REV. FREDERICK ROBERT
("John Ackworth": 1854-1917).
material is provided by kind permission of the Burnley
and Salford reference libraries, and by Country
Second posting to Eccles:
14th August, 1909.
Obituary: BURNLEY EXPRESS
AND ADVERTISER, 14th
(??) November, 1917.
Family photographs - wife and daughters Nora and Irene.
Taken from a Souvenir Handbook issued for the
Burnley Wesley Circuit Bazaar, 1914.
Frederick Robert Smith: by J. R. Bleakley, Eccles and
District History Society, 1963.
F. R. Smith (1854-1917). A biographic sketch by K.
G. Spencer (1975) which draws to some extent on that by
J. R. Bleakley above but takes the story further.
A harsh critic of those of Ackworth's tales that
followed "Clog Shop Chronicles," which according to
Spencer fall into the category of "pot boilers"; if so,
then the resulting stew is often extremely tasty.
It is interesting to note that "Clog Shop Chronicles,"
"Beckside Lights," "Scowcroft Critics" and "Doxie Dent"
are again (2009) in print (see DoDo Press editions).
"Clogshop Chronicles, a Victorian Best-seller", by
Stanley Wood published in The Dalesman (October,
Wenyon's Will": a note concerning the
possible source of the name used in the title to Ackworth's
Nora K. Smith (1889-1961). A biographic sketch
(1975) by K. G. Spencer of Nora, the youngest of
Ackworth's three daughters and herself an author.
"A Stranger and a Sojourner":
by Nora Kermode Smith, John Ackworth's youngest daughter. From
an unidentified newspaper clip, probably of 1937, the year of
the book's publication. Also, images of the books covers
of Nora's two published novels.
THE BURNLEY GAZETTE
14th August, 1909.
The Rev. F. R. Smith, of Eccles, who takes the
place of the Rev. J. H. Corson as Superintendent of the Wesley
circuit, Burnley, is the well-known "John Ackworth," author of
"Clogshop Chronicles" and other works. He is a Yorkshireman,
having been at Snaith, but when about sixteen years of age his
parents removed to Stockport, As was natural, seeing that a
great-grandfather, two grandfathers and seven uncles were all
preachers, the young man became a candidate for the ministry in
1876. His first circuit was Castletown in the Isle of Man.
After three years in the Worthing circuit he was invited to
Farnworth. He later went to Sheffield where he had a nervous
breakdown and was assured by his medical man that he would never
preach again. At the following Conference he was sent to the
Shotley Bridge and Consett circuit and his health continued to
return to its former state. At Swinton he met with the
originals of some of his Lancashire characters and in his next
circuit (St. Annes-on-Sea) he produced his first stories.
York, Eccles, St. Helens, and again at Eccles were the scenes of his
subsequent work. Briefly that is the history of one who is
popular wherever he goes and who is known by his stories where he
has not personally laboured or visited. His journeys into the
regions of journalism have not been limited by story writing, for
whilst in the Isle of Man he was special correspondent , reporter
and news collector of the Isle of Man "Examiner." It was
whilst at St. Annes-on-Sea that he commenced to write those
captivating stories of his Old Methodists which rank with the
delineation of the Scotch and Cornish characters of other writers.
BURNLEY EXPRESS AND ADVERTISER
14th November, 1917.
LOSS TO METHODISM.
DEATH OF THE REV. F. R. SMITH.
News of the death at the Burnley Victoria
Hospital, yesterday, of the Rev. Frederick R. Smith, Wesleyan
Methodist minister, will be received with deep regret in many
circles throughout the country, and especially in Lancashire and
Yorkshire. Mr. Smith passed away in the afternoon, an
unavailing operation having been performed in the morning.
Latterly his illness had become serious, but for some years his
health had been indifferent.
It was in 1909 that Mr.. Smith came to Burnley
from Eccles as superintendent minister of Wesley Circuit. He
succeeded the Rev. J. H. Corson. After three years service he
retired from active work, but remained in Burnley as a
A Yorkshireman, he was born at Snaith 63 years
ago. His great-grandfather, two grandfathers, father and seven
uncles were all preachers. He was accepted for the ministry in
1876, after studying at Headingly Theological Institute for two
years. Then he was appointed to his first circuit, Castletown,
Isle of Man. Subsequently he travelled in some of the most
important circuits in Methodism, including Bolton, Sheffield,
Manchester and York. Mr. Smith spent in all nine years in
Manchester, and was for the full term of three years in each of his
circuits. He was considered one of the ablest preachers in
Methodism, a well-earned reputation. His sermons invariably
were scholarly, well arranged, and free from anything tame or
humdrum. There was the mellow tone of ripe wisdom in his
utterances and he employed the gift of humour and his command of
epigram and engaging skill. Above all, he diffused real
Methodist fervour. These qualities were the outward expression
of the inner life of a true Christian gentleman.
To a large section of the public Mr. Smith was
best known as the author of a series of delightful North Country
village life stories and sketches, which he wrote under the name of
"John Ackworth." Among his works were the following:—"Beckside
Lights," "Clog Shop Chronicles," "Doxie Dent," "From Crooked Roots,"
"Scowcroft Critics," "The Coming of the Preachers," "The mangle
House," and "The Minder." He wielded Lancashire
characteristics and dialect, and used his fund of illustrations and
anecdote most attractively. Mr. Smith was also an exquisite
devotional writer, to which his book of sermons on "Life's Working
Creed" bears eloquent witness. Many valued his friendship as
one of their choicest possessions. He was thoroughly attached
to Methodism, and since he came to Burnley he was deeply interested
in the welfare of Manchester Road Church. The temperance cause
had in him a strong advocate. He leaves a widow, four sons
(three of whom are in the army), and three daughters. He
resided during his retirement in Glen View-road.
