Tim Bobbin
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Editorial note, on:

Tim Bobbin, the 'Father' of Lancashire dialect writing.

"Tim Bobbin" was the nom-de-plume of John Collier, not of Samuel Bamford as is sometimes thought.

    The son to the Rev. John Collier, minister of Stretford, John Collier was born in Urmston in 1708.  His father was a minister and schoolmaster until he became blind at the age of 46.  John had then to abandon hopes of further education and instead earn a living, first being apprenticed to a weaver but later becoming a teacher at Milnrow, near Rochdale, where he spent most of the remainder of his life.

    Collier, an inveterate poet and writer, is today best known for his writings in the local Lancashire dialect which he studied extensively.  "A View of the Lancashire Dialect; containing the Adventures and Misfortunes of a Lancashire Clown by Tim Bobbin", which Collier published in 1750, takes the form of a comic dialogue between two people, Thomas and Mary, and also contains a glossary of Lancashire words and phrases that he collected over the years.  Collier's comic dialect masterpiece became a great success in the north of England, being reprinted in many further editions including Bamford's, which is here reproduced.  Collier was also an accomplished caricaturisthe was known as the "Lancashire Hogarth" for his satirical drawingsand artist, displaying his work in public houses where it was in great demand.

    In April 1744 John married Mary Clay of Flockton near Huddersfield.  Apart from a brief, unhappy move to Yorkshire, he remained in Milnrow until his death on 14th July 1786.  He was buried alongside his wife in the graveyard of St. Chad's Parish Church, Rochdale, his grave bearing the lines from one of his most famous verses: "Here lies Tom and with him Mary, Cheek-by-jowl they never vary."

    Readers might also wish to refer to The Cottage of Tim Bobbin and the Village of Milnrow from Edwin Waugh's "Sketches of Lancashire Life."



great changes which have taken place in the nature of employment in the manufacturing districts of South Lancashire, since the publication of Collier's "View of the Lancashire Dialect," have not only caused the old appearances of the country to pass away, but they have altered nearly every thing appertaining to, or resulting from, the life and condition of man.  At the time when Tim Bobbin was spending his jovial and fecetious days at Milnrow, such a thing as a cotton or woollen factory was not in existence.  The collier then brought his coal to day-light at the mouth of a tunnel, or what was called "a breast hee," generally opening out, not unlike a large black sough, on some hill-side.  If the road was accessible by a cart, and one came to be filled, it was filled, the money paid, and the carter got his tit and his load down the hill as best he might; or if half a dozen ponies, or, as they were termed, "galloways" came with their panniers to be loaded, they were supplied if there were coal enough got, and if otherwise, they would probably have to wait at the place, or went browzing on the moors, until the coal was brought out; or if the mine were worked by means of a shaft a windlass and a couple of buckets would generally be deemed sufficient machinery; and an important concern it must have been indeed, where a horse and a gin-wheel were put in motion.  Farms were mostly cultivated for the production of milk, butter, and cheese; oats also, for the family's consumption of meal, in the form of porridge and oaten cake, would be looked after, and a small patch of potatoes, when they had come into general use, would probably be found on some favourable bank attached to each farm.  The farming was generally of that kind which was farming soonest and most easily performed, and it was done by the husband and other males of the family, whilst the wife and daughters, and maid servants, if there were any of the latter, attended to the churning, cheese-making, and household work, and when that was finished, they busied themselves in carding, dubbing, and spinning of wool, or cotton, as well as in forming it into warps for the loom.  The husband and sons would next, at times when farm labour did not call them abroad, size the warp, dry it, and beam it in the loom; and either they, or the females, whichever happened to be least otherwise employed, would weave the warp down.  A farmer would generally have three or four looms in his house, and thus, what with the farming, easily and leisurely though it was performed, what with the house work, and what with the carding, spinning, and weaving, there was ample employment for the family.  If the rent was raised from the farm, so much the better; if not, the deficiency was made up from the manufacturing profits; and as the weaver, or makker, as he was called, was also the vendor, he had a pretty fair command of his own remuneration.  Both farmers and cottagers, in the neighbourhoods of Rochdale and Bury, were, at that time, employed in the flannel manufacture.  Many of these would be both makers of cloth, and sellers, and they would have ample conveniences for the manufacture on their own premises.  It was about this period that the large and roomy stone buildings which are so frequently met with in the neighbourhood of Rochdale were erected.  The flannel loom requires a good breadth to work in, and half a dozen such looms would occupy a large chamber over a whole house.  Strangers, on entering one of these dwellings, are often puzzled to know why the house part has such an ample extent of floor, but their wonder ceases when they are informed that these rooms were the working places of women employed in the carding, slubbing, and spinning of wool; that the spinning was done upon one spindle (whence the name of the latter), that the spinner stood beside a large wheel to which, with one hand she gave motion, whilst, stepping back to the extent of her reach, she drew out the slubbing, and having given it the necessary twist, wound it on the spindle, and so continued until she had spun cops enough to make a warp.  In such an operation, these wide floors were necessary, the spinner being often the tallest and the longest armed woman of the family.  In those days there were some noble forms in the country, though Tim Bobbin did not immortalize one of them; a few may yet be seen, and as the spinner alternately drew out, spun, and wound up her thread, humming some indistinct words the while, she might not unaptly have been likened to one of those fate-dispensing beings who are said to

"Spin the web, and weave the woof,
"The winding sheet of Adam's race."

