Book Review

Jonathan Pepler (ed) 2018.The Diaries of William Lloyd Holden.

Record Society of Lancashire and Cheshire for the subscription year 2018, priced at £30.00.

William Lloyd Holden, born 08 Nov1805, worked for several years as a surveyor for Bryants, a publisher of county maps in the 1820s and 30s. This book contains an annotated transcription of two years of the diaries he kept, together with introductory material including the editor’s brief biographical sketches of both Holden and his employer, William Andrews Bryant. The diaries provide a valuable insight into how such county map publishers operated, advancing our knowledge in this area.

The Ordnance Survey had for some time been producing a major triangulation of the country with very careful measurements of angles and long baselines. This cartographic skeleton needed to be filled in with a topographical survey of rivers, roads, buildings and everything else that we would recognise as a map. The OS’s topographical work proceeded slowly, leaving scope for private publishers, of whom Bryant was one, to issue rival maps.

These publishers had a very different approach. Although the editor suggests they might have made use of the published OS triangulation data field surveyors such as Holden borrowed existing estate and township plans and based their maps on these. At the time of the diaries Bryant had already published several county maps including the East Riding and was working on a West Riding map (never published). Holden had previously been based at Penistone, Barnsley and possibly Huddersfield. The diary opens with him in Mirfield on New Years Day 1829, somewhat under the weather from seeing in the New Year and setting out for Chester via Manchester to begin mapping Cheshire.

Over the next two years his major assignments were to Chester in January 1829; late February, Parkgate on the Wirral; late June, Chester; mid September, Holmfirth; early December, London, late February 1830, Holmfirth; late May, Hollingworth; late July, Altringham and mid November, Ingleton. The first two weeks of September 1829 he spent with another of Bryant’s surveyors, Tremain, moonlighting on an estate map for Sir John Stanley of Alderley Hall.

At this stage in his life Holden has no home of his own. While in London he alternates between his widowed mother, his married sister and the Quadrant, Regent St. where Tremain’s wife ran a lodging house. Elsewhere he establishes himself in a lodging house or inn. He quickly comes to regard each lodging as home and sets up his drawing office there. He clearly has a very sociable disposition which not only enables him to establish a circle of friends wherever he lodges but must also have served him well in his work as must his inquisitive disposition. In addition to the diaries he keeps “scrap books” and encouraged others to do so. He copies epitaphs and graffiti into them, makes sketches and composes verse. The life he leads at each station varies with circumstances, reading where his Chester landlady had a good library; socialising, especially with young ladies, and playing cards and draughts.

Established in a new location he seeks out and borrows any available material. He copies the plans by tracing and then reduces them, presumably to a fixed scale. His main surveying instrument is a pantograph which he invariably spells as “pentograph”. In the entire two years he makes very few mentions of a surveyor’s chain, indeed, at one point he measures a road by pacing.

The reduced plans are supplemented by field work although it’s not clear just what this was. He lists the places through which he passes, so many in a day that he can’t be making many measurements. One clue is that at one point he’s asked if he’s sketching. It seems likely that the field work may have been adding in details by eye and discovering the names of roads, etc.

He accounts for much time spent “planning” which is separate from the copying and reducing. This must have included adding in the field data but I wonder if he had to reconcile boundaries of adjacent estates and townships where the plans didn’t quite fit. He sent parcels back to Bryant and received material back so planning must have included work on drafts produced in the office.

The Bryant enterprise was financially precarious. The maps were financed by subscription – crowdfunding isn’t new – and surveyors were expected to canvas for subscriptions. Holden even obtains subscriptions from some of those whose estate plans he borrows. From the first Holden’s pay is in arrears but he is able to settle with his landlady weekly. As the diaries progress his situation gets worse. He chases Bryant for payment and becomes stranded when he runs out of work, taking ever longer credit for his lodgings until Bryant sends a remittance. One gets the impression that although there would have been work to do at the next station Bryant was unable to move him there until he has himself raised more funds. Holmfirth was one of the places where he got stranded and the diaries record increasing stress. When he arrives he is “much pleased with the mountainous character of the surrounding scenery” and the appearance of the moors is “truly sublime”. By the following April vegetation is “so very niggard in this country”.

