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Cotton Famine Christmas Countdown Day 6: Father Christmas

Welcome to day six 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, ‘Father Christmas’, is from the Blackburn Times, December 24th 1864. The poet gives their name simply as the initials, F.P.A.


 Old Father Christmas rose one day,

   And he took his staff in hand,

Quoth he, “I’ll see who keeps me best

   Throughout the Christmas land.”

So away he strode with the early dawn

   Wrapped up in his robe of snow,

And he called on the glittering ice to form,

   And the keen north wind to blow.


From far and near he heard the sound

   Of the merry Christmas chime,

And the jovial Carol singers came

    With many an ancient rhyme.

The holly shone in the casement old,

   The mistletoe on high,

And from the hearthstone wide he saw

   The sparks from the yule log fly.


The board was set with festive cheer,

    The liveried menials wait,

All heedless of the shivering poor

   Outside the castle gate.

They quaff’d no ruby drops nor saw

   Their table simply spread;

Enough for them the daily toil

   And scanty daily bread.


Too proud to beg, too poor to eat

   Save of the coarsest fare,

Their hovel homes no fitting place

    For human souls to share.

Old Father Christmas shook his head,

    And he breathed a heavy sigh,

“God help the rich man, then,” he said,

   “When such beside him lie.”


And the north wind bore the words away,

   With a wild and wailing shriek,

As a good Samaritan drew near,

   Kind, pitying words to speak.

He bound the wound, he dried the tear,

    He cheer’d the spirit faint,

And listen’d with untiring zeal

   To every mourner’s plaint.


And yet he wore no costly robe,

   He own’d no stately hall,

And no long train of menials proud

   Came forward at his call.

But in his heart lay hid a gem

   A thousand times more rare

Than all the rich and precious things

   The world could gather there.


“Such keep me best,” old Christmas said,

   “Such have not learnt in vain

That well-fill’d barns and garn’d store

   May not be always gain.”

So, draw a moral from my tale,

   All ye with riches bless’d,

For they who spare to those in need

   Are keeping Christmas best.




The secular figure of Father Christmas is used here as a rebuke to the hypocrisy of wealthy people who celebrate Christmas lavishly but without attention to those in need. The first two stanzas draw on traditional festive imagery, with holly and mistletoe, and a blazing fire to dispel the chill of the ice and snow, but this is quickly contrasted with the cold and sparse homes of the poor. The message, pointedly aimed at wealthier readers, is that the trimmings of the season mean little without attention to the duties of charity and love for one’s neighbour. Though the poem is not overtly religious, it does draw on Biblical themes, referencing the story of the Good Samaritan and hinting that the rich may find it more difficult to enter the kingdom of God.

Dr Ruth Mather, University of Exeter.

A Victorian Christmas Card, from Nova Scotia Archives on

Cotton Famine Christmas Countdown Day 5: Christmas Comes!

Welcome to day five 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:

With one week to go, today’s poem is ‘Christmas Comes!’, an anonymous poem published in the Burnley Free Press on December 26th 1863. The commentary is by Lindsay Warner, a student on the ‘Poetry and Politics’ module in the Department of English at the University of Exeter.


He comes! he comes! old Christmas comes,

   With his rosy face, so jolly.

His locks are white, and his voice old;

   But he’s wreath’d in verdant holly.

The berries of that deep green wreath,

   So ruddy and endearing,

Even now, in thought, stir up the heart

   With fancies bright and cheering.


’Tis true, there are some clouds o’erhead,

   That mar prospective glow,

And damp the feelings Christmas brings,

   ’Midst bitter frost and snow;

But still he comes – the stalwart comes,

   As he has done of yore,
Into the hearts of all mankind,

   Affection’s joys to pour.


Then let us now begin to plan

   Some method in our greeting,

That this year’s woes may be review’d

   At every social meeting.

Distress is rife, and coming months

   Will make it more severe;

Christmas will, to some poor men,

   Be comfortless and drear.


