Picker Makers


The Holt family originated in the Sourhall area of Todmorden and the earliest mentioned is Thomas Holt who was born c1744 and who married Ann Butterworth. Ann was the daughter John Butterworth of Rawsonfield Farm.

Thomas and Ann had many children, amongst them were Thomas, known as Tum, and John, whose nickname was Joan. They both lived at Woodshade and Dobroyd yard and both lived to be old men.

Another son was Martin Holt who, when he was a child, went to live with his grandparents, the Butterworths, at one of the ALLESCHOLES FARMS, which they owned and occupied. Martin had learned to weave and he lived with his grandparents until he was about 14 years old. He married Mary Fielden, one of the Inchfield Fieldens, and they had about ten children, not all of them surviving to adulthood.


In 1841, Martin and his family are living at High Barn, Sourhall:

















picker maker

picker maker

picker maker



Mary died in 1853 and is buried in St. Mary's with 3 of their children.

Sacred to the memory of Sarah, daughter of Martin and Mary Holt of Todmorden Edge

who died November 23 1822 aged 7 mth.

Also of Peter their son who died November 19th 1829 aged 4 years.

Also Fielden their son who died December 3 1851 aged 37 years.

Also of Mary wife of Martin who died March 30th 1853 aged 68 years.


Martin died in 1865 and is buried at Cloughfoot Chapel.


In memory of Martin Holt of Sourhall

who died April 2nd 1865 aged 84 years.

Also of Ann wife of James Holt of Lanehead, Bacup who died Dec 9th 1874

aged 67 years.

Also of the above James Holt

who died Sept. 14th 1875 aged 70 years.

Also of Crossley Holt of 8, Holt St., Whitworth

who died December 2nd 1919

aged 75 years.


Six of their sons left behind the rugged life of hill top farmers, developing an interest in improving and making pickers for the cotton trade. They were James, Thomas, William, John, Martin and Samuel.


James Holt

James married Ann Crossley in 1826 at St. Chad's, Rochdale and in 1841, they were living at Birks Hall, Walsden. He was a picker maker with eight children. He continued as a picker maker and lived at Stoneswood Bottoms, Dulesgate, in 1851 with his ten surviving children. In all, he and Ann had twelve children all born before 1849.

James moved to Lanehead in Newchurch in the early 1860's and lived next door to his brother Martin for a time. Both were picker makers. This is where he died in 1875 and he is buried at Cloughfoot Chapel along with his wife, a son, and his father.


Thomas Holt

Thomas, born in 1806, married a girl called Rachel. She could have been Rachel Firth, but this is not definite. In 1841 they are at Todmorden Edge with three daughters. By 1861 they are at Sourhall with 4 children. Thomas is recorded as being a Cotton Manufacturer, Picker maker, and Farmer of 17 acres.

He died in 1867 aged 61, in a sudden manner. On the 1st. November 1867 he had left his home at Mount Pleasant, Todmorden, in order to travel to Warrington on business. He was in good health as he left, and caught the train to Manchester where he met up with Robert Scholfield, also from Todmorden. They travelled on together and as they reached Middleton Junction Railway Station, Thomas started to feel unwell and was taken to the station waiting room where he died shortly afterwards. He is buried at Christ Church, Todmorden with his wife Rachel, who had died a year earlier in 1866.

John Holt

John married SALLY MILLS in 1835. Things got off to a poor start right from the beginning. Whilst celebrating their wedding with the usual spree, which would last several days as was the custom in those days, on the second day, a few of the revellers met at James Pearson's, Hollins Inn in Walsden, to have a bit of a "do".

John unfortunately broke his leg and three months later he cut off the thumb on his left hand. The swelling was a terrible sight and John must have been in great pain, only Owd Sally Fielden could ease it with one of her own remedies.

John and Sally lived in very poor circumstances at that time, only having one room in the house, with a bed in one corner and a hand loom in the other on which Sally would try to alleviate some of the poverty by using it to do some weaving, whilst her husband would do the best he could at farming. Hens roosted behind the door and there was no chamber. Not very pleasant conditions, but probably better than lots of people at that time. At least they had a roof over their heads.

In 1841 he and Sally are at Todmorden Edge and he is a farmer. From the details of their life described above, the profession of farming isn't, as we understand it today, a good and relatively middle class occupation. He would barely scratch a living out of the poor soil and perhaps kept a cow and the hens, which would only be enough to supplement their own meagre diet.
John's circumstances began to improve and he set up a picker making business with his older brother, Thomas, at PEEL MILL SOURHALL, shown here about 1900.
The right of the building was the mill and the upstairs was used for weaving, whilst the picker-making would be housed below. Handloom weavers would probably inhabit the three cottages and it's possible that John and Sally lived in one of them.

