AMONG THE WIGAN
"Come, child of misfortune, come hither!
I'll weep with thee, tear for tear."
― Tom Moore.
The weaver's wife spoke very feelingly of the young governess
who had been so good to the family. Her voice trembled with emotion
as she told of her kindnesses, which had so won the hearts of the poor
folk thereabouts, that whenever they hear her name now, their tongues leap
at once into heart-warm praise of her. It seems to have been her
daily pleasure to go about helping those who needed help most, without any
narrowness of distinction; in the spirit of that "prime wisdom" which
works with all its might among such elements as lie nearest to the hand.
Children and gray-haired working men crowded into the poor cottages to
hear her read, and to learn the first elements of education at her free
classes. She left the town, some time ago, to live in the south of
England; but the blessings of many who were ready to perish in Wigan will
follow her all her days, and her memory will long remain a garden of good
thoughts and feelings to those she has left behind.
The eyes of the weaver's wife grew moist as she told of the
old blacksmith, who could not bear to hear her name mentioned without
tears. On certain nights of the week he used to come regularly with
the rest to learn to read, like a little child, from that young teacher.
As I said in my last, she still sends a weekly letter to her poor scholars
in Wigan to encourage them in their struggles, and to induce as many of
them as are able to write to her in return.
"This is one of her letters," said the poor woman, handing a
paper to me. The manner of the handwriting was itself characteristic
of kind consideration for her untrained readers. The words stood
well apart. The letters were clearly divided, and carefully and
distinctly written, in Roman characters, a quarter of an inch long; and
there was about three-quarters of an inch of space between each line, so
as to make the whole easier to read by those not used to manuscript.
The letter ran as follows: ―
"Dear friends, ― I send you with this
some little books, which I hope you will like to try to read; soon, I
hope, I shall be able to help you with those texts you cannot make out by
yourselves. I often think of you, dear friends, and wish that I
could sometimes take a walk to Scholefield's Lane. This wish only
makes me feel how far I am from you, but then I remember with gladness
that I may mention you all by name to our one Father, and ask Him to bless
you. Very often I do ask Him, and one of my strongest wishes is that
we, who have so often read His message of love together, may all of us
love the Saviour, and, through Him, be saved from sin. Dear friends,
do pray to Him. With kind love and best wishes to each one of you,
believe me always, your sincere friend, ― ."
I have dwelt a little upon this instance of unassuming
beneficence, to show that there is a great deal of good being done in this
world, which is not much heard of, except by accident. One meets
with it, here and there, as a thirsty traveller meets with an unexpected
spring in the wilderness, refreshing its own plot of earth, without noise
Manor House, Scholes ―
courtesy of wiganworld.
My friend and I left the weaver's cottage, and came down
again into a part of Scholes where huddled squalor and filth is to be
found on all sides. On our way we passed an old tattered Irishwoman,
who was hurrying along, with two large cabbages clipt tight in her
withered arms. "You're doin' well, old lady," said I. "Faith,"
replied she, "if I had a big lump ov a ham bone, now, wouldn't we get over
this day in glory, anyhow. But no matter. There's not wan lafe
o' them two fellows but will be clane out o' sight before the clock
The first place we called at in this quarter was a poor
half-empty cottage, inhabited by an old widow and her sick daughter.
The girl sat there pale and panting, and wearing away to skin and bone.
She was far gone in consumption. Their only source of maintenance
was the usual grant of relief from the committee, but this girl's
condition needed further consideration. The old widow said to my
friend, "Aw wish yo could get me some sort o' nourishment for this lass,
Mr Lea; aw cannot get it mysel', an' yo see'n heaw hoo is." My
friend took a note of the case, and promised to see to it at once.
When great weltering populations, like that of Lancashire, are thrown
suddenly into such a helpless state as now, it is almost impossible to lay
hold at once of every nice distinction of circumstances that gives a
speciality of suffering to the different households of the poor. But
I believe, as this time of trouble goes on, the relief committees are
giving a more careful and delicate consideration to the respective
conditions of poor families.
After leaving the old widow's house, as we went farther down
into the sickly hive of penury and dirt, called "Scholes," my friend told
me of an intelligent young woman, a factory operative and a Sunday-school
teacher, who had struggled against starvation, till she could bear it no
longer; and, even after she had accepted the grant of relief, she
"couldn't for shame" fetch the tickets herself, but waited outside whilst
a friend of hers went in for them.
The next house we visited was a comfortable cottage.
The simple furniture was abundant, and good of its kind, and the whole was
remarkably clean. Amongst the wretched dwellings in its
neighbourhood, it shone "like a good deed in a naughty world."
On the walls there were several Catholic pictures, neatly framed; and a
large old-fashioned wooden wheel stood in the middle of the floor, with a
quantity of linen yarn upon it. Old Stephen I―
and his cosy goodwife lived there. The old woman was "putting the
place to rights" after their noontide meal; and Stephen was "cottering"
about the head of the cellar steps when we went in. There were a few
healthy plants in the windows, and everything gave evidence of industry
The good-tempered old couple were very communicative. Old
Stephen was a weaver of diaper; and, when he had anything to do, he could
earn about eight shillings a week. "Some can get more than that at
the same work," said he; "but I am gettin' an old man, ye see. I
shall be seventy-three on the 10th of next October, and, beside that, I
have a very bad arm, which is a great hindrance to me." "He has had
very little work for months, now," said his wife; "an' what makes us feel
it more, just now, is that my son is over here on a visit to us, from
Oscott College. He is studying for the priesthood. He went to
St John's, here, in Wigan, for five years, as a pupil teacher; an' he took
good ways, so the principals of the college proposed to educate him for
the Church of Rome. He was always a good boy, an' a bright one, too.
I wish we had been able to entertain him better. But he knows that
the times are again us. He is twenty-four years of age; an' I often
think it strange that his father's birthday and his own fall on the same
day of the month ― the 10th of October. I hope we'll both live to
see him an ornament to his profession yet. There is only the girl,
an' Stephen, an' myself left at home now, an' we have hard work to pull
through, I can assure ye; though there are many people a dale worse off
than we are."
From this place we went up to a street called "Vauxhall
Road." In the first cottage we called at here the inmates were all
out of work, as usual, and living upon relief. There happened to be
a poor old white-haired weaver sitting in the house, ― an aged neighbour
out of work, who had come in to chat with my friend a bit. My friend
asked how he was getting on.
"Yo mun speak up," said the woman of the house, "he's very
deaf." "What age are yo, maister?" said I. "What?" "How
old are yo?" "Aw'm a beamer," replied the old man, "a twister-in, ―
when there's ought doin'. But it's nowt ov a trade neaw. Aw'll
tell yo what ruins me; it's these lung warps. They maken 'em seven
an' eight cuts in, neaw an' then. There's so mony 'fancies' an'
things i' these days; it makes my job good to nought at o' for sich like
chaps as me. When one gets sixty year owd, they needen to go to
schoo again neaw; they getten o'erta'en wi' so many kerly-berlies o' one
mak and another. Mon, owd folk at has to wortch for a livin' cannot
keep up wi' sich times as these, ― nought o'th sort." "Well, but how
do you manage to live?" "Well, aw can hardly tell, ― aw'll be sunken
iv aw can tell. It's very thin pikein'; but very little does for me,
an' aw've nought but mysel'. Yo see'n, aw get a bit ov a job neaw
an' then, an' a scrat amung th' rook, like an owd hen. But aw'll
tell yo one thing; aw'll not go up yon, iv aw can help it, ― aw'll not."
("Up yon" meant to the Board of Guardians.) "Eh, now," said the
woman of the house, "aw never see'd sich a man as him i' my life.
See yo, he'll sit an' clem fro mornin' to neet afore he'll ax oather
relief folk or onybody else for a bite."
In the same street we called at a house where there was a
tall, pale old man, sitting sadly in an old arm-chair, by the fireside.
The little cottage was very sweet and orderly. Every window was
cleaned to its utmost nook of glass, and every bit of metal was brightened
up to the height. The flagged floor was new washed; and everything
was in its own place. There were a few books on little shelves, and
a Bible lay on the window-sill; and there was a sad, chapel-like stillness
in the house.
