Author Archives: Ruth Mather

Cotton Famine Christmas Countdown Day 2: Cowd Winter Is Comin’ Wonst Moor

Welcome to the second day of our Cotton Famine Christmas Countdown! To get us in the festive (sort of) spirit, we’re featuring a seasonal Cotton Famine Poem every day in the run up to our special Christmas event with Jennifer Reid on 20th December. Free tickets for the event are available here:

Today’s poem is by ‘The Blackburn Poet’ William Billington, and was published in the local newspaper of nearby Accrington, The Accrington Guardian, on September 19th 1862.




It’s wearin’ tort t’ back end o’ t’ year,

   Un’t toimes duzend offer to mend,

Bud wossen o’ t’ two, un aw fear

   Meh warp’s welly woven to th’ end;

For aw’ve noather money nor meyt,

   Nor means to keep want fro meh door;

Thin clooas, un nought gradely to heyt —

   Un winter is coming wonst moor.


A werkin mon’s whoam is bud bare,

   Uv his werk or his health chance to fail,

For a koite cannud keep up i’ th’ air

   When id loyses id streng or id tail.

A twelvemon sin aw wur unshoped,

   Un we wor herd howden affoor;

But neaw, when o’ t’ bed clooas is pop’t,

   Cowd winter is comin’ wonst moor.


Meh hert jumps for jhoy uv a neet,

   When aw stur eawt or step ocross t’way

To see sich o’ childer i’ th’ street

   So full o’ thur frolics un play.

God bless ‘em! aw kno, they dornd kno’

   Heaw parents ur pincht un heaw poor;

Un id’s wee luz they downd do – for, oh!

    Cowd winter is comin’ wonst moor.


“God niver sends meawths witheawt meyt”

   A proverb us owd uz id’s true;

Un iv m[?]n oud’nd foe eawt un feyt,

   Hands un meawths ud hev plenty to do,

Id’s o’ lung o’ t’ Merrican war

   Ut cotton is kept frae eawr shore,

War want still keeps hippin’ uz nar,

   Un winter is comin’ wonst moor.


Ther’s chaps wod hez plenty o’ brass

   Con heyt, un see honest men clam;

Bud changes may yet come to pass —

   Their cake is’nd etten to th’ bem!

For Fortun’s a whirligig witch

   Wod sometimes will turn up the poor,

Un deawn into t’ dust wi’ the rich,

   Un mek em feel winter wonst moor.


Id’s nonsense to bother un fratch,

   Un blame me for singing this song;

For weyn o’ run eawr tether to t’ ratch,

   Or shall hev affoor id be long.

There’s theawsands beside me un yo,

    Wod wonst hed loife’s blessins in stoor,

Neaw shiverin’ loike sheep among snow,

   When winter is comin’ wonst moor.


O! t’ grave is a refuge o’ rest

   For us o’ when weyn finish loife’s race!

Bud id dants booath the bravest un best

   To reep i’ deeath’s terrible face;

So a let us keep potterin’ on,

   Un live tho’ wi loie upo’ t’ floor;

Let’s howd up wur yeds wal wi con

   Un face this cowd winter wonst moor.



While not exactly a Christmas poem, Billington’s ‘Cowd Winter Is Coming Wonst Moor’ is a reminder that, for some people, the end of the year is to be dreaded rather than eagerly anticipated. The poet explains how the hardships of poverty – hunger and the lack of fuel and warm clothing –were compounded by the harshness of the winter weather. The Cotton Famine is directly referenced in the fourth stanza, but Billington notes that any circumstance that causes a working man to lose his employment could be disastrous, whether that be that a trade downturn or a failure of health.

The use of dialect and metaphors relating to the cotton industry (“Meh warp’s welly woven to th’end”) suggest the poet’s authenticity as a voice of the working man, and indeed Billington had worked in Blackburn’s cotton factories. Professor Paul Salveson, in his thesis on Lancashire dialect literature, sees the poem as a rallying cry to the working classes to find comfort in their unity as the winter threatens to worsen the crisis. However, Salveson also points to the strong sense of social injustice in Billington’s Cotton Famine Poetry, and there is also a sense of real anger towards those who ‘hez plenty o’ brass’ but do not help the poor. The fifth stanza is almost threatening towards the miserly rich as it imagines a world turned upside down, in which they too suffer the vagaries of fortune and are brought low, made like the poor to ‘feel winter wonst moor’.  Therefore, though the poem ends with the stoicism and determination characteristic of much Cotton Famine Poetry, this was not a poem that encouraged quiet forbearance among the working classes as the best route to obtaining relief.

Dr Ruth Mather, University of Exeter

A Victorian Christmas Card, from Nova Scotia Archives on

Cotton Famine Christmas Countdown Day 1: Christmas is Coming!

Welcome to our Cotton Famine Christmas Countdown! To get us in the festive (sort of) spirit, we’ll feature a seasonal Cotton Famine Poem every day in the run up to our special Christmas event with Jennifer Reid on 20th December. Free tickets for the event are available here:

Since the Cotton Famine brought misery to thousands of Lancashire folk, it might seem odd that it produced so many poems at Christmas, a time we tend to associate with joy (and, these days at least, plentiful consumption!) However, we only need to think of that most loved of Christmas stories, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, to remember that Christmas has also long been a time of charity and love. Cotton Famine Poetry highlighted religious and moral obligations upon the wealthy to help those in need during the festive season, which after all also coincided with the darkest, coldest months during which poverty could be hardest to bear.

