The Blackburn Standard

Although the database of Lancashire Cotton Famine poetry is yet to be populated, I thought I might give you a flavour of the kind of text we have been discovering in our research. The following poems were found during one of our digital trawls by a student intern, Francesca Hayward, who worked on the project last year:

The Blackburn Standard (Blackburn, England), Wednesday, October 15, 1862; Issue 1446. British Library Newspapers, Part II: 1800-1900.

‘America’

I.

O Prince of Peace! how long, how long

Shall sin assert its pow’r,

And war its thousands brave and strong

In distant lands devour?

 

II.

For men at strife, O Lord, we pray,

Oh bid their contests cease;

Bid angry passions pass away,

And yield to thoughts of peace.

 

III.

 

No foreign hosts invade their soil,

No savage hordes they see!

Ready their sacred homes to spoil,

And crush their liberty.

 

IV.

But ’tis a fratricidal strife

Which angry brethren wage;

A brother takes a brother’s life,

And sons with sires engage.

 

V.

O Prince of Peace, but speak the word,

And man on slaughter bent

Will quickly sheath the blood-stain’d sword,

A humble penitent.

 

VI.

Why should the labour of the loom

So long suspended be?

And why should want o’erspread with gloom

The seats of industry?

 

VII.

Prosperity, O Lord, restore

To thousands in distress;

With peace and plenty evermore

All nations deign to bless.

 

VIII.

And in their midst, O Lord, be thou

All potentates above;

The Lord to whom all knees shall bow,

The God of peace and love.

September 1862.         J.R.

 

 

The Blackburn Standard (Blackburn, England), Wednesday, November 26, 1862; Issue 1452. British Library Newspapers, Part II: 1800-1900.

The Lancashire Operatives’ Appeal’

By William Eaton.

Pray help us, we are starving;

None can our sufferings tell,

God only knows the anguish

That in our hearts doth dwell.

 

Pray help us, we are starving;

And cannot work obtain;

To go about a begging

Runs sore against the grain.

 

Pray help us, we are starving;

This we could bear alone,

But wives and children clemming

Would rend a heart of stone.

 

Pray help us, we are starving;

Our chattels one by one

We’ve had to sell to buy us food,

And now the last is gone.

 

Pray help us, we are starving;

Bare boards are our best beds,

And thankful are, if we on straw

Can rest our weary heads.

 

Pray help us, we are starving;

Home drives us to despair;

No cheerful voices greet us

When we now enter there.

 

Pray help us, we are starving;

To our country we apply,

She promptly must support us,

Or we shall droop and die.

 

Pray help us, we are starving;

Pray help us in our need;

Pray help us now and freely

And God will bless the deed.

Horwich, Nov., 1862.

 

The first poem is a fascinating example where a Lancashire writer addresses the cause of the Famine in the American Civil War. The language is slightly elevated, and the stanzas are numbered, as though they are ‘cantos’ rather than verses. This separates them and suggests that they in some sense stand in their own right. Despite these nods to high culture, the poem’s rhythm is actually ballad meter (four beats / three beats / four beats / three beats, or, to get technical, iambic tetrameter alternated with iambic trimeter), which is actually a popular form associated with song.

The second poem, ‘The Lancashire Operatives’ Appeal’, assumes a collective voice for Lancashire mill workers. It is an example of the kind of Lancashire Cotton Famine poem which serves as a direct appeal for charity. The style of verse here is simple and might easily be sung. This is down to the repetition of the first line and the easy meter, which is based on iambic trimeter.

Although digital searches proved profitable in the early months of the project we very soon found that we exhausted the newspapers which had been digitised. Vast amounts of newspaper pages remain to be searched and most of these are not held in the British Library but in local libraries across the Lancashire region. Although libraries do a good job in preserving local heritage material, the reality is that these texts are a long way from digitisation (and therefore real preservation) given the amount of funding available to the sector. We feel that, quite apart from our academic interest in these poems, we are helping to highlight the fact that treasures exist all around us, just waiting to be discovered.

Dr Simon Rennie

University of Exeter

The Blackburn Times

 

Well, the project really feels like it has started now. On Saturday (June 10th) I went to Blackburn Central Library with our new Postdoctoral Research Associate (PDRA), Dr Ruth Mather. We knew that they had microfilmed holdings of the Blackburn Times from the relevant years of 1861-65, and paper copies of the Northern Daily Telegraph. We did not get on to the latter but as it turned out we had plenty to get our teeth into with the former. As Ruth looked at the beginning of the run from 1861, I took the single year of 1864, and we began to scroll through the editions. The Blackburn Times was a Saturday paper and almost every single week there was a poem published. Of course many were about pretty flowers, and the innocent smiles of little children.

However, in the end we found more than 25 relevant poems which addressed the concerns of the Lancashire Cotton Famine from just over two years of newspaper copy, and this represents the richest seam yet in any of the Lancashire newspapers I have encountered. Not only that but the subject matter and tone of some of these poems were fascinating. For instance, there is a perception that Cotton Famine poetry is generally apolitical and tends to shy away from confrontational approaches in order (partly) to better appeal for charity; but we found examples of poetry that was sometimes angry, even radical, in its tone. The radical Chartist poet, Gerald Massey, was published more than once in this paper, and poems by presumably working-class contributors expressed their anger at the rich for allowing the conditions in which they suffered terrible economic deprivation. I found one poem where the contributor had signed him- or herself off as ‘STARVATION’.

As ever with this project, we only need to dig a little further for the story to become more complex and its implications to become more profound. All of these poems will eventually find themselves transcribed onto the database with attendant information so you will be able to read them for yourselves. They will be arranged in order of the towns they are most associated with so people from places like Blackburn, for instance, will be able to read for the first time in over 150 years what their working-class forebears wrote about this most fascinating period. I should add that Ruth had a particular investment in this search – she is a Blackburn lass herself! As you can imagine, she is keen to complete the search of the Blackburn Times, and move on to the Northern Daily Telegraph. She will be doing this next month.

Anyway, that’s enough for now. But keep checking in for future updates…

Dr Simon Rennie

University of Exeter

Welcome

Welcome to this website dedicated to the poetry of the Lancashire Cotton Famine (1861-65).

My name is Dr Simon Rennie and I am Lecturer in Victorian Poetry at the University of Exeter. Alongside Professor Brian Maidment of Liverpool John Moores University, I am heading up a project to find, collect, and interpret poetry associated with the Cotton Famine, and this website will store digitised copies of these works, track the project as it develops, and do many many other things.

Continue reading