"Aw'm not a woman 'at oft speaks,
Or sings folk doleful songs,
But aw con tell my mind to thee,—
Thae knows what things belongs."
EDGE," or Fall Edge,
about five miles north of Bury, is one of the wildest moorland
ridges in Lancashire. It is a little lower than "Whittle Pike," the
bleak cone of which stands about half a mile to the south-west, more
than sixteen hundred feet above the sea. The view from "Fo' Edge,"
looking westward, is very striking. A deep, lonely clough, green
only on the lower grounds, and almost treeless, save where some
cherished bit of shade overhangs the gables of a solitary farmhouse,
or where scanty patches of young plantation fringe the banks of the
stream, which murmurs in many-mooded cadences down the rocky
channel, hidden from view. The clough is bounded on each side
by wild hills, which, though not of immense height, have a solemn
and imposing aspect, sloping and swelling down in grand billowly
sweeps, and in some places falling away abruptly in steep bluffs of
barren crag. For about two miles the clough has a desolate
appearance; and the only habitations visible are four or five
moorland farmhouses, perched here and there, on green "coignes of
vantage," far apart, upon the scene. The plaintive bleat of
scattered sheep, and the clucking cry of startled grouse, come
wildly from those lonely wastes. Further down, the hills die
away in gentler slopes of greener land, into the rich valley through
which the Irwell runs in freakish windings on its way to the sea,
between banks studded with tall chimneys, that tell the busy tale of
Lancashire industrialism. The landscape then closes on the
west with the steep side of Holcombe Hill, well cultivated, far up;
streaked with white and winding roads, and sprinkled with
farmhouses, little clustered folds, churches, and mansions; but
crowned all along the summit with a dark tract of heathery
desolation. It is a fine moorland landscape, well known to
those earnest students of botany and geology, who, not content with
a lazy reliance upon other men's theories, go forth, with loving
hearts and hungry minds, to "read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest"
here a leaf and there a leaf of Nature's old book for themselves.
A little below the rocky crest of "Fo' Edge," on the west
side, there is a quaint farmstead, where a family of kind-hearted,
simple folk live. It is the highmost, the last, and loneliest
dwelling upon the mountain side. A little companionship of
friends—men of varied tastes and acquirements, who love to roam the
moors together, "when summer days are fine," we have often wandered
up to that old farmhouse, and always found a welcome there none the
less because we were always accompanied by an old scientific friend,
who had been nursed in his infancy by the farmer's wife. The
last time we were there was in the pride of the year. We had
spent some three hours of the sunniest part of the day in rambling
up the rocky bed of the stream, toward its source on "Fo' Edge,"
stepping from stone to stone, slipping into the brook sometimes, and
resting oft in cool nooks to chat, and watch the water play.
In that pleasant river ramble we lingered by many a delicious pool
and by many a silvery fall. But, when we got into the wild
gorge, at the head of the clough, we had to clamber up slippery
crags, and through watery crevices festooned with mist-powdered
ferns, and cushioned with beds of the greenest moss, glittering with
pearly spray. Up the ragged ravine we clambered, from rock to
rock, till we came out, at last, upon the unshaded moorland, a
little below the "Edge," where the gables of "Bill o' Johnny's"
mountain nest met our eyes, and we felt at home. As we drew
near the house the dogs rushed forth, barking furiously, till some
familiar face met their eyes, when their fury died away, first into
low growls, then into a whimpering welcome, as they came slowly up,
wriggling their bodies and wagging their tails, in recognition of
old friends; but, that done, they walked quietly round among the
company, snuffing slyly at the legs of those least known to them, as
if they were not willing to fondle every new comer without due
examination. The dogs had roused the family. Out they
came, one after another and heartily glad they were to see us.
Why hadn't we sent them word that we were coming? They were
sure we were hungry; and so we were. And then a cheery bustle
arose in the house; and we loitered about the farm till dinner was
spread for us upon a green knoll, by the side of an old well, fed by
a rindle of cold spring water. And there, under the blue sky,
we feasted, with wild plovers wheeling about us; and, high over our
head, the skylark raining down his glad song upon our green table.
Black-faced sheep upon the mountain side stared at us with wondering
eyes; and our noisy merriment startled the grouse from his heathery
cover. It was a hearty meal. Oat-cake and "Oon-cake,"
new baked that day by homely old "Ann;" sweet moorland butter,
cheese, crisp, young onions, dripping with well-water, new milk,
warm from the cow; fried ham, and home-brewed ale. It was a
delicious feast, eaten in the grandest room man ever entered.
Fun, and song, and sage discourse went round freely; and that
banquet under the blue sky will be long remembered by us amongst
little things that light the past with gleams of joy.
Long before sunset, we came down the mountain side, halting
in twos and threes, now and then to share some burst of merriment;
or to listen to some snatch of learned discourse upon the testimony
of the rocks; or to ask our friend the "Antiquary," a question about
relics of Roman occupation in the district. It is three miles
from "Fo' Edge" to "Mercer's" comfortable hostelry, at the foot of
the hills, at Edenfield. Here we rested, and regaled, for an
hour or so; after which, we came away; some to take the train at
Stubbins, and some to walk along the high road, five miles, to Bury.
My route was different to the others; and at the south end of the
village I parted from my friends, taking a road on the left hand,
which leads into the old highway from Burnley to Manchester.
This old road is lonely now, and a greater part of it is rugged and
watery, and grown over with grass and weeds. In some places it
dives down steep banks, into deep cloughs, and crosses brawling
streams, and then climbs again in slippery, toilsome windings, that
make one think that if the horses of these days only knew what their
ancestors had to go through, they would be thankful for railways.
In some parts of the road there are holes, and pools of water; in
others, great masses of rock crop out, laid bare by heavy rains, and
kept so by long neglect; and in others the banks have slipped into
the path, leaving it so narrow that "two wheelbarrows would tremble
if they met." There is many an old house by this roadside, now
roofless and ruined, which fifty years ago was a flourishing country
inn, or some other brisk haunt of a great thoroughfare. But,
the lone highway has long since forgotten what a four-horse coach
was like; and there is an air of desolation and decay all along,
except down in the cloughs, where mills have been built by the
The rosy rays of evening fell grandly upon the silent road as
I walked along, musing whether or not I should call to see "Owd
Grunsel," the gardener, whose house I was approaching. Owd
Grunsel's little cot stands in a snug green nook, at the foot of a
little ridge of woodland. The rustling trees tell every
changing mood of the wind to it all day long, and the ends of the
wooded ridge curl in towards it lovingly, as if they wished to
protect it from the troubles of the outer world. All day long
the birds sing jets of song to the old gardener's cottage; and, when
night comes and the household lights are put out, the trees seem to
whisper to one another, "Hush! Sing low! It is asleep!"
and when, before the first lifting of the morning latch, the blue
smoke begins to curl up from the chimney into the clear air, the
leaves of the wood clap their little hands with glee to see it waken
up again. The old man's nest looks up at the wild moors, and a
garden divides it from the lonely road. About a mile down the
hills there is a busy manufacturing village; but the intervening
ridge of woodland hides that cosy cot from the noisy side of the
As I drew near the place, I saw the door was open, as usual;
and the cat was sitting at the threshold, looking dreamily out into
the twilight. And I could see Matty and her grand-daughter
moving to and fro inside. The old woman was a little deaf;
but, before I had opened the gate, I heard little Jenny say, "Hey,
gronny! See yo who's coming!"
"Well, iv ever!" said the old woman, turning round as she
wiped a basin which she had just washed. "Nell, iv ever!
Is that yo? Come forrud, prayo! It's good for sore e'en,
is this. . . . Jenny, bring him a cheer, lass. Thae stons
theer as gawmless as a boother-stone! . . . Yo known this woman,
dunnot yo?" continued she, pointing to a stout, sweet, apple-faced
body, who sat at the opposite side of the fire, with a basket upon
her knees, and a chocolate-coloured silk kerchief tied upon her
head. "It's Jim wife, at th' Nod. They'n bin killin' a
pig; an' hoo's brought me a bit o' spar-rib; an' a link o' black
puddins,—an' a bit o' swine's graice to rub mi bakin'-tins wi'.
Aw say, aw dunnot know heaw aw'm to pay 'em, for they're al'ays
bringing summit or another."
"Eh, never name it, Matty," said the woman, shifting uneasily
upon her chair, and the colour rising into her ruddy cheek; "Never
name it! It's nobbut good will an' ill, mon; a bit of a thing
"Well, Mary," said the old woman, "aw con nobbut thank tho,
thae knows. But yo see'n," continued she, turning to me, "I
nurs't her, when hoo wur quite yung, at after her mother dee'd; an'
hoo like taks to mo, as iv hoo're a lass o' my own,—doesn'to, Mary?"
"Yigh, aw do," replied the woman; "an' so does eawr Jim."
"Ay, he does," replied the old woman, sighing as she opened
the oven door and shut it again; "ay, he does. . . . Yo see'n, aw'm
bakin'," continued she, turning to me. "Our Sam's gardenin'
deawn at 'Thistley Knower' but he'll not be long afore he's here.
Sit yo deawn a bit," and then she scaled the fire, and set the
"Well, Matty," said I, pulling up my chair, "and how are yo
"Why," replied she, setting one hand upon her side, "but
poorly, bless yo,—but poorly. This rheumatic troubles me so.
An' my e'e-seet's gettin' warse. Mon, age will tell,—it will
tell. . . . An' aw feel quite knocked up to-day. . . . Eh, aw've had
sich a trawnce!"
"Why, where hap yo bin?"
"Stop a minute," said the old woman, "I'll put th' dur to. .
. . Come, puss! Ch-ch-ch! . . . . Jenny, fotch yon mug in."
When the door was shut she hobbled up to the oven and taking
a cake out, she tapped upon it with her finger, and turned it over.
As she put it in again she muttered to herself, "Ay, it's doin'
nicely." Closing the oven, and setting her hands upon her
hips, she gave a long sigh as she looked slowly round the house, and
said, "I think I'll e'en drop it for to-day; for I'm clen done o'er.
Oh, this pain! It taks me across th' smo' o' my back.
Jenny, reitch that knittin'. An' poo th' cheer up to th' hob,
for I'm as wake as a kitlin'."
The old woman sat down; and, as she arranged her needles, she
said, "I'm fain yo co'de, for it gets one-ly at neet, wi
nobody to talk to. An' I like a bit of a chat. Our Sam
says he wonders how it is that th' rheumatic never touches my
tongue. But I'll tell you where aw've bin to-day."
"Do," said I, hatching my chair near to the hob.
"I will," replied Matty, disentangling her worsted, and
settling herself once more, in a way that convinced me she was going
to begin a long story.
"Yo see'n," she began, "yo see'n, our Sam went out yesterday
a gettin' a burn o' nettles for th' owd mistress at The Split-Brid,
yon. He never cheep't a word to me. But I knowed what he
wor after, bless yo. Yo seen hoo wur very good to him at th'
time that he lee ill so long. Why hoo's good to onybody,—an'
that's where it is. That woman's like as if hoo taks a pride i'
helpin' folk that are a bit hamper't—hoo does for sure.
Doesn't hoo, Mary?"
"Yigh, hoo does."
"Ay. Hoo's a very feelin' body, is Nanny,—hoo is, for
sure. An' as for our Sam; why, he's very thoughtless abeawt
some things, reet enough; but, Lord bless yo, iv onybody does him a
good turn, he never forgets it,—never. . . . Thae knows that;
"Yigh, aw do."
"When he's th' sober side eawt, neaw," continued the old
woman, "he's not a mon 'at's g'in to talkie' at o'. He'll sit
by the fire, hour after hour, an' never cheep. . . . But, eh, yo
should yer him when he's had a gill or two! Lord in heaven
bless yo, he's as soft as my pocket. An' he comes eawt wi'
sich nonsense as one would expect that a mon at his time o' life
should ha' forgetten. . . . Aw say to him, sometimes aw say, 'Sam,
do houd thi tung, aw pritho! That mak o' talk may do for yung
folk at's new wed,—but it's noan becomin' in an owd body.' An'
then, he will ha 't that he's as yung as ever he wur. . . . But, aw
known better, bless yo. . . . But then, what's th' use? One's
like to humour him a bit, yo known. Thae's yerd him, Mary,
when he's bin agate ov his bother, hasn'to?"
"Sure, aw have; mony a time."