[Ed.—house name "Beckside", No. 24]
The funeral will take place on Friday.
There will be a service at Manchester-road Church at 11 o'clock.
THE LATE REV. F. R. SMITH.
Rev. R. A. Taylor's Reference.
At Manchester-road Wesleyan Church, on Sunday
morning, The Rev. R. A. Taylor made reference to the life of the
late Rev. F. R. Smith. Speaking from the text, "He being dead
yet speaketh," Mr. Taylor made impressive allusion to the influence
for good which the personality of Mr.. Smith had exercised upon
those with whom he came into contact. He spoke of the
characteristics of the deceased gentleman, the charm of his personal
character, his gifts of humour, and his heroic courage in the
presence of pain. He pointed out that the pulpit influence of
such a man, reflected through the lives of others, would never die;
and the imperishability of such an influence was one more reminder
of the truth of the doctrine which was the foundation of the
Christian faith, vis., the immortality of the soul.
[Ed.—John Ackworth is buried in Burnley Cemetery,
grave number A1716.]
Wife Annie, front row, fifth from left.
Daughters Nora and Irene, front row, first and third
from the left.
Frederick Robert Smith
J. R. Bleakley, Eccles and District History Society,
In the vestry of St. Paul's Methodist Church at Swinton is a
portrait of one of the early ministers of the church, the Reverend
F. R. Smith. He was a man who made his impression on Swinton,
as, indeed, he did on many other parts of the country where he
served in his calling. This man, enthusiastic parson though he
was, probably became known to many more people throughout the
country by the name he used to write his stories of Lancashire life,
He was not a Lancashire man, in fact, for he was born at
Snaith, in the West Riding, in the year 1854. Snaith was not
very far from the hamlet of Ackworth, from which it may be safely
assumed that he took his pen name. The son of a family of
preachers, he followed the calling and went to the Wesleyan College
at Headingly, near Leeds, and entering the Ministry at the age of
twenty-five. Wesleyan Ministers were not allowed to stay in
one chapel for more than three years at a time and he held
appointments at Castletown ( I.O.M. ), Sheffield, Lytham, York,
Eccles, St. Helens and finally Burnley.
Many people still living in the Swinton, Eccles and
Patricroft areas remember his ministry and his manner of visiting
the members of his churches. The manse at Eldon Place in
Patricroft was his home during the time he took charge of the
Patricroft Trinity and the Barton Wesleyan Chapels. He was
only small in stature, being barely five feet in height, and sported
a brown pointed beard. His bearing was what is known as
'dapper' and he often committed the 'crime' of visiting his distant
churches on a bicycle; he should have walked with it on a Sunday.
This rather unorthodox minister had a habit of visiting elderly
people on a Monday morning when the wash was in progress, and many
stories are told of how he would take off his coat and take hold of
the heavy mangle wheel to help finish the work before departing with
a happy 'cheerio'.
When in the pulpit, he was outspoken and forthright neither
mincing his words nor holding back his thoughts. During his
sermons, he would suddenly shout and often frighten people out of
their wits if their minds happened to have been wandering at the
time. His earnest yet genial disposition lit up the church and
it was the spark of genius which even later pain and grief were
powerless to conquer.
As a former minister at Swinton, he was asked to write for
the 'Centenary history of Wesleyan Methodism in Swinton' and in his
letter he wrote "My earliest recollection of Swinton is an
experience that does not often fall to the lot of a Methodist
preacher. We were received at 18 Worsley Road by a bride, a
circuit stewardess who had only been married a few weeks,' and still
had about her something of that mysterious halo which usually
surround a new made wife. Mrs. Manley did credit to the
circuit and to her husband and discharged her duties as to the
manner born, and a travel wearied family were made to feel at home
"As the chapel was then a-building our first services were
held in the schoolroom, and the cosiness of the arrangements, the
heartiness of the friends, and the spirited singing of Mr. Peploe
and his choir, all helped to make an excellent impression on the new
minister and his family. Deceived by appearances, some
enthusiastic friends suggested that henceforth the week night
service should be held in the large schoolroom. But they had
not reckoned with the omnipotent chapel keeper, who was far too much
of a philosopher and student of human nature to be carried away by
the illusory and flash-in-the-pan popularity of the new preacher.
Infant room it always has been, and infant room it must remain.
Brother Jas. Hardy was a 'ground grown un', and he and Mr. James
Allen fairly represented what may be called the native element in
the Church; and the new minister who had regarded Swinton as a
suburb of Manchester did not all at once comprehend the significance
of the mixture of old fashioned village Methodist ideals with those
of modern suburbanism. And what made the puzzle more difficult
to solve was the fact that the two elements were so frequently found
not merely in the same church, but even in the same person, and when
pastoral visitation was commenced the mixture got even more
bewildering still. 'Moorfield House' sounded suburban enough,
but 'Jane Lane' carried one back at once to old fashioned
Lancashire, whilst 'Burying Lane' had a delicious mediaeval smack
about it that was utterly lost in the stylish 'Station Road'."
