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("John Ackworth": 1854-1917).



Ed.―the following material is provided by kind permission of the Burnley and Salford reference libraries, and by Country Publications Limited.



Second posting to Eccles: THE BURNLEY GAZETTE, 14th August, 1909.


Obituary: BURNLEY EXPRESS AND ADVERTISER, 14th November, 1917.


Remembrance service: BURNLEY EXPRESS, (??) 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, 1979).


"Old Wenyon's Will": a note concerning the possible source of the name used in the title to Ackworth's novel.


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.

10. "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.


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.


14th November, 1917.



    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 supernumerary.

    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.


November, 1917.


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

("John Ackworth")


J. R. Bleakley, Eccles and District History Society, 1963.

    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, 'John Ackworth.'

    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 at once."

    "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 dialect.

    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.

Outline Biography.

    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 cemetery.

    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 Chronicles."

    "He was a little man".  According to J. R. Bleackley [1] 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". [2]

    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 taste".

    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 window.

    Thanks to Miss J. Jagger, who used to deliver customers' orders from a local shop, we can identify 'Beckside' as the present No.24.

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 family.

    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.[3]  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 probably were.

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 long past.

    The exact identification of Beckside is difficult.  R. K. Derbyshire [4] 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 at Swinton.

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) [5].  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 print 2009).

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).
            (b) The Making of the Million; Tales of the Twentieth Century
                  Methodist Fund.

1900—The Minder: the Story of The Courtship, Call, and Conflicts of
            John Ledger, 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
            Meaning of 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.


August 1975.


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" 2nd thousand.
4. Papers of the Manchester Literary Club, LVI., Manchester, 1930, pp. 134-141.
5. Reproduced in Matthew Baigell, "A History of American Painting," London, 1971.


Clogshop Chronicles

A Victorian Best-seller


Stanley Wood.

The following biographic sketch was first published in The Dalesman, October 1979, and is reproduced here by kind permission of the Editor, Paul Jackson.

THE 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 preacher.  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 song).

    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 wrote
'Clogshop Chronicles'.

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 mile away).

    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 Equity Contract).

    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, Edwin Waugh, 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.

Stanley Wood

The author received much helpful information from Mr. K.G. Spencer and the Burnley Reference Library: Mr. J.R. Bleakley and the Eccles Reference Library.



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 July,  1924:

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 lost'.

"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 1894.



    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).

Outline Biography.

    Nora Kermode [1] 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 father's.

Nora Herself.

    I am grateful to the Burnley people who have reminisced to me about Nora.

    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 along.

    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 bussing.

    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 [2].  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 holiday.

    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 breakdown pension.

    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 Chinese Art.

    I have not mentioned Miss Healey [3] 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 School).

    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.

Other Writings.

    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 [4]. 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 work.

    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.

K. G. Spencer.

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 friends)'.
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.




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 very bad.

    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 more isolated.

    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.






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