"Ay, thae has . . . . But yo'd be astonished to see heaw nee
the wayter lies to his een, when he's o' that shap. Iv aw
happen to mention somebry 'at's been good to him, or some poor body
'at's ill off, aw con have him cryin' in a minute. . . But, aw
cannot find i' my heart to try him wi sich things, for aw connot
help thinkin' 'at it's a sign 'at he's breighkin up. He al'ays
wur a feelin' mon; but he gets war, he gets war. . . . It's me 'at
knows. We'n been teed together forty year come Ladymas; an' yo'
known, owd wed folk finden one another's bits o' ways eawt, wi'
livin', an' tewin', an' pooin', an' feightin' th' world together.
They're so like. . . . Jenny, th' cat's at that milk, sitho!"
"Scat!" said Jenny, jumping up. And then she put the
bowl upon a shelf in the buttery, and closed the door.
"Aw've my weddin' things i'th kist up stairs; an' there they
mun stop to mi deein' day. . . . Aw go an' look at 'em sometimes,
an' aw turn 'em o'er, an' air 'em, an' put fresh reps among 'em,—an'
it brings owd days to mi mind, very strung. . . . Mary, reitch that
tother bo' o' wusted off th' table, willto?"
"Aw see noan," replied she, turning round. "Oh, it's
here," said she picking it up from the floor, and handing it to the
"Aye, aye," continued Matty, sighing as she took the ball of
worsted. "Aye,—aye. It isn't to tell what folk han to go
through i' this world! Sometimes, ov a Sunday mornin', when
he's been donned in his haliday things,—at after aw've brush't him,
an' teed his hankeycher on, aw've watch't him as he walked eawt at
that very gate, an' aw've thought to mysel' that he wur the nicest
mon 'at ever trode upo' God's greawnd! An' he wur, too. . . .
But come, winnot yo have a droight o' ale? . . . Jenny, fill him a
tot. It's noan so very strung; but it's my own brewin', an'
there's no mak o' prowt in it. Maut and hops, an' nought
else,—nobbut spring wayter. . . . But, eh, bless my life! Aw'm
maunder—maunder—maunderin', an' clean forgettin' was aw meant to
tell yo. Aw have sich a memory! . . . Well, but,—see yo.
Th' last neet, good Sunday an' o' as it wur,—eawr Sam coom in abeawt
six o'clock, just as th' chapel bell below yon wur tollin' in for
the latter sarvice, an' he'd two blue lin hankeychers wi' him,
cromfull o' green stuff. Yo' know what a chap he is for yarbs.
Jenny took 'em on him, and laid 'em upo' top o'th drawers.
An', as he hanged his hat up a-back o'th dur, he says to me, 'I've
bin gettin' some nettles for Owd Nanny, at Th' Split Brid, yon.
I wish thou'd tak 'em up i'th mornin'. 'Eh, Sam,' I said; 'thou's
never bin nettlin' of a Sunday again, hasto?' 'Why, what for?'
he said, as nattle as could be. 'They groon of a Sunday,
donnot they? Thou'll want to stop th' smo' drink fro' wortchin'
of a Sunday in-now. I believe if th' house wur a-fire thou
wouldn't sleck it out if it wur Sunday. It's forty years sin
thee an' me geet wed one Sunday. I wish, now, that I'd put
that off while Monday.' Eh, yo never yerd how he went on?
'Owd Limper's wife geet her bed th' last Sunday,' he said.
'How leets thou didn't go an' stop that?' Eh, he did talk?
He axed me if I'd ony notion who it wur that made Setterday.
An' he as good as towd me that I were a Sunday saint an' Monday
divvle. But I took no notice. Lord bless yo, we'n had
mony a scog about th' same thing. Men han ways o' their own,
an' they winnot be said by sich as me. They thinken they'n
o'th' wit i'th world. So aw leet it drop, an' set th' tay out.
. . . Well, I made a bit of a fat cake, as it wur a Sunday; an' aw
went into th' garden an' poo'd some sallet; an' nice an' crisp it
wur. As soon as he set e'en on it, he began a-laughin', an' he
says, 'Eh thou's never bin pooin' sallet ov a Sunday, hasto?'
But I took no notice. So, when we'd getten th' tay o'er, he
poo'd up to th' fire, an' began asmokin; an' I donned my spectacles,
an' read th' Bible while bed-time. An' there wur no moor about
it that neet."
The old woman bent down to pick up her worsted, and, whilst
she was doing that, Mary rose, and said that she must be going home.
"What's o' thi hurry?" said the old woman.
"Well, yo know," replied Mary, "aw shouldn't like to be eawt
when he comes whoam."
"Nawe, nawe, thae'rt reet, lass," answered the old woman.
"Go thi ways. . . . An' thae mun do as weel asto con, thae knows.
Everybody's summat to meet wi' i' this world. . . . An' mind thae
keeps yon chylt warm, whatever thae does. It'll get o'er it,
"Aw, aw will."
"Well, good neet to tho, Mary."
"Good neet! " said Mary, wiping her eyes. "Aw'll come
"Heaven bless thee, woman; what a heap of stuff hast
thou been twisting together, without head or tail."—SANCHO
THE sun had gone
down behind the western hills, and the hum of life from the village
in the valley had died away. In the wood, a few throstles were
still tossing their rich gushes of responsive song from side to
side, like choristers in an old cathedral; and they seemed to sing
louder than ever, as if they had been neglecting their music till
the last thing; or, like schoolboys at a late game of cricket,
wished to crowd as much fun as possible into the lingering light,
before they were called home to roost. The wind was playing a
quiet tune on its green harp behind the cottage, by way of gentle
hint to all around that it was bedtime and the voices of day were
gradually giving place to those mysterious minstrels who fill the
dreamy midsummer night with melodies too fine for the ear of the
Mary's way home led up into the wild moors, which rolled away
from the front of the cottage in great heathery billows of silent
solitude. As she slowly ascended the rugged by-path, the old
gardener's wife stood in the doorway watching her; and she lifted
her hands, and slowly shook her head as she said, in a low plaintive
tone, "Aye, aye. Go thi ways, Mary, my lass! Go thi
ways! Thae's gettin' thi wark bi th' hond, God help tho!"
The old woman stood till Mary disappeared round a craggy knoll; and
then she turned, and came into the house. Taking up her
knitting, she sat down by the fire again; and, as she arranged her
worsted, she heaved a sigh, and said, "Aye. Poor Mary!
Hoo's tried to some tune,—hoo is that! An' a better lass never
stepped shoe leather,—never. God help her! An' God help
us o'—for we needen it,—we done so." The old woman went on
knitting in silence for a minute or two; and I was wondering what
painful story was smouldering under this sad soliloquy when little
Jenny broke the stillness by asking whether she should mend the fire
"Nawe, nawe," said Matty. "It's warm enough; but thae
may put th' dur to."
Jenny closed the door, and sat down; and, as the old woman
showed no disposition to speak further upon the subject that so
evidently troubled her, I reminded her that she had broken off at
the beginning of the story which she had promised a little while
"Aye, aye," said she. "So aw did; so aw did.
Well, as aw wur tellin' yo, this mornin' as soon as the breakfast
wur sided, aw teed a bit o' stuff up for eawr Sam's dinner, an' off
he seet to th' 'Thistley Knows' a-doin' some gardenin' jobs.
Well, he hadn't bin gwon mony minutes afore who should come in but
eawr Jonathan's daughter. . . . Sarah's getten a fine, strung lass,
neaw. Hoo wove at Scutcher's, while they wur agate; but sin
they stopped hoo's helped her mother wi' th' clooas. Her
mother taks in weshin'. Eawr Jonathan's a greight family.
The Lord knows heaw he manages to scrat for a livin' these times,
for he's bin eawt o' wark nine months, an' Nanny's nee th'
deawn-lyin' again. . . . But, as aw wur tellin' yo, Sarah's a fine,
hearty lass. Hoo'll be nineteen come Rushbearin' Sunday.
But what thinken yo? That monkey ov a lad o' Snapper's is
after her,—as yung as hoo is! . . . Eh; but iv aw wur her mother,
see yo, aw'd tak that pouse at top o' th' yed wi' th' fire-pote iv
ever he darken't my dur-hole upo' sich an' arran' as that; aw
would! . . . He'll never do her a smite o' good; for he thinks
o' nought i' th' world but race-runnin', an' wrostlin', an' pigeon-flyin',
an' single-step doancin', an' sich like sleeveless wark as that.
An' he's as mischievous a little twod as ever broke brade. . . . One
neet aw sit knittin' at th' table under th' window theer, as it met
be to-neet, nobbut it wur darker, an' o' at once, my ear gated o'
ticklin' like hey-go-mad; an' weet began o' runnin' eawt on it.
Well; aw shaked my yed; an' aw wiped my ear, an' better wiped it;
but it made no mends. At last am geet freeten't, for aw began
o' thinkin' some new ailment had taen howd on mo. So am laid
deawn my knittin' and aw said, 'Jenny, run for thi gron-fayther.
There's summat uncuth agate i' this yed o' mine. Aw believe
aw'm beawn to have a fit.' But as soon as hoo oppen't th' dur,
there wur a great crack o' laughin' an' a scatter o' feet i'th'
garden. . . . An' what war it, thinken yo? . . . It war nought i'th
world but that ill-getten whelp o' Snapper's that had bin squirtin'
wayter into my ear through a hole i'th corner o'th window. . . Eh,
aw war some mad. . . . But, that's nought, bless yo. . . . Aw'll
tell yo heaw he sarv't owd Ailse 'at keeps th' toffy-shop deawn i'th
fowd yon. Yo known Ailse is a lone woman. Hoo lives in a
little low cot 'at stons by itsel'; a bit past 'Th' Noon Sun Well.'
It's a less heawse nor this. Why; yo may touch th' bottom o'th
chamber window wi' yo'r hoed nearly. . . . Well, as this ill-mixt'
cowt o' Snapper's war trailin' whoam late one winter's neet, when
he'd bin drinkin' an' doin' wi' a rackety swarm at gwos to th' sign
o'th 'Twitchelt Boggart,' a-playin' at dominoes, an' sich like, he
sees a mug 'at Ailse had laft eawt o'th dur, 'at after hoo'd getten
to bed. . . . O' wur dark an' still; an' there wur nought stirring
but sich like rackless neetcrows as his'sel'. . . . Well; what does
he do, but starts a-roggin' at th' dur, as iv th' heawse wur a-fire.
Well; Ailse coom to th' window in her neet-geawn; and hoo code eawt
'whatever's to do?' 'Mistress,' he said; 'dun yo know 'at yo'n
laft a mug eawt?' 'Eh, ay,' hoo says, 'aw have.' 'Well,'
he said; 'hadn't yo better tak it in? There's a rook o' chaps
bin cloddin at it. Aw thought aw'd tell yo.' 'Thank yo,
maister,' said Ailse; 'thank yo mony a toime. Aw'll come deawn
an' fotch it in.' Well; th' ill-contrive't divvle—'at aw
should say sich a thing,—he see'd that th' chamber-window wur a very
little un; so he said, 'Here, mistress; y'on no 'casion to come
deawn. Aw'll reitch it up to yo.' So without givin' it a
thought, hoo thanked him again, an' then hoo leant forrud eawt o'th
window, while he hove th' mug up to her. An' as soon as hoo'd
getten howd on't, he bad her good neet; an' walked off. 'Good
neet, maister!' said Ailse; 'an, thank yo!' an' then hoo began a
twistin' an' twinin' to get th' mug in. But th' window wur too
little,—dunnot yo see; an' theer hoo wur, in her neet-geawn, th'
hauve road eawt o'th window, ov a snowy neet,—grinnin' an' gruntin'
an' feightin' wi' th' mug, till her arms warch't again. . . . But it
wur no use. So at last hoo sheawted after him, 'Hey! Maister!
Aw say! Tak th' mug deawn again! Aw connot get it in!'
But there wur no onswer. . . .Th' pousement wur watchin' her off at
th' heawse-end o' th' time, bless yo but he never cheept.
Well; yo known, hoo couldn't stop shiverin' theer o' neet, wi' th'
mug in her arms. An' there wur nobody to help her. So,
at last, hoo let it go to th' floor wi' a crash. 'Thire!' said
Ailse, looking deawn after th' mug, 'that's ninepence! . . . But th'
felly's noan to blame. He did it with a good thowt.'
'Ay, aw did, Ailse,' said he, peepin' off at th' corner. 'Good
neet, owd crayther!' Ailse see'd in a minute that hoo'd bin
taen in; and hoo gave him a good tung-lashin' as he walked off.
