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William Billington, Operative, Sceptic, and Poet; by William Alexander Abram (Blackburn, 1894).


William Billington; by George Hull (Blackburn, 1902).


William Billington: Cotton Operative, Teacher and Poet; by Michael I. Watson, M.A.






(Published Blackburn, 1894)

The recollections of youth are long-lasting.  To them might be applied the lines of a Scottish poet:—

"Time but the impression deeper makes,
 As streams their channels deeper wear."

    One of the clearest memories of the first years of my residence in Blackburn, when I was not more than sixteen years old, is that of meeting, in the street, a young man, whose jacket, trousers, and vest of drab corduroy; neckerchief tied in a careless knot, showing no collar above; check-shirt just visible below; soft cloth cap, and clogs; suggested the factory operative of the period; upon whom, nevertheless, my observation was fixed, as we passed each other, and whom I turned my head to steal another glance at, as he walked in the opposite direction, with a slightly slouching gait.  How happened it that, of the thousands of operatives in the town at this period, this particular one should arrest the notice of a lad who was an entire stranger?  Excepting in the aspect of his face, the expression of rapt thought in the full gray eyes, of intellectuality in the forehead, and of character in the compressed lips, there was nothing about him to distinguish him from the crowd of men of his class.  I must have seen him out of doors once twice (probably in the vicinity of the Mechanics' Institution, which at that time, in a limited way, served the purpose that both the Free Library and the Technical School more adequately do now, and which he, as well as I, frequented), before I ascertained that his name was William Billington, and that he wrote poetry.  Next, somebody told me that this pensive looking workman was a disbeliever in Christ and the Christian religion.  The word applied to him, by informant, was "infidel," no doubt.  Everybody who dared to question the dogmatic forms of the religious faith of Christendom, then presented, or denied the verbal inspiration and infallibility of the Bible, was marked by the designation "infidel."  But infidelity was then far more rife in Lancashire, amongst self-taught men of the People, or at least more aggressive and offensive, than it is at the present time.  The date to which I refer is from forty to forty-five years ago.

    I think William Billington became known in the town, as a public denier and assailant of the religious belief, before he won a more enviable local repute as a poet.  Yet how he passed into that shadow of scepticism is not apparent.  His father and mother, I think, were Roman Catholics, and the thoughts of one brought up in the Church of Rome must undergo a strong revulsion before he can stand forth as an atheist or a "Secularist."  In France and Italy, pronounced atheists, born Roman Catholics, are said to be numerous; but few such cases occur in this country, so far as we, who do not belong to that community, hear.  A few particulars of William Billington's early history will, however, properly precede further reference to his anti-religious opinions and his part in local platform debate and controversy when he arrived at man's estate.

    William Billington was a native of Blackburn parish, but not of Blackburn town.  He was born at a house called the Yew Trees, in the township of Salmesbury, not far from the "Five-Barred Gate," on the new road from Blackburn to Preston.  The date of his birth was April 3rd, 1827 [Ed. in fact, 1825].  He had two younger brothers, Joseph and James, both of whom settled in Blackburn, and survived William.  The father was a contractor for road-making; but he died when William was only seven years old.  His mother was left with several young children, and was unable to give them much education.  At the age of eight or nine, William was Sent to the old spinning mill at Mellor Brook, to learn "throstle-spinning."  His mother removed to Blackburn in 1839, and William, then aged twelve, found work as a "doffer" at Brookhouse Mills.  Later, it is on record that he worked as a "stripper and grinder" at Navigation Mill; and, subsequently, he began to weave upon the power-looms at the "Dandy" factory in Jubilee-street.  He earned his living as a weaver for a considerable number of years; but, after he married he desired to earn better wages, and, with that object, learned tape-sizing.  Thus he had experience of the operative's work in a cotton factory in the carding and spinning rooms, in the weaving shed, and in the taping-room.  No man, therefore, could enter into the hardships, trials, and discontents of the Lancashire factory-worker more thoroughly than William Billington; and his verse is filled with the complainings of a sensitive spirit, to whom the toil of the mill was ever extremely irksome, and the buffetings, incidental to the operative's condition, insupportable.

    Nature is the first teacher, and the lifelong guide, inspirer, and comforter of the poet.  It was well for Billington that he was not born and reared in some dingy back street of a manufacturing town.  Twelve years of his childhood were spent in the country, and his genius was nursed amid those flowery dells and copses and woodlands of Samlesbury and Balderstone, which form a portion of the diversified scenery of the glorious Ribble Valley.  It was somewhere near the time when William Billington was first known to me, he being then about twenty-four years old, that he commenced the poem printed in his first volume, which enshrines some "Recollections of Childhood," suggested by seeing a honey-suckle brought from his birthplace.  In those verses, after mentioning his father's death, "e'er seven summers since my birth had fled," which "broke the fairy spell that bound my heart," he proceeds to recall the delights of the morning of existence, played away in ceaseless joy and merriment in his father's cottage, and to express "the hopeless wish to be what then I was":—

