HOME-LIFE OF THE LANCASHIRE FACTORY FOLK DURING THE COTTON
The following chapters are reprinted from the columns of the Manchester
Examiner and Times, to which Paper they were contributed by the Author
during the year 1862.
AMONG THE BLACKBURN
"Poor Tom's a-cold. Who gives anything to poor Tom?"
― King Lear.
AW WOD THIS WAR WUR ENDED.
There's nobuddy knows wod we'n gooan
Sin' th' factories stopt at fost,
An' heaw mitch life's bin wasted too,
An heaw mitch brass we'n lost;
Aw trys sometimes to reckon up,
Bud keawntin connud mend id;
When aw sit deawn wi nowt to sup—
Aw wod this war wur ended.
A boddy's lifetime's nod so lung—
Nod them as lives to th' lungust;
Sooa dusend id seem sadly wrung
For th' healthiest an' strungust
To give three wul years' pith an' pride
To rust an' ruin blended,
An ravin up o'th' loss beside?—
Aw wod this war wur ended!
A dacent chap ull do his best,
An' eawt o' wod he's earnin
Ged th' owdest son a trade, an' th' rest
O' th' lads a bit o' learnin;
Bud iv he's eawt o' wark; wey then,
His childer grow up into men—
Aw wod this war wur ended!
As times hes bin, aw owt some "tin"
For shop stuff ut Lung Nailey's,
An' case aw cuddent pay 't, yo sin,
He's gooan an' sent th' bum bailies ;
They'n sowd us up, booath pot an' pooak,
An' paid th' owd scoor off splendid;
They just dun wod they will wi fooak.—
Aw wod this war wur ended!
Neaw aw feer noather dun nor bum,
Wi o their kith an' kin'—
They'll fetch nowt eawt o' th' heawse, by
Becose there's nowt left in.
Aw'm welly weary o mi life,
An' cuddend, if aw'd spend id,
Ged scran for th' kids, mysel, an' th' wife.—
Aw wod this war wur ended!
Some forrud foos ull rant reet hard,
An' toke a deal o' nonsense;
Bud let um gabble tell theyr terd,
Id's reet enuff i' one sense;
They waste their brass an' rack their brains,
Yet, be nod yo offended,
They'll ged their labour for their pains,
Bud th' war's nod theerby ended!
Some factory maisters tokes for t' Seawth
Wi' a smooth an' oily tongue,
Bud iv they'd sense they'd shut their
Or sing another song;
Let liberty nod slavery
Be fostered an' extended—
Four million slaves mun yet be free,
An' then t' war will be ended.
Blackburn is one of the towns which has suffered more than the rest in the
present crisis, and yet a stranger to the place would not see anything in
its outward appearance indicative of this adverse nip of the times.
But to any one familiar with the town in its prosperity, the first glance
shows that there is now something different on foot there, as it did to me
on Friday last.
The morning was wet and raw, a state of weather in
which Blackburn does not wear an Arcadian aspect, when trade is good.
Looking round from the front of the railway station, the first thing which
struck me was the great number of tall chimneys which were smokeless, and
the unusual clearness of the air. Compared with the appearance of
the town when in full activity, there is now a look of doleful holiday, an
unnatural fast-day quietness about everything. There were few carts
astir, and not so many people in the streets as usual, although so many
are out of work there. Several, in the garb of factory operatives,
were leaning upon the bridge, and others were trailing along in twos and
threes, looking listless and cold; but nobody seemed in a hurry.
Very little of the old briskness was visible. When the mills are in
full work, the streets are busy with heavy loads of twist and cloth; and
the workpeople hurry in blithe crowds to and from the factories, full of
life and glee, for factory labour is not so hurtful to healthy life as it
was thirty years ago, nor as some people think it now, who don't know much
There were few people at the shop windows, and fewer
inside. I went into some of the shops to buy trifling things of
different kinds, making inquiries about the state of trade meanwhile, and,
wherever I went, I met with the same gloomy answers. They were doing
nothing, taking nothing; and they didn't know how things would end.
They had the usual expenses going on, with increasing rates, and a
fearfully lessened income, still growing less. And yet they durst
not complain; but had to contribute towards the relief of their starving
neighbours, sometimes even when they themselves ought to be receiving
relief, if their true condition was known. I heard of several
shopkeepers who had not taken more across their counters for weeks past
than would pay their rents, and some were not doing even so much as that.
This is one painful bit of the kernel of life in Blackburn just now, which
is concealed by the quiet shell of outward appearance.
Beyond this unusual quietness, a stranger will not see much
of the pinch of the times, unless he goes deeper; for the people of
Lancashire never were remarkable for hawking their troubles much about the
world. In the present untoward pass, their deportment, as a whole,
has been worthy of themselves, and their wants have been worthily met by
their own neighbours. What it may become necessary to do hereafter,
does not yet appear. It is a calamity arising, partly from a wise
national forbearance, which will repay itself richly in the long run.
apart from that widespread poverty which is already known and relieved,
there is, in times like the present, always a certain small proportion,
even of the poorest, who will "eat their cake to th' edge," and then
starve bitterly before they will complain. These are the flower of
our working population; they are of finer stuff than the common staple of
human nature. Amongst such there must be many touching cases of
distress which do not come to light, even by accident. If they did,
nobody can doubt the existence of a generous will to relieve them
To meet such cases, it is pleasant to learn, however, as
I did, that there is a large amount of private benevolence at work in
Blackburn, industriously searching out the most deserving cases of
distress. Of course, this kind of benevolence never gets into the
statistics of relief, but it will not the less meet with its reward.
I heard also of one or two wealthy men whose names do not appear as
contributors to the public relief fund, who have preferred to spend
considerable sums of money in this private way. In my wanderings
about the town I heard also of several instances of poor people holding
relief tickets, who, upon meeting with some temporary employment, have
returned their tickets to the committee for the benefit of those less
fortunate than themselves. Waiving for the present all mention of
the opposite picture; these things are alike honourable to both rich and
Architect’s drawing of Blackburn Cotton Exchange, 1863. The
Cotton Exchange could have been Blackburn’s most impressive
building, but didn’t reach completion, having been started just as
the cotton famine crippled Lancashire’s textile industry. Above ―
Courtesy of the 'Cotton
Town digitization project.'
A little past noon, on Friday, I set out to visit the great
stone quarries on the southern edge of the town, where upwards of six
hundred of the more robust factory operatives are employed in the lighter
work of the quarries. This labour consists principally of breaking
up the small stone found in the facings of the solid rock, for the purpose
of road-mending and the like. Some, also, are employed in
agricultural work, on the ground belonging to the fine new workhouse
there. These factory operatives, at the workhouse grounds, and in
the quarries, are paid one shilling a day ― not much, but much better than
the bread of idleness; and for the most part, the men like it better, I am
The first quarry I walked into was the one known by the name
of "Hacking's Shorrock Delph." There I sauntered about, looking at
the scene. It was not difficult to distinguish the trained quarrymen
from the rest. The latter did not seem to be working very hard at
their new employment, and it can hardly be expected that they should,
considering the great difference between it and their usual labour.
Leaning on their spades and hammers, they watched me with a natural
curiosity, as if wondering whether I was a new ganger, or a contractor
come to buy stone. There were men of all ages amongst them, from
about eighteen years old to white-headed men past sixty. Most of
them looked healthy and a little embrowned by recent exposure to the
weather; and here and there was a pinched face which told its own tale.
