Laycock: from "Modern Yorkshire Poets", by William Andrews, FRHS,
A prefatory sketch of
the author, by William Trevor, 1894.
A supplementary sketch
of the author, by James Middleton, 1894.
Recollection of the
author, by his son-in-law, Sim Schofield, 1894.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
SUPPLEMENTARY SKETCH OF THE AUTHOR.
(From Warblins fro' an owd Songster, 1894.)
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
RECOLLECTIONS OF THE AUTHOR.
BY HIS SON-IN-LAW,
(From Warblins fro' an owd Songster, 1894.)
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 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
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!"
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,
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
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!
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
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,