The Rev. F. R. Smith met many of the Lancashire characters of
that time, personalities in themselves, and even though a
Yorkshireman, he set out to master the Lancashire dialect of the
region. He found that this dialect was a suitable medium for
his very human stories, many of which were set, in his own words, in
"a village between Manchester and Bolton". It is generally
believed that the village of Boothstown is the scene of his most
lovable works, and the fact that he sometimes let slip in a word or
so of his native West Riding did not really matter. He was
very careful to keep his dialect words as accurate as possible, and
where uncertain of spelling would spell as it sounded when spoken.
The name of the village in his writing is, of course a
fictitious one: the famous "Clog Shop Chronicles" were set in the
village of Beckside, where the only public buildings were the little
chapel and the schoolhouse, the nearest town being Duxbury, a few
miles away. About the centre of the village stood the Clog
shop, where the clogger, Jabez Longworth, known to all as "owd Jabe"
worked with his apprentice, Isaac. "Owd Jabe" was the chief
official at the chapel and his shop was the rendezvous for the
village worthies, where all the local gossip was turned over.
Here on most evenings, could be found such worthies as Long Ben, the
carpenter, Sam Speck who lived on a small annuity, Lige the
roadmender, Jonas Tatlock the choirmaster, Nathan the Smith and
Jethro the knocker-up.
These characters are met in three of John Ackworth's books,
"Clog Shop Chronicles", "Beckside Lights" and "Doxie Dent". It
is believed that the originals of most of these characters were
members of the St. Paul's Chapel and were well known personalities
in the Station Road area. The actual clog shop was that of
James (Jabe) Allen in Chorley Road. In the time of Mr. Smith's
ministry (1891-93) it was numbered 175 and always had two rows of
clogs in the window. Repairs, etc. were done in the 'back
place' and it was the habit of the minister to call in every Monday
morning to have a chat with the clogger and his cronies.
Re-numbering in the intervening years has made this old shop number
213 and needless to say, it is no longer a clog shop.
Some of his other writings were not so localised but dealt
with the county and the ordinary "lads and lasses", mainly from
among the Methodists. "The Coming of the Preachers" concerns
the preaching of John and Charles Wesley in a Lancashire village,
and is particularly noted for its local colour and the racy use of
One of the experiences he had as a minister was one peculiar
to this part of the country, that of taking part in the Sunday
School boat trip. This was a popular trip in barges along the
Bridgewater Canal and he put on his tall hat for the occasion.
Unfortunately, it started to rain and the party had to turn back
before reaching their destination at Dunham. Apart from the
rain, they had to run the hazard of Patricroft Bridge, where the
local boys reached out over the edge of the bridge to drop stones
and sods on the people in the boats below. Mr. Smith's tall
hat came in for special treatment, the boys jeering loudly at the
sight of such splendour. He summed up the experience by
saying, 'a canal boat trip is a thing that can only be properly
appreciated after a preliminary training, and even then requires a
peculiar and carefully cultivated taste.'
In his later years, he suffered from illness, which
necessitated an operation and died at the Victoria Hospital, Burnley
on November 12th. 1917 at the age of 63 years. His memory is
kept green by the pleasure given in his books.
F. R. Smith
By K. G. Spencer, 1975.
How my interest began.
It began about eight years ago. I was ill in bed with flu,
when a kind neighbour brought me something to read; "Clogshop
Chronicles," it was ideal for the time and place.
When I started to get about again, I made enquiries about the
author and was astonished to find that he had been—for part of his
life—a Burnley man. So I began to read all that I could find
by him, or about him and I sought out people who had known him sixty
years ago. The following is the result.
Frederick Robert Smith was born at Snaith in Yorkshire on
April 18th 1854. His great—grandfather, grandfather, father
and seven uncles were all preachers. He was accepted for the
Methodist ministry in 1876 and studied for two years at the
Headingley Theological Institute, after which he was appointed to
his first circuit, Castletown in the Isle of Man. Subsequently
he travelled in some of the most important circuits in Methodism:
Worthing, Farnworth, Sheffield, Shotley Bridge, Manchester, Swinton,
Lytham, York, St. Helens, Eccles and Burnley.
He came to Burnley from Eccles in 1909, as superintendent
minister of Wesley circuit. After three years' service he
retired from active work, but remained in Burnley as a
supernumerary. A distressing internal ailment afflicted him
for several years before his death, which took place in the Victoria
Hospital on November 13th 1917. He is buried in Burnley
He became quite famous with his first book "Clogshop
Chronicles" in 1896. From then until 1907 he wrote an almost
annual sequence of short stories and novels; also a volume of
sermons in 1909. He always used the pseudonym 'John Ackworth'
for his written work. Ackworth is not far from Snaith;
additionally, he may have fancied the name as a sort of Yorkshire
equivalent to 'Ashworth' , which would have been a more obvious
choice for the author of Lancashire tales.
The Man Himself.
If you ask the 'older end' what they remember of F. R. Smith,
they will usually say ". . . Well, Well, he was a little man, with
red hair, and he was a very good preacher". Those three things
stand out. Some will also add that he wrote "Clogshop
"He was a little man". According to J. R.
Bleackley  he stood only about five feet high,
and Mr. C. L. Robins remembers that he could hardly be seen over the
top of the pulpit.
"He had red hair". Very red, evidently, for
photographs show that there was not much of it. He also had a
beard—neat, pointed, and moderately full.
"He was a good preacher". It particularly
impressed me when two Burnley ladies were able to quote exact texts
on which they had heard him speak:
"The bed was too wide and the sheets too narrow".
"She brought butter in a lordly dish".