A clean, staid-looking girl stood at a table, peeling
potatoes for dinner. The old man said, "We are five, altogether, in
this house. This lass is a reeler. I am a weighver; but we'n
bin out o' wark nine months, now. We'n bin force't to tak to relief
at last; an' we'n getten five tickets. We could happen ha' manage't
better, ― but aw'm sore wi' rheumatism, yo see'n. Aw've had a bit o'
weighvin' i'th heawse mony a day, but aw've th' rheumatic so bad i' this
hond ― it's hond that aw pick wi' ― that aw couldn't bide to touch a
fither with it, bless yo. Aw have th' rheumatic all o'er mo, nearly;
an' it leads one a feaw life. Yo happen never had a touch on it, had
yo?" "Never." "Well; yo're weel off. When is this war to
end, thinken yo?" "Nay; that's a very hard thing to tell."
"Well, we mun grin an' abide till it's o'er, aw guess. It's a mad
mak o' wark. But it'll happen turn up for best i'th end ov o'."
"Mother, heaw leets we han no brade, ―
Heawever con it be?
Iv aw don't get some brade to eat,
Aw think 'at aw mun dee."
― Hungry Child.
It was about noon when we left the old weaver, nursing his
rheumatic limbs by the side of a dim fire, in his chapel-like little
house. His daughter, a tall, clean, shy girl, began to peel a few
potatoes just before we came away.
It is a touching thing, just now, to see so many decent
cottages of thrifty working men brought low by the strange events of these
days; cottages in which everything betokens the care of well-conducted
lives, and where the sacred fire of independent feeling is struggling
through the long frost of misfortune with patient dignity. It is a
touching thing to see the simple joys of life, in homes like these,
crushed into a speechless endurance of penury, and the native spirit of
self-reliance writhing in unavoidable prostration, and hoping on from day
to day for better times. I have seen many such places in my
wanderings during these hard days ― cottages where all was so sweet and
orderly, both in person and habitation, that, but for the funereal
stillness which sat upon hunger-nipt faces, a stranger would hardly have
dreamt that the people dwelling there were undergoing any uncommon
privation. I have often met with such people in my rambles, ― I have
often found them suffering pangs more keen than hunger alone could
inflict, because they arose from the loss of those sweet relations of
independence which are dear to many of them as life itself. With
such as these ― the shy, the proud, the intelligent and uncomplaining
endurers ― hunger is not the hardest thing that befalls: ―
"When the mind's free,
The body's delicate; the tempest in their minds
Doth from their senses take all else,
Save what beats there."
People of this temper are more numerous amongst our working
population than the world believes, because they are exactly of the kind
least likely to be heard of. They will fight their share of the battle of
this time out as nobly as they have begun it; and it will be an ill thing
for the land that owns them if full justice is not done to their worth,
both now and hereafter.
Wigan: Rylance Row. The 1881 census record that
one of these houses had 20 occupants!
Courtesy of wiganworld.
In the same street where the old weaver lived, we called upon
a collier's family ― a family of ten in number. The colliers of
Wigan have been suffering a good deal lately, among the rest of the
community, from shortness of labour.
THE SMOKELESS CHIMNEY.
who to buy art willing,
Seek not here for talent rare;
Mine's no song of love or beauty,
But a tale of want and care.
Traveller on the Northern Railway!
Look and learn, as on you speed;
See the hundred smokeless chimneys,
Learn their tale of cheerless need.
Ah! perchance the landscape fairer
Charms your taste, your artist-eye;
Little do you guess how dearly
Costs that now unclouded sky.
"How much prettier is this county!"
Says the careless passer-by;
"Clouds of smoke we see no longer,
What's the reason? ― Tell me why.
"Better far it were, most surely,
Never more such clouds to see,
Bringing taint o'er nature's beauty,
With their foul obscurity."
Thoughtless fair one! from yon chimney
Floats the golden breath of life;
Stop that current at your pleasure!
Stop! and starve the child ― the wife.
Ah! to them each smokeless chimney
Is a signal of despair;
They see hunger, sickness, ruin,
Written in that pure, bright air.
"Mother! mother! see! 'twas truly
Said last week the mill would stop;
Mark yon chimney, nought is going,
There's no smoke from 'out o'th top!'
"Father! father! what's the reason
That the chimneys smokeless stand?
Is it true that all through strangers,
We must starve in our own land?"
Low upon her chair that mother
Droops, and sighs with tearful eye;
At the hearthstone lags the father,
Musing o'er the days gone by.
Days which saw him glad and hearty,
Punctual at his work of love;
When the week's end brought him plenty,
And he thanked the Lord above.
When his wages, earned so justly,
Gave him clothing, home, and food;
When his wife, with fond caresses,
Blessed his heart, so kind and good.
Neat and clean each Sunday saw them,
In their place of prayer and praise,
Little dreaming that the morrow
Piteous cries for help would raise.
Weeks roll on, and still yon chimney
Gives of better times no sign;
Men by thousands cry for labour,
Daily cry, and daily pine.
Now the things, so long and dearly
Prized before, are pledged away;
Clock and Bible, marriage-presents,
Both must go ― how sad to say!
Charley trots to school no longer,
Nelly grows more pale each day;
Nay, the baby's shoes, so tiny,
Must be sold, for bread to pay.
They who loathe to be dependent
Now for alms are forced to ask
Hard is mill-work, but, believe me,
Begging is the bitterest task.
Soon will come the doom most dreaded,
With a horror that appals;
Lo! before their downcast faces
Grimly stare the workhouse walls.
Stranger, if these sorrows touch you,
Widely bid your bounty flow;
And assist my poor endeavours
To relieve this load of woe.
Let no more the smokeless chimneys
Draw from you one word of praise;
Think, oh, think upon the thousands
Who are moaning out their days.
Rather pray that peace, soon bringing
Work and plenty in her train,
We may see these smokeless chimneys
Blackening all the land again.
It was dinner-time when we entered the house, and the
children were all swarming about the little place clamouring for their
noontide meal. With such a rough young brood, I do not wonder that
the house was not so tidy as some that I had seen. The collier's
wife was a decent, good-tempered-looking woman, though her face was pale
and worn, and bore evidence of the truth of her words, when she said,
"Bless your life, aw'm poo'd to pieces wi' these childer!" She sat
upon a stool, nursing a child at the breast, and doing her best to still
the tumult of the others, who were fluttering about noisily.
"Neaw, Sammul," said she, "theaw'll ha' that pot upo th' floor in now, ―
thae little pousement thae! Do keep eawt o' mischief, ― an' make a
less din, childer, win yo: for my yed's fair maddle't wi' one thing an'
another . . . Mary, tak' th' pon off th' fire, an' reach me yon hippin'
off th' oondur; an' then sit tho deawn somewheer, do, ― thae'll be less bi
The children ranged seemingly from about two months up to
fourteen years of age. Two of the youngest were sitting upon the
bottom step of the stairs, eating off one plate. Four rough lads
were gathered round a brown dish, which stood upon a little deal table in
the middle of the floor. These four were round-headed little
fellows, all teeming with life. "Yon catched us eawt o'flunters,
(out of order,)" said the poor woman when we entered; "but what con a body
We were begging that she would not disturb herself, when one
of the lads at the table called out, "Mother; look at eawr John. He
keeps pushin' me off th' cheer!" "Eh, John," replied she; "I wish
thy feyther were here! Thae'rt olez tormentin' that lad. Do
let him alone, wilto ― or else aw'll poo that toppin' o' thine, smartly ―
aw will! An' do see iv yo connot behave yorsels!" "Well," said
John; "he keeps takkin' my puddin'!" "Eh, what a story," replied the
other little fellow; "it wur thee, neaw!" "Aw'll tell yo what it
is," said the mother, "iv yo two connot agree, an' get your dinner
quietly, aw'll tak that dish away; an' yo'st not have another bite this
day. Heaw con yo for shame!" This quietened the lads a little,
and they went on with their dinner.
