Transcribed from the copy held at Lancashire Archives.

The holographic autobiography of John Mercer is held at the Lancashire Archive. Written in 1865 when he was 75 years old it is incomplete, but is a wonderful description of his early years and life in his home town of Great Harwood at that time.

The work is incomplete and the last pages are mostly concerned with his experiments in colour – these have been ommitted from this transcription. John Mercer was a largely self taught, having little in the way of formal education; the spelling and punctuation reflect this and have been transcribed faithfully.


I am now 75 years of age. 1865

I was born at Dean in Gt. Harwood on the 26th February 1791. My father was the owner of one of the small hand loom cotton factories in use at that time. Uncle Richard was also the owner of the same kind of factory at Bradley Hall in Goldacre Lane ½ mile up and along the same brook. Another of father’s brothers Henry had a factory in Lower Town where the shipon now stands behind the lowest public house.

The discoveries in cotton machinery was soon to close these small factories, and father’s was one of them, so he was obliged to move to Lower Town to a small farm, under Richard Lomax of Clayton Hall. My father was still weaving at the Dean factory after we had moved, the farm house was let and occupied by Richard Dugdale, and the farm was occupied by Roger Clayton my mother’s brother, who had a house a little below the old farm house and shipon. There were two house’s belonging, the one nearest the farm belonged to John Clayton, the house in which Richard Dugdale moved after leaving fathers house. Uncle Roger’s house was joining to John’s, higher and nearer to the meadows. They kept a cow or two with father, until he could get the farm stocked he first was employed as a weaver, but soon after was employed with Mr. Lomax as a driester, at the corn mill down at the old engine and when not fully employed he worked for Mr. Lomax in field work until he died. My brother Thomas was hay making at Clayton Hall and was taken sick whilst at work. I went to see him and stayed all night with him until he was better. Sometime after my father began to be poorly, which continued until he died of black jones, and whilst he was ill uncle Roger was taken ill, and he died before father, he told Mother she would have other trials besides his death, which was true, for brother Dickey began to be ill, and died soon after. Father continued to live for a little while longer and after he had died, the times became very hard for us. I went all up and down seeking Patience Dock, which my mother boiled for us a meal.

It was about this time that mother got me to wind bobbins for Mary O Ginnies, as we called her. Mary Aspden was her real name, and Blinkinsop was a draper at Oakenshaw, who lived with them. I was always in his books, although I could not read a letter. Blinkinsop got a sheet of paper with the alphabet on, and began to teach me the letters. I learned them so fast that he then began to teach me my a, b, c’s. I quickly mastered them that he put me to spelling. I remember at that time where ever I was in my spare time, I would repeat the sounds, ab, eb, ib, ob, ub, and so on until I had mastered them and in this way I was soon through the spelling book. He then set me to accounts, I was doing long division, when he left being a draper at Oakenshaw, and went to the Peel works at Church. Whilst he was in Harwood he used to boast of me, and said I must challenge any of James Fielding’s scholars and so on.

Not long after the death of my father and brother Richard, my Mother was requested by her brother Joseph to leave her house, and go and live with him and grandmother at the Back of Bowley. My Aunt Nelly had married William Long of Accrington, a local preacher among the Wesleyans which left only my uncle Joseph, Thomas and Johnathan, a son of their sister Ann, and Richard my father’s brother. Johnathan was born before his father and mother were married, and grandmother looked after him, but she was now very old, and he had become a spoilt child, he did not like me, and told my uncle that he would list for soldier, if I stayed there, he would leave or I must, so I left, and lived with my sister Nancy, and her husband Robert Monk at Moor Side, Clayton le Moors. After living there for a time, I went to live with William Wainman and Aunt Peggy my mothers sister. My brother Thomas lived there at the same time after some time there, I was requested to go and live again with Sister Nancy, for she had buried her two sons, Robert and Birtwistle in one coffin, and was very low spirited.

