Th’ Owd Pedlar Joseph Ramsbottom

Well, want yo pins or neelds today,
Or buttons, threed, or hooks an’ eyes?
Or want yo tape or petch-wark, pray,
Or stockins, good an’ chep,—your size?
What? not today! Well, thoose mun pass;
Bo is ther nowt yo met ha’ had?
Here, beigh a doll for th’ little lass,
Or marbles—come—for th’ little lad.
He’s flertin’ yon i th’ loane, aw see,
His taw’s too big by mony a bit;
This alley’ll shute him to a tee,
An’ noa be hau ve as yesy t’ hit!
Yo han no thrade. Well, then, good day!
Heaw hard th’ toimes are! Aw tell yo whot
Sin folks han bin too poor to pay,
This counthry side’s an autthert spot.
Aw’ve fun it so: it’s noan long sin
Ut folks ud sheawt shus wheer aw went,—
“Well, Bob, what hasto fresh?—come in!”
An’ lots o’ brass they awlus spent.
Bo some at th’ dur ull meet me neaw,
An’ some ull come to th’ top o’ th’ fowt;
Mi prattiest things they co’n em feaw,
Or quietly sen they’re wantin’ nowt.
Aw know their dhrift—aw see it o’:
They conno mak’ things t’ square an’ fit;
Oitch thries t’ noa let his neighbour know
Heaw fast he’s wastin’, bit by bit.
Bo folks mun sthrive to do ther part,
Tho’ Want an’ Sorrow in the breast
May nestlin’ gnaw, an’ at the heart
Still gnaw an’ suck, an’ never rest.
Neaw ev’ry cheek has lost its rose,
Its bwons are creepin’ eawt to th’ leet;
Wi starin’ een, an’ sharpent nose,
An’ sallow face,—it’s sad to see’t.
When ev’ry whoam is nak’d an’ bare,
Folks conno beigh, bo aw con tell,
Ut pedlar Bob comes in for th’ share,
O th’ hardships, neaw he conno sell.
Ther’s nob’dy want a ribbin neaw,
Ther’s nob’dy wants mi fancy rings;
They’re o’ too poor, aw weel know heaw
It is they dunno beigh my things.
For sunken cheeks, and starin’ een
Ud match bo ill a weel dhress’d yead;
An’ one ne’er thinks o’ dhress, yo seen,
When th’ stomach’s skroikin’ eawt for bread.
Folks are ill off, an’ ill they look,
An’ aw’m as ill as them, for sure,
Mi palsied wife, hoo sits i’ th’ nook,
Mi cripplet dowther plays o’ th’ floore.
Eawr Jack’s a sailor, off at th’ sae,
Eawr Nanny neaw just jobs abeawt,
Aw do a bit i’ th’ peddlin’ way,
When th’ rheumatiz ull let me eawt.
An’ mony a time we’re hardly set,
Sthrive heaw we win, do what we con;
It fairly makes one t’ fume an’ fret,
Sich wark to get a torin’ on.
Ther’s little jeigh i’ th’ poor mon’s part,
When thrials come i’ sich a shoal;
They choke the sweet springs of the heart,
The kindlier nature of the soul.
Neaw th’ winter’s past and spring is green,
Fleawr’s laugh at me an’ peighnt to th’ sky—
Aw conno laugh at them, yo seen,
My laugh ud be bo mockery.
Aw’m writhin’ under th’ weight o’ grief
Ut long has prest me close to th’ sod;
That dyeth may soon bring sweet relief
Is o’ mi yearnsful prayer to God.

Title:Th' Owd Pedlar

Author:Joseph Ramsbottom

Publication:Manchester University Press

Published in:Manchester


Keywords:dialect, domesticity, poverty, work


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.

- SR.