Edwin Waugh: The Cotton Famine (3)

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India Mill, Darwin courtesy Cotton Town digitization project.

    We talked with the old schoolmistress in Cunliffe Street till it was "high twelve" at noon, and then the kind jailer of learning's little prison-house let all her fretful captives go.  The clamorous elves rushed through the doorway into the street, like a stream too big for its vent, rejoicing in their new-found freedom and the open face of day.  The buzz of the little teaching mill was hushed once more, and the old dame laid her knitting down, and quietly wiped her weak and weary eyes.  The daughters of music were brought low with her, but, in the last thin treble of second childhood, she trembled forth mild complaints of her neighbours' troubles, but very little of her own.

    We left her to enjoy her frugal meal and her noontide reprieve in peace, and came back to the middle of the town.  On our way I noticed again some features of street life which are more common in manufacturing towns just now than when times are good.  Now and then one meets with a man in the dress of a factory worker selling newspapers, or religious tracts, or back numbers of the penny periodicals, which do not cost much.  It is easy to see, from their shy and awkward manner, that they are new to the trade, and do not like it.  They are far less dexterous, and much more easily "said," than the brisk young salesmen who hawk newspapers in the streets of Manchester.  I know that many of these are unemployed operatives trying to make an honest penny in this manner till better days return.  Now and then, too, a grown-up girl trails along the street, "with wandering steps and slow," ragged, and soiled, and starved, and looking as if she had travelled far in the rainy weather, houseless and forlorn.  I know that such sights may be seen at any time, but not near so often as just now; and I cannot help thinking that many of these are poor sheep which have strayed away from the broken folds of labour.  Sometimes it is an older woman that goes by, with a child at the breast, and one or two holding by the skirt of her tattered gown, and perhaps one or two more limping after, as she crawls along the pavement, gazing languidly from side to side among the heedless crowd, as if giving her last look round the world for help, without knowing where to get it, and without heart to ask for it.  It is easy to give wholesale reasons why nobody needs to be in such a condition as this; but it is not improbable that there are some poor souls who, from no fault of their own, drop through the great sieve of charity into utter destitution.  "They are well kept that God keeps."  May the continual dew of Heaven's blessing gladden the hearts of those who deal kindly with them!

    After dinner I fell into company with some gentlemen who were talking about the coming guild ― that ancient local festival, which is so dear to the people of Preston, that they are not likely to allow it to go by wholly unhonoured, however severe the times may be.  Amongst them was a gray-haired friend of mine, who is a genuine humorist.  He told us many quaint anecdotes.  One of them was of a man who went to inquire the price of graves in a certain cemetery.  The sexton told him that they were 1 pound on this side, and 2 pounds on the other side of the knoll.  "How is it that they are 2 pounds on the other side?" inquired the man.  "Well, becose there's a better view there," replied the sexton.

    There were three or four millowners in the company, and, when the conversation turned upon the state of trade, one of them said, "I admit that there is a great deal of distress, but we are not so badly off yet as to drive the operatives to work for reasonable wages.  For instance, I had a labourer working for me at 10s. a-week; he threw up my employ, and went to work upon the moor for 1s. a-day.  How do you account for that?  And then, again, I had another man employed as a watchman and roller coverer, at 18s. a-week.  I found that I couldn't afford to keep him on at 18s., so I offered him 15s. a-week; but he left it, and went to work on the moor at 1s. a-day; and, just now, I want a man to take his place, and cannot get one."  Another said, "I am only giving low wages to my workpeople, but they get more with me than they can make on the moor, and yet I cannot keep them."  I heard some other things of the same kind, for which there might be special reasons; but these gentlemen admitted the general prevalence of severe distress, and the likelihood of its becoming much worse.


Sad are the sounds that are breaking forth
From the women and men of the brave old North!
Sad are the sights for human eyes,
In fireless homes, 'neath wintry skies;
Where wrinkles gather on childhood's skin,
And youth's "clemm'd" cheek is pallid and thin;
Where the good, the honest ― unclothed, unfed,
Child, mother, and father, are craving for bread!
But faint not, fear not ― still have trust;
Your voices are heard, and your claims are just.
England to England's self is true,
And "God and the People" will help you through.

Brothers and sisters! full well ye have stood,
While the gripe of gaunt Famine has curdled your
No murmur, no threat on your lips have place,
Though ye look on the Hunger-fiend face to face;
But haggard and worn ye silently bear,
Dragging your death-chains with patience and
With your hearts as loyal, your deeds as right,
As when Plenty and Sleep blest your day and your
Brothers and sisters! oh! do not believe
It is Charity's
GOLD ALONE ye receive.
Ah, no!   It is Sympathy, Feeling, and Hope,
That pull out in the Life-boat to fling ye a rope.

Fondly I've lauded your wealth-winning hands,
Planting Commerce and Fame throughout measure-
       less lands;
And my patriot-love, and my patriot-song,
To the children of Labour will ever belong.
Women and men of this brave old soil!
I weep that starvation should guerdon your toil;
But I glory to see ye ― proudly mute ―
Showing souls like the hero, not fangs like the brute.
Oh! keep courage within; be the Britons ye are;
E, who driveth the storm hath HIS hand on the star!
England to England's sons shall be true,
And "God and the People" will carry ye through!


    At two o'clock I sallied forth again, under convoy of another member of the Relief Committee, into the neighbourhood of Messrs Horrocks, Miller, and Co.'s works.  Their mill is known as "Th' Yard Factory."  Hereabouts the people generally are not so much reduced as in some parts of the town, because they have had more employment, until lately, than has been common elsewhere.  But our business lay with those distressed families who were in receipt of relief, and, even here, they were very easy to find.

    The first house we called at was inhabited by a family of five ― man and wife and three children.  The man was working on the moor at one shilling a-day.  The wife was unwell, but she was moving about the house.  They had buried one girl three weeks before; and one of the three remaining children lay ill of the measles.  They had suffered a great deal from sickness.  The wife said, "My husband is a peawer-loom weighver.  He had to come whoam ill fro' his wark; an' then they shopped his looms, (gave his work to somebody else,) an' he couldn't get 'em back again.  He'll get 'em back as soon as he con, yo may depend; for we don't want to bother folk for no mak o' relief no lunger than we can help."  In addition to the husband's pay upon the moor, they were receiving 2s. a week from the Committee, making altogether 8s. a week for the five, with 2s. 6d. to pay out of it for rent.  She said, "We would rayther ha' soup than coffee, becose there's moor heytin' in it."

    My friend looked in at the door of a cottage in Barton Street.  There was a sickly-looking woman inside.  "Well, missis," said my friend, jocularly, "how are you? because, if you're ill, I've brought a doctor here."  "Eh," replied she, "aw could be ill in a minute, if aw could afford, but these times winnot ston doctors' bills.  Besides, aw never were partial to doctors' physic; it's kitchen physic at aw want.  Han yo ony o' that mak' wi' yo?"  she said, "My husban' were th' o'erlooker o' th'weighvers at 'Owd Tom's.'  They stopt to fettle th' engine a while back, an' they'n never started sin'.  But aw guess they wi'n do some day."

    We had not many yards to go to the next place, which was a poor cottage in Fletcher's Row, where a family of eight persons resided.  There was very little furniture in the place, but I noticed a small shelf of books in a corner by the window.  A feeble woman, upwards of seventy years old, sat upon a stool tending the cradle of a sleeping infant.  This infant was the youngest of five children, the oldest of the five was seven years of age.  The mother of the three-weeks-old infant had just gone out to the mill to claim her work from the person who had been filling her place during her confinement.  The old woman said that the husband was "a grinder in a card-room when they geet wed, an' he addled about 8s. a week; but, after they geet wed, his wife larn't him to weighve upo' th' peawer-looms."  She said that she was no relation to them, but she nursed, and looked after the house for them.  "They connot afford to pay mo nought," continued she, "but aw fare as they fare'n, an' they dunnot want to part wi' me.  Aw'm not good to mich, but aw can manage what they wanten, yo see'n.  Aw never trouble't noather teawn nor country i' my life, an' aw hope aw never shall for the bit o' time aw have to do on."  She said that the Board of Guardians had allowed the family 10s. a week for the two first weeks of the wife's confinement, but now their income amounted to a little less than one shilling a head per week.

India Mill, Darwin.
Courtesy Cotton Town digitization project.