Then let us view with chasten’d eyes

   The various stores of food

This festive season always brings,

   However rare and good;

For all superfluous things should be

   Ignored for this one year,

The cost of which – a large amount –

   Would starving Christmas cheer.



These four 8-line stanzas, each with a rhyme scheme of ABCBDEFE, contrast the “bright and cheering” festive spirit of the Christmas holiday to the “distress” people feel through the rest of the year. These oppositions that are separated into the first and second stanzas respectively collide in the final two stanzas, where the “chasten’d eyes” force a re-examination of the “rare” feast that the “festive season always brings”. The narrator enacts a reprimand for those who focus on the negatives during the holidays when there are others who are struggling more than them. Those fortunate enough to have a Christmas feast are told to ignore its extravagance because the joy of one Christmas banquet is enough to tackle the struggles the rest of the year brings.

This sense of joy is furthered through the personification of Christmas. The poem opens with “He comes! he comes!”, which changes from the title’s proper noun “Christmas” to the personal pronoun “he”; the first stanza then goes on to physically describe this “he”. By embodying Christmas in a human entity, the poet allows readers to view the holiday as akin to an old friend always there to lift their spirits, despite the barriers of “bitter frost and snow”. This therefore depicts Christmas as being loyal and reliable companion even through winters blighted by the Cotton Famine.

Lindsay Warner, University of Exeter.

Victorian Christmas card from the collections of the Minnesota Historical Society.

Cotton Famine Christmas Countdown Day 4: The Starving Cotton Spinner’s Christmas Lament

Welcome to the fourth 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 a clergyman, the Reverend Thomas M. Freeman. It was published in the Manchester Courier on December 13th 1862.



 Hang on the willow boughs the silent harp,

For bitten by hunger’s cruel fangs so sharp,

Our wasted fingers cannot sound the string,

Nor have our falt’ring voices strength to sing;

Bare is our board this year of Christmas fare,

Our ill-clad limbs shake with the chilly air.


Around the scanty fire out children crowd,

For bread – for bread – their voices cry aloud;

Ah! must we see them pine before our eyes,

Nor have wherewith to pacify their cries?

O pitying One! who in the manger lay,

From heaven – thy throne – look down, and be our stay.


Help us that we heavy cross may bear,

Thy roles of patient suffering meekly wear,

And through black sorrow’s darkly mournful night,

With quiet walking watch for morning light;

Heir of heaven’s riches! for our sakes made poor!

We seek for comfort at thy mercy’s door.


Ye, on whose well-warmed hearths the yule logs burn,

With pity towards your starving brethren turn;

Ye, who your limbs in ample clothing fold,

O, think of us, who shudder with the cold;

While steaming viands on your tables stand,

Let charity’s warm glow your hearts expand.


As a bright star the eastern sages led

To where the infant Saviour placed his head,

So let the light of kindness guide your feet

To our abodes, where suffering has its seat;

For His sake, who came from a heavenly throne,

O, leave us not (we pray) to weep alone.


Our household treasuries, one by one, we’ve sold;

Save the big Bible, and that Prayer Book old

With which our sires and grandsires worshipped,

The comforts of our homes have long since fled;

That Bible tells us who can always bless,

Those prayers shall be our comfort in distress.


O by Thy birth, Thou Son of God most high!

O by the death that thou for man didst die.

This trial sanctify that it may be

A means to bring us nearer unto Thee:

So, life’s voyage ended, we shall find a home

On those bright shores where want can never come.


Mellor, December, 1862.



The poem adopts the voice of an out-of-work cotton spinner, who outlines the sufferings of Lancashire’s working class. The bare hearth, pawned goods, and starving children described are familiar themes in Cotton Famine Poetry. Unsurprisingly, given that the poet was a clergyman, the poem draws on religious imagery, reminding the reader of the vulnerability of Christ at the Nativity, but also offering hope in the form of a watchful God and the comforts of an afterlife in Heaven. The fourth stanza also suggests a more immediate source of relief, contrasting the warmth and plenty of Christmas in a wealthy home with the hunger and want of the cotton spinner to encourage charitable giving.