I got into talk with a quiet, hardy-looking man, dressed in soil-stained
corduroy. He was a kind of overlooker. He told me that there
were from eighty to ninety factory hands employed in that quarry.
"But," said he, "it varies a bit, yo known. Some on 'em gets knocked
up neaw an' then, an' they han to stop a-whoam a day or two; an' some on 'em
connot ston gettin' weet through ― it mays 'em ill; an' here an' theer one
turns up at doesn't like the job at o' ― they'd rayther clem. There
is at's both willin' an' able; thoose are likely to get a better job,
somewheer. There's othersome at's willin' enough, but connot ston th'
racket. They dun middlin', tak 'em one wi' another, an' considerin'
that they're noan use't to th' wark. Th' hommer fo's leet wi' 'em;
but we dunnot like to push 'em so mich, yo known ― for what's a shillin' a
day? Aw know some odd uns i' this delph at never tastes fro mornin'
till they'n done at neet, ― an' says nought abeawt it, noather. But
they'n families. Beside, fro wake lads, sick as yon, at's bin
train't to nought but leet wark, an' a warm place to wortch in, what con
yo expect? We'n had a deeal o' bother wi 'em abeawt bein' paid for
weet days, when they couldn't wortch. They wur not paid for weet
days at th' furst; an' they geet it into their yeds at Shorrock were to
blame. Shorrock's th' paymaister, under th' Guardians. But,
then, he nobbut went accordin' to orders, yo known. At last, th'
Board sattle't that they mut be paid for weet and dry, ― an' there's bin
quietness sin'. They wortchen fro eight till five; an', sometimes,
when they'n done, they drilln o' together i'th road yon ― just like
sodiurs ― an' then they walken away i' procession. But stop a bit; ―
just go in yon, an' aw'll come to yo in a two-thre minutes."
from the . . . .
NEW YORK TIMES
26 November, 1862.
The returns of out-relief presented to the Board of
Guardians, show a further increase of destitution. The number
of persons relieved in the Union during the week was 20,082.
The chief constable's return shows 45 mills are entirely closed,
throwing idle no fewer than 17,337 persons. With the small
average of two persons for every worker, there are, therefore,
35,000 dependent on charity for support, but which number, on making
allowance for other trades likewise depressed, may be extended to
36,000 who are relieved to an amount "considerable under 2s. per
head," from all sources. We believe the Committee contemplates
taking charge of 20,000 and of relieving them with 1s. 6d. each per
week, 6d. below the sum stated by Sir JAMES
to maintain life and health.
returned, accompanied by the paymaster, who offered to conduct me through
the other delphs. Running over his pay-book, he showed me, by
figures opposite each man's name, that, with not more than a dozen
exceptions, they had all families of children, ranging in number from two
to nine. He then pointed out the way over a knoll, to the next
quarry, which is called "Hacking's Gillies' Delph," saying that he would
follow me thither. I walked on, stopping for him on the nearest edge
of the quarry, which commanded a full view of the men below. They
seemed to be waiting very hard for something just then, and they stared at
me, as the rest had done; but in a few minutes, just as I began to hear
the paymaster's footsteps behind me, the man at the nearest end of the
quarry called "Shorrock!" and a sudden activity woke up along the line.
Shorrock then pointed to a corner of the delph where two of these poor
fellows had been killed the week before, by stones thrown out from a fall
We went down through the delph, and up the slope, by the
place where the older men were at work in the poorhouse grounds.
Crossing the Darwen road, we passed the other delphs, where the scene was
much the same as in the rest, except that more men were employed there.
As we went on, one poor fellow was trolling a snatch of song, as he
hammered away at the stones. "Thir't merry, owd mon," said I, in
passing. "Well," replied he, "cryin' 'll do nought, wilt?" And
then, as I walked away, he shouted after me, with a sort of sad smile,
"It's a poor heart at never rejoices, maister."
Provision-shop where goods are obtained for tickets
issued by the Manchester and Salford
Illustrated London News, November 29, 1862.
quarries, we waited below, until the men had struck work for the day, and
the whole six hundred came trooping down the road, looking hard at me as
they went by, and stopping here and there, in whispering groups. The
paymaster told me that one-half of the men's wages was paid to them in
tickets for bread ― in each case given to the shopkeeper to whom the
receiver of the ticket owed most money ― the other half was paid to them
in money every Saturday.
Blackburn soup kitchen voucher, 1862. Vouchers
such a these were distributed by the clergy and other relief
organisations to unemployed mill workers during the Cotton Famine.
Tickets were also issued for bread and coal
― courtesy of the 'Cotton Town
Before returning to town I learnt that
twenty of the more robust men, who had worked well for their shilling a
day in the quarries, had been picked out by order of the Board of
Guardians, to be sent to the scene of the late disaster, in Lincolnshire,
where employment had been obtained for them, at the rate of 3s. 4d. per
day. They were to muster at six o'clock next morning to breakfast at
the soup kitchen, after which they were to leave town by the seven o'clock
I resolved to be up and see them off. On retiring to
bed at the "Old Bull," a good-tempered fellow, known by the name of
"Stockings," from the fact of his being "under-boots," promised to waken
me by six o'clock; and so I ended the day, after watching "Stockings"
write "18" on the soles of my boots, with a lump of chalk.
"Stockings" might as well have kept his bed on Saturday morning. My
room was close to the ancient tower, left standing in the parish
churchyard; and, at five o'clock, the beautiful bells of St Marie's struck
up, filling my little chamber with that heart-stirring music, which, as
somebody has well said, "sounds like a voice from the middle ages."
I could not make out what all this early melody meant; for I had forgotten
that it was the Queen's birthday.
The old tower was in full view
from my bed, and I lay there a while looking at it, and listening to the
bells, and dreaming of Whalley Abbey, and of old features of life in
picturesque Blackburnshire, now passed away. I felt no more
inclination for sleep; and when the knock came to my door, I was dressed
There were more people in the streets than I expected,
and the bells were still ringing merrily. I found the soup kitchen a
lively scene. The twenty men were busy at breakfast, and there was a
crowd waiting outside to see them off. There were several members of
the committee in the kitchen, and amongst them the Rev. Joseph V. Meaney,
Catholic priest, went to and fro in cheerful chat. After breakfast,
each man received four pounds of bread and one pound of cheese for the
day's consumption. In addition to this, each man received one
shilling; to which a certain active member of the committee added
threepence in each case. Another member of the committee then handed
a letter to each of the only three or four out of the twenty who were able
to write, desiring each man to write back to the committee, ― not all at
once, but on different days, after their arrival. After this, he
addressed them in the following words :―
"Now, I hope that every man will
conduct himself so as to be a credit to himself and an honour to
Blackburn. This work may not prove to be such as you will like, and
you must not expect it to be so. But, do your best; and, if you find
that there is any chance of employment for more men of the same class as
yourselves, you must write and let us know, so as to relieve the distress
of others who are left behind you. There will be people waiting to
meet you before you get to your journey's end; and, I have no doubt, you
will meet with every fair encouragement. One-half of your wages will
be paid over to each man there; the other half will be forwarded here, for
the benefit of your families, as you all know. Now go, and do your
duty to the best of your power, and you will never regret it. I wish
you all success."