After living there for a time I went again to live at Wainmans, and whilst there one evening, old Bill Baron came in with a curious puzzle, and he did it, it was to tell what money a person thought of, or what money he had in his pocket, it bothered me, I slept little that night, in the morning I was walking round bally gorge as it was called, pondering over the puzzle. It came to me at once in the evening, when old Bill came again I told him I would do it, he could not believe me, but I asked him to think of any number which he did, and I told him what the number was. I was to do it for a great many people and got me talked about in Harwood, I asked old Ned Noble to see if he knew something about it. I told him the first thing that gave me a hint that there were sorts of even numbers, 4 and (any multiple of 4 was divisible) had only one while all other numbers left more than one. My fame ran through Harwood from this and a few other things. I was quite looked on as a wonder when a young man.

One night after Harwood Fair Old Bill Baron came into Wainmans where I lived and had a piece of paper in his hand with the Death of Nelson tune pricked on it, saying that the night before being at the Cross Axes Inn, a man called Isherwood from London was there, he was an old acquaintance, and had come over to his old spot at Harwood Fair time and being much acquainted with the inhabitants they flocked to him, he sang the Death of Nelson for them. After hearing it Old Bill baron wanted the tune, and the fiddler pricked it out for him there and then, and brought it to show the Wainmans. I asked him if he would lend it me, he said what would I do with it. I told him I would make one like it, he said where ever there was a pop I must make one too, they all ment something, so I made one like it, I inquired where I could learn music, and he referred me to old Ned Noble, James Fielding schoolmaster, Johnathan Calvert and John Bradshaw, as they had all been music singers. I was off one night and tried one after another, they all said they could not make a gammaut and I must first get a gammaut. I went on the Saturday night to the Holt near Rishton to see old Bradshaw but was not at home, he came the day after to Harwood Church and brought the old harwood Book with him calling on Wainmans with the book for me. When I got it I was always looking at it. I found at the beginning of the book a name to one or two tunes which I thought I had heard, on was Winsor. My Aunt Peggy with whom I lived said that was the burying tune. She did it and I kept my eye on the notes as she sang it and found the notes rose and fell as she did in singing it. It was the burying tune, which I knew well enough. I immediately pricked the tune on a slip of paper, and looking in the music book at the So, La’s I put them to the right notes and pasted the paper on the overhead rail on my loom, so that when I was weaving I was at the same time learning music to some degree. So, Faing, I pricked a carol and later the tune, pasted this on the rail over my head, and was soon able to Ab, Lib, this tune. I did other tunes in natural key, until I could do all the natural key tunes. I then had to make a trial of Flats and Sharps. I managed these by degrees until I could sing all the tunes in the book, then I ventured on the small anthems for Christmas, by this time I could So, Fa, nearly all the music in the book.

A few week before Christmas I went to where the young men gathered together at night and raised a spirit amongst them in favour of learning to sing, they agreed to solicit Edward Noble who they met on the Christmas Club day, at the higher public house at Cliff. So he made a choir every Saturday night, and if he was ever prevented from coming, I had to do as well as I could with them. They are all dead now except myself, Jeffery Brogden and Giles Clayton, though the number was at first, and for a long time near 30 young men and two women, one called Mary O Gineys, her real name was Mary Aspden and the other was Mary O Halases her true name was also Mary Aspden. John Wolstenhome was later married to Mary O Gineys. We were a large and good set of singers who were requested to sing at various churches, Altham, Whalley, Padiham, at a church going from Padiham to Pendle, Billington, Church Kirk, Salmsbury and Blackburn Saint Pauls.

On leaving my aunt and uncle the Wainmans for the last time although I did not know it, and was again back with Sister Nancy. I was growing into a young man and was not long in moving again to live with James Baron in Lower Town. I was a weaver but soon became a warper in the top room, above where Mr. Foulds lived just across the brook from where I lived. Having woven twill they sent me to near Stonyhurst, to start them in twills.