At another little table under the back window, two girls
stood, dining off one plate. The children were all eating a kind of
light pudding, known in Lancashire by the name of "Berm-bo," or, "Berm-dumplin',"
made of flour and yeast, mixed with a little suet. The poor woman
said that her children were all "hearty-etten," (all hearty eaters,)
especially the lads; and she hardly knew what to make for them, so as to
have enough for the whole. "Berm-dumplin'," was as satisfying as
anything that she could get, and it would "stick to their ribs" better
than "ony mak o' swill;" besides, the children liked it.
Speaking of her husband, she said, "He were eawt o' wark a
good while; but he geet a shop at last, at Blackrod, abeawt four mile off
Wigan. When he went a-wortchin' to Blackrod, at first, nought would
sarve but he would walk theer an' back every day, so as to save lodgin'
brass, ― an sich like. Aw shouldn't ha' care't iv it had nobbut bin
a mile, or two even; for aw'd far rayther that he had his meals
comfortable awhoam, an' his bits o' clooas put reet; but Lord bless yo, ―
eight mile a day, beside a hard day's wark, ― it knocked him up at last, ―
it were so like. He kept sayin', 'Oh, he could do it,' an' sich
like; but aw could see that he were fair killin' hissel', just for the
sake o' comin' to his own whoam ov a neet; an' for th' sake o' savin' two
or three shillin'; so at last aw turned Turk, an' made him tak lodgin's
theer. Aw'd summut to do to persuade him at first, an' aw know that
he's as whoam-sick as a chylt that's lost its mother, just this minute;
but then, what's th' matter o' that, ― it wouldn't do for mo to have him
laid up, yo known. . . .Oh, he's a very feelin' mon. Aw've sin him
when he couldn't finish his bit o' dinner for thinkin' o' somebody that
Speaking of the hardships the family had experienced, she
said, "Eh, bless yo! There's some folk can sit i'th heawse an' send
their childer to prow eawt a-beggin' in a mornin', regilar, ― but eawr
childer wouldn't do it, ― an', iv they would, aw wouldn' let 'em, ― naw,
not iv we were clemmin' to deeoth, ― to my thinkin'."
The woman was quite right. Among the hard-tried
operatives of Lancashire I have seen several instances in which they have
gone out daily to beg; and some rare cases, even, in which they have
stayed moodily at home themselves and sent their children forth to beg;
and anybody living in this county will have noticed the increase of
mendicancy there, during the last few months. No doubt professional
beggars have taken large advantage of this unhappy time to work upon the
sympathies of those easy givers who cannot bear to hear the wail of
distress, however simulated ― who prefer giving at once, because it "does
their own hearts good," to the trouble of inquiring or the pain of
refusing, ― who would rather relieve twenty rogues than miss the blessing
of one honest soul who was ready to perish, ― those kind-hearted,
free-handed scatterers of indiscriminate benevolence who are the
keen-eyed, whining cadger's chief support, his standing joke, and
favourite prey; and who are more than ever disposed to give to whomsoever
shall ask of them in such a season as this.
All the mendicancy which appears on our streets does not
belong to the suffering operatives of Lancashire. But, apart from
those poor, miserable crawlers in the gutters of life, who live by
habitual and unnecessary beggary, great and continued adversity is a
strong test of the moral tone of any people. Extreme poverty, and
the painful things which follow in its train ― these are "bad to bide"
with the best of mankind. Besides, there are always some people who,
from causes within themselves, are continually at their wits' end to keep
the wolf from the door, even when employment is plentiful with them; and
there are some natures too weak to bear any long strain of unusual poverty
without falling back upon means of living which, in easy circumstances,
they would have avoided, if not despised. It is one evil of the heavy
pressure of the times; for there is fear that among such as these,
especially the young and plastic, some may become so familiar with that
beggarly element which was offensive to their minds at first ― may so lose
the tone of independent pride, and become "subdued to what they work in,
like the dyer's hand," ― that they may learn to look upon mendicancy as an
easy source of support hereafter, even in times of less difficulty than
Happily, such weakness as this is not characteristic of the
English people; but "they are well kept that God keeps," and perhaps it
would not be wise to cramp the hand of relief too much at a time like
this, to a people who have been, and will be yet, the hope and glory of
"Poor Tom's a-cold! Who gives anything to poor Tom?"
― King Lear.
One sometimes meets with remarkable differences of condition
in the households of poor folk, which stand side by side in the same
street. I am not speaking of the uncertain shelters of those who
struggle upon the skirts of civilisation, in careless, uncared-for
wretchedness, without settled homes, or regular occupation, ― the
miserable camp followers of life's warfare, ― living habitually from hand
to mouth, in a reckless wrestle with the world, for mere existence.
I do not mean these, but the households of our common working people.
Amongst the latter one sometimes meets with striking differences, in
cleanliness, furniture, manners, intellectual acquirements, and that
delicate compound of mental elements called taste.
Even in families whose earnings have been equal in the past,
and who are just now subject alike to the same pinch of adversity, these
disparities are sometimes very great. And, although there are cases
in which the immediate causes of these differences are evident enough in
the habits of the people, yet, in others, the causes are so obscure, that
the wisest observer would be most careful in judging respecting them.
I saw an example of this in a little bye-street, at the upper end of
Scholes ― a quarter of Wigan where the poorest of the poor reside, and
where many decent working people have lately been driven for cheap shelter
by the stress of the times.
Anxious faces wait at a soup kitchen, 1893 miner's
strike, Wigan ― courtesy wiganworld.
Scholes is one of those ash-pits of human life which may be
found in almost any great town; where, among a good deal of despised
stuff, which by wise treatment might possibly be made useful to the world,
many a jewel gets accidentally thrown away, and lost. This bye-street of
mean brick cottages had an unwholesome, outcast look; and the sallow,
tattered women, lounging about the doorways, and listlessly watching the
sickly children in the street, evinced the prevalence of squalor and want
there. The very children seemed joyless at their play; and everything that
met the eye foretold that there was little chance of finding anything in
that street but poverty in its most prostrate forms. But, even in this
unpromising spot, I met with an agreeable surprise.
The first house we entered reminded me of those clean, lone dwellings, up
in the moorland nooks of Lancashire, where the sweet influences of nature
have free play; where the people have a hereditary hatred of dirt and
disorder; and where, even now, many of the hardy mountain folk are half
farmers, half woollen weavers, doing their weaving in their own quiet
houses, where the smell of the heather and the song of the wild bird
floats in at the workman's window, blent with the sounds of rindling
waters, ― doing their weaving in green sequestered nooks, where the low of
kine, and the cry of the moorfowl can be heard; and bearing the finished
"cuts" home upon their backs to the distant town.
All was so bright in
this little cottage, ― so tidy and serene, ― that the very air seemed
clearer there than in the open street. The humble furniture, good of its
kind, was all shiny with "elbow grease," and some parts of it looked
quaint and well-preserved, like the heirlooms of a careful cottage
ancestry. The well polished fire-irons, and other metal things, seemed to
gather up the diffuse daylight and fling it back in concentrated radiances
that illuminated the shady cottage with cheerful beauty. The little shelf
of books, the gleaming window, with its healthy pot flowers, the perfect
order, and the trim sweetness of everything, reminded me, as I have said,
of the better sort of houses where simple livers dwell, up among the free
air of the green hills ― those green hills of Lancashire, the remembrance
of which will always stir my heart as long as it can stir to anything.
This cottage, in comparison with most of those which I had seen in Scholes,
looked like a glimpse of the star-lit blue peeping through the clouds on a
gloomy night. I found that it was the house of a widower, a weaver of
diaper, who was left with a family of eight children to look after. Two
little girls were in the house, and they were humbly but cleanly clad. One
of them called her father up from the cellar, where he was working at his
looms. He was a mild, thoughtful-looking man, something past middle age. I
could not help admiring him as he stood in the middle of the floor with
his unsleeved arms folded, uttering quiet jets of simple speech to my
friend, who had known him before. He said that he hardly ever got anything
to do now, but when he was at work he could make about 7s. 2d. a week by
weaving two cuts. He was receiving six tickets weekly from the Relief
Committee, which, except the proceeds of a little employment now and then,
was all that the family of nine had to depend upon for food, firing,
clothes, and rent. He said that he was forced to make every little spin
out as far as it would; but it kept him bare and busy, and held his nose
"everlastingly deawn to th' grindlestone." But he didn't know that it was
any use complaining about a thing that neither master nor man could help. He durst say that he could manage to grin and bide till things came round, th' same as other folk had to do. Grumbling, in a case like this, was like
"fo'in eawt wi' th' elements," (quarrelling with a storm.)
