During my boyhood in Malton one of the men I knew best by sight was the Rev. G.A. Firth – an erect figure with red-complexioned face, black hair, and easily distinguishable voice. Not being myself a Churchman, I had few opportunities of estimating the extent to which Mr. Firth approached to the ideal of a parish priest; in other ways, in which I did meet him occasionally, he was always courteous and helpful.
Mr. Firth came to Malton in 1852 as curate to the Rev. W. Carter, vicar form 1838 to 1855, and it will be remembered that he married Mr. Carter’s daughter.
In the last-named year the parish was divided; Mr. Carter accepted the vacant rectorship of Slingsby; and Mr. Firth became the first incumbent of the new St. Michael’s parish.
Almost at once Mr. Firth began the great work by which he will be specially remembered in Malton. St. Michael’s Church was then in an extremely dilapidated condition, and the vicar set about collecting money for the restoration of the chancel and stalls, with other improvements. He did not, however, stop there, quietly persisting in a laborious work which culminated in a much larger scheme of restoration in 1882.
The present comfort and commodiousness of the church are almost wholly due to Mr. Firth’s labours, as also is the careful preservation of several architectural featured of interest to the antiquary. As most Maltonians know, these include a Norman arcade with scalloped capitals, windows in the northern clerestory to Malton lords, beginning with Tyson in 1090 and ending with Eure in 1652. The name of Fitzwilliam is found in a window in the southern clerestory, next to one bearing Diocesan arms.
When speaking on the occasion of Mr. Firth’s funeral, the late Rev. C.J. Chapman, of Norton, referred quite rightly to the reverent and beautiful way in which his friend had conducted the regular Sunday services, as well as to his hard work in restoring the fabric of the church, and to his general zeal as a churchman.
In the early part of his stay at Malton, Mr. Firth conducted a private boarding school, in the building adjacent to the vicarage, with marked success. He was a member of the Camalodunum Lodge of freemason, and was much in request as a chairman for public meetings, especially the Bible Society, the Religious Tract Society, and other gatherings in which all the Christian bodies the town joined. This service was greater than the few words in which it is chronicled might imply. An able and sympathetic chairman of public meetings performs a real public service, and often had it in his power to advance materially important religious and social movements.
At his death, in July of 1896, aged 67 years, when Mr. Firth left a widow, three sons, and two daughters (both married), very genuine regret was felt in the town by all classes and by members of all religious denominations.
SPECTATOR Bygone Maltonians, No 27, Yorkshire Gazette, 23rd March 1912
I knew Mr. Fitch when I was so small that my head barely reached to the top of the counter in his draper's shop. As if it were yesterday, I remember him coming forward to place a chair for my mother, and the low pitch of his voice inquiring what she would like to see. He was very deferential to customers, and had a genius for ascertaining quickly what they required. In this he was well backed by Mrs. Fitch and many of his assistants - especially Mr. Porry, whose sudden death I have never ceased to regret. Mrs Fitch's department was upstairs, and surely there never was a stronger combination of forces in a country establishment than those existing in the days when Mr. and Mrs Fitch and the latter's sister attended to the requirements of those multitudinous customers who patronised the shop in the Market-place.
I was particularly impressed by Mr. Fitch's resourcefulness when "Mother's Meeting" goods were being bought every year; and at the annual sale he was prince of shop keepers. Indeed I have never quite understood why he did not blossom out into a North-country Whiteley or Selfridge.
Whilst Mr. Fitch was not a public man in the ordinary sense, he was the most prominent lay member of the Congregational Church in Malton - he was treasurer and deacon for about 30 years - and his name still draws attention to the popular single-day excursions into regions far removed from our own town.
Mr. Fitch and his family continued their support of the Saville-st. congregation through the days when successively, Messrs. Clarke, Milner, Hartley, Scurrah, and Fox administered there. Mr. Young had just entered upon his pastorate when Mr. Fitch's death occurred. It is rarely that every good point is found existing in one personality. Mr. Fitch's connection with Congregationalism would have been even more fruitful than it was if he had felt able to come forward as helpfully on the spiritual as on the social side, but on this matter none of us wishes or is qualified to occupy the position of judge.
Mr. Fitch's open, pleasant ways and executive ability were best shown in the day excursion scheme I have referred to. I myself once visited North Wales for a day, and still remember the long journey there and back; I regret to say that I have forgotten the glories of Conway Vale and of Bettwys-y-Coed, as seen on that special occasion! My idea of how best to enjoy myself has changed since then, but I cannot deny that a day trip, well carried out, as Mr. Fitch's always were, is an excellent arrangement, and many prove of distinct educational value to many people.
