One of the dodgy characters of bygone Halifax was Joe ‘Fiddler’ Thompson, who was born in Halifax in the mid-18th century.
He was treated roughly as an apprentice and ran away several times, once even being jailed for truancy. His second master flogged him so severely that he was crippled. Finally released in poor health, he was taught to play fiddle as a means of earning a livelihood. It was a job that gave him a taste for ale and a turbulent life.
He married at 18 and had a son, who died of smallpox at 5 years old. During this time Joe joined a circus, and after his son’s death he lived with a German lady fortune-teller for a year and a half. For a while he toured around fairs as far afield as Nottingham, Macclesfield and Chester with this companion, occasionally popping back to his wife in Halifax. One day however, after drinking at Liverpool, he found himself fiddling on a boat bound from France to Guinea.
His wife met him off the ship in 1779 with a set of women’s clothing for him to avoid the Press Gang. With his pay they bought a new fiddle, and went back to Halifax where he joined another touring company. After various more scrapes, including nearly hanging himself in a Hartshead pub, things came to a head in his marriage in 1786. His wife finally threatened to leave him after another beating but local Methodists stepped in to mediate. The upshot was that Joe joined the Methodists and gave up drinking, and she stayed. That same year he also gave up fiddling and the temptation it entailed, and acquired regular work at a dyehouse. Fiddler Thompson died on March 5, 1812.
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