One of his
little girls was on her knees, cleaning the floor. She stopped a minute,
to look at my friend and me. "Come, my lass," said her father, "get on wi'
thi weshin'." "I made application for th' watchman's place at Leyland
Mill," continued he, "but I wur to lat. . . . There's nought for it,"
continued he, as we came out of the house, "there's nought for it but to
keep one's een oppen, an' do as weel as they con, till it blows o'er."
A few yards from this house, we looked in at a slip of a cottage, at the
corner of the row. It was like a slice off some other cottage, stuck on at
the end of the rest, to make up the measure of the street; for it was less
than two yards wide, by about four yards long. There was only one small
window, close to the door, and it was shrouded by a dingy cotton blind.
When we first entered, I could hardly see what there was in that gloomy
cell; but when the eyes became acquainted with the dimness within, we
found that there was neither fire nor furniture in the place, except at
the far end, where an old sick woman lay gasping upon three chairs, thinly
covered from the cold. She was dying of asthma. At her right hand there
was another rickety chair, by the help of which she raised herself up from
her hard bed. She said that she had never been up stairs during the
previous twelve months, but had lain there, at the foot of the stairs, all
She had two daughters. They were both out of the house; and
they had been out of work a long time. One of them had gone to Miss B―'s
to learn to sew. "She gets her breakfast before she starts," said the old
woman, "an' she takes a piece o' bread with her, to last for th' day." It
was a trouble to her to talk much, so we did not stop long; but I could
not help feeling sorry that the poor old soul had not a little more
comfort to smooth her painful passage to the grave.
The following verses are copied from "Lancashire Lyrics," edited by
John Harland, Esq., F.S.A. They are extracted from a song "by
some 'W. C.,' printed as a street broadside, at Ashton-under-Lyne,
and sung in most towns of South Lancashire."
We have come to ask for assistance;
At home we've been starving too long;
An' our children are wanting subsistence;
Kindly aid us to help them along.
For humanity is calling;
Don't let the call be in vain;
But help us; we're needy and falling;
And God will return it again.
War's clamour and civil commotion
Has stagnation brought in its train;
And stoppage brings with it starvation,
So help us some bread to obtain.
For humanity is calling.
The American war is still lasting;
Like a terrible nightmare it leans
On the breast of a country, now fasting
For cotton, for work, and for means.
And humanity is calling.
On our way from this
place, we went into a cottage near the "Coal Yard," where a tall, thin
Irishwoman was washing some tattered clothes, whilst her children played
about the gutter outside. This was a family of seven, and they were all
out of work, except the father, who was away, trying to make a trifle by
hawking writing-paper and envelopes. This woman told us that she was in
great trouble about one of her children ― the eldest daughter, now grown
up to womanhood. "She got married to a sailor about two year ago," said
she, "an' he wint away a fortnit after, an' never was heard of since. She
never got the scrape ov a pen from him to say was he alive or dead. She
never heard top nor tail of him since he wint from her; an' the girl is
just pinin' away."
Poor folk have their full share of the common troubles of life, apart from
the present distress.
The next place we visited was the "Fleece Yard,"
another of those unhealthy courts, of which there are so many in Scholes ―
where poverty and dirt unite to make life doubly miserable. In this yard
we went up three or four steps into a little disorderly house, where a
family of eleven was crowded. Not one of the eleven was earning anything
except the father, who was working for ls. 3d. a day. In addition to this
the family received four tickets weekly from the Relief Committee. There
were several of the children in, and they looked brisk and healthy, in
spite of the dirt and discomfort of the place; but the mother was sadly
"torn down" by the cares of her large family.
The house had a sickly
smell. Close to the window, a little, stiff built, bullet-headed lad
stood, stript to the waist, sputtering and splashing as he washed himself
in a large bowl of water, placed upon a stool. By his side there was
another lad three or four years older, and the two were having a bit of
famous fun together, quite heedless of all else. The elder kept ducking
the little fellow's head into the water, upon which the one who was
washing himself sobbed, and spat, and cried out in great glee, "Do it
again, Jack!" The mother, seeing us laugh at the lads, said, "That big un's been powin' tother, an' th' little monkey's gone an' cut every smite
o' th' lad's toppin' off." "Well," said the elder lad, "Aw did it so as
nobody can lug him." And it certainly was a close clip. We could see to
the roots of the little fellow's hair all over his round, hard head.
"Come," said the mother, "yo two are makin' a nice floor for mo. Thae'll
do, mon; arto beawn to lother o' th' bit o' swoap away that one has to
wash wi'; gi's howd on't this minute, an' go thi ways an' dry thisel',
thae little pouse, thae."
We visited several other places in Scholes that
day, but of these I will say something hereafter. In the evening I
returned home, and the thing that I best remember hearing on the way was
an anecdote of two Lancashire men, who had been disputing a long time
about something that one of them knew little of. At last the other turned
to him, and said, "Jem; does thae know what it is that makes me like thee
so weel, owd brid?" "Naw; what is it?" "Why; it's becose thae'rt sich a
―― foo!" "Well," replied the other, "never thee mind that;" and then,
alluding to the subject they had been disputing about, he said, "Thae
knows, Joe, aw know thae'rt reet enough; but, by th' men, aw'll not give
in till mornin'."
"Here, take this purse, thou whom the Heaven's plagues
Have humbled to all strokes."
― King Lear.
In the afternoon of the last day I spent in Wigan, as I
wandered with my friend from one cottage to another, in the long suburban
lane called "Hardy Butts," I bethought me how oft I had met with this name
of "Butts" connected with places in or close to the towns of Lancashire.
To me the original application of the name seems plain, and not
In the old days, when archery was common in England, the
bowmen of Lancashire were famous; and it is more than likely that these
yet so-called "Butts" are the places where archery was then publicly
practised. When Sir Edward Stanley led the war-smiths of Lancashire
and Cheshire to Flodden Field, the men of Wigan are mentioned as going
with the rest. And among those "fellows fearce and freshe for feight,"
of whom the quaint old alliterative ballad describes the array: ―
"A stock of striplings strong of heart,
Brought up from babes with beef and bread,
From Warton unto Warrington
From Wigan unto Wiresdale ― "
and, from a long list of the hills, and cloughs, and old towns of the
county ― the bowmen of Lancashire did their share of work upon that field.
The use of the bow lingered longer in Lancashire than in some parts of the
kingdom ― longer in England generally than many people suppose. Sir
Walter Scott says, in a note to his "Legend of Montrose:" "Not only many
of the Highlanders in Montrose's army used these antique missiles, but
even in England the bow and quiver, once the glory of the bold yeomen of
that land, were occasionally used during the great civil wars."
But I have said enough upon this subject in this place.
My friend's business, and mine, in Wigan, that day, was connected with
other things. He was specially wishful that I should call upon an
acquaintance of his, who lived in "Hardy Butts," an old man and very poor;
a man heavily stricken by fortune's blows, yet not much tamed thereby; a
man "steeped to the lips" in poverty, yet of a jocund spirit; a humorist
and a politician, among his humble companions. I felt curious to see
this "Old John," of whom I heard so much. We went to the cottage
where he lived. There was very little furniture in the place, and,
like the house itself, it was neither good nor clean; but then the
poverty-stricken pair were very old, and, so far as household comfort
went, they had to look after themselves.
When we entered, the little wrinkled woman sat with her back
to us, smoking, and gazing at the dirty grate, where a few hot cinders
glowed dimly in the lowmost bars. "Where's John?" said my friend.
"He hasn't bin gone eawt aboon five minutes," said she, turning round to
look at us, "Wur yo wantin' him?" "Yes, I should like to see him."
She looked hard at my friend again, and then cried out, "Eh, is it yo?
Come, an' sit yo deawn! aw'll go an' see iv aw can root him up for yo!"
But we thought it as well to visit some other houses in the neighbourhood,
calling at old John's again afterwards; so we told the old woman, and came
CHEER UP A BIT LONGER.