    Leaving this house, we turned round the corner into St Mary's Street North.  Here we found a clean-looking young working man standing shivering by a cottage door, with his hands in his pockets.  He was dressed in well-mended fustian, and he had a cloth cap on his head.  His face had a healthy hunger-nipt look.  "Hollo," said my friend, "I thought you was working on the moor."  "Ay," replied the young man, "Aw have bin, but we'n bin rain't off this afternoon."  "Is there nobody in?" said my friend.  "Naw, my wife's gone eawt; hoo'll not be mony minutes.  Hoo's here neaw."  A clean little pale woman came up, with a child in her arms, and we went in.  They had not much furniture in the small kitchen, which was the only place we saw, but everything was sweet and orderly.  Their income was, as usual in relief cases, about one shilling a head per week.  "You had some lodgers," said my friend.  "Ay," said she, "but they're gone."  "How's that?"  "We had a few words.  Their little lad was makin' a great noise i' the passage theer, an' aw were very ill o' my yed, an' aw towd him to go an' play him at tother side o' th' street, ― so, they took it amiss, an' went to lodge wi' some folk i' Ribbleton Lone."

    We called at another house in this street.  A family of six lived there.  The only furniture I saw in the place was two chairs, a table, a large stool, a cheap clock, and a few pots.  The man and his wife were in.  She was washing.  The man was a stiff-built, shock-headed little fellow, with a squint in his eye that seemed to enrich the good-humoured expression of his countenance.  Sitting smiling by the window, he looked as if he had lots of fun in him, if he only had a fair chance of letting it off.  He told us that he was a "tackler" by trade.  A tackler is one who fettles looms when they get out of order.  "Couldn't you get on at Horrocks's?" said my friend.  "Naw," replied he; "they'n not ha' men-weighvers theer."  The wife said, "We're a deal better off than some.  He has six days a week upo th' moor, an' we'n 3s. a week fro th' Relief Committee.  We'n 2s. 6d. a week to pay eawt on it for rent; but then, we'n a lad that gets 4d. a day neaw an' then for puttin' bobbins on; an' every little makes a mickle, yo known."  "How is it that your clock's stopt?" said I.  "Nay," said the little fellow; "aw don't know.  Want o' cotton, happen, ― same as everything else is stopt for."

    Leaving this house we met with another member of the Relief Committee, who was overlooker of a mill a little way off.  I parted here with the gentleman who had accompanied me hitherto, and the overlooker went on with me.

    In Newton Street he stopped, and said, "Let's look in here."  We went up two steps, and met a young woman coming out at the cottage door.  "How's Ruth?" said my friend.  "Well, hoo is here.  Hoo's busy bakin' for Betty."  We went in.  "You're not bakin' for yourselves, then?" said he.  "Eh, naw," replied the young woman, "it's mony a year sin' we had a bakin' o' fleawr, isn't it, Ruth?"  The old woman who was baking turned round and said, "Ay; an' it'll be mony another afore we han one aw deawt."

    There were three dirty-looking hens picking and croodling about the cottage floor.  "How is it you don't sell these, or else eat 'em?" said he.  "Eh, dear," replied the old woman, "dun yo want mo kilt?  He's had thoose hens mony a year; an' they rooten abeawt th' heawse just th' same as greadley Christians.  He did gi' consent for one on 'em to be kilt yesterday; but aw'll be hanged iv th' owd cracky didn't cry like a chylt when he see'd it beawt yed.  He'd as soon part wi' one o'th childer as one o'th hens.  He says they're so mich like owd friends, neaw.  He's as quare as Dick's hat-bant 'at went nine times reawnd an' wouldn't tee. . . . We thought we'd getten a shop for yon lad o' mine t'other day.  We yerd ov a chap at Lytham at wanted a lad to tak care o' six jackasses an' a pony.  Th' pony were to tak th' quality to Blackpool, and such like.  So we fettled th' lad's bits o' clooas up and made him ever so daycent, and set him off to try to get on wi' th' chap at Lytham.  Well, th' lad were i' good heart abeawt it; an' when he geet theer th' chap towd him at he thought he wur very likely for th' job, so that made it better, ― an' th' lad begun o' wearin' his bit o' brass o' summat to eat, an' sich like, thinkin' he're sure o' th' shop.  Well, they kept him there, dallyin', aw tell yo, an' never tellin' him a greadley tale, fro Sunday till Monday o' th' neet, an' then, ― lo an' behold, ― th' mon towd him that he'd hire't another; and th' lad had to come trailin' whoam again, quite deawn i'th' meawth.  Eh, aw wur some mad!  Iv aw'd been at th' back o' that chap, aw could ha' punce't him, see yo!"  "Well," said my friend, "there's no work yet, Ruth, is there?"  "Wark! naw; nor never will be no moor, aw believe."

    "Hello, Ruth!" said the young woman, pointing through the window, "dun yo know who yon is?"  "Know? ay," replied the old woman; "He's getten aboon porritch neaw, has yon.  He walks by me i'th street, as peart as a pynot, an' never cheeps.  But, he's no 'casion.  Aw know'd him when his yure stickt out at top ov his hat; and his shurt would ha' hanged eawt beheend, too, ― like a Wigan lantron, ― iv he'd had a shurt."


"Oh, reason not the deed; our basest beggars
 Are in the poorest things superfluous:
 Allow not nature more than nature needs,
 Man's life is cheap as beast's."

 ― King Lear.

    A short fit of rain came on whilst we were in the cottage in Newton Street, so we sat a little while with Ruth, listening to her quaint tattle about the old man and his feathered pets; about the children, the hard times, and her own personal ailments; ― for, though I could not help thinking her a very good-hearted, humorous old woman, bravely disposed to fight it out with the troubles of her humble lot, yet it was clear that she was inclined to ease her harassed mind now and then by a little wholesome grumbling; and I dare say that sometimes she might lose her balance so far as to think, like "Natterin' Nan," "No livin' soul atop o't earth's bin tried as I've bin tried: there's nob'dy but the Lord an' me that knows what I've to bide."

    Old age and infirmity, too, had found Ruth out, in her penurious obscurity; and she was disposed to complain a little, like Nan, sometimes, of "the ills that flesh is heir to:" ―

"Fro' t' wind i't stomach, rheumatism,
 Tengin pains i't gooms,
 An' coughs, an' cowds, an' t' spine o't back,
 I suffer martyrdom.

"Yet nob'dy pities mo, or thinks
 I'm ailin' owt at all;
 T' poor slave mun tug an' tew wi't wark,
 Wolivver shoo can crawl."

    Old Ruth was far from being as nattle and querulous as the famous ill-natured grumbler so racily pictured by Benjamin Preston, of Bradford; but, like most of the dwellers upon earth, she was a little bit touched with the same complaint.

    When the rain was over, we came away.  I cannot say that the weather ever "cleared up" that day; for, at the end of every shower, the dark, slow-moving clouds always seemed to be mustering for another downfall.  We came away, and left the "cant" old body "busy bakin' for Betty," and "shooing" the hens away from her feet, and she shuffled about the house.


        I can easily fling
            Common cares to wind,
For every heart hath its grief,
        And merits the sting,
            Every soul having sinn'd,
But mine may not hope for relief.

        I am loth to complain,
            Though I might have had cause,
For hunger is hard to endure;
        Yet I will not arraign
            Either Heaven or the laws
Of my country because I am poor.

        I have battled with Want,
            For a terrible term,
And been silent, till silence seemed crime;
        Yet I mean not to rant,
            But will yield you a germ
Of plain truth in an unpolished rhyme.

        My health—that is good;
            My family—few;
Accustomed to labour withal,
        'Tis a marvel we should,
            Yet alas! it is true, 
Either starve or be stinted—but call

        At the cabin I live in
            And see for yourselves;
The walls and the windows are there,
        But the fire has ceased giving
            Its light, and the shelves
And the table are foodless and bare.

        These walls once were hung
            With the triumphs of Art,
This pantry with plenty was stored,
        And Happiness flung
            Her rich light on the heart
Of the dear ones who sat at this board.

        Those dear ones are dead—
            Though it cost me a tear
To tell how they drew their last breath—
        Be it so!—want of bread
            Brought on fever—severe!
And fever and famine brought death.

        And now my lone heart,
            Like a plummet of lead
That is dropt in the sea's sullen wave,
        Droopeth far, far apart
            From its owner; its bed
Is down deep in our little ones' grave.

        The loud-prattling tongue,
            The sweet simple look,
Little feet patt'ring, over the floor
        To the past must belong,
            And the heart that must brook
Their deep loss is indeed rendered poor!

        Long years may roll on,
            Good times may return,
And life seem as sweet as of yore;
        But our loved ones are gone,
            And their beauties will burn
In our desolate dwelling no more!


