John Ackworth: Miscellanea (1)
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The Scotsman
16th Nov., 1896.

THERE is, or may be, the gentle novel reader will believe there is, in Lancashire a village or hamlet named Beckside, in which there is a clogger whose name is Jabez Longworth.  His shop is all that Beckside has for a club-room, and this club-room is the pulse of Beckside.

    Mr John Ackworth has written a book called Clog Shop Chronicles, and it comprises eighteen stories, all of which come in one way or another under the survey or, to put it differently, are plays that are played in by frequenters of Jabe's shop.  For genuine portraitures of honest Lancashire folks of humbler sort, and for exquisite dramas of humble life in which humour and pathos and scores of charming touches of nature are to be met with, the book is worthy of the highest praise.  The dialect ought to trouble no one who knows anything of the humbler classes in the north of England, and if any reader should be tempted to indulge in a disdainful smile at these annals of blunt, plain-spoken folks who "thee and thou" each other, and whose lives are bound up in the system of the universe known as Methodism, he had better lay the book aside.

    Barbara Royle comes back to her native village with a little girl and resumes her place as a weaver in the mill.  A young man obtains a situation as overlooker and leads an exemplary life.  An epidemic breaks out, and Barbara and her child are ill and unattended.  The gossips wonder at the young man going to her house and taking up the place of nurse till they learn that he is her husband, that he has atoned for past unkindness and is forgiven.

    Billy Botch is the clogger's apprentice, so called because he is a slow coach.  He has a drunken father whom he will not leave.  He becomes a local preacher and eventually a missionary, and gets a good "sending off" from the village.  Jabe will not deliver up 't' last pair o' clogs as "aar Billy iver made or iver will mak."  Of an old niggard one observes that he had "gien up fiddlin to save th' expense o' rozzin."

    A pretty tale entitled "The Zeal of Thine House," tells of the resignation of a group of office-bearers on the suggestion of the superintendent minister that it was time to build a new chapel, and the restoration of peace in humbleness and tears.

Glasgow Herald
19th Nov., 1896.

Clog Shop Chronicles. By John Ackworth (London: Charles H. Kelly.) ― A book such as this proves that the English have kailyairds of their own which need not fear comparison with the original northern sort. These sketches are not altogether free from sentimentality, and some of the characters in them them are almost too good to be true, but as a whole they are admirably done and convincing even to an outsider. The author has been exceptionally happy in his choice of a local centre, and before we are done the Clog Shop has become very agreeably familiar to us, while Jabe, who presides over the local parliament there, and whose word is practically final, is drawn with much skill and humour. Beckside, which contains the Clog Shop, is a Lancashire village, the dwellers in which are chiefly Methodists, and the chronicles deal mainly with their doings and experiences in the world and in the chapel and with their "humours" secular and religious. There is just sufficient dialect to give zest to the conversations. Mr Ackworth does not carry it too far, nor is it so remote from ordinary English speech as to require a glossary. If he is not always successful in handling the pathetic ― and, unfortunately, the first of the sketches is intended to be pathetic ― and if we could have done with a few more really bad people who did not get converted, the defect is not one that is peculiar to the Lancashire chronicles. The Clog Shop idylls would probably never have been written had not Mr Barrie and others shown the way, but they are very welcome both as a pleasant change from the Scotch variety and also because of their own merits.

1st Dec., 1896.

There is certainly a revival in northern provincial literature.  The signs of fading fashion apparent a short time ago have disappeared, and the Lancashire sketch has put on new vigour.  The Lancashire man, at any rate, is assured of immortality, and will descend to posterity in his habit as he lived.  The quality, also, of the art brought to bear upon his portraiture is distinctly improving, and a modest little volume, apparently a first work, which has just appeared, entitled Clog-shop Chronicles, by John Ackworth (Charles H. Keyy, 8vo, pp. 363, 3s. 6d.), may take rank second only to the best.  The writer works singularly close to his subject, and only the sureness of touch that comes of intimate knowledge could allow the characters to develop so entirely by themselves.  If the reader longs sometimes for a little more atmosphere and distance in the picture, for brighter colouring or more dramatic movement, he recalls the wish in remembering the mellow sweetness and grace of such a chronicle as "For Better, or Worse" or the quaint pathos of the "Knocker-up," and the gentle humour of "Vaulting Ambition" and "Hanging his Hat Up."  The peculiarly intense form of religious feeing in some of the more out-of-the-way Lancashire villages receives fine and delicate illustration in the five-fold chronicle "The Zeal of Thine House."  If the life depicted is narrow, lowly and uneventful, the art that deals with it is very perfect of its kind, and, like a piece of hand-woven homespun, is sound and durable throughout.