Dr Ruth Mather, University of Exeter.

Victorian Christmas card from Archives New Zealand’s former Post and Telegraph/Telecom Museum Holdings collection.

Cotton Famine Christmas Countdown Day 3: The Christmas Dinner

Welcome to the third 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 taken from the advertisements published in the Ashton Standard on December 20th 1862. The commentary was written by Benedict Hughes, a student on the ‘Poetry and Politics’ module in the Department of English at the University of Exeter.


   The Mansion House Committee have made a special grant of money for a dinner on Christmas Day to every unemployed factory operative and every member of a family at their homes throughout the whole of the distressed district.


Our fathers honoured Christmas time

   With good old English cheer,

And carol song, and merry chime,

   Fell gladly on the ear.


The ivy decked the cottage walls,

   And music did resound;

And in the squires’ more stately halls,

   The “wassail bowl” went round.


And tenants gathered round their lord-

   No stranger passed the road;

But from the groaning festive board

   Was charity bestowed.


And now, while famine, pale and cold,

   Ten thousand hearts oppress,

Like noble hearts and hands of old,

   There still are some to bless.


Long may each noble spirit live,

   To help the poor and sad;

Who vie to be the first to give,

   That Christmas may be glad.


And while the feasting multitude

   Sit round the festive board,

They’ll bless the generous and the good

   Who’ve Christmas joys restored.


And oft amid the grateful throng

   Will KILLORN’S dress appear;

And thus, mid plenty’s smile and song,

   Will come true Christmas cheer.



“The Christmas Dinner”, published in an advert for the tailoring firm Killorn and Co., is a remarkable poem; though sadly not due to the strength of its verse. The poem consists of seven four-line stanzas, which each conform to a strict ABAB rhyme scheme. The poem’s metre is also exact: lines one and three of each stanza are in iambic tetrameter, whilst two and four are exclusively iambic trimeter. This combination of simple rhyme and simple metre give the poem a plodding, even arbitrary quality, which is not helped by the poet’s weak evocation of platitudinal Christmas values: “And tenants gathered round their lord- / … / But from the groaning festive board / Was charity bestowed.” (9-12). Indeed, we might conjecture that the poem speaks more of a tired clerical pen, than that of a poet.

However, the poem’s literary short comings pale into insignificance once the poem is situated in context. In a short head piece, we learn that the poem is in praise of the Mansion House Committee, one of the charitable funds aiding destitute cotton workers, which “made a special grant of money for a dinner on Christmas Day” for all unemployed factory staff and their families. For most of the poem up until the final verse, the poet eulogizes over the ways in which such acts of charity have “Christmas joys restored.” (24). However finally, in the last verse the iniquitous project of Killorn and Co. is revealed: “amid the grateful throng / Will KILLORN’S dress appear; / And thus… / Will come true Christmas cheer.” (25-8). We see here an ugly conflation of genuine charity and capitalist opportunism. The phrasing is particularly inappropriate: the appearance of Killorn and Co.’s clothing does not simply enhance but trumps charitable relief to bring “true Christmas cheer.” In a stunning piece of advertising expediency, the poet implies that it is Killorn and Co. rather than the good deeds of the Mansion House Committee which really puts people in a festive mood. Perhaps however, we should not be surprised by such a poetic sleight of hand, as it comes directly from a society which still actively endorsed child labour.

Benedict Hughes, University of Exeter. 

Victorian Christmas Card from V&A Museum, London.

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)

The Database is Launched!

On Tuesday night – July 31st – we held the official ‘soft’ launch of the database at the beautiful Portico Library right in the centre of Manchester. This was the day that saw the culmination of more than three years of planning, when the first one hundred Cotton Famine poems were made freely available to the public and scholars alike, complete with images, audio recordings, and text commentary for most of the pieces. So now, if you explore the bar at the top of this page, you can read texts (and read about texts, and listen to them) which have been effectively inaccessible for over one hundred and fifty years, gathered together for the first time.