   A few yards lower in Newton Street, we turned up a low, dark entry, which led to a gloomy little court behind.  This was one of those unhealthy, pent-up cloisters, where misery stagnates and broods among the "foul congregation of pestilential vapours" which haunt the backdoor life of the poorest parts of great towns.  Here, those viewless ministers of health ― the fresh winds of heaven ― had no free play; and poor human nature inhaled destruction from the poisonous effluvia that festered there.  And, in such nooks as this, there may be found many decent working people, who have been accustomed to live a cleanly life in their humble way in healthy quarters, now reduced to extreme penury, pinching, and pining, and nursing the flickering hope of better days, which may enable them to flee from the foul harbour which strong necessity has driven them to.

    The dark aspect of the day filled the court with a tomb-like gloom.  If I remember aright, there were only three or four cottages in it.  We called at two of them.  Before we entered the first, my friend said, "A young couple lives here.  They are very decent people.  They have not been here long; and they have gone through a great deal before they came here."  There were two or three pot ornaments on the cornice; but there was no furniture in the place, save one chair, which was occupied by a pale young woman, nursing her child.  Her thin, intelligent face looked very sad.  Her clothing, though poor, was remarkably clean; and, as she sat there, in the gloomy, fireless house, she said very little, and what she said she said very quietly, as if she had hardly strength to complain, and was even half-ashamed to do so.  She told us, however, that her husband had been out of work six months.  "He didn't know what to turn to after we sowd th' things," said she; "but he's takken to cheer-bottomin', for he doesn't want to lie upo' folk for relief, if he can help it.  He doesn't get much above a cheer, or happen two in a week, one week wi' another, an' even then he doesn't olez get paid, for folks ha' not brass.  It runs very hard with us, an' I'm nobbut sickly."  The poor soul did not need to say much; her own person, which evinced such a touching struggle to keep up a decent appearance to the last, and everything about her, as she sat there in the gloomy place, trying to keep the child warm upon her cold breast, told eloquently what her tongue faltered at and failed to express.

    The next place we called at in this court was a cottage kept by a withered old woman, with one foot in the grave.  We found her in the house, sallow, and shrivelled, and panting for breath.  She had three young women, out of work, lodging with her; and, in addition to these, a widow with her two children lived there.  One of these children, a girl, was earning 2s. 6d. a week for working short time at a mill; the other, a lad, was earning 3s. a week.  The rest were all unemployed, and had been so for several months past.  This 5s. 6d. a week was all the seven people had to live upon, with the exception of a trifle the sickly old woman received from the Board of Guardians.

    As we left the court, two young fellows were lounging at the entry end, as if waiting for us.  One of them stepped up to my friend, and whispered something plaintively, pointing to his feet.  I did not catch the reply; but my friend made a note, and we went on.  Before we had gone many yards down the street a storm of rain and thunder came on, and we hurried into the house of an old Irishwoman close by.

    My friend knew the old woman.  She was on his list of relief cases.  "Will you let us shelter a few minutes, Mrs ― ?" said he.  "I will, an' thank ye," replied she.  "Come in an' sit down.  Sure, it's not fit to turn out a dog.  Faith, that's a great storm.  Oh, see the rain!  Thank God it's not him that made the house that made the pot!  Dear, dear; did ye see the awful flash that time?  I don't like to be by myself, I am so terrified wi' the thunder.  There has been a great dale o' wet this long time."  "There, has," replied my friend; "but how have ye been getting on since I called before?"  "Well," said the old woman, sitting down, "things is quare with us as ever they can be, an' that you know very well."

    There was a young woman reared against the table by the window.  My friend turned towards her, and said, "Well, and how does the Indian meal agree with you?"  The young woman blushed, and smiled, but said nothing; but the old woman turned sharply round and replied, "Well, now, it is better nor starvation; it is chape, an' it fills up ― an' that's all."  "Is your son working?" inquired my friend.  "Troth, he is," replied she.  "He does be gettin' a day now an' again at the breek-croft in Ribbleton Lone.  Faith, it is time he did somethin', too, for he was nine months out o' work entirely.  I am got greatly into debt, an' I don't think I'll ever be able to get over it any more.  I don't know how does poor folk be able to spind money on drink such times as thim; bedad, I cannot do it.  It is hard enough to get mate of any kind to keep the bare life in a body.  Oh, see now; but for the relief, the half o' the country would die out."  "You're a native of Ireland, missis," said I.  "Troth, I am," replied she; "an' had a good farm o' greawnd in it too, one time.  Ah! many's the dark day I went through between that an' this.  Before thim bad times came on, long ago, people were well off in ould Ireland.  I seen them wid as many as tin cows standin' at the door at one time. . . . Ah, then! but the Irish people is greatly scattered now! . . . But, for the matter of that, folk are as badly off here as anywhere in the world, I think.  I dunno know how does poor folk be able to spind money for dhrink.  I am a widow this seventeen year now, an' the divle a man or woman uvver seen me goin' to a public-house.  I seen women goin' a drinkin' widout a shift to their backs.  I dunno how the divvle they done it.  Begorra, I think, if I drunk a glass of ale just now, my two legs would fail from under me immadiately ― I am that wake." The old woman was a little too censorious, I think.

    There is no doubt that even people who are starving do drink a little sometimes.  The wonder would be if they did not, in some degree, share the follies of the rest of the world.  Besides, it is a well-known fact, that those who are in employ, are apt, from a feeling of misdirected kindness, to treat those who are out of work to a glass of ale or two, now and then; and it is very natural, too, that those who have been but ill-fed for a long time are not able to stand it well.

    After leaving the old Irishwoman's house, we called upon a man who had got his living by the sale of newspapers.  There was nothing specially worthy of remark in this case, except that he complained of his trade having fallen away a good deal.  "I used to sell three papers where I now sell one," said he.  This may not arise from there being fewer papers sold, but from there being more people selling them than when times were good.

    I came back to Manchester in the evening.  I have visited Preston again since then, and have spent some time upon Preston Moor, where there are nearly fifteen hundred men, principally factory operatives, at work.  Of this I shall have something to say in my next paper.


"The rose of Lancaster for lack of nurture pales."

 ― Blackburn Bard.

    It was early on a fine morning in July when I next set off to see Preston again; the long-continued rains seemed to be ended, and the unclouded sun flooded all the landscape with splendour.  All nature rejoiced in the change, and the heart of man was glad.  In Clifton Vale, the white-sleeved mowers were at work among the rich grass, and the scent of new hay came sweetly through our carriage windows.  In the leafy cloughs and hedges, the small birds were wild with joy, and every garden sent forth a goodly smell.  Along its romantic vale the glittering Irwell meandered, here, through nooks, "o'erhung wi' wildwoods, thickening green;" and there, among lush unshaded pastures; gathering on its way many a mild whispering brook, whose sunlit waters laced the green land with freakish lines of trembling gold.  To me this ride is always interesting, so many points of historic interest line the way; but it was doubly delightful on that glorious July morning.  And I never saw Fishergate, in Preston, look better than it did then.

Fishergate, Preston courtesy 'Spinning the Web'.

    On my arrival there I called upon the Secretary of the Trinity Ward Relief Committee.  In a quiet bye-street, where there are four pleasant cottages, with little gardens in front of them, I found him in his studious nook, among books, relief tickets, and correspondence.  We had a few minutes' talk about the increasing distress of the town; and he gave me a short account of the workroom which has been opened in Knowsley Street, for the employment of female factory operatives out of work.
    This workroom is managed by a committee of ladies, some of whom are in attendance every day.  The young women are employed upon plain sewing.  They have two days' work a week, at one shilling a day, and the Relief Committee adds sixpence to this 2s. in each case.  Most of them are merely learning to sew.  Many of them prove to be wholly untrained to this simple domestic accomplishment.  The work is not remunerative, nor is it expected to be so; but the benefit which may grow out of the teaching which these young women get here ― and the evil their employment here may prevent, cannot be calculated.  I find that such workrooms are established in some of the other towns now suffering from the depression of trade.  Some of these I intend to visit hereafter.

The sewing-class at the Manchester and Salford District Provident Society's rooms.
Illustrated London News, November 29, 1862.


OME, lasses, let's cheer up, an' sing, it's no use lookin' sad,
We'll mak' eawr sewin' schoo' to ring, an' stitch away loike mad;
We'll try an' mak' th' best job we con o' owt we han to do,
We read an' write, an' spell an' kest, while here at th' sewin' schoo'.
    ChorusThen, lasses, let's cheer up an' sing, it's no use lookin' sad,
                     We'll mak' eawr sewin' schoo' to ring, an' stitch away loike mad.

Eawr Queen, th' Lord Mayor o' London, too, they send us lots o' brass,
An' neaw, at welly every schoo', we'n got a sewin' class;
We'n superintendents, cutters eawt, an' visitors an' o;
We'n parsons, cotton mesturs, too, come in to watch us sew.
    Chorus—Then, lasses, let's cheer up an' sing, &c.

