The demise of Brierley – Burnley 1637

Part 2

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Those letters which he had not finished yet might well have remained that way. (Mine had already been completed; I can be certain of that – although, apparently, he would not cease adding bits!). However, he knew that Janet had had a solid upbringing and even had a reasonable enough hand for a young woman. Furthermore, Brierley realised that, on account of her former curiosity, he need not hide from her the mention of the various texts on which he had worked all his life – most of which were far less controversial than the ones he had shared with me but nothing could be taken for granted as ‘orthodoxy’ by 1637. To him, at that point, she might have been considered a very convenient and precious resource. It was not obvious to quite what extent he might have been able to trust in Welsh. I did not think I would have had all that great faith in that man in Brierley’s position and Janet was far better company anyway.


Therefore he had her sit by the side of the bed, scratchy quill in her relatively unpractised hand (unpractised compared with his at least), inkpot balanced by the side of the bed itself and he announced his thoughts in his now tremulant voice.


Sometimes she had to request him to relax or slow down – in part because he tended to go too fast and, in part, because when excited by his own thinking, his voice became even less clear, his tongue catching continuously on the walls of his mouth as he spoke. If Janet had not been aware of the full range of texts upon which he had worked until then, she would have had to be from that moment! As for Brierley, he fought his way on and on. The more he completed, the more folk sprang back into his mind and to whom he wished to convey some final thoughts; their echoing voices spiralling down the long-passed years into his head, unrelentingly, unforgivingly, like a force out on the fell[1]. There were so many people to whom he wished to leave a final correspondence. With so much stress of the mind, Janet was not always certain who might expire first – him or her! She was in there for hours, day after day… And whilst she wanted to care for him, his only interest was to carry on composing missives. In theory, she ought to have continued to push the emetics upon him but she had seen the results of that, the pain and utter, unmitigated lethargy it had caused him and it put her off from further efforts. Meanwhile, he was completely disinterested in his own survival or welfare. There were things still to be written; that was all!


Next letter…!


…He would say and off he would go again. This time to yet another minister of whom she had never heard or some follower in some remote county, miles from any town to which she had ever ventured.


However, his fevers were causing a greater deterioration in him. Given that, a scrivener – who he already knew well – was called in and his will was made[2]. Walton and Gartsyde both visited him and witnessed it as requested. Anne had moved especially swiftly to get them both to be there for it. He saw Ambrose frequently enough anyway; Gartsyde a little less. But he was pleased to see them both for they were both loyal to him. And his senses were fully with him at that time: perfect in mind if weak in body[3].


And he was buoyed by them; there was no doubt about that. The fight within him was noticeably greater. However, any beneficial effect of their company was very much of the short-lived variety. With only a few such further missives done, he deteriorated and became occasionally delirious and then oftentimes, indeed, more or less continually delirious[4]. Janet said that when he was comprehensible he uttered things which often smacked of heresy and which she could not (even then – after the mention already of so many ‘unusual’ texts) credit that he might have believed. Nevertheless, he would then oppose his own arguments with full force and commitment, like the dourest of Puritan ministers. I guessed at what some of those beliefs might have been. [I think she knew by then that some of them might have been ideas gleaned from amongst the many illicit books he had read in his younger days.] Sometimes he mentioned his mother, sometimes Marland, sometimes me, occasionally an unknown person (to those of Burnley at least), probably one who he had encountered in Grindleton or Kildwick or, even, some lonesome fell. Perhaps, I would genuinely have known their names! Other times he would scream out, louder than was generally considered comfortable for a woman’s ear, as though in some raging debate about the shortening of Time to some theological sparring partner. However, for the people who were around him at the time, there was not much sense to be found in any of it. Even when a variety of visitors hailing from Halifax – the town upon which his mind had actually been set – arrived, there was still precious little to be found in his ramblings[5]. He even mentioned years of travels to strange lands which nobody could credit he had ever truly visited.


And yet, there must have been some benefit accruing from their visit. For, once again, he succeeded in pulling his body back from the brink. It was not through any interest in himself, mind! That was perhaps just as well for had someone passed him a glass he would have seen the state into which his corporeal frame had fallen. Other than the few strands of whitening hair which remained only in patches and hung loose, he was almost bald by then, his face mottled with blood blemishes, his teeth falling loose at a moderate pace – shaking in their sockets as his lips fumbled; barely more than a stationary shadow of a former man. He would have to go on though: there were things he had not yet completed and they would not let him rest!