At half-past six the men left the kitchen for the
station. I lingered behind to get a basin of the soup, which I
relished mightily. At the station I found a crowd of wives,
children, and friends of those who were going away. Amongst the
rest, Dr Rushton, the vicar of Blackburn, and his lady, had come to see
them off. Here a sweet little young wife stood on the edge of the
platform, with a pretty bareheaded child in her arms, crying as if her
heart would break. Her husband now and then spoke a consoling word
to her from the carriage window. They had been noticed sharing their
breakfast together at the kitchen.
A little farther on, a poor old
Irishwoman was weeping bitterly. The Rev. Mr Meaney went up to her,
and said, "Now, Mrs Davis, I thought you had more sense than to cry."
"Oh," said a young Irishwoman, standing beside her, "sure, she's losin'
her son from her." "Well," said the clergyman, cheeringly, "it's not
your husband, woman." "Ah, thin," replied the young woman, "sure,
it's all she has left of him." On the door of one compartment of the
carriage there was the following written label :― "Fragile, with care."
"How's this, Dennis?" said the Catholic priest to a young fellow nearest
the door; "I suppose it's because you're all Irishmen inside there."
In another compartment the lads kept popping their heads out, one after
another, shouting farewells to their relatives and friends, after which
they struck up, "There's a good time coming!" One wag of a fellow
suddenly called out to his wife on the platform, "Aw say, Molly, just run
for thoose tother breeches o' mine. They'n come in rarely for weet
weather." One of his companions replied, "Thae knows hoo cannot get
'em, Jack. Th' pop-shops are noan oppen yet." One hearty cheer
arose as the train started, after which the crowd dribbled away from the
I returned to the soup kitchen, where the wives, children,
and mothers of the men who had gone were at breakfast in the inner
compartment of the kitchen. On the outer side of the partition five
or six pinched-looking men had straggled in to get their morning meal.
When they had all done but one, who was left reared against
the wooden partition finishing his soup, the last of those going away
turned round and said, "Sam, theaw'rt noan as tickle abeawt thi mate as
thae use't to be." "Naw," replied the other, "it'll not do to be
nice these times, owd mon. But, thae use't to think thisel' aboon
porritch, too, Jone. Aw'll shake honds wi' tho i' thae's a mind, owd
dog." "Get forrud wi' that stuff, an' say nought," answered Jone.
I left Sam at his soup, and went up into the town. In the course of
the day I sat some hours in the Boardroom, listening to the relief cases;
but of this, and other things, I will say more in my next.
Cotton Famine Relief Office, Stalybridge.
Courtesy Tameside Local Studies and Archives Centre.
A little after ten o'clock on Saturday forenoon, I went into the
Boardroom, in the hope of catching there some glimpses of the real state
of the poor in Blackburn just now, and I was not disappointed; for amongst
the short, sad complainings of those who may always be heard of in such a
place, there was many a case presented itself which gave affecting proof
of the pressure of the times. Although it is not here where one must
look for the most enduring and unobtrusive of those who suffer; nor for
the poor traders, who cannot afford to wear their distress upon their
sleeves, so long as things will hold together with them at all; nor for
that rare class which is now living upon the savings of past labour ― yet,
there were many persons, belonging to one or other of these classes, who
applied for relief evidently because they had been driven unwillingly to
this last bitter haven by a stress of weather which they could not bide
There was a large attendance of the guardians; and they
certainly evinced a strong wish to inquire carefully into each case, and
to relieve every case of real need. The rate of relief given is this
(as you will have seen stated by Mr Farnall elsewhere) :― "To single able
bodied men, 3s. for three days' work. To the man who had a wife and
two children, 6s. for six days' work, and he would have 2s. 6d. added to
the 6s., and perhaps a pair of clogs for one of his children. To a
man who had a wife and four children, 10s. was paid for six days' labour,
and in addition 4s., and sometimes 4s. 6d., was given to him, and also
bits of clothing and other things which he absolutely wanted."
Extract from the . . . .
NEW YORK TIMES
26 November, 1862.
So far as the statistics of the Relief Committee have been made up,
it appears that the distress in this town is steadily and fearfully
increasing. The police returns of the state of employment in
mills are as follows: Number fully employed, 3,813; five days 663;
four days, 2,276; three days 7,181; two days 665; and totally
unemployed, 12,874. The number out of work unconnected with
the mills is estimated at 600, and the total weekly loss of wages at
£13,500. No less than 41½ per cent.
of the entire population are now receiving relief from the
Committed, the numbers being 8,617 cases, comprising 34,227 persons.
In addition to this, 330 females have been employed at the
sewing-schools, and 900 persons supplied with nutritious food from
the sick kitchen. This increased is the largest yet reported
since the cotton crises began.
The avenues of the poor offices are utterly impassable except
by the interference of the police officer in attendance, and the
Poor law officials are engaged until 9 and even 10 o'clock at night
in the performance of their duties.
The fever in Preston is spreading. It has chiefly
arisen in families where there has been a long-continued want of
nutritious aliment or a protracted sameness of food among the
paupers operatives. It is said by the medical officers to be
the same as the fever which raged so virulently not long ago in
Ireland, with similar causatives. The Relief Committee have
wisely varied the quality of the food given to those dependent on
their charity, and they are now dispensing very excellent meat soup,
which is joyfully received.
Sitting at that Board I saw some curious ― some painful things. It
was, as one of the Board said to me, "Hard work being there."
case, a poor, pale, clean-looking, and almost speechless woman presented
herself. Her thin and sunken eyes, as well as her known
circumstances, explained her want sufficiently, and I heard one of the
guardians whisper to another, "That's a bad case. If it wasn't for
private charity they'd die of starvation." "Yes," replied another;
"that woman's punished, I can see."
Now and then a case came on in
which the guardians were surprised to see a man ask for relief whom
everybody had supposed to be in good circumstances. The first
applicant, after I entered the room, was a man apparently under forty
years of age, a beerhouse keeper, who had been comparatively well off
until lately. The tide of trouble had whelmed him over. His
children were all factory operatives, and all out of work; and his wife
was ill. "What; are you here, John?" said the chairman to a
decent-looking man who stepped up in answer to his name. The poor
fellow blushed with evident pain, and faltered out his story in few and
simple words, as if ashamed that anything on earth should have driven him
at last to such an extremity as this.
In another case, a clean old decrepid man presented himself. "What's brought you here, Joseph?"
said the chairman. "Why; aw've nought to do, ― nor nought to tak
to." "What's your daughter, Ellen, doing, Joseph?" "Hoo's eawt
o' wark." "And what's your wife doing?" "Hoo's bin bed-fast
aboon five year." The old man was relieved at once; but, as he
walked away, he looked hard at his ticket, as if it wasn't exactly the
kind of thing; and, turning round, he said, "Couldn't yo let me be a
sweeper i'th streets, istid, Mr Eccles?"
A clean old woman came up,
with a snow-white nightcap on her head. "Well, Mary; what do you
want?" "Aw could like yo to gi mo a bit o' summat, Mr Eccles, ― for
aw need it" "Well, but you've some lodgers, haven't you, Mary?"
"Yigh; aw've three." "Well; what do they pay you?" "They pay'n
mo nought. They'n no wark, ― an' one connot turn 'em eawt."
AW'VE HARD WARK TO HOWD
UP MI YED.
WHEEREVER aw trudge neaw-a-days,
Aw'm certain to see some owd friend
Lookin' anxiously up i' my face,
An' axin' when times are beawn t' mend.
Aw'm surprised heaw folk live, aw declare,
Wi' th' clammin' an' starvin' they'n stood;
God bless 'em, heaw patient they are!
Aw wish aw could help 'em, aw would.