Sin th' war begun, an' th' factories stopped, we're badly off, it's true,
But still we needn't grumble, for we'n noan so mich to do;
We're only here fro' nine to four, an' han an heawer for noon,
We noather stop so very late nor start so very soon.
    Chorus—Then, lasses, let's cheer up an' sing, &c.

It's noice au' easy sittin' here, there's no mistake i' that,
We'd sooner do it, a foine seet, nor root among th' Shurat;
We'n ne'er no floats to unweave neaw, we're reet enough, bi th' mass,
For we couldn't have an easier job nor goin' to th' sewin' class.
    Chorus—Then, lasses, let's cheer up an' sing, &c.

We're welly killed wi' kindness neaw, we really are, indeed,
For everybody's tryin' hard to get us o we need;
They'n sent us puddin's, bacon, too, an' lots o' decent clo'es,
An' what they'll send afore they'n done there's nob'dy here 'at knows.
    Chorus—Then, lasses, let's cheer up an' sing, &c.

God bless these kind, good-natured folk, 'at sends us o' this stuff,
We conno tell 'em o we feel, nor thank 'em hawve enuff;
They help to find us meat an' clooas, an' eddicashun, too,
An' what creawns o', they give us wage for goin' to th' sewin' schoo'.
    Chorus—Then, lasses, let's cheer up an' sing, &c.

We'n sich a chance o' larnin' neaw we'n never had afore:
An' oh, we shall be rare an' wise when th' Yankee wars are o'er;
There's nob'dy then can puzzle us wi' owt we'n larned to do,
We'n getten polished up so weel wi' goin' to th' sewin' schoo'.
    Chorus—Then, lasses, let's cheer up an' sing, &c.

Young fellows lookin' partners eawt had better come this way,
For, neaw we'n larned to mak' a shirt, we're ready ony day;
But mind, they'll ha' to ax us twice, an' mak' a deol ado,
We're gettin' rayther saucy neaw, wi' goin' to th' sewin' schoo'.
    Chorus—Then, lasses, let's cheer up an' sing, &c.

There'll be some lookin' eawt for wives when th' factories start ogen,
But we shall never court wi' noan but decent, sober men;
Soa vulgar chaps, beawt common sense, will ha' no need to come,
For sooner than wed sich as these, we'd better stop a whoam.
    Chorus—Then, lasses, let's cheer up and sing, &c.

Come, lasses, then, cheer up an' sing, it's no use lookin' sad,
We'll mak' eawr sewin' schoo' to ring, an' stitch away loike mad;
We live i' hopes afore so long, to see a breeter day,
For th' cleawd at's hangin' o'er us neaw is sure to blow away.
    Chorus—Then, lasses, let's cheer up an' sing, &c.


    I spent an interesting half-hour with the secretary, after which I went to see the factory operatives at work upon Preston Moor.

    Preston Moor is a tract of waste land on the western edge of the town.  It belongs to the corporation.  A little vale runs through a great part of this moor, from south-east to north-west; and the ground was, until lately, altogether uneven.  On the town side of the little dividing vale the land is a light, sandy soil; on the other side, there is abundance of clay for brick-making.

School for mill operatives at Mr. Stirling's mill, Lower Mosely Street, Manchester.
Illustrated London News, November 29, 1862.

    Upon this moor there are now fifteen hundred men, chiefly factory operatives, at work, levelling the land for building purposes, and making a great main sewer for the drainage of future streets.  The men, being almost all unused to this kind of labour, are paid only one shilling per day; and the whole scheme has been devised for the employment of those who are suffering from the present depression of trade.

    The work had been going on several months before I saw it, and a great part of the land was levelled.  When I came in sight of the men, working in scattered gangs that fine morning, there was, as might be expected, a visible difference between their motions and those of trained "navvies" engaged upon the same kind of labour.  There were also very great differences of age and physical condition amongst them ― old men and consumptive-looking lads, hardly out of their teens.  They looked hard at me as I walked down the central line, but they were not anyway uncivil.  "What time is 't, maister?" asked a middle-aged man, with gray hair, as he wiped his forehead.  "Hauve-past ten," said I.  "What time says he?" inquired a feeble young fellow, who was resting upon his barrow.  "Hauve-past ten, he says," replied the other.  "Eh; it's warm!" said the tired lad, lying down upon his barrow again.  One thing I noticed amongst these men, with very rare exceptions, their apparel, however poor, evinced that wholesome English love of order and cleanliness which generally indicates something of self-respect in the wearer  ― especially among poor folk.  There is something touching in the whiteness of a well-worn shirt, and the careful patches of a poor man's old fustian coat.

    As I lounged about amongst the men, a mild-eyed policeman came up, and offered to conduct me to Jackson, the labour-master, who had gone down to the other end of the moor, to look after the men at work at the great sewer ― a wet clay cutting ― the heaviest bit of work on the ground.  We passed some busy brick-makers, all plastered and splashed with wet clay  ― of the earth, earthy.  Unlike the factory operatives around them, these men clashed, and kneaded, and sliced among the clay, as if they were working for a wager.  But they were used to the job, and working piece-work.

    A little further on, we came to an unbroken bit of the moor.  Here, on a green slope we saw a poor lad sitting chirruping upon the grass, with a little cloutful of groundsel for bird meat in his hand, watching another, who was on his knees, delving for earth-nuts with an old knife.  Lower down the slope there were three other lads plaguing a young jackass colt; and further off, on the town edge of the moor, several children from the streets hard by, were wandering about the green hollow, picking daisies, and playing together in the sunshine. 

    There are several cotton factories close to the moor, but they were quiet enough.  Whilst I looked about me here, the policeman pointed to the distance and said, "Jackson's comin' up, I see.  Yon's him, wi' th' white lin' jacket on."

    Jackson seems to have won the esteem of the men upon the moor by his judicious management and calm determination.  I have heard that he had a little trouble at first, through an injurious report spread amongst the men immediately before he undertook the management.  Some person previously employed upon the ground had "set it eawt that there wur a chap comin' that would make 'em addle a hauve-a-creawn a day for their shillin'."  Of course this increased the difficulty of his position; but he seems to have fought handsomely through all that sort of thing.  I had met him for a few minutes once before, so there was no difficulty between us.

    "Well, Jackson," said I, "heaw are yo gettin' on among it?"  "Oh, very well, very well," said he, "We'n more men at work than we had, an' we shall happen have more yet.  But we'n getten things into something like system, an' then tak 'em one with another th' chaps are willin' enough.  You see they're not men that have getten a livin' by idling aforetime; they're workin' men, but they're strange to this job, an' one cannot expect 'em to work like trained honds, no moor than one could expect a lot o' navvies to work weel at factory wark.  Oh, they done middlin', tak 'em one with another."

    I now asked him if he had not had some trouble with the men at first.  "Well," said he, "I had at first, an' that's the truth.  I remember th' first day that I came to th' job.  As I walked on to th' ground there was a great lump o' clay coom bang into my earhole th' first thing; but I walked on, an' took no notice, no moor than if it had bin a midge flyin' again my face.  Well, that kind o' thing took place, now an' then, for two or three days, but I kept agate o' never mindin'; till I fund there were some things that I thought could be managed a deal better in a different way; so I gav' th' men notice that I would have 'em altered.

    "For instance, now, when I coom here at first, there was a great shed in yon hollow; an' every mornin' th' men had to pass through that shed one after another, an' have their names booked for th' day.  The result wur, that after they'd walked through th' shed, there was many on 'em walked out at t'other end o' th' moor straight into teawn a-playin' 'em.  Well, I was determined to have that system done away with.  An', when th' men fund that I was gooin' to make these alterations, they growled a good deal, you may depend, an' two or three on 'em coom up an' spoke to me abeawt th' matter, while tother stood clustered a bit off.  Well; I was beginnin' to tell 'em plain an' straight-forrud what I would have done, when one o' these three sheawted out to th' whole lot, "Here, chaps, come an' gether reawnd th' devil.  Let's yer what he's for!"

    "'Well,' said I, 'come on, an' you shall yer,' for aw felt cawmer just then, than I did when it were o'er.  There they were, gethered reawnd me in a minute, ― th' whole lot, ― I were fair hemmed in.  But I geet atop ov a bit ov a knowe, an' towd 'em a fair tale, ― what I wanted, an' what I would have, an' I put it to 'em whether they didn't consider it reet.  An' I believe they see'd th' thing in a reet leet, but they said nought about it, but went back to their wark, lookin' sulky.  But I've had very little bother with 'em sin'.

    "I never see'd a lot o' chaps so altered sin' th' last February, as they are.  At that time no mortal mon hardly could walk through 'em 'beawt havin' a bit o' slack-jaw, or a lump o' clay or summat flung a-him.  But it isn't so, neaw.  I consider th' men are doin' very weel.  But, come; yo mun go deawn wi' me a-lookin' at yon main sewer."


