William Darney (maverick preacher)
One Sunday in November 1745 Darney arrived in Hebden Bridge. It was raining hard and a great many people had left the town. Nevertheless a good crowd turned out for Darney, either because he was the nearest they could get to a Scots rebel, or just for the fun. A woman provided Darney with an upturned wash-tub to stand on. Before beginning, he hitched up his clothes, licked his thumb and spat on his palms like a workman. The rain flooded off his great hat and his leather clothes gleamed with wet.
"My dear brethren! " he roared. "We live in an age of slavery, of raising money by lotteries, of theatres and other places of idle amusement! With nobility who live at ease lusting after novelty, spending their time singing and indulging filthy and ungodly conversation!Merchants engage-in extravagant merchandising -”
"What's yon Scots Papist selling? Almanacs and lace, isn't it?"
The crowd liked this. Then Darney described the experiences that had brought him to the Lord, which bored them.
"Papist!" someone shouted. "Scotch Will the Jacobite! No Popery! Vicar's coming to arrest thee! Tha's disturbed his Sunday sermon. He'll kill thee!"
A strong young fellow tore Darney's coat from him and disappeared into Hebden Bridge, shouting, "We're baitin' Scotch Will! We're baitin' Scotch Will!" Some tried to get hold of his pack, expecting it to contain Jacobite pamphlets, and the woman fled with it.
A youth climbed onto Darney's back and fastened a horse's bridle over his head. Others tied a long rope around his waist. Beating the drum dolorously as if for an execution, they pushed him into the river. He was so strong that he hardly seemed to gasp at the shock of cold water,
"Hell is coming to Yorkshire for men's sins!" he shouted. Several of the men passed over the bridge with one end of the rope. Thus, holding it from both banks, they could balance Darney in the middle of the current at a place where broken pots, animal carcasses and offal had been thrown.
By pulling quickly on the rope they ducked him several times. Wet, bleeding, cold and breathless, Darney continued to prophesy. "Curse us good and proper and we'll release thee!" his tormentors jeered.
By this time most of the crowd had left and the few who remained were tired of trying to get Scotch Will to curse them. Wet through, muddy, smiling and happy, having relieved their fear of Scotsmen pouring into Hebden Bridge to rape their women, they flung nothing more than taunts at the prophet whilst he climbed onto the other bank. They threw his manycoloured coat down to him from the bridge - they did not want to tempt such a big fellow close, even though he was tired. Darney, without his pack, trailing his coat, climbed up the steep packhorse road to Heptonstall. A small gang of children followed, throwing stones, but they soon gave up or their mothers called them back from the mad preacher.
Glyn Hughes - abridged from Where I Used To Play On The Green
Gollancz 1982 Penguin 1984 (with intro by Ted Hughes)
(Guardian Fiction Prize. Also David Higham Prize)