‘The Lancashire Factory Girl’ by Faustus
Well, as promised, here is another exclusve track from Faustus setting to music original poetry discovered during our research. The text of this song was found early on in the project in Burnley Central Library. The poem it comes from was published in the Burnley Advertiser in the winter of 1862-63 – the harshest season in terms of social and economic hardship during the whole of the Cotton Famine – but a note at the foot of the text states that it was written in Preston in November 1862. This is an important context – during this period half of the population of Preston was receiving official Famine relief.
The poem relates, in traditional ballad meter, the story of a young woman made unemployed by the factory closures being forced to sell her possessions one by one in order simply to survive. The way the poem is framed each of these possessions represents a gift from members of her family who have all succumbed to the famine. By the end of the text the young woman notes that she has at least retained her ‘reputation’ or ‘virtue’.
Poems such as these, while following the Victorian fashion for sentimental narratives, clearly serve the purpose of raising the consciousness of readers as to the true cost of the economic deprivation on poor families in the region. There is an implicit appeal for charity, for aid, and really just for work. For us, one hundred and fifty years later, the work functions as a unique window on not just the kinds of actions and behaviours which resulted from the crisis, but on how these were described to people within the region.
As with the previous track, we cannot thank Faustus enough for the work they have done bringing this wonderful text to life. That the author of this poem – ‘H. M.’ as they sign themselves – is actually the factory girl in question, is unlikely, but I was very moved by this piece when I first found it over a year ago. Listening to Faustus’s beautiful rendition brought all of these emotions back and I think this is an extraordinary collaboration between a long-dead anonymous Victorian poet and a phenomenally talented group of musicians.
Dr Simon Rennie