"Oh, let us bear the present as we may,
     Nor let the golden past be all forgot;
 Hope lifts the curtain of the future day,
     Where peace and plenty smile without a spot
     On their white garments; where the human lot
 Looks lovelier and less removed from heaven;
     Where want, and war, and discord enter not,
 But that for which the wise have hoped and striven ―
 The wealth of happiness, to humble worth is given.

"The time will come, as come again it must,
     When Lancashire shall lift her head once more;
 Her suffering sons, now down amid the dust
     Of Indigence, shall pass through Plenty's door;
     Her commerce cover seas from shore to shore;
 Her arts arise to highest eminence;
     Her products prove unrivall'd, as of yore;
 Her valour and her virtue ― men of sense
 And blue-eyed beauties ― England's pride and her defence."

 ― Blackburn Bard.

    Jackson's office as labour-master kept him constantly tramping about the sandy moor from one point to another.  He was forced to be in sight, and on the move, during working hours, amongst his fifteen hundred scattered workmen.  It was heavy walking, even in dry weather; and as we kneaded through the loose soil that hot forenoon, we wiped our foreheads now and then.  "Ay," said he, halting, and looking round upon the scene, "I can assure you, that when I first took howd o' this job, I fund my honds full, as quiet as it looks now.  I was laid up for nearly a week, an' I had to have two doctors.  But, as I'd undertakken the thing, I was determined to go through with it to th' best o' my ability; an' I have confidence now that we shall be able to feight through th' bad time wi' summat like satisfaction, so far as this job's consarned, though it's next to impossible to please everybody, do what one will.  But come wi' me down this road.  I've some men agate o' cuttin' a main sewer.  It's very little farther than where th' cattle pens are i' th' hollow yonder; and it's different wark to what you see here.  Th' main sewer will have to be brought clean across i' this direction, an' it'll be a stiffish job.  Th' cattle market's goin' to be shifted out o' yon hollow, an' in another year or two th' whole scene about here will be changed."

    Jackson and I both remembered something of the troubles of the cotton manufacture in past times.  We had seen something of the "shuttle gatherings," the "plug-drawings," the wild starvation riots, and strikes of days gone by; and he agreed with me that one reason for the difference of their demeanour during the present trying circumstances lies in their increasing intelligence.  The great growth of free discussion through the cheap press has done no little to work out this salutary change.  There is more of human sympathy, and of a perception of the union of interests between employers and employed than ever existed before in the history of the cotton trade.  Employers know that their workpeople are human beings, of like feelings and passions with themselves, and like themselves, endowed with no mean degree of independent spirit and natural intelligence; and working men know better than beforetime that their employers are not all the heartless tyrants which it has been too fashionable to encourage them to believe.  The working men have a better insight into the real causes of trade panics than they used to have; and both masters and men feel more every day that their fortunes are naturally bound together for good or evil; and if the working men of Lancashire continue to struggle through the present trying pass of their lives with the brave patience which they have shown hitherto, they will have done more to defeat the arguments of those who hold them to be unfit for political power than the finest eloquence of their best friends could have done in the same time.

    The labour master and I had a little talk about these things as we went towards the lower end of the moor.  A few minutes' slow walk brought us to the spot, where some twenty of the hardier sort of operatives were at work in a damp clay cutting.  "This is heavy work for sich chaps as these," said Jackson; "but I let 'em work bi'th lump here.  I give'em so much clay apiece to shift, and they can begin when they like, an' drop it th' same.  Th' men seem satisfied wi' that arrangement, an' they done wonders, considerin' th' nature o'th job.  There's many o'th men that come on to this moor are badly off for suitable things for their feet.  I've had to give lots o' clogs away among'em.  You see men cannot work with ony comfort among stuff o' this sort without summat substantial on.  It rives poor shoon to pieces i' no time.  Beside, they're not men that can ston bein' witchod (wetshod) like some.  They haven't been used to it as a rule.  Now, this is one o'th' finest days we've had this year; an' you haven't sin what th' ground is like in bad weather.  But you'd be astonished what a difference wet makes on this moor.  When it's bin rain for a day or two th' wark's as heavy again.  Th' stuff's heavier to lift, an' worse to wheel; an' th' ground is slutchy.  That tries 'em up, an' poo's their shoon to pieces; an' men that are wakely get knocked out o' time with it.  But thoose that can stand it get hardened by it.  There's a great difference; what would do one man's constitution good will kill another.  Winter time 'll try 'em up tightly. . . Wait there a bit," continued he, "I'll be with you again directly."

    He then went down into the cutting to speak to some of his men, whilst I walked about the edge of the bank.  From a distant part of the moor, the bray of a jackass came faint upon the sleepy wind.  "Yer tho', Jone," said one of the men, resting upon his spade; "another cally-weighver gone!"  "Ay," replied Jone, "th' owd lad's deawn't his cut.  He'll want no more tickets, yon mon!"  The country folk of Lancashire say that a weaver dies every time a jackass brays.

    Jackson came up from the cutting, and we walked back to where the greatest number of men were at work.  "You should ha' bin here last Saturday," said he; "we'd rather a curious scene.  One o' the men coom to me an' axed if I'd allow 'em hauve-an-hour to howd a meetin' about havin' a procession i' th' guild week.  I gav' 'em consent, on condition that they'd conduct their meetin' in an orderly way.  Well, they gethered together upo' that level theer; an' th' speakers stood upo' th' edge o' that cuttin', close to Charnock Fowd.  Th' meetin' lasted abeawt a quarter ov an hour longer than I bargained for; but they lost no time wi' what they had to do.  O' went off quietly; an' they finished with 'Rule Britannia,' i' full chorus, an' then went back to their wark.  You'll see th' report in today's paper."

    This meeting was so curious, and so characteristic of the men, that I think the report is worth repeating here: ―

    "On Saturday afternoon, a meeting of the parish labourers was held on the moor, to consider the propriety of having a demonstration of their numbers on one day in the guild week.  There were upwards of a thousand present.  An operative, named John Houlker, was elected to conduct the proceedings.  After stating the object of the assembly, a series of propositions were read to the meeting by William Gillow, to the effect that a procession take place of the parish labourers in the guild week; that no person be allowed to join in it except those whose names were on the books of the timekeepers; that no one should receive any of the benefits which might accrue who did not conduct himself in an orderly manner; that all persons joining the procession should be required to appear on the ground washed and shaven, and their clogs, shoes, and other clothes cleaned; that they were not expected to purchase or redeem any articles of clothing in order to take part in the demonstration; and that any one absenting himself from the procession should be expelled from any participation in the advantages which might arise from the subscriptions to be collected by their fellow-labourers.  These were all agreed to, and a committee of twelve was appointed to collect subscriptions and donations.  A president, secretary, and treasurer were also elected, and a number of resolutions agreed to in reference to the carrying out of the details of their scheme.  The managing committee consist of Messrs W. Gillow, Robert Upton, Thomas Greenwood Riley, John Houlker, John Taylor, James Ray, James Whalley, Wm. Banks, Joseph Redhead, James Clayton, and James McDermot.  The men agreed to subscribe a penny per week to form a fund out of which a dinner should be provided, and they expressed themselves confident that they could secure the gratuitous services of a band of music.  During the meeting there was great order.  At the conclusion, a vote of thanks was accorded to the chairman, to the labour master for granting them three-quarters of an hour for the purpose of holding the meeting, and to William Gillow for drawing up the resolutions.  Three times three then followed; after which, George Dewhurst mounted a hillock, and, by desire, sang 'Rule Britannia,' the chorus being taken up by the whole crowd, and the whole being wound up with a hearty cheer."

    There are various schemes devised in Preston for regaling the poor during the guild; and not the worst of them is the proposal to give them a little extra money for that week, so as to enable them to enjoy the holiday with their families at home.

    It was now about half-past eleven.  "It's getting on for dinner time," said Jackson, looking at his watch.  "Let's have a look at th' opposite side yonder; an' then we'll come back, an' you'll see th' men drop work when the five minutes' bell rings.  There's many of 'em live so far off that they couldn't well get whoam an' back in an hour; so, we give'em an hour an' a half to their dinner, now, an' they work half an' hour longer i'th afternoon."

