Joseph Firth was said to have been 102 years old when he died at Sandal Magna, just outside the Yorkshire market town of Wakefield, in 1835. He was about six and a half feet tall, and was said to have been a very “singular man” who never married. As a result, he was exceptionally wealthy, though he infamously spent very little of his fortune. He owned his own home near Toll Bar, which was called Firth’s Buildings, and lived a completely carefree existence by himself, without even employing a domestic servant.
Firth’s fellow townsfolk had always been greatly amused by his comical personality, in particular the way he used to treat his two horses. He’d owned them for many decades, but had never bothered to train them or break them in at all! In fact, he made no effort to tame them whatsoever. Instead, he simply drove them to and from their stables and his field in Portobello, completely untethered, without harness or bridle, or any form of obvious control.
“Go on, my filly foals!” he would be heard to exclaim as he accompanied them through the streets. ”Go on, my filly foals!”
He never gave them any other names.
In 1812, four neighbourly women from the Toll Bar district, Mrs. Walsh, Mrs. Crowther, Mrs. Illingworth, and Mrs. Johnson, took pity on the bachelor and decided it was about time that he was treated to a good, hearty breakfast, as only a woman could make. When this suggestion was put to Mr. Firth, he readily accepted without any hesitation.
Armed with cakes, tea, cream, rum, and many other luxurious articles, the ladies arrived at Firth’s Buildings early one morning and began whipping up a welcome and substantial breakfast, fit for an aristocrat. Unfortunately, when they came to serve the banquet, they discovered that Firth’s china teacups and saucers were not even large enough to serve more than three or four thimblesful of food. The ladies muttered disapprovingly, and all agreed that a good wife would have seen to it that the house was properly furnished with a more suitable tea set. However, the company did not let this slight hiccup dampen their spirits, and the five of them had a merry old frolic together. By the end of the morning, each lady had found herself plied with no fewer than 30 tiny cups of tea, and they each felt slightly exhilarated. As is well known, tea is not an intoxicating drink, but as the ladies preferred a “good old-fashioned style” beverage, each cup had been mixed with copious amounts of rum. As there had not been enough tiny teacups to go round, Firth had had to drink his tea from an earthenware bason, which held about a pint of liquid.
“I will drink as many basonsful of tea as my visitors each drink cupsful!” he’d proudly declared.
And so he did, complete with a plentiful mixture of rum. He had to be put to bed by the four ladies before it was even time for lunch. They left him there once breakfast was over, with the remaining bottle of rum by his side.
After that day, whenever he passed the four ladies in the street, he would smile, tip his hat, and enquire, “Ah, lasses! When are we to have another good stir?”
The ladies simply smiled, giggled, and went about their business.
To find out if you had a character like Joseph Firth in your family history, contact the professional genealogy company, Ancestry by Heir Line, to learn all about your Yorkshire ancestors.