Biographical

Home Biographical Warblin's Kesmus Singin' Election of M.P. Broadsheets Miscellanea Main Index Site Search
 


 

INDEX.

1.

Samuel Laycock: from "Modern Yorkshire Poets", by William Andrews, FRHS, 1885.

2.   

A prefatory sketch of the author, by William Trevor, 1894.

3.   

A supplementary sketch of the author, by James Middleton, 1894.

4.   

Recollection of the author, by his son-in-law, Sim Schofield, 1894.


――――♦――――

 
SAMUEL LAYCOCK.


SAMUEL LAYCOCK, an able writer of poems and sketches in the Lancashire dialect, is by birth a Yorkshireman.  He was born on January 17th, 1826, at Marsden, near Huddersfield.  At the early age of nine, he was employed at a woollen mill in his native town, so that his school-days were very limited, and he may fairly be included amongst self-educated poets.  His parents removed to Stalybridge, in October, 1837, and at this town he was engaged as a weaver in a cotton mill, continuing this occupation up to 1855.  He was next promoted to the position of cloth looker, his duties being to inspect the material as brought in by the weavers.  In this capacity he worked until the commencement of the famine in 1862.  We learn that during the period of distress which followed, he was occupied as superintendent of sundry sewing schools, and afterwards became resident librarian of the Mechanics' Institution of Stalybridge.  This position he held for several years, but failing health compelled him to relinquish it.  On the 1st of October, 1867, he went to reside at Fleetwood, having obtained a situation there as steward of the Whitworth Institution.

    It is satisfactory to find it recorded that on leaving Stalybridge a number of his friends and neighbours presented him with a public testimonial consisting of a purse containing £40, and a beautifully illuminated address, in which reference is made in touching terms to the terrible distress which prevailed around, and in which Mr. Laycock shared at that time, when he poured forth his humorous and affecting songs, teaching lessons of wisdom and resignation, and by which he beguiled the hearts of those who suffered the depression and the gloom.  The address concludes by alluding, to the circumstance that Mr. Laycock's best energies had been devoted to the public good and an expression of the regret felt by his friends that he should leave them with health impaired, and their fervent prayer for a better state of things in this respect, and for happiness and success.  He only remained at Fleetwood half a year.  Mr. Laycock next settled at Blackpool, as a photographic artist.  About six years ago he had to retire from his artistic labours on account of failing eyesight.

    In 1866 he was elected an honorary member of the Manchester Literary Club, and in 1875 the Burnley Literary and Scientific Society conferred upon him a similar honour.  We learn that his first literary effort of importance was in 1855, when the appearance of Edwin Waugh's "Come whoam to thi childer and me," stimulated him to try his hand at dialect writing.  The result was the production of his poem, "A little bit o' both sides," of which, in the course of a few weeks, 2,500 copies were sold.  Some of his other poems were equally well received, and their favourable reception induced him to issue a volume in 1864: "Lancashire Rhymes; or Homely Pictures of the People."  In 1866 was published "Lancashire Songs," and in 1875, his "Lancashire Tales, and Recitations," appeared.  These volumes have had a most extensive circulation, and the reviews have been very favourable.  He has contributed largely to the magazines and newspapers.

    Mr. Laycock has been before the public as an author for about thirty years, and, says one who knows him well, "He has by his writings been brought into contact with many persons of distinction in various walks of life, but, whilst feeling the gratification which naturally arises from such intercourse, he has fortunately escaped any of that undue pride which too frequently results.  His manner is quiet and homely.  He is a staunch teetotaller, and in this matter, as in others in which he is deeply interested, he is terribly in earnest.  At Blackpool he is one of the 'common objects' of the sea-shore, where he may frequently be found in conversation with the chief magistrate of the place, or debating some theme of social moment with a fisherman."

――――♦――――

 
PREFATORY SKETCH OF THE AUTHOR,

from Warblins fro' an Owd Songster, 1894.

SAMUEL LAYCOCK was born at Marsden, near Huddersfield, on the 17th January, 1826, a year of great drought and scarceness.  His father, John Laycock, was a handloom weaver.  Trade was extremely bad, provisions were dear, breadflower cost six shillings a dozen, and among the poor there was great privation, so that he might well say:—


"Aw've often yerd mi feyther tell
'At when aw coom i' th' world misel
                                     Trade wur slack."


    When six years old he attended, for a short time, a day school taught by a Congregational minister; he also went to the Sunday school, where, as was not uncommon in those days, writing was taught, and it was here he acquired the free flowing hand which conduces so greatly even yet to the pleasure of reading his communications.  "So far as I can recollect," he says, "we seldom, if ever, missed going to school and chapel on Sundays.  My father used to carry on his back those of us who were too young to walk."