"To wander in the woods, as once I did,
     And listen to the music of the grove;
 To view the towering pine, or pyramid
     Of rocks, glassed in the torrent, from above,
     While heaven's blue to earth's deep centre drove
 Its bending arch, and on my wondering eye,
     Flashed images of beauty—stars that move
 In harmony through ether's realms on high,
 Deep-tossing in the gulf of an inverted sky."
"But scenes like these have vanished long ago,
     And other objects entered in their room,
 My mirthful heart a magazine of woe
     Hath now become. The beauty and the bloom
     Of boyhood, now lie buried in the tomb
 Of Memory; and yet I am but young.
     My task is now to tend the labouring loom,
 And work the woof, yet needs must ply my tongue,
 Impelled by heart and head, and sorrow is my song."

    Of other of William Billington's earlier poems, which are autobiographical, "A Life Lyric" is one of the most pleasing and pathetically-suggestive.  The young poet seemed to have ceased to enjoy his existence when Fate drove him from the sweet rural nook into the town, and consigned him to such labour as that of the cotton factory, before the "Ten Hours Bill" was passed.  Amidst his weariness and dejection—

"The green hedge-rows where the wild rose grows,
     The daisy-dappled mead,
 The cloud-like woods that follow the floods,
     And the dawn-flushed mountain bead;
 And all the range of greenery, grange,
     Dim forest and flower-flushed field,
 And wind-lashed trees, that surged like seas,
     In Memory stand revealed."

    One mystery, and marvel, of our operative-poet's life, in that second ten years which for all of us—whom fortune dues not attend at birth—opens our eyes to the stern realities of existence, unexplained by his verse, is how the poor factory lad, without schooling to start him, contrived to acquire a complete knowledge of the grammar of his mother-tongue, and, whilst pursuing that study, found time to read so extensively, that, with regard to the works of the greatest English poets, his acquaintance with them, by the time he began to compose poetry himself, was so familiar and thorough, that I can only compare it with the exhaustive knowledge of those who, for literary purposes, as editors and commentators, have spent years in the special study of certain authors.  I know that William Billington, at the age of twenty-six, had not only read and re-read Shelley, Byron, Keats, and Burns through, until he could recite hundreds of lines of each of them, but was well versed in the older poets, Chaucer, Spenser, Shakespere, Milton, Dryden, and Pope; and in the later works of Scott, Coleridge, and Wordsworth.  His memory for poetry was astonishing; and one way in which he was fond of displaying it was by suggesting that an idea, metaphor or expression, used by a native rhymer was already appropriated by some great poet, and had been borrowed from him, knowingly or unknowingly, by the local poetaster.

    Shelley was the poet in whom William Billington most gloried, when I used to compare likings with him in poetry; and I always thought that Billington had founded the style of his lyrical poems on that of Shelley; whilst I also surmised that he had imbibed his religious scepticism and his Pantheistic conceptions from the same source.  His dialect satires and humorous pieces remind one rather of Burns, who was another of Billington's favourites.

    About the years 1850-51, William Billington contributed to the "Poet's Corner" of the only Blackburn newspaper then published (the Blackburn Standard), the first poems of his I remember to have seen in print, and he continued to publish his pieces, as written, through the local Press (in the Blackburn Times soon after it was started in 1855) until 1860.  He had then written enough poetry to make a volume, and he was anxious to give his verse the chance of survival in book-form.  The late Mr. Clough liberally offered to be responsible for the cost of printing the poems.  The volume was locally printed, by the late Mr. J. N. Haworth, and published in 1861.  Its title is, "Sheen and Shade. Lyrical Poems. By WILLIAM BILLINGTON."   My copy is a gift from the poet, bearing his autograph.  I had gladly helped a little in putting it through the Press.  This first collection of the poems of one who was foremost in genius and gifts of Blackburn poets, I estimate now, on the whole quite as highly as I did thirty-two years ago when it appeared.  William Billington was at his freshest, purest, truest, best, when he wrote the contents of this hook.  The first poem in it, "The Trinity of Life," tells, in somewhat mystical language, how the poet's mind fought its way through doubt, despair, and selfhood, to faith, hope, and charity.  The thought in several of the other lyrics approaches sublimity; and well do I remember how these affected me with respect for the humble weaver who could compose them, when they originally appeared in the news papers.  There is an exalted grandeur, for example, in such lines as the following:—

"The darkling heavens were flushed with flaming spheres,
 As dewdrops numberless!    And God, the God
 Of earth, is God of all those dark and bright
 Unfathomable depths, where wildest flight
 Of human fancy fails!   This mundane clod—
 Man's temporal home—how infinitely small,
 Compared with Night whom world-starred robes invest!
 Nor would our little Solar system's fall
 E'er dim the lustre of his crown of light;
 For Night is God's own bard—oh! how I envy night!"

