William Helliwell’s Grand Tour of 1832

William Helliwell’s Grand Tour of 1832: From Todmorden, Upper Canada to Todmorden, Yorkshire, and Back Again 

By John C. Carter

1832 was a momentous year for William Helliwell. He turned twenty-one, and became a full partner in his family’s business ventures at Todmorden Mills, Upper Canada. On coming of age, his first assignment was to travel to England, going there to learn all he could about brewing. As well, he would see and experience the world beyond the confines of Toronto, and visit friends and family at Todmorden, Yorkshire, in the very village which he’d been born. William had not been there since 1818, when at the age of seven he with his family had departed for a new life in Upper Canada. His “grand tour” began on May 8, 1832. The following articles select highlights of his journey, which William personally recorded in his 1832 diary.*

An 1840 sketch of  a young William Helliwell, by Rochester artist J. DaLee

Journey to New York City: 
Helliwell left Toronto by steam boat and arrived in Niagara “…after a tolerable run of five hours.” The next day he took a stroll and wrote; “I was gratified with a sight of a schooner pass up the Welland Canel  She was drawn by one horse and looked most majestically.” Later that day he boarded the steamboat Canada, and crossed the Niagara River into New York State. He procured a stagecoach at Youngstown, before taking the line boat National on the canal to Lockport. On arrival at Rochester, Helliwell visited two local breweries. Getting on a packet boat, William continued through the towns of Palmyra, Lyons and Montezuma, and passed by Salina, Geddes, Syracuse and Rome. He eventually arrived at Schenectady. There he boarded a train for Albany, and on his arrival, William visited Fidlers & Taylors Brewery, and Boyds Brewery. His diary entry detailed the wonders he had witnessed at both the breweries. About the first he wrote; “And relly I was surprised to find it so exentensive they mash 380 Bushels and brew sevn times per weeke they mash by a macine drove by a Steam Engine The brewer told me that they brewed 20000 Barrels of beer and that they had 3000 on hand which I think is an exaggeration I think the brewery and malt house covers an acre of ground They have three kilns and a brick floor. At Boyd’s, William noted that it; “…is verrey large he mashes by steam and brews 5000 Barrels His Engine I could carrey on my back verrey well he has mashed about 3000 bushels of malt in hand. To prevent the air from slacking it he has three kilns But I think that two would dry all the malt that the floore can make.”  Eventually William took berth on the steamer Philadelphia, and remarked that; “I think there is at least 200 passingers on board and such a bustling scene I hav not witnessed.”

Images from a brochure about Brunel’s Thames Tunnel, which William Helliwell
 purchased on his 1832 visit to this engineering marvel in London, England. 

Journey to England:
By May 15, William was approaching New York City. On arrival there, he went in search of a ship to take him to England. He found that his expected voyage to Liverpool aboard the Hyburnia would not occur, because she was fully booked. Certainly not a very auspicious start for his journey! Consequently, passage was arranged to London on the Hudson. The next day, the steamboat Hercules took Helliwell to that vessel, and his trip to England began. After a rather uneventful voyage of twenty-nine days, William reached London on June 13, 1832. He noted the following in his diary; “…we soon arrived not however without my being lost in surprise for many strange objects presented themselves to My Gaze – Such throngs of carriages horsemen and foot passengers. The streets all appearing with their whole soul and boddey bent on prosecuting their way with the utmost dispatch crouding through as if life and death depended on their quick exit. Here is to be seen Ladies of the most exquisite Beauty & dressed in the richest dresses jostling cheek by chowle with Beggars Porters and Carters and here is to be seen wagons that are like moving houses…These I am informed are Tea conveyances from the dock to India house. [East India Company].”

images from a brochure about Brunel’s Thames Tunnel, which William Helliwell
 purchased  on his 1832 visit to this engineering marvel in London, England. 

On June 16, William witnessed part of the London underworld, and penned the following thoughts; “In the evening I took a walk through White Chappel road just to see the number of Women taking their nightley rounds, poor wretches. The greater part of them are to be pityd. I was soliseted by half a dozen different ones to go with them to their lodgings and some as Beautiful and lovely women there are amongst them as the eyes of Man can look upon-But totally devoid of all modesty and no wonder for Hunger is a pinching thing and I am utterly at a loss to know how the tenth part of the number lives at all-So numerious were they that I am sure that I could walk for three miles on the Heads, indeed the Street was completely filled with them.”