Mr. Fitch died in the last hours of 1895, aged 52 years, his wife having passed away nine months previously. He left two sons, one of whom still resides in the neighbourhood. His business was eventually purchased by Messrs. Marwood, but still bears the magic name of Fitch.
SPECTATOR Maltonians of Bygone Days, XXIII, Yorkshire Gazette, 8th April 1911
(Obituary) Died Tuesday 31 December 1895. In business in the Market Place as a draper and general furnisher for nearly 30 years and one of the largest employers in the town. For about 30 years he had been treasurer of the Congregational Chapel and superintendent of the Sunday School. Widely known as the organiser of excursions, having recently organised trips from Malton, Scarborough, York and district to all parts of the United Kingdom and the Continent. In 1894 he took over four hundred people from Malton and district to Paris. Last spring he lost his wife, a blow from which he never recovered.
Yorkshire Gazette, 4 January 1896
I do not think I ever saw the sixth Earl Fitzwilliam, although I have lived in Malton for many years. If William Thomas Spencer Wentworth Fitzwilliam, Senior Knight of the Garter, had not been an old man for most of the time referred to. I should be tempted to point out the bearing upon the responsibilities of landlordship of the fact that he was so seldom seen in our town. I would, however, rather remember the evident interest of the Earl in his Malton estate, and his frequent willingness to contribute to local objects of a public character. I live in the hope that his grandson, the present lord of the manor, who has already shown a decided disposition to help Malton to improve her condition, whether educationally or commercially, will not be satisfied until certain other definite steps are taken; especially the establishment of a modest housing scheme and the opening of a public swimming bath.
The sixth Earl was born in October, 1815, graduated M.A. at Cambridge in the year Queen Victoria began to reign, and in the same year entered Parliament as Member for Malton. Still within the twelve months he married Lady Frances Douglas, eldest daughter of the Earl of Morton, the oldest surviving son of the marriage between the Hon. H.W. Fitzwilliam, of Wiganthorpe Hall. It is interesting to remember that the late Earl, in conjunction with the famous Lord Morpeth, made a gallant fight for the representation of the West Riding of Yorkshire, in the Whig interest. Those were the days when the Fitzwilliams stood out boldly for the welfare of the common people, and especially for Free Trade principles. In all this he was a worthy descendant of the real founder of his house, a city merchant, who sheltered Wolsley, in the honour of his disgrace, from the King’s displeasure. In 1846 the Earl again stood for Malton, but in the next year was elected for Wicklow, which seat he retained until his accession to the earldom in 1857.
For long years, Earl Fitzwilliam was a most devoted officer in what was then the First West Yorkshire Yeomanry Cavalry; and in the fifties he was appointed Lord-Lieutenant of the West Riding. At one time he held no less than thirty-one church livings!
One of the most interesting events, to Maltonians, in the Earl’s career, was the celebration of the golden wedding of the Earl and Countess in the year 1888. On this occasion fifty local gentlemen and ladies went as a deputation to Wentworth Woodhouse, under the guidance of the late Mr. James Fitch. An address was presented by Mr. Samuel King, who took the place of Mr. John Hopkins, the borough bailiff, who was unable to attend. Other prominent Malton gentlemen included in the deputation were the Rev. E.A.B. pitman, Dr. Young, Major Russell, and Messrs. W.H. Rose, Richard Smithson, Thomas Taylor, Edward Rose, J. Soulby, J. Coning, J. Buckle, M. Slater, F. Langbourne, and R.T.G. Abbott. The Earl replied to the address in felicitous terms, on behalf of himself and his Countess.
With much to make life happy, and to add honour to an already illustrious name, the Earl and Countess had to encounter severe troubles, one of the greatest of which was the loss of their eldest son, Viscount Milton, in January, 1877.
In reviving the memory of the sixth Earl we shall all hope that Malton may for long years be intimately and happily connected with teh fortunes of the Fitzwilliams.
SPECTATOR Bygone Maltonians, No 28, Yorkshire Gazette, ???? 1912
I date my interest in politics from one evening when my father took me to hear Mr. Fitzwilliam speak in the Assembly Rooms. I do not remember his face or figure, only that to me he was one of the gods. What Member of Parliament was not? It is only the passing of the years which has shown me that these gentlemen are made of clay, like the rest of us! I do not myself remember the election of 1874, but I have heard it said how excited people were when, on coming into the Corn Exchange to hear Mr. Fitzwilliam, two leaflets were handed to them. One had on it this phrase:- “Return you own member. Be slaves no longer. Have no more Wentworth nominees.” The second read: “Independent and Conservative electors. R.H. Bower, Esq. will contest the borough. Do not be taken in with the meeting to-night, but stick to your colours.”