    The working dress of these our great grand-mothers would, to a town resident of the present day, seem as singular as their persons would be remarkable, and their occupation homely.  Their outer dress almost invariably consisted of a blue flannel bed-gown, which left the arm bare below the elbow; a petticoat of the same material and colour, and an apron to match, except that sometimes the apron would be of blue linen instead of flannel.  The young women, there not being any combs in use then as articles of attire, wore their hair long behind, and parted on the forehead.  The married females wore, on their heads, mob caps, of a thorough cleanly whiteness, whilst their hose, as well as those of the younger females, were generally of white or black woollen yarn, of their own knitting; and their shoes were strong, well fastened with leathern thongs, and of a weight which would foot-lock a modern dandy.  Their appearance on Sundays or other holidays was more varied than when in their working day attire; in addition, on such occasions, to a clean cap, they would generally wear a smart bed-gown of white or blue cotton, prints not being then in general use.  A pair of lighter shoes, raised at the heels, would be don'd; and if they went a short distance from home, they would put on a silk handkerchief, generally of a brown chocolate colour, with spots, which they threw over their caps, and tied under the chin.  If their visit was to church or chapel on a Sunday, (and there were not then so many of the latter as at present), they would make themselves very smart in their stuff-gown, or a garment much similar, but known as "a rocket," would probably satisfy the vanity of one of the younger class; instead of bonnets they wore a low-crowned, broad-brimmed gypsy-hat of felt, or chip covered with silk.  If it were during winter, or in broken cold weather, the great oaken kist would have to yield up its most substantial article of attire; and an ample crimson or scarlet cloak, of finest wool, double milled, and of an intense dye that threw a glimmer wherever it moved, was put on, the hood being thrown over the head, cap, handkerchief and all, and drawn closely and comfortably round the face, or left open as the wearer chose.  The working dress of the men was a low-crowned hat, with broad brims, a blue or drab short coat, or rather jacket, of coarse woollen, or fustian; a waistcoat without neck-collar, and with long flapping pockets; a pair of breeches, buttoned at the knees, and generally of strong fustian, or sheep-skin leather; brown or blue hose, home knitted, and of strong home-made yarn, and very strong shoes, nailed with clinkers, and fastened by straps and buckles.   In the flannel districts, the men also generally wore a striped flannel apron, which when at the loom hung down, and when in the fields, or on a journey, would be wrapped round the waist.  The jacket, waistcoat, and breeches of the men, from their having to use much oil in their manufacturing labour, were greasy always, and often glossy with grease, and the women's outer garments would have partaken of the like unctious gloss and odour, had they not been frequently scoured by that old fashioned, though most thoroughly cleansing washing liquid, which is produced by human distillation.  On the premises of every family might be found a tub, or a mug of a size sufficiently capacious to hold the whole product of this pungent liquid, and as a most precious cleanser, it was carefully collected and consigned to its appointed vessel, thence to be taken as wanted for use.  A clothes washing, in those days, was never considered to be "greadly dun" unless all the woollen things had been thoroughly scoured by the great purifier, and afterwards washed and wrung out of clean hot water.  Both men and women, girls and boys, made use of it to wash their persons, after which they applied water; and when the operation was finished by a good rubbing with a coarse towel, they came forth radiant with health and exuberant life.  Their working hours, whether at the loom or on the farm, were, as compared with those of modern operatives and labourers, spent in leisure.  There was often great irregularity in their observance of working hours, and their duration varied much, according to the wants, or habits, of individual workers, or of families.  Tea was scarcely known in those days.  The epitaph on Tim Bobbin,

"John wants no punch,
"And Moll no tea,"

was not then written, but, unworthy as it is, was a subsequent composition of his son Thomas.  The almost universal breakfast of the working classes, and indeed of the middle also, consisted of oatmeal porridge, and milk, with an oaten-butter-cake, or a piece of cheese and oat-cake, to make up.  Dinners generally consisted of dumplings, boiled meat, broth and oaten bread.  Potato pies were not uncommon, but then, besides a substantial crust, they were seasoned with a scantless mixture of beef or mutton.  "Aye," a young woman was heard once to say at Milnrow, when taking such a pie to the oven, "an it is a pottito pie indeed, for its nobbo three peawnd an a hawve o' mutton in it."  After dinner came an hour and a half, or two hours play, or lounging; and in the afternoon, oat-cake and cheese, or butter, or oatcake and butter-milk, sufficed for bagging; suppers were the same as breakfasts, and then play was allowed till bed-time.

