Chapter from "Tales and Sketches of Old Altrincham and Bowdon" by H J Leech, 1880, pages 38-43.
The object of this chapter is to rescue from obscurity the name of a great man who has been allowed to drop out of remembrance. Nathaniel Pass was once a person of importance in Altrincham. Old men spoke his praises, young men and maidens did him honour, and children were christened after him (see Pass Balshaw). Yet he is now forgotten: a generation has sprung up which knows not Nathaniel. And he was mayor of Altrincham too. In the year 1830 Nathaniel Pass is recorded as having filled that high office. How fleeting is greatness. But fifty years have gone by since Nathaniel presided at the mayoral dinners at the Unicorn, and headed the procession of officials round the Market Place on the opening of Sanjam Fair, yet now his name is unknown to the greater part of the population of Altrincham. It will be well for other great men to think of that fact. Let those who have been mayors of Altrincham, and those who aspire to reach some day the august position, bear in mind the fate of Nathaniel Pass, and then let them not be puffed up with the thought of their exalted state. The day will perhaps come when they too will be forgotten.
Nathaniel's importance, however, did not spring from his having filled the mayoral office. He was what no mayor of Altrincham ever yet was, in his capacity of mayor-a man of authority and power. Nathaniel was a sheriff's officer. This statement may not have an imposing significance to some people. They will remember the vulgar name of "bum," which attaches to that calling, and will be unable to see in it anything lofty or important. But it is necessary to bear in mind that Nathaniel was the sole representative of the law in this town during his time. There were no justices of the peace or police here then. If it had not been for Nathaniel the great power by which order and peace are maintained within these realms would have been unrepresented at Altrincham. The juvenile population might then have grown up without any respect for the law, since there was no visible sign of it before them. They might even have become disloyal, for without Nathaniel they would have had nothing to remind them of the power of the Crown. They knew, of course, that the King's majesty sat on a throne, waving a golden sceptre, and giving orders to his ministers for the government of the kingdom, but the knowledge had only a slight influence over them, because the King's majesty was too far off to be seen or heard. But here was Nathaniel, the officer of one of the high dignitaries appointed by the Crown, living and moving amongst them, clothed with authority and with a full consciousness of his importance. It was impossible to resist the influence which he threw over them, and consequently they grew up to be peaceful and law-abiding men. But, with the perverse and mischievous spirit common to boys, they broke out at tunes into scornful expressions against him, and just as men sometimes attempt to resist what awes them by putting ridicule upon it, these boys tried to shake off Nathaniel's impressive influence by making him the butt of their wit. In a happy moment the Muse inspired one of them to compose a verse on Nathaniel. When he made it known to his fellows it was hailed by them as a brilliant poetical expression of their feelings on that subject, and was adopted from the time as an appropriate recitation, to be made whenever Nathaniel was passing down the street. It was as follows
"Owd Natty Pass,
That silly ass,
By his trade a bum,
When he dies,
The devil cries,
Come, come, come."
It will be observed that the poet, taking a liberty which those gifted beings are permitted to do, assumed a prophetic power in this effort of his genius, and foretold a rather unhappy fate for Nathaniel, after he had finished with this world's cares. But there was nothing in Nathaniel's character to warrant such a prediction. He was not only a worthy citizen but a devout man in the bargain, and one of the pillars of the Wesleyan cause in the town.
In the discharge of his duties Nathaniel was alert and decisive as is shown by the account which is given of a capture he once made. He was reading one day in the Hue and Cry, which was the police gazette at that time, when he saw the description of a crime that had just been committed by a man who was still at large. The place where the man lived was supposed to be near Altrincham, but the names of the different localities mentioned in the account were wrongly spelt. Natty perceived the mistake, and at once fixed in his own mind who the culprit was. The latter it appears, had been in the up-country shearing, and had become very friendly with another shearer working on same farm. The two worked as mates on that farm, and after finishing there went off together to another place at some distance. On the way, the first man suddenly knocked the other down and robbed him, then further ill-treated him, and finally left him on the ground for dead, with a sod over his mouth.