    When nine years old he commenced work in a woollen mill for two shillings a week, and, though his hours of labour were from six in the morning till eight at night, he managed to do something in the way of self-improvement.

Samuel Laycock's birthplace, Intake Head, Marsden, near Huddersfield - see 'TO MY BROTHER'.
Photograph courtesy of Tameside Local History and Archives.


    In 1837, when eleven years old, the family removed to Stalybridge.  He now entered the cotton mill, and for seventeen years followed the occupation of a weaver, and his first effort at rhyming, written on a copticket, was addressed to a fellow-operative.

    Speaking of his parents, he remarks, "They were very strict with us, and made us keep good hours, and always attend school and chapel on Sundays.  I can easily see now, at my advanced age, what a blessing this must have been, especially to a man of my sensitive temperament, to be surrounded by so many good influences, and kept from so many temptations."

    For the next eight years he was cloth-looker at mills in Stalybridge and Dukinfield, when, in 1862, the great Civil War in America caused what is known as the "Cotton Panic," [ED.—see "Cotton Famine"] and Laycock, amongst others, found himself without occupation.

    As a record of patient endurance and unquenchable hopefulness the history of that portion of our Lancashire life has never been surpassed; and it is noteworthy that the ingenuity and public spirit of the time were wisely directed to finding something useful for "idle hands to do;" and so elementary schools for men, and sewing classes for women, were established on every hand.  In his "Sewin' Class Song" Laycock has most accurately portrayed the determined cheerfulness which marked the conduct of the suffering workpeople throughout those dark days:—


"Come, lasses, let's cheer up an' sing, it's no use lookin' sad,
 We'll mak eawr sewin' skoo to ring, an' stitch away like mad."


    Indeed, his writings during that period, inspired as they were by constant exhibitions of patient privation, are a very fair indication of the intelligent sympathetic attitude of Lancashire folk toward the great American struggle.

    In 1868 continued ill-health induced him to settle at Blackpool, and it is from that popular seaside resort that many of his sermons in verse have been sent forth.

    Laycock, as an interpreter of thought and feeling, is full of that energetic buoyancy and relish for fun so peculiar to Lancashire working folk; and though essentially the poor man's poet, having sounded the depths of poverty and felt the pinch of want, there is in him nothing of disappointed meanness, and nothing morbid.  Indeed, he impresses one as being mostly on the verge of playing some practical joke.  Even in his "Ode to th' Sun," so impressive from one point of view, there is an original confidential familiarity with the great orb of day, almost comical in its surprising ease and conversational fluency.  So with "Rowl away, theaw grand owd ocean."  We are pleasantly carried along with the same easy fluency, whilst still conscious that the Lancashire dialect does not readily lend itself to the description of grand scenes.

    "Welcome, Bonny Brid," must tell its own tale.  In this short poem there is an interchanging tenderness and delicate humour, which, for felicity of expression, is unrivalled in any poem of its kind.

    There is in him, too, a strain of deep reverence, without which humour is liable to descend to mere cynicism.  In "An Evening Prayer" occur these impressive lines:—


"The moon shed forth her silvery light
 O'er mountain, dale, and ocean ;
 And all I saw and heard that night
 Inspired me with devotion."


    It is, however, as a teacher of sound morals, and delineator of homely Lancashire folks and ways, that Laycock will be remembered.  He appeals to us in "our own tongue," and he reaches the heart.

    He has done his own work, and in his own way has taught us the value of human sympathy and the power of humble goodness, and through him many a quiet blessing has fallen upon Lancashire hearthstones, and wholesome laughter has brightened many a fireside.

    The painter who transfers to canvass the forms of beauty in a passing cloud, the mellow light of an autumn evening, or the dimpling laugh on a child's sweet face, inspires feelings not only of admiration but of gratitude, for we feel that but for the exercise of his genius, these transient visions would have been but as forgotten dreams.

    It is so with our best thoughts and feelings.  We have our brief seasons of elevated thought, in which the mind refreshes itself amid scenes of its own creation, and sensibly grows in strength by its own purifying efforts.

    This is our life at its best, and it is at times such as these that we long for adequate powers of expression.

    The subjects which prompt our meditation and move our sympathies may from our very surroundings be homely and even commonplace, but the man who can give them expression and permanent record is to us a benefactor, and we keep him in grateful memory as one who arrested some of our fleeting joys, and who peopled our little world with forms and faces familiar, but always welcome.

WILLIAM TREVOR.