Cheer up a bit longer, mi brothers i'
There's breeter days for us i' store;
There'll be plenty o' tommy an' wark for us o'
When this 'Merica bother gets o'er.
Yo'n struggled reet nobly, an' battled reet hard,
While things han bin lookin' so feaw;
Yo'n borne wi' yo're troubles and trials so long,
It's no use o' givin' up neaw.
Feight on, as yo' han done, an' victory's sure,
For th' battle seems very nee won,
Be firm i' yo're sufferin', an' dunno give way;
They're nowt nobbut ceawards'at run.
Yo' know heaw they'n praised us for stondin' so firm,
An' shall we neaw stagger an' fo?
Nowt o'th soart; ― iv we nobbut brace up an' be hard,
We can stond a bit longer, aw know.
It's hard to keep clemmin' an' starvin' so long;
An' one's hurt to see th' little things fret,
Becose there's no buttercakes for 'em to eat;
But we'n allus kept pooin' thro' yet.
As bad as toimes are, an' as feaw as things look,
We're certain they met ha' bin worse;
We'n had tommy to eat, an' clooas to put on;
They'n only bin roughish, aw know.
Aw've begged on yo' to keep up yo're courage afore,
An' neaw let me ax yo' once moor;
Let's noan get disheartened, there's hope for us yet,
We needn't dispair tho' we're poor.
We cannot expect it'll allus be foine;
It's dark for a while, an' then clear;
We'n mirth mixed wi' sadness, an' pleasure wi' pain,
An' shall have as long as we're here.
This world's full o' changes for better an' wur,
An' this is one change among th' ruck;
We'n a toime o' prosperity, ― toime o' success,
An' then we'n a reawnd o' bad luck.
We're baskin' i' sunshine, at one toime o'th day,
At other toimes ceawerin' i'th dark;
We're sometoimes as hearty an' busy as owt,
At other toimes ill, an' beawt wark.
Good bless yo'! mi brothers, we're nobbut on th' tramp,
We never stay long at one spot;
An' while we keep knockin' abeawt i' this world,
Disappointments will fall to eawer lot:
So th' best thing we can do, iv we meon to get thro',
Is to wrastle wi' cares as they come;
We shall feel rayther tired, ― but let's never heed that, ―
We can rest us weel when we get whoam.
Cheer up, then, aw say, an' keep hopin' for th' best,
An' things 'll soon awter, yo'll see;
There'll be oceans o' butties for Tommy an' Fred,
An' th' little un perched on yo're knee.
Bide on a bit longer, tak' heart once ogen,
An' do give o'er lookin' so feaw;
As we'n battled, an' struggled, an' suffered so long,
It's no use o' givin' up neaw.
My friend was well known to the poor people of that
neighbourhood as a member of the Relief Committee, and we had not gone
many yards down "Hardy Butts" before we drew near where three Irishwomen
were sitting upon the doorsteps of a miserable cottage, chattering, and
looking vacantly up and down the slutchy street. As soon as they
caught sight of my friend, one of the women called out, "Eh, here's Mr
Lea! Come here, now, Mr Lea, till I spake to ye. Ah, now;
couldn't ye do somethin' for old Mary beyant there? Sure the colour
of hunger's in that woman's face. Faith, it's a pity to see the way
she is, ― neither husband nor son, nor chick nor child, nor bit nor sup,
barrin' what folk that has nothin' can give to her, ― the crayter."
"Oh, indeed, then, sir," said another, "I'll lave it to God; but that
woman is starvin'. She is little more nor skin an' bone, ― and
that's goin' less. Faith, she's not long for this world, any how. .
. . Bridget, ye might run an' see can she come here a minute. . . . But
there she is, standin' at the corner. Mary! Come here, now,
woman, till ye see the gentleman." She was a miserable-looking
creature; old, and ill, and thinly-clothed in rags, with a dirty cloth
tied round her head. My friend asked her some questions, which she
answered slowly, in a low voice that trembled with more than the weakness
of old age. He promised to see to the relief of her condition
immediately ― and she thanked him, but so feebly, that it seemed to me as
if she had not strength enough left to care much whether she was relieved
or not. But, as we came away, the three Irishwomen, sitting upon the
door-steps, burst forth into characteristic expressions of gratitude.
"Ah! long life to ye, Mr Lea! The prayer o' the poor is wid ye for
evermore. If there was ony two people goin' to heaven alive, you'll
be wan o' them. . . That ye may never know want nor scant, ― for the good
heart that's batein' in ye, Mr Lea."
We now went through some of the filthy alleys behind "Hardy
Butts," till we came to the cottage of a poor widow and her two daughters.
The three were entirely dependent upon the usual grant of relief from the
committee. My friend called here to inquire why the two girls had
not been to school during the previous few days; and whilst their mother
was explaining the reason, a neighbour woman who had seen us enter, looked
in at the door, and said, "Hey! aw say, Mr Lea!" "Well, what's the
matter?" "Whaw, there's a woman i'th next street at's gettin' four
tickets fro th' relief folk, reggilar, an' her husban's addlin' thirty
shillin' a week o' t' time, as a sinker ― he is for sure. Aw 'm noan
tellin' yo a wort ov a lie. Aw consider sick wark as that's noan
reet ― an' so mony folk clemmin' as there is i' Wigan." He made a
note of the matter; but he told me afterwards that such reports were often
found to be untrue, having their origin sometimes in private spite or
personal contention of some kind.
In the next house we called at, a widow woman lived, with her
married daughter, who had a child at the breast. The old woman told
her story herself; the daughter never spoke a word, so far as I remember,
but sat there, nursing, silent and sad, with half-averted face, and
stealing a shy glance at us now and then, when she thought we were not
looking at her. It was a clean cottage, though it was scantily
furnished with poor things; and they were both neat and clean in person,
though their clothing was meagre and far worn. I thought, also, that
the old woman's language, and the countenances of both of them, indicated
more natural delicacy of feeling, and more cultivation, than is common
amongst people of their condition.
The old woman said, "My daughter has been eawt o' work a long
time. I can make about two shillings and sixpence a-week, an' we've
a lodger that pays us two shillings a week; but we've three shillings
a-week to pay for rent, an' we must pay it, too, or else turn out.
But I'm lookin' for a less heawse; for we cannot afford to stop here any
longer, wi' what we have comin' in, ― that is, if we're to live at
o'." I thought the house they were in was small enough and mean
enough for the poorest creature, and, though it was kept clean, the
neighbourhood was very unwholesome. But this was another instance of
how the unemployed operatives of Lancashire are being driven down from day
to day deeper into the pestilent sinks of life in these hard times.
"This child of my daughter's," continued the old woman,
in a low tone, "this child was born just as they were puttin' my husband
into his coffin, an' wi' one thing an' another, we've had a deal o'
trouble. But one half o'th world doesn't know how tother lives.
My husban' lay ill i' bed three year; an' he suffered to that degree that
he was weary o' life long before it were o'er. At after we lost him,
these bad times coom on, an' neaw, aw think we're poo'd deawn as nee to th'
greawnd as ony body can be. My daughter's husband went off a-seekin'
work just afore that child was born, ― an' we haven't heard from him yet."
My friend took care that his visit should result in lightening the weight
of the old woman's troubles a little.
As we passed the doors of a row of new cottages at the top
end of "Hardy Butts," a respectable old man looked out at one of the
doorways, and said to my friend, "Could aw spake to yo a minute?" We
went in, and found the house remarkably clean, with good cottage furniture
in it. Two neighbour children were peeping in at the open door.