    We crossed the hollow which divides the moor, and went to the top of a sandy cutting at the rear of the workhouse.  This eminence commanded a full view of the men at work on different parts of the ground, with the time-keepers going to and fro amongst them, book in hand.  Here were men at work with picks and spades; there, a slow-moving train of full barrows came along; and, yonder, a train of empty barrows stood, with the men sitting upon them, waiting.  Jackson pointed out some of his most remarkable men to me; after which we went up to a little plot of ground behind the workhouse, where we found a few apparently older or weaker men, riddling pebbly stuff, brought from the bed of the Ribble.  The smaller pebbles were thrown into heaps, to make a hard floor for the workhouse schoolyard.  The master of the workhouse said that the others were too big for this purpose ― the lads would break the windows with them.  The largest pebbles were cast aside to be broken up, for the making of garden walks.

    Whilst the master of the workhouse was showing us round the building, Jackson looked at his watch again, and said, "Come, we've just time to get across again.  Th' bell will ring in two or three minutes, an' I should like yo to see 'em knock off."  We hurried over to the other side, and, before we had been a minute there, the bell rung.  At the first toll, down dropt the barrows, the half-flung shovelfuls fell to the ground, and all labour stopt as suddenly as if the men had been moved by the pull of one string.  In two minutes Preston Moor was nearly deserted, and, like the rest, we were on our way to dinner.



"There'll be some on us missin', aw deawt,
 Iv there isn't some help for us soon."

 ― Samuel Laycock.

    The next scene of my observations is the town of Wigan.  The temporary troubles now affecting the working people of Lancashire wear a different aspect there on account of such a large proportion of the population being employed in the coal mines.  The "way of life" and the characteristics of the people are marked by strong peculiarities.  But, apart from these things, Wigan is an interesting place.

    The towns of Lancashire have undergone so much change during the last fifty years that their old features are mostly either swept away entirely, or are drowned in a great overgrowth of modern buildings.  Yet coaly Wigan retains visible relics of its ancient character still; and there is something striking in its situation.  It is associated with some of the most stirring events of our history, and it is the scene of many an interesting old story, such as the legend of Mabel of Haigh Hall, the crusader's dame.  The remnant of "Mab's Cross" still stands in Wigan Lane.  Some of the finest old halls of Lancashire are now, and have been, in its neighbourhood, such as Ince Hall and Crooke Hall.  It must have been a picturesque town in the time of the Commonwealth, when Cavaliers and Roundheads met there in deadly contention.  Wigan saw a great deal of the troubles of that time.  The ancient monument, erected to the memory of Colonel Tyldesley, upon the ground where he fell at the battle of Wigan Lane, only tells a little of the story of Longfellow's puritan hero, Miles Standish, who belonged to the Chorley branch of the family of Standish of Standish, near this town.  The ingenious John Roby, author of the "Traditions of Lancashire," was born here.  Round about the old market-place, and the fine parish church of St Wilfred, there are many quaint nooks still left to tell the tale of centuries gone by.  These remarks, however, by the way.  It is almost impossible to sunder any place entirely from the interest which such things lend to it.

    Our present business is with the share which Wigan feels of the troubles of our own time, and in this respect it is affected by some conditions peculiar to the place.  I am told that Wigan was one of the first ― if not the very first ― of the towns of Lancashire to feel the nip of our present distress.  I am told, also, that it was the first town in which a Relief Committee was organised.

    The cotton consumed here is almost entirely of the kind from ordinary to middling American, which is now the scarcest and dearest of any.  Preston is almost wholly a spinning town.  In Wigan there is a considerable amount of weaving as well as spinning.  The counts spun in Wigan are lower than those in Preston; they range from 10's up to 20's.

    There is also, as I have said before, another peculiar element of labour, which tends to give a strong flavour to the conditions of life in Wigan, that is, the great number of people employed in the coal mines.  This, however, does not much lighten the distress which has fallen upon the spinners and weavers, for the colliers are also working short time ― an average of four days a week.  I am told, also, that the coal miners have been subject to so many disasters of various kinds during past years, that there is now hardly a collier's family which has not lost one or more of its most active members by accidents in the pits.  About six years ago, the river Douglas broke into one of the Ince mines, and nearly two hundred people were drowned thereby.  These were almost all buried on one day, and it was a very distressing scene.

    Everywhere in Wigan one may meet with the widows and orphans of men who have been killed in the mines; and there are no few men more or less disabled by colliery accidents, and, therefore, dependent either upon the kindness of their employers, or upon the labour of their families in the cotton factories.  This last failing them, the result may be easily guessed.  The widows and orphans of coal miners almost always fall back upon factory labour for a living; and, in the present state of things, this class of people forms a very helpless element of the general distress.  These things I learnt during my brief visit to the town a few days ago.  Hereafter, I shall try to acquaint myself more deeply and widely with the relations of life amongst the working people there.

    I had not seen Wigan during many years before that fine August afternoon.  In the Main Street and Market Place there is no striking outward sign of distress, and yet here, as in other Lancashire towns, any careful eye may see that there is a visible increase of mendicant stragglers, whose awkward plaintiveness, whose helpless restraint and hesitancy of manner, and whose general appearance, tell at once that they belong to the operative classes now suffering in Lancashire.

'Pitbrow lasses' sorting coal, Wigan ― courtesy of wiganworld.

     Beyond this, the sights I first noticed upon the streets, as peculiar to the place, were, here, two "Sisters of Mercy," wending along, in their black cloaks and hoods, with their foreheads and cheeks swathed in ghastly white bands, and with strong rough shoes upon their feet; and, there, passed by a knot of the women employed in the coal mines.  The singular appearance of these women has puzzled many a southern stranger.  All grimed with coal dust, they swing along the street with their dinner baskets and cans in their hands, chattering merrily.  To the waist they are dressed like men, in strong trousers and wooden clogs.  Their gowns, tucked clean up, before, to the middle, hang down behind them in a peaked tail.  A limp bonnet, tied under the chin, makes up the head-dress.  Their curious garb, though soiled, is almost always sound; and one can see that the wash-tub will reveal many a comely face amongst them.  The dusky damsels are "to the manner born," and as they walk about the streets, thoughtless of singularity, the Wigan people let them go unheeded by.

    Before I had been two hours in the town, I was put into communication with one of the active members of the Relief Committee, who offered to devote a few hours of the following day to visitation with me, amongst the poor of a district called "Scholes," on the eastern edge of the town.  Scholes is the "Little Ireland" of Wigan, the poorest quarter of the town.  The colliers and factory operatives chiefly live there.  There is a saying in Wigan  ― that, no man's education is finished until he has been through Scholes.  Having made my arrangements for the next day, I went to stay for the night with a friend who lives in the green country near Orrell, three miles west of Wigan.

    Early next morning, we rode over to see the quaint town of Upholland, and its fine old church, with the little ivied monastic ruin close by.  We returned thence, by way of "Orrell Pow," to Wigan, to meet my engagement at ten in the forenoon.  On our way, we could not help noticing the unusual number of foot-sore, travel-soiled people, many of them evidently factory operatives, limping away from the town upon their melancholy wanderings.  We could see, also, by the number of decrepid old women, creeping towards Wigan, and now and then stopping to rest by the wayside, that it was relief day at the Board of Guardians.

    At ten, I met the gentleman who had kindly offered to guide me for the day; and we set off together.  There are three excellent rooms engaged by the good people of Wigan for the employment and teaching of the young women thrown out of work at the cotton mills.  The most central of the three is the lecture theatre of the Mechanics' Institution.  This room was the first place we visited.

    Ten o'clock is the time appointed for the young women to assemble.  It was a few minutes past ten when we got to the place; and there were some twenty of the girls waiting about the door.  They were barred out, on account of being behind time.  The lasses seemed very anxious to get in; but they were kept there a few minutes till the kind old superintendent, Mr Fisher, made his appearance.  After giving the foolish virgins a gentle lecture upon the value of punctuality, he admitted them to the room.  Inside, there were about three hundred and fifty girls mustered that morning.  They are required to attend four hours a day on four days of the week, and they are paid 9d. a day for their attendance.  They are divided into classes, each class being watched over by some lady of the committee.  Part of the time each day is set apart for reading and writing; the rest of the day is devoted to knitting and plain sewing.

    The business of each day begins with the reading of the rules, after which, the names are called over.  A girl in a white pinafore, upon the platform, was calling over the names when we entered.  I never saw a more comely, clean, and orderly assembly anywhere.  I never saw more modest demeanour, nor a greater proportion of healthy, intelligent faces in any company of equal numbers.


"Hopdance cries in Tom's belly for two white herrings.
 Croak not, black angel; I have no food for thee."

 ― King Lear.

    I lingered a little while in the work-room, at the Mechanics' Institution, interested in the scene.  A stout young woman came in at a side door, and hurried up to the centre of the room with a great roll of coarse gray cloth, and lin check, to be cut up for the stitchers.  One or two of the classes were busy with books and slates; the remainder of the girls were sewing and knitting; and the ladies of the committee were moving about, each in quiet superintendence of her own class.