――――♦――――


 
SUPPLEMENTARY SKETCH OF THE AUTHOR.

BY

JAMES MIDDLETON.

(From Warblins fro' an owd Songster, 1894.)
—o—


The house is gloomy when the blinds are down;
The groves are silent when the birds have flown,
And you and I have oft been pained to find
Our loved one's gone while we are left behind;
Our turn will come, how soon we cannot say.
A few more milestones pass'd in life's rough way;
A few more acts, and we must make our bow,
And other eyes grow dim as ours do now!


THESE beautiful lines from a poem addressed by Laycock to a friend who had just lost a daughter have become invested with a melancholy interest, which is deepened by a perusal of the following verses, the concluding lines of a poem read by him at the annual Christmas gathering of the Manchester Literary Club, in December, 1892:


Death's robbed these Christmas parties;
    For some we were wont to greet
Wi' brotherly love an' affection
    Are sadly missed to neet.
Thank God, we have still Ben Brierley;
    Like mysel, he's grey wi' age;
We're waiting for th' curtain fallin',
    An' th' order to come off th' stage.
A few more brotherly greetin's,
    An' a few more peeps at th' sun,
When life's excitin' battles
    Will oather be lost or won.


    Within a year the author died, and the lines of the poet acquired an intenser meaning.  In view of this event they appear to have been prophetic.  Laycock's death occurred somewhat suddenly on the 15th of December, 1893, from an attack of influenza, which developed into acute bronchitis.  His death was mourned by a wide circle of friends, and lamented by the public, to whom his works were well known.

Samuel Laycock
Photograph courtesy of Tameside Local History and Archives.

    Now that Laycock is no more, it seems fitting that something should be said of the personal characteristics of the man, as they were revealed to those who came in close contact with him.  It is said to be dangerous to the reputation of a poet to tear down the paper partition behind which he works, as it often brings into the light the mortal man in place of the immortal bard.  In the case of Laycock it is not so.  In many respects there is a striking resemblance between the man and his work.

    Physically Laycock was small and spare, of thin wiry frame, which betokened feebleness, and presaged a short life.  A finely formed forehead, taken in conjunction with a carefully cultivated and flowing beard, represented all that was poetic in his personal appearance.  The kindly eye, the gentle voice, and the gracious manner bore testimony to the inner nature of the man.  In repose the face was placid, almost sad, and gave no sign of the joyous spirit which lit up the face when touched by the spark of kindly greeting; or of the buoyancy which animated every feature when humour called it into play.

    Few men could enter more fully into the enjoyments of the social circle.  Fond of a story or a joke, whether his own or someone else's, he was equally good as a listener or a tale teller.  One drawback he suffered from.  Being of a reflective mind and thoughtful disposition, he ruminated much, and thinking in company made him seem of sombre mind.  This, however, is a weakness not uncommon to authors.  The companionship of reading men was his delight, and their conversation his joy.  As a conversationalist, he was not obtrusive.  His contribution often took the form of sly humour.  He appeared to wait his chance, and then put in his joke at the right time, and in the right place.

    For nearly six years Laycock was engaged as Librarian and Hall-keeper at the Stalybridge Mechanics' Institute.  During his stay here the Addison Literary Club was formed, which held its meetings in the rooms of the Institute, Laycock acting as a sort of official host, preparing tea for such of the members as desired to add innocent conviviality to literary disquisition.  These gatherings were well attended, the membership including Thomas Barlow, of Longdendale; James Dawson, of Hartshead; William Quarmby, of Ashton-under-Lyne; and James Burgess, of Droylsden; all of whom were in the ranks of authorship.  The most prominent figure amongst the members, however, was Joseph Raynor Stephens, who united to a curious political eccentricity a love of literature, which led him to seek the society of literary men.  These gatherings were very enjoyable to Laycock, and may be counted amongst his most congenial experiences.

Edwin Waugh
(1817-90)

    Another notable incident in his connection with Stalybridge was a gathering of poets at the Mechanics' Institute for the purpose of promoting a benefit to Thomas Kenworthy, author of the song called "The Iron-Bound Bucket."  The poets in attendance, and who read selections from their own works, included John Chritchly Prince, Ben Brierley, and Edwin Waugh, with all of whom Laycock had a personal as well as a bardic acquaintance.

    Of his own work, Laycock was not as a rule disinclined to speak.  He was always delighted to have an opportunity of reading selections from his works to visitors at his home.  He would bring out these children of his fancy just as a fond mother calls in her "bonny brids" that her friends may see them.  What is natural to the mother is natural to the poet.  To read his own works to others is the poet's privilege, indulged in by poets of the highest genius.  Tennyson himself entertained his friends in this way.  What better entertainment could he have given?  It required but a slight acquaintance with Laycock to know that personal vanity played but a very small part in what he did.

