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The Collectors.

Byline: Tony Pogson ,

Dr henry James Morehouse, of Stoney Bank, New Mill, surgeon, died on October 9, 1890.

His will specifically requested that his books, manuscripts, and other material he had collected should "form the nucleus for a public art museum in Holmfirth".

But just in case, "if the inhabitants of Holmfirth or the Graveship of Holme" within 30 years had not produced their museum, they were to go to a public museum in Huddersfield.

He was being quite far-sighted and the spirit of his wishes were carried out - eventually, if hardly to the letter.

His collection was transferred to Holmfirth Urban District Council in 1937 and in 1947 to the Tolson Museum in Ravensknowle Park. The museum had been in existence since 1922 so if any conscientious executor had been looking the collection could have got there much sooner.

Dr Morehouse is famous locally as the author of The History And Topography Of The Parish Of Kirkburton And Of The Graveship Of Holme.

But he was also an antiquarian with eclectic tastes. Just one sheet of his inventory on his natural history finds reads: tooth of elephant, mummified rat, hair balls taken from the stomachs of fat cattle slaughtered at Holmfirth, skull of albatross and tusk of wild boar and bones of the flightless moa (now extinct) from New Zealand .

Elsewhere you might find: a wooden snuff box carved with the signs of the zodiac, sugar loaf butter (used before lump sugar), a Turkish pipe (elaborately carved) in three removable parts, two Indian deities brought from the sub continent by his nephew Captain H Bradley, an Egyptian mummy cloth found at Thebes and a small bust of Robert Burns.

In the preface to his book, dated 1861, Dr Morehouse explains how "on settling down more than 30 years ago to the active duties of a laborious profession, in his native valley ... the desire to know something of the district and its inhabitants in the `olden time' would seem a natural and perhaps a grateful curiosity".

He recorded that previous books seemed to ignore his own parish - although he did take one such author round Holmfirth after the 1852 flood.

"With a view to satisfy his own curiosity", he wrote of himself, "he adopted the plan of jotting down from time to time, when opportunity offered, traditions and facts communicated by aged intelligent persons, which seemed deserving of notice."

This piecemeal approach is probably reflected in his collection which includes coins, ceramics, military weapons, quern stones used for grinding corn by hand and much else.

The Tolson Museum has on show part of a Roman coin hoard found at Wistance in Thurstonland on May 22, 1838 by a farm labourer.

The 600-800 small copper pieces were encrusted - and in many cases cemented together by - a green oxide. When freed many were found to be so corroded that it was impossible to say in whose reign they had been issued.

The coins were said to have been quickly dispersed throughout the neighbourhood.

But the pride of Dr Morehouse's coin collection is probably a gold "angel" from the time of Henry VII.

Many of his weapons and arms seem to date from the English Civil War period. Thanks to Dr Morehouse the Tolson has on show a cuirass (or breastplate) worn by Richard Horsfall of Storthes Hall while fighting on the Royalist side at Pontefract in 1645-6 and a cannon ball (not on display) said to have come from the Earl of Newcastle's Royalist army while harassing the Holmfirth district.

But there is also a bronze spearhead found at Cartworth Moor. Morehouse thought it was Roman but now it can be dated to the Bronze Age, about 750 BC.

Clearly the surgeon, regularly travelling the district - presumably on horseback - was in an excellent position to pick up most of his knowledge.

But he said he only got the time to arrange the material for his book during a long spell of poor health. And when he first suggested publication of the book in 1844 "the public did not evince much interest in the undertaking".

The book was postponed until the autumn of 1858.

* Dr Morehouse has been in the news again of late, in connection with the dispute over the Maythorn Cross.

The cross, from the hamlet above Hepworth, is said to have been "rescued" by Dr Morehouse and placed in Stoney Bank Lane near his home.

Next: Charles P Hobkirk - Huddersfield's pioneer natural historian.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Huddersfield Daily Examiner (Huddersfield, England)
Date:Mar 23, 2005
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