    The room was comfortably full, even on the platform; but there was very little noise, and no disorder at all.  I say again that I never saw a more comely, clean, and well conducted assembly than this of three hundred and fifty factory lasses.  I was told, however, that even these girls show a kind of pride of caste amongst one another.  The human heart is much the same in all conditions of life.  I did not stay long enough to be able to say more about this place; but one of the most active and intelligent ladies connected with the management said to me afterwards, "Your wealthy manufacturers and merchants must leave a great deal of common stuff lying in their warehouses, and perhaps not very saleable just now, which would be much more valuable to us here than ever it will be to them.  Do you think they would like to give us a little of it if we were to ask them nicely?"  I said I thought there were many of them who would do so; and I think I said right.

    After a little talk with the benevolent old superintendent, whose heart, I am sure, is devoted to the business for the sake of the good it will do, and the evil it will prevent, I set off with my friend to see some of the poor folk who live in the quarter called "Scholes."  It is not more than five hundred yards from the Mechanics' Institution to Scholes Bridge, which crosses the little river Douglas, down in a valley in the eastern part of the town.  As soon as we were at the other end of the bridge, we turned off at the right hand corner into a street of the poorest sort ― a narrow old street, called "Amy Lane."  A few yards on the street we came to a few steps, which led up, on the right hand side, to a little terrace of poor cottages, overlooking the river Douglas.  We called at one of these cottages.

    Though rather disorderly just then, it was not an uncomfortable place.  It was evidently looked after by some homely dame.  A clean old cat dosed upon a chair by the fireside.  The bits of cottage furniture, though cheap, and well worn, were all there; and the simple household gods, in the shape of pictures and ornaments, were in their places still.  A hardy-looking, brown-faced man, with close-cropped black hair, and a mild countenance, sat on a table by the window, making artificial flies, for fishing.  In the corner over his head a cheap, dingy picture of the trial of Queen Catherine, hung against the wall.  I could just make out the tall figure of the indignant queen, in the well-known theatrical attitude, with her right arm uplifted, and her sad, proud face turned away from the judgment-seat, where Henry sits, evidently uncomfortable in mind, as she gushes forth that bold address to her priestly foes and accusers.

Wigan: Old Folley ― courtesy of wiganworld.

    The man sitting beneath the picture, told us that he was a throstle-overlooker by trade; and that he had been nine months out of work.  He said, "There's five on us here when we're i'th heawse.  When th' wark fell off I had a bit o' brass save't up, so we were forced to start o' usin' that.  But month after month went by, an' th' brass kept gettin' less, do what we would; an' th' times geet wur, till at last we fund ersels fair stagged up.  At after that, my mother helped us as weel as hoo could, ― why, hoo does neaw, for th' matter o' that, an' then aw've three brothers, colliers; they've done their best to poo us through.  But they're nobbut wortchin' four days a week, neaw; besides they'n enough to do for their own.  Aw make no acceawnt o' slotchin' up an' deawn o' this shap, like a foo.  It would sicken a dog, it would for sure.  Aw go a fishin' a bit neaw an' then; an' aw cotter abeawt wi' first one thing an' then another; but it comes to no sense.  Its noan like gradely wark.  It makes me maunder up an' deawn, like a gonnor wi' a nail in it's yed.  Aw wish to God yon chaps in Amerikey would play th' upstroke, an' get done wi' their bother, so as folk could start o' their wark again."  This was evidently a provident man, who had striven hard to get through his troubles decently.  His position as overlooker, too, made him dislike the thoughts of receiving relief amongst the operatives whom he might some day be called upon to superintend again.

    A little higher up in Amy Lane we came to a kind of square.  On the side where the lane continues there is a dead brick wall; on the other side, bounding a little space of unpaved ground, rather higher than the lane, there are a few old brick cottages, of very mean and dirty appearance.  At the doors of some of the cottages squalid, untidy women were lounging; some of them sitting upon the doorstep, with their elbows on their knees, smoking, and looking stolidly miserable.

    We were now getting near where the cholera made such havoc during its last visit, ― a pestilent jungle, where disease is always prowling about, "seeking whom it can devour."  A few sallow, dirty children were playing listlessly about the space, in a melancholy way, looking as if their young minds were already "sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought," and unconsciously oppressed with wonder why they should be born to such a miserable share of human life as this.  A tall, gaunt woman, with pale face, and thinly clad in a worn and much-patched calico gown, and with a pair of "trashes" upon her stockingless feet, sat on the step of the cottage nearest the lane.  The woman rose when she saw my friend.  "Come in," said she; and we followed her into the house.

Wigan: Little London ― courtesy of wiganworld.

    It was a wretched place; and the smell inside was sickly.  I should think a broker would not give half-a-crown for all the furniture we saw.  The woman seemed simple-minded and very illiterate; and as she stood in the middle of the floor, looking vaguely round she said, "Aw can hardly ax yo to sit deawn, for we'n sowd o' th' things eawt o'th heawse for a bit o' meight; but there is a cheer theer, sich as it is; see yo; tak' that."  When she found that I wished to know something of her condition ― although this was already well known to the gentleman who accompanied me ― she began to tell her story in a simple, off-hand way.  "Aw've had nine childer," said she; "we'n buried six, an' we'n three alive, an' aw expect another every day."

    In one corner there was a rickety little low bedstead.  There was no bedding upon it but a ragged kind of quilt, which covered the ticking.  Upon this quilt something lay, like a bundle of rags, covered with a dirty cloth.  "There's one o' th' childer, lies here, ill," said she.  "It's getten' th' worm fayver."  When she uncovered that little emaciated face, the sick child gazed at me with wild, burning eyes, and began to whine pitifully.  "Husht, my love," said the poor woman; "he'll not hurt tho'!  Husht, now; he's noan beawn to touch tho'!  He's noan o'th doctor, love.  Come, neaw, husht; that's a good lass!"

    I gave the little thing a penny, and one way and another we soothed her fears, and she became silent; but the child still gazed at me with wild eyes, and the forecast of death on its thin face.  The mother began again, "Eh, that little thing has suffered summat," said she, wiping her eyes; "an', as aw towd yo before, aw expect another every day.  They're born nake't, an' th' next'll ha' to remain so, for aught that aw con see.  But, aw dar not begin o' thinkin' abeawt it.  It would drive me crazy.  We han a little lad o' mi sister's livin' wi' us.  Aw had to tak' him when his mother deed.  Th' little thing's noather feyther nor mother, neaw.  It's gwon eawt a beggin' this morning wi' my two childer.  My mother lives with us, too," continued she; "hoo's gooin' i' eighty-four, an' hoo's eighteen pence a week off th' teawn.  There's seven on us, o'together, an' we'n had eawr share o' trouble, one way an' another, or else aw'm chetted.

Wigan: collier (note the clogs) ― courtesy of wiganworld.

    "Well, aw'll tell yo' what happened to my husban' o' i' two years' time.  My husban's a collier.  Well, first he wur brought whoam wi' three ribs broken ― aw wur lyin' in when they brought him whoam.  An' then, at after that, he geet his arm broken; an' soon after he'd getten o'er that, he wur nearly brunt to deeath i' one o'th pits at Ratcliffe; an' aw haven't quite done yet, for, after that, he lee ill o'th rheumatic fayver sixteen week.  That o' happen't i' two years' time.  It's God's truth, maister.  Mr Lea knows summat abeawt it ― an' he stons theer.  Yo may have a like aim what we'n had to go through.  An' that wur when times were'n good; but then, everything o' that sort helps to poo folk deawn, yo known.  We'n had very hard deed, maister ― aw consider we'n had as hard deed as anybody livin', takkin' o' together."

    This case was an instance of the peculiar troubles to which colliers and their families are liable; a little representative bit of life among the poor of Wigan.

Wigan: collier courtesy wiganworld.

   From this place we went further up into Scholes, to a dirty square, called the "Coal Yard."  Here we called at the house of Peter Y, a man of fifty-one, and a weaver of a kind of stuff called, "broad cross-over," at which work he earned about six shillings a week, when in full employ.  His wife was a cripple, unable to help herself; and, therefore, necessarily a burden.  Their children were two girls, and one boy.  The old woman said, "Aw'm always forced to keep one o'th lasses a-whoam, for aw connot do a hond's turn."  The children had been brought up to factory labour; but both they and their father had been out of work nearly twelve months.  During that time the family had received relief tickets, amounting to the value of four shillings a week.  Speaking of the old man, the mother said, "Peter has just getten a bit o' wark again, thank God.  He's hardly fit for it; but he'll do it as lung as he can keep ov his feet."


"Lord! how the people suffer day by day
 A lingering death, through lack of honest bread;
 And yet are gentle on their starving way,
 By faith in future good and justice led."

