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Lancastrians have been writing in prose and poetry, in dialect and in Standard English, for over 200 years. If you doubt this, visit the library of the Lancashire Authors Association within Accrington Library and see the wealth of material there. And now on line you can enjoy a wonderful collection of poetry composed at a critical time in Lancashire’s history.

Between 1861 and 1866 the Northern and Southern States of America were at war and the supply of cotton to the Lancashire mills was stopped. Thousands were put out of work. The mills were silent. The workers and their families were starving. To earn a penny or two by selling broadsheets, to let the wider world know about the awful conditions, to appeal for charity, to fill the empty day, a remarkable number of local people took to writing poetry. They made wide use of local newspapers like the one you are reading now and a team of researchers at Exeter have been trawling the records to discover what survives.

On line (www.cottonfaminepoetry.exeter.ac.uk) there are already some 400 poems written during this ‘Cotton Famine’. They vary in quality of course but they give a vivid feeling of how it was to live as families and individuals, trying to avoid the workhouse, watching people starving, trying to keep children alive. Some names appear, Edwin Waugh and Samuel Laycock for instance, who readers may remember, but others are less well known, and some are published here for the first time since those distant days. I’m a Burnley lad but I’d never heard of William Cunliffe who wrote a series of poems in the Burnley Free Press and very fine they are too. He is a keen observer of the town and its travails.

I am also a fan of Joseph Ramsbottom. His dialect poems are rather long and  far from cheerful but no one catches so well what it was like to be living within a suffering family in those dismal days.
The web site is very rich. You can read the poems or listen to readings. The Faustus folk group have recorded sung versions of some of them. A great amount of background information is provided. So over to you.


Brian Hollingworth 13/02/19
Patron Lancashire Authors’ Association


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