Mrs. Elizabeth Gaskell wrote Mary Barton in the 1840s, but long before that there were short stories, novels and tales, which took as their subject the industry and its effect on the people.
Samuel Bamford, a hand-loom weaver from Middleton, who wrote many volumes of poetry, was educated at Manchester Grammar School. As a staunch Radical he was active in local politics and a great influence on his contemporaries. He led a contingent of weavers to the rally at St Peter's Field, and described the events there in his book "Passages in the Life of a Radical".
Lord Byron was an advocate for the working class, and defended the Luddites in the House of Lords speaking against a bill to bring in the death penalty for those found guilty of machine breaking. This led to his poem Song for the Luddites:
When the web that we weave is complete
And the shuttle exchanged for the sword
We will fling the winding sheet
Over the despot at our feet
And dye it deep in the gore he has poured.
While his friend Shelley in Italy, on hearing the news of the Peterloo Massacre, in 1819, wrote his poem Masque of Anarchy. Calling for the people to no longer put up with the treatment they received from their masters, the mill owners, the Government, the Lords and the King, and warning the Government that Anarchy was coming like Death in the Apocalypse:
"Last came Anarchy: he rode
On a white horse splashed with blood;
He was pale even to the lips,
Like Death in the Apocalypse.
And he wore a kingly crown;
And in his grasp a sceptre shone;
On his brow this mark I saw -
I AM GOD, AND KING, AND LAW!"
Robert Southey, began his career as a Radical, stating that: "The slave trade is mercy compared with the factory system." However, he later became a friend to the establishment, so much so, that he became Poet Laureate in 1813, and was accused by Lord Byron and William Hazlitt of betraying his political principles for money.
Wordsworth, Coleridge and Southey deplored the movement from the simple agricultural way of life to the factory towns which were ruining the countryside. Their poetry sang of open spaces and all the things that were unknown to cotton factory workers. But the poets themselves were unknown to people whose lives were filled from before dawn to after dusk with the noise, drudgery and danger of the cotton factory.
Still the poets championed their cause, in the Christmas number of Punch for 1843 Thomas Hood, the elder, published "The Song of the Shirt" telling of the "Work! Work! Work!" of the women stitching at home in their poor dwellings:
"Stitch - stitch - stitch,
In poverty, hunger and dirt,
Sewing at once with a double thread,
A shroud as well as a shirt"
Lancashire dialect poetry was very popular in the 19th century and was often published in the local newspapers. Samuel Laycock, although a "furriner" being born in Saddleworth then a part of Yorkshire, became one of the most famous of the dialect poets, he began work in a woolen mill at the age of nine, and eventually became a powerloom weaver. His first published work was "a Little Bit on Both Sides" in 1855. Thrown out of work during the cotton famine in 1861, he wrote in dialect verse in his "Lancashire Rhymes" and "Lancashire Songs" of the conditions of the unemployed in Ashton and Stalybridge. He never returned to mill work, and, living much of the time in poverty, became librarian and caretaker at the Stalybridge Mechanics Institute. He eventually moved to Fleetwood on the Fylde coast to become curator of the Whitworth Institute, and is buried in Blackpool cemetery.
Writing at the same time as Laycock was Edwin Waugh, son of a Rochdale shoemaker, dialect poet and social commentator whose "Home life of the Lancashire Folk During the Cotton Famine" describes visits to the homes of the unemployed factory workers, and the terrible conditions found there. His poetry was chiefly on serious subjects pointing out the poverty of the mill workers.
Another dialect author was Failsworth born Benjamin Brierley who wrote witty tales under the pen name Ab' o' th' Yate. His recitations of these at local working men's clubs were very popular, and he became a well known figure, in the days when literary works were almost unobtainable by the ordinary working men. In 1858 he wrote a less solemn answer to Waugh's serious poem "Come whoam to thi childer an' me" entitled "Go tak thi ragged childer an' flit, illustratin' t'other soide o' Waugh's celebrated pictur'". He was co-founder of the Failsworth Mechanics' Institute and served as a Manchester City Councilor, advocating working class reforms. He served on the Free Libraries Committee, and was an original member of the Manchester Literary Club.
It was not just manufacturing that came under scrutiny. H.G. Wells wrote in his semi autobiographical novels Kipps and The History of Mr. Polly about the misery of the drapers' assistants, apprenticed to the large drapery emporia of the south of England, destined to a drab existence with no hope of a better life and no pension at the end of their usefulness, " 'When you get too old to work they chuck you away' said Minton, 'Lor! You find old drapers everywhere - tramps, beggars, dock labourers, bus conductors ... I tell you we're in a blessed drainpipe and we've got to crawl along it till we die' " Wells also parodied the differences between the masters and the workers in "The Time Machine" as the Eloi lived above ground in the light and fresh air whilst the Morlock lived below ground, slaves to the system.
As people began to have more leisure time, novelettes, "sixpenny novels" and short story journals became popular. Many of the tales followed the same formula, poor but honest mill girl meets rich seemingly unscrupulous mill owner's son, and for love of her he becomes a much kinder and more humane employer, they inherit the business and live happily ever after - as do their employees.
Other authors associated with Lancashire and the Manchester area, are:
John Byrom author of the hymn "Christians Awake" was born at the Old Wellington Inn in Manchester's Market Place in 1692, son of a linen draper.
William Harrison Ainsworth was born in King Street, Manchester in 1805, the son of a solicitor, and was educated at the Manchester Grammar School. He wrote over 40 historical romances and became very popular when his work was stocked at the newly opened Manchester Free Library. His tales including "The Lancashire Witches" and "The Manchester Rebels" contain many passages in Lancashire dialect.
The author of "Little Lord Fauntleroy" and "The Secret Garden", Frances Hodgson Burnett, grew up in Tennessee, but she was born in 1849 at 385 Cheetham Hill Road, Manchester.
C. P. Scott born in Bath, became the editor of the Manchester Guardian in 1871 at the age of 25, a position he held for 57 years. He was Liberal M.P. for Leigh near Wigan from 1895 to 1905, and died at his home in Fallowfield in 1932.
Richmal Crompton, whose books about the anarchic schoolboy "William" have delighted school children since their first publication in 1919, was born Richmal Crompton-Lamburn daughter of the Reverend Edward Lamburn and his wife Clara Crompton on 15th November 1890 in Bury. She was an avid supporter of Women's Suffrage and corresponded regularly with the Pankhursts in Manchester.
Howard Spring born in Cardiff, Mancunian by adoption, spent much of his life in Didsbury. He wrote of the tailor's sweatshops in the Cheetham district in his novels "Rachel Rosing" and "Shabby Tiger".
Shelagh Delaney, grew up in Salford, her stories tell of the harsh life of the working classes in the inner city streets of the 1950s, and her play "A Taste of Honey" was made into a film starring Rita Tushingham.
Alan Garner, another Manchester Grammar School pupil, grew up in Alderley Edge, Cheshire and his books are based on the myths and legends of the area. His children's novel "Elidor" begins in the half demolished streets of Manchester, during the slum clearance of the 1960s.
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Cotton in Literature|