William also recorded his visits to the British Museum, the National Picture Gallery, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and Brunel’s Thames Tunnel. On June 19, he went to the museum, but got there before the gates were open. He adjourned to a nearby public house to share a pot of porter with a young man he had met, who was in the same circumstance. They then returned at opening time of 10 a.m., and William wrote; “…we was met at the door by a porter and shown into a room where we entered our names in a Book and then proceeded to look through the several rooms the first thing that attracted my attention was a large wild Goate brote by Captain Perrey from America & a large White Bear from the frozen Ocian and also a verey large Camel Lepord which stood 15 feet high Here is a greate collection of Indian curiositeys such as was clubs and paddles &c a verey extensive collection insects reptiles and a fiew wild beasts  A Good collection of Birds forighn & domestic This together with the Fosils Shells occupeyed a room 120 yards long under which is the Library filled with Books.”

Hand drawn map fashioned by William Helliwell in the 1830s, of the farm/brewery site at Todmorden Mills, Upper Canada

After going to a nearby coffee house to take dinner, William and his new-found friend;  “…then set out for the Nationall Picture Gallery in Pall Mall Here is 120 of the finest paintings on modern time this as well as the museum is gratis.” Moving on, William visited St. Paul’s Cathedral where he paid two pence admission. He then “…found the bottom which is as large as an acre field with a stone floore…Here is the monument of the Immortel Nelson & Abocromby and all the renouned warriors after Satisfeyed ourseleves with looking at thes we went up the stairs.”

On June 20, Helliwell visited the Calvert & Cos Brewery on Lower Thames Street. He was shown around the premises, and then moved on to tour the Ale Brewery.  He was most impressed with this venture, and recorded that it “…is new and on the most improved plan and verey extensive They work their ale off in casks of curious contrivance of pipes so that they always remain full…everey thing was as clean as Parlors.” This was a vast difference to the cleanliness that he had seen at the first brewery; “…in the Porter brewery they appeared to pay no attention to it at all.” The next day William went to the Booth Distillery in Cow Lane and the nearby Thorne Brewery, to investigate how distilling and brewing was undertaken in these large London establishments. His last London brewery stop was on June 22, when he went to the Barkley Perkins & Porter Brewery, Park Street. There he found out that; “…the operative part of the Brewery had lately been destroyed by fire.”**  As a result, two to three hundred men were employed in repairing the damage. But even so, William wrote that this joint stock concern with 80 partners and nearly a million pounds sterling of capital, was “…beyond doubt the most extensive concern in the World it is like a Town itself and employs from three to four hundred men.”

On June 21, William went to the market at Smithfield to “take a peep at what was going on there.” He wrote;  “I at last came in sight of the large square of five or six acres all paved with stone but about half shoe deep with dung & slush…There is ranges of rails to which are fastened Rows of Mooley Bullocks in hundreds & at another side of the Market is pens full of Sheep and lambs and still farther on are hundreds of calves from two weeks to two months old such a nois of cows bodeys Bullocks roaring Sheep bleating pigs squeeling and calves bawling & Butchers and drovers swearing & dogs barking that one could scarsely hear themselves speak – The Bullocks were not the largest size but the cows were verey large as the common oxen in Canada I never saw aney thing to compare to the calves for large and fat the Mutton was verey fine indeed but the pork was not anything superior.” His stay in London was  coming to an end, and Todmorden was beckoning!    

On to Todmorden, Yorkshire:
On June 23, William Helliwell took the Red Rover coach out of London, travelled to Burlsem, and then boarded another coach for Manchester. At Manchester, he connected with the coach to Todmorden and arrived there at 7 p.m. His immediate reaction to a long absence from his place of birth, was recorded in his diary; “I could hav passed through the place and not hav known it so much altered since I last saw it – It is impossable to describe the state of My feelings on arriving at the place of my birth from which I hav been an exile for 14 years and to which I am now returning an entire stranger to every face that I saw.”

William settled in at the Royal George Inn, and then began to investigate the town. On passing his aunt’s, he noted that; “…two or three of my cousins were standing at the door and although I was aware that they lived there I did not know them nor they me although they naturly took notice that I was a stranger when I passed by.”  A similar reaction was recorded when walking by Ratcher, the former site of the family’s small textile factory; “…all eyes fixed on me and I could here them [workmen] wisper to one another who is that felley where is he going &c.” On reaching the house he was born in at Houghstone Farm, William wrote the following; “ I found it in such a dilapidated state condition that I was not able or rather I felt so shocked that I could not go in.”