'Thaer't some mak ov a mismanner't waistril,' hoo said; 'that theaw
art. But, i'tho'll reitch me a good-sized lump o' that mug up,
neaw, aw'll tay tho a-top o'th nob wi't, seawndly; an' soon, too;
for theaw't an ill whelp o' sombory's. But, aw'll fot law on
tho, iv aw live while mornin', see iv aw dunnot!' An' so hoo
went on. But hoo met as well ha' talked to a stoo-fuut, bless
yo. He took no moor notice nor if it had bin an owd cat meawin'!
. . . Eh, he's an ill un,—pile't-up an' deawn-thrutch't. He
dasarves whippin' fro teawn to teawn at a cart-tail,—an' he'll get
it yet,—iv he's luck. . . . But, aw'm missin' my tale. As
aw're tellin' yo,—this mornin', eawn Jonathan daughter coom to th'
dur wi' a basket-full o' clooas ov her yed, an' hoo code eawt, 'Is
my Aint Mattie in?' An' aw said, 'Ay; come in, witho, what
arto stonnin' theer for?' So hoo set th' basket deawn at th'
dur, an' hoo coom in; an' hoo said 'at her mother had towd her to
co' a-seein' heaw aw wur. An' aw said to her, 'Well, lass;
thae mun tell her 'at aw'm nobbut thus an' so. Tell her 'at
aw've had a smatch o'th rheumatic again. An' th' spine o' my
back troubles me badly. An' aw'm ill o' my yed betimes.
This weather's again me. . . . Thi Uncle Sam's wortchin' up at the
Thistley Knowe. . . . Hasto had thi breakfast?' An' hoo said,
'Eh, ay. Lung sin.' . . . At th' same time aw know that
they're clemmed like wedge-wood. . . . Aw don't know heaw it is.
That lass would ha' had a bite wi' us neaw an' then, when times wur
good; but aw connot get her to taste, neaw. Hoo like as iv hoo
shames to own 'at they're ill off. An' hoo looks hungry; an'
her face is nipped wi' stomach-frost.' But, hoo's preadwer nor
ever, aw believe. . . . An' the're o' like, except th' very little
uns. . . . Eawr Sam sent two shillin' up tother day; but Jonathan
sent it back, an' said it wur a shame iv they couldn't feight
through beawt lyin' upon two owd folk like us. . . . My heart bleeds
for 'em, see yo,—for aw know they're ill pincer't. But, aw
geet the brass to Nanny at after, beawt lettin Jonathan know, dunnot
yo see. Well; hoo're nearly as ill as tother; for hoo cried,
like an owd foo, an' boo said hoo wouldn't ha' touched it, but for
th' sake o'th childer. . . . But, Lord bless my life! aw'm maunderin',
an' missin' my tale again. This yed o' mine isn't worth a row
o' pins. . . . As aw're tellin' yo abeawt eawr Jonathan lass:—'Well,
Sarah,' aw said to her; 'an' wheer hasto bin?' So, hoo towd mo
that hoo'd bin up to th' Ho' for some weshin', and hoo're gooin'
whoam wi't. So, aw towd her aw had to go deawn to th' fowd wi'
a burn o' nettles, an' iv hoo'd watch two or three minutes, we'd go
together part o' th' gate. . . . Well; in a bit we set off,—hur wi
her basket, an' me wi' my nettles; an' a bonny marlock hoo played
upo th' road. But, yo'st yer. . . . When we geet to th' corner
o'th lone, at th' side o' Amos o' Rapper shop, there wur some
stone-carts gooin' by; an' th' owd mistress at th' Parsonage, an'
two young ladies, very nicely donned, stoode upo th' foot-gate,
waitin' till they'd getten by. As soon as Sarah see'd 'em, hoo
said, 'Aint Matty; aw'm tire't.' So I said, 'Put this basket
down, then. Well, see yo, hoo'd no sooner set th' basket upo'
Amos durstep, than hoo begins a-starin' at these dresses, an' hoo
made no more ado but went an' geet howd o' one o'th young ladies'
skirts, an' hoo says, 'See, yo, Aint Matty! Come here!
That's same mak o' stuff as we use't to weighve at Owd Scutcher's.
Aw could like one off it mpsel'. It's nobbut chep stuff.'
Well; yo should ha' sin that young woman turn round! Her face
wur as red as a yetter! Hoo nipt th' skirt out o' Sarah's hond,
an' hoo said, 'Well, I'm sure! Sich impidence!' an' then, they
o' three whisks off to th' tother side o'th road,—as peeart as
pynots. Eh, I wur sum mad at Sarah,—th' little snicket!
Aw didn't know which gate to turn my een. To be sure, th' lass
did it without a thought; but then folk like thoose dunnot look at
things th' same as sich as me does. 'Eh, Sarah,' I said, 'thou
shouldn't ha' done so!' Well; hoo looks at me as innocent as a
flea, an' hoo says, 'What's to do, Aint Matty? It's quare if
one mun go by their own wark beawt oppenin' their mouth to 't.'
But, I pike't up my nettles, an' Sarah took th' basket, an' we geet
out o' seet as fast as we could. An' I gav her a good talkin'
to as we walked away. When we coom to th' corner where I had
to turn up, hoo wiped her een with hur brat, an' hoo said, 'Well,
Aint Matty; yo dunnot need to sauce me so mich. Aw want noan
of her clooas. But, aw couldn't help speighkin when aw see'd
that stuff,—for aw'm nearly sure aw've woven it, iv hoo wears it.' .
. . An', raylee o' me; aw felt soory for th' lass after o'—for th'
chylt thought nought wrang,—not hoo. But, they han sich awvish
ways in a country place, mon. . . . When we parted at th' corner o'
th' road, aw said, 'Neaw, Sarah, thae'll be a good lass, winnot tho?'
An' hoo said hoo would. An' then hoo took off whoam, an' aw
went forrud to th' sign o' Th' Split-Brid wi' my nettles—"
An' now, to my great relief, the old woman paused and rose to
stir the fire. Her little grand-daughter, who had been turning
over the pictures in an old copy of Culpepper's Herbal, had dropped
asleep, with her head on the book, "Come, my lass," said Matty,
patting her on the head; "th' gron-dad winnot be lung, neaw.
Thae's go to bed as soon as he comes." The kettle was boiling
furiously; and as the old woman lifted it on to the hob, I took
advantage of her momentary silence, which I knew would not last
long—and rose to go home.
"Nay, what's yo'r hurry?" said Matty. "Stop till eawr
Sam comes. I haven' towd yo heaw aw went on at Th' Split-Brid,
But, "enough is as good as a feast;" and I had heard more
than enough of old Matty's twaddle for one sitting; so I told her
that I would hear it at some more convenient time.
"Well," said she, following me to the door, "drop in some day
th' next week, iv yo'r this gate on. Yo known aw've no
neighbours to have a bit ov a cample to. An' aw connot talk to
eawr Sam; for it mays him as crampt as a wiskit. It wur nobbut
tother day, aw began tellin' a tale 'at's getten eawt abeawt Tummy
Clapper an' his wife, an' he said to that lass, he said, 'Jenny, run
deawn to Billy Peighswad's as fast as tho con for some wool to put i'
my ears. An' tell 'em 'at thi gron-mother's in a scandil-fit.'
He like as iv he connot abide to yer one speighk, sometimes.
An' it's very awker't, for aw've nobry to talk to, nobbut this bit
ov a lass ov eawrs; an' hoo's noan like an up-groon body, yo known.
But, one's like to humour him."
It was a cloudless summer night; and the moon was beginning
to tinge the moorland hills with silvery light. I should not
have known that there was any wind astir but for a sleepy rustle in
the grove behind the cottage, which sounded distinctly in the deep
"Good neet, Matty," said I, walking out at the garden gate.
"Good neet to yo!" replied the old woman. "Iv yo leeten
ov eawr Sam upo' th' road, hasten him whoam."
(A TALE OF THE COTTON FAMINE.)
Hopdance cries in poor Tom's belly
for two white herring. Croak not, black angel; I have no food
Summer afternoon. TOM BOCKIN
and RONDLE O'DOTHERIN
JOHNNY'S, on the
highway from Blackpool to Poulton-in-the-Fylde, talking about the
Cotton Famine of 1861-2.
"AY, ay, lad.
That wur about th' hardest nip that ever I went through! We
wur seven of a family o'together. It brought my wife to her
grave an' if it had gone on mich lunger, we should every one ha' bin
clemmed to deeoth. . . . Talk about hard times! . . . Eh, the scenes
that I seed amung th' factory folk while that famine wur agate!
When I think about it now, it looks like a dream! But thou'll
not remember mich about it Rondle,—thou'd be too yung."
"Oh,—don't I remember it? . . . We lived at Preston at th'
time o'th Cotton Famine; an' my faither wur manager o' one o'th
biggest mills i'th town. Both mi faither and mi mother wur of a
religious turn; an' up to that time we'd bin weel brought up, an'
we'd never known want nor scant,—nor we never expected to know it. But no mortal con tell what there is afore 'em. When that famine
began, we wur amung th' first that wur thrut out o' wark,—for they
spun fine counts at mi faither's mill,—an' afore it wur o'er we'd
about as hard a poo through as ony poor souls i' Lancashire. We stoode it middlin' th' first year, for mi faither spent his bit o'
brass to keep us gooin'—an' he wur very free-honded wi' thoose that
wur worse off than his sel',—for he kept thinkin' times would mend. But when th' second year o'th famine began we wur dished up, an' as
close to th' floor as th' poorest o'th poor, that wur gooin'
shiverin' for their breakfast every mornin' wi' a soup-ticket i' one
hond an' a borrowed pitcher i'th tother. . . . Remember it? I should
think I do,—an' ever shall! . . . I wur twelve year owd on th' 10th
o' April, 1862,—an' that wur about th' time o'th keenest nip o'th
famine. I remember that I wur very tall o' mi age,—an' I'd never
been breeched,—an' our folk couldn't afford to breech me, noather. So I had to wear one o' mi sister's owd black frocks, to cover mi
lung thin legs wi'. It wur a greight trouble to me, I con tell yo,
for I couldn't for shame goo out o'th house. . . . An' then mi
mother begged a bit o' cloth o' some o'th neighbours, to make into a
Scotch cap for me,―but hoo'd no ribbin to make a tail on. Well,—when it wur finished, it looked like a dunce cap,—an' what wi'
this cap, an' mi sister's frock, an' mi long black yure, an' mi thin
clemmed jib, I wur one o'th comicalist figures 'at ever een wur
claps on! . . . I remember one day,—th' first thing i'th mornin', as
soon as we geet up, three o'th yungest childer begun a-cryin' for
some'at to heyt,—an' th' little things wondered how it wur that they
couldn't get it,—for they didn't underston' this famine business at
o'. But, cry or no cry, there wur not a crumb o' meight o' no sort i'th house for noan on us,—an' we wur every one clemmin' (starving)
like wedgewood. I looked at mi mother, an' her face wur as thin an'
white as a corpse,—but hoo never complaint, though th' tears
trickle't down her cheeks as hoo tried to sattle these little uns
'at wur cryin' for their breakfast. At last, I could stop' it no
longer, so I said, 'Mother, I'll goo out, an' try if I con get some'at to do!' So off I set, i' mi black frock an' mi cap,—for I
wur gettin' quite desperate,—an' I'd th' whole world before me, but
I no more knew what to do, nor which way to turn mysel', than th'
mon i'th moon; but, after I'd maunder't about a while, wi' a heart
as heavy as a lapstone, I happen't to spy a swillin'-tub close to a
little back-garden gate. Well,—this swillin'-tub wur full o' fresh potito-pillin's,—an' as soon as I set e'en on 'em I wur as fain as
if I'd fund a sovereign,—for, thou knows, i' that hard time, there
wur salvation, now an' then, even in a hondful o' potito-pillin's,—an'
I thought these pillin's would be good when boiled. Well, I hanged
an' swither't about a bit, for I wur quite asham't o'th job; but at
last I pluck't up, an' I went an' axed the woman 'at belonged this
swillin'-tub if hoo'd let me tak these potito-pillin's whoam wi'
me,—an' hoo said that I met tak 'em if I'd a mind. Well,—I gathered
these pillin's together,—some i' mi cap, an' some i'th skirt o' mi
frock,—an' off I ran whoam wi' 'em,—an' if thou'll believe me, there
wur as much rejoicin' i' that hole as if I'd brought a quarter o'
lamb wi' me! Well,—mi mother wiped her een, an' hoo set to an'
weshed these pillin's,—again an' again hoo weshed 'em an' better
weshed 'em,—for hoo wur as clen a body as ever drew breath,—an' then
hoo unbethought her of a bit o' meal that there wur laft i'th nook,
of a poke,—it wur nobbut a hondful, but it wur a God-send,—an' hoo
mixed th' meal and these pillin's together, an' boiled 'em weel, wi'
a bit o' saut,—an' between thee an' me, Tom, I never relished a meal
i' o' mi days as I relished that! As soon as this dish o' pillin's
wur ready, mi mother sat 'em out for us, an' then hoo put us o' i'
our places round th' table, an hoo made us every one say 'grace'
o'er these potito-pillin's, one after another,—an' then we fell to
with a will, I can tell tho! Well,—while this meal wur agate, first
one then another said how good it wur. 'Eh, mother! this is good!'