The launch event was an absolute sell-out, with the free tickets being refused to callers who could no longer access them through Eventbrite for a couple of days before the event. Extra chairs had to be brought in and over a hundred people packed into the small central space beneath the classical dome of the library to hear myself, Dr Ruth Mather, and Jennifer Reid introduce, discuss, and perform the poetry which was such a vital part of the culture of this region during the darkest days of the industrial revolution. We were able demonstrate the database live and show how even this arbitrary selection of the hundreds of texts we already hold shows the cluster of publication through the worst Cotton Famine months of late-1862 / early-1863.

It was a shame that Professor Brian Maidment, who has been so central to this project as Co-Investigator, could not attend, but he had an unavoidable clash with a conference in Canada for the Research Society for Victorian Periodicals, of which he is president. This felt like the beginning of something which is expanding in various directions. Not only do we have hundreds more texts to add to the database, and hundreds more still to find in archives across the region, but the literary and historical implications of the body of work are now starting to become clearer. On the evening Ruth and I were approached by several people who had ideas and information which will take quite a lot of following up, and we are thrilled that so many people are as enthusiastic as we are about recovering the region’s real poetic heritage. Watch this space for updates on where Cotton Famine poetry is taking us. And of course, you can explore the world of Cotton Famine poetry yourself now. Do remember, this is an evolving resource with a growing cohort of contributors. If you have any corrections, comments, or suggestions, do not hesitate to message us through this site, or email myself at, or Ruth at

We would like to thank Jennifer Reid for her amazing performance on the night, by turns funny and spine-tingling. We would also very much like to thank the Digital Humanities team at the University of Exeter for getting the site ready for the launch date, and the staff at the Portico Library for enabling the event to be such a resounding success.


Looking Forward to the Launch of the ‘First 100’

Over the last few weeks Professor Brian Maidment, Dr Ruth Mather, and I have been busy recording readings of the first 100 Lancashire Cotton Famine poems which are going to be made available to the public in mid-July (keep an eye/ear open for news of a major launch event at Manchester’s beautiful Portico Library on July 31st). This is a relatively small proportion of the total poetry haul we have amassed, and there are still many more to be discovered. However, working with this 100 we have been deeply struck by the formal, tonal, and thematic variety represented by the selection. There are domestic poems in heavy dialect, ‘state of the nation’ texts which have high literary ambition, comic verses which satirise particular elements of society, parodies, diatribes, laments…

But as well as the differences, we have also noticed the patterns which are beginning to emerge as this body of work is being collated and interpreted. The repetition of character types, certain literary phrases, or even poetic rhythms are not evidence of artistic laziness or lack of imagination, but of a vibrant literary culture which is aware of itself and capable of trading ideas for mutual benefit. What we are in fact coming to appreciate is that many of these texts, the vast majority published in newspapers in one geographic region over a few years from 1861 to 1865, are talking to each other. As we hoped when we first began this project in May 2017, we are beginning to reveal a previously unheard commentary on one of the most devastating economic disasters to occur in Victorian Britain.

As for our voices – Brian, Ruth, and me – we hope you will forgive our indulgencies when you come to hear the soundfiles which will accompany the launch of the First 100. We make no particular claims to accuracy, performance quality, or ‘authenticity’. We merely wish to present these poems both as written texts and as oral events, which many if not all were intended to be. We will be happy if in the future people are willing to offer alternative readings. The Lancashire dialect pieces in particular are fiendishly difficult to recite, and we are aware that pronunciation of many terms may be contentious. Nevertheless, we feel that this has been an important exercise, not least because an important part of this project has been to bring alive a significant element of Lancashire cultural history which has lain relatively dormant for over 150 years. The exercise has also been challenging, illuminating, and thoroughly enjoyable.

Dr Simon Rennie


‘The Lancashire Factory Girl’ – Exclusive New Faustus Track!

‘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 poem it comes from was published in the Preston Chronicle in the winter of 1862-63 (29/11/1862) – the harshest season in terms of social and economic hardship during the whole of the Cotton Famine. 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