But really aw've nowt aw con give,
Except it's a bit ov a song,
An' th' Muses han hard wark to live,
One's bin hamper'd an' powfagg'd so long;
Aw've tried to look cheerful an' bowd,
An' yo know what aw've written an' said,
But iv truth mun be honestly towd,
Aw've hard wark to howd up mi yed!
There'll be some on us missin' aw deawt
Iv there isn't some help for us soon;
We'n bin jostled an' tumbled abeawt,
Till we're welly o knocked eawt o' tune;
Eawr Margit, hoo frets an' hoo cries,
As hoo sits theer, wi' th' choilt on her knee
An' aw connot blame th' lass, for hoo tries
To be cheerful an' gradely wi' me.
Yon Yankees may think it's rare fun,
Kickin' up sich a shindy o'th' globe;
Confound 'em, aw wish they'd get done,
For they'd weary eawt th' patience o' Job!
We shall have to go help 'em, that's clear,
Iv they dunno get done very soon;
Iv eawr Volunteers wur o'er theer,
They'd sharpen 'em up to some tune.
Neaw it's hard for a mortal to tell
Heaw long they may plague us this road;
Iv they'd hurt nob'dy else but thersel,
They met fo eawt and feight till they'rn stow'd.
Aw think it's high time someb'dy spoke,
When so many are cryin' for bread;
For there's hundreds an' theawsands o' folk,
Deawn i' Lancashire hardly hawve fed.
Th' big men, when they yer eawr complaint,
May treat it as "gammon " an' "stuff,"
An' tell us we use to' much paint,
But we dunnot daub paint on enuff,
If they think it's noan true what we sen,
Ere they charge us wi' tellin' a lie,
Let 'em look into th' question loike men,
An' come deawn here a fortnit an' try.
This was all quite true. "Well, but you live with your son; don't
you?" continued the chairman. "Nay," replied the old woman, "he
lives wi' me; an' he's eawt o' wark, too. Aw could like yo to
do a bit o' summat for us. We're hard put to 't." "Don't you
think she would be better in the workhouse?" said one of the guardians.
"Oh, no," replied another; "don't send th' owd woman there. Let her
keep her own little place together, if she can."
Another old woman
presented herself, with a threadbare shawl drawn closely round her gray
head. "Well, Ann," said the chairman, "there's nobody but yourself
and your John, is there?" "Nawe." "What age are you?" "Aw'm
seventy." "Seventy!" "Aye, I am." "Well, and what age is
your John?" "He's gooin' i' seventy-four." "Where is he, Ann?"
"Well, aw laft him deawn i' th' street yon; gettin' a load o' coals in."
There was a murmur of approbation around the Board; and the old woman was
sent away relieved and thankful.
There were many other affecting
cases of genuine distress arising from the present temporary severity of
the times. Several applicants were refused relief on its being
proved that they were already in receipt of considerably more income than
the usual amount allowed by the Board to those who have nothing to depend
upon. Of course there are always some who, having lost that fine
edge of feeling to which this kind of relief is revolting, are not
unwilling to live idly upon the rates as much and as long as possible at
any time, and who will even descend to pitiful schemes to wring from this
source whatever miserable income they can get. There are some, even,
with whom this state of mind seems almost hereditary; and these will not
be slow to take advantage of the present state of affairs. Such
cases, however, are not numerous among the people of Lancashire.
was a curious thing to see the different demeanours and appearances of the
applicants ― curious to hear the little stories of their different
troubles. There were three or four women whose husbands were away in
the militia; others whose husbands had wandered away in search of work
weeks ago, and had never been heard of, since. There were a few very
fine, intelligent countenances among them. There were many of all
ages, clean in person, and bashful in manner, with their poor clothing put
into the tidiest possible trim; others were dirty, and sluttish, and noisy
of speech, as in the case of one woman, who, after receiving her ticket
for relief, partly in money and partly in kind, whipped a pair of worn
clogs from under her shawl, and cried out, "Aw mun ha' some clogs afore aw
go, too; look at thoose! They're a shame to be sin!"
were freely given; and, in several cases, they were all that were asked
for. In three or four instances, the applicants said, after
receiving other relief, "Aw wish yo'd gi' me a pair o' clogs, Mr Eccles.
Aw've had to borrow these to come in." One woman pleaded hard for
two pair, saying, "Yon chylt's bar-fuut; an' he's witchod
(wet-shod), an' as ill as he con be." "Who's witchod?" asked the
chairman. "My husban' is," replied the woman; "an' he connot ston it
just neaw, yo mun let him have a pair iv yo con." "Give her
two pairs of clogs," said the chairman. Another woman took her clog
off, and held it up, saying,
"Look at that. We're o' walkin' o'th floor; an' smoor't wi' cowds."
One decent-looking old body, with a starved face, applied. The
chairman said, "Why, what's your son doing now? Has he catched no
rabbits lately?" "Nay, aw dunnot know 'at he does. Aw get
nought; an' it's me at wants summat, Mr Eccles," replied the old
woman, in a tremulous tone, with the water rising in her eyes.
"Well, come; we mustn't punish th' owd woman for her son," said one of the
Various forms of the feebleness of age appeared before
the Board that day. "What's your son John getting, Mary?" said the
chairman to one old woman. "Whor?" replied she. "What's your
son John getting?" The old woman put her hand up to her ear, and
"Aw'm rayther deaf. What say'n yo?" It turned out that her son
was taken ill, and they were relieved.
In the course of inquiries I
found that the working people of Blackburn, as elsewhere in Lancashire,
nickname their workshops as well as themselves. The chairman asked a
girl where she worked at last, and the girl replied, "At th'
'Puff-an'-dart.'" "And what made you leave there?" "Whau, they
were woven up." One poor, pale fellow, a widower, said he had "worched"
a bit at "Bang-the-nation," till he was taken ill, and then they had
"shopped his place," that is, they had given his work to somebody else.
Another, when asked where he had been working, replied, "At Se'nacre Bruck
(Seven-acre Brook), wheer th' wild monkey were catched." It seems
that an ourang-outang which once escaped from some travelling menagerie,
was re-taken at this place.
I sat until the last application had
been disposed of, which was about half-past two in the afternoon.
The business had taken up nearly four hours and a half.
I had a good deal of conversation with people who were
intimately acquainted with the town and its people; and I was informed
that, in spite of the struggle for existence which is now going on, and
not unlikely to continue for some time, there are things happening amongst
the working people there, which do not seem wise, under existing
The people are much better informed now than they
were twenty years ago; but, still, something of the old blindness lingers
amongst them, here and there. For instance, at one mill, in
Blackburn, where the operatives were receiving 11s. a week for two looms,
the proprietor offered to give his workpeople three looms each, with a
guarantee for constant employment until the end of next August, if they
would accept one and a quarter pence less for the weaving of each piece.
This offer, if taken, would have raised their wages to an average of 14s.
6d. a week. It was declined, however, and they are now working, as
before, only on two looms each, with uncertainty of employment, at 11s. a
week. Perhaps it is too much to expect that such things should die
out all at once. But I heard also that the bricklayers' labourers at
Blackburn struck work last week for an advance of wages from 3s. 6d. a day
to 4s. a day. This seems very untimely, to say the least of it.
Apart from these things, there is, amongst all classes, a kind of cheery
faith in the return of good times, although nobody can see what they may
have to go through yet, before the clouds break. It is a fact that
there are more than forty new places ready, or nearly ready, for starting,
in and about Blackburn, when trade revives.