When I gave over warping I wove again, and one day being at my mothers she had her child on her knee draped in a beautiful coloured dress, I could but admire the colour. I asked her about it, she told me she had dyed it herself. This astounded me. I inquired about it, it was an ato orange, I was all on fire to learn dying. I went to various persons to learn dying without success, at last I went to the drugist in Blackburn, Hargreaves Wraith to buy dying drugs, he inquired what I wanted, I could not tell him, then he mentioned Ruckwood, Brazil Logwood, Quaratron Bark, Fustic, etc. I reckoned up my money and found I could muster three pence a sort, I asked if he could sell me three penny worth of each sort, and write the name on each, he did to, so I came home full of dying and dying stuff.

It so happened that Peels had size house just below where I lived, they had a large building with boiling warps in, so I got pots, a middle bit of cloth about 6 inches at every woven piece end, that belonged to the weaver, so that I had, or could get plenty of trial cloths. So then I had hot water, pots and dye, having all at hand and plenty of room at the back of the size house I placed my pot with hot water in, and put in the dyewood. I had in one logwood another peachwood another bark, and the fustic dye, in another alum, another coperas. I then began to bring changes by first putting cotton in one, then risk another, I soon found I could dye a great many colours I had scores of shades hung up on strings.

My name ran through Harwood as something wonderful but I had no place to start dying into. Being often at Richard Sowerbutts, he being a singer at the church, I was much acquainted with him, he told me he had a very convenient building and place to dye in and if I had no objection, he would partner me, he lived in the end house which I afterwards bought and built another in the garden where the dye house was, and built a house there, it is the house my brother Billy lives in now. It was not long before our partnership ended, although we had plenty to dye. Harwood was a village of hand loom weavers, and had a yard or more on the warp. We had some difficulty in getting a blue vat, we had a mixture of copperas Indigo set, but it did not dye, we had put lime in also, so we had no blue vat, but Richard Sowerbutts coming from Blackburn found a lime stone that had dropped from a farm cart, he at once thought of the blue vat, so he brought it home, and put it in the vat, it at once rose to a rich vat, we could then dye blues, so we had plenty of blue bed gowns, and blue brats to dye, we could now dye all the colours wanted, the inhabitants had plenty of cotton to dye, they also wore fustian coats and breaches, which when getting old and soiled they brought them to dye, and with brats, bedgowns, stockings and coats we had plenty of work to do at this time.

Mr. Hargreaves sent his bookkeeper Henry Baron up from Oakenshaw Print Works up to where I lived James Baron’s one morning he came in while I was sat at breakfast, saying Mr. Hargreaves had sent him to ask me if I would go and become a colour mixer at Oakenshaw, but I must be bound apprentice. This was some time about Harwood Fair. I had to consult my mother who live a little below where I lived, she was married to Thomas Mercer called Tom o the Edge Sike, the house where, when I years before learned to read with Joseph Blinkinsop, it was my mothers husband’s own house. She agreed to sign with me, so I was bound apprentice, at the beginning of September 1809, I was 17½ years old, I gave the dying all up, and went to colour mixing at Oakenshaw, but old John Broadley being the colour mixer did not like me and kept me fetching water, for we had to fetch all the water for colour use, from a pump at the back of the Stove hole, and at other times washing china black pots, which was very bad to wash in cold water out of doors, at other times dissolving cold bay gums, stirring two to three hundred weight in large cow tubs by myself. So while thus engaged I made tunes, I also made am alphabet of my own, so that I could write anything I thought worthy and he could make nothing of them if he found the book or slips of paper. I kept on till some time in June or July. John Fort was also at the colour shop making experiments to the fast green or Thomson green, and he always washed his pots of Indigo in a firkin, under the casing in which was full of blue water, I put some lime and coperas in it and made it a good blue.

