AMONG THE PRESTON
India Mill, Darwin ― courtesy Cotton Town
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.
STANZAS TO MY STARVING KIN
IN THE NORTH.
Sad are the sounds that are
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
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-
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
Oh! keep courage within; be the Britons ye are;
HE, 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'
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
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
"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.
THE SPINNER'S HOME.
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;
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
"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.
― 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
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
The sewing-class at the Manchester and Salford
District Provident Society's rooms.
Illustrated London News, November 29, 1862.
SEWIN' CLASS SONG.
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'
Chorus—Then, 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'
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
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'
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
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
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
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
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
"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
"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.
AMONG THE WIGAN
"There'll be some on us missin', aw deawt,
Iv there isn't some help for us soon."
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
"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'
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.
― 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!"