    It is pleasant to find that Laycock admired and appreciated others who worked in his own line.  Vain men never do this.  Admiration of others is a luxury in which the conceited man seldom indulges.  This rare virtue of admiring a competitor was his in a high degree.  He was ever ready to give unstinted praise to the work of another.  Not only did he admire and praise; he advised and helped aspirants to poetic honours.  Dialectic writers who showed merit were sure to find in him a friend.  Often was he asked by them to revise their productions.  On one occasion he spent more than a week at the house of a brother author assisting him to prepare a volume of poems for publication.  The numerous verses he wrote to ambitious rhymsters, conveying sensible advice and timely warnings, further illustrate this generous trait in his character.  The miserable spirit indicated by the saying that "two of a trade can never agree" was never harboured in Laycock's breast.  A poet who wrote in the dialect he looked upon as a comrade, or at least as a friendly rival, certainly never as an antagonist.  He was entirely free from that narrow spirit of jealousy which looks with green eyes upon competing wares.  This littleness of mind never perverted his judgment.  The liberality of his disposition saved him from this paltry spirit.

    It must, however, be said that Laycock at times suffered much mental discomfort from the indifference, neglect, or contempt of others for himself and his work.  Of a keenly sensitive nature, he felt most severely treatment of this kind.  Strange as it may appear, there were papers read, and articles written on Lancashire authors which contained no reference to Laycock.  Even papers professedly dealing with dialect authorship omitted all reference to "Th' Bonny Brid," "Bowton's Yard," or "Ode to th' Sun."  The author of these and other delightful pieces naturally and rightly resented such treatment, for which there was neither warrant nor excuse.

    As the prevailing tone of Laycock's poetry was that of buoyant cheerfulness, so was it the inspiring note of his life.  There was a certain frolicsomeness about him which indicated that boyishness had survived grey hairs.  That spirit of hope, which inspired so much of his verse, was ever with him.  Capable of breaking through those visitations of melancholy, which in his later years were somewhat frequent with him, it enabled him to be glad in circumstances which would have depressed most men beyond measure.

    Love of fun caused him to revel in such escapades as those recorded in his "Billy Armitage," "Th' Kessunin," and "Th' Kesmus Singers."  He had a taste for rollicking fun which preserved him from those fits of depression which so often make the poet's madness.  His mirthfulness was a slightly subdued form of jollity.  In some circumstances he would certainly have been one of a boisterous crew.

    It says much for the soundness of Laycock's training, and the strength of his moral purpose, that despite these natural tendencies towards social pleasures, he kept throughout his life a severe and restraining hand upon himself.  His vivacious temperament, his poetic fervour, his love of company, his enjoyment of sociality were all so many elements of danger or of pleasure, according as they might be used.  Genius has often allowed itself to be destroyed, and oftener still has sold itself to base uses by giving way to social temptations.  Not the least of the services rendered by Laycock is that of showing how the poetic spirit can live along with a chaste and sober life.  Laycock's muse was free of all degrading associations, and only flourished amidst pure surroundings and in a healthy atmosphere.

    In this connection his services to the Temperance Cause ought not to be forgotten.  Amid all the literary fame that he earned, praised by the Spectator, very favourably mentioned by the Athenæum, and other leading journals, admired by his county, encouraged by literary friends, he still remained faithful to a cause often misrepresented, and many times slighted.  On this subject he was ever faithful to his opinions and convictions.

    Neither did he give himself up to mere word-spinning.  He wrote with an object and for a purpose.  He did not murder the citizen to become a poet.  A man of decided political leanings, he used his verse to help his party.  If ever he ran a risk of becoming bitter it was in his political compositions.  In this department he developed a cynical humour which helped to spice an argument or sharpen a point in debate.  Even here his humour salved the wound which the blade of his criticism had made.  His efforts in this direction possibly interfered with his acceptance with that portion of the public who resented his attacks.  But it says something for the poet that he dared also to be a politician.

    Laycock was not a proud man.  He was no literary dandy.  He assumed no airs, and urged no claim to which he was not entitled.  He mixed with common folk, preferring homely ways and homely speech to the patronage of the socially great.  He would converse with boatmen, fishermen, and other working people, entering into their thoughts and keenly appreciating their practical common-sense views.  The dignity of man, and the equality of men, were to him something more than a sentiment to give fervour to verse, or glow to poetical expression.  They served him as the rules to guide his conduct towards his fellows, and to inspire his converse with them.  He won the hearts of men by the respect he showed them.  This kindly feeling of the fisher folk was shown on the day that Laycock was buried.  These humble men gathered together in a pouring rain to follow the remains of their friend to their last resting place, and were with difficulty prevailed upon to forego this mark of respect.  One poor lad, heedless of rain and storm, ran the whole distance of nearly two miles to see the last of the man whose friendliness had touched his heart.  Could Laycock have but known of it, that incident would have been more to him than all the eulogies of the Press and the praise of friends.