The old man first sent them away, and then, after closing the door, he
pointed to a good-looking young woman who stood blushing at the entrance
of the inner room, with a wet cloth in her hands, and he said, "Could yo
do a bit o' summat to help this lass till sich times as hoo can get wark
again? Hoo's noather feyther nor mother, nor nought i'th world to
tak to, but what aw can spare for her, an' this is a poor shop to come to
for help. Aw'm uncle to her." "Well," said my friend, "and
cannot you manage to keep her?" "God bless yo!" replied the old man,
getting warm, "Aw cannot keep mysel'. Aw will howd eawt as lung as
aw can; but, yo know, what'll barely keep one alive 'll clem two. Aw
should be thankful iv yo could give her a bit o' help whol things are as
Before the old man had done talking, his niece had crept away
into the back room, as if ashamed of being the subject of such a
conversation. This case was soon disposed of to the satisfaction of
the old man; after which we visited three other houses in the same block,
of which I have nothing special to say, except that they were all
inhabited by people brought down to destitution by long want of work, and
living solely upon the relief fund, and upon the private charity of their
old employers. Upon this last source of relief too little has been
said, because it has not paraded itself before the public eye; but I have
had opportunities for seeing how wide and generous it is, and I shall have
abundant occasion for speaking of it hereafter.
On our way back, we looked in at "Old John's" again, to see
if he had returned home. He had been in, and he had gone out again,
so we came away, and saw nothing of him. Farther down towards the
town, we passed through Acton Square, which is a cleaner place than some
of the abominable nooks of Scholes, though I can well believe that there
is many a miserable dwelling in it, from what I saw of the interiors and
about the doorways, in passing.
The last house we called at was in this square, and it was a
pleasing exception to the general dirt of the neighbourhood. It was
the cottage of a stout old collier, who lost his right leg in one of
Wright's pits some years ago. My friend knew the family, and we
called there more for the purpose of resting ourselves and having a chat
than anything else. The old man was gray-haired, but he looked very
hale and hearty ― save the lack of his leg. His countenance was
expressive of intelligence and good humour; and there was a touch of quiet
majesty about his massive features. There was, to me, a kind of rude
hint of Christopher North in the old collier's appearance. His wife,
too, was a tall, strong-built woman, with a comely and a gentle face
― a fit mate for such a man as he. I thought, as she moved about,
her grand bulk seemed to outface the narrow limits of the cottage.
The tiny house was exceedingly clean, and comfortably
furnished. Everything seemed to be in its appointed place, even to
the sleek cat sleeping on the hearth. There were a few books on a
shelf, and a concertina upon a little table in the corner. When we
entered, the old collier was busy with the slate and pencil, and an
arithmetic before him; but he laid them aside, and, doffing his
spectacles, began to talk with us. He said that they were a family
of six, and all out of work; but he said that, ever since he lost his leg,
the proprietors of the pit in which the accident happened (Wright's) had
allowed him a pension of six shillings a week, which he considered very
handsome. This allowance just kept the wolf from their little door
in these hard times.
In the course of our conversation I found that the old man
read the papers frequently, and that he was a man of more than common
information in his class. I should have been glad to stay longer
with him, but my time was up; so I came away from the town, thus ending my
last ramble amongst the unemployed operatives of Wigan. Since then
the condition of the poor there has been steadily growing worse, which is
sure to be heard of in the papers.
INCIDENT BY THE
"Take physic, pomp!
Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel;
That thou mayst shake the superflux to them,
And show the Heavens more just."
― King Lear.
On the Saturday after my return from Wigan, a little incident fell in my
way, which I thought worth taking note of at the time; and perhaps it may
not be uninteresting to your readers.
On that day I went up to Levenshulme,
to spend the afternoon with an old friend of mine, a man of studious
habits, living in a retired part of that green suburb. The time went
pleasantly by whilst I was with the calm old student, conversing upon the
state of Lancashire, and the strange events which are upheaving the
civilised world in great billows of change, ― and drinking in the peaceful
charm which pervaded everything about the man and his house and the scene
which it stood in.
After tea, he came with me across the fields to the "Midway Inn," on
Stockport Road, where the omnibuses call on their way to Manchester. It
was a lovely evening, very clear and cool, and twilight was sinking upon
the scene. Waiting for the next omnibus, we leaned against the long wooden
watering-trough in front of the inn. The irregular old building looked
picturesque in the soft light of declining day, and all around was so
still that we could hear the voices of bowlers who were lingering upon the
green, off at the north side of the house, and retired from the highway by
an intervening garden. The varied tones of animation, and the phrases
uttered by the players, on different parts of the green, came through the
quiet air with a cheery ring.
Fro' heawrs to days ― a dhreary length ―
Fro' days to weeks one idle stons,
An' slowly sinks fro' pride an' strength
To weeny heart an' wakely honds;
An' still one hopes, an' ever tries
To think 'at better days mun come;
Bo' th' sun may set, an' th' sun may rise, ―
No sthreak o' leet one finds a-whoam.
Aw want to see thoose days again,
When folk can win whate'er they need;
O God! to think 'at wortchin' men
Should be poor things to pet an' feed!
There's some to th' Bastile han to goo,
To live o'th rates they'n help'd to pay;
An' some get "dow"  to
help 'em through;
An' some are taen or sent away.
What is there here, 'at one should live,
Or wish to live, weigh'd deawn wi' grief,
Through weary weeks an' months, 'at give
Not one short heawr o' sweet relief?
A sudden plunge, a little blow,
Would end at once mi' care an' pain!
An' why noa do't? ― for weel aw know
Aw's lose bo' ills, if nowt aw gain.
An' why noa do't? It ill 'ud tell
O' thoose wur laft beheend, aw fear;
It's wring, at fust, to kill mysel',
It's wring to lyev mi childer here.
One's like to tak' some thowt for them ―
Some sort o' comfort one should give;
So one mun bide, an' starve, an' clem,
An' pine, an' mope, an' fret, an' live.
From "Phases of Distress ―
The language of the bowling-green sounds
very quaint to people unused to the game. "Too much land, James!" cries
one. "Bravo, bully-bowl! That's th' first wood! Come again for more!"
cries another. "Th' wrong bias, John!" "How's that?" "A good road; but it
wants legs! Narrow; narrow, o' to pieces!" These, and such like phrases of
the game, came distinctly from the green into the highway that quiet
evening. And here I am reminded, as I write, that the philosophic Doctor
Dalton was a regular bowler upon Tattersall's green, at Old Trafford.
These things, however, are all aside from the little matters which I wish
As we stood by the watering-trough, listening to the voices of the
bowlers, and to the occasional ringing of bells mingled with a low buzz of
merriment inside the house, there were many travellers went by. They came,
nearly all of them, from the Manchester side; sometimes three or four in
company, and sometimes a lonely straggler. Some of them had poor-looking
little bundles in their hands; and, with a few exceptions, their dress,
their weary gait, and dispirited looks led me to think that many of them
were unemployed factory operatives, who had been wandering away to beg
where they would not be known. I have met so many shame-faced, melancholy
people in that condition during the last few months, that, perhaps, I may
have somewhat over judged the number of these that belongs to that class. But, in two or three cases, little snatches of conversation, uttered by
them as they went by, plainly told that, so far as the speakers went, it
was so; and, at last, a little thing befell, which, I am sure, represented
the condition of many a thousand more in Lancashire just now.
women stopped on the footpath in front of the inn, close to the place
where we stood, and began to talk together in a very free, open way, quite
careless of being overheard. One of them was a stout, handsome young
woman, about twenty-three. Her dress was of light printed stuff, clean and
good. Her round, ruddy arms, her clear blond complexion, and the bright
expression of her full open countenance, all indicated health and
good-nature. I guessed from her conversation, as well as from her general
appearance, that she was a factory operative in full employ ― though that
is such a rare thing in these parts now.
The other two looked very poor
and downhearted. One was a short, thick-set girl, seemingly not twenty
years of age; her face was sad, and she had very little to say. The other
was a thin, dark-haired, cadaverous woman, above thirty years of age, as I
supposed; her shrunk visage was the picture of want, and her frank,
child-like talk showed great simplicity of character. The weather had been
wet for some days previous; and the clothing of the two looked thin, and
shower-stained. It had evidently been worn a good while; and the colours
were faded. Each of them wore a shivery bit of shawl, in which their hands
were folded, as if to keep them warm. The handsome lass, who seemed to be
in good employ, knew them both; but she showed an especial kindness
towards the eldest of them.