'Eh, mother! this is th' best dinner we've had this year!' 'Eh,
mother! if it hadn't bin for me, we should never ha' bin sittin'
here havin' this!' Well,—thou never see'd a dish better clear't than
that wur, for there weren't enough for us o'; an', when we'd
finish't, I said to my mother, 'Eh, mother! I'll watch yon tub; an'
if ever I see ony moore pillin's in it, I'll ax yon woman for 'em!'
Well, we wur happy for that day; an' th' yungest childer went up,
an' down among th' starvin' neighbours tellin' what a good dinner
"Ay, ay; an' I should ha' bin fain of a meal o'th same mak mysel' at
the same time. There's nobody had a harder draw through than we had
at our house. We'd noather a bed to lie on, nor a cheer to sit on,
nor a bit o' firin', nor a bit o' mate o' no mak,—an', if it hadn't
bin for th' soup kitchen, we should every one ha' bin clemmed to
deeoth. Me an' three o'th owd'st lasses went out a-singin' i'th
streets for four or five times,—an' we geet a bit o' brass that
road,—but we didn't like it; an', at last, we made it up that we'd
dee afore we'd goo out again."
"Eh, I know lots that had to goo into th' streets a-singin',—an' amung 'em there wur one or two that did it a year or two lunger than
there wur ony occasion for. . . . I remember my faither use't to
start off every mornin',—an' generally with an empty stomach,—a-seechin'
wark,—ony mak o' jobs that he could get,—howdin' horses or carryin'
parcels, or gettin' coals in, or ought else that coom first. . . .
Well,—one day he dropt into a bit o' good luck. First he geet a job
to howd a horse, an' then he geet a lot o' windows to clean, an' a
back-yard to swill,—an' at th' end of o' he coom whoam at neet as
merry as a cricket, wi' three-and-sixpence in his pocket. Well,—by th' mass,—we thought we should never look beheend us again. There
wur ten on us o'together, an' the childer danced round my faither,—an
mi mother begun a-cryin', hoo wur so fain,—an' there wur sich a do i'th hole as never! At th' end of o', my mother sent me out a-marketin'
wi' this three-and sixpence. An' I had to buy a pound o' traycle,
two pound o' meal, five pound o' potatoes, a quarter of a pound o'
bacon cut i' slices, an ounce o' tay, hauve-a-pound o' threepenny
sugar,—an' a pen'oth o' onions, to help to make a bit o' lobscouse,
wi' some drippin' that Sally had gan us. . . . That wur th' grandest
do we'd had at our house for aboon two year! . . . But, when I come
back wi' this stuff, my mother wouldn't let us taste till we'd every
one kneeled down an' thanked God for this three-an'-sixpence that mi
faither had getten. . . . An' weel we met (might) be thankful, for
my faither suffer't moore than ony on us. . . . The very day before
he geet his three-an'-sixpence he'd bin out, as usual, fro' morn to
neet, lookin' for some'at to do,—an' he hadn't tasted o' meight o'
that day,—an' I'm not sure that he'd had aught th' day before. Well,—when he'd trail't about like a ghost o' day, seechin' wark,
an' findin' noan, he turn't towards whoam again, when neet coom on,
with a heavy heart, an' sich as a dog. It wur th' only place i'th
world he had to go to,—an' he wur freeten't o' gooin' theer, for he
knew that we wur o' starvin to deeoth, an' as soon as ever he showed his face we
should o' look at him, to see if he'd brought us ony relief. Well,—I've yerd him say that he stopt afore he enter't th' house,
an' sat down on a step to rest a minute, for he could hardly trail
one limb after another,—an', but for his wife an' family, he would
ha' bin fain to lay him down an' dee just wheer he wur. At last, he
pluck't up a bit, an' he paddle't on to his own house; but, he no
sooner reitched th' dur-hole, an' see'd a lot o' thin white faces
gathered about th' empty fire-grate, than he dropt down to the
floor, as dateless as a stone. He'd fainted; an' we'd a good deal to
do to bring him to again."
"Poor fellow! . . . When th' cotton famine began a-tellin' upo' th'
factory folk, I live't up a bit of a ginnel among a lot o' poor
neighbours; but long afore things had getten th' warst, there
weren't a soul i' this ginnel that had a chip o' furniture nor a rag
o' bed-clooas laft. Th' next dur to us there wur an owd couple
live't, that had three groon-up daughters,—they wur o' factory folk;
an', afore th' first year o'th famine wur o'er, they wur welly
clemmed to deeoth, an' perish't wi' cowd,—for they'd noather bed nor
bed-clooas, nor firin', nor furnitur', nor meight, nor money. Well,—it wur i' winter time,—an' a hard winter it wur,—an' th' owd
chap wur takken very ill,—an' they geet a bit o' strae somewheer,
an' laid him down on it in a corner. An' theer he deed. I seed him dee, i' that cowd nook, wi' th' owd woman an' th' three daughters
kneelin' round him to keep th' cowd wind off."
"Ay, I seed mony a heart-breakin' seet mysel' durin' that time. . .
. Hello! it's startin' a-rainin'! Hadn't we better house a bit?
Let's goo into th' Red Cat, yon!"
"Come on; it's gooin' to be a pelter!"
(They run into the Red Cat, at Bispham.)
"Hello, theer! Where's th' lonlord?"
(The Landlady comes.)
"Sha'not I do? Our John's gone o'er th' Shard to a churn supper."
"Well, well,—yo'n do, I dar say. Bring us some'at to sup. . . .
Here, stop! Tom, what mun we have?"
"Ale, I guess."
"Ay; bring us two pints o'th best ale."
"We have nought but th' best here; we brew'n it ersels."
"Well,—bring it, as what it is,—it'll be good, I dar say."
(She brings the ale. TOM drinks.)
"That is a saup o' very fair ale, Rondle!"
"Aye, it's noan bad takkin', for a dry throttle!"
"Nawe, it isn't. . . . Well,—here's luck!"
"Th' same to thee, owd brid! . . . Eh, sitho how the rain's cumin'
"Ay, it's grand, is this! It's bin wanted a good while! There's a
good deal o' sallet i' this wayter!"
"Ay, if it'll nobbut keep agate lung enough, it'll awter th' shap
(shape) o' little potitos. . . . I think we's ha' thunner afore
"I'm sure there's thunner about,—I can tell bi mi yed. . . . I'll
tell tho what, Rondle,—thinkin' o' that cotton famine again,—it
weren't thoose who skrike't th' hardest that suffered th' most!"
"Eh, dear, nawe! I know many a one that would ha' deed at that time
afore they'd ha' gone a-beggin',—an' they'd hard wark to get some of
'em to have aught fro th' relief committee. I never knew, till then,
how proud poor folk con be. . . . Now, I weren't so mysel'; for, if
I had bin, we should every one ha' deed at our house,—as who'd
buried us. . . . I remember one day, when I wur up afore th' relief
committee, an owd chap coom in, seemin'ly between seventy an' eighty
year owd,—an' his face wur pinch't an' shrunken,—an' his yed wur as
white as a moss-crop. Beheend him there wur a good-lookin' young
woman, about eighteen year owd; but he couldn't get her to come in,
so hoo stoode i'th dur-hole, blushin', an' coverin' her face up. So
they axed th' owd chap what he wanted, an' he said, 'I want to see
if yo con do a bit o' some'at to help this lass till sich times as
hoo can get wark again. I couldn't get her to come hersel', an' I'm
freeten't on her bein' ill. If yo can help her a bit, I'm sure
hoo'll pay yo back.' So they axed him if hoo wur his daughter; an'
he said, 'Nawe; I'm uncle to her. Hoo's noather faither nor mother;
nor nought i'th world to tak to,—but what I con spare for her.' Then
they axed th' owd chap if he couldn't manage to keep her his sel';
an' he said, 'Eh, God bless yo! I connot keep mysel'! I'll howd out
as lung as there's ony chance; but, yo known, what's hardly enough
to keep life i' one would clem two; an' I should he thankful if yo
could give her a bit o' some'at, if it's ever so little, to help her
while things are as they are.' Well,—they granted some relief for
this lass; but, for o' that,—afore a month had gone by, th' owd chap
wur fund deeod in a nook a-whoam; an' th' doctors said that he'd
deed o' starvation."
"Poor owd fellow! Hello, Tom,—isn't that leetenin'?"
"It's leetenin', for sure! . . . There it is again! Eh, what a
flash! Put that dur to!"
"Nawe, nawe; throw it oppen,—an' oppen th' window wide. This is a
grand storm! . . . Eh, how it rains!"
"We'd better have a saup moore, I guess."
"Ay; we connot goo out while it's cumin' down thus. . . . Ring that
Poor naked wretches, wheresoe'er you are,
That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm,
How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides,
Your loop'd and window'd raggedness, defend you,
From seasons such as these?
Midsummer afternoon. TOM BOCKIN
and RONDLE O' DOTHERIN'
JOHNNY'S seated at an
open window, in the Red Cat, at Bispham, in the Fylde. A
thunderstorm raging outside.
knows, when he said that, he raither took me bi th' face. So,
I gav o'er talkin'; an' I lean't up again a wole a bit, an thought
"Thou met weel (might well)! Folk han to think a bit,
now an' then, Rondle, whether they liken it or not."
"They han, Tom,—but I connot say that it agrees wi me, so
much on't,—it makes my yed bad."
"I dar say. . . . Some folk are noan cut out for that mak o'
"They are not, Tom,—an' I'm one on 'em. Now there's
nought suits me as weel as a bit o' straight-forrad hommerin' an'
thumpin',—but if it comes to aught wi' curls in it I'm noather here
nor there, nor nowheer else. . . (Lightens.)
Hello,—another flash! By Guy, that wur a switcher! Come
away fro' that window!"
"Not I! . . . Don't thee stir! Thou'll be no safer than
I am here, if thou runs up th' chimbley! Beside, I like to see
it, it's a grand seet!"
"I see nought pratty about it. One con run out o'th
road o'th rain, but leetenin's like some'at belungin' another
world,—there's no knowin' wheer it comes fro', nor wheer it's gooin'
to, nor what it's gooin' to do; an' as fur as I'm consarn't I'd
raither ha' mi yed in a seck while it's agate."
"Well, I dar say they'n find tho a seck i'th house here.
But if thou gets thi yed into't thou'll lev tother end out,—what's
to become o' that?"
"I care nought about tother end so that I don't see it."
"Thou met as weel ston thi ground, Rondle. Thou'rt
noather safe in a seck nor out of a seck. Folk never are safe
i' this world, till they're in a grave."
"Ay, ay, bi'th mass! That seck'll ston' some
leetenin' (It lightens again.) Theer it goes again!
Eh, what a flash! Theer'll be some lumber done afore this is
o'er . . . I'll tell tho what, Tom, it's a good job for folk that's
getten their hay in."
"Ay; it'll be ill for ony hay that's laft out i' this pash,
whether it's cut or uncut; for if it's uncut it'll be laid, an' if
it's cut it'll have o'th life stewed out on't, till it'll be as
tasteless as beggar-berm, an' fit for nought but beddin'."
(Enter MALLY, the landlady, in a
passion, with the drink.)
"Two pints, did yo say?"
"Theer, see yo! (Sets the ale down.) . . . Careless,
little snickett that hoo is! Hoo does more lumber than her
wage comes to,—ten times o'er! I declare I'd sooner do every
smite o'th wark mysel' than I'd be bother't wi' sarvants! Hoo
takes no delight i' nought but guttlin', an' sleepin', an' sich
like! If yo arent' watchin' her, hoo stops hangin' her
knockles like somebry that's dateless,—an' if one sets her agate of
aught, hoo'll oather break it or spoil it, or else hoo'll sweat."
