sooner given than it received a ready response. The agreement being that the dog should have the same chances as he would if pitted against another member of the canine species, whilst the man was to have his hands fastened before him, and fight with his mouth. The burly looking fellow descended to the same level of the brute, and on his hands and knees, he waited for the attack of the dog. The latter on being unmuzzled was hounded on by the spectators, and the fearful combat began. The struggle was brief but nevertheless a fearful one. The man espied his opportunity and, and seizing the brute by the right ear, with his powerful teeth, he pinned it to the floor and “worried” it in such a manner that it’s boasting master “threw up the sponge”. The dog is well known in the neighbourhood of the Stacksteads stone quarries and carries upon its hide the scars of many a tough battle.  Today there are strict health and safety rules that have to be abided by in any workplace but in the workplaces of our ancestors there were few if any and therefore accidents were common.  In order to get the quarried stone from the workings at Brandwood quarry to the railway siding at Atherton Holme a tramway was used.  The tramway had to cross Blackwood Road and this often posed a danger to the residents of Blackwood Road as well as the brownbacks and contractors working in the quarry. When a wagon was loaded and ready to be sent down the steep incline the engineman would blow a whistle to let the signalman who would be at the bottom of the line  and any residents know that a wagon was about to be set off. After checking the line was clear the brakesman would then let of the brake and the wagon would begin its run taking four or five seconds to reach the crossing on Blackwood Road.  The only safety feature on the line was something called a scutch, which if used before a wagon reached it could derail the wagon thereby stopping its descent. Unfortunately if the wagon had passed this point there was no way to stop the wagon hitting whatever was in the way. On December 15th 1888 this happened to be a 44 year old man by the name of Robert Ashworth Dearden.  Robert a contractor was helping another contractor to lead his horse over the crossing in the road when he was hit by a wagon carrying seven tons of flags. The resulting impact threw him onto the line whereupon the wagon ran over him decapitating his head from his body. With an abudance of pubs in the area it is hardly suprising the brownback often spent his entire wages in the pun then found himself up in front of the Magistrate a selection of accident reports and court reports can be read by clicking the links.
Houses of Taylorholme. Sketch of Bury Bob and his dog fight. Brownbacks of Lee Mill quarry. Quarry Accident Reports Quarry Accident Report 1902 Brownbacks Court Reports