    Personal honour came his way slowly, though it did come, and was conferred for his work and worth's sake.  The Manchester Literary Club did justice to Laycock, and honour to itself, by electing him an honorary member.  The Burnley Literary and Philosophical Society paid a similar mark of distinction.  Lastly, a few months before his death, the Blackpool Town Council placed him on its Free Libraries Committee.

    He also received several pleasing recognitions at the hands of his admirers.  On leaving Stalybridge to take the position of Curator to the Whitworth Institute at Fleetwood he was presented with a purse of gold and a beautiful illuminated address.  Later, he was the subject of another tangible demonstration of esteem, which took the form of a general presentation, consisting of £120, in addition to books and pictures, as well as a purse of gold and valuable pictures by local artists from his friends at Oldham.  These were proofs that the worth of the man, and the merits of the poet, were both recognised.

    Samuel Laycock's desire, however, was to belong to the Bardic Brotherhood.  To be counted worthy to take his place on the roll of songsters was the ambition of his life.  To be a mere verse maker and retailer of rhymes was not enough for him.  Belonging as he did to the ranks of the workers, springing from the people, and from the poorest of them, he yet had soul enough to uplift his eyes to the higher ranges of literary effort.  To what extent he justified this desire may not be determined here.  Poet he was—songster he was known to be.  That instinctive discernment which leads men to their true vocation led Laycock to his.  His it was to give tuneful expression to the noble aspirations of the humble poor.

    Laycock worked and lived to good purpose.  He brightened and blessed the lives of multitudes.  Many a fireside has been enlivened by the honest humble rhymes of this Lancashire bard.  Many a social gathering has received increased vivacity from his productions.  To have placed within reach of one's own the means of innocent enjoyment, and to have increased the sum total of harmless mirth, is an achievement worth living for.  This Laycock has done, and more.  He has framed in his verses little pictures of the home-life of Lancashire both faithful and vivid.  These will go down to posterity, and will preserve a correct presentation of one aspect of the common life of to-day.  Thus it is that the poet lives,. not only for his own time, but for the time that is to be.


October, 1894.

――――♦――――


 
RECOLLECTIONS OF THE AUTHOR.

BY HIS SON-IN-LAW,

SIM SCHOFIELD.

(From Warblins fro' an owd Songster, 1894.)

Samuel Laycock
Photograph courtesy of Tameside Local History and Archives.

IT is now nearly twenty years since I first made the acquaintance of the late Samuel Laycock, my much esteemed father-in-law.  At that time I was full of poetic fervour, and formed one of a small band of youthful contributors to the "poet's corner" of several of our local weeklies.  Having written a short piece which somewhat took the fancy of Laycock, I was invited to meet him at his house in Talbot Road, Blackpool.  It was there I saw, for the first time, the author of "Bonny Brid" and "Bowton's Yard."  I well remember the feeling of surprise which I experienced when meeting him.  His portrait I had never seen, but from his writings I had formed an idea in my mind that the author must be a fine, robust, rollicking sort of a Lancashire fellow.  To my utter astonishment I found him to be a thin, slim and wiry person, delicate and frail as a spring flower.  He seemed all nerve and brain, his fine and well-developed forehead being the most conspicuous part of his body.  We had a long walk together, and I received from him some sound advice and sympathetic encouragement.  But what most impressed me at that time was his childlike simplicity, the transparency of his mind, and the gentleness of his heart.

    Some people, who had but a slight acquaintance with and superficial insight into Laycock's character, have misunderstood and misjudged him by mistaking the innocent simplicity of his manner for personal vanity.  That this was a mistaken impression of the real open-hearted man no one knows better than the writer, who for the last ten years of his life got as close to the inner life of Laycock as any living being.  So enthusiastic and frank was he in conversation, that it would have been almost an impossibility for him to conceal from his listeners the thoughts that were passing through his mirror-like mind.  Frequently have I seen him become so earnest, and throw so much of his soul into his conversation, that he has had to stop speaking from sheer physical exhaustion.  He had a most gentle and mellow voice, and, when a lad, he used to sing in a village choir.  It was the winning and child-like simplicity of his manner which revealed the deep sincerity of a kind, innocent, and open heart.  A more generous and sympathetic man it would have been difficult to meet with.