"What's th' matter, Mally?"
"Matter? marry, matter enough I think! I sent yon lass
down into th' cellar a-drawin' some ale, about a quarter of an hour
sin', an' hoo coom up again, an' laft it runnin',—an' th' cellar's
o' in a swim, yon!"
"That's a nice caper, Mally! Th' lass mun be thrutched
in her mind about some'at."
"Thrutched in her mind! Devil thrutch her,—hoo has no
mind about nought. . . . If there's one drop there's a dozen gallon
o'th best ale lyin' upo' th' cellar floor this minute! It is
yon,—if onybody wants to sup it they're welcome! . . . I wish to th'
Lord our John would stop a-whoam, an' look after things his sel'!
For two pins I'd fling o' down an' run mi country!"
"Wheer's he gone to, say'n yo, Mally?"
"Gone to? He's gone ower th' Shard a-junkettin'! . . .
He con go onywheer, bless yo! . . . An' here I am,—fro morn to neet,
fro day to day, fro year end to year end,—tether't like an owd
mill-horse,—an' never a bit o' change o' no mak! But it connot
last so lung,—that's one blessin'. If he'd some women, they'd
larn him a different rub o'th spindle,—they would that!"
"He'll be back to-neet, winnot he?"
"Back to-neet? The Lord knows whether he'll be back to-neet
or not! An' if he does come back to-neet he'll be so crow-full
o' snig pie, an' Shard mussels, an' sour ale, an' sich like, that
he'll not be fit to do a hond's-turn for a week to come. An'
as soon as he gets reet, he'll be off again. Oh, let him alone
for lookin' after his sel'! . . . If ever ony poor soul i' this
world had a weary life on't, it's me! Just this minute, I'm
moider't to that degree that I dunnot know which gate to turn, an'
so ill that I con hardly set one fuut afore another! It wur
nobbut yesterday,—I'd just gone into th' garden a-hangin' some
clooas upo' th' hedge,—an' I hadn't turn't mi back aboon two minutes
afore (A sound of pots breaking comes from the kitchen.)
Theer hoo is again, yer yo! What the dule has hoo agate now?"
(She runs away to the kitchen.)
"I think I've sin this woman afore, Rondle. Who is
"Hoo's th' lon'lort's wife."
"I know that; but wheer does hoo come fro?"
"Hoo comes fro Preston. Her mother used to go up an'
down a-sellin' alikar (alegar) wi' a greight tin can on her back."
"What! that broad-set paum-peckle't owd woman, that wore a
"Th' same owd lass, Tom,—an' a daicent, hard-wortchin' owd
body hoo wur, too. Hoo'd three more daughters, beside this,—o'
good-lookin' lasses,—an' they o' worch't at th' same factory as me.
Their faither wur a cripple; an' they had to keep th' owd lad as
weel as they could amung 'em. An' I don't think there wur a
family i' Lancashire that suffer't moore than they did while th'
cotton famine wur agate. They live't i'th same ginnel as me;
an' like th' rest on us, their bits o' furnitur', an' one thing
after another, dribble't away, to get a bite o' meight to go on wi',
till they'd nought i'th world left but four bare woles, an' a
three-legged stoo', and some strae for th' owd chap to lie on.
Owd Abram had bin bed-ridden aboon ten year; but, at th'
lung-length, he geet rid of his bed, for th' last pinch o'th famine
wur comin' on,—an' they had to sell it fro under him to geet a bit
o' some'at to keep 'em alive. Th' bed wur th' last thing they
sowd, o' tother had gone before, bit by bit. They lived nearly
three week out o'th price of an arm-cheer that had bin i'th family
forty year. I went in one day, an' I fund th' table gone fro'
under the window, an' I said, 'Hello! what's getten th' table?'
An' th' owd woman said hoo'd sowd it th' day before for hauve-a-crown,
an' bought another bit of a rickety thing for ninepence,—'becose our
Abram's a deeol worse, an' I want to get him some nourishment.'
Then I axed her how leets hoo didn't get some relief fro' th'
committee; an' hoo said, 'Eh, bless yo! our lasses wouldn't hear
tell on it. An' as for mysel', I don't like troublin' folk for
charity.' An' thus it wur that they sowd first one thing, then
another,—an' they geet poorer an' thinner fro' day to day, till, at
last, they hadn't a stick nor a stone left,—but four bare woles, an'
an empty fire-grate, wi' th' owd chap lyin' upo' some strae in a
corner. I happen't to pop in the very day after they'd sowd th'
bed,—an' there he lee i'th nook,—thin, an' white, an' still, an' as
like a corpse as aught I ever clapt e'en on. But there wur a
great deeol o' corpses walkin' about this part o'th world while that
famine wur agate. . . . Well,—it wur a chill wintry day, an' very
little leet coom fro' th' sky,—an' there weren't a spark o' fire,
nor a chip o' furnitur', nor a rag o' clooas i' that dingy,
comfortless cote,—an' th' first glent I geet through th' gloom o'
that pale face amung th' strae i'th corner, I thought, 'th' owd
lad's gone at last!' Th' lasses wur out, lookin' for wark,—but
they met as weel ha' looked for holy wayter in an Orange Lodge, just
then,—an' th' owd woman wur sit on a stone under th' window, petchin'
her bedgown. So I whisper't to her, 'How is he to-day!'
An' hoo said he wur raither worse, of oather, an' hoo wanted him to
get a bit o' sleep. An' I wur creepin' out again as quietly as
I could,—to let him have a rest,—but he'd yerd us talkin', an' he
said, 'Who's theer?' An' th' owd woman towd him that it wur me
that had come'd in a seein' him. An' he put out a bit of
shrivel't white hond that didn't look much bigger than a brid's
claw, an' said, 'Come a bit nar.' So I went an' sit down upo'
th' floor aside o'th strae wheer he wur lyin', an' I axed him how he
wur. 'Well, Rondle, my lad,' said he, 'I'm gettin' a bit nar
whoam every day, thou sees.' Well, I didn't just catch what he
meant at th' minute, so I said, 'How so, Abram?' 'Well,' he
said, 'thou sees,' I've getten down to th' floor,—an' th' next
thing, I's be under it!' So I towd him to cheer up, for times
would be sure to mend before lung,—they couldn't last lung as they
wur,—an' he'd happen get better. An' he said, 'I don't want to
get better, Rondle,—I don't want! I shall be fain to get out
o'th gate! I see everybody is clemmin' to deeoth around
me,—an' I connot help 'em! I've bin nought but a weight an' a
burden, an' it grieves me to th' heart, Rondle! I shall be
fain when it's o'er,—it'll be a blessin' both to me an' everybody
else!' Well, if thou'll believe me, Tom, it brought th' wayter
into my e'en when I yerd th' owd lad talk this way; but I turn't my
yed o' one side a bit; an' then I put a good face on, an' I towd him
not to talk sich stuff as that; for it wur a lung lone that had
never a turn; an', come what would, he couldn't get no lower i' this
world. But he said, 'Yigh, mi lad,—a little bit. Ten
feet lower, Rondle,—an' I's be at rest!' Well,—do what I
would, I couldn't raise his spirits. An', sure enough, th' owd
lad wur reet. It wur a hard winter; an' what wi' clemmin' an'
starvin', inside an' out, an' frettin' to see other folk clemmin'
an' starvin' about him, it wur to mich for him; an' afore a fortnit
had gone by he wur buried bith' parish,—as mony a score daicent folk
wur at that time, that never dreamt o' comin' to sich a pass as that
i' this world. . . . I went in a twothre days after th' funeral; an'
I fund th' owd woman an' th' lasses strugglin' on i'th empty house,
just i'th owd way. They fretted terribly about th' owd chap;
an' I tried to cheer 'em up, an' I did what I could to help 'em,—an'
that wur not mich, God knows; for I wur clemmed like wedge-wood
mysel',—an' I didn't know where th' next meal wur to come fro'.
I remember that day very weel. They'd brought some stones into
th' house to sit on,—an' there they wur, huddle's round th' empty
fire-grate, to keep theirsel's warm,—for th' snow lee thick upo' th'
ground, an' th' leet that coom through th' little window looked cowd
an' ghastly. It looked moore like a tomb than a place for wick
folk. Well,—I axed th' owd woman how they wur gettin' on; an'
hoo said, 'Oh,— middlin'.' Well,—I knew what that meant.
They wouldn't ha' complain't if they'd bin at th' last gasp.
At last hoo turn't, an' hoo said again, 'I yer they're for sellin'
these houses.' Well,—I knew that; for th' lonlort had bin so
poo'd down bith' hard times that he wur gettin' nearly as ill off as
onybody else; so I said I believe't they wur. 'Ay!' hoo said,
'they are. . . . They'n sell th' floor fro' under us next,—an' then
there'll be nought laft for us but th' cowd sky,—an' I wish to th'
Lord I wur theer!' An' then every one brast out a cryin'.
An' between thee an' me, I believe it did 'em good. But I
couldn't stond it no lunger; so I coom off, wi' a heavy heart,—for
our folk wur noan so mich better off a-whoam."
"Poor things! . . . An' wur that owd woman this londlady's
"Hoo wur nought else."
"I connot remember her."
"Ay; but I con. . . . This woman here wur th' owdest lass,
an' a hondsomer lass never bote off th' edge of a cake than hoo
"Hoo nobbut looks ill now."
"Oh, weddin's poo'd her down terribly; an' hoo's had a deeol
o' childer,—an' alehouse life's nobbut a hard job. It doesn't
do for folk 'at's a family to bring up."
"It's a rough schoo', for sure. . . . Th' rain's comin' down
as hard as ever, thou sees."
"Ay; an' it'll bate noan yet, bith' look on't. We are
where we mun be for a bit, I doubt. . . What saysto to a bit o'
somewhat to heyt?"
"Ring that bell, then."
(He rings, and the landlady enters.)
"Wur yo ringin'?"
"Con yo find us a bit o' cheese an' brade?"
"Ay; an' there's some cowd beef, too, if yo'd like it."
"That's reet! Let's make ersel's comfortable!"
My wits begin to turn.
Come on, my boy. How dost, my boy?
I am cold myself. Where is this straw, my
The art of our necessities is strange.
That can make vile things precious. Come,
Poor fool and knave. I have one part in my
That's sorry yet for thee.
Midsummer afternoon. TOM BOCKIN
and RONDLE O'DOTHERIN'
JOHNNY'S seated by an
open window in the Red Cat, at Bispham, in the Fylde, watching a
thunderstorm, and talking about the Cotton Famine.
"AY, ay, Tom!
when I think o' that dreary time when th' famine wur agate it seems
to me like lookin' back into another world,—for I never seed nought
like it afore,—an' I hope I shall never see nought like it again.
A deeol o' folk geet it into their yeds that th' day o' judgment wur
drawin' on. An' weel they met (might), for it wur a black
look-out. I know it sent mony a hundred to their graves that
would ha' bin livin' this day but for what they went through then.
An' when I remember th' strange change that coom o'er everythin', as
mill after mill stopt,—mill after mill,—till, at last, there weren't
a wheel runnin', an' th' insides o'th factories, that used to be
full o' buzzin' din, an' lasses singin' at their wark, wur as still
as tombstones. I don't wonder that folk should think th' world
wur comin' to an end. I used to peep in at our factory window
now an' then, at that time, an' I could see every wheel, an' drum,
an' strap, stonnin' still, an' th' bits o' fluzz lyin' about th'
floor, where so mony busy feet used to run back an' forrad; an' I've
looked till mi yure's begun a-bristlin' up,—for it seemed to me as
if th' place wur full o' ghosts. When I wur a lad, folk used
to grumble about th' air bein' smooky i' Lancashire; but it geet
pure enough at that time, for, at last, every factory chimbley wur
clear an' cowd, an' there weren't one that sent a reech up.