    It may be remarked here, that in particular localities where the cotton manufacture had become prevalent, the outer garments of the women were of strong cotton, of a small stripe, called "weftin in;" in other respects their attire was the same as that of families in the flannel districts.

    But soon a change was destined to come over this scene of homely labour and plenteous living.  In 1769, a patent was taken out for a machine to spin cotton by rollers; [note] in 1770 the spinning jenny was patented; in 1785 appeared improved carding, drawing, and roving frames; after which came the willow, the scutching machine, and the lapping frame.  In 1779 the mule jenny was invented, and in 1785 Watt had completed his steam engine.  Then came a wonderful facility of production, and a proportionate decrease of the cost, whence followed an increase of demand, an increase of employment, an increase of population, a crowding towards the great hive, of many people of all industrial classes, and from all parts of the kingdom and the world.  Next, as a consequence, followed the breaking up of old associations and the formation of new ones; the abandonment of old habits; the giving up of old customs; new modes of dress became common; new modes of living were adopted; new subjects for thinking were started; new words for the expression of thought were introduced, and from that time the old dialect, with the old customs of the country, and the old fashions has been gradually receding, towards oblivion.

    If it were possible that we could live for the present and the future only, these things might be allowed to pass from human knowledge without regret, but we cannot so live.  Our present and future course must be a continuation of the past, a bettering of it, a derivation from it, an improvement, but not an abandonment; we do not cut off the root of a plant that it may grow.  Even if there were not such a thing as this natural adherence to what has been, there is in the human constitution an irrepressible tendency to refer to the past, in order the better to shape our future course, to

"Cast one longing, lingering, look behind;"

that, seeing the way we have come, we may be the better enabled to pursue that which is before us.

    There is also a pleasure in the contemplation, the remembrance, as it were, through history, of old people who have left the place we live in, who have quitted the ground we occupy, who have just, as it were, gone out and shut the door of the house after them, before we got in.  We wish to recal them; we would they had stayed a little longer; that they had been there when we arrived.  We go to the door and look for them; up the street, down the lane, over the meadow, by the wood; but the old folks are not to be seen high or low, far or near; and we return to our room disappointed.  We picture to ourselves the pleasant time we should have had were they beside us, how we should have seen the cut of their apparel, their broad hats, and quaint lappels; their "buckles and sheen;" and heard their old tales and stories, and caught the tones of their voice, and the accent of their uncouth words.  But it cannot be; they are gone, and there is no return; we have not seen them, we never shall see them, and again we are saddened and disappointed.  A book, however, in the midst of our regret, attracts our notice; we open it, and therein we find, not only the portraiture of those we have been regretting, but their old stories, their uncouth words, and almost the tones of their voice are therein preserved for us.  We sit down happy in the prize, and enjoy the mental pleasure which it provides.

    Such a book would I place on the shelf of the old house ere I depart.  It may be useful to some, and may perhaps afford amusement to others who tread these floors, and walk these green fields and brown moors of South Lancashire in after days.  To me it seems that this district is destined to become the scene of important events.  The persuasion haunts me, that these men, these Saxon Danes, and Saxon Celts of Cambria and Caledon, with their thoughtful foreheads, reserved speech, knotted shoulders, and iron fists; that these men, whose lives are familiar with the eyeless, earless, pulseless Cyclopes of steam; who ride on steam horses, and wield steam-hammers, compared to which the hammer of Thor was but a child's toy; that these men, who, from morn to night, attend the beck, the knock, and the slightest motion of the great powers of water and fire; that these men, who, assisted by their demons, spin threads, weave cloths, hew coal, cut stone, weld iron, and saw wood; who level hills, fill up vallies, turn back rivers, melt rocks, and rend the earth to her womb; that these men will never disappear from the earth, until they have performed such deeds, and raised such mind-marks for the bettering of the condition of their race, as shall point them out to future generations.

    Already there is a streak in the horizon of this dark north.  Poetry, history, and the arts, are beginning to embellish science, whilst science is leading on from wonder to wonder.  History speaks of deeds, and the people by whom they were performed; Poetry looks for words, and the images which they pourtray; the historian, the poet, and the painter may be benefitted by a perusal of this book.  The historian will find the language of the personages, whose actions he narrates; the poet will find their speech and the romance of their life; and the painter will discover a grouping, and a series of individual Characters, neither of which have ever been described on canvass.

