Eawr Alley.

I’ this the stink’est o’ alleys,
Ther be three heawses, an’ fourteen empty ballies;
Ther’s Collier Jim, he lies i’ ed,
Wi’ o broken leg an’ o werchin’ yed,
An’ he’s welly as good as berried an’ ded,
Tho’ his wife’s the best o’ Sallys.

Fro’ wik’s eend to wik’s eend, an’ thro’ it
They’n nowt but rue tay, an’ tay to it;
Tho’ th’ doctor rolls up in a four-wheel shay,
An’ orders poor Jim o pint o’ beef tay,
Wi’ o glass o’ port wine three times a day,
An’ o mutton chop – eawt o’ parish pay!
An’ Jim’s wife’s i’ wot’s cawd, an expectin’ way –
May the Lord send her gradely thro’ it.

Ther’s two twin bairns getten th’ brown-critters,*
I’ two-thri days they’ll soon be fitters
O’ cosy coffins i’ one smaw grave.
Dang me! if deoth durn’t best behave –
Better nor life – to a cradled slave,
Spoon-fed wi’ gin-an’-bitters,

Last wik we’n tan eawr little Mary
To hur whoam i’th’ cemetary;
(Along o’th’ road so wet an’ dree,ᵻ
Splash’d bi o weddin’ gay wur we);
Welly crack’d wur eawr Betty an’ me –
For dun yo see,
Hoo wur th’ only choily, but three;
For wun’s as good as a’ to Bet an’ me,
An’ luv as’ll niver get yeary.

Gron-dad’s fawn lame wi’ th’ rheumatic;
Mi woife lies stervin’ i’ th’ attic;
For ‘ith’ kitchen ther’s nobbit o pair o’meawlt shoon,
Wi’ o widowed fork an’ o eighrun spoon,
O hint o’ meighl poritch – i’th’ wooden spittoon!
O gleom o’ sunshine o’th’ table at noon,
An’ o felly eawtside as is grindin’ o tune
In o way welly airistocratic.

I’th’ gutter ther’s fayvur; i’th’ garret ther’s famine,
An’ mony o family quietly clammin’.
Ther’d little to spend an’ less to get,
For folk i’th’ grip o’th’ divil o’ debt!
(May the Lord keep aw on us honest yet.)
For ther’s lots o’ empty ballies to let,
An’ “things aren’t getten to th’ wust,” ses Bet,
“An’ sufferin’s wuss nor shammin’.”
January 26,1863. ADAM CHESTER.
* [Bronchitis] . ᵻWearisome.

Title:Eawr Alley

Author:Adam Chester

Publication:Bury Guardian

Published in:Bury


Keywords:dialect, domesticity, family, hunger, poverty


The most notable formal feature of this poem is that it is written with each stanza containing just two rhyme sounds, with feminine rhymes (more than one syllable with an unstressed syllable at the end) typically the first two and the last line endings. This is a difficult poetic skill to master but Adam Chester achieves this by varying the grammar so that the repetition is deflected by exclamations, enjambment, reported speech and parentheses. This repetition though carries its own effect, and when the amount of repetition of the single, masculine rhyme increases in stanzas 2, 4, 5, and 6, there is a build-up of tension in the reader waiting for the relief. This very obvious use of rhyme could appear comic in tone but the poet instead uses it for extra emphasis.

Adam Chester was a doctor as well as a poet (he composed the celebratory sea shanty ‘The Coming of the Griswold’) so it is highly likely that the account of localised suffering he offers here is a good representation of the living conditions of the time. There are a variety of ailments and dire situations listed but they are all underpinned by debt, poverty, and hunger. It is interesting that the last lines given to the speaker’s wife claim that the worst is yet to come, but also refute the charge of ‘shammin’. The rapidity of the medical effects of sudden mass unemployment took many people by surpise, and some assumed that reports of widespread serious illness and death were exaggerated. This poem is part of the effort to counter these perceptions.

- SR.