The Silent Mills Of Lancashire.

Ye hives that swarmed with industry, whose hum
World-wide proclaimed a nation’s wealth and power,
What terrible convulsion strikes you dumb?
Why those [portentous] clouds that o’er you lower?
Once were ye resonant with joyous strains
Of labour’s voice, from honest hearts that rose;
Now brooding desolation grimly reigns,
Dread silence, eloquent, full-charged with woes.
Your stillness tells of forms gaunt, hunger-worn,
Of blighted hopes, fair visions wrapt in gloom,
Homes miserable, husbands, wives forlorn,
And children wailing, sinking to the tomb.
Yet shall ye tower, when happier days shall spring,
As temple that most godlike virtues shrine,
And to our souls the choicest memories bring
Of patience, meekness, sorrows made Divine:
High monuments of fortitude, which bore
Deepest affliction; hushed each murm’ring tone
In agony could Heav’n’s pure will adore,
And recognise the hand of God alone.

Title:The Silent Mills of Lancashire

Author:Rev. J. Baker

Publication:Bury Guardian

Published in:Bury

Date:Dec 27 1862

Keywords:domesticity, poverty, religion, work


‘The Silent Mills of Lancashire’ by Rev. John Baker, is an 18-line ballad that describes the horrors that ensued during the Cotton Famine of 1861-65. The poem follows a A,B,A rhyme scheme, with a dark and melancholic register, which supports the themes of mortality and futility that permeate throughout the poem. The title referring to ‘Silent Mills’ already sets the tonality of the poem; this silence could be attributed to there being a lack of people which could be due to a high percentage of migration opposed to emigration, or as the poem would suggest: high numbers of mortality. The poem appears to be writing back to how the Lancashire Mills thrived before the famine. The first two lines declare the Mills as “[an] Industry, whose hum/World-wide proclaimed a nation’s wealth and power” which paints Lancashire as having a successful and lucrative cotton business, making a mark in the global trade markets. The poem switches from past tense, to the present, the adverb ‘Now’ creating this shift of register from reminiscent to the painful reality. Towards the final section of the poem, there appears to be a focus on religion, specifically pertaining to salvation. This shift follows the morbid line “And children wailing, sinking to the tomb.”; this use of caesura forces the reader to dwell on child mortality being a product of the famine. The final two lines “In agony could Heaven’s pure will adore, And recognise the hand of God alone.”, creates a sense of peace, through ‘the hand of God’ which points to the idea of being saved from this famine by a divine intervention. This poem creates a visceral and detailed image of the decay of a place, due to economic degradation caused by an imbalance of supply and demand. The poem discusses wider themes of the class divide, poverty, mortality, futility and spirituality, whilst also relating to contexts such as the American civil war and its seismic impact on industry/capitalism. G.N.