Today’s poem is appropriately titled ‘Christmas is Coming’, by ‘M.I.H.’. It was published in the Ormskirk Advertiser on December 15th, 1864. The poem is accompanied by a commentary written by Charlotte Harris, a student on the ‘Poetry and Politics’ module in the Department of English at the University of Exeter. The poem, along with Charlotte’s commentary and a reading by Jennifer Reid, will be added to the poetry database in 2019.





Christmas is coming! But not as of yore:

Changed is the aspect that once it wore,

Dimmed is the lustre of heart and eye,

Silent is the lone hearth’s melody.


Hushed is the music sweet voices made,

Still is the room where the children played,

All joyous and glad, round the Christmas tree,

Filling each heart with their mirthful glee.


Vacant the places around the board,

Absent the guests when the wine is poured,

While the yule log around sheds its ruddy glare

To show that our loved ones no more are there.


Christmas is coming! with memories dear,

To hang round the couch of the dying year;

They linger around us, and will not sever,

But, like ivy, cling to the heart for ever.


Christmas is coming! but one star yet

Still shines o’er our path – ‘twill never set, –

‘Tis Bethlehem’s Star, whose radiant gleam

Illuminated the lonely shepherd’s dream.


It points our eye to our home above

An unbroken circle of light and love,

Where reunited friends never sever,

But dwell in that land of bliss for ever.



This festive poem is written in six quatrains with a regular rhyme scheme of rhyming couplets. The line lengths vary between nine and ten syllables.

The poem recounts the particular sadness that Christmas brings when you are grieving or when remembering those you have lost. The sense of change appears to refer to the circumstances of the Cotton Famine. The poem uses traditional Christmas imagery (e.g. ‘Christmas Tree’, ‘yule log’, ‘ivy’ and ‘star’) but in a less traditionally positive way to highlight what has been lost. The personification of the yule log shows that the paraphernalia of Christmas takes the place of those who were once there. The repetition of the titular line ‘Christmas is coming!’ as the opening line of three stanzas within the poem gives a sense of urgency, and highlights that festivities, and life more generally, cannot be put on hold by loss. This is reinforced by the use of the exclamation mark and emphasised by its increasing frequency in the second half of the poem.

The poem ends on a hopeful and peaceful note. Regardless of circumstance, Christmas is a time to celebrate those you love, both with you at home, and in ‘our home above’.

Charlotte Harris, University of Exeter

A Victorian Christmas Card, from Nova Scotia Archives on




Cotton Famine Poetry in the Spotlight

As you may have noticed, we’ve been enjoying a huge amount of media attention since our database launched two weeks ago! It’s been fantastic for us to share the poetry with new audiences and to hear from so many people who are as interested in Lancashire’s history and culture as we are. People from all over the world have visited our website, and the database has been used by literally thousands of people in the past two weeks. We hope you’ve enjoyed hearing from us and that the word continues to spread!

Below are links to the media coverage we’ve had:

David Collins in The Sunday Times, 5th August 2018 requires registration or subscription to read)

Simon talks to Mark Sweeney at BBC Radio Manchester, 6th August 2018 (from approx. 1.46.48)

Alison Flood in The Guardian, 9th August 2018

Simon talks to Mark Mardell on BBC Radio 4’s the World at One, 9th August 2018 (from approx. 40.00)

Simon talks to  Rony Robinson at BBC Radio Sheffield, 9th August 2018 (from approx. 1.09.00)

Simon talks to Paul Ross at TalkRadio, 13th August 2018 (from approx. 4.33am)

Brigit Katz in the Smithsonian, 13th August 2018

Please do keep checking back on the database, as we’ll be adding more content in due course. We’re also planning more events to get the word out and will advertise these once they are confirmed. We are very pleased to say that we are working with the marvellous Manchester Literature Festival on two very exciting events on 21st November this year, including a very special performance by our musical partners Faustus. Please see below for more information and to book tickets – we recommend booking early to avoid disappointment as we do expect these to fill up fast!

Manchester Literature Festival –  Finding the Poetry of the Cotton Famine (workshop)

Manchester Literature Festival – Faustus: Cotton Famine Poems (performance)

Back To School (Kind of!)

This Monday we had another exciting project event – our first meeting with schoolteachers from across Lancashire, who we hope will get involved with their students in finding Cotton Famine Poetry.
We were very lucky to be able to hold this event at Helmshore Mills Textile Museum, thanks to the museum’s helpful staff and to Jessica Forshaw of Lancashire County Council’s Heritage Learning team, who facilitated the event. Jessica gave us a fascinating whistle-stop tour of the museum’s collections at the start of the event, taking us on a journey through the history of cotton production in Lancashire. This was really helpful for us, as it situated the Cotton Famine and the people it affected in a much broader historical context.
Brian, Simon, and I introduced the project, explaining what Cotton Famine Poetry is and how we find it. This lead to very productive discussion with the teachers, as well as Jessica and a representative of Lancashire Libraries who kindly assisted with library-related queries. We were absolutely thrilled with the level of enthusiasm about the project, and gained some really useful insights into how we can help teachers to get involved. It was a really fun event, and will hopefully lead to some of Lancashire’s school students playing a really vital role in uncovering poetry in their own local area.

Simon presents some of the poetry we’ve found.

If you work in a school in Lancashire or Greater Manchester and would like to get involved, please do get in touch with us. We are also always happy to hear from groups that would like us to do an event in their area.
If you don’t already, please also follow our social media channels for regular updates – sometimes with poems!
Dr Ruth Mather.