The prescription with which Janet was charged with administering had changed. She took her commands from Anne on that one, not just from any old man in the company of others visiting from Halifax. Nevertheless, that godly old man had left detailed notes for her regarding the execution of her duties[6]. And Janet had done her absolute best for him in all the ways she thought she knew. It still sounded as though it might not always have been what he actually wanted though. No matter what compromises a man may have made over the course of his life, at such times, the internal mind has a fighting tendency to return to more youthful fundamentals.


I maintained prayer vigils for him – with and without his wife …for hours, of course.


That would never have made the slightest difference. [She was visibly taken aback at the harshness of my retort. It was only fair that I explained to her the position to which I had held for so long. I would do it in a fashion to which she might be able to relate though.] The reality of the situation is that the Lord knows the destined times for everything. There is nothing which a man can do to delay that predestined time by one hour. It is pure presumption to believe that God should care to take any note of our feeble concerns. [Then, feeling that I might only have succeeded in making the harsh harsher still] …I do not doubt even for one moment that you and Anne were both well-intentioned though.


Still she said nothing. Nevertheless, in retrospect, I do believe that there may have been some kind of realisation within her. And there was perhaps even some consideration that – just possibly – the views I had outlined might have had some accord with what Brierley might have shared with her regarding his own.


And, as for him, still his mind had not permitted him any rest. He would check over with Janet all the letters he (and they) had already written – the names only recognisable with prior knowledge of them as the movements of his mouth became constricted and contorted, his throat either too dry or else (at the other extreme) his lips dripping with spittle, distorting every word. He would not even attempt them with Anne there. Part of his face seemed now to refuse any movement no matter what efforts he made. He knew that it was actually too paining for her to watch.


John Towne… Robert Towne… Peter Shaw, care of the Collegi’… [he did his best to enunciate that word but a word such as that had become… well, too long for him and caused the rest to be interspersed with gasps for breath] …Ambrose Walton …of Marsden (…Aye me, we have done that – I know, I know! [the anger was only ever directed at his own incapacities]) …the Barcrofts of Foulridge – all of them, mind!… yes…now… Henry Currer in Halifax (he has been here then? – good, even if I recall nothing of it now) …Matthew Brearley… – We have done that – done that one very fully… I did it before… yes, that is important… Peter… Our Peter


He had gone full circle but she put up with his repetition in spite of the pain it caused them both! She confirmed that all those people had letters and many more. Many more – she reminded him of a dozen or so additional names to whom he had made her scribe. He grunted and nodded as best as he could. He seemed satisfied with her assurances. Brierley wrenched his neck sideways to get a better look at her. Then he jumped as the bones in his neck cracked, surprising himself at the creaking of his own frame and to what it had by then deteriorated. Janet winced at the sound too, trying to swallow her distaste for fear of upsetting the minister. He gasped for air and spat out, no longer even bothering with the simple wooden bowl which had been allocated that role, the spittle landing on his chest, humiliatingly.


All… of them. Yes… Thank you Janet. You have been good to me. So good… Prepare… [He gasped again and struggled to catch his breath; Janet leaned forward, putting her hand upon his sweating forehead in the vain hope that it might calm him and prevent him from restricting his breathing by leaning forward further. It did not much. And she of all folk knew that there was absolutely no point in attempting to dissuade him from continued talk.] …Prepare for the return …hmmm ….Thank you …so much. [His voice quietened further, barely then more than a whisper.] Give Matthew time… he… he needs… time… Wait!… Keep your faith, Genet… keep it… LOW!…


He smiled slightly in denial of the amassing pain and began to choke a little. But there was no fight left in him. Even choking required some inner energy and suddenly he found even enough for that that wholly wanting. He allowed himself to lean back a little, under the influence of Janet’s palm. It was too far back, actually; it restricted his breathing even further, the very opposite effect from what Janet might have hoped.


…And at that point fair England lost the man that the common folk of Grindleton loved so much that they christened, ‘Angel of England’, baptised with fire from the Heart. Sitting there and hearing this story from Janet, I thought that we should never hear the like again. All thoughts regarding any hint of treachery disappeared from my own treacherous, idle head – and I realised now that it was my head which had been idle. ‘Keep it… low!’