Thomas and John prospered in their venture and even reached a stage whereby they could afford to make their own gas, which they supplied to the three adjoining cottages and four more. Many years later Peel Mill was sold and turned into the SOURHALL ISOLATION HOSPITAL. The cottages are now private dwellings and there are five, the mill having been converted into two.

John's commercial venture profited but ill health continued to dog him until he died aged 53 in 1865 and he is buried at Clough Foot Chapel with Sally and her second husband.



In loving memory of John Holt of Sourhall

who died 27 April 1865 aged 53 years.

Gently my passing spirit fled. Sustained by grace divine. Oh may such grace on me be shed And make my end like thine.

Also of John Haworth of Sourhall

who died December 18th 1876 in the 63rd year of his age.

Farewell dear partner life is past. I loved you dearly to the last. Mourn not for me nor sorrow take. But love my saviour for my sake. Oh some times think of me and come Unto the quiet spot, where I now slumber long and still. But oh not quite forgot.

Also of Sally Haworth of Sourhall who died October 15th 1905 in her 94th year. Widow of the above.

Until the day break and the shadows flee away


William Holt

William was born in 1810 at Sourhall, and when he was a lad, he was a bobbin winder for the hand weavers and later became a hand weaver himself for many years.

William was a bashful sort of lad, but he was healthy and robust, mainly due to his staple diet of milk and porridge. He lost most of his bashfulness as he grew older and he took up singing, when he discovered that he had a good voice, and he enjoyed the pleasure it gave him, which was to last well into old age.


When he was still considered a young man, steam power looms were started at the Waterside Mill by the Fieldens and he got taken on there as a warp winder on. This was his first venture into the village and having been used to the life of the isolated moor tops, it opened up a new world to him. He joined in the gossip and chatter of village life and gradually got used to being around folk most of the day.

He worked hard, mostly 12 hours a day, and sometimes more. Not content with this he took up the practice of clogging as a hobby. He made basic clogs for himself and word gradually got round that he would make clogs for nothing. The folk of the village thought they were doing him a favour by providing him with the means of learning the cloggers art and never offered to pay him for the finished goods. He would provide the leather, nails and raw materials needed and soon realised that he was being taken for a mug and was out of pocket, with what after all was only a hobby. He gave up clog making and turned his talents to picker making, as a new sort of picker was needed for the power looms.

At that time, pickers were made from a three-forked stick of hazel, holly, birch, wicken or owler, and the only tool needed was a penknife to bore the holes. The Fielden family were also engaged in this trade and they were relatives of the Holts. In fact it was William's uncle, Jimmy Fielden, who made the first hand picker. Both sets of families have been involved in the picker making trade for many years and have progressed as more new developments have been needed.

William was credited with inventing the first iron press, which would squeeze the parts into form for a power loom picker. He made the patterns and fitted the castings together and was very successful in his work.


The little time off that William got off from his work; he would go to St. Mary's as he had joined the choir in an amateur capacity. He would turn his hand to help at the church in any way that he could and he sometimes found himself digging graves and at other times he would toll the bell. Whatever needed doing, he would always be happy to oblige.

He began to court a girl who was the daughter of the clerk and was also in the choir, and who lived at Shepherds Hall. He still had the remains of his bashfulness left and he found it very hard to tell her how he felt about her. At night he would walk from his home, over to just below Pexhouse Farm, from where he could see her house, and he would sit and watch the smoke rise from the chimney. When he was satisfied that she was safe, he would return home, happy in the knowledge that his sweetheart was safely abed and he would sleep soundly, no doubt dreaming pleasant dreams.

As far as William was concerned, she was the one for him and he thought that she felt the same way about him. He should have told her his thoughts and not kept silent as it was to end up breaking his heart. One day, as he was walking near her house, he saw her with another lad, and realised that she was keeping company with him. William cursed himself for not being more forthright and wished he had told her long ago how he felt about her. Nothing could be done and William vowed that he would never let a chance like that slip through his fingers again.

He was a changed man. He gave up singing and acquired the nickname of Merry One, no doubt because he earned it in some way. He started to court another woman, Martha Newell, and this time he didn't let anything go to chance and they soon married. She died after a few years and William was married again to Mary Law of Stones. She also died, leaving him a widower, which he stayed for the rest of his life.


He had taken up singing again and was always cheerful and a welcome guest in the homes of his many friends, where he would entertain them with songs such as "Come Hither my Dutiful son, and take this good counsel of mine".