He had theatrical mannerisms in the pulpit: "He would shout,
and lead up to the shout with a kind of crooning sound". Such
things can make a man ridiculous, especially if he is physically
small to start with, but F. R. Smith held his congregations
spellbound. "To preach was his passion; it was the delight of
his life. Knowledge, wit, originality . . . everything that he
had, was used in the work of the pulpit. His preaching
consumed him as fire consumes dry timber". 
He was always cheerful. Even when chronically sick, he
radiated optimism and friendly humour. "Daddy Smith", his
young church-people called him.
He has been described as 'vivacious', 'dapper' and 'rather
unorthodox.' J. R. Bleackley relates how he rather scandalised
the stricter Methodists of the Swinton/Eccles area by riding to his
outlying churches on a bicycle: he should have walked on a Sunday.
He also tells how would sometimes call on an elderly woman and catch
her busy with the Monday wash, in which case he would lend a hand
with the heavy mangle wheel before departing with a happy 'Cheerio'.
On one occasion (writes Mr. Bleackley) he went with his
Sunday School classes on a canal-boat trip. Not only did it
rain, but rough children gathered on Patricroft Bridge and dropped
sods and small stones onto the boat as it passed under, Mr. Smith's
tall hat being a special target. His comment afterwards was
characteristically good-humoured: "A canal-boat trip", he said, "is
a thing that can only be properly appreciated after a preliminary
training, and even then requires a peculiar and carefully-cultivated
In Burnley, he lived first of all at the Manse on Palatine
Square before moving to No. 122 Manchester Road when he retired.
In the last weeks of his life he went to 'Beckside', a new house on
Glen View Road, and Miss Wolfenden recalls a Sunday School field
day—"a bun and coffee do"—at Hollin Cross Farm, after which the
scholars went and sang at the front of the house below his bedroom
Thanks to Miss J. Jagger, who used to deliver customers'
orders from a local shop, we can identify 'Beckside' as the present
The Smith Family.
When he died in 1917 Mr. Smith left a widow, four sons and
three daughters. Mrs. Smith (nee Annie Bradley), though not
physically small, was so lacking in personality that she is only
vaguely remembered in Burnley. She was quiet, kindly, and
self-effacing to the point of being rather helpless: "She would play
a part in things but she wouldn't take the lead"; "She needed things
doing for her". After Mr. Smith's death she went to live with
her married daughter Margaret (Maggie) at Stockport. She died
in December 1943.
Margaret had married in 1907, during her father's ministry at
Eccles. She therefore never lived in Burnley.
The rest of the family were all away from Burnley by 1922.
Of Nora, the youngest girl, we shall have more to say separately.
She and Irene (Renee) went back to Eccles. Irene was very like
her father, small and red-headed. In Burnley she was a
well-liked Sunday School teacher, though rather stricter than Nora.
She killed herself in July 1934.
Three of the boys served in World War I. Only Reg. was
at all 'literary'; he was the one with whom Nora had most in common.
He graduated from Manchester University, went into business, and
lived latterly near Rivington. He was married but without
I know nothing of the eldest son Thorold except that he had
married before his father died. [Ed.—a notice in The Guardian,
7th March 1942, states that Thorold Bradley Smith died suddenly at
Menstone-in-Wharfdale, Yorkshire, aged 57 years.]
Len duly married and had one daughter, Patricia.
Roland (Roley) was small and tough, bright and likeable, but
"not what you would expect a minister's son to be". He
evidently got into some sort of trouble at the Burnley bank where he
worked. ("But it was all hushed up"). I have been told how he
and a friend set off one day on their motor-bikes; when they got to
Settle they parted, intending to ride home by separate ways; but
this was the last ever heard of Roland in England. He made a
new life for himself across the Atlantic, married, and 'made good'.
Mr. Smith as an Author.
I regard "Clogshop Chronicles" as a little classic of
regional literature. It consists of twelve short stories, set
in the Lancashire mill village of Beckside. The clogger—Jabez
Longworth—was the chief official at the chapel, and, being of a
somewhat assertive disposition, had become the ruling spirit of the
village. Long Ben, a tall mild-tempered carpenter, was his
lieutenant. And Sam Speck, a small-featured man living on a
small annuity, acted as henchman to both. Besides those there
were Lige the road-mender, Jonas Tatlock the choirmaster, Nathan the
smith and Jethro the knocker-up. These worthies resorted to
the Clog Shop at all convenient times, and there discussed such
topics as the life of the village provided. It is their
conversations and the circumstances connected with them which make
up the stories.
It is commonly said that everyone has it in him to write one
book. "Clogshop Chronicles" bears out the truth of this.
If you read its continuation "Beckside Lights" (1897) you may be
slightly disappointed. "Clogshop Chronicles," only, came off the top
of the barrel.
Mr. Smith could never repeat his first success.
Although some of his later stories are closely akin to "Clogshop
Chronicles," only "Beckside Lights" comes anywhere near to leaving
the reader with the same sense of compact satisfaction. The
rest give the impression of being pot-boilers—which is what they
Clogshop Chronicles: the Setting and the Characters.
From certain internal allusions—e.g. to the newly-constructed
railway line—we can date the setting to about the 1850's, and, to
me, a great charm of the stories is their evocation of those times
The exact identification of Beckside is difficult. R.