    There was, however, one striking peculiarity about Laycock's face which was somewhat comical to the close observer of his facial expression.  He had a most peculiar twitching about one of his eyes.  Of this he was quite conscious, for I remember his telling me an amusing incident arising out of it.  On one occasion he was in the company of a number of his friends.  Among them was a lady who was evidently not acquainted with this nervous movement of his eye.  Mistaking it for something of a different character and meaning, she became quite indignant, and left the room in disgust, concluding that he had been making too free with her by his frequent and unseemly "winks."  On the matter being afterwards explained to her, quite an outburst of laughter was evoked, in which Laycock joined heartily.

    Between my first and second visit to Laycock there was a break of about ten years, but all the while I continued to be an admirer of his writings.  The second time I saw him was at his house in Foxhall-road Blackpool, where I met for the first time the subject of his tender and deeply-touching poem, "Welcome, Bonny Brid."  From this time my visits to his house became very frequent, and much as I admired the author of this beautiful poem—"Bonny Brid," I gradually grew fonder of the subject than of the writer of the piece.  Eventually I persuaded the "Brid" to leave her cozy Blackpool nest, and so my friendship for the poet became exceeded by my love for his daughter.  At our wedding party the father read a poem and hit off the situation to a nicety.  In lines instinct with his quaint and delicate humour and fond fatherly love, he wrote:


Two year' sin' tha sought my acquaintance,
    An' admired oather me or mi song;
At least tha pretended to do so;
    But aw saw throo thi game ole along.
We had eawr nice walks in a mornin',
    An' mi company then wur o reet;
But there's one little matter aw noticed,
    Thi een wur on th' brid-cage at neet!
.            .            .            .            .            .            .
Neaw, it's pleasant to ha' one's good wishes,
    An' these yo'll tak' with yo' awm sure;
An' what is there moor to feel preawd on
    Than a hearty "God bless yo'!" fro' th' poor.
A lovin' an' good mother's blessin'
    Is o' far greater value nor gowd;
Yo' may find human nature i'th' crescent,
    But yo'll find a deol moor on't i' th' fowd!

 

A Laycock poem in broad-sheet form.
Courtesy of Tameside Local History and Archives.

    A majority of Laycock's literary friends, and the Reviewers of his works, are of opinion that his poem, "Bonny Brid," is the best he has written.  One of the leading journals of the day declares it to be "worthy of the best effort of Burns."  The story of the writing of this exquisite poem, which has never been told, may be of some little interest to the admirers of the poet.  Let me give it as he himself related it to me.  It was written a little over thirty years ago, during the trying times of the "Cotton Panic," and when bread was scarce in many a lowly Lancashire cottage.  It was at the time the babe was being born that the father wrote the poem.  Instead of following the example of Artemus Ward, by rushing out of his house with a gun, climbing to the top of a building (from which he had to be brought down by "mane force") to fire a "Nashunal Saloot" in welcome of the little stranger, Laycock sat down in a corner of his humble dwelling and penned this pretty poem.  He said he never wrote a poem in so short a space of time, and that then, if ever, he was under the spell of inspiration.  The verses were written for a son, and when Laycock was informed that the new-comer was a daughter, he made it known that he had written a poetic welcome for a "lad," and no one, he said, would persuade him to alter it.  And so the "Bonnie Lad" that was to be, turned out a "Bonnie Lass."  Laycock took the poem and read it to a Mr. George Cheetham, a very dear literary friend of his.  His friend told him it was the best piece he had ever written, and that by all means it ought to be put in a small volume of his poems, which were at that time being printed by the late John Heywood.  Laycock was just in time to get the poem inserted in the book, and on the volume being issued, "Tha'rt welcome, Bonny Brid" was at once singled out for special notice.  It speedily became a universal favourite, finding its way to thousands of hearts and homes.  So great was the demand for the poem that the author published it in broad-sheet form, many thousand copies of it being circulated in this manner, along with others of his "Cotton Panic" lyrics.  The poem did much to win for him the well deserved title of "The Laureate of the Cotton Panic."

    It may not be generally known that Laycock had once to figure in a law-suit in order to defend the authorship of his popular poem, "Bowton's Yard."  A literary pirate had published and was selling it in broad-sheet form as his own production.  On learning this Laycock entered an action against the firm which had printed his copyright poem, the person pretending to be the writer of the poem being a "man of straw."  Mr. Cobbett, of Manchester, took up the case for Laycock in the County Court, and he soon established the poet's claim to the authorship.  In awarding the plaintiff £5 for damages, the judge paid a flattering compliment to Laycock, remarking that the poem was an "honour and credit to his genius."