Ay,—th' air wur clear enough just then,—an' a deeol o' folk had very
little else to live on. Lancashire used to be famous for bell-ringin',
too, o' one sort an' another,—but there wur very few bells stirrin'
while th' famine wur agate, except passin'-bells. An' th'
streets had a terrible doleful look. There wur no merrymen
wanderin' about Lancashire at that time, I can tell tho. Nawe,—it
wur a bad trade while that famine lasted. Th' streets, that
used to be crom-full o' heavy carts an' lurries, an' rattlin' wheels
of o' sorts, wur as still, at last, as a moor-top; an' there wur
nought stirrin' but, here an' there, some poor clemmed soul, creepin'
off through th' cowd to the soup-kitchen, wi' a pitcher in her hond;
or a knot o' factory chaps, wi' thin pale faces, an' nipt noses,
loungin' again a wole to keep one another warm; an' starin' into th'
wide world, as if they wur watchin' a funeral. An I' wur as
ill as ony on 'em,—for I noather knew wheer to go nor what to do,
but hang about an' clem th' time out, same as everybody else.
I used to goo an' sit mi down i'th market-place sometimes; but I met
as weel ha' gone into th' churchyard, for there wur very little to
sell, an' I hadn't a hawp'ny to buy nought wi' how much there had
bin. . . . Now for it! What han we here?"
(Three wet travellers rush in at the doorway, from the rain.
One of their company trudges on through the shower. They shout
"Now then, Bill! Wheerto for? Arto noan dry?"
"Nawe. I wish I wur."
"Come in a minute,—out o'th rain!"
"Nawe. I'll be joggin' on. It'll not harm me,
now, for I'm as weet as I con be."
"Well, but thou'd better have a gill."
"Nay; I've done bucketin' enough for one day. I'll be
"Off witho, then,—an' fill thi bally wi' rain-wayter!"
"Is he gone?"
"Ay, he's for wadin' on, he says."
"Why, he'll be as weet as a wayter-dog."
"Well, he says he likes it."
"Oh, ay! Why, then,—let him help his sel'—there's
plenty on it. . . . Here, keawer tho down."
"Nawe. I connot sit."
"A bit of a boil."
"Oh,—I see. . . . Well, an' who is yon chap, saysto?"
"Well, they co'n him Bill o' Bess's, for a bye-name; but his
gradely name's Peighswad."
"Bill o' Bess's, saysto? Bill o' what Bess's?"
"Why, Bess o' Bab-rag's."
"What, owd Amos o' Fettler's widow?"
"Ah, sure. They co'n her Bess o' Bab-rags, because
hoo's al'ays getherin' bits o' stuff to make babbies' clooas on."
"It's her 'at keeps th' pie-shop i'th owd market-place?"
"T' same woman, I tell tho."
"Never, sure! . . . What! an' is this her lad, saysto?"
"He's nought else."
"Ay, ay! Well, an' hoo's a farrantly owd lass, too!"
"Hoo is that! . . . Hoo's a widow; an' this lad wur by her
first husban'. Hoo's bin wed twice."
"I don't care if hoo's bin wed a hundred times,—hoo'll clog
again, will yon woman,—bi th' look on her!"
"Ay, an' hoo'd make a rare wife yet!"
"Hoo would, owd lad. . . . Well,—aren't we to have an odd
toothful, o' some mak?"
"Ay; ring that bell."
(The landlady conies in).
"Bring us a pint a-piece. . . . Ay, I remember Amos o'
Fettler's, that wur this woman's last husban'. I remember him
very weel. He wur th' manager at that owd mill, down bi th'
wayter-side; an' he'd bin at th' same place o' his life very near.
But th' owd lad thought a great deal of his sel', and he geet it
into his yed that th' folk he wortched for couldn't get on without
him; an', sometimes, he took sich liberties that they'd hard wank to
bide with him. Oh, he wur a very consaited chap. . . . One day
th' owd maister happen't to say that he'd a good mind to goo away
somewheer for a change. Well,—Amos wur a bit nettle't about
some'at at th' time, so he turn't to th' owd maister, an' he said,
'Well, if yo'n goo soon enough, an' goo far enough,—an' stop lung
enough,—it'll be reet enough!' Another time th' owd maister
an' Amos had bin havin' a bit of a dispute about some'at or another,
and Amos said, 'Well, I've wortched at this place forty year; an' I
consider I've done a great deal to make this firm what it is.'
'Well,' said th' owd maister, 'thou happen has, Amos; an' now, when
I come to think on it, I wonder how it is that everybody has
manage't to get on without thee,—except me!'"
"Some folk would ha' bagged him upo' th' spot."
"Ay, but they didn't. They kept th' owd lad on till he
deed. . . . Well,—I guess we'd better be gooin'?"
"Ay, we mun jog on, rain or fair!"
"Dive into't, then."
(They run out into the rain.)
"Yon's a quare lot, Rondle."
"Oh,—they're reet enough. I see nought ails 'em.
They favvor'n wortchin'-folk. I like as if I should know that
redyure't un. I've getten it into my yed that he's a jobber at
owd Peawch's factory."
"By th' mass, thou's hit it Rondle! I remember him,
now! He wed that lass o' Jenny Pepper's!"
"It's th' very mon! . . . Yon could tell some tales about th'
famine, if he'd a mind."
"No doubt he could,—for he wur i'th thick on't. . . . Oh,—but
I didn't finish my own story."
"Nawe, thou wur among some potato-pillin's when thou left
"Oh, ay,—I remember. . . . Well,—I think things geet to th'
worst wi' us, at our house, about the back-end of 1862. Th'
keenest nip o'th famine, wi' us, wur about that time; an' th' tide
begun a-turnin' soon after. I wur not quite twelve year owd,—a
thin, gawky, shame-facet lad, wearin' one o' my sister's owd black
frocks, becose I'd no breeches to put on; an' it wur i'th autumn o'
that year that I begged those potito-pillin's, that kept four on us
alive nearly two days. I shall never forget how we gather't
round my mother, yammerin' an' watchin' her as hoo wesh'd these
pillin's, an' shook a bit o' meal out o'th bottom of a poke, to boil
wi' 'em. That wur a grand day for us poor craiters, I can tell
tho,—for we're welly (wellnigh) famish't to deeoth. There's an
owd sayin', that 'Hungry dogs 'll eat dirty puddin','—but if onybody
had towd my faither, two year afore that time, that ever his family
would be brought to be fain to make a meal of a hondful o'
potito-pillin's, piked out of a swillin'-tub, he'd ha' said they'
bin lyin'. But it's a dangerous thing for onybody to swagger i'
sich a world as this is,—for there's nobody con tell what they han
to go through. . . . Well, as I said afore, I wur a thin, awkward,
shy sort of a lad,—an' I wur so asham't of onybody seein' me wi'
this nasty owd black frock of our Mary's on, that it wur a good
while afore they could get me to put my yed out o'th dur at o'.
But, lo an' behold! th' first time that I ventur't out, what should
I leet on but these potito-pillin's! Well,—that wur a
godsend,—an' it gav me sich encouragement, that i' spite o' my black
frock, I begun a-creepin' about th' neighbourhood to see if I could
get to goo an arrand or aught, that would bring a meal in. I
wur a quire figure, thou may depend, wi' my clemmed face, an' my
thin legs, an' my black frock. I believe I looked moore like a
ghost than aught belongin' this world,—an' th' neighbours begun to
notice me; an' some on 'em co'de their childer in when they see'd me
comin',—as if I'd bin a wild animal prowlin' about. I remember
one day, when I wur trailin' down a back street, hardly able to poo
one leg after tother, I yerd a little lass shout out, 'Heigh,
mother! that crazy lad's comin' again!' Well,—that wur quite
enough. I turned back, an' went whoam, an' I coom out no moore
that day. Another time, when I wur hangin' about a corner o'th
market-place, turnin' o'er bits o' cabbage levs, an' sich like, a
gentleman coom across th' street, an' offered me a sixpence; an' I
blushed to th' roots o' mi ears, an' towd him that I weren't
beg-in'. 'Poor lad!' said he. But I slunk off whoam; an'
he followed me a bit, as if he wanted to see where I went to.
I slipt up a ginnel, out o'th road,—an' I've never sin him again
fro' that day to this. . . . At last, when th' house wur stripped of
everything, an' we wur getten as near th' floor as we could be
without gooin' into it, things begun to mend, an' mi faither geet a
place at a pound a week. Well, that wur like th' beginnin' of
a new world to us, after what we'd gone through. Didn't we
sing, 'Oh, be joyful!' Thou never seed sich rejoicin'
among a lot o' starve't craiters, as there wur i' that house.
We'd bin brought so low that we'd very near gan o'er expectin' aught
but starvation i' this world again. But as soon as this bit o'
good luck turned up, we thought we wur gooin' to have everythin'
back at once,—an' one cried out, 'Mother, let's have this! ' an'
another said, 'Mother, let's have that.' But,—I remember it as
weel as if it wur yesterday,—I remember my mother sayin', 'Now,
childer; we connot have so mich yet, yo know, becose our Tom has to
be breeched, before we get aught else.' Well,—if thou'll
believe me, Rondle,—that wur music i' my ears, for never poor soul
wur fainer to get out o' prison than I wur to get out o' that black
frock! . . . Well,—there wur grand doin's i'th' hole, thou may
depend. . . But th' first thing,—afore one bodle o'th brass wur
spent,—my mother made us knell down, an' pray, an' thank God.
An' then, we dance't an' sung hymns, an' caper't about, like wild
things,—for we thought we should never look beheend us again. . . .
Well,—'it never rains but it pours,' as th' sayin' is; an' this bit
o' luck o' my faither's put us o' into good heart; an' as soon as
hoo could muster a bit o' some'at to go out in, our Mary Ann
determine't that hoo'd get a place o' some sort, to help to make a
livin'. Hoo'd be between eighteen an' nineteen, then,—an' John
an' her wur cwortin' at that time. They'n bin wed a good while
now, an' they'n getten a fine family about 'em. But at that
time John wur one o'th yed book-keepers at th' mill,—an' he wur as
daicent a chap as ever stept shoo-leather,—but he wur out o' wark,
an' stagged up, th' same as everybody else. Well,—our Mary Ann
never said a word to nobody, but off hoo set a-seechin' a place; an'
afore a week wur o'er hoo geet a place as a waiter at a
refreshment-room i' Manchester,—an hoo brought every penny of her
wage to mi mother at week-end. Hoo didn't want John to know
that hoo wur theer,—for hoo didn't think o' stoppin' no lunger than
till we could turn ersels round a bit. But, lo an' behold! one
day, when John wur i' Manchester, he happen't to drop into this very
refreshment-room where Mary Ann wur waitin' on; an' he rang th' bell
for a cup o' tay, an' who should bring his tay but our Mary Ann
hersel'! Well,—I've yerd him say that yo might ha' knock't him
o'er wi' a pin-yed. An' our Mary Ann wur just as ill.
Well,—as soon as John could get his breath he made her pack up her
box, an' come off whoam wi' him; an' nought would sattle him but
they mut (must) get wed at once. So they geet wed straight off
th' reel, an' they'n never had an ill day sin'. An', mind
tho', didn't I cry my e'en up, becose I couldn't goo into th' room
amung th' weddin'-folk, becose o' mi black frock. . . . But I slipt
out at th' back dur; an' when th' cab started off, to tak 'em to
church, I jumped up beheend, an' I rode to church wi' 'em,—i' mi
black frock, too! . . . Hello! it's clearin' up!"
"Ay,—let's be gooin'!"
Among the Preston Operatives.
alternative to the following account of the 'Preston
Operatives', readers may prefer to refer to Chapter III
et al of my edited edition of Waugh's account of
the Cotton Famine, in which I have introduced paragraphs
exceedingly long passages that appear in the
following text, and I have also added a selection of
contemporary poems, news-clips and illustrations.
See . . . .
HOME-LIFE OF THE
LANCASHIRE FACTORY FOLK
DURING THE COTTON
PROUD Preston, or
Priest-town, on the banks of the beautiful Ribble, is a place of
many quaint customs, and of great historic fame. Its character
for pride is said to come from the fact of its having been, in the
old time, a favourite residence of the local nobles and gentry, and
of many penniless folk with long pedigrees. It was here that
Richard Arkwright shaved chins at a halfpenny each, in the meantime
working out his bold and ingenious schemes, with patient faith in
their ultimate success. It was here, too, that the teetotal
movement first began, with Anderson for its rhyme-smith.
Preston has had its full share of the changeful fortunes of England,
and, like our motherland, it has risen strongly out of them all.
