16th Nov., 1896.
THERE is, or may
be, the gentle novel reader will believe there is, in Lancashire a
village or hamlet named Beckside, in which there is a clogger whose
name is Jabez Longworth. His shop is all that Beckside has for
a club-room, and this club-room is the pulse of Beckside.
Mr John Ackworth has written a book called Clog Shop
Chronicles, and it comprises eighteen stories, all of which come in
one way or another under the survey or, to put it differently, are
plays that are played in by frequenters of Jabe's shop. For
genuine portraitures of honest Lancashire folks of humbler sort, and
for exquisite dramas of humble life in which humour and pathos and
scores of charming touches of nature are to be met with, the book is
worthy of the highest praise. The dialect ought to trouble no
one who knows anything of the humbler classes in the north of
England, and if any reader should be tempted to indulge in a
disdainful smile at these annals of blunt, plain-spoken folks who
"thee and thou" each other, and whose lives are bound up in the
system of the universe known as Methodism, he had better lay the
Barbara Royle comes back to her native village with a little
girl and resumes her place as a weaver in the mill. A young
man obtains a situation as overlooker and leads an exemplary life.
An epidemic breaks out, and Barbara and her child are ill and
unattended. The gossips wonder at the young man going to her
house and taking up the place of nurse till they learn that he is
her husband, that he has atoned for past unkindness and is forgiven.
Billy Botch is the clogger's apprentice, so called because he
is a slow coach. He has a drunken father whom he will not
leave. He becomes a local preacher and eventually a
missionary, and gets a good "sending off" from the village.
Jabe will not deliver up 't' last pair o' clogs as "aar Billy iver
made or iver will mak." Of an old niggard one observes that he
had "gien up fiddlin to save th' expense o' rozzin."
A pretty tale entitled "The Zeal of Thine House," tells of
the resignation of a group of office-bearers on the suggestion of
the superintendent minister that it was time to build a new chapel,
and the restoration of peace in humbleness and tears.
19th Nov., 1896.
Clog Shop Chronicles. By John Ackworth (London: Charles H.
Kelly.) ― A book such as this proves that the English have
kailyairds of their own which need not fear comparison with the
original northern sort. These sketches are not altogether free from
sentimentality, and some of the characters in them them are almost
too good to be true, but as a whole they are admirably done and
convincing even to an outsider. The author has been exceptionally
happy in his choice of a local centre, and before we are done the
Clog Shop has become very agreeably familiar to us, while Jabe, who
presides over the local parliament there, and whose word is
practically final, is drawn with much skill and humour. Beckside,
which contains the Clog Shop, is a Lancashire village, the dwellers
in which are chiefly Methodists, and the chronicles deal mainly with
their doings and experiences in the world and in the chapel and with
their "humours" secular and religious. There is just sufficient
dialect to give zest to the conversations. Mr Ackworth does not
carry it too far, nor is it so remote from ordinary English speech
as to require a glossary. If he is not always successful in handling
the pathetic ― and, unfortunately, the first of the sketches is
intended to be pathetic ― and if we could have done with a few more
really bad people who did not get converted, the defect is not one
that is peculiar to the Lancashire chronicles. The Clog Shop idylls
would probably never have been written had not Mr Barrie and others
shown the way, but they are very welcome both as a pleasant change
from the Scotch variety and also because of their own merits.
1st Dec., 1896.
There is certainly a revival in northern provincial literature.
The signs of fading fashion apparent a short time ago have
disappeared, and the Lancashire sketch has put on new vigour.
The Lancashire man, at any rate, is assured of immortality, and will
descend to posterity in his habit as he lived. The quality,
also, of the art brought to bear upon his portraiture is distinctly
improving, and a modest little volume, apparently a first work,
which has just appeared, entitled Clog-shop Chronicles, by
John Ackworth (Charles H. Keyy, 8vo, pp. 363, 3s. 6d.),
may take rank second only to the best. The writer works
singularly close to his subject, and only the sureness of touch that
comes of intimate knowledge could allow the characters to develop so
entirely by themselves. If the reader longs sometimes for a
little more atmosphere and distance in the picture, for brighter
colouring or more dramatic movement, he recalls the wish in
remembering the mellow sweetness and grace of such a chronicle as "For
Better, or Worse" or the quaint pathos of the "Knocker-up,"
and the gentle humour of "Vaulting
Ambition" and "Hanging his Hat
Up." The peculiarly intense form of religious feeing in
some of the more out-of-the-way Lancashire villages receives fine
and delicate illustration in the five-fold chronicle "The
Zeal of Thine House." If the life depicted is narrow,
lowly and uneventful, the art that deals with it is very perfect of
its kind, and, like a piece of hand-woven homespun, is sound and
12th Sept., 1897.
