Richard Hardacre, who lived in Long Preston, Yorkshire, from about 1780 to 1841, was a cotton weaver and sexton (grave digger) for the church. He was also a bell ringer, musician and poet and he regularly published a sheet of verse which included a review of the year.
From “Miscellanies in Prose and Verse”, Ben Hardacre (1874). London (Simkin, Marshall & Co.) and Bradford.
It is a fact worthy of notice that many of our distinguished men, men of genius and originality of character, have had their origin and have been found like precious metals in out-of-the-way
places. It seems as if the partial isolation of small communities favours the development, and
brings out into prominent relief more strongly marked characteristics in individuals than is the
case with town-life. I have in my mind's eye, as well as in my memory, the recollection of sayings
and doings, together with the appearance of characters in my own native village home, who, if
faithfully represented on the stage, would bring rounds of applause.
To give a sketch of a Long Preston character, whom I knew in my boyish days, it will be necessary to describe the state at which the cultivation of music had arrived there some forty years ago. Music at that time was in a very primitive state. The most people attained to was to sing by rote tunes learnt through the ear. You might have entered Church, Chapel, or Meeting-house, and have heard nothing more than the simple melody of a tune being sung by both men and women, except occasionally some one with an extra musical ear venturing on extemporising a few notes of bass, yet even in this rude time there were some faint glimmerings of a knowledge of light and shade. Whether those ideas had been handed down from a more cultivated time, or the knowledge, or rather taste, was intuitive in the natives, I will not say; but in the singing of certain tunes the men would suddenly stop, leaving the women to continue the strain, when the men would again join in, and so finish the tune. This, no doubt, was to realise our modern idea of Piano and Forte. (Perhaps the author did not recognise hymn or psalm settings with divided parts? – Ed.)
With a few exceptions, tunes were only known by being associated with certain hymns. When it was said, "Let us sing such a hymn," the first line of the hymn suggested the tune. There being no regularly-appointed leading singer, it would occur sometimes that two or three persons would be attempting to start the same tune at one and the same time in as many different keys. The person with the greatest confidence and strongest lungs, and bent on winning musical honours, would predominate, and take the congregation with him. The generally self-appointed leading singer and the organist of the Parish Church may serve for a future sketch. One of the most advanced musicians of these times was one Richard Hardacre, better known by the cognomen of "Sexton Dickey", bearing this name in consequence of holding the very grave position (that of Sexton) in the Church, as well as to distinguish him from others bearing a similar name; for be it known, O Reader, although there may be some very uncommon men possessing the name of Hardacre, yet I must own, as far as Long Preston was concerned, it was a very common name.
Our friend Dickey being officially a pillar of the Church, his musical abilities were in frequent requisition. His genius was of a varied order, combining in his own person, poet, musician, bell-ringer, as well as being a thorough proficient in all the multifarious duties pertaining to the office of Sexton. It would be no very grave charge to bring against him to say that he wore a very grave expression of countenance, probably contracted by his occupation of grave digging and interring the dead, — if so, grave digging may be said to have given him a grave dignity of manner and appearance, for he certainly did everything pertaining to his melancholy office with dignity and becoming gravity. If, as it frequently occurred, when a funeral came from a distance, he had to announce to the mourners at the end of the Burial Service, that certain refreshment had been provided at the inn for the inner man, he would, with the apparent gravity of a judge, and, I will not say, with a sepulchral voice, but with an utterance reminding one of the pompous gobble of a turkey cock, give out the following stereotyped invitation: — "All you who have been invited to the funeral are requested to attend at the Boar's Head Inn, and take such as is provided for you.” This invitation, with Dickey's peculiar utterance, was a sudden transition from the solemn and impressive Burial Service; from the contemplation of the grave to gravy - resuscitation from death to life.
I can fancy myself in Long Preston Church on a Sunday afternoon as a Sunday scholar, with from thirty to forty other boys, the only congregation, save two or three solitary staunch adherents of the Church, for Long Preston and its surroundings have always been hotbeds of Dissent. The duties of the curate were comparatively light. One sermon on a Sunday was all that was required of him, and that was in the morning. In the afternoon, the evening service was thought sufficient for us boys and the two or three scattered adult hearers. The service is read over; the comfortable-looking clerk, with double chin, and George the Fourth style of face, sings out musically his sonorous Amen; the Evening Hymn, welcome to us boys as a sign of release, is announced; and now our faces begin to brighten up, for Dickey makes his appearance, with an instrument ycleped (=called) in the vernacular, "T'baas Fiddle", makes a temporary music stand of a coffin-stool, and, as a preliminary step to devotional exercise, affectionately takes his loved instrument between his knees, and inclines his ear towards its graceful neck in a listening attitude, and coaxingly tries to ascertain if it will give forth its notes in tune.