War's mad havoc has swept over it in many a troubled period of our
history. Plague, pestilence, and famine have afflicted it
sorely; and it has suffered from trade riots, "plug-drawings,"
panics, and strikes of most disastrous kinds. Proud Preston ―
the town of the Stanleys and the Hoghtons, and of
Many a crest that is famous in story―
the town where silly King Jamie disported himself a little, with his
knights and nobles, during the time of his ruinous visit to Hoghton
Tower, ― Proud Preston has seen many a black day. But, from
the time when Roman sentinels kept watch and ward in their old camp
at Walton, down by the Ribble side, it has never seen so much wealth
and so much bitter poverty together as now. The streets do not
show this poverty; but it is there. Looking from Avenham
Walks, that glorious landscape smiles in all the splendour of a rich
spring-tide. In those walks the nursemaids and children, and
dainty folk, are wandering as usual airing their curls in the fresh
breeze; and only now and then a workless operative trails by with
chastened look. The wail of sorrow is not heard in Preston
market-place; but destitution may be found almost anywhere there
just now, cowering in squalid corners, within a few yards of plenty
― as I have seen it many a time this week. The courts and
alleys behind even some of the main streets swarm with people who
have hardly a whole nail left to scratch themselves with.
Before attempting to tell something of what I saw whilst
wandering amongst the poor operatives of Preston, I will say at
once, that I do not intend to meddle with statistics. They
have been carefully gathered, and often given elsewhere, and there
is no need for me to repeat them. But, apart from these, the
theme is endless, and full of painful interest. I hear on all
hands that there is hardly any town in Lancashire suffering so much
as Preston. The reason why the stroke has fallen so heavily
here, lies in the nature of the trade. In the first place,
Preston is almost purely a cotton town. There are two or three
flax mills, and two or three ironworks, of no great extent; but,
upon the whole, there is hardly any variety of employment there to
lighten the disaster which has befallen its one absorbing
occupation. There is comparatively little weaving in Preston;
it is a town mostly engaged in spinning. The cotton used there
is nearly all what is called "Middling American," the very kind
which is now most scarce and dear. The yarns of Preston are
known by the name of "Blackburn Counts." They range from 28's
up to 60's, and they enter largely into the manufacture of goods for
the India market. These things partly explain why Preston is
more deeply overshadowed by the particular gloom of the times than
many other places in Lancashire. About half-past nine on
Tuesday morning last, I set out with an old acquaintance to call
upon a certain member of the Relief Committee, in George's Ward.
He is the manager of a cotton mill in that quarter, and he is well
known and much respected among the working people. When we
entered the mill-yard, all was quiet there, and the factory was
still and silent. But through the office window we could see
the man we wanted. He was accompanied by one of the
proprietors of the mill, turning over the relief books of the ward.
I soon found that he had a strong sense of humour, as well as a
heart welling over with tenderness. He pointed to some of the
cases in his books. The first was that of an old man, an
overlooker of a cotton mill. His family was thirteen in
number; three of the children were under ten years of age; seven of
the rest were factory operatives; but the whole family had been out
of work for several months. When in full employment the joint
earnings of the family amounted to 80s. a week; but, after
struggling on in the hope of better times, and exhausting the
savings of past labour, they had been brought down to the receipt of
charity at last, and for sixteen weeks gone by the whole thirteen
had been living upon 6s. a week from the relief fund. They had
no other resource. I went to see them at their own house
afterwards, and it certainly was a pattern of cleanliness, with the
little household gods there still. Seeing that house, a
stranger would never dream that the family was living on an average
income of less than sixpence a head per week. But I know how
hard some decent folk will struggle with the bitterest poverty
before they will give in to it. The old man came in whilst I
was there. He sat down in one corner, quietly tinkering away
at something he had in his hands. His old corduroy trousers
were well patched, and just new washed. He had very little to
say to us, except that "He could like to get summat to do; for he
wur tired o' walkin' abeawt." Another case was that of a poor
widow woman, with five young children. This family had been
driven from house to house, by increasing necessity, till they had
sunk at last into a dingy little hovel, up a dark court, in one of
the poorest parts of the town, where they huddled together about a
fireless grate to keep one another warm. They had nothing left
of the wreck of their home but two rickety chairs, and a little deal
table reared against the wall, because one of the legs was gone.
In this miserable hole ― which I saw afterwards ― her husband died
of sheer starvation, as was declared by the jury on the inquest.
The dark, damp hovel where they had crept to was scarcely four yards
square; and the poor woman pointed to one corner of the floor,
saying, "He dee'd i' that nook." He died there, with nothing
to lie upon but the ground, and nothing to cover him, in that
fireless hovel. His wife and children crept about him, there,
to watch him die; and to keep him as warm as they could. When
the relief committee first found this family out, the entire
clothing of the family of seven persons weighed eight pounds, and
sold for fivepence, as rags. I saw the family afterwards, at
their poor place; and will say more about them hereafter. He
told me of many other cases of a similar kind. But, after
agreeing to a time when we should visit them personally, we set out
together to see the "Stone Yard," where there are many factory hands
at work under the Board of Guardians.
The "Stone Yard" is close by the Preston and Lancaster Canal.
Here there are from one hundred and seventy to one hundred and
eighty, principally young men, employed in breaking, weighing, and
wheeling stone, for road mending. The stones are of a hard
kind of blue boulder, gathered from the land between Kendal and
Lancaster. The "Labour Master" told me that there were
thousands of tons of these boulders upon the land between Kendal and
Lancaster. A great deal of them are brought from a place
called "Tewhitt Field," about seven mile on "t' other side o'
Lancaster." At the "Stone Yard" it is all piece-work, and the
men can come and go when they like. As one of the Guardians
told me, "They can oather sit an' break 'em, or kneel an' break 'em,
or lie deawn to it, iv they'n a mind." The men can choose
whether they will fill three tons of the broken stone, and wheel it
to the central heap, for a shilling, or break one ton for a
shilling. The persons employed here are mostly "lads an'
leet-timber't chaps." The stronger men are sent to work upon
Preston Moor. There are great varieties of health and strength
amongst them. "Beside," as the Labour Master said, "yo'd
hardly believe what a difference there is i'th wark o' two men
wortchin' at the same heap, sometimes. There's a great deal
i'th breaker, neaw; some on 'em's more artful nor others. They
finden out that they con break 'em as fast again at after they'n
getten to th' wick i'th inside. I have known an' odd un or
two, here, that could break four ton a day, ― an' many that couldn't
break one, ― but then, yo' know, th' men can only do accordin' to
their ability. There is these differences, and there always
will be." As we stood talking together, one of my friends said
that he wished "Radical Jack" had been there. The latter
gentleman is one of the guardians of the poor, and superintendent of
the "Stone Yard." The men are naturally jealous of
misrepresentation; and, the other day, as "Radical Jack" was
describing the working of the yard to a gentleman who had come to
look at the scene, some of the men overheard his words, and,
misconceiving their meaning, gathered around the superintendent,
clamorously protesting against what he had been saying. "He's
lying!" said one. "Look at these honds!" cried another; "Wi'n
they ever be fit to go to th' factory wi' again?" Others
turned up the soles of their battered shoon, to show their cut and
stockingless feet. They were pacified at last; but, after the
superintendent had gone away, some of the men said much and more,
and "if ever he towd ony moor lies abeawt 'em, they'd fling him into
th' cut." The "Labour Master" told me there was a large wood
shed for the men to shelter in when rain came on. As we were
conversing, one of my friends exclaimed, "He's here now!"
"Who's here?" "Radical Jack." The superintendent was
coming down the road. He told me some interesting things,
which I will return to on another occasion. But our time was
up. We had other places to see. As we came away, three
old Irishwomen leaned against the wall at the corner of the yard,
watching the men at work inside. One of them was saying, "Thim
guardians is the awfullest set o' min in the world! A man had
better be transpoorted than come under 'em. An' thin, they'll
try you, an' try you, as if you was goin' to be hanged." The
poor old soul had evidently only a narrow view of the necessities
and difficulties which beset the labours of the Board of Guardians
at a time like this. On our way back to town one of my friends
told me that he "had met a sexton the day before, and had asked him
how trade was with him. The sexton replied that it was "Varra
bad ― nowt doin', hardly." "Well, how's that?" asked the
other. "Well, thae sees," answered the sexton, "Poverty seldom
dees. There's far more kilt wi' o'er-heytin' an' o'er-drinkin'
nor there is wi' bein' pinched."
"Stone Yard," to fulfil an engagement in another part of the town,
we agreed to call upon three or four poor folk, who lived by the
way; and I don't know that I could do better than say something
about what I saw of them. As we walked along, one of my
companions told me of an incident which happened to one of the
visitors in another ward, a few days before. In the course of
his round, this visitor called upon a certain destitute family which
was under his care, and he found the husband sitting alone in the
house, pale and silent. His wife had been "brought to bed" two
or three days before; and the visitor inquired how she was getting
on. "Hoo's very ill," said the husband. "And the child,"
continued the visitor, "how is it?" "It's deeod," replied the
man; "it dee'd yesterday." He then rose, and walked slowly
into the next room, returning with a basket in his hands, in which
the dead child was decently laid out. "That's o' that's laft
on it neaw," said the poor fellow. Then, putting the basket
upon the floor, he sat down in front of it, with his head between
his hands, looking silently at the corpse. Such things as
these were the theme of our conversation as we went along, and I
found afterwards that every visitor whom it was my privilege to
meet, had some special story of distress to relate, which came
within his own appointed range of action. In my first flying
visit to that great melancholy field, I could only glean such things
as lay nearest to my hand, just then; but wherever I went, I heard
and saw things which touchingly testify what noble stuff the working
population of Lancashire, as a whole, is made of. One of the
first cases we called upon, after leaving the "Stone Yard," was that
of a family of ten ― man and wife, and eight children. Four of
the children were under ten years of age, ― five were capable of
working; and, when the working part of the family was in full
employment, their joint earnings amounted to 61s. per week.
But, in this case, the mother's habitual ill-health had been a great
expense in the household for several years. This family
belonged to a class of operatives ― a much larger class than people
unacquainted with the factory districts are likely to suppose ―
which will struggle, in a dumb, enduring way, to the death,
sometimes, before they will sacrifice that "immediate jewel of their
souls" ― their old independence, and will keep up a decent
appearance to the very last. These suffer more than the rest;
for, in addition to the pains of bitter starvation, they feel a loss
which is more afflicting to them even than the loss of food and
furniture; and their sufferings are less heard of than the rest,
because they do not like to complain. This family of ten
persons had been living, during the last nine weeks, upon relief
amounting to 5s. a week. When we called, the mother and one or
two of her daughters were busy in the next room, washing their poor
bits of well-kept clothing. The daughters kept out of sight,
as if ashamed. It was a good kind of cottage, in a clean
street, called "Maudland Bank," and the whole place had a tidy,
sweet look, though it was washing-day. The mother told me that
she had been severely afflicted with seven successive attacks of
inflammation, and yet, in spite of her long-continued ill-health,
and in spite of the iron teeth of poverty which had been gnawing at
them so long, for the first time, I have rarely seen a more frank
and cheerful countenance than that thin matron's, as she stood
there, wringing her clothes, and telling her little story. The
house they lived in belonged to their late employer, whose mill
stopped some time ago. We asked her how they managed to pay
the rent, and she said, "Why, we dunnot pay it; we cannot pay it,
an' he doesn't push us for it. Aw guess he knows he'll get it
sometime. But we owe'd a deal o' brass beside that. Just
look at this shop book. Aw'm noan freetend ov onybody seein'
my acceawnts. An' then, there's a great lot o' doctor's-bills
i' that pot, theer. Thoose are o' for me. There'll ha'
to be some wark done afore things can be fotched up again. . . . Eh;
aw'll tell yo what, William, (this was addressed to the visitor,) it
went ill again th' grain wi' my husband to goo afore th' Board.
An' when he did goo, he wouldn't say so mich. Yo known, folk
doesn't like brastin' off abeawt theirsel' o' at once, at a shop
like that. . . . Aw think sometimes it's very weel that four ov
eawrs are i' heaven, ― we'n sich hard tewin' (toiling), to poo
through wi' tother, just neaw. But, aw guess it'll not last
for ever." As we came away, talking of the reluctance shown by
the better sort of working people to ask for relief, or even
sometimes to accept it when offered to them, until thoroughly
starved to it, I was told of a visitor calling upon a poor woman in
another ward; no application had been made for relief, but some kind
neighbour had told the committee that the woman and her husband were
"ill off." The visitor, finding that they were perishing for
want, offered the woman some relief tickets for food; but the poor
soul began to cry, and said; "Eh, aw dar not touch 'em; my husban'
would sauce me so! Aw dar not take 'em; aw should never yer
the last on't!" When we got to the lower end of Hope Street,
my guide stopped suddenly, and said, "Oh, this is close to where
that woman lives whose husband died of starvation." Leading a
few yards up the by-street, he turned into a low, narrow entry, very
dark and damp. Two turns more brought us to a dirty, pent-up
corner, where a low door stood open. We entered there.