12th Sept., 1897.

Encouraged by the success of a previous volume of "Clog Shop Chronicles," Mr. Ackworth has continued his series of Lancashire sketches, under the title of Beckside Lights (Charles H. Kelly, 8vo, pp 406, 3s. 6d.).  There seems, indeed, no inherent reason why these rambling chronicles should ever come to an end, for to this keen and humorous observer of village life there are ever, within the narrow limits of his choice, new phases of the old to describe.  The field is restricted to the little Methodist community of Brogden Clough, with its "chapel-members," its stray lambs, and the black sheep who wonder from its fold.  If the ignorance and superstition of these remote villagers is almost incredible, Mr. Ackworth knows how to turn them to dramatic uses and he can set the springs of human sympathy flowing in the most barren ground.  One of the shortest of the chronicles, "Lige's Legacy," is also the best.  It illustrates the working of natural conscience in the mind of a poor road-mender, who finds himself compelled by a sense of justice to relinquish a suddenly inherited competence in favour of the illegitimate daughter of the testator.  This he accomplishes in spite of his own sufferings and of the opposition of his cronies of the Clog Shop.  "Isaac's Angel," a story that turns on the intense love of music characteristic of Lancashire folk, is, notwithstanding much over-strained sentiment, a touching and artistic piece of work, and throughout the volume the character of old Jabe the Clogger is preserved with remarkable consistency.  On the whole, however, Mr. Ackworth succeeds more by reason of his evident sympathy with his subjects than by his style.

Lloyd's Weekly Newspaper
27th Nov., 1898.

James Clarke and Co. ― "The Scowcroft Critics," by John Ackworth.  For those who like pleasant pen-pictures and homely tales, full of a mellow humour and knowledge of humble life, this volume of stories of Lancashire Methodism will be just the thing.  Scowcroft is a typical Lancashire village, and its singers and preachers, its sermon critics and its backsliders, are some of the merriest, best and most wholesome company we have been in for a long time past.

Glasgow Herald
2nd Dec., 1898.

The Scowcroft Critics. By John Ackworth (London, James Clarke & Co.) ― We can fancy the despair which seizes and English reviewer when he site down to read a book of the more extreme kailyaird class. Even so it is with a Scots reviewer who undertakes in cold blood to tackle nearly 400 pages of Lancashire dialect. Scowcroft appears to be a small factory village about twenty miles from Manchester, where the Methodists rule supreme. Everything in the book turns on the chapel doings, or the "plan" or the "super," or something equally clerical. And this is the language everybody uses:―

"Aw thowt Aw wur i' th' Cinder Hill fields yond, an' lookin' up at th' stars, an' aw ath wunce Aw yerd a great shaat, an' Aw looked up and theer, by th' mon! Aw seed aw th' stars rushin' to wart me loike a swarm o' bees. An' then when they geet narer me Aw seed as they worn't stars at aw, but angils. They leeted loike pigeons aw abaat me; an' then wun on 'em blew a trumpit, an' they aw struck up singing! Hay wot singing! — Aw ne'er yerd nowt loike it; Aw didn't know th' tune, but it wur that luvly an' meltin' Aw thowt Awd jine in. But the first nooat Aw tried the angil as wur th' leader turnt raand on me and shaated, 'Huish!'"

It is rather obvious and none too rich quip to say we sympathise with the angel; but we do. We must do Mr Ackworth the credit to say that he has studied the Lancashire folk carefully and reflects the life of many honest, dull men with great fidelity. The absence of Scotch humour, and the unexpected willingness of Lancashire lads to dissolve in tears, marks the fact that not Mr Barrie but another is Mr Ackworth's master. His young people play "piggy,"* which is not a game included in Mrs Gomme's "Dictionary of Games."


* Ed.―the section in which the game of "piggy" appears . . . .