Bowton's Yard, Stalybridge.
Photograph courtesy of Tameside Local History and Archives.


    The more closely I became acquainted with Laycock, the more I admired him as a man.  True, he had his failings; but, as Goldsmith wrote in his "Deserted Village"—


Ev'n his failings leaned to virtue's side.


    Like most other poets, Laycock was not a man of business, although he sometimes thought he was.  He could easily be taken advantage of by the money-making man of the world.  It would be difficult to find a greater hater of cant and snobbery than he was, and at the same time one who was more the embodiment of genuine kindness, trust, and forgiveness.  If it were in keeping with the fitness of things to make known the many secret acts of self-sacrifice and humble goodness in his later life, but which are alone known to the family, he would stand revealed a greater man than he was poet.

    Another beautiful trait in Laycock's character was his great fondness for flowers and little children.  During his visits to my house he became much attached to a neighbour's child who was accustomed to come and see us.  He would often be seen with "Little James" in the garden, or leading him through the village lanes, and talking to him as they went along hand in hand together.  The child, who was then not four years old, was equally fond of the poet, and could give a very intelligent rendering of his poem, "Bowton's Yard."

    There was, however, one feature in the character of Laycock which often brought him trouble and pain.  He was an extremely sensitive man.  Generously considerate for the feelings of others, he could not bear without pain anything approaching a slight upon himself.  I frequently told him that a person with such a sensitive nature as he had ought to live in a perfect world, or in some ideal state of society, for he was assuredly out of his sphere in this busy, money-making, work-a-day world.  So very impressionable was he that he could scarcely forbear writing some sympathetic lines of comfort and cheer to any of his friends who were in sorrow or trouble.  He could have been easily induced to write a special piece for any laudable object or deserving institution.  He has penned scores of poems of this nature, many of which have never been published.  It is to be regretted that he did not write more of general and less of passing interest.  Of this weakness he was conscious when in a reflective mood, as will be clearly seen in some of the lines of his poem in the book—"What! another cracked Poet!"

Ben Brierley
(1825-96)

    Sometimes Laycock would devote a day or two to the writing of a poem to read at some special gathering.  Then he would go ten or twenty miles to read it, and return home paid with a vote of thanks for his pains.  His friend, Edwin Waugh, once remonstrated with him for doing this, and, in language a little more forcible than polite, he said to him, "Sam, theaw'rt a d— foo' for doin' it."  Some people, to their discredit be it said, took advantage of this amiability, and Laycock's resolution to overcome the failing was often overpowered by his sympathy.  I remember his telling me that on one occasion he wrote a piece, and went some miles in a weak state of health, and through a down-pour of rain, to read it.  The poem was heartily applauded by the audience, and at the close of the gathering votes of thanks were given to the chairman, speakers, singers, and tea-brewers.  The poor poet, who had made such a self-sacrifice to serve them, was, however, forgotten, and left to pay his cab fares, which he could ill afford at that time.  Ben Brierley once told me that he had had similar experiences.  One can well imagine the effect of such treatment upon a nature so keenly sensitive as was that of Laycock.

    The temperance cause had in Laycock a strong advocate and sincere supporter.  He wrote much on the question, and yet some of his best friends were the publicans, and many of them were among the best subscribers to the valuable testimonial given him some years since, and to his latest book of poems.  One of his publican friends stopped him in the street, a few weeks before he died, and told him how much he and his wife enjoyed reading his new volume—"Warblin's fro' an' Owd Songster."  "The fact is," remarked Boniface, "I cannot get my wife to bed when we have closed the house, she is so taken up with reading your book."

    During the last few years of his life, Laycock was a great reader of books.  He would often spend eight or ten hours in a day reading.  The companionship of good books was a source of solace to him in his declining years.  A Blackpool old book seller informed me that he was one of his best customers.  Sometimes he would come home with as many old books as he could well carry, and he did not buy them for mere show, but for reading.

    One of the most painful chapters in the history of Laycock's life was the twelve months he spent in the town of Oldham.  Frequently have I heard him say that he could never look back to that period without a pang of pain.  This was a time of adversity with him and his family, but in those dark days he had a splendid helpmeet, his wife being one of the hardest working women I ever knew.  Laycock had a book-stall in the Oldham market, and often did it happen that he would stand by his stall the whole of the day without selling a single book.  He used to tell me if he had sold quack medicine and pills, or "black puddings," or books on "How to make a good Divi," he might have done a brisk business, but such books as he then sold were at a discount.  A dear old friend of his, who was wont to call and see him once informed him that many people in Oldham did not know of the existence of such an author as Laycock.  At this remark the indignant songster burst forth in the following strains, the words of which have never been published in any of his collected works:—


What! are folk soa ignorunt i' Owdham
    That they need to be towd who I am?
Well, aw wish aw could swear a bit, Bardsley,
    For aw'm fairly on pins to say "damn."
It's a darkish lookeawt for yung authors,
    'At are toilin' an' pantin' fur fame,
If thurty lung years o' hard service
    Fails to get a poor fellow a name!

