David Turton

Horbury born David Turton, who could play Handel's Oratorios by heart and wrote many hymns beloved by Yorkshire folk was typical of the old village hand-loom musicians that were popular during the late 18th and 19th centuries in England. The picture below shows an early 19th century cellist, but this isn't David Turton, and sadly no known picture of him exists.

David Turton was baptised at St Peter's Church, Horbury on the 26th December 1767, some 33 years before John Carr began work on the church that we know today. David was the son of John Turton and Jane (nee Lowther). 


A 19th century cellist - although not David Turton as no known images exist.

A 19th century hand loom weaver. Copyright Paul Serusier c 1890.

David Turton's gravestone was resited in Horbury Cemetery from the old Tithe Barn St  burial ground. 

'Yorkshire Oddities: Incidents & Strange Events' by Sabine Baring Gould (1)., tells us that he was a man of simple tastes, a flannel weaver by trade, which he made by hand loom in the upper room of his cottage. The 1841 census shows David Turton, clothier, living on Northgate, Horbury. The Land Tax Records of 1832 show a David Turton paying rent to William Stringer.(2)

Baring Gould goes on to tell us that he had the broadest Yorkshire accent, on all occasions "he adhered to that peculiarly racy and piquant tongue, both in pronunciation and phraseology which was so well known to those who dwelt in the West Riding of Yorkshire." In describing his appearance, Baring Gould said, "His features were small and sharp, his eye especially bright and full of life; and having lost nearly all his teeth at a comparatively early age, his pointed chin and nose inclined much towards each other." He also described David as having long legs, "lean as clothes line props."

This seemingly ordinary Horbury man was a great lover of music. He was a good singer and a credible player of the violoncello (just cello to you and me). He knew all Handel's oratorios and many other classical works off by heart. He even aspired to be a composer, in fact he published a volume of chants and psalm tunes. His chants found their way into various collections of Anglican chants, along with those of Dr. Turton, Bishop of Ely. Baring Gould was obviously a fan of David Turton's compositions, as he wrote, "Not one of his hymn tunes has found its way into the most popular collection of the day – 'Hymns Ancient & Modern', which is the more to be regretted, as Turton's tunes were often original, which is much more than can be said for a good many of the new tunes inserted in that collection."

He was indeed "a favourite among musical people in all grades of society and there was seldom a gathering in the neighbourhood where any good class of music was performed in which his well known figure was not seen." Francis Maude Esq. of Hatfield Hall was a friend and patron.

There is a story in "Old Country Life" by the Rev. Sabine Baring-Gould about David Turton:

"The old village musician was a man remarkable in his way. David Turton of Horbury, Yorkshire was perhaps typical of the better class. A man of intense enthusiasm for his art, and passionate love of his violoncello, one may be quite sure that his violoncello shared his bed, taking it by day when Turton was out of it like Box and Cox. (3).

The story was told of him that he was returning one night from a concert in Wakefield, where he had been performing when he passed trough a field in which was a savage bull. (4). The bull on seeing him began to follow, and ran at him with lowered horns. "Now then", said old David, "that note must be double B." He whipped the bass violin out of the green bag, set it down, and drew the bow over the strings, to try and out the note bellowed. The bull staggered at the response, stopped, threw up his head and turned tail." 

When David was quite advanced in years, he tripped over a large stone while returning from a musical gathering on a dark night. He broke his hip as a result. This meant a long time confined to bed, unable to work or attend musical gatherings. His constant companion whilst bed bound was his beloved violoncello. Unable to sit up enough to use the bow, he spent a lot of his time playing his music pizzicato. After some time, he was able to get about on crutches and in time by using a stick. 

During his period of incapacity, his savings had dwindled away and he was staring poverty in the face. Fortunately, his musical friends came to his rescue and gave a very successful oratorio of the 'Messiah' in Wakefield, entirely for his benefit, raising £70. This was a good deal of money in those days and Turton was a bit nervous at having so much money in his possession. 

To remedy this problem he asked the vicar of Horbury, John Sharp, to keep it, so that he could draw on it from time to time. With careful management, it was sufficient to make him comfortable for the rest of his life and for him to purchase his memorial stone. 

David Turton died aged 78 years on the 18th August 1846. He was buried at St Peter's on the 20th August. His memorial stone (pictured left) now stands in Horbury Cemetery. Photograph is by Helen Bickerdike.


1. "Yorkshire Oddities, Incidents and Strange Events" by Rev Sabine Baring Gould, published by John Hodges 46, Bedford Street, Stand, London 1874
2. Ancestry.co.uk
3. Used to refer to an arrangement whereby people make use of the same accommodation or facilities at different times, according to a strict arrangement.
4. The field in question is reputed to be behind the old Ship Inn at Horbury Bridge (now di Bosco) known as the Middups (source is Richard Bell's "Wild Yorkshire Blog", 11th

April 2015)


Helen Bickerdike  July 2018