After dinner, I walked down Darwen Street. Stopping to
look at a music-seller's window, a rough-looking fellow, bareheaded and
without coat, came sauntering across the road from a shop opposite.
As he came near he shouted out, "Nea then Heaw go!" I turned round;
and, seeing that I was a stranger, he said, "Oh; aw thought it had bin
another chap." "Well," said I, "heaw are yo gettin' on, these
times?" "Divulish ill," replied he. "Th' little maisters are
runnin' a bit, some three, some four days. T'other are stopt o'
together, welly. . . . It's thin pikein' for poor folk just neaw.
But th' shopkeepers an' th' ale-heawses are in for it as ill as ony mak.
There'll be crashin' amung some on 'em afore lung."
After this, I
spent a few minutes in the market-place, which was "slacker" than usual,
as might be expected, for, as the Scotch proverb says, "Sillerless folk
gang fast through the market."
Later on, I went up to Bank Top, on
the eastern edge of the town, where many factory operatives reside.
Of course, there is not any special quarter where they are clustered in
such a manner as to show their condition as a whole. They are
scattered all round the town, living as near as possible to the mills in
which they are employed. Here I talked with some of the small
shopkeepers, and found them all more or less troubled with the same
complaint. One owner of a provision shop said to me, "Wi'n a deeal
o' brass owin'; but it's mostly owin' by folk at'll pay sometime.
An' then, th' part on 'em are doin' a bit yo known; an' they bring'n their
trifle o' ready brass to us; an' so we're trailin' on. But folk han
to trust us a bit for their stuff, dunnot yo see,―or else it would be 'Wo-up!'
soon." I heard of one beerhouse, the owner of which had only drawn
ls. 6d. during a whole week. His children were all factory
operatives, and all out of work. They were very badly off, and would
have been very glad of a few soup tickets; but, as the man said, "Who'd
believe me if aw were to go an' ax for relief?" I was told of two
young fellows, unemployed factory hands, meeting one day, when one said to
the other, "Thae favvurs hungry, Jone." "Nay, aw's do yet, for
that," replied Jone. "Well," continued the other; "keep thi heart
eawt of thi clogs, iv thi breeches dun eawt-thrive thi carcass a bit, owd
lad." "Aye," said Jone, "but what mun I do when my clogs gi'n way?"
"Whaw, thae mun go to th' Guardians; they'n gi tho a pair in a minute."
"Nay, by ――," replied Jone, "aw'll dee
In the evening, I ran down to the beautiful suburb called
Pleasington, in the hope of meeting a friend of mine there; not finding
him, I came away by the eight o'clock train. The evening was
splendid, and it was cheering to see the old bounty of nature gushing
forth again in such unusual profusion and beauty, as if in pitiful charity
for the troubles of mankind. I never saw the country look so rich in
its spring robes as it does now.
AMONG THE PRESTON
"This ticket must be presented
to the Clerk for payment, at the
Union Offices, on Tuesday
next, at 3 o'clock in the afternoon,
by the tradesman who supplies the articles."
Used by unemployed cotton
workers at Preston to buy
during the Cotton Famine.
Proud Preston, or Priest-town, on the banks of the beautiful Ribble, is a
place of many quaint customs, and of great historic fame. Its
character for pride is said to come from the fact of its having been, in
the old time, a favourite residence of the local nobles and gentry, and of
many penniless folk with long pedigrees. It was here that Richard Arkwright shaved chins at a halfpenny each, in the meantime working out
his bold and ingenious schemes, with patient faith in their ultimate
success. It was here, too, that the teetotal movement first began, with
Anderson for its rhyme-smith.
Preston has had its full share of the
changeful fortunes of England, and, like our motherland, it has risen
strongly out of them all. War's mad havoc has swept over it in many a
troubled period of our history. Plague, pestilence, and famine have
afflicted it sorely; and it has suffered from trade riots,
"plug-drawings," panics, and strikes of most disastrous kinds.
Preston ― the town of the Stanleys and the Hoghtons, and of "many a crest
that is famous in story" ― the town where silly King Jamie disported himself
a little, with his knights and nobles, during the time of his ruinous
visit to Hoghton Tower, ― Proud Preston has seen many a black day. But, from
the time when Roman sentinels kept watch and ward in their old camp at
Walton, down by the Ribble side, it has never seen so much wealth and so
much bitter poverty together as now.
The streets do not show this poverty;
but it is there. Looking from Avenham Walks, that glorious landscape
smiles in all the splendour of a rich spring-tide. In those walks the
nursemaids and children, and dainty folk, are wandering as usual airing
their curls in the fresh breeze; and only now and then a workless
operative trails by with chastened look. The wail of sorrow is not heard
in Preston market-place; but destitution may be found almost anywhere
there just now, cowering in squalid corners, within a few yards of
plenty ― as I have seen it many a time this week. The courts and alleys
behind even some of the main streets swarm with people who have hardly a
whole nail left to scratch themselves with.
Before attempting to tell something of what I saw whilst wandering amongst
the poor operatives of Preston, I will say at once, that I do not intend
to meddle with statistics. They have been carefully gathered, and often
given elsewhere, and there is no need for me to repeat them. But, apart
from these, the theme is endless, and full of painful interest. I hear on
all hands that there is hardly any town in Lancashire suffering so much as
Preston. The reason why the stroke has fallen so heavily here, lies in the
nature of the trade.
In the first place, Preston is almost purely a cotton
town. There are two or three flax mills, and two or three ironworks, of no
great extent; but, upon the whole, there is hardly any variety of
employment there to lighten the disaster which has befallen its one
absorbing occupation. There is comparatively little weaving in Preston; it
is a town mostly engaged in spinning. The cotton used there is nearly all
what is called "Middling American," the very kind which is now most scarce
and dear. The yarns of Preston are known by the name of "Blackburn
Counts." They range from 28's up to 60's, and they enter largely into the
manufacture of goods for the India market. These things partly explain why
Preston is more deeply overshadowed by the particular gloom of the times
than many other places in Lancashire.
About half-past nine on Tuesday
morning last, I set out with an old acquaintance to call upon a certain
member of the Relief Committee, in George's Ward. He is the manager of a
cotton mill in that quarter, and he is well known and much respected among
the working people. When we entered the mill-yard, all was quiet there,
and the factory was still and silent. But through the office window we
could see the man we wanted. He was accompanied by one of the proprietors
of the mill, turning over the relief books of the ward. I soon found that
he had a strong sense of humour, as well as a heart welling over with
tenderness. He pointed to some of the cases in his books.
The first was
that of an old man, an overlooker of a cotton mill. His family was
thirteen in number; three of the children were under ten years of age;
seven of the rest were factory operatives; but the whole family had been
out of work for several months. When in full employment the joint earnings
of the family amounted to 80s. a week; but, after struggling on in the
hope of better times, and exhausting the savings of past labour, they had
been brought down to the receipt of charity at last, and for sixteen weeks
gone by the whole thirteen had been living upon 6s. a week from the relief
fund. They had no other resource.
I went to see them at their own house
afterwards, and it certainly was a pattern of cleanliness, with the little
household gods there still. Seeing that house, a stranger would never
dream that the family was living on an average income of less than
sixpence a head per week. But I know how hard some decent folk will
struggle with the bitterest poverty before they will give in to it. The
old man came in whilst I was there. He sat down in one corner, quietly
tinkering away at
something he had in his hands. His old corduroy trousers were well
patched, and just new washed. He had very little to say to us, except that
"He could like to get summat to do; for he wur tired o' walkin' abeawt."
