When aw hed werk, an’ brass to spend,
Aw never wanted for a friend;
Fooak coom a-camping every neet,
An’ moov’d when meetin’ me i’ th’ street;
My company wor coarted then
By business chaps, an gentlemen ---
Aw ceawnted comrades by the scoor,
Bud neaw aw’ve noan, becose aw’m poor.
Aw’d invitations every day,
To dine, or sup, or teck mi tay,
Or caw an’ hev a friendly chat
An’ Squire Consequence, to boot,
Ud ax me o’er to fish – or shoot
Wi dog an’ gun o’er fell an’ moor ---
Bud that’s knock’d off, becose aw’m poor.
Then Scotchmen bother’d me wi goods,
An’ tungs as smooth os soft-sooup suds,
For patronage; and strove to ged it
Bud neaw they’n torn’d ther tune, bi th’ mass,
Some’s hawkin’ tay for redy brass;
Some kor’d si th’ number o’ my door,
They’n groon so blind, sin aw grew poor.
An’ wod mecks matters look moor feaw,
Mi kinsfooak doesn’t know mi neaw;
Puff’d up wi proide to sitch a pitch,
They’n no relayshuns – bud wots rich!
An’ even my own brother Jim,
He ses aw’m nowt akin to him ---
“By gum!” thowt aw, “that is a thougher,
A mon’s a boggart when he’s poor.”
Aw know there’s public charity,
[1 word illegible] winnod let a body dee;
[1 word illegible] e’s a sperrit as con stoop
To fotchin’ dow and suppin’ soop,
Besoide a natral knack o’ humblin’ ---
Thankin’ visitors for grumblin’ ---
An’ sayin’ “you please” to th’ biggest boor,
They’ll keep him alive – bud not mitch moor.
Sooa th’ world wags on, fro day to day,
An’ still id ses, or seems to say ---
“This poverty’s a deadly sin,
Wod banishes booath friends and kin,
An’ stinks in every noble nooas;
Sooa yo, who’ve nother meyt nor clooas,
Mun live o’th’ air, an’ lie o’ th’ floor ---
An’ serve yo reet, becose yo’re poor!

Title:Friends Are Few When Fooak Are Poor

Author:W. Billington

Publication:The Blackburn Times

Published in:Blackburn

Date:November 21, 1863

Keywords:dialect, family, poverty


This dialect poem by the great Blackburn poet William Billington relates the social consequences of unemployment through the voice of a mill worker made redundant during the Lancashire Cotton Famine. This had actually happened to Billington so there is real authenticity here, even if it is filtered through a poetic voice. Dialect poets like Billington (Edwin Waugh, Joseph Ramsbottom, Samuel Laycock, William Cunliffe) were very important during the crisis in that they appeared ventriloquise the concerns of ordinary people in their own modes of speech. Although this might appear to be a kind of literary exclusivity (albeit emerging from an oral tradition), in fact dialect poetry was read and enjoyed much more widely in the mid-nineteenth century than it is now. – SR