It was a cold, gloomy-looking little hovel. In my allusion to
the place last week I said it was "scarcely four yards square."
It is not more than three yards square. There was no fire in
the little rusty grate. The day was sunny, but no sunshine
could ever reach that nook, nor any fresh breezes disturb the
pestilent vapours that harboured there, festering in the sluggish
gloom. In one corner of the place a little worn and broken
stair led up to a room of the same size above, where, I was told,
there was now some straw for the family to sleep upon. But the
only furniture in the house, of any kind, was two rickety chairs and
a little broken deal table, reared against the stairs, because one
leg was gone. A quiet-looking, thin woman, seemingly about
fifty years of age, sat there, when we went in. She told us
that she had buried five of her children, and that she had six yet
alive, all living with her in that poor place. They had no
work, no income whatever, save what came from the Relief Committee.
Five of the children were playing in and out, bare-footed, and, like
the mother, miserably clad; but they seemed quite unconscious that
anything ailed them. I never saw finer children anywhere.
The eldest girl, about fourteen, came in whilst we were there, and
she leaned herself bashfully against the wall for a minute or two,
and then slunk slyly out again, as if ashamed of our presence.
The poor widow pointed to the cold corner where her husband died
lately. She said that "his name was Tim Pedder. His
fadder name was Timothy, an' his mudder name was Mary. He was
a driver (a driver of boat-horses on the canal); but he had bin oot
o' wark a lang time afore he dee'd." I found in this case, as
in some others, that the poor body had not much to say about her
distress; but she did not need to say much. My guide told me
that when he first called upon the family, in the depth of last
winter, he found the children all clinging round about their mother
in the cold hovel, trying in that way to keep one another warm.
The time for my next appointment was now hard on, and we hurried
towards the shop in Fishergate, kept by the gentleman I had promised
to meet. He is an active member of the Relief Committee, and a
visitor in George's ward. We found him in. He had just
returned from the "Cheese Fair," at Lancaster. My purpose was
to find out what time on the morrow we could go together to see some
of the cases he was best acquainted with. But, as the evening
was not far spent, he proposed that we should go at once to see a
few of those which were nearest. We set out together to
Walker's Court, in Friargate. The first place we entered was
at the top of the little narrow court. There we found a
good-tempered Irish-woman sitting without fire, in her feverish
hovel. "Well, missis," said the visitor, "how is your husband
getting on?" "Ah, well, now, Mr. T――," replied she, "you know,
he's only a delicate little man, an' a tailor; an' he wint to work
on the moor, an' he couldn't stand it. Sure, it was draggin'
the bare life out of him. So, he says to me, one morning,
"Catharine," says he, "I'll lave off this a little while, till I see
will I be able to get a job o' work at my own trade; an' maybe God
will rise up some thin' to put a dud o' clothes on us all, an' help
us to pull through till the black time is over us." So, I told
him to try his luck, any way; for he was killin' himself entirely on
the moor. An' so he did try; for there's not an idle bone in
that same boy's skin. But, see this, now; there's nothin' in
the world to be had to do just now ― an' a dale too many waitin' to
do it ― so all he got by the change was losin' his work on the moor.
There is himself, an' me, an' the seven childer. Five o' the
childer is under tin year old. We are all naked; an' the house
is bare; an' our health is gone wi' the want o' mate. Sure it
wasn't in the likes o' this we wor livin' when times was good."
Three of the youngest children were playing about on the floor.
"That's a very fine lad," said I, pointing to one of them. The
little fellow blushed, and smiled, and then became very still and
attentive. "Ah, thin," said his mother, "that villain's the
boy for tuckin' up soup! The Lord be about him, an' save him
alive to me, ― the crayter! . . . An' there's little curly
there,―the rogue! Sure he'll take as much soup as any wan o'
them. Maybe he wouldn't laugh to see a big bowl forninst him
this day." "It's very well they have such good spirits," said
the visitor. "So it is," replies the woman, "so it is, for God
knows it's little else they have to keep them warm thim bad times."
The next house we called at in Walker's Court was much like the
first in appearance ― very little left but the walls, and that
little, such as none but the neediest would pick up, if it was
thrown out to the streets. The only person in the place was a pale,
crippled woman; her sick head, lapped in a poor white clout, swayed
languidly to and fro. Besides being a cripple, she had been ill six
years, and now her husband, also, was taken ill. He had just crept
off to fetch medicine for the two. We did not stop here long. The
hand of the Ancient Master was visible in that pallid face; those
sunken eyes, so full of deathly languor, seemed to be wandering
about in dim, flickering gazes, upon the confines of an unknown
world. I think that woman will soon be
Where the weary are at rest.
As we came out, she said, slowly, and in broken, painful utterances,
that "she hoped the Lord would open the heavens for those who had
helped them." A little lower down the court, we peeped in at
two other doorways. The people were well known to my
companion, who has the charge of visiting this part of the ward.
Leaning against the door-cheek of one of these dim, unwholesome
hovels, he said, "Well, missis; how are you getting on?" There
was a tall, thin woman inside. She seemed to be far gone in
some exhausting illness. With slow difficulty she rose to her
feet, and, setting her hands to her sides, gasped out, "My coals are
done." He made a note, and said, "I'll send you some more."
Her other wants were regularly seen to on a certain day every week.
Ours was an accidental visit. We now turned up to another nook
of the court, where my companion told me there was a very bad case.
He found the door fast. We looked through the window into that
miserable man-nest. It was cold, gloomy, and bare. As
Corrigan says, in the "Colleen Bawn," "There was nobody in ― but the
fire ― and that was gone out." As we came away, a stalwart
Irishman met us at a turn of the court, and said to my companion,
"Sure, ye didn't visit this house." "Not to-day;" replied the
visitor. "I'll come and see you at the usual time." The
people in this house were not so badly off as some others. We
came down the steps of the court into the fresher air of Friargate
again. Our next walk was to Heatley Street. As we passed
by a cluster of starved loungers, we overheard one of them saying to
another, "Sitho, yon's th' soup-maister, gooin' a-seein' somebry."
Our time was getting short, so we only called at one house in
Heatley Street, where there was a family of eleven ― a decent
family, a well-kept and orderly household, though now stript almost
to the bare ground of all worldly possession, sold, bitterly,
piecemeal, to help to keep the bare life together, as sweetly as
possible, till better days. The eldest son is twenty-seven
years of age. The whole family has been out of work for the
last seventeen weeks, and before that, they had been working only
short time for seven months. For thirteen weeks they had lived
upon less than one shilling a head per week, and I am not sure that
they did not pay the rent out of that; and now the income of the
whole eleven is under 16s., with rent to pay. In this house
they hold weekly prayer-meetings. Thin picking ― one shilling
a week, or less ― for all expenses, for one person. It is
easier to write about it than to feel what it means, unless one has
tried it for three or four months. Just round the corner from
Heatley Street, we stopped at the open door of a very little
cottage. A good-looking young Irishwoman sat there, upon a
three-legged stool, suckling her child. She was clean; and had
an intelligent look. "Let's see, missis," said the visitor,
"what do you pay for this nook?" "We pay eighteenpence a week
― and they will have it ― my word." "Well, an' what income
have you now?" "We have eighteenpence a head in the week, an'
the rent to pay out o' that, or else they'll turn us out." Of
course, the visitor knew that this was true; but he wanted me to
hear the people speak for themselves. "Let's see, Missis
Burns, your husband's name is Patrick, isn't it?" "Yes, sir;
Patrick Burns." "What! Patrick Burns, the famous
foot-racer?" The little woman smiled bashfully, and replied,
"Yes, sir; I suppose it is." With respect to what the woman
said about having to pay her rent or turn out, I may remark, in
passing, that I have not hitherto met with an instance in which any
mill-owner, or wealthy man, having cottage property, has pressed the
unemployed poor for rent. But it is well to remember that
there is a great amount of cottage property in Preston, as in other
manufacturing towns, which belongs to the more provident class of
working men. These working men, now hard pressed by the
general distress, have been compelled to fall back upon their little
rentals, clinging to them as their last independent means of
existence. They are compelled to this, for, if they cannot get
work, they cannot get anything else, having property. These
are becoming fewer, however, from day to day. The poorest are
hanging a good deal upon those a little less poor than themselves;
and every link in the lengthening chain of neediness is helping to
pull down the one immediately above it. There is, also, a
considerable amount of cottage property in Preston, belonging to
building societies, which have enough to do to hold their own just
now. And then there is always some cottage property in the
hands of agents. Leaving Heatley Street, we went to a place
called "Seed's Yard." Here we called upon a clean old stately
widow, with a calm, sad face. She had been long known, and
highly respected, in a good street, not far off, where she had lived
for twenty-four years, in fair circumstances, until lately.
She had always owned a good houseful of furniture; but, after making
bitter meals upon the gradual wreck of it, she had been compelled to
break up that house, and retire with her five children to lodge with
a lone widow in this little cot, not over three yards square, in
"Seed's Yard," one of those dark corners into which decent poverty
is so often found now, creeping unwillingly away from the public
eye, in the hope of weathering the storm of adversity, in penurious
independence. The old woman never would accept relief from the
parish, although the whole family had been out of work for many
months. One of the daughters, a clean, intelligent-looking
young woman, about eighteen, sat at the table, eating a little bread
and treacle to a cup of light-coloured tea, when we went in; but she
blushed, and left off until we had gone ― which was not long after.
It felt almost like sacrilege to peer thus into the privacies of
such people; but I hope they did not feel as if it had been done
offensively. We called next at the cottage of a hand-loom
weaver ― a poor trade now in the best of times ― a very poor trade ―
since the days when tattered old "Jem Ceawp" sung his pathetic song
of "Jone o' Greenfeelt" ―
Aw'm a poor cotton weighver, as ony one
We'n no meight i'th heawse, an' we'n worn eawt er
We'n live't upo nettles, while nettles were good;
An' Wayterloo porritch is th' most of er food;
This clemmin' and starvin',
Wi' never a farthin' ―
It's enough to drive ony mon mad.
This family was four in number ― man, wife, and two children.
They had always lived near to the ground, for the husband's earnings
at the loom were seldom more than 7s. for a full week. The
wife told us that they were not receiving any relief, for she said
that when her husband "had bin eawt o' wark a good while he turn't
his hond to shaving;" and in this way the ingenious struggling
fellow had scraped a thin living for them during many months.
"But," said she, " it brings varra little in, we hev to trust so
much. He shaves four on 'em for a haw-penny, an' there's a
deal on 'em connot pay that. Yo know, they're badly off ― (the
woman seemed to think her circumstances rather above the common
kind); an' then," continued she, "when they'n run up a shot for
three-hawpence or twopence or so, they cannot pay it o' no shap, an'
so they stoppen away fro th' shop. They cannot for shame come,
that's heaw it is; so we lose'n their custom till sich times as
summat turns up at they can raise a trifle to pay up wi'. . . . He
has nobbut one razzor, but it'll be like to do." Hearken this,
oh, ye spruce Figaros of the city, who trim the clean, crisp
whiskers of the well-to-do! Hearken this, ye dainty
perruquiers, "who look so brisk, and smell so sweet," and have such
an exquisite knack of chirruping, and lisping, and sliding over the
smooth edge of the under lip, ― and, sometimes, agreeably too, ― "an
infinite deal of nothing," ― ye who clip and anoint the hair of Old
England's curled darlings! Eight chins a penny; and three
months' credit! A bodle a piece for mowing chins overgrown
with hair like pin-wire, and thick with dust; how would you like
that? How would you get through it all, with a family of four,
and only one razor? The next place we called at was what my
friend described, in words that sounded to me, somehow, like
melancholy irony, ― as "a poor provision shop." It was,
indeed, a poor shop for provender. In the window, it is true,
there were four or five empty glasses, where children's spice had
once been. There was a little deal shelf here and there; but
there were neither sand, salt, whitening, nor pipes. There was
not the ghost of a farthing candle, nor a herring, nor a marble, nor
a match, nor of any other thing, sour or sweet, eatable or saleable
for other uses, except one small mug full of buttermilk up in a
corner ― the last relic of a departed trade, like the "one rose of
the wilderness, left on its stalk to mark where a garden has been."
But I will say more about this in the next chapter.