K. Derbyshire  and J. R. Bleackley are
convinced that it is Boothstown, but I picture a more Pennine-edge
landscape than that. In recent correspondence Mr. S. Wood has
suggested Stoneclough near Bolton, and I think this is probably
correct—or as near correct as any deduction is likely to be, for in
all probability Beckside was a composite village. Stoneclough
fits well, for we are distinctly told that the clog shop shop
characters spoke the dialect of the Bolton district. It seems
to me that Mr. Smith had that part of the Croat Valley pretty firmly
in mind, as witness Gravel Hole, The Knob and Knob Top in "Clog Shop
Chronicles"; also Cinder Hill in the "Scowcroft Critics."
The identification of the characters is a separate issue,
and. J. R. Bleackley seems almost certainly correct in saying that
some of them were based on actual members of the St. Paul's Chapel
Mr. Smith's Non-Fiction.
In 1909 F. R. Smith published a series of sermons which he
had delivered during his ministry at Eccles: "Life's Working Creed."
I will not pass judgment on these, except to say that I found them
less boring than I had expected. Their impact in 'real life'
would depend upon their delivery, and in that, as we have seen,
their author was a master.
His Place in Literature and Drama.
F. R. Smith's fiction was within the tradition of regional
literature and yet helped to build that tradition. A
contemporary reviewer of "Clog Shop Chronicles" made apt comparison
with J. M. Barrie's "A Window in Thrum," and R. K. Derbyshire has
categorically said that such homely stories prompted Smith to start
writhing. More locally, an affinity with the work of Ben
Brierley, Edwin Waugh and J.
Marshall Mather is obvious. (It is interesting, incidentally, to
note that the concept of the clog shop as the unofficial forum of
the village men finds expression in a painting by Eastman Johnson,
an American, in 1887: "The Nantucket School of Philosophy" shows
five old men and a clogger in a setting which could have been taken
direct from Beckside) . In a more modern
day, T. Thompson of Bury continued the tradition with "Under the
Barber's Pole," later popularised by Wilfred Pickles on radio.
More recently still, we have enjoyed the TV programme "Coronation
Street." But above all, it gives me the greatest pleasure and
satisfaction to record that in this present year—1975—Mr. S. Wood,
also of Bury, has up-dated "Clog Shop Chronicles" itself in the form
of a successful musical—Clogs—which opened at the Duke's Playhouse,
Lancaster, in March.
A List of Mr. Smith's books, in Chronological Order:
1896—Clogshop Chronicles. Later editions 1905, 1935 (again in
1897—Beckside Lights (again in print 2009).
1898—The Scowcroft Critics & Other Tales (again in print 2009).
1899—(a) Doxie Dent: a Clogshop Chronicle (again in print 2009).
Making of the Million; Tales of the Twentieth Century
1900—The Minder: the Story of The Courtship, Call, and Conflicts of
Minder and Minister. Second edition, 1902.
1901—The Coming of the Preachers; A tale of the Rise of Methodism.
1902—The Mangle House: a Lancashire Tale.
1903—From Crooked Roots.
1904—Old Wenyon's Will, etc.
1907—The Partners, etc.
1909—Life's Worlding Creed: a Series of Sermons on the Present-Day
the Epistle of James.
There are good photographs of Mr. Smith and Nora in the
library collections at Burnley and Eccles.
Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Nora and Irene appear on photographs in a
Souvenir Handbook issued for the Burnley Wesley Circuit Bazaar in
1914. Mr. Smith is on p.9, and his wife on p.51, fifth
from the left in the front row. Nora and Irene are on P.79,
first and third from the left, front row. A photograph of Mrs.
Smith, with her husband and one daughter, is in Eccles Library,
May I thank collectively rather than individually all those
people who have helped me with this study? I am grateful to
them all. A special word must go to the staff of the Methodist
Archives & Research Centre, and of the Reference Libraries in
Burnley and Eccles.
1. Portrait Gallery. Salford, 1963, pp. 17-20.
2. Burnley Express and Advertiser 17.11.1917.
3. His sales figures from "The Partners", 1907, tell their own
story: "Clog Shop Chronicles" 21st thousand, "Beckside Lights" 7th
thousand, "The Scowcoft Critics" 6th thousand, "The Mangle House"
4. Papers of the Manchester Literary Club, LVI., Manchester, 1930,
5. Reproduced in Matthew Baigell, "A History of American Painting,"
A Victorian Best-seller
The following biographic sketch was first published
The Dalesman, October
1979, and is reproduced here by kind permission of the Editor, Paul
Clogshop Chronicles appeared in 1896 when John Ackworth was 42.
It was an immediate success. The first edition ran to 21,000. Today,
from Library shelves over the North, it is taken down and read — it
doesn't have to be dusted — browsed over, enjoyed. By all accounts,
convalescing O.A.P.s, still prone, find it a great tonic with
resuscitative powers. Take up thy clogshop and walk.
The Chronicles are 12 short stories centring on Old Jabez, the
woman-hating irascible clogger and his cronies, Long Ben, Sam Speck
and Company in the fictional village of Beckside. To us tough,
laconic moderns, the stories seem over-written and over-sentimental,
but to Ackworth's contemporaries they were exactly right.
The London Quarterly Review had no doubts right from the start: 'It
is a work of genius.' The Christian World said: 'His humour, pathos
and broad comedy make us laugh and cry.' The Birmingham Daily
Gazette: 'We seem to have known the homely, kindly people of the
clog-wearing districts of Lancashire all our lives.' The Sheffield
Independent: 'Mr. Ackworth has done for English Industrial Life what
Mr. J. M. Barrie did for Thrums,' which left the robbed Scotsman with
only a dour: 'The book is worthy of highest praise.'