Encouraged by the success of a previous volume of "Clog Shop
Chronicles," Mr. Ackworth has continued his series of Lancashire
sketches, under the title of Beckside Lights (Charles H.
Kelly, 8vo, pp 406, 3s. 6d.). There seems,
indeed, no inherent reason why these rambling chronicles should ever
come to an end, for to this keen and humorous observer of village
life there are ever, within the narrow limits of his choice, new
phases of the old to describe. The field is restricted to the
little Methodist community of Brogden Clough, with its
"chapel-members," its stray lambs, and the black sheep who wonder
from its fold. If the ignorance and superstition of these
remote villagers is almost incredible, Mr. Ackworth knows how to
turn them to dramatic uses and he can set the springs of human
sympathy flowing in the most barren ground. One of the
shortest of the chronicles, "Lige's Legacy," is also the best.
It illustrates the working of natural conscience in the mind of a
poor road-mender, who finds himself compelled by a sense of justice
to relinquish a suddenly inherited competence in favour of the
illegitimate daughter of the testator. This he accomplishes in
spite of his own sufferings and of the opposition of his cronies of
the Clog Shop. "Isaac's Angel," a story that turns on the
intense love of music characteristic of Lancashire folk, is,
notwithstanding much over-strained sentiment, a touching and
artistic piece of work, and throughout the volume the character of
old Jabe the Clogger is preserved with remarkable consistency.
On the whole, however, Mr. Ackworth succeeds more by reason of his
evident sympathy with his subjects than by his style.
Lloyd's Weekly Newspaper
27th Nov., 1898.
James Clarke and Co. ― "The Scowcroft Critics," by John Ackworth.
For those who like pleasant pen-pictures and homely tales, full of a
mellow humour and knowledge of humble life, this volume of stories
of Lancashire Methodism will be just the thing. Scowcroft is a
typical Lancashire village, and its singers and preachers, its
sermon critics and its backsliders, are some of the merriest, best
and most wholesome company we have been in for a long time past.
2nd Dec., 1898.
The Scowcroft Critics. By John Ackworth (London, James Clarke
& Co.) ― We can fancy the despair which seizes and English reviewer
when he site down to read a book of the more extreme kailyaird
class. Even so it is with a Scots reviewer who undertakes in cold
blood to tackle nearly 400 pages of Lancashire dialect. Scowcroft
appears to be a small factory village about twenty miles from
Manchester, where the Methodists rule supreme. Everything in the
book turns on the chapel doings, or the "plan" or the "super," or
something equally clerical. And this is the language everybody
"Aw thowt Aw wur i' th' Cinder Hill fields yond, an' lookin' up at
th' stars, an' aw ath wunce Aw yerd a great shaat, an' Aw looked up
and theer, by th' mon! Aw seed aw th' stars rushin' to wart me loike
a swarm o' bees. An' then when they geet narer me Aw seed as they
worn't stars at aw, but angils. They leeted loike pigeons aw abaat
me; an' then wun on 'em blew a trumpit, an' they aw struck up
singing! Hay wot singing! — Aw ne'er yerd nowt loike it; Aw didn't
know th' tune, but it wur that luvly an' meltin' Aw thowt Awd jine
in. But the first nooat Aw tried the angil as wur th' leader turnt
raand on me and shaated, 'Huish!'"
It is rather obvious and none too rich quip to say we sympathise
with the angel; but we do. We must do Mr Ackworth the credit to say
that he has studied the Lancashire folk carefully and reflects the
life of many honest, dull men with great fidelity. The absence of
Scotch humour, and the unexpected willingness of Lancashire lads to
dissolve in tears, marks the fact that not Mr Barrie but another is
Mr Ackworth's master. His young people play "piggy,"* which is not a
game included in Mrs Gomme's "Dictionary of Games."
* Ed.―the section in which the game of "piggy" appears . . . .