"As it was Saturday afternoon the Croft, as the large, irregular square of open land by the side of the mill and in front of the chapel was called, was more than usually thronged.  A travelling stall or two was moving along the front of the "long row" overlooking the Croft.  A small knot of men stood against the bridge end at the lower corner, and in the middle of the open space a number of boys were playing 'piggy'" . . . . and later . . . . "There in the middle of the croft, nearly opposite to the chapel, stood Billy. He still had on his dirty workaday clothes, which ought to have been changed hours ago. He was without hat, and had only one clog. Around him was a ring of boys and girls, with piggy sticks and cricket bats in their hands, jeering and laughing, and evidently wickedly enjoying the sad sight."

May 1899.

Mr. John Ackworth has turned his intimate knowledge of Methodist life to good account in Tales of the Twentieth Century Fund (Hodder and Stoughton, 8vo, pp142, 1s.), and has given in six little stories graphic pictures of the enthusiasm excited by the bold scheme of Mr. Perks and Mr. H. P. Hughes to raise a million guineas for Wesleyan purposes, and the sacrifices which are being made to carry it out.  If the form of the book is fiction, there is probably nothing in it which has not its parallel in life.  Some of the sketches are as rich in humour as pathos.

19th Dec., 1899

Mr John Ackworth in his Doxie Dent: A Clog Shop Chronicle (C. H. Kelly, 8vo, pp. viii. 350, 3s. 6d.) has written a very charming sequel to his "Beckside Lights" and "Clog Shop Chronicles."  Some of the old characters make their appearance again, but the heroine of the story is the young niece of the old clogger, who brings her sunny ways and bright nature into the rough Lancashire village, and wins all hearts, certainly including the reader's.  The tale itself is simple enough; the attraction of the book lies in the humorous and sometimes pathetic picture of Methodist life in a circle of factory operatives and little artisans and tradesmen.  There is a good deal of broad dialect, sometimes reproduced with needless eccentricities of spelling, but on the whole faithful to type; and if Southerners will find many a puzzling word and phrase, there is little to mar a Lancashire man's pleasure in the vivid portraiture.  The illustrations are excellent [Ed ― I agree!], and the name of the artist might well have been given.


Glasgow Herald
4th Jan., 1900.

"Doxie Dent: A Clog-Shop Chronicle." By John Ackworth, author of Beckside Lights," &c. (London: Charles H. Kelly.) ― If this story can be said to have any plot at all, that plot consists of the conquest of Jabez Longworth, clogger, woman-hater, Methodist steward, and general village oracle, by his lively and very charming Cockney niece [Doxie Dent].  But, in truth, it is not to the devising of any complicated or dramatic action that Mr Ackworth has turned his attention.  He has undertaken to sketch a Lancashire village, and has done so with a skill and a naturalness which deserve the highest praise.  Even the least important of his characters have about them the distinct individuality that is the best guarantee of absolute resemblance.  As for Jabez and Doxie, they seem creatures of flesh and blood ― which is probably what they really are.  Mr Ackworth has already cultivated the Lancashire Kailyaird to good purpose; but this last production of his shows him to be among the very best of those that work therein.

The Scotsman
17th Oct., 1901.

THE COMING OF THE PREACHERS.  A Tale of the Rise of Methodism. By John Ackworth. London: Hodder & Stoughton.

    IT did not require so national a movement as the rise of Methodism to implant in the bosom of the average apprentice a desire to marry his master's daughter; but Mr John Ackworth has used the coming of the preachers into a small English borough as a strong background for a very old tableau.

    The young man is a hatter; and the wayward and impulsive maiden is, in this case, a niece and ward of his old masters, Mr Josephus and Mr Ebenezer, two delightful old gentlemen, with their wigs, prejudices, proverbs, and herb-cures.  The society of the little town, and its superstitions, ignorances, and frivolities, are cleverly described.  In the low-roofed parlour of its "Hanover Arms," most of the notabilities—including tailor, hatter, and parson—nightly meet to drink small ale and discuss the affairs of Church and State; and everything that happens—the "Sunday cockings," the enormities, of the old-time Fair, the small-pox, the great four-tailed comet, Charles Wesley himself—is brought very powerfully to bear upon a simple narrative, with the avowed, intention of illustrating the rise of Methodism, "by showing how that great movement came to a representative small borough, and how it affected the lives, characters, and interests of the inhabitants."

    The picture which Mr Ackworth presents is a vivid, and no doubt an accurate one.  He might, as he gives us only one parson, have made him a bit less vituperative, and something more of a man.  Should not novels with such a purpose be at least superficially impartial in order to achieve it?  But, somehow, they never are; and Mr Ackworth in places writes with a broad pen.



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