Thus it was whenever John Ackworth preached, or spoke, the Chapel or
Hall was packed to the doors, and he went on packing 'em in over the
next 15 years. True, he was to go on to write nine more books, but
did not achieve the 'Clogship' acclaim. What manner of man was he?
A Yorkshireman. Frederick Robert Smith was born at Snaith near
Ackworth, Yorkshire, on April 18th 1854. He was one of a fourth
generation of preachers and he had seven uncles, every blessed one a
He studied for two years at the Wesleyan College at Headingley and,
at the age of 25, entered the Ministry.
His first circuit was Castleton, in the Isle of Man. Later he worked
some of the most important circuits in Methodism: Farnworth,
Sheffield Shotley Bridge, Manchester, Swinton, Lytham, York, St.
Helens, Eccles and Burnley. In 1882 he married Annie Bradley of
Stockport, by whom he had four sons and three daughters. Nora became
a writer and published a novel.
He was appointed to Burnley from Eccles in 1909 as Superintendent of
Wesley Circuit. After three years he retired but he remained a
supernumerary. An internal ailment afflicted his later years. He
died in the Victoria Hospital, Burnley, on November 13th, 1917, and
is buried in Burnley Cemetery.
An old lady in Burnley described him: 'He was a little man with red
hair and a little pointed beard. You could just see him over the top
of the pulpit. He was a very good preacher'. He had 'theatrical
mannerisms,' while preaching. He would shout but lead
to the shout with a kind of crooning sound (sounds like a siren
To preach was his passion; it was the delight of his life. His
earnest yet genial disposition lit up the church. His preaching
consumed him as fire consumes dry timber. Two Burnley ladies can
still quote his exact texts:
'The bed was too wide and the sheets too narrow,' and
'She brought butter in a lordly dish.'
'Daddy Smith'. His young churchpeople called him 'Daddy Smith'. During his last illness at 'Beckside', his new house in Burnley, his
Sunday School scholars marched from their Field Day at Hollin Cross
Farm to sing hymns beneath his window.
The Rev. Fred Smith who, as John Ackworth
As a young vigorous preacher, his bearing was described as 'dapper'! Being a keen bicyclist, one can imagine him speeding over the
cobbled roads with his beard thrust forward like Captain Kettle. His
habit of riding his bike on the Sabbath was considered a crime by
the Elders. He should, of course, have walked.
Mr. Smith liked visiting the older and not-so-strong folk on Monday
mornings when the Wash was in progress. He would take off his jacket
and spring to man the handle of the heavy mangle-wheel, putting in
stints of several hours until the job was done.
Not surprisingly he wrote a novel in 1902, The Mangle House. It sold
a few thousand but the Clogshop Chronicles edition in that year (the
6th) went to 12,000 in spite of 40% inflation bumping up the price
to 3s 6d.
'Beckside' had a little chapel and schoolhouse nearby, as well as
th'Mill where Troubles sometimes started. 'Duxbury' was a
neighbouring village. Jabez Longworth, or 'Owd Jabe', was the chief
official at the Chapel. His cronies were Long Ben the carpenter; Sam
Speck, who had a horse and cart; and Lige the road-mender (and his
descendants have now built a six-lane Highway, the M62, only half a
Also appearing in the Stories were Jonas Tatlock, the choirmaster,
Nathan the Smith and Jethro the Knocker-Up (he also played the
trombone), not to mention Sniggy Parkin, the local villain and
pigeon-racer, who owned a champion pigeon, 'The Beckside Bullet'
(whose real life counterpart flew back to its loft from the stage at
Oldham Coliseum, during rehearsals of my show, thereby breaking its
The originals of the Clogshop were members of St. Paul's Methodist
Church at Swinton (which boasts a portrait of John Ackworth). The
actual Clogshop was that of James (Jabe) Allen, in Chorley Road, and
at the time of Mr. Smith's Ministry (1891-93) it was numbered 194. It always had two rows of clogs in the window and repairs were done
in the 'back place'.
John Ackworth goes for a spin with his wife and daughter, Nora.
John Ackworth wrote two more Clogshop books —
Beckside Lights and
Doxie Dent. The latter is distinguished by some excellent
illustrations, as good as those Phiz did for 'Boz'. One school of
thought believes 'Beckside' to be Boothstown, Manchester, another
Stoneclough near Bolton. Ackworth himself said: 'The dialect is that
spoken in the neighbourhood of Bolton.'
A Classic. According to the experts, Clogship Chronicles is a little
classic of regional literature, directly in line with Ben Brierley,
Sam Laycock, Ammon Wrigley and Co., and more recently
Tommy Thompson of Bury with his Under the Barber's Pole, popularised
by Wilfred Pickles, not to mention the continuing Salford classic
set in an endless Street.
I sent a copy of my Clogs to Wilfred only a few years back, and he
replied with a wistful: 'You never know, perhaps they'll ask me to
play the part of the Old Clogger.' It never came to pass. Had he
done it, Wilfred would have made a gradely job of it.
I sometimes have a fantasy of him doing it and behind him looms a
ghostly pulpit. Just over the top of it one can see the red-haired
shape of little John Ackworth shouting 'Bravo' and waving his top
hat. He was the 'Daddy' of all us clog-lovers.
The author received much helpful information from Mr. K.G. Spencer
and the Burnley Reference Library: Mr. J.R. Bleakley and the Eccles
OLD WENYON'S WILL.