Mr. Fitzwilliam had a rather bad time of it. His Chairman, Col. Hayworth Booth, and himself were interrupted by cheers for Mr. Bower, and irreverent nick-names were shot at the brother of the then Earl Fitzwilliam. A Local newspaper report told that the crowd called out “Puffy, sit down,” whilst Mr. Fitzwilliam was speaking, and added “Puffy did not, however, obey the injunction so politely hurled at him.” Mr. Fitzwilliam shone in his behaviour under such trying circumstances; in the Fitzwilliams’ own stronghold and with many years of Parliamentary service behind him. He confessed to cordial friendship with Mr. Bower, and even said that he would have liked to vote for him himself.
Feeling ran high, much was made of the languid wooing of the t own by Mr. Fitzwilliam, or perhaps I ought to say of the unsatisfactory marital relations of the two. Mr. Bower made a point of the very few visits ever paid to the borough by its member, except when votes were wanted, and said that there was a feeling of rancour in the locality. He continued thus: “The house of Fitzwilliam was more indebted to the borough of Malton than the borough of Malton was indebted to the house of Fitzwilliam” and said that no great sum of money had been expended in Malton by that noble house; “the chief buildings had been erected privately, and would eventually fall into the Fitzwilliams’ hands.” The poll resulted thus: Fitzwilliam, 603; Bower, 474; majority for Fitzwilliam, 129. But when the borough bailiff, Mr. John Hopkins, announced the result from the hustings, “all horrid noises imaginable were made by the people in front,” and the feeling was so strong against the Fitzwilliams that almost a riot took place at the front door of the Lodge.
I remember the election of 1879, when Sir William Worsley took Mr. Bower’s place, and was badly beaten. That, by the by, was the time when Mr. Plowman distinguished himself by heckling the late Hovingham Baronet. Mr. Plowman’s question was whether Sir William had allowed his tenants liberty of action. The Baronet replied: “What? On horseback, or how do you mean?” at which there was some laughter, for, unknown to the speaker, Mr. Plowman had recently made representations of his ability on horseback. On this occasion, Mr. Fitzwilliam’s candidature was backed by George Russell, Henry hurtle, R. Calvert, J.Nicholson, George Smith, H.J. Bowland, J. Fitch, and William Wilson.
Between this election and Mr. Fitzwilliam’s resignation in June of 1884, a remarkable revolution of feeling towards him took place in the town. The Conservative Press, which had had nothing too hard to say of the honourable gentleman now courted his attention, whilst the Radical Working Men’s Club was finding serious fault with the way he used his vote – when he did vote. What treatment would a present Member of Parliament receive at the hands of his constituents if he could show no better record than that furnished by Mr. Fitzwilliam’s attendances in the Lobby in 1874 (29 out of 133), or in 1878-9 (38 out of 477 divisions)? However, all differences of feeling was laid aside in 1886 when Tory and Whig united in presenting Mr. Fitzwilliam with an address prepared by Mr. A.H. Jackson, and given at a meeting presided over by Mr. John Hopkins. Messrs. S. King, R. Metcalfe, H. Pickering, R. Wise, R. Bradley, and J. Fitch were among those who spoke on this occasion.
Probably by this time Mr. C.W.W. Fitzwilliam was hardly a Liberal, but plenty of evidence exists in the folios of the local papers of the fact that he had repeatedly confessed himself to be such. For instance, when Mr. Bower’s candidature was announced, Mr. Fitzwilliam said that he supported those Liberal principles which had for so many years conduced to the prosperity of the country; and after his election, when assisting the candidature of Messrs. Leetham and Beaumont, who were standing for the South West Riding, as it was then, the following report of his speech was given by a contemporary:-
“On rising, Mr. C.W.W. Fitzwilliam was received with loud and continued cheers, which he acknowledged with a bow. He said he was not aware that his humble self was so popular in the town of Sheffield, but he would not take it to his own merit, because he thought his reception arose from the fact that he was a member of a family with which they were so well acquainted as the exponent and supporters of Liberal principles.”
Mr. C.W.W. Fitzwilliam was son of the fifth Earl, and great uncle of the present Earl. He married the Hon. Anne Dundas in 1854, and died in December of 1894. He had represented Malton in Parliament from 1852 to 1885. His first companion in the representation of our town was John Evelyn Denison, for many years Speaker of the House of Commons. In 1868 we had to be content with one Member only, and in 1885 we were merged into the present County Division.
SPECTATOR Maltonians of Bygone Days, Yorkshire Gazette, 12 December 1910
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