William Adams and his visit to Chorley
by John Harrison

William Adams

At a time of the year when we are reminded of “No room at the Inn”, the following is a salutary tale. William Adams was probably sorry that he found room in Chorley!
William Adams, Memoirs of a Social Atom

William Adams was born in 1832, in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire. He was apprenticed to the proprietor of the Cheltenham Journal at the age of fourteen, and while an apprentice was drawn into radical politics. In 1854, by now a journeyman printer, he spent a year at "Brantwood", on Coniston Water in the Lake District, and later the home of John Ruskin, assisting with the publication of the English Republic — and it is here that our excerpt from his autobiography begins, tracing his walk to London after this radical journal collapsed. In London during the 1850s he authored a series of radical pamphlets. In 1862 he started working for the Newcastle Chronicle, becoming its editor for 36 years until 1900. He died in 1906.

THE lodging-houses of Preston were too filthy to be trusted; but they could scarcely have been filthier than that which I had the misfortune to sample at Chorley. This place—described in my diary as "a small neat town, supported by its manufactories"—was only nine miles from Preston. I was, however, weary and footsore when I reached it at six o'clock in the evening, for I had been walking about Preston for many hours before resuming my tramp at three o'clock in the afternoon. "When in doubt, ask a policeman." Could he tell me where I could get a bed for the night? My appearance, I dare say, didn't suggest that I wanted one of the best hotels in the town. Anyhow, he directed me to a lodging-house. The Chorley constable was more helpful than a member of the same order whom I encountered when in much the same difficulty some years later on a tour through the Scottish Highlands. The encounter took place in Callander. Would the policeman be kind enough to give me the name of a good hotel in the place? The reply was not a bad example of Scottish discretion. He didna ken, he said, as it behoved people in autho-rity to be cotious! But the Chorley policeman could hardly be suspected of recommending one fourpenny lodging-house more than another. All the same, I ungratefully wished afterwards that he had sent me somewhere else.
The common room of the common lodging-house at Chorley—a dingy, dirty, squalid apartment—was full of people when I entered it. Most of them were of the tramp type; but one or two girls—probably daughters of the proprietor—were apparently factory operatives. I had not been much edified by the conversation I had heard in similar places. Even that in the thieves' kitchen at Lancaster, though the place was clean and its occupants considerate, was of a coarse and vulgar character. Here, however, I could not qualify the conversation, for the reason that I had not then made the acquaintance of the Lancashire dialect, which, as I listened to it at Chorley, was as much like a foreign language to me as anything I had heard before. Only a word dropped here and there, such as "bobbin" and "mill," led me to infer that the people, for part of the time, were talking about work at the factories. It was my practice while on tramp to go to bed early—always, however, in fear and trembling least I should have to put up with a bedfellow. I had a couch to myself at Chorley, but I had more bedfellows than I quite knew about at the time. The other three beds in the apartment were occupied by a weaver, a tailor, two labourers, and a bookbinder turned labourer. These five gentlemen combined to produce such a concert in their sleep that night was made hideous. If by accident the performers in the three beds took a short rest, my own bedfellows made the most of the interval. Real repose was quite out of the question, so that I fled from the abode of horrors as soon as daylight enabled me to see that I was putting on my own clothes, and not somebody else's. But my torments were not over when I had escaped from that registered inferno; for, after all, though I was careful as to the garments I donned, I carried off more than belonged to me. That day was the most miserable I passed in the whole of my tramp. My ankles ached; my feet were blistered; all the other unexposed parts of my unfortunate anatomy were in a state of intolerable irritation. Overtaking a waggon, I gave the waggoner twopence to let me ride into Bolton.

John Harrison
Dec 2009