Another case was that of a poor widow woman, with five young children. This family had been driven from house to house, by increasing necessity,
till they had sunk at last into a dingy little hovel, up a dark court, in
one of the poorest parts of the town, where they huddled together about a
fireless grate to keep one another warm. They had nothing left of the
wreck of their home but two rickety chairs, and a little deal table reared
against the wall, because one of the legs was gone. In this miserable
hole ― which I saw afterwards ― her husband died of sheer starvation, as was
declared by the jury on the inquest. The dark, damp hovel where they had
crept to was scarcely four yards square; and the poor woman pointed to one
corner of the floor, saying, "He dee'd i' that nook." He died there, with
nothing to lie upon but the ground, and nothing to cover him, in that
fireless hovel. His wife and children crept about him, there, to watch him
die; and to keep him as warm as they could.
When the relief committee
first found this family out, the entire clothing of the family of seven
persons weighed eight pounds, and sold for fivepence, as rags. I saw the
family afterwards, at their poor place; and will say more about them
hereafter. He told me of many other cases of a similar kind. But, after
agreeing to a time when we should visit them personally, we set out
together to see the "Stone Yard," where there are many factory hands at
work under the Board of Guardians.
weavers selecting clothing.
Illustrated London News, November 29, 1862.
The last resort for the unemployed during the cotton
famine was to sell their clothing. As winter approached this could
have fatal consequences. National appeals such as Tiplady’s
to The Times prompted sympathetic donors to send money and
parcels of unwanted clothing. There were reports from Darwen of
weavers wearing hunting coats and riding boots!
Courtesy of the 'Cotton Town digitization
The "Stone Yard" is close by the Preston and Lancaster Canal. Here there
are from one hundred and seventy to one hundred and eighty, principally
young men, employed in breaking, weighing, and wheeling stone, for road
mending. The stones are of a hard kind of blue boulder, gathered from the
land between Kendal and Lancaster. The "Labour Master" told me that there
were thousands of tons of these boulders upon the land between Kendal and
Lancaster. A great deal of them are brought from a place called "Tewhitt
Field," about seven mile on "t' other side o' Lancaster."
At the "Stone
Yard" it is all piece-work, and the men can come and go when they like. As
one of the Guardians told me, "They can oather sit an' break 'em, or kneel
an' break 'em, or lie deawn to it, iv they'n a mind." The men can choose
whether they will fill three tons of the broken stone, and wheel it to the
central heap, for a shilling, or break one ton for a shilling.
employed here are mostly "lads an' leet-timber't chaps." The stronger men
are sent to work upon Preston Moor. There are great varieties of health
and strength amongst them. "Beside," as the Labour Master said, "yo'd
hardly believe what a difference there is i'th wark o' two men wortchin'
at the same heap, sometimes. There's a great deal i'th breaker, neaw; some
on 'em's more artful nor others. They finden out that they con break 'em
as fast again at after they'n getten to th' wick i'th inside. I have known
an' odd un or two, here, that could break four ton a day, ― an' many that
couldn't break one, ― but then, yo' know, th' men can only do accordin' to
their ability. There is these differences, and there always will be."
we stood talking together, one of my friends said that he wished "Radical
Jack" had been there. The latter gentleman is one of the guardians of the
poor, and superintendent of the "Stone Yard." The men are naturally
jealous of misrepresentation; and, the other day, as "Radical Jack" was
describing the working of the yard to a gentleman who had come to look at
the scene, some of the men overheard his words, and, misconceiving their
meaning, gathered around the superintendent, clamorously protesting
against what he had been saying. "He's lying!" said one. "Look at these honds!" cried another; "Wi'n they ever be fit to go to th' factory wi'
Others turned up the soles of their battered shoon, to show their cut and
stockingless feet. They were pacified at last; but, after the
superintendent had gone away, some of the men said much and more, and "if
ever he towd ony moor lies abeawt 'em, they'd fling him into th' cut."
"Labour Master" told me there was a large wood shed for the men to shelter
in when rain came on. As we were conversing, one of my friends exclaimed,
"He's here now!" "Who's here?" "Radical Jack." The superintendent was
coming down the road. He told me some interesting things, which I will
return to on another occasion. But our time was up. We had other places to
As we came away, three old Irishwomen leaned against the wall at the
corner of the yard, watching the men at work inside. One of them was
saying, "Thim guardians is the awfullest set o' min in the world! A man
had better be transpoorted than come under 'em. An' thin, they'll try you,
an' try you, as if you was goin' to be hanged." The poor old soul had
evidently only a narrow view of the necessities and difficulties which
beset the labours of the Board of Guardians at a time like this.
way back to town one of my friends told me that he "had met a sexton the
day before, and had asked him how trade was with him. The sexton replied
that it was "Varra bad ― nowt doin', hardly." "Well, how's that?" asked the
other. "Well, thae sees," answered the sexton, "Poverty seldom dees. There's far more kilt wi' o'er-heytin' an' o'er-drinkin' nor there is wi'
Leaving the "Stone Yard," to fulfil an engagement in another
part of the town, we agreed to call upon three or four poor folk, who
lived by the way; and I don't know that I could do better than say
something about what I saw of them.
As we walked along, one of my companions told me of an
incident which happened to one of the visitors in another ward, a few days
before. In the course of his round, this visitor called upon a
certain destitute family which was under his care, and he found the
husband sitting alone in the house, pale and silent. His wife had
been "brought to bed" two or three days before; and the visitor inquired
how she was getting on. "Hoo's very ill," said the husband.
"And the child," continued the visitor, "how is it?" "It's deeod,"
replied the man; "it dee'd yesterday." He then rose, and walked
slowly into the next room, returning with a basket in his hands, in which
the dead child was decently laid out. "That's o' that's laft
on it neaw," said the poor fellow. Then, putting the basket upon the
floor, he sat down in front of it, with his head between his hands,
looking silently at the corpse. Such things as these were the theme
of our conversation as we went along, and I found afterwards that every
visitor whom it was my privilege to meet, had some special story of
distress to relate, which came within his own appointed range of action.
In my first flying visit to that great melancholy field, I
could only glean such things as lay nearest to my hand, just then; but
wherever I went, I heard and saw things which touchingly testify what
noble stuff the working population of Lancashire, as a whole, is made of.
One of the first cases we called upon, after leaving the
"Stone Yard," was that of a family of ten ― man and wife, and eight
children. Four of the children were under ten years of age, ― five
were capable of working; and, when the working part of the family was in
full employment, their joint earnings amounted to 61s. per week.
But, in this case, the mother's habitual ill-health had been a great
expense in the household for several years.
This family belonged to a class of operatives ― a much larger
class than people unacquainted with the factory districts are likely to
suppose ― which will struggle, in a dumb, enduring way, to the death,
sometimes, before they will sacrifice that "immediate jewel of their
souls" ― their old independence, and will keep up a decent appearance to
the very last. These suffer more than the rest; for, in addition to
the pains of bitter starvation, they feel a loss which is more afflicting
to them even than the loss of food and furniture; and their sufferings are
less heard of than the rest, because they do not like to complain.
