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SAMUEL LAYCOCK: BROADSHEET POEMS.

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A Laycock poem published as a broadsheet.
Courtesy of Blackpool Central Library.

The "Cotton Famine" (1861-64) caused massive unemployment, particularly in the areas of Ashton-under-Lyne, Stalybridge and Dunkinfield, three towns whose industry was almost entirely dependent on cotton.  By November 1862, over 40% of the population of the Ashton Poor Law Union (which included Stalybridge) were receiving relief.

    Samuel Laycock was one of the many cotton workers laid off by the famine.  In common with others of the unemployed, he turned to schemes to make extra money.  He found there was a market for his poems, which he published as "Lancashire Lyrics" in broadsheet form (i.e. single sheets at a penny a time).  They proved popular and many thousands were sold, some also being set to music.

    Laycock's poems provide a valuable record of working-class life in the Lancashire cotton towns during the second half of the 19th century.  They illustrate the domestic problems and misery caused by hard times and express an attitude that probably prevailed among the respectable working-class of that age, that men should find an honourable way of standing up to their hardships and not be reduced to complaining about their suffering.

    As is evident from the following titles, Laycock continued to publish broadsheet poems for the remainder of his life.  This collection of broadsheets, which are reproduced by courtesy of Tameside Local History and Archives, and Blackpool Central Library, relate mainly to Laycock's later years spent in the seaside resort of Blackpool on the Lancashire ("Fylde") coast.  Of this group of poems, several advertise the joys to be had at Blackpool while others address more serious matters, such as the distress caused by strong drink and the need for 'temperance.'  Laycock's politics were staunchly Liberal—although had he lived into the 20th Century he might well have supported the Labour Party—and he records a couple of delightful set-to's with the Tory opposition, the "Primrose Dames" in particular (Gerald Massey entertained a similar abhorrence—see his Primrose Dame).  Laycock's strongly-held low church Christian beliefs are plainly evident in much of his writing.

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(Glossary of Lancashire dialect)

  • An Owd Chum's Address to Poverty: perhaps the subject of Laycock's musing was more of a constant companion than an 'owd chum'.....


    We'n bin owd chums for mony a day.
    We'n often differed when we'n met,
    But never had a partin' yet.


  • Th' Mechanics o' Seturday Neet: although printed in Blackpool, this poem probably harks back to Laycock's time as Librarian and Hall-keeper at the Stalybridge Mechanics' Institute, a centre of adult learning and social activities for those who didn't find comfort in the many alehouses and music halls at that time ('Saturday' is spelled both 'Seturday' and 'Setterday' in the original).


  • Joe Turtledove's Visit to Blackpool: to be sung to the tune of Arthur Lloyd's music hall hit, "Not for Joseph!"


  • Have yo' seen the Bazaar?: Laycock wrote this poem to publicise a 'church bazaar' (i.e. a "bring and buy" or "jumble" sale) to help raise money to build the local parson a house adjacent to his chapel.....


    "We've a parson i' Blackpool we think a bit on,
        So we've gone an' we've built him a heawse;
    An' its th' next dur to th' chapel, quite handy yo see,
        An' neaw he's as 'snug as a meawse.'
    .            .            .            .            .            .            .            .            .

    "It's awkard to live a long way fro' one's wark,
        But this bit o' th' trouble we've met
    By buildin' this heawse, so that neaw do yo' see,
        Th' parson noather gets tired nor wet"


  • The Blackpool Fete: much in the character of a "Come to Blackpool" holiday poster.


  • The Lay of "Great Goliath"; sung in Blackpool 1871, during the School Board Contest...

    And yet we lost the battle,
        Our opponents proved too strong;
    It war
    RIGHT in hostile conflict
        With
    BIOGOTRY and WRONG.

    — a few years yet to run before the advent of compulsory primary and secondary education for all.


  • Fylde Sunbeam!: "BRO. SAML. LAYCOCK" read this temperance poem at a meeting of the Good Templars held at Poulton, February 4th, 1874.  History repeats itself, for in recent years the U.K. government has repeatedly stated its concerns over the damage being caused by alcohol (while at the same time removing restrictions on the opening hours of clubs and public houses!), particularly "binge drinking" by young people.


  • Th' Mother an' Her Childer!: a poem read by Laycock at a temperance meeting at Fleetwood, April 24th, 1874.


  • Temperance Entertainment: Laycock again preaching against the evils of strong drink and the brewery industry ("Great brewers, we find, are increasing their lands, And then, in mock piety, cleanse their foul hands"), a subject that remains topical in the present age!  The poem was read at the Primitive Methodist Schoolroom, Blackpool, Oct. 23rd, 1877.


  • God Bless yo', Owd Nayburs: Laycock in sombre mood....


    Th' owd Reaper keeps slashin' away wi' his scythe,
        Furst o' one hand and then on the other,
    Neaw some darlin' pet lamb's rudely hurried away,
        Then some silver-haired sister or brother....

    ....must surely have dampened what enthusiasm his agčd listeners had for this event — read at the OLD FOLKS' TEA MEETING in the BOROUGH BAZAAR, BLACKPOOL, January 3rd, 1878.


  • Ode to the Ocean: a plain English edition of Laycock's ROWL AWAY, THEAW GRAND OWD OCEAN published in the Blackpool Times, June 16th, 1880.


  • A Confession of Faith: here Laycock states his religious beliefs....and other people's views of them ("...some of my neighbours seems distant and cold, On account of the views and opinions I hold....")


  • Verses to be Sung: at the Dedication of the Fielden Free Library and Public Hall, Fleetwood, Sept. 10th, 1887.  For a short time during 1867, Laycock had been Curator of the Fielden's predecessor, the Whitworth Institute.


  • A Word to the Parsons: and with particular regard to Laycock's bźte noir, Mr. Wainwright, an adversary who features in others of these poems....


    Well, he may be quite right in this matter;
        That the language was strong, I admit,
    But the sarcasm hurled at young Wainwright
        Was meant as a very hard hit.

      Lines sent to the Editor of an unidentified newspaper, date unknown.


  • Th' Vicar's Son an' th' Grand Owd Mon (1890): sold at the "Times" Office, Church Street, Blackpool. 25 Copies 6d. (post free 7d.); 100 Copies 1/6 (post free 1/9).


  • The Primrose Dames at Their Durty Games (1891): a contribution from Laycock to the Liberal Party's cause, of which he was a staunch supporter.  He is here firing a broadside at the local (Tory) 'Primrose Dames' during some long-forgotten political set to.


  • "Come to Blackpool!": a Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway advertisement, first published in the "Manchester Evening News," February 19th. 1908.

 


 

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