Men who worked with me brought lots of cotton and I dyed it for them. John Broadley gathered them all in his arms and carried them to the counting house, and left them there. I followed after and explained the whole to Mr. Hargreaves and Mr. Fort, they laughed, but told me I must not dye any more. I stayed at the colour shop till some time in July when I disagreed with the colourer old John Broadley when I got my indenture so I left, and went to live at the Back of Bowley with my uncle Joseph and Tommy and Johnathan, we wove at my uncle John’s, it was a small farm house and is now pulled down, it belonged to the estate, by the life of my uncle Thomas. Whilst there I was rather wild. I made a song commemorating an aged man who lived in one of old Manul Hadock houses. Once upon a time there did live, one who used to sing tom little tom, one day he bethought him to build a house, though he was as poor as a mouse little tom tom little tom tom little little little tom. 13 or 14 verses.

Johnathan was courting Mary Whitaker at the same time. Whitacres played upon Johnathan, and he was awkward with me a piece before my mother’s husband had built a house in Bowley Lane, and he and my mother had left Lower Town and come to live at their new house, and soon were taken by fever and both died, this was about April 1810, leaving Billy a young child, which my uncle took to live with them. I then wove for both my uncles at the new house in which they both died. I left soon after and went to live with my uncle at a farm in Hindle fold. I stayed with them until he left, and went to his own house at Lower Town, which was not big enough for us all to weave in. My sister Nancy lived in my father’s old place, but it had been pulled down and rebuilt. I wove there but did not stay long. I had whilst living at Hindle Fold become a Methodist and so that when I left my sister Nancy and my uncle John I went to live with the Wolstenholmes at Cliff, the farm house across the road from the Dog and Otter Public House. I wove at first two yards of a yard and half, and paid old Jim Taylor £16-0-0 for the looms, but I soon turned my attention to dying for 2 yards broad falling from 21 or 22 shilling to 20 so I gave over weaving and began dying. I went down to Oakenshaw and bought some sour beck bottoms, I bought the pit full, all their was in it for £2-10-0. I employed Will 0 Ginies to cart it, their were 6 copperas casks full. I sold to a dyer in Blackburn 4 or 5 casks full, 5 or 6 pounds each, and had enough to keep me supplied a long time, when it was done I went down to Oakenshaw and bought blue colour bottoms.

I had known the 2 Wolstenholme lasses some time through meeting at places of worship with them, so I began courting Mary the younger of the two and married her, we stayed at the farm only a year or two, then I left and went a little lower to the old inn. (The Grey Horse or Old Billy) for I could put dying tubs in the back part of the house. I dyed all sorts of colours, I dyed warps blue and had them woven and my wife wove and James Wolstenholme my wife’s brother wove them, they were woven into what was called twoes, their was no white in but two picks of white, after every 6 picks of blue so the piece was nearly all blue. I sold the pieces to a scotch man of Preston named Hogg who paid me 2/- a yard for them, this was good profit, they cost me about 1/- a yard. After some time I began experimenting or colour mixing, at odd times when not engaged in dying. I had a book, bought at a stall in the street, when I went for my marriage licence a book on chemistry called Parkinson chemistry. I had read and nearly swallowed the whole of the book by this time, in it there was a short description of sulphurate of Antimony, I went to Blackburn and to Wraith’s Drugist I got some. I experimented with it, and was able to make a solution, which when printed and fixed by passing through colours olvet and water was the most beautiful orange, which was universally called Stoops Orange.