Nathaniel, after reading the account, handed over the paper to his man. "Jacky," he said, "who's that?" "Why," said the man, "it's Bill Weston." This confirmed Nathaniel's suspicions, and he resolved to make an attempt to capture the criminal. Ashton Wakes were close at hand, and Nathaniel had a shrewd suspicion that Weston would not be far away when they were held. Accordingly, on the bull-baiting day, he went there with two men, and, hiding with his assistants among the furze on Ashton heath, waited for the shout which used to go up when the baiting was over. In time the sound of cheering was heard, and then Natty and his men pushed forward with all speed to the Plough Inn. Arrived there they found it crowded with desperate men - tinkers tramps, gipsies, and all sorts of violent and lawless characters There had been a dispute as to the winning dog, and the men were throwing the dice to determine which should have the collar. Oaths and fierce shouts burst from them while they were engaged in doing this, and an officer of the law might well have shrunk from thrusting himself among them. Natty's heart almost failed him as he saw what sort of a nest he had to enter; but he walked resolutely in, and, sure enough, right before him was the redoubtable Bill Weston. Stepping up to him instantly, Natty pulled out his pistol, and, clapping it to Weston's head, said, "You are my prisoner." Weston, contrary to Natty's expectation, made no resistance, and the ill-looking ruffians who filled the inn not showing fight either, Natty got his man off, and locked him up in the star chamber, a room in his house which bore that name, and in which he kept his prisoners. The next day he took him to Oughtrington, which was then the residence of one branch of the old Legh family. It has since passed into other hands; but for a long time the Leghs of Oughtrington were people of some importance in this part of the world. The Mr. Legh who lived there then was the nearest magistrate to Altrincham. The Earl of Stamford was lord lieutenant of the county, but he did not act as a justice of the peace, and when it was necessary for any of the Altrincham officials to make an application to a magistrate, they were obliged to walk to Oughtrington, a distance of five miles, and back. The overseer of the poor was forced to make that journey whenever he had a fresh case of pauperism to deal with. The magistrates of the district used to meet once a month at Hoo Green, to try cases, and these were the only facilities which the people of Altrincham had for the transaction of affairs of justice.
Mr. Legh had the reputation of a very able magistrate. He was the chairman of the bench, and Nathaniel used to say that he was worth the whole of the bench put together. He could do more work, he said, than all the rest of them; and when he was away they were quite unable to get through the business. "I don't know, I'm sure," Natty used to say, "whatever we shall do without him when he's gone."
Natty took his prisoner to Mr. Legh, on the day following his capture, and showed him the Hue and Cry. "I can't commit him on that evidence, Pass," said the magistrate; "but if you like I'll commit him on your responsibility."
Natty was quite agreeable, and he then proceeded with his man to Staffordshire to be tried. Some years after, as he was going towards Congleton with a friend, who is still living, he pointed out a tree to him near that town, and said, "As near as I can tell, it was under that tree that Bill Weston made his confession to me.".
Weston stood his trial; but he was lucky, and escaped punishment. His victim, though badly used, and left as he thought for dead, recovered completely, and the jury, taking a lenient view of the case, brought Weston in not guilty.
Another instance of Nathaniel's prowess is related in connection with the great Reform meetings which used to be held in the neighbourhood of Manchester, under the lead of the notorious John Hunt. It appears it was the custom of Mr. Hunt at these meetings to hoist a flagstaff with a cap of Liberty at the top, and this proceeding gave great offence to the constables of the district, who considered it an insult to the sovereign, whose loyal servants they were. Nathaniel's heart burned within him as he thought of it, and hearing one day that Hunt was about to hold a meeting at Stockport, he determined to go there and take possession of the objectionable thing. Accordingly, on the morning of the day on which the meeting was to be held, he saddled his horse Waterloo, so called from its having been one of the cavalry horses engaged in that famous battle, and rode off. The meeting was held in the open air, and as usual the cap of Liberty waved defiantly from the summit of a flagstaff which was nailed to the platform. The proceedings had scarcely begun when the people became aware of Nathaniel's approaching them on his historic charger. Thinking he might be some one of importance they respectfully allowed him to pass, and without dismounting he proceeded slowly through them up to the platform. When he got close to it he put spurs to his steed, the gallant horse plunged forward, and as he passed the flagstaff Nathaniel encircled it with one of his brawny arms, broke it violently in two, and secured it. Then Waterloo, putting in practice the art of plunging which he had learned in the army, quickly cleared a way for him, and Nathaniel rode safely and proudly away with the flagstaff and cap of Liberty which he had captured for the honour of the king and the glory of Altrincham.
These affairs show Nathaniel to have been a man of considerable energy and resolution, and they are only two of the many achievements by which he gained the respect and admiration of his fellow-townsmen.
Nathaniel was five feet eight or nine inches in height, powerfully built, and good looking. He was something of a musician, played a little on the violin and violoncello, and possessed a fine voice, which he exercised a great deal in church and chapel choirs. He sang regularly at the old Wesleyan Chapel, and in company with Mr. Walton of this town, then a young man, went to assist at all the anniversary services-charity sermons they were called-throughout the country. He died somewhere about twenty years ago, at a good old age.