A moorland Saunter with Whiteley

EVEN after a century Whiteley Turner's book A Spring-Time Saunter remains a local publishing legend. The book, written by a one-armed shopkeeper, takes readers on a four-day ramble from his home village of Mount Tabor over the Pennine Moors to Haworth. David Glover reports

JUST 100 years ago, in September, 1907, an announcement appeared in the Courier, just as the serialisation of Whiteley Turner's A Spring-Time Saunter was nearing its end.

The column stated that "many friends" had expressed a wish to see these "fascinating articles by Mr Turner put into book form".

Eventually the task was achieved, and how much poorer would our local literary and open-air heritage be without it. And yet the author must be considered an unlikely hero, for he was a one-armed newsagent and shopkeeper from Mount Tabor.

The Courier found there was a great deal of support for such a project but it was to be several years before the volume appeared. For two years Turner spent several hours every Thursday closeted with a knowledgeable friend, revising the original manuscript.

Remarkably he did not seek to profit from his work, simply hoping his book would inspire local people to get out and explore their native dales and breezy uplands.

It was not until January 1913 that the volume was finally published, with wonderful line-drawn illustrations mostly by noted local artist Arthur Comfort.

Within a year a second edition – making 3,000 books with the subscribers' edition of 2,000 – was sold out and still more copies were demanded.

Turner optimistically asked for 3,000 more to be ordered. The third edition appeared in January 1915 when the country was preoccupied with a war and most copies remained unsold. The prospect of disaster stared Turner in the face.

And then a bright idea was suggested. What a lovely gift this book would be, with its keen local accent, for wounded Pennine Yorkshiremen in distant hospitals.

The idea soon became reality and many hundreds of copies of the Saunter, specially inscribed, were sent at the expense of the Courier Comforts Fund to the injured sons of Halifax and district.

Before long not a copy was left. Those who wrote gratefully to the Courier about the book said that nothing they had received in the way of literature had given them half the joy of Turner's book.

It had been in 1885 that Whiteley Turner had sent in his first literary composition to the Courier and this was followed by many others, such as A Winter's Day Outing to Walshaw Dean and Hardcastle Crags. He derived great pleasure from roaming and he wanted to share the joy of rambling with others.

A Spring-Time Saunter sought to awaken among the local public the joys of healthy walks on the moors and in the dales nearby, with which Turner had become familiar through his work as a travelling salesman.

The work was published in the Courier from 1904 to 1907. It was the culmination of his efforts and the vividly-described Pennine characters and wonders of nature helped add to its charm.

Born at Higgin Chamber, near Sowerby, in 1866, Whiteley Turner was the third son of Robert Turner, a wool sorter, and his wife, Elizabeth. His boyhood was spent at Midgley and Luddenden and he had little schooling.

When just eight years old he was sent to work at Peel House Mills. After four years he transferred to Solomon Priestley's woollen mill, and it was there that a tragedy changed his prospects for ever.

On Tuesday, November 12, 1878, Turner's right shirt sleeve got caught in the cogs of a carding engine. His arm was drawn in and the limb was wrenched off near the shoulder.

He made a remarkable recovery from this terrible incident and because of his plight he was admitted to Luddenden National School as a free scholar. He then took up a job selling Halifax newspapers and added the sale of tea to that of papers.

Soon young Turner had an amazing round in the area and every month for 40 years, sometimes in pelting rain or blinding snow, he trudged on his route.

In due course the tea business involved visits to Keighley, Queens-bury, Stainland and other places far from Mount Tabor, entailing terrific journeys afoot. In 1921 someone computed that Turner must have covered nearly 20,000 miles on foot!

Turner's account in Saunter of the Worth Valley area is as important as that covering parts of Calderdale. While travelling the Haworth area he learned much about the Bronte family. Many folk could still remember the famous literary sisters and several relate their memories of the family in the Saunter.

In 1920 Turner became unable to work, through chronic nephritis, and early in the morning of February 20 1921 he died. He was 55, a man from a humble station in life who attained a wide reputation.

He was buried in the Wesleyan chapel yard at Mount Tabor, where his grave can still be seen. His wife, Emma, of Wainstalls, whom he had married in 1896, died in 1936. They had no children.

Today, things are very different on the uplands that Whiteley Turner knew so well. Yes, the moorland breeze still sweeps across Fly Flatts and the lapwings continue to strike upwards when disturbed; gulls and wild ducks still scream and soar about the reservoirs. But no more are there cattle in the fields and it is many decades since the swish of the scythe was heard in the grass.

Many of the buildings Turner knew are gone for ever; Woodcock Farm, Nab End and New York, for example, are today only a few stones. Few would choose to live now in such an exposed location.

A century on, how many people think of strolling from Wainstalls to Oxenhope for pleasure, let alone on business? Very few, I fancy. And yet, Whiteley Turner's classic continues to inspire those who do. His Saunter will surely never be forgotten by all those who love our Pennine heights.