Mr. Lightfoot who had been excise man at Oakenshaw for 14 years or so lived at Great Harwood, but had removed to Accrington after came to where I lived at the old public house at Cliff, and was very fond of chemistry, and knew a fair portion of it, he was delighted with the colour and advised me to go to the Broad Oak Print Works where he was surveying at that time. Mr. Hargreaves fixed one Saturday night for me to go. I went and Mr. Lightfoot was there. I showed him the colour, he ordered that I should put them up to doing the cotton, and must come on Monday. I was at Simon Kemp’s one night and mentioning this there he would have me to go through the pathway in my journey to Broad Oak at the back of Joe Bridge’s at 7 o’clock, and I should meet Mr. Fort. I did so and met him. I asked him if he wanted an experimentor, and told him where I was going, and what for. I said he might ask Mr. Lightfoot who knew me, he saw he need not ask anyone, he could judge for himself. So he offered me 30/- shillings a week for 5 years. So I must get done at Broad Oak that week. So I went to Mr. Hargreaves who sent his son the present Mr. John Hargreaves with me up to the top of the works, and fixed a place in an empty room, and asked me if the place would suit me if altered to my mind. I was astonished and thought, I must get done in a week, and told him I had engaged with Mr. Fort, and for 5 years. He stood in a pause, and said he was going down to the counting house, I must go with him. So we both went down again. He had me stay in the loby then he came out again, also in a short time his father came out all in a flurry. And asked me why I was there, another mans servant, it was his intention to engage me, I told him I had 2 years making experiments and had lost much time and expense I had not expected he was likely to find me situation, as he had one already a Mr. Steiner, and I could not thing of their being a chance of a situation there. So meeting Mr. Fort that Morning he engaged me at 30/-shillings a week for 5 years. He cooled down and praised my foresight, and said he hoped Mr. Fort would be a good master to me, and I should be a good servant to him, he told me they would make their own experiments. I must leave the colour, and must tell them the receipt, and they would if they used the process make me a present. I came back the next morning and went to Oakenshaw. Mr. Fort had no place proper for me, so had to put up with inconvenient places at first, until I could fix upon someplace, at last I fixed on a small part of my present rooms, the front small room it was increased as I wanted. I did not make the one called Stoop Orange well I made it too caustic and it did not work well the pot ash was too strong and I put rather to little sulpher in.

So that I was rather unfortunate in printing this colour I was more fortunate in making the am Green which I made from sulphate of Indigo altho I was not the first for it was done at a small print works near oak wood nook before I did it I kept experementing and the next thing I did was Cochenele pink of which we had great succes particularly when done with what was called Naple Fancies they were finer rollers and whe put in Black and piged in green & orange and some times another colour whe had a great run of them they created quite a noise in Manchester . We could not do enough of them this was in 1820 or 1821 whe veried the paterns and did the year after in 1823 about I found out Chlorid of Lime this was a great dis covery Mr Fort one Tuesday brought a bit of cloth from Manchester printed in France he brought to my plase said it was only a discharge of Mader purple it was easy enough to do he left it with me it was purple ground dyed with madder and dis charged with yellow something like ‘S W M W’ [symbols inserted here which may or not be letters as shown] in a discharge yellow I did not think it was discharged with what Mr Fort thought with Muriate of tan yellow I thought it was crome yellow I tried it and found it to be chrome yellow for I touched the yellow spot with sulphurat of lime and it went black I then tried acid muriate of tan it discharged the yellow Shawing the color not to be bark or berries I had a year or more got Mr Fort to get me some chrome from London he sent for some and only one ounce came at 10s 6d saying it was not used but fo painting coaches. I told Mr Fort the colour was from chrome he said that could not be they might well with gold but I knew chrome and culd produce things as difficult as the bit. So Mr Fort sent to his agent in London to buy some chrome he sent us a hundred weight at a shilling a pound it was neutrat chrome I tried to use it by making a colour containing a great quantity of insoluble cromate of Lead & tartaric acid and chromate of pot ash but it would not keep above ½ a day before it effervised and became spoilted whe put the pieces thro’ a chemic vat the ground was discharged and ther remained sufficient yellow to show sufficiently we did thenm until I had discovered the more successful way that was leaving out chrome but putting Nitrate of Lead in the colour instead of chromate of Lead & chromeing them after which made perfect work this was 1823 or 4 soon the two men we bout the chrome from at London came down to inquire about the use of chrome Mr Fort told them how we used it the[y] left us and called at Manchester trying to sell it to other printers in the year 1824 I had set my mind on the brown glaze of the mugs and pots the next cart load of pots from church parish moor the old man who made them came with the load of pots I asked him what he used to colour them brown with he said he made it with magnes I could not find the word in my chemical Book but manganese I found and concluded it was that what he used to so I sent to blackburn to Wraiths and got some I tried it first desolved it by adding suger and delute Sulphuric acid. I made Brons liq(supercript r) some times this way I then tryede to make in the wood still iron retorts by puting in Black oxide of maganese and wood charcoal mixt a certain depth & put in the fire under frequently stirring it soon got redish and by stirring it with the iron stirrer it moved like a fluid from one end to the other of the iron cylinder we had to put walled bricke at the fron[t] to keep it in when this was finished it had lost its blackness and had become a grey colour when it was taken out and put into 80 or 100 gallon cask & filled the cask with water stirred well up then added a little chalk which precipitated the Iron the manganese was not thrown down when settled it was ready for glassing and when sulphuric acid or strong sours when reduced to right strength was fit for using in the padding machine it was padded & the pieces when the[y] came out of the machine dry where kept till a good quantity had been done then the padding machine was run a minitt with water then charged with caustic soda and the pieces again run through this then came out of the hot hale dark it was not necessary to dry them & when they came out they were thrown on a heap they gained their full dose of oxigen then they only required washing and was ready for printing & they were then ready for printing