Let's hope this will sarve us a warnin'
    To all would-be spinners o' rhyme,
That, unless they do summat moor useful,
    They'll nobbut be wastin' their time.
If they'll mak' a few peawnds o' black puddin's,
    An' rub 'em eawtside weel wi' fat,
Then stond Tommyfield on a Monday—
    They may do midlin' weel eawt o' that.

Will poetry fill hungry bellies?
    Or con yo' feed pigs wi' a joke?
Of course not, an' therefore they're useless
    To practical, sensible folk.
A chap 'at's a talent for rhymin'
    Should live in a suitable sphere;
He met do a good business in "Saturn,"
    But we haven't mitch use for him here.

Don't misunderstand me, friend Bardsley,
    For these raps aren't for Owdham alone;
They're intended for th' pauper i'th' workheause
    As mitch as for th' Queen on her throne.
Folk have rayther moor sense nor they had, mon,
    An' if every vain cock 'at may crow
Expects to be paid for his nuisance,
    Why, he'll be disappointed—that's o!

Isaac Bardsley
(1830-1907)


    For some years previous to his death, Laycock had a strong desire to see a complete edition of the best of his life's work brought out.  The two small volumes he published in 1864 and 1875 contained but a limited portion of his writings; and these were out of print.  In the Spring of last year he commenced to prepare for the press his complete works, under the title—"Warblin's fro' an' Owd Songster."  He lived to finish this literary labour, and to see his book successfully brought out, and well received by the press and public.  How appropriately it might have been sung of his closing earthly life—


Now the labourer's task is o'er.


    During the time the book was in preparation for the press, Laycock stayed at my house.  Mr. Clegg, of Oldham, was the publisher of the volume, and it was convenient for the author to be near the publisher's office.  The work of publishing was to Laycock a labour of love, and he performed it with unbounded delight.  Every proof he would carefully revise himself.  The business part of the work he mostly delegated to me, and I did it with as much interest and pleasure as he himself would have experienced.  In deciding what pieces to leave out of the book he would frequently be guided by the advice I gave him, but there were times when he would not, for he was one of those who believed an author was the best judge of his own writings.  There were nearly 400 pieces to select from, out of which only about 200 were required to make a good-sized book.  A number of them were of a semi-public interest, or of a personal nature, some of which he would insist on publishing.  I am convinced that a few of the poems he selected would have been better left out, and others he put aside might have well taken their place (see "To a Literary Friend").  I well remember one short poem he read to me,—"To a Cricket."  When he had read it, he said—"Do you think this is worth publishing?"  Certainly, I replied, it is really a pretty little gem and has in it the elements and genuine ring of good poetry.  The piece was accordingly published, and, when the volume was issued, Mr. George Milner, President of the Manchester Literary Club, in an article on Laycock and his book, singled this piece out for special notice.  He said:—"This is true poetry, despite its humble dress, and it is a pity that Laycock has not given us more in the same manner.  Of such a quaint fancy Herrick himself would not have been ashamed."  I merely mention this to show that an author himself is not always the best judge of what he has written, for Laycock thought little of the piece I have named, and would probably have left it out but for the pressure I put upon him to include it.

    In religious matters Laycock was very broad in his sympathies, and held most advanced views.  True, he had abandoned some of the creeds of his early life; but he had as firm a belief in the reality of a future state as he had of this.  Frequently have I heard him declare that death had no terrors for him.  He looked upon death, he said, simply like falling asleep, with this difference—that the soul of the good man would immediately awaken to a new and noblier life in the spirit land.  In this simple and beautiful faith he lived and died, and, when I stood by his bedside, and saw him breathe his last, I felt that I had lost, for a time, both a father and a friend, and that one of the gentlest and purest souls I had ever known had peacefully passed away.

Auburn Bank, Moston,
                                              October, 1894.

 


 

[Home] [Biographical] [Warblin's] [Kesmus Singin'] [Election of M.P.] [Broadsheets] [Miscellanea] [Main Index] [Site Search]

Correspondence should be sent to Webmaster@Gerald-Massey.org.uk