 ― Blackburn Bard.

    It is a curious thing to note the various combinations of circumstance which exist among the families of the poor.  On the surface they seem much the same; and they are reckoned up according to number, income, and the like.  But there are great differences of feeling and cultivation amongst them; and then, every household has a story of its own, which no statistics can tell.  There is hardly a family which has not had some sickness, some stroke of disaster, some peculiar sorrow, or crippling hindrance, arising within itself, which makes its condition unlike the rest.  In this respect each family is one string in the great harp of humanity ― a string which, touched by the finger of Heaven, contributes a special utterance to that universal harmony which is too fine for mortal ears.

Eagle Court, Blackburn.
Courtesy 'Cotton Town digization project'.

    From the old weaver's house in "Coal Yard" we went to a place close by, called "Castle Yard," one of the most unwholesome nooks I have seen in Wigan yet, though there are many such in that part of the town.  It was a close, pestilent, little cul de sac, shut in by a dead brick wall at the far end.  Here we called upon an Irish family, seven in number.  The mother and two of her daughters were in.  The mother had sore eyes.  The place was dirty, and the air inside was close and foul.  The miserable bits of furniture left were fit for nothing but a bonfire.

    "Good morning, Mrs K ― ," said my friend, as we entered the stifling house; "how are you getting on?"  The mother stood in the middle of the floor, wiping her sore eyes, and then folding her hands in a tattered apron; whilst her daughters gazed upon us vacantly from the background.  "Oh, then," replied the woman, "things is worse wid us entirely, sir, than whenever ye wor here before.  I dunno what will we do whin the winter comes."  In reply to me, she said, "We are seven altogether, wid my husband an' myself.  I have one lad was ill o' the yallow jaundice this many months, an' there is somethin' quare hangin' over that boy this day; I dunno whatever shall we do wid him.  I was thinkin' this long time could I get a ricommind to see would the doctor give him anythin' to rise an appetite in him at all.  By the same token, I know it is not a convanient time for makin' appetites in poor folk just now.  But perhaps the doctor might be able to do him some good, by the way he would be ready when times mind.  Faith, my hands is full wid one thing an' another.  Ah, thin; but God is good, after all.  We dunno what is He goin' to do through the dark stroke is an' us this day."

    Here my friend interrupted her, saying, "Don't you think, Mrs K―, that you would be more comfortable if you were to keep your house cleaner?  It costs nothing, you know, but a little labour; and you have nothing else to do just now."  "Ah, then," replied she; "see here, now.  I was just gettin' the mug ready for that same, whenever ye wor comin' into the yard, I was.  "Here she turned sharply round, and said to one of the girls, who was standing in the background, "Go on, wid ye, now; and clane the flure.  Didn't I tell ye many a time this day?"  The girl smiled, and shuffled away into a dingy little room at the rear of the cottage.  "Faith, sir," continued the woman, beating time with her hand in the air; "faith, sir, it is not aisy for a poor woman to manage unbiddable childer."  "What part of Ireland do you come from, Mrs K―?" said I.  She hesitated a second or two, and played with her chin; then, blushing slightly, she replied in a subdued tone, "County Galway, sir."  "Well," said I, "you've no need to be ashamed of that."  The woman seemed reassured, and answered at once, "Oh, indeed then, sir, I am not ashamed ― why would I?  I am more nor seventeen year now in England, an' I never disguised my speech, nor disowned my country ― nor I never will, aither, plase God."

    She had said before that her husband was forty-five years of age; and now I inquired what age she was.  "I am the same age as my husband," replied she.  "Forty-five," said I.  "No, indeed, I am not forty-five," answered she; "nor forty naither."  "Are you thirty-eight?"  "May be I am; I dunno.  I don't think I am thirty-eight naither; I am the same age as my husband."  It was no use talking, so the subject was dropped.

    As we came away, the woman followed my friend to the door, earnestly pleading the cause of some family in the neighbourhood, who were in great distress.  "See now," said she, "they are a large family, and the poor crayters are starvin'.  He is a shoemaker, an' he doesn't be gettin' any work this longtime.  Oh, indeed, then, Mr Lea, God knows thim people is badly off."  My friend promised to visit the family she had spoken of, and we came away.  The smell of the house, and of the court altogether, was so sickening that we were glad to get into the air of the open street again.

    It was now about half-past eleven, and my friend said, "We have another workroom for young women in the schoolroom of St Catherine's Church.  It is about five minutes' walk from here; we have just time to see it before they break up for dinner."  It was a large, square, brick building, standing by the road side, upon high ground, at the upper end of Scholes.  The church is about fifty yards east of the schoolhouse.  This workroom was more airy, and better lighted than the one at the Mechanics' Institution.  The floor was flagged, which will make it colder than the other in winter time.  There were four hundred girls in this room, some engaged in sewing and knitting, others in reading and writing.  They are employed four days in the week, and they are paid ninepence a day, as at the other two rooms in the town.  It really was a pleasant thing to see their clear, healthy, blond complexions; their clothing, so clean and whole, however poor; and their orderly deportment.  But they had been accustomed to work, and their work had given them a discipline which is not sufficiently valued.

    There are people who have written a great deal, and know very little about the influence of factory labour upon health, ― it would be worth their while to see some of these workrooms.  I think it would sweep cobwebs away from the corners of their minds.  The clothing made up in these workrooms is of a kind suitable for the wear of working people, and is intended to be given away to the neediest among them, in the coming winter.

    I noticed a feature here which escaped me in the room at the Mechanics' Institution.  On one side of the room there was a flight of wooden stairs, about six yards wide.  Upon these steps were seated a number of children, with books in their hands.  These youngsters were evidently restless, though not noisy; and they were not very attentive to their books.  These children were the worst clad and least clean part of the assembly; and it was natural that they should be so, for they were habitual beggars, gathered from the streets, and brought there to be taught and fed.  When they were pointed out to me, I could not help thinking that the money which has been spent upon ragged schools is an excellent investment in the sense of world-wide good.

    I remarked to one of the ladies teaching there, how very clean and healthy the young women looked.  She said that the girls had lately been more in the open air than usual.  "And," said she, speaking of the class she was superintending, "I find these poor girls as apt learners as any other class of young people I ever knew."

    We left the room just before they were dismissed to dinner.

    A few yards from the school, and by the same roadside, we came to a little cottage at the end of a row.  "We will call here," said my friend; "I know the people very well.

    "A little, tidy, good-looking woman sat by the fire, nursing an infant at the breast.  The house was clean, and all the humble furniture of the poor man's cottage seemed to be still in its place.  There were two shelves of books hanging against the walls, and a pile of tracts and pamphlets, a foot deep, on a small table at the back of the room.  I soon found, however, that these people were going through their share of the prevalent suffering.  The family was six in number.  The comely little woman said that her husband was a weaver of "Cross-over;" and I suppose he would earn about six or seven shillings a week at that kind of work; but he had been long out of work.  His wife said, "I've had to pop my husban's trousers an' waistcoat many a time to pay th' rent o' this house."

    She then began to talk about her first-born, and the theme was too much for her.  "My owdest child was thirteen when he died," said she.  "Eh, he was a fine child.  We lost him about two years sin'.  He was killed.  He fell down that little pit o' Wright's, Mr Lea, he did."  Then the little woman began to cry, "Eh, my poor lad!  Eh, my fine little lad!  Oh dear, ― oh dear o' me!"  What better thing could we have done than to say nothing at such a moment.  We waited a few minutes until she became calm, and then she began to talk about a benevolent young governess who used to live in that quarter, and who had gone about doing good there, amongst "all sorts and conditions of men," especially the poorest.

    "Eh," said she; "that was a good woman, if ever there was one.  Hoo teached a class o' fifty at church school here, though hoo wur a Dissenter.  An' hoo used to come to this house every Sunday neet, an' read th' Scripturs; an' th' place wur olez crammed ― th' stairs an o'.  Up-groon fellows used to come an' larn fro her, just same as childer ― they did for sure ― great rough colliers, an' o' mak's.  Hoo used to warn 'em again drinkin', an' get 'em to promise that they wouldn't taste for sich a time.  An' if ever they broke their promise, they olez towd her th' truth, and owned to it at once.  They like as iv they couldn't for shame tell her a lie.  There's one of her scholars, a blacksmith ― he's above fifty year owd ― iv yo were to mention her name to him just now, he'd begin a-cryin', an' he'd ha' to walk eawt o'th heause afore he could sattle hissel'.  Eh, hoo wur a fine woman; an' everything that hoo said wur so striking.  Hoo writes to her scholars here, once a week; an' hoo wants 'em to write back to her, as mony on 'em as con do.  See yo; that's one ov her letters!"

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