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Rushden Echo & Argus, 27th August 1937, transcribed by Kay Collins
Mr. Henry Hobbs

Rushden is Wonderful....

But This Veteran Recalls the Dark and Dirty Days

An Early Liberal

If you are in your 87th year and were born in the shadow of the Parish Church, the Rushden of today seems wonderful.

Mr. Henry Hobbs, now on holiday here, has these qualifications. The other day he met his old friend John Spencer and said, tentatively, “Well, John, you’re all the time changing things I see.”

“And don’t you think it’s for the better?” asked friend John.

Veteran Henry, with a twinkle in his eye, is cautious and emphatic in turn. “Well,” he replied, “I’ll leave that to you and to them as has got to pay the rates and taxes.” And then, having fenced long enough, he spoke his mind: “You have improved Rushden, and no mistake—wonderful!”

Recounting the conversation to an “Echo and Argus” interviewer, Mr. Hobbs was moved to further exclamation as his thoughts went back to the gloomy fifties and sixties....... “Going home from work at ten o’clock on a Saturday night .... not a light in the street—nothing but what came from the windows!”

There was no doubt about his preference for 1937.

Mr. Hobbs left Rushden for Sandbach 15 years ago. His holiday quarters are with his nephew, Mr. James Sykes, in York-road, and he was doing a bit of gardening there on Wednesday afternoon. At Sandbach he has got a garden of which he is proud.

Working at Six

Putting the fork away, he began to think back. “I was born,” he said, “on the very spot where Skinner’s butcher’s shop stands now, in 1851. It was butcher’s shop then but kept in a thatched house, and we lived in the house at the end.

“I started work when I was six, and I remember King Edward the Seventh being married. Where Mr. Hunt is now, Mr. Benjamin Denton gave his employees dinner and tea to celebrate the marriage.

“I was one of the four who went round what I call ‘filthy’ Rushden to collect money for the drums and fifes of the Rushden Temperance Drum and Fife Band. I went round with William Henry Darnell and David Crick. When we had the drums and that come we made the windows chatter in the old reading room in the churchyard.

After we broke up the question came up, “What are we going to do with the drums?” and we decided to hand them over to the Temperance Society.”

From music Mr. Hobbs changed over to politics.

“I was one,” he said, “who sat down to the first Liberal tea in Rushden. I was 18 years old at that time, and I was in the Liberal Association along with Ebenezer Knight, John Sargent, William Colson, Ebenezer Claridge—all good men, you know; and we used to have good men from Kettering to speak sometimes in the winter nights.”

Thread and Bristle

There is some slight mystery about the means by which Henry Hobbs aged six, earned three-halfpence a week. Glossing this over, however, we can record that when he had mastered the art of attaching a bristle to a thread he earned nine pence a week in the employ of a handsewn boot maker, Samuel Allen—the father of Mrs. Jeremiah Jones.

“When I got on a bit,” he related, “I worked for several masters. When I was 18 years old I was having 8s. 6d., and I asked my master if he could give me another sixpence, but he said ‘No, you can’t.’

“There were no factories then—they had the work at home, and I worked for Foster Vorley and a good many more. When this indoor labour came in it made quite a different set-out. The last 13 years I worked in Arthur Wilmott’s factory, and a very good place it was to me. I cut all the soles and top-pieces, and we never had a word in any way.”

Mr. Hobbs made clear that he can still work a bristle and thread. Unless he has done the job since Wednesday, he has a pair of boots to half-sole now.

“A Filthy Place”

After his tribute to present-day Rushden he described the village of his boyhood: “I don’t know where there is a place like what it was—a mucky, dirty, filthy place. Puddles of sluther stood by the side of the road after then men had scraped it for weeks. You didn’t know where to step for it. All along Hayway there were farms. Where are they now? Nothing else but shops!

“I recollect the first gas-house being started here, and when they got the bank out they had to stand still for capital. Mr. George Skinner—this one’s grandfather—was the first one to light the gas in Rushden.

Though “brought up” as a child at the Top Meeting school, Mr. Hobbs joined the Succoth Strict Baptist cause and was for many years a trustee. He remembers the present chapel being built and always goes there when in Rushden.

“They had to pull down three old cottages in front when it was built,” he said. “I recollect a man the name of Frank Hiley, going round the evening service snuffing the candles. That was in Mr. Drawbridge’s time, and I recollect the chapel when it was under two roofs—partly tiled and partly thatched—with big beams to hold it as far round as you or me.”

Never Been to Pictures

Mr Hobbs has never been to the pictures in his life, but he has seen the “Ritz” and pronounces it “a beautiful place.” In his young days people needed all their money merely to live at home, and amusements were out of the question.

And this is his summary: “I can only attribute my long life to this—God’s blessing, hard work, and a very poor living for the first twenty years of my life. And it was poor, too; my father was a labourer.”

At Sandbach Mr. Hobbs resides with his son, Mr. Will Hobbs, well known as the former assistant secretary of the National order of Free Gardeners. He has two other sons, Ernest, in Rushden, and Harry in Canada, but his wife and daughters, Mrs. Harold Hales and Miss Mary Hobbs, are all deceased. So, too, are three sisters who were well known in Rushden—Mrs. Irene Sykes, Mrs. Elizabeth Knight, and Mrs. Joseph Farey.

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