"As it was Saturday afternoon the Croft, as the large, irregular
square of open land by the side of the mill and in front of the
chapel was called, was more than usually thronged. A
travelling stall or two was moving along the front of the "long row"
overlooking the Croft. A small knot of men stood against the
bridge end at the lower corner, and in the middle of the open space
a number of boys were playing 'piggy'" . . . . and later
. . . . "There in the middle of the croft, nearly opposite to the
chapel, stood Billy. He still had on his dirty workaday clothes,
which ought to have been changed hours ago. He was without hat, and
had only one clog. Around him was a ring of boys and girls, with
piggy sticks and cricket bats in their hands, jeering and
laughing, and evidently wickedly enjoying the sad sight."
Mr. John Ackworth has turned his intimate knowledge of Methodist
life to good account in Tales of the Twentieth Century Fund (Hodder
and Stoughton, 8vo, pp142, 1s.), and has given in six little
stories graphic pictures of the enthusiasm excited by the bold
scheme of Mr. Perks and Mr. H. P. Hughes to raise a million guineas
for Wesleyan purposes, and the sacrifices which are being made to
carry it out. If the form of the book is fiction, there is
probably nothing in it which has not its parallel in life.
Some of the sketches are as rich in humour as pathos.
19th Dec., 1899
Mr John Ackworth in his Doxie Dent: A Clog Shop Chronicle (C.
H. Kelly, 8vo, pp. viii. 350, 3s. 6d.) has written a
very charming sequel to his "Beckside Lights" and "Clog Shop
Chronicles." Some of the old characters make their appearance
again, but the heroine of the story is the young niece of the old
clogger, who brings her sunny ways and bright nature into the rough
Lancashire village, and wins all hearts, certainly including the
reader's. The tale itself is simple enough; the attraction of
the book lies in the humorous and sometimes pathetic picture of
Methodist life in a circle of factory operatives and little artisans
and tradesmen. There is a good deal of broad dialect,
sometimes reproduced with needless eccentricities of spelling, but
on the whole faithful to type; and if Southerners will find many a
puzzling word and phrase, there is little to mar a Lancashire man's
pleasure in the vivid portraiture. The illustrations are
excellent [Ed ― I agree!], and the name of the artist might
well have been given.
4th Jan., 1900.
"Doxie Dent: A Clog-Shop Chronicle." By John Ackworth, author
of Beckside Lights," &c. (London: Charles H. Kelly.) ― If this story
can be said to have any plot at all, that plot consists of the
conquest of Jabez Longworth, clogger, woman-hater, Methodist
steward, and general village oracle, by his lively and very charming
Cockney niece [Doxie Dent]. But, in truth, it is not to the
devising of any complicated or dramatic action that Mr Ackworth has
turned his attention. He has undertaken to sketch a Lancashire
village, and has done so with a skill and a naturalness which
deserve the highest praise. Even the least important of his
characters have about them the distinct individuality that is the
best guarantee of absolute resemblance. As for Jabez and
Doxie, they seem creatures of flesh and blood ― which is probably
what they really are. Mr Ackworth has already cultivated the
Lancashire Kailyaird to good purpose; but this last production of
his shows him to be among the very best of those that work therein.
17th Oct., 1901.
THE COMING OF THE PREACHERS. A Tale of the Rise of
Methodism. By John Ackworth. London: Hodder & Stoughton.
IT did not
require so national a movement as the rise of Methodism to implant
in the bosom of the average apprentice a desire to marry his
master's daughter; but Mr John Ackworth has used the coming of the
preachers into a small English borough as a strong background for a
very old tableau.
The young man is a hatter; and the wayward and impulsive
maiden is, in this case, a niece and ward of his old masters, Mr
Josephus and Mr Ebenezer, two delightful old gentlemen, with their
wigs, prejudices, proverbs, and herb-cures. The society of the
little town, and its superstitions, ignorances, and frivolities, are
cleverly described. In the low-roofed parlour of its "Hanover
Arms," most of the notabilities—including tailor, hatter, and
parson—nightly meet to drink small ale and discuss the affairs of
Church and State; and everything that happens—the "Sunday cockings,"
the enormities, of the old-time Fair, the small-pox, the great
four-tailed comet, Charles Wesley himself—is brought very powerfully
to bear upon a simple narrative, with the avowed, intention of
illustrating the rise of Methodism, "by showing how that great
movement came to a representative small borough, and how it affected
the lives, characters, and interests of the inhabitants."
The picture which Mr Ackworth presents is a vivid, and no
doubt an accurate one. He might, as he gives us only one
parson, have made him a bit less vituperative, and something more of
a man. Should not novels with such a purpose be at least
superficially impartial in order to achieve it? But, somehow,
they never are; and Mr Ackworth in places writes with a broad pen.