This was a good time to have started mapping Holmfirth. Following the Holme Enclosure Act the previous year plans were drawn up and he was seeking access to them as they became available as well as township maps. The White Hart (lately Brambles and currently Harveys, Public Houses of Holmfirth pp. 70 – 80), was the place for following up this business. Township maps were the business of the overseers and the overseer of Upperthong, Edmund Hampshire, considered his 1802 map was “incorrect”. He doesn’t say why; maybe it had become out of date at this time of rapid change. This is the earliest map of Upperthong we have so one hopes there were no original errors. Holden promised to make him a new one but never did. Elsewhere Holden obtains estate maps but not here. Surely the manor of Wakefield must have had maps but where are they?

His base in Holmfirth was with Jonathan Turner and his family at the George in Upperbridge (lately the Voda Bar and currently the Winking Stag), Pubs.pp 120-126. The family also owned the Jane Wood dyehouse (ibid p 122 and Wool and Worsit pp160-1). The adult sons became part of Holden’s social circle. Not long after Holden left Holmfirth the youngest, Charles, wrote to say his father had died.

A Holmfirth diary of this date invites comparison with the diaries of Arthur Jessop which commenced a century earlier in 1730. Jessop was an apothecary and the only resident form of medical practitioner in the neighbourhood; Holden names four surgeons and at least one druggist. Literary interests had also moved on from the book clubs of Jessop’s day. There was now a subscription library and a bookseller although he does mention a book club. The variety of reading matter had widened from the solidly theological tomes that dominated Jessop’s clubs. There were also lectures in Huddersfield and Holden became a founder member of a debating society in Wooldale. Like Jessop, Holden regularly attended church; if anything commenting more fully on sermons. Communication between Holmfirth and the wider world had improved, there was a post office which appears to have backed onto the burial ground, possibly the premises occupied by the computer shop Your PC.

A major change was that textile manufacture was moving to the factory system by Holden’s time. He tells us that it seems to have been a buyer’s market, merchants being able to set the price and that the manufacturers then squeeze the workmen’s wages. By contrast in Jessop’s time the domestic system was universal and clothiers were taking their finished cloth to be left for sale in markets such as Huddersfield and Wakefield. Holden visits a few mills including Cuttles (Underbank Mill, ibid. pp 162 – 165) and Mr Hinchliffe’s. There are a number of candidates for the latter but the most likely seems to be Washpit (ibid. pp 152 – 156). Holden tells us that Cuttles used a hydraulic press for finishing and a powered brushing machine. His trip round Hinchliffe’s was hurried and only an improved method of nap-cutting impressed him.

Overall there is a great deal of detail in the diaries which can be corroborated with other sources or provide new insights both to those of us concerned with Holmfirth and those interested in his other stations. He was an observant young man moving about late Georgian England. Nevertheless there were limits to what he recorded. Although shortly after moving back to Cheshire he makes a strongly damning comment on the factory system his life as he described it was very different those who were being drawn into these new mills. In 1834 it was recorded that Cuttells allowed their workers the luxury of starting an hour later in winter: 7 a.m. Holden’s social circle in Holmfirth included those who could afford to socialise and play cards as late as 4 a.m. during his enforced idleness.


Holme Valley Civic Society Local History Group, 2016. Public Houses of Holmfirth, Past and Present. Holme Valley Civic Society. (Pubs)

Michael Day, 2013, Wool & Worsit, A History of Textiles in the Holme Valley. Laveroc Publishing, Huddersfield.

C.E. Whiting, (ed), 1952. Two Yorkshire diaries: the Diary of Arthur Jessop and Ralph Ward’s Journal. Yorkshire Archaeological Society Record Series.