Th’ Owd Pedlar Joseph Ramsbottom
Title:Th' Owd Pedlar
Publication:Manchester University Press
This poem is arranged in nine octet stanzas with the rhyme scheme ABABCDCD. Its metre is Ramsbottom’s usual iambic tetrameter, but also characteristic of that poet, the piece does not appear song-like but conversational in its rhythms. The form of address identifies this as a variant of the dramatic monologue in the voice of the eponymous peddlar, beginning as though he is appealing to his customers before continuing to address a wider audience and describe his current life and circumstances as affected by the Cotton Famine. The anaphora on the term ‘or’ in the first stanza which is used to illustrate the kinds of items the peddlar sells is ironically mirrored at the start of the sixth stanza when a similar but shorter listing is revealed as unsold.
Like ‘A Droylsden Shopkeeper’s Lament’, this poem articulates the follow-on effects of the Cotton Famine throughout all industries and trades in the region. We know that approximately 430,000 people were employed directly in cotton mills in the region by 1861 and almost all of these would have been directly affected by short time or unemployment, but the concomitant economic slump eventually affected almost everyone in the region, and this figure is sometimes estimated at 4,000,000 individuals. This figure is significant not just because it represents nearly 20% of the population of the UK at the time, but because that is the approximate number of slaves living in the United States before the Civil War. This is one of eleven Cotton Famine poems which feature 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.