Away from the din of the loom-
Ascend the winding stair -
Peep you into the Throstle’s room
Where Lancashire lasses all in bloom,
Are working free from care.
Closely you watch the spindle band
With eager scruting
Till thrust aside by nimble hand
And “aot o t’gate” you’re told to stand,
While Doffers hurry past.
They are a yelling, shouting crew -
Their legs and arms ar bare –
Fast as they can they scamper through,
Little’s the heed they take of you
Except to turn and stare
There’s nought they like as much as fun,
A plaguey lot are they;
Their “bufflers” shouldered on they run
Eager to get their Doffing done
And then run out to play
Excitement lights up every face
On every brow ‘tis seen,
Some youthful “Deerfoots” try their pace
a penny for he who wins the race,
Each vows he’ll not give in!
Or some, less peacefully inclined
Arrange a warlike sight,
Some of the lads have a martial mind,
A nook that’s partly hid they find
And gird themselves to fight.
The boyish warriors then enlist
Their clogs with iron bound,
And if they’re felled by foeman’s fist
None upon either side desist
But fight upon the ground.
While thus the mimic war is waged
Outside the factory door,
A man comes forth – and much enraged
Seeing the Doffers thus engaged
And many in their gore.
Heedless he rushes in the rowd
Of angry fighting boys;
They heed him not – his question loud -
“What are yo’ fightin’ for i’t’foud”
Is lost amid the noise.
Alas! That he has thus premused
He soon has cause to mourn,
all, all in vain he stormed and fumed,
Soon he regrets the part assumed,
On him the Doffers turn!
All their united force is used
Against the luckless wight,
By twenty clogs his shins are bruised -
Thoughts of defence are all confused
And prudence urges flight.
By forty nimble feet pursued
He gains the factory door,
when safe within he vows more shrewd
“ Sin’ Doffers canna’ be subdued
O’ll interfere non moor.”
Such once were they, who’re born, are bearing now
Privations ‘neath the frown on privations brow,
Such once were they, long ere the cotton dearth
Brought woeful want to many a humble hearth,
Such once were they, whose lofty fortitude
Famine and nakedness has not subdued,
But who, through suffering, gaunt and chill
Have nobly striven, and are striving still,
Have shown to wondering nations through these long,
Hard years, that they can suffer and be strong.
May 1st 1864

Title:The Doffer

Author:Joel G Whittaker

Publication:Colne and Nelson Guardian

Published in:Colne


Keywords:dialect, famine, industry


This extraordinary poem, discovered by Maggie Simms of the University of the Third Age, describes the nature of ‘doffers’, often young boys employed to remove bobbins and spindles in factories. They are presented as a rowdy lot, causing trouble and fighting, and this description takes up the first section, presented as five-line stanzas. There is some dialect included in the reported speech, and a strong sense of locality and community is expressed. The final ten-line stanza is elegiac in tone and laments that these characters are now suffering from the effects of the Lancashire Cotton Famine. However, there is also a sense of resilience built up through the robust lifestyle of their previous employment, and the resulting register is celebratory, rather than pitying. – SR