Ed.—I occasionally receive correspondence, mostly from
descendents of the authors listed on this website, that provides some
point of interest relating to an author or a book. The
following is one such example, which might throw some light on the
source of the rather unusual surname used in the title to Ackworth's
novel, "Old Wenyon's Will".
My correspondent writes:
"My Great Grandfather was Charles ONIONS. He
was a Methodist Minister who trained at the Wesleyan college at
Headingley from 1868-1871. For the next 10 years he was posted
to various Circuits around the country. In May 1879 he, and
his immediate family, changed their surname to WENYON. An
announcement of the change was placed in The Times.
The reason for the change is best summed up in an obituary by Rev.
R. Spooner published in the The Methodist Recorder of 31st
It was a characteristic of him that he changed his name for
definitive reason. He bore a name, which was provocative of a
smile. There was no offence in it, but the fact remained that
wherever he went, strangers exchanged glances and cheap witticisms
were bandied about. Friends advised him to show moral courage
and stand by his father’s name. But the reason he gave for
the change was undeniable. 'Whenever I stand on a new
platform, I have to talk for a quarter of an hour before the
ludicrous impression gives way, and it is so much time and breath
"There are various family theories as to the origin of the name.
Some would have it that it is derived from the Welsh for the word
onion (Wynwyn). Others believe that it was in some way derived
from Chinese, for Charles WENYON went to China as a Medical
Missionary shortly after the change of surname. It would have
been probable that before that, prior to leaving, he was attempting
to get a grounding in Chinese. Others would have it that WENYON
was the sound made by a Chinese person attempting to say Onion.
There is no way of knowing for certain.
"It would seem that my Great Grandfather's changed surname was the
source for the book title "Old Wenyon's Will" by John ACKWORTH.
Possibly he was also an inspiration for the character as well.
It would be difficult to prove if they ever met, but the surname
WENYON would have been well known in Methodist circles because of
his exploits in China."
The Rev. Dr. Charles Wenyon, M.D., M. Ch., L.R.C.P.
Taken from Wenyon's book “Across Siberia on the great post-road”,
an account of an overland journey he made returning from China in
NORA K. SMITH
I can distinctly remember my two aunts talking about someone
who had just written a novel called "A Stranger and a Sojourner."
'Sojourner' was a new word to me. That must have been in 1937.
I knew nothing more of Nora K. Smith until I became interested in
her father and his work. (See F. R. Smith 1854-1917).
Nora Kermode  Smith was born at
Sheffield on 5 February 1889. She was educated at Victoria
College, Eccles, Salford Secondary School, and Southlands College,
Battersea. Her family came to Burnley from Eccles in 1909, and
Nora became an assistant teacher, first at Red Lion Street School,
then at Todmorden Road Junior. She returned to Eccles in 1921
and in due course became a Headmistress there. On retirement
she lived at Worsley: No. 146 The Green. She died in 1961.
She came to sudden fame with "A Stranger and a Sojourner" in
1937. A second novel, "Louise," published in 1940, is
disappointing [Ed.—"Louise" did nonetheless make a second
impression]. Her other efforts did not go beyond typescript.
Her pattern of literary achievement, therefore, was very like her
I am grateful to the Burnley people who have reminisced to me
She was small and dainty, auburn-haired. She was
reserved but popular: "one of the girls". Mrs. D. Charlesworth
tells me that as superintendent of the Sunday School primary class,
she was exceptionally gifted in going over the lesson on Monday
which the young teachers would give the following Sunday. And
she was always imaginative: on one Sunday School outing she and the
children got wet through, paddling, and had to take off their
stockings and dry them at a nearby house. Nora wrote an "Ode
to Stockings" afterwards.
I am told that even from childhood she could while away the
time on a journey by telling a story that she made up as she went
She did the sort of semi-adventurous things that only the
more intelligent young people find attractive. For instance
Mrs. G. Whittaker remembers going with Nora and Irene to see their
married sister at Stockport. Instead of going by train,
conventionally, they went by alternate stages of walking and
Nora had a nervous breakdown when in Burnley, possibly
brought on by stress at home. After Roland's misdemeanour, she
had everything to see to: "Renee, though older, was no use, nor Mrs.
Smith, and Mr. Smith was becoming too ill". After this
breakdown, she was recommended to eat one bar of Cadbury's chocolate
per day to keep up her strength!
The brother with whom she had most in common was Reg .
She idolised her father and anything connected with him, though in
later life she broke her close contacts with Methodism. ("She
had had a bit much of it"). She became a believer rather than
a churchgoer, though she liked to attend a service when away on
As a headmistress in Eccles, she was guide and friend to many
of the parents in the poor part of the town around the school: in
fact one inspector said that hers was more than a school, it was a
social welfare centre. Though small in stature she had great
force, and could control a mob of unruly boys. Unfortunately
her health was not good and she had to retire before her time on a
In a questionnaire which she filled in for Eccles Library,
she listed her hobbies as Travel and Reading. Miss Healey
tells me she was also interested in wild flowers, gardening, and
I have not mentioned Miss Healey  until
now, although quite a lot of the foregoing information is hers, and
more will follow. I count it a privilege to have met her.
The Eccles librarian put us in touch, and I was her guest for
afternoon tea on a sunny day in August 1971. Quite apart from
all she told me of Nora, I could 'see' something of her in Miss
Healey's own chaining personality. She and Nora shared a home
for marry years. On Friday evenings, after Nora had finished
her teaching, they would go off to a farm in Derbyshire for the
weekend. Hence the setting of "A Stranger and a Sojourner."
