In a happy dream the workman
Knew no cause of daily care;
Once again he used his labour,--
Of life’s blessing took a share.
And he saw his children smiling,
And true gladness filled his heart;
Nobly in life’s earnest battle,
He grew proud to take a part.
And no more in tattered garments,
Were his little children seen;
But his home was graced with plenty,
Where keen hunger long has been.
And his wife no longer sorrowed,
With the cold babe at her breast;
Sobbing lonely in her misery,
With no bed on which to rest!
And he lived no longer hopeless,
Fearing what the day might bring;
And he heard, like joyous music,
Every morn’ the mill bell ring.
For no more he crouched and shivered,
Long he worked with willing hand;
Looked with pride upon the pleasure,
Dwelling in his native land.
Fairy-like his children gambolled,
Ran to meet him at the door;
Crowded round him as the wavelets,
Of the sea run to shore!
While the present and the future,
Rare delights before him spread;
For he heard no cries of hunger,
And no vain appeals for bread!
Now the winter had no terror,
He defied its cold and gloom;
Heard the welcome knell of sorrow,
In the whirrings of his loom!
By a country’s gory warfare,
Then he felt no longer robbed,
Soon his heart grew warm and thankful,
And with love his pulses throbbed!
Ah! ‘twas but a dream that vanished,
As the damp grey morning came;
He awoke to want and anguish,
Felt his manhood cursed with shame;
Saw his children crouching, weeping,
Blind with tears his patient wife;
Unto hunger chained and harnessed,
Death he sighed for more than Life!



Publication:Preston Guardian

Published in:Preston


Keywords:hunger, industry, poverty


This poem by S. H. Bradbury was published poignantly just as the very worst winter hit one of the towns worst affected by the devastation of the Cotton Famine. By this point in the crisis half of the population of Preston was seeking food relief, and the winter of 1862-63 saw huge rises in infant mortality, and death and disease in the general population caused by poverty and malnutrition. The poem presents the normal situation of employment in the textile industry as a longed-for idyll, and contrasts this with the desolation of unemployment caused by ‘a country’s gory warfare’. Given pervading narratives relating to working conditions in Victorian industry it is sometimes overlooked that Lancashire workers, due to the success to the cotton trade, were some of the highest paid labouring classes in the world. It is also more than possible that the ‘Lancashire Workman’ had a wife who worked in the same mill, increasing their former income. The celebration of former employment here is not just comparative to the misery of unemployment, it is a recognition of a hard-won state of relative affluence for working people. – SR