When he was 80, he was honoured at a supper party at the Navigation Inn, Gauxholme, which 20 guests attended. To say that he had sold off his tools 30 years earlier, as he didn't expect to live, he didn't do bad to have reached 80.  The NAVIGATION INN is shown here as a private dwelling in 2004

After the supper table was cleared, Mr. John Travis was chosen as the chairman and gave the toast to the health of Mr. Holt. Mr. Samuel Fielden of Woodbottom gave a recitation and then Mr. Holt sang "My five and twenty, and never an offer". The party got lively with all the guests giving their own particular party piece and then by special request, William sang, "Come hither my Dutiful Son."

The affair ended a little after ten and all went home, happy and contented that William had been given a good birthday party.

William died at his daughter's house on 23 January 1893.



Martin Holt


It is recorded in the "History of Todmorden" that Martin Holt founded the Perseverance Mill at Eastwood in 1854, but by the 1860's he and his brother James had moved to Lanehead, Newchurch, living next door to each other. Both worked as picker makers. Martin had moved to Dulesgate in Walsden by 1866 and was living at Spring Cottages where he opened a picker making works at FRITHS MILL

Martin and his family were living at Spring Cottages in 1871, which is next to the mill. He employed two men and one boy at his works. These employees appear to be his 18 year old son, Fielden Holt, Young Helliwell, 12, who lives with his parents at Frithswood and the third man is Christopher Smith, aged 30, also at Frithswood.

Martin was married to Elizabeth Feber and in 1881, they were still living at Spring Cottage, Dulesgate, with three children, one of who, John, was to carry on with the mill at Eastwood into the twentieth century. Martin was said to employ five men and four boys at that time. Two sons of his sons, Fielden aged 28, married with three children and his younger son John aged 15, were two of the employees along with John Sutcliffe aged 30, and the perennial Young Helliwell. They all lived in a row at Frithswood Bottom near the mill. That same year, 1881, Martin handed over the works to the man who had worked there all his life, Young Helliwell.

Perseverance Mill undertook the whole process of making pickers through every stage, even the tanning of the buffalo hide. The mill is still standing although it was burned down and rebuilt, possibly in 1895.

In 1891, Martin had moved on from Friths Old Mill and now lived at Avon Villa, Adelaide Street, a widower. His unmarried daughter, Ada was still at home aged 17. No doubt, she would be looking after her father who was 63.

His son John has married Betty Crossley by 1888, and in 1891 is living at Cockden and has seemingly taken over the running of the Perseverance Mill. This mill would undertake the whole process of making pickers through every stage, even the tanning of the buffalo hide. He is still at Cockden ten years later and he and Betty have a daughter Gladys. In May 1913, John and Betty celebrated their silver wedding by giving the whole workforce of the mill a four- day visit to London. They were presented, in turn, with a silver rose bowl, suitably inscribed from their loyal employees


Martin and Elizabeth had another son who they named Fielden.  He and father Martin fell out and Fielden went on to establish his own picker making business at Shade in Todmorden, known as Fielden Holt & Sons, SHADE MILL.


Fielden Holt


His father left him nothing in his will, declaring: "My son Fielden Holt has been excluded from the trusts of my will in as much as he has during my life time enjoyed certain pecuniary benefits derived from my estate."

Fielden married Emma Sutcliffe and they had 7 children, four daughters and three sons who followed him in to the picker making business. Arthur Holt married Maudetta Gaukroger and they had 3 daughters. Walter married Annie Sunderland and had no children. Fred married Emily Cockroft and had 2 children, Clifford and Edith Annie. Clifford carried on in the business until the mill was purchased under a Council Compulsory Purchase Order in the early 1960's. He was the last of the Holts to be involved in picker making. Fielden died in 1927 and is buried at Cloughfoot with his wife Emma who died in 1931.


Samuel Holt

Samuel was born around 1817 and was married to Grace Greenwood of Gate Bottom. In 1841 he and Grace were living at Speak Edge and Samuel was following the family profession of picker making. They had 3 children under 4 at the time. It would seem that at some time before 1859 they moved to Bacup. A son, Ephraim, was born there in that year. They then had a daughter, Kate, who was born at Halifax in 1867, so obviously they travelled around for a while. In 1881 they are at Dale Street in Newchurch, and Samuel is still a picker maker.



The name of Holt lives on with the name of Martin Holt Ltd. in large white lettering on the wall of the mill as you pass between Todmorden and Hebden Bridge. Tribute to a Todmorden, family, who worked their way up from the moor tops of Sourhall and whose mill still stands as testimony to their hard work.



The photo of the cottages at Sourhall about 1900 by kind permission of Roger Birch

The photos of Fielden Holt and his factory, and information on him and his family, kindly provided by Sally Hinchliffe