This family of ten persons had been living, during the last nine weeks,
upon relief amounting to 5s. a week. When we called, the mother and
one or two of her daughters were busy in the next room, washing their poor
bits of well-kept clothing. The daughters kept out of sight, as if
ashamed. It was a good kind of cottage, in a clean street, called "Maudland
Bank," and the whole place had a tidy, sweet look, though it was
washing-day. The mother told me that she had been severely afflicted
with seven successive attacks of inflammation, and yet, in spite of her
long-continued ill-health, and in spite of the iron teeth of poverty which
had been gnawing at them so long, for the first time, I have rarely seen a
more frank and cheerful countenance than that thin matron's, as she stood
there, wringing her clothes, and telling her little story.
The house they lived in belonged to their late employer,
whose mill stopped some time ago. We asked her how they managed to
pay the rent, and she said, "Why, we dunnot pay it; we cannot pay it, an'
he doesn't push us for it. Aw guess he knows he'll get it sometime.
But we owe'd a deal o' brass beside that. Just look at this shop
book. Aw'm noan freetend ov onybody seein' my acceawnts. An'
then, there's a great lot o' doctor's-bills i' that pot, theer.
Thoose are o' for me. There'll ha' to be some wark done afore things
can be fotched up again. . . . Eh; aw'll tell yo what, William,
(this was addressed to the visitor,) it went ill again th' grain wi' my
husband to goo afore th' Board. An' when he did goo, he wouldn't say
so mich. Yo known, folk doesn't like brastin' off abeawt theirsel'
o' at once, at a shop like that. . . . Aw think sometimes it's very
weel that four ov eawrs are i' heaven, ― we'n sich hard tewin' (toiling),
to poo through wi' tother, just neaw. But, aw guess it'll not last
As we came away, talking of the reluctance shown by the
better sort of working people to ask for relief, or even sometimes to
accept it when offered to them, until thoroughly starved to it, I was told
of a visitor calling upon a poor woman in another ward; no application had
been made for relief, but some kind neighbour had told the committee that
the woman and her husband were "ill off." The visitor, finding that
they were perishing for want, offered the woman some relief tickets for
food; but the poor soul began to cry, and said; "Eh, aw dar not touch 'em;
my husban' would sauce me so! Aw dar not take 'em; aw should never
yer the last on't!"
When we got to the lower end of Hope Street, my guide stopped
suddenly, and said, "Oh, this is close to where that woman lives whose
husband died of starvation." Leading a few yards up the by-street,
he turned into a low, narrow entry, very dark and damp. Two turns
more brought us to a dirty, pent-up corner, where a low door stood open.
We entered there.
It was a cold, gloomy-looking little hovel. In my
allusion to the place last week I said it was "scarcely four yards
square." It is not more than three yards square. There was no
fire in the little rusty grate. The day was sunny, but no sunshine
could ever reach that nook, nor any fresh breezes disturb the pestilent
vapours that harboured there, festering in the sluggish gloom. In
one corner of the place a little worn and broken stair led up to a room of
the same size above, where, I was told, there was now some straw for the
family to sleep upon. But the only furniture in the house, of any
kind, was two rickety chairs and a little broken deal table, reared
against the stairs, because one leg was gone.
A quiet-looking, thin woman, seemingly about fifty years of
age, sat there, when we went in. She told us that she had buried
five of her children, and that she had six yet alive, all living with her
in that poor place. They had no work, no income whatever, save what
came from the Relief Committee. Five of the children were playing in
and out, bare-footed, and, like the mother, miserably clad; but they
seemed quite unconscious that anything ailed them. I never saw finer
children anywhere. The eldest girl, about fourteen, came in whilst
we were there, and she leaned herself bashfully against the wall for a
minute or two, and then slunk slyly out again, as if ashamed of our
presence. The poor widow pointed to the cold corner where her
husband died lately. She said that "his name was Tim Pedder.
His fadder name was Timothy, an' his mudder name was Mary. He was a
driver (a driver of boat-horses on the canal); but he had bin oot o' wark
a lang time afore he dee'd."
I found in this case, as in some others, that the poor body
had not much to say about her distress; but she did not need to say much.
My guide told me that when he first called upon the family, in the depth
of last winter, he found the children all clinging round about their
mother in the cold hovel, trying in that way to keep one another warm.
The time for my next appointment was now hard on, and we
hurried towards the shop in Fishergate, kept by the gentleman I had
promised to meet. He is an active member of the Relief Committee,
and a visitor in George's ward. We found him in. He had just
returned from the "Cheese Fair," at Lancaster. My purpose was to
find out what time on the morrow we could go together to see some of the
cases he was best acquainted with. But, as the evening was not far
spent, he proposed that we should go at once to see a few of those which
We set out together to Walker's Court, in Friargate.
The first place we entered was at the top of the little narrow court.
There we found a good-tempered Irish-woman sitting without fire, in her
feverish hovel. "Well, missis," said the visitor, "how is your
husband getting on?" "Ah, well, now, Mr. T――," replied she, "you
know, he's only a delicate little man, an' a tailor; an' he wint to work
on the moor, an' he couldn't stand it. Sure, it was draggin' the
bare life out of him. So, he says to me, one morning, "Catharine,"
says he, "I'll lave off this a little while, till I see will I be able to
get a job o' work at my own trade; an' maybe God will rise up some thin'
to put a dud o' clothes on us all, an' help us to pull through till the
black time is over us." So, I told him to try his luck, any way; for
he was killin' himself entirely on the moor. An' so he did try; for
there's not an idle bone in that same boy's skin. But, see this,
now; there's nothin' in the world to be had to do just now ― an' a dale
too many waitin' to do it ― so all he got by the change was losin' his
work on the moor. There is himself, an' me, an' the seven childer.
Five o' the childer is under tin year old. We are all naked; an' the
house is bare; an' our health is gone wi' the want o' mate. Sure it
wasn't in the likes o' this we wor livin' when times was good."
Three of the youngest children were playing about on the
floor. "That's a very fine lad," said I, pointing to one of them.
The little fellow blushed, and smiled, and then became very still and
attentive. "Ah, thin," said his mother, "that villain's the boy for
tuckin' up soup! The Lord be about him, an' save him alive to me, ―
the crayter! . . . An' there's little curly there,―the rogue!
Sure he'll take as much soup as any wan o' them. Maybe he wouldn't
laugh to see a big bowl forninst him this day." "It's very well they
have such good spirits," said the visitor. "So it is," replies the
woman, "so it is, for God knows it's little else they have to keep them
warm thim bad times."
Atlas Mill, Ashton-under-Lyne.
Courtesy Tameside Local Studies and Archives Centre.
The next house we called at in Walker's Court was much like
the first in appearance ― very little left but the walls, and that little,
such as none but the neediest would pick up, if it was thrown out to the
streets. The only person in the place was a pale, crippled woman;
her sick head, lapped in a poor white clout, swayed languidly to and fro.
Besides being a cripple, she had been ill six years, and now her husband,
also, was taken ill. He had just crept off to fetch medicine for the
We did not stop here long. The hand of the Ancient
Master was visible in that pallid face; those sunken eyes, so full of
deathly languor, seemed to be wandering about in dim, flickering gazes,
upon the confines of an unknown world. I think that woman will soon
be "where the weary are at rest." As we came out, she said, slowly, and in
broken, painful utterances, that "she hoped the Lord would open the
heavens for those who had helped them."
A little lower down the court, we peeped in at two other
doorways. The people were well known to my companion, who has the
charge of visiting this part of the ward. Leaning against the
door-cheek of one of these dim, unwholesome hovels, he said, "Well, missis;
how are you getting on?" There was a tall, thin woman inside.