    Several writers have endeavoured, both in prose and rhyme, to express themselves in the Lancashire dialect, but, with one or two exceptions, they have not succeeded.  The fact is, that until the present edition, there has not been any true glossary to write the dialect by, that of Tim Bobbin, if truth may be stated, being itself far from correct.  I may be blamed by some, for being thus candid, but the fact had often been forced on my attention, both from my own observation and that of others.  John Collier, we must recollect, was born at Urmston, on the borders of Cheshire.  The river Mersey was, in the time of the Saxon Heptarchy, the boundary line betwixt the two chief kingdoms of Mercia and Northumbria; and the main battle ground betwixt those two powers would probably lie betwixt the rivers Dee, Weaver, and Bollin on one side, and the Wyre, the Ribble, and Irwell on the other, the Mersey being the dividing line.  However that may be, it is well known to any one who has paid attention to the subject, that the Mersey is yet a dividing line betwixt two dialects.  On the Cheshire, or Mercian side of the river, we find the words, seeink, tawkink, thinkink, speakink; on the Lancashire, or Northumbrian side, they are seein, tawkin, thinkin, speakin, or, in some districts, spyekin.  Tim Bobbin, however, in his "Tummus an Meary," gives the Cheshire pronunciation.  He also gives the Cheshire word veeol for veal, instead of the Lancashire vyel; deeal, instead of dyel; heeod, instead of yed.  For a short distance on each side of the river the dialects are somewhat mingled, whilst further inland they become distinct; in some places, near the river, one prevails, and at other places the other is mostly spoken.  Urmston is nearly upon this frontier line, and hence probably Collier got his Cheshire pronunciation.  He has also the Cheshire words cheeons, instead of the Lancashire chens; cheeop, for chep; cleeon, for clyen; cleeoning, for clyenin,—the g at the end of words being seldom used in South Lancashire.  He has creeas, instead of cryes, measles; deeod, for dyed; deeol, for dyel; deeoth, for dyeth; dooal, for dole; dreeomt, for dryemt; feear, for fear; leeof, for lyev; lucko, another Cheshire word, for loothe, look thou; reeak, for reek, shriek; reeam, for ryem, cream.  These instances might be multiplied, but they are sufficient to show that "Tim Bobbin's" view of the "Lancashire Dialect" was not confined to that spoken in South Lancashire.  It is also an unsafe guide in other respects besides its affinity to the Cheshire pronunciation; we have afterings, instead of afterins; gawstring, for gawstrin; bettering, for hotterin; inkling, for inklin; crackling, for cracklin; brimming, for brimmin; deeing, for deein; reaving, for ravin; riding, for ridin; and other instances where the g should not appear at all.  Then there is ele for ale and ail; finst, for finest, best; fresh, for fresh, florid; greave, for grave; grease, for fat; groats, for groats; harbor, for harbour; Harrys for Henrys; heasty, for hasty; hus, for us; I'll, for I will; im for him; jawnt, for jaunt; keke, for cake; kin, for kin; kindly, for healthy; limp, for halt; marvil, for marvel; mattock, for mattock; mawkish, for mawkish; maw, for stomach; neamt, for named; breans, for brains; breve, for brave; capable, for able; dey, for day; phippenny, for five penny; reant, for rained; rearest, for rarest; reaving, for ravin; riddle, for riddle, a sieve; and many other words which are either current English, or present a difference in the spelling only, without a difference in sound.  None of these, nor many others of the same character, will, I trust, be found in the present glossary.

    A number of words which appear in Tim Bobbin's Glossary, have also been rejected in consequence of doubts as to their ever having been in general use in this eastern part of South Lancashire; amongst these are buck, or buk, book; camp, to talk; campo, to prate; caper-cousins, great friends; cawfe-tail, a dunce; charger, platters, dishes; chark, a crack; chez, chuse; clatch, a brood of chickens; dawntle, to fondle; deawmp, dumb; deeave, to stun with noise; deeavely, lonely; dawd, dead, flat, spiritless; dubler, a large dish; eendless-annat, the straight gut; far, for; far-geh, forgive; fleak, to bask in the sun; glur, the softest of fat; gry, an ague fit; hight-nor-ree, nothing at all of; im, him; infarm, inform; jim, or gim, spruce, neat; kele, time, place, circumstance; keyke, or kyke, to stand crooked; knattle, cross, ill humoured; lamm, to beat; lod, a lad; musn, to think.


In 1738, John Kay, of Bury, by his invention of the fly shuttle, was the first to break up the old mode of weaving by hand-throwing.











TO T. P., ESQ.











A Glossary of Words:
        Ab to Odds;

        Oerlay to Yungster
Verbs conjugated.


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