As these two stood talking to their friend, we did not take much notice of
what they were saying until two other young women came slowly from
townwards, looking poor, and tired, and ill, like the first. These last
comers instantly recognised two of those who stood talking together in
front of the inn, and one of them said to the other, "Eh, sitho; there's
Sarah an' Martha here! . . . Eh, lasses; han yo bin a-beggin' too?" "Ay,
lass; we han;" replied the thin, dark complexioned woman; "Ay, lass; we
han. Aw've just bin tellin' Ann, here. Aw never did sich a thing i' my
life afore ― never! But it's th' first time and th' last for me, ― it is
that! Aw'll go whoam; an' aw'll dee theer, afore aw'll go a-beggin' ony
moor, aw will for sure! Mon, it's sich a nasty, dirty job; aw'd as soon
clem! . . .
"See yo, lasses; we set off this mornin' ― Martha an' me, we set eawt this mornin' to go to Gorton Tank, becose we yerd that it wur sich a
good place. But one doesn't know wheer to go these times; an' one doesn't
like to go a-beggin' among folk at they known. Well, when we coom to
Gorton we geet twopence-hawpenny theer; an' that wur o'. Neaw, there's
plenty moor beggin' besides us. Well, at after that twopence-hawpenny, we
geet twopence moor, an' that's o' at we'n getten. But, eh, lasses, when aw coom to do it, aw hadn't th' heart to as for nought; aw hadn't for sure. .
. . Martha an' me's walked aboon ten mile iv we'n walked a yard; an' we
geet weet through th' first thing; an' aw wur ill when we set off, an' so
wur Martha, too; aw know hoo wur, though hoo says nought.
"Well; we coom
back through t' teawn; an' we were both on us fair stagged up. Aw never
were so done o'er i' my life, wi' one thing an' another. So we co'de a-seein'
Ann here; an' hoo made us a rare good baggin' ― th' lass did. See yo; aw
wur fit to drop o'th flags afore aw geet that saup o' warm tay into mo ― aw wur for sure! An' neaw, hoo's come'd a gate wi' us hitherto, an' hoo would
have us to have a glass o' warm ale a-piece at yon heawse lower deawn a
bit; an' aw dar say it'll do mo good, aw getten sich a cowd; but, eh dear,
it's made mo as mazy as a tup; an' neaw, hoo wants us to have another
afore we starten off whoam. But it's no use; we mun' be gooin' on. Aw'm
noan used to it, an' aw connot ston it. Aw'm as wake as a kittlin' this
Ann, who had befriended them in this manner, was the handsome young woman
who seemed to be in work; and now, the poor woman who had been telling the
story, laid her hand upon her friend's shoulder and said, "Ann, thae's
behaved very weel to us o' roads; an' neaw, lass, go thi ways whoam, an'
dunnut fret abeawt us, mon. Aw feel better neaw, aw do for sure. We's be
reet enough to-morn, lass. Mon, there's awlus some way shap't. That tay's
done me a deeol o' good. . . . Go thi ways whoam, Ann; neaw do; or else aw
shan't be yezzy abeawt tho!"
But Ann, who was wiping her eyes with her
apron, replied, "Naw, naw; aw will not go yet, Sarah!" . . . And then she
began to cry, "Eh, lasses; aw dunnot like to see yo o' this shap ― aw
dunnot for sure! Besides, yo'n bin far enough today. Come back wi' me. Aw connot find reawm for both on yo; but thee come back wi' me, Sarah. Aw'll
find thee a good bed: an' thae'rt welcome to a share o' what there is ― as
welcome as th' fleawers i May ― thae knows that. Thae'rt th' owdest o' th'
two; an thae'rt noan fit to trawnce up an' deawn o' this shap. Come back
to eawr heawse; an' Martha'll go forrud to Stopput, (Stockport,) ― winnot
tho, Martha! . . .
"Thae knows, Martha," continued she, "thae knows,
Martha, thae munnot think nought at me axin' Sarah, an' noan o' thee. Yo
should both on yo go back iv aw'd reawm, ― but aw haven't. Beside, thae'rt
younger an' strunger than hoo is." "Eh, God bless tho, lass," replied
Martha, "aw know o' abeawt it. Aw'd rayther Sarah would stop, for hoo'll
be ill. Aw can go forrud by mysel', weel enough. It's noan so fur, neaw."
But, here, Sarah, the eldest of the three, laid her hand once more upon
the shoulder of her friend, and said in an earnest tone, "Ann! it will not
do, my lass! Go aw mun! I never wur away fro whoam o' neet i my
life, ― never! Aw connot do it, mon! Beside, thae knows, aw've laft yon
lad, an' never a wick soul wi' him! He'd fret hissel' to deoth this neet,
mon, if aw didn't go whoam! Aw couldn't sleep a wink for thinkin' abeawt
him! Th' child would be fit to start eawt o'th heawse i'th deead time o'th
neet a-seechin' mo, ― aw know he would! . . . Aw mun go, mon: God bless tho,
Ann; aw'm obleeged to thee o' th' same. But, thae knows heaw it is. Aw mun
Here the omnibus came up, and I rode back to Manchester. The whole
conversation took up very little more time than it will take to read it;
but I thought it worth recording, as characteristic of the people now
suffering in Lancashire from no fault of their own. I know the people
well. The greatest number of them would starve themselves to that degree
that they would not be of much more physical use in this world, before
they would condescend to beg. But starving to death is hard work. What
will winter bring to them when severe weather begins to tell upon
constitutions lowered in tone by a starvation diet ― a diet so different to
what they have been used to when in work? What will the 1s. 6d. a-head
weekly do for them in that hard time? If something more than this is not
done for them, when more food, clothing, and fire are necessary to
everybody, calamities may arise which will cost England a hundred times
more than a sufficient relief ― a relief worthy of those who are suffering,
and of the nation they belong to ― would have cost. In the meantime the
cold wings of winter already begin to overshadow the land; and every day
lost involves the lives, or the future usefulness, of thousands of our
OR, WAILS OF THE
"For whom the heart of man shuts out,
Straightway the heart of God takes in,
And fences them all round about
With silence, 'mid the world's loud din.
And one of his great charities
Is music; and it doth not scorn
To close the lids upon the eyes
Of the weary and forlorn."
― James Russel Lowell.
There is one feature of the distress in Lancashire which was seen
strikingly upon the streets of our large towns during some months of 1862. I allude to the wandering minstrelsy of the unemployed. Swarms of strange,
shy, sad-looking singers and instrumental performers, in the work-worn
clothing of factory operatives, went about the busy
city, pleading for help in touching wails of simple song ― like so many
wild birds driven by hard weather to the haunts of man. There is something
instructive, as well as affecting, in this feature of the troubled time.
These wanderers are only a kind of representative overflow of a vast
number whom our streets will never see.
Foundry Street, Dukinfield ―
courtesy Tameside Local Studies and Archives Centre.
Any one well acquainted with
Lancashire, will know how widespread the study of music is among its
working population. Even the inhabitants of our large towns know something
more about this now than they knew a few months ago. I believe there is no
part of England in which the practice of sacred music is so widely and
lovingly pursued amongst the working people as in the counties of
Lancashire and Yorkshire. There is no part of England where, until lately,
there have been so many poor men's pianos, which have been purchased by a
long course of careful savings from the workman's wages. These, of course,
have mostly been sold during the hard times to keep life in the owner and
The great works of Handel, Haydn, Beethoven, and Mozart have
solaced the toil of thousands of the poorest working people of Lancashire.