She seemed to be far gone in some exhausting illness. With slow
difficulty she rose to her feet, and, setting her hands to her sides,
gasped out, "My coals are done." He made a note, and said,
you some more." Her other wants were regularly seen to on a certain
day every week. Ours was an accidental visit.
We now turned up to another nook of the court, where my
companion told me there was a very bad case. He found the door fast.
We looked through the window into that miserable man-nest. It was
cold, gloomy, and bare. As Corrigan says, in the "Colleen Bawn,"
"There was nobody in ― but the fire ― and that was gone out." As we
came away, a stalwart Irishman met us at a turn of the court, and said to
my companion, "Sure, ye didn't visit this house." "Not to-day;"
replied the visitor. "I'll come and see you at the usual time."
The people in this house were not so badly off as some others. We
came down the steps of the court into the fresher air of Friargate again.
Our next walk was to Heatley Street. As we passed by a
cluster of starved loungers, we overheard one of them saying to another, "Sitho,
yon's th' soup-maister, gooin' a-seein' somebry." Our time was
getting short, so we only called at one house in Heatley Street, where
there was a family of eleven ― a decent family, a well-kept and orderly
household, though now stript almost to the bare ground of all worldly
possession, sold, bitterly, piecemeal, to help to keep the bare life
together, as sweetly as possible, till better days.
The eldest son is twenty-seven years of age. The whole
family has been out of work for the last seventeen weeks, and before that,
they had been working only short time for seven months. For thirteen
weeks they had lived upon less than one shilling a head per week, and I am
not sure that they did not pay the rent out of that; and now the income of
the whole eleven is under 16s., with rent to pay. In this house they
hold weekly prayer-meetings. Thin picking ― one shilling a week, or
less ― for all expenses, for one person. It is easier to write about
it than to feel what it means, unless one has tried it for three or four
Just round the corner from Heatley Street, we stopped at the
open door of a very little cottage. A good-looking young Irishwoman
sat there, upon a three-legged stool, suckling her child. She was
clean; and had an intelligent look. "Let's see, missis," said the
visitor, "what do you pay for this nook?" "We pay eighteenpence a
week ― and they will have it ― my word." "Well, an' what
income have you now?" "We have eighteenpence a head in the week, an'
the rent to pay out o' that, or else they'll turn us out."
Of course, the visitor knew that this was true; but he wanted
me to hear the people speak for themselves.
"Let's see, Missis Burns, your husband's name is Patrick,
isn't it?" "Yes, sir; Patrick Burns." "What! Patrick Burns,
the famous foot-racer?" The little woman smiled bashfully, and
replied, "Yes, sir; I suppose it is."
View of Hollins Mill, Mossley.
Courtesy Tameside Local Studies and Archives Centre.
With respect to what the woman said about having to pay her
rent or turn out, I may remark, in passing, that I have not hitherto met
with an instance in which any mill-owner, or wealthy man, having cottage
property, has pressed the unemployed poor for rent. But it is well
to remember that there is a great amount of cottage property in Preston,
as in other manufacturing towns, which belongs to the more provident class
of working men. These working men, now hard pressed by the general
distress, have been compelled to fall back upon their little rentals,
clinging to them as their last independent means of existence. They
are compelled to this, for, if they cannot get work, they cannot get
anything else, having property. These are becoming fewer, however,
from day to day. The poorest are hanging a good deal upon those a
little less poor than themselves; and every link in the lengthening chain
of neediness is helping to pull down the one immediately above it.
There is, also, a considerable amount of cottage property in Preston,
belonging to building societies, which have enough to do to hold their own
just now. And then there is always some cottage property in the
hands of agents.
Leaving Heatley Street, we went to a place called "Seed's
Yard." Here we called upon a clean old stately widow, with a calm, sad
face. She had been long known, and highly respected, in a good
street, not far off, where she had lived for twenty-four years, in fair
circumstances, until lately. She had always owned a good houseful of
furniture; but, after making bitter meals upon the gradual wreck of it,
she had been compelled to break up that house, and retire with her five
children to lodge with a lone widow in this little cot, not over three
yards square, in "Seed's Yard," one of those dark corners into which
decent poverty is so often found now, creeping unwillingly away from the
public eye, in the hope of weathering the storm of adversity, in penurious
The old woman never would accept relief from the parish,
although the whole family had been out of work for many months. One
of the daughters, a clean, intelligent-looking young woman, about
eighteen, sat at the table, eating a little bread and treacle to a cup of
light-coloured tea, when we went in; but she blushed, and left off until
we had gone ― which was not long after. It felt almost like
sacrilege to peer thus into the privacies of such people; but I hope they
did not feel as if it had been done offensively.
We called next at the cottage of a hand-loom weaver ― a poor
trade now in the best of times ― a very poor trade ― since the days when
tattered old "Jem Ceawp" sung his pathetic song of "Jone o' Greenfeelt" ―
"Aw'm a poor cotton weighver, as ony one knows;
We'n no meight i'th heawse, an' we'n worn eawt er clothes;
We'n live't upo nettles, while nettles were good;
An' Wayterloo porritch is th' most of er food;
This clemmin' and starvin',
Wi' never a farthin' ―
It's enough to drive ony mon mad."
This family was four in number ― man, wife, and two children. They
had always lived near to the ground, for the husband's earnings at the
loom were seldom more than 7s. for a full week. The wife told us
that they were not receiving any relief, for she said that when her
husband "had bin eawt o' wark a good while he turn't his hond to shaving;"
and in this way the ingenious struggling fellow had scraped a thin living
for them during many months. "But," said she, " it brings varra
little in, we hev to trust so much. He shaves four on 'em for a
haw-penny, an' there's a deal on 'em connot pay that. Yo know,
they're badly off ― (the woman seemed to think her circumstances rather
above the common kind); an' then," continued she, "when they'n run up a
shot for three-hawpence or twopence or so, they cannot pay it o' no shap,
an' so they stoppen away fro th' shop. They cannot for shame come,
that's heaw it is; so we lose'n their custom till sich times as summat
turns up at they can raise a trifle to pay up wi'. . . . He has nobbut one
razzor, but it'll be like to do." Hearken this, oh, ye spruce
Figaros of the city, who trim the clean, crisp whiskers of the well-to-do!
Hearken this, ye dainty perruquiers, "who look so brisk, and smell so
sweet," and have such an exquisite knack of chirruping, and lisping, and
sliding over the smooth edge of the under lip, ― and, sometimes, agreeably
too, ― "an infinite deal of nothing," ― ye who clip and anoint the hair of
Old England's curled darlings! Eight chins a penny; and three
months' credit! A bodle a piece for mowing chins overgrown with hair
like pin-wire, and thick with dust; how would you like that? How
would you get through it all, with a family of four, and only one razor?
The next place we called at was what my friend described, in
words that sounded to me, somehow, like melancholy irony, ― as "a poor
provision shop." It was, indeed, a poor shop for provender. In
the window, it is true, there were four or five empty glasses, where
children's spice had once been. There was a little deal shelf here
and there; but there were neither sand, salt, whitening, nor pipes.
There was not the ghost of a farthing candle, nor a herring, nor a marble,
nor a match, nor of any other thing, sour or sweet, eatable or saleable
for other uses, except one small mug full of buttermilk up in a corner ―
the last relic of a departed trade, like the "one rose of the wilderness,
left on its stalk to mark where a garden has been." But I will say
more about this in the next chapter.