I had thought until that point that I had understood everything that had happened over the intervening years… Once again, I had been mainly wrong. I leaned back, satisfied in a strange way that Brierley had continued his search, carried on with his work and treasured the output so. However, the closing of his passage through my life would usher in a new era for me. It had to do so because all remnants of the old era were washing away as a river in full flood takes away everything Man has built along its banks, dissolving each and every recollection from his vain past. His Spirit was gone anyway! In Burnley I was only amidst the ragged shards of his one-time apparel, that mottled and indented church floor, uneven in almost every flag. A new era was arriving and – in a manner of speaking – it did not matter one jot where it took me. That was driven by a pre-written script, anyway.

[1] Force out on the fell: the dialect word, force or foss comes from the Scandinavian word, fors, meaning ‘waterfall’. In Iceland, for example, most waterfalls end in the suffix – foss. In Norway, the term is voss.

[2] This would seem (from elsewhere) to have been George Kay. A fuller note on exactly who Kay might have been is included later. For the time being, he should be treated only as a local scrivener. A previous footnote raised the issue of whether a scrivener would really have been the appropriate person to write a will for a person of Brierley’s status. We can only really go on what is said here!

[3] Perfect in mind if weak in body: Note that this is a slight variation on the standard opening of a last will and testament, emphasising that, although a dying person was evidently sick, they were fully cognisant of what they were saying and the importance of it. However, both the words, ‘perfect’ and ‘Mind’, have connotations in the light of Matthew’s (and Brierley’s beliefs)!

[4] Delirious: Ironically, the root of the word delirious actually implies, ‘swerving from a furrow during ploughing’. In the seventeenth century, it was actually considered to be a form of madness.

[5] It is not clear if this group included Hugh Currer. In 1642 a Hugh Currer of Halifax applied for a licence to marry Mary Mitchell, a spinster of Sowerby Bridge. Como suggests a couple of possibilities as to who Hugh might actually have been but neither is definitive. This is the only evidence cited by Como but there is actually one other piece of evidence for Hugh’s presence in the town. In ‘A history of the town and parish of Halifax’ (1789), Samuel Midgley and William Bentley mention a Hugh Currer in connection either with a school or a workhouse. (Note here that Samuel Midgley died in prison in 1695 and his works came to be in the possession of the aforementioned Bentley later.) The manor of Kildwick had come under Currer control as early as 1558 and, at the end of the Elizabethan period, a Hugh Currer of Marley had purchased the Manor of Bingley from the Walkers – see Edward Parsons’ concisely titled ‘The civil, ecclesiastic, literary, commercial and miscellaneous history of Leeds, Halifax, Huddersfield, Bradford, Wakefield, Dewsbury, Otley and the manufacturing district of Yorkshire’ (Vol. 2, 1834). According to this same source, Hugh’s grandson, Henry of Gawthorpe, sold the same manor to Robert Benson in 1688. Gawthorpe Hall (inconveniently having the same name as the more substantial Shuttleworth residence near Padiham) is a Grade II listed building consisting of a late sixteenth century encasing of an earlier timber-framed building. Note here that Edmund Sheffield, the Earl of Mulgrave also had strong links to the manor. By 1667 Marley belonged to Robert Parker of Browsholme in the Forest of Bowland although it was in the occupation of Joshua Walker.

The exact chronologies are confused and the constant repetition of baptised names makes for plenty of opportunities. However, in 1572 Marley Hall seems to have come into the possession of one William Currer, the brother of Henry Currer of Kildwick (who died 1568), whose wife was the daughter of Christopher Wade of Plumtree Banks in Addington. One account has William’s son moving first to Farnhill – effectively Kildwick – about 1610 and then on to Stainton Coates in Gargrave parish. This William appears to have died in 1622. For more details of this supposed chronology see H. Speight – ‘The chronicle and stories of old Bingley’ (1898). However, none of this should be taken absolutely at face value. The Currers had evidently been at Farnhill since – at the very least – the early 1500s.

[6] It is just possible that Matthew is making some veiled reference here to the unique Halifax Gibbet again.