Anybody accustomed to wander among the moorlands of the country will
remember how common it is to hear the people practising sacred music in
their lonely cottages. It is not uncommon to meet
working men wandering over the wild hills, "where whip and heather grow,"
with their musical instruments, to take part in some village oratorio many
miles away. "That reminds me," as tale-tellers say, of an incident among
the hills, which was interesting, though far from singular in my
Up in the forest of Rosendale, between Derply Moor and the wild bill
called Swinshaw, there is a little lone valley, a green cup in the
mountains, called "Dean." The inhabitants of this valley are so notable
for their love of music, that they are known all through the vales of
Rosendale as "Th' Deighn Layrocks," or "The Larks of Dean."
twilight of a glorious Sunday evening, in the height of summer, I was
roaming over the heathery waste of Swinshaw, towards Dean, in company with
a musical friend of mine, who lived in the neighbouring clough, when we
saw a little crowd of people coming down a moorland slope, far away in
front of us. As they drew nearer, we found that many of them had musical
instruments, and when we met, my friend recognised them as working people
living in the district, and mostly well known to him. He inquired where
they had been; and they told him that they had "bin to a bit ov a sing
deawn i'th Deighn." "Well," said he, "can't we have a tune here?" "Sure, yo con, wi' o' th' plezzur i'th world," replied he who acted as spokesman;
and a low buzz of delighted consent ran through the rest of the company. They then ranged themselves in a circle around their conductor, and they
played and sang several fine pieces of psalmody upon the heather-scented
As those solemn strains floated over the wild landscape,
startling the moorfowl untimely in his nest, I could not help thinking of
the hunted Covenanters of Scotland. The all-together of that scene upon
the mountains, "between the gloaming and the mirk," made an impression
upon me which I shall not easily forget. Long after we parted from them we
could hear their voices, softening in sound as the distance grew, chanting
on their way down the echoing glen, and the effect was wonderfully fine.
This little incident upon the top of Swinshaw is representative of things
which often occur in the country parts of Lancashire, showing how
widespread the love of music is among the working classes there. Even in
great manufacturing towns, it is very common, when passing cotton mills at
work, to hear some fine psalm tune streaming in chorus from female voices,
and mingling with the spoom of thousands of spindles. The "Larks of Dean,"
like the rest of Lancashire operatives, must have suffered in this
melancholy time; but I hope that the humble musicians of our county will
never have occasion to hang their harps upon the willows.
Now, when fortune has laid such a load of sorrow upon the working people
of Lancashire, it is a sad thing to see so many workless minstrels of
humble life "chanting their artless notes in simple guise" upon the
streets of great towns, amongst a kind of life they are little used to.
There is something very touching, too, in their manner and appearance. They may be ill-shod and footsore; they may be hungry, and sick at heart,
and forlorn in countenance, but they are almost always clean and
wholesome-looking in person. They come singing in twos and threes, and
sometimes in more numerous bands, as if to keep one another in
countenance. Sometimes they come in a large family all together, the
females with their hymn-books, and the men with their different musical
instruments, ― bits of pet salvage from the wrecks of cottage homes. The
women have sometimes children in their arms, or led by the hand; and they
sometimes carry music-books for the men. I have seen them, too, with
little handkerchiefs of rude provender for the day.
As I said before, they
are almost invariably clean in person, and their clothing is almost always
sound and seemly in appearance, however poor and scanty. Amongst these
poor wanderers there is none of the reckless personal negligence and filth
of hopeless reprobacy; neither is there a shadow of the professional
ostentation of poverty amongst them. Their faces are sad, and their
manners very often singularly shame-faced and awkward; and any careful
observer would see at a glance that these people were altogether unused to
the craft of the trained minstrel of the streets. Their clear, healthy
complexion, though often touched with pallor, their simple, unimportunate
demeanour, and the general rusticity of their appearance, shows them to be
"Suppliants who would blush
To wear a tatter'd garb, however coarse;
Whom famine cannot reconcile to filth;
Who ask with painful shyness, and refused,
Because deserving, silently retire."
The females, especially the younger ones, generally walk behind, blushing
and hiding themselves as much as possible. I have seen the men sometimes
walk backwards, with their faces towards those who were advancing, as if
ashamed of what they were doing. And thus they went wailing through the
busy streets, whilst the listening crowd
looks on them pityingly and wonderingly, as if they were so many hungry
shepherds from the mountains of Calabria.
This flood of strange minstrels
partly drowned the slang melodies and the monotonous strains of ordinary
street musicians for a while. The professional gleeman "paled his
ineffectual fire" before these mournful songsters. I think there never was
so much sacred music heard upon the streets of Manchester before. With the
exception of a favourite glee now and then, their music consisted chiefly
psalm tunes ― often plaintive old strains, known and welcome to all,
because they awaken tender and elevating remembrances of life. "Burton,"
"French," "Kilmarnock," "Luther's Hymn," the grand "Old Hundred," and many
other fine tunes of similar character, have floated daily in the air of
our city, for months together. I am sure that this choice does not arise
from the minstrels themselves having craft enough to select "a mournful
muse, soft pity to infuse." It is the kind of music which has been the
practice and pleasure of their lives, and it is a fortuitous thing that
now, in addition to its natural plaintiveness, the sad necessity of the
times lends a tender accompaniment to their simplest melody. I doubt very
much whether Leech's minor tunes were ever heard upon our streets till
Leech was a working man, born near the hills, in Lancashire; and
his anthems and psalm tunes are great favourites among the musical
population, especially in the country districts. Leech's harp was tuned by
the genius of sorrow. Several times lately I have heard the tender
complaining notes of his psalmody upon the streets of the city. About
three months ago I heard one of his most pathetic tunes sung in the
market-place by an old man and two young women. The old man's dress had
the peculiar hue and fray of factory work upon it, and he had a pair of
clogs upon his stockingless feet. They were singing one of Leech's
finest minor tunes to Wesley's hymn: ―
"And am I born to die,
To lay this body down?
And must my trembling spirit fly
Into a world unknown?
A land of deepest shade,
Unpierced by human thought;
The dreary country of the dead
Where all things are forgot."
It is a tune often sung by country people in Lancashire at funerals; and,
if I remember right, the same melody is cut upon Leech's gravestone in the
old Wesleyan Chapel-yard, at Rochdale.
I saw a company of minstrels of the
same class going through Brown Street, the other day, playing and singing,
"In darkest shades, if Thou appear,
My dawning is begun."
The company consisted of an old man, two young men, and three young women. Two of the women had children in their arms. After I had listened to them
a little while, thinking the time and the words a little appropriate to
their condition, I beckoned to one of the young men, who came "sidling"
slowly up to me. I asked him where they came from, and he said, "Ash'n." In answer to another question, he said, "We're o' one family. Me an' yon tother's wed. That's his wife wi' th' chylt in her arms, an' hur wi' th'
plod shawl on's mine."
I asked if the old man was his father. "Ay,"
replied he, "we're o' here, nobbut two. My mother's ill i' bed, an' one o'
my sisters is lookin' after her." "Well, an' heaw han yo getten on?" said
I. "Oh, we'n done weel; but we's come no moor," replied he.
Stalybridge musicians in London during the Cotton
Famine ― Penny Illustrated Magazine.
Courtesy Tameside Local Studies and Archives Centre.
there was an instrumental band of these operatives playing sacred music
close to the Exchange lamp. Amongst the crowd around, I met with a friend
of mine. He told me that the players were from Staleybridge. They played
some fine old tunes, by desire, and, among the rest, they played one
called "Warrington." When they had played it several times over, my friend
turned to me and said, "That tune was composed by a Rev. Mr Harrison, who
was once minister of Cross Street Unitarian Chapel, in Manchester; and,
one day, an old weaver, who had come down from the hills, many miles,
staff in hand, knocked at the minister's door, and asked if there was 'a
gentleman co'de' Harrison lived theer?' 'Yes.' 'Could aw see him?' 'Yes.' When the minister came to the door, the old weaver looked hard at him, for
a minute, and said, 'Are yo th' mon 'at composed that tune co'de
Worrington?' 'Yes,' replied the minister, 'I believe I am.' 'Well,' said
the old weaver, 'give me your hond! It's a good un!' He then shook hands
with him heartily again, and saying, 'Well, good day to yo,' he went his
way home again, before the old minister could fairly collect his scattered
I do not know how it is that these workless minstrels are gradually
becoming rarer upon the streets than they were a few months ago. Perhaps
it is because the unemployed are more liberally relieved now than they
were at first. I know that now many who have concealed their starving
condition are ferreted out and relieved as far as possible. Many of these
street wanderers have gone home again disgusted, to pinch out the hard
time in proud obscurity; and there are some, no doubt, who have wandered
away to other parts of England. Of these last, we may naturally expect
that a few may become so reconciled to a life of wandering minstrelsy that
they may probably never return to settled labour again. But "there's a
divinity that shapes our ends, rough-hew them how we will." Let us trust
that the Great Creator may comfort and relieve them, "according to their
several necessities, giving them patience under their sufferings, and a
happy issue out of all their afflictions."