Now, Dickey had a remarkable face, particularly when seen in profile; bald head, long shaggy eye-brows, a very prominent Wellington-shaped nose, thin face, and a chin of considerable pretensions. In tuning his instrument his chin seemed to sympathise with his ear; as he screwed up the peg his chin took a sidereal motion, and got to the extent of its gauge as the acuteness of the sound or tone approached its proper pitch. Sometimes his ear would not serve him correctly, and he would screw a string up beyond its power of tension, when there would be a sudden report and as sudden an exclamation from Dickey, which will be the best expressed by the interjectional syllable, "Yoh !" When his ear had become satisfied he would open his wonderful Book of Tunes, in manuscript, copied by himself, which made him seem to us boys at that time as learned as an astrologer, for those mystic characters, called notes, were really deep and hidden mysteries, but Dickey not only "Knet of notes, hud cud mah'em his-sel". Without much effort the right page would be found - for the same tune, by Tallis, was sung every Sunday afternoon, and probably is to this day.
And now Dickey's varied talents are brought into exercise, for he can sing the melody of the tune
and play the bass part with his instrument at one and the same time. He would begin the tune with vigour and energy, but at the close of every verse he invariably left the finishing note deficient in vocal sustentation for want of breath; but endeavoured to make up that deficiency by a sudden burst on to the last note with his interjection, "Yoh!" It certainly did seem an odd substitute for the last word of the last line of each verse; of course due length was given to the note with his instrument and his chin, the latter oscillating in unison with his bow.
Christmas was the time when Dickey came out in all his brilliancy. To us boys Dickey was an institution, and Christmas would not have been Christmas without him. At this jubilant time he would dispense with the more devotional-like instrument for the mirth-accompanying one, called by the natives "T'lile Fiddle", but which he very pompously called a violin; yet, I must confess that in his Christmas peregrinations he had no other covering for his instrument than the common vulgar green baize bag, used by itinerant scrapers, who visit feasts and fairs; yet Dickey was something more than an ordinary scraper. No doubt he was a remnant of those minstrels of the middle ages, who sang of deeds of chivalry, in stirring compositions of their own. Although Dickey's compositions partook somewhat of the Christmas carol, still there would be an appropriate blending in of passing events, for instance, on one pinching occasion the "quality folks" had subscribed money and bought a quantity of potatoes to dole out to the poor; Dickey recorded this piece of potato benevolence in the following couplet :
We should be thankful to our friends
For pot-a-toes, which make amends.
This is the only flight of Dickey's genius as a poet that has retained its hold on my memory, though I believe he at times aspired to loftier themes. When this was the case, the natives, with a degree of
ill nature, put on a wise and knowing look, and said, "borrud", thereby intending you to infer
that Dickey was a plagiarist ; some went so far as to say that he pilfered from Dr.Watts, but I will
leave that to be settled by Dickey's future biographers, and speak of his manipulations on the violin.
From having occasionally to act as clerk, Dickey had thrown off and rid himself of his native idiom, and pronounced his words with a degree of refinement and propriety. The natives charged
him with " knacking", which, when translated, means a base imitation of the "quality-folk". It gives me pain to recall the persecutions and annoyances that Dickey had to endure from us boys. We somehow seemed to think that he was legitimate game, on whom we could play mischievous pranks. We rather enjoyed the excitement of being chased: a good thump at his door of an evening would be sure to bring him out. From his domestic habits and love of home, as well as of connubial bliss, he had contracted a second marriage; but I am afraid his household economy was not of that nature to always keep him square with the world. His mode of living, together with his wife's management, caused him to have now and then a feast, with long fasts between : in short, he has been known to have to resort to extreme measures to secure a meal, even of having to mortgage anticipated burial fees. He was most in clover when the bill of mortality ran high in the parish, but what caused him to rejoice most was when a funeral came from beyond its precincts: then inwardly Dickey triumphed over death and the grave with the thought of handling double dues.
But poor Dickey has passed away, and has been gathered to his fathers, and I would fain hope that he who lived by others dying has himself died to live.