Lancashire Distress.

Eh dear! What weary toimes are these,
When scores o’ honest workin folk
Reawnd th’ Poor Law office dur one sees,
Loike cadgers, we a cadging poke;
It's bad to see't, bo wus a dyeal,
When one a sel helps to make up th' lot;
We’n nowt to do, we darno stayl,
Nor con we beighl an empty pot.
Aw hate this pooing oakum wark,
An breakin stones for t’ get relief;
To be a pauper – pity’s mark –
Ull break an honest heart wi grief.
We’re mixt wi th’ stondin paupers, too,
Ut winnow ark when wark’s t’ be had,
A scurvy, fawnin, whoinin crew –
It’s hard to clem, bo that’s as bad.
An for myself aw wouldne do’t.
Aw’d starve until aw sunk to th’ floor;
Bo th’ little childer bring me to ‘t,
And would do th’ best i’th’ lond ow’m sure.
If folks han childer starving theer,
An still keep eawt, they’re noan so good;
Aw’ve mony a toime felt rather queer,
Bo then aw knew they must ha food.
When wark fell off aw did my best
To keep myself and family clear;
My wants aw’ve never forrud prest,
For pity is a thing aw fear.
My little savins soon were done,
Un then aw sowd my twoth’ry things –
My books and bookcase o’ are gone,
My mother’s pitcher, too, fun wings.
A bacco box wi two queer lids,
Sent whoam fro Indy by Jim Bell,
My fuschia plants and pots, my brids
An cages, too, aw’m forced to sell;
My feyther’s rockin cheer’s gone,
My mother’s corner cubbert, too:
An th’ eight-days clock has followed, mon –
What con a hungry body do?
Aw’ve gan my little garden up,
Wi mony a pratty flower and root,
Aw’ve sowd my gronny’s silver cup,
Aw’ve sowd my uncle Robin’s flute;
Aw’ve sowd my tables, sowd my beds,
My bedstocks, blankets, sheets as weel;
Each neet o’ straw we rest eawr yeads,
An we an God known what we feel.
Aw’ve sowd until aw’ve nowt to sell,
An heaw we’n clem’d’s past o’ belief;
What next for t’ do aw couldno tell,
It wur degrading t’ ax relief.
Ther wur no wark, for th’ mill wur stopt,
My childer couldno dee, you known;
Aw’m neaw a pauper cose aw’ve dropt
To this low state o’ breakin stone.
Bo wonst aw knew a diff’rent day,
When every heawr ud comfort brng;
Aw earned my bread, aw paid my way,
Aw wouldno stoop to lord or king.
Aw felt my independence then,
My sad dependence neaw, aw know;
Aw ne’er shall taste those jeighs ogen –
Aw’m sinkin wi my weight o’ woe.
Wigan Standard.

Title:Lancashire Distress


Publication:Ashton And Stalybridge Reporter

Published in:Ashton-under-Lyne

Date:June 28th 1862

Keywords:charity, dialect, domesticity, gender, pawn, poverty, work


This dialect piece in eight eight-line octets is presented anonymously in this newspaper publication context and with the title ‘Lancashire Distress’, but is actually an early publication of ‘Philip Clough’s Tale’ which would later feature in Joseph Ramsbottom’s 1864 Phases of Distress collection, and in Brian Hollingworth’s Songs of the People: Lancashire dialect poetry of the industrial revolution (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1977), the most significant anthology of such works during the twentieth century. The form of address is interesting here in that it begins in first person plural, articulating a collective voice for the newly improverished workers, but then shifts to the singular first person in order to provide several examples of the effects of the economic hardship. The piece ends with a stanza which articulates an intensely personal reflection on the circumstances through the frequent use of ‘anaphora’ – the repeated use of the same term or phrase to begin lines – in this case ‘Aw’ (‘I’).

As ever with Ramsbottom’s poetry, the piece is packed with little examples of acute social observation, but one of the most interesting comes at the beginning. There is a clear distinction made between ‘honest workin’ folk’ and ‘cadgers’, highlighting the tensions between different elements of Lancastrian people when the economic situation acts as an unpleasant social leveller. The loss of financial independence is keenly felt to the extent where at one point the speaker suggests that the only reason they seek relief is for the sake of their family, their own continued existence means little to them. – SR.