Printing white

We made a colour from Tartaric acid 2t The Got(superscript r) & printed them in this they did not discharge at one but required Hanging in the hanging room a day or two when they became properly discharged they wire then run through hot water so finished We then made a white from pipe clay sugar of lead and sours which made the lead into sulphate & which Tin when printed was discharged at once these we ran thru warm water then wined in a cistern with caustic alkocli (potash) then washed them then wined them in Bichromate of potash and an excellent yellow was produced these we did a deal off mostly Furnitures

Another stile whe did as follows

We printed on a bronz piece white made from gum and pipeclay & Tartaric acid in neutrall paterns and peged on blue & red the Bluefrom pruccan Blue with plenty of potomur tin in & where it fell on the whe it was cut through the white showed throug the blue the red where it fell on the which was cut through too the red was mad of cochinele ligt with tin added to discharge the Bronz & which was thick with starch and worked this was greatly thought of it looked very perfect work we did a great deal of them for they were very nice and a good stile of work.

We varied Bronz by printing them in a great number of variety of ways I made a colour which they printing trade fought to discover but never able to accomplish that was a half discharge this colour was made from white arsinic desolved in potash liqr. and thickened with Gum water where this color was printed either with Black or Machine the colour was reduced to half shade so that the bronz cools then light shades in the dark bronz ground the pale shade was very even no disposion to be uneven however much was put in it niver showed whitish but always about the half shad of the strong Bronz we did a great deal of these other printers tried to do the half discharge but the colour was white when worked too full & very uneven So that they could not make work that was fit to see.

We did a beautiful and good stile of work which we called evergreen which was Bronze dipt Blue or pale blue first and dyed Bronze after & we printed them with a colour made from tartaric acid thick with british gum & evergreen is an exellent colour it was greatly loved by quakers & it a rich dark stile for any body.

Mirtle Green Gold as usual vir paded in aceto Nitrate of Lead about 2 (this appears to be some sort of quantity measure) Acetate & 1½ lb Nitrate of Lead to ⅒ Gum in put through the Neutral hot Sulphate of Soda washed then well thin Run through the Neutral chrome or 3 of Neutral and 1 of Bichrome then direct into a bathing solution of 2 to 4 oz of Bichrome & excess of Lime when well washed and dry printed with Block with yellow – 5 (measure again) Sulphite of Zink desolved in 5 pints of water beat up with 12 of Sulphate of copper 10th of pipe clay then 1 qrt of Gum 40. Then lastly 1 pint of Nitric acid so finished. this colour should not be above 2 or 3 days age

Gold 4t Nitrate of Lead
3t Acetate of Lead
12 tb Sulphate of copper
2 qrt water
2t pipe clay
2 qrt sugar water 3 gl worked fat & thin

When dipt in then taken directly to the wash well Then the lime will deaden the yellow Should be washd & squeezed two or three times then warm watered washed again for all the pipe clay be completely removed then dyed & Block with
Blue = 4t Tartaric acid
8t common salt
5 qrts pr
3qrts water set all on the fire till dissolved then
8 qrts 40 gum