For the next 39 days, William traversed parts of West Yorkshire and its environs. He visited relatives and friends, renewed old acquaintances, and did sightseeing. Some of the highlights of his travels were as follows. On July 1, he attended services in Todmorden at Cross Stone Church, and found the grave marker of his grandmother Betty. While in Halifax on July 7, William visited the coal, swine and beef markets, and then went to the Piece Hall; “…which is built round a large square two storeys high all divided into rooms about ten feet square. In these rooms the Manufactorers sell their goods.”*** 

On July 28, William wrote the following; “I came down to Todmordin to witness one of the greatest days that was ever seen in this village IT WAS THE PROCESSION IN HONOUR OF REFORM …when I got there I was surprised to see Buckleys weavers Marching with a band of Music at their head the Men walked first four deep and the girls followed all in their best bib and Tuckers.” These workers and their families were supporting unions, decrying high taxes, calling for the triumph of liberty over tyranny, and supporting “Earl Grey and all true Reformers” in their efforts to secure better rights for workers in the textile industry. This procession was followed by a large evening meal where John Fielding “…spoke of the Reform as being of universal franchise & hoped that every English man would eat roast Beef and Plum pudding every Sunday.” The night ended with music and dancing with participants dressed in their Sunday finery, of which William wrote; “…made one of the Most picturesque scenes that I ever saw in My life.”****    

William Helliwell and his second wife Jane, with his daughters from his first marriage
 to Elizabeth (Jane’s sister), later in life at Highland Creek (now Scarborough).

William’s Return:
On August 3, William Helliwell, boarded a coach bound for Manchester. He wrote; “…about eight oclock the coach started and farewell My Native Land.” William bought first class tickets for the Herald Express Expedition Traveller and Royal Mail, enroute to Liverpool. This experience was much different than the stage ride he had taken to reach Todmorden. Helliwell excitedly explained; “We went off at a good rate & in about two Miles we got to our full speed which was a mile in two minuets When we met the train of Carriages from Liverpool the speed of both trains was so great that I could distinguish nothing but a mooveng mass which flew past us like an Arrow.” He arrived at his destination, and on August 4 walked to the docks to find that the brig Margaret would be sailing for Quebec in a few days. Early on the morning of August 7, Helliwell went to the north end of Princess Dock and boarded the Margaret. This would be the start of his somewhat tedious, 31 day return voyage to Lower Canada. 

The lack of wind seemed to constitute many of William’s diary entries detailing his return to Canada.  On August 17 he wrote; “It is really discouraging to see how slow we get towards Canada which does not suit Me for I am anxious to see the Sweet River Don & all My Friends.” Light winds and unfavourable sailing conditions continued to plague the voyage, and William penned the following on August 31; “This is certainly the most unpleasant time that I ever spent.  Nothing to varey the daily routine of Sleeping and eating except now and then a game of chess.”  On September 2, he noted a welcomed change in conditions, saying; “…this day the wind was fair and for the first time since we left the [English] Channel and we in consequence had all the canvass spread and made a good run of it.” However the  dreaded doldrums returned, and on September 9, Helliwell wrote a discouraging entry; “This is the fifth Sunday that we have spent at sea and God only knows how maney more we may be confined to our moving prison.”

Captain Sutherland finally sailed the Margaret into the St. Lawrence River on September 14. Ten days later the brig stopped at Grasse Island [Grosse Isle] for small pox quarantine, before receiving permission to sail on to Quebec, which was reached on September 30. On October 2, Helliwell boarded the steamer John Molson and arrived in Montreal the next day. A series of coach and steamboat rides brought William back to Todmorden Mills on October 6. His stay was short lived, as business called. William wrote; “I was verey much pleased to get home but it did not stop long before I set out again in the evening.” He went to Toronto and on directions from his eldest brother Thomas, travelled the next day to Rochester to buy hops for use in the brewery. Certainly no rest for the weary!  

A portrait photograph of Wiliiam Helliwell (circa 1880) in his later years, when living at Highland Creek (Scarborough) Ontario

By October 16, 1832, William finally returned to his beloved Todmorden Mills. On that day he noted; “I was walking around looking at the alterations that had been rought in My absence.” The next day he simply wrote; “I was brewing.” His great adventure had come to an end. His daily routine of a brewer and business partner had again commenced. Now it was time to put what he had seen and learned during his “grand tour” into practice.

*Quotes used in this article, retain the original spelling in William Helliwell’s 1832 hand- written diary. Local East York author Eleanor Darke, has described William’s writing style as “…always fascinating – his spelling even more so!”

**Little did William know that in 1847, the same fate would befall the Helliwell holdings at Todmorden Mills.  In that year, the brewery burnt to the ground, the family partnership dissolved, and property there was divided up between family members. William Helliwell moved to Highland Creek (now Scarborough, Ontario). There he built saw and grist mills (Helliwell Mills), became involved in numerous other enterprises, and lived and prospered at this location until his death in 1897.

***Originally constructed in 1779, this architecturally and historically significant building is still open to the public, and is well worth a visit to when you are in Halifax, England.

****John Fielding was a local mill owner, M.P., and an advocate for the rights of workers. He was the sponsor and host of this day-long event, which William Helliwell participated in and described in his diary.Acknowledgements:

The author would like to thank the East York Foundation for permission to use William Helliwell’s 1832 diary, and Bill Helliwell (the great grandson of William Helliwell) of Cheticamp, Nova Scotia, for the use of family photos and images. 

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