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.

The Lancashire Cotton Famine is a fascinating period in British history. It was largely caused by the Union blockade of Confederacy cotton exports during the American Civil War. Three-quarters of Lancashire’s cotton imports came from the Southern states of America, and the sudden break in supply led to mass unemployment on an unprecedented scale. Given the very high population density of Manchester and Lancashire at the time, it has been estimated that four million Britons, almost 20% of the total population of the UK, were financially dependent on the cotton industry. National and international relief efforts were mounted and significant aid came from Union areas of North America in order to shore up Lancastrian and by extension British support for the anti-slavery cause, despite ongoing economic deprivation.

Although the history of the Lancashire Cotton Famine has been well documented the poetic response to this event has received scant attention. This response is important in that it represents a previously neglected body of poetry from often labouring-class voices from the mid-nineteenth century. Comprehensive and detailed study of this material will significantly enrich literary scholarship, public understanding, and historical perspectives of this economic crisis.

The central aim of this project will be the identification and collation through empirical, detailed research in regional and national newspapers, magazines, and ephemera of poetry related to the Lancashire Cotton Famine (1861-65).

In November 2016 I wrote a piece for the online version of Prospect magazine which serves as a useful introduction to the project, detailing how it came about, and including some examples of the poetry. It can be found here:


Very soon this site will present news about exciting discoveries and events relating to this subject, and eventually there will be links to a vast repository of poetry and associated material. In the meantime, thank you for your attention, and remember to keep checking for updates!

Dr Simon Rennie, University of Exeter

2 thoughts on “Welcome

  1. Sid Calderbank

    Hello Dr Rennie, My name is Sid Calderbank and people keep drawing my attention to your Cotton Famine project! I am a Lancashire dialect historian, folk singer and speaker, I spend my time collecting, researching, interpreting and performing old dialect songs, stories and poems and am a member of the Edwin Waugh Dialect Society, Chairman of the Lancashire Society and President of the Lancashire Authors Association. I live in Chorley in the centre of Lancashire. If I can be of any assistance in your research please let me know.



    1. Simon Rennie Post author

      Hi Sid,

      Thank you for your message. No doubt I would have been in touch at some point anyway, given your prominence in this field – this project is still in relatively early stages. If you have looked through the site you will have an idea of what we are trying to do in this project, so I won’t bother going over that again. In terms of what you might be able to do to help, I would be very grateful if you could publicise our events in the three societies you are involved in – I am giving a talk at the Gaskell House in Manchester on September 20th, and there is a fuller event with Jennifer Reid performing at the Working Class Movement Library on October 7th. There will be many other events in future and I will let you know about these. The folk group Faustus are in the process of recording settings of some of the material we are uncovering (it’s not all in dialect so, as southerners, they are safe with it).

      Other ways you might help include particularly keeping an eye out for Cotton Famine poetry or song that is not in newspapers (we are doing a comprehensive trawl through these already). I am thinking particularly of broadsides, letters, obscure collections, society magazines or other ephemera. We are compiling and populating a massive database of the material, so it will all need to be properly cited etc. Another way you may be able to help in the future is by providing your vocal talents to recite some of the poems for soundfiles on the website. This is a way off yet, and there would be no money in it, but it would be a platform open to the general public and particularly students and scholars around the world. There has already been considerable interest in this project in the US and the site will eventually linked to a major American site dedicated to Victorian literature. I read out a Lancashire dialect poem (I’m from Manchester so can just about get away with it) at a conference in California last month and it generated a huge amount of interest.

      Anyway, thanks again for getting in touch.

      Best wishes,


      PS – to reach me more quickly, best to email my work address – s.rennie@exeter.ac.uk

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