Nora as a Novelist.
"£1,000 FOR WRITING A BOOK. A competition open only to
the teaching profession. Hodder & Stoughton offer a prize of
£1000 for the best original work submitted by the last day of
December, 1936". Nora won this competition with "A Stranger
and a Sojourner" [Ed.—see Genesis 23:4, "I am a stranger and
a sojourner among you; give me a burial site among you that I may
bury my dead out of my sight."]
Outline of the Story:—Zillah, introduced into the family as
an infant, grows up with the Bowkers on a Derbyshire farm, but is
not entirely accepted by them or they by her. At fourteen, she
enters service with the Lords, not far away, and eventually marries
Joel Bowker from her previous home, after his enquiries reveal that
she is not in fact related to him by birth. They have their
own family, the eldest of whom inherits some characteristics of
Zach, Joel's domineering and brutal father, who remains a thorn in
their side almost to the end.
Four farms feature in the story: Hill Top, Windy Knoll, Black
Barrows and Clough Fold. Each is illustrated in colour by
Margaret Parr (now Mrs. West, a former Art teacher at Pendleton High
Despite the conventional disclaimer about all the characters
and scenes being fictitious, the story did in fact have some
foundation in reality. Miss Healey told me, in 1971, that the
original of 'Zillah' was still alive.
I enjoyed "A Stranger and a Sojourner;" it stands comparison
with the best of Alison Uttley and Crichton Porteous. The
dialogue is natural, with lively dialect where appropriate, and the
farming background is true to life.
Hodder & Stougton published "Louise" in 1940. I enjoyed
it less than "A Stranger and a Sojourner." Perhaps it is a
woman's story rather than a man's.
Miss Healey tells me that holidays at Silverdale inspired
"Interim," an unpublished novel; script in Eccles Library.
"The setting is Silverdale, where the Smith family used to spend
long summer holidays in a cottage Mr. Smith had either bought or
rented. Nora adored this place and she and I used to go there
once or twice every year after we became friends".
When the competition result came out in 1937, Nora revealed
that she had a second novel in preparation, with a Burnley setting .
This must have been "Judith Storm," of which most unfortunately the
opening section is all that survives. It is now in the Burnley
reference library, donated via Miss Healey, along with "Cigarette"
(a short story) and "A House to Let" (a comedy in one act). We
do not know the whereabouts of two other scripts: "Sammy" and
"Holiday Task." Nora mentioned them in her Eccles Library
questionnaire. They may have been destroyed after her death.
It is natural to ask if Nora's work was like her father's.
The answer on the whole is 'No.' Parts of her first novel may
remind you of "Clog Shop Chronicles," but most of her work is less
regional than her father's and more middle-class; when she uses
dialect she does so incidentally rather than predominantly.
Each could paint a vivid portrait, but on the whole their choice of
theme was different. Overt religion does not feature in Nora's
Each wrote a great deal that is very ordinary, but their best
books—"Clogshop Chronicles" and "A Stranger and a Sojourner"—stand
out as real contributions to English fiction.
Burnley, August 1975.
1. The Kermodes were chemists, and great friends of Mr. Smith's
during his ministry at Castletown, Isle of Man. I am grateful
to for this information. His book "The Minder" is dedicated to
the memory of Robert Kelly Kermode and Walter James Cannell, (my
2. Her novel "Louise" is dedicated to "Jean and Reg, whose affection
and loyalty have always encouraged me".
3. ''Kathleen Healey, my friend", to whom "A Stranger and a
Sojourner" in dedicated.
4. Burnley Express 16 July 1937. I am
grateful to Allan Halstead for this reference.
NORA KERMODE SMITH
A STRANGER AND A SOJOURNER
Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1937.
Woman's Novel of Derbyshire Hills
IN "A Stranger and a
Sojourner," published to-day by Hodder and Stoughton at 8s. 6d.,
Miss Nora K. Smith, an Eccles (Manchester) schoolteacher, has
produced a first novel that will stand on its own merits
irrespective of the fact that it won a £1,000 competition, open to
the teaching profession.
Miss Smith has chosen Derbyshire for the setting and has
accomplished two things:
She has given a reliable picture, photographic in its accuracy,
of farming life in the closing years of the last century, and she
has created two striking characters, one very good and the other
There is Zillah, the warm-hearted woman who draws her
inspiration and vitality from the land, as kindly and lovable a
woman as modern fiction has provided, and Zach, the grim, crude, and
embittered farmer, whose only pleasure in life seemed to be in
making others wretched.
Zach Bowker dumped the four-year-old Zillah on to his wife
one night, and refused to say a word about the child's origin.
Had that happened to-day the mystery would have been solved
within the week, but in the last century Derbyshire hamlets were
Zach's poor, crushed wife suspected that Zillah was the fruit
of some casual adventure, but that was not true in the literal
sense, although later the old man pretended that was the case when
he wished—for no reason at all—to prevent the marriage of Zillah to
his own son.
Zach denied to Zillah the education for which provision had
been made, but she achieved a beauty of character that even
education does not always supply.
The plot is much the weaker side of the book, but Zillah and
Zach belong to the gallery of fiction portraits worth preserving,
and there is a clean, wholesome quality in the narrative.
If the ugliness of poverty is here, so is the quiet
loveliness of the hills, the true kindliness and generosity of
country people, and the courage that will not be denied the decent
things of life.
H. S. WOODHAM.