    In this volume, "Sheen and Shade," the "Poems for the People" contain many inspiriting lines—aspirations after noble ideals of life, and manly invocations to courage, trust, and faithful performance of duty ; and the poet, often gloomy, in his gloomiest moments, as expressed in the closing lines of the poem, "Death of the Old Year, 1856," has a vision of the coming triumph of virtue in freedom:—

                                      —"'Twill light the murky mine
Where labour moils, in more than midnight gloom;
Trim Hope's faint lamp, Grief's channelled cheek illume;
Though sin and sorrow mock the mortal bier,
Mankind may yet be better, happier; fear
Not, for the rose that now begins to bloom
On Freedom's cheek is fadeless; year by year
'Twill blush, and burn, and brightlier glow, and dear
As life be held—dearer than all save God."

    Twenty-two years elapsed, between the publication of William Billington's first volume and his second.  In that long interval, as with Cowper, "time had passed with him but roughly."  He had grown from a young man into an old man—prematurely old: but that was not the great pity—that befalls us all in turn; we cannot live on, and yet keep age at a distance.  Our poet's domestic life was, for the most part, unhappy and comfortless.  His first wife, a Blackburn lass, was what a workman's wife should be; affectionate, industrious; she tried to make the cottage home snug, and frugal fare satisfying, on small means.  But she died, after a few years and left the poet with two children, son and daughter.  In his second marriage he showed a strange lack of judgment in his choice of a partner.  This wife was an Irishwoman (many Irishwomen make kind, affable wives, but this was an exception).  With her Billington was unhappy, and after one child (a son) was born, they parted.  He had given up work in the mill, which, to men, after the age of 40 or 45, is found too exacting, and taken a beerhouse, the "Nag's Head," in Northgate.  William Billington suffered all his life from a lack of more refined and cultured society.  I mean that he stood in want, as all men and women of high imaginative faculty and intense thinking power must, of intellectual peers who could respond to the demands of his nature, and enable him to develop that which was greatest in him to the utmost.  But, thrust a man of lofty intuition among a herd of sensual creatures, and he will at last begin to sink also.  Ordinary beerhouse company, I should imagine, is not exactly of the kind to help to make a poet (who, as keeper of the house, must mix with it) more poetical, or to maintain the elevated state of the moral sense in which he ought to live.  The effect of an occupation and surrounding so unfavourable was inevitably to deteriorate the moral tone of a man who had once soared, in his happiest moods, to the upper regions of thought and fancy.  The change was perceptible to the reader, who had possessed and read the earlier volume of Billington's poetry, when the later one was issued.  This book was entitled "Lancashire Songs, Poems, and Sketches," and was published in 1883.  Excepting in two or three sonnets, towards the end, we look in vain, in this book, for the deep questioning, the glowing imagery, the reverential spirit, the yearning for a glimpse of the unseen, which are found in many passages of the earlier lyrics.  Instead, the poet has "declined upon a range of lower feelings" and sentiments.  The "Lancashire Songs" are not, mainly, simple idyls like the songs of Waugh—songs which can be set to music and sung—but more in the nature of satires and skits; in which there is, indeed, plenty of native humour and wit, but of the description which verges upon coarseness and impropriety.  They are cynical and ribald, imputing to humanity at large (excepting the poorest beggar of all, who accuses the whole World of wronging, trampling upon, and ill-using him, but will not consider how he has ill-used himself and the World), the meanest, basest, and most inhuman conduct and actuation.  How differently a genuine poetic faculty, of a high order like Billington's, would have rounded off its product if the man had but been fairly prosperous and encircled by kindlier, chaster influences in his later years!  Yet, considered not so much as a volume of poetry but as a collection of rhymed local traditions, social incidents and characteristics, and witty sallies and sarcasms, written in the idiom and dialect of the Lancashire peasantry, the book is very clever, and the rhymes full of vivacity and Hudibrastic humour and point.  Its contents were, doubtless, more to the popular taste than the solemnly sonorous verse of Billington's first book; and, whilst his claim to be a true poet must rest chiefly upon the latter, the dialect rhymes of the second volume are likely to secure many more readers and admirers.

    Either in conversation, or whenever he could find persons to listen to him, William Billington was a ceaseless talker.  His mind being full of quick ideas, and of words to convey them, he was wont to pour out a cataract of speech which swept down opposition and contradiction.  It was rather his passion for disputation, than his rooted disbelief, I suspect, which caused him to be conspicuous in his young manhood, among the Blackburn Secularists, in the active opposition then maintained to the religion of the Churches.  At one time, if you went to hear a lecturer in defence of Christianity who had come to answer a previous lecture by Mr. Holyoake, Mr. Robert Cooper, or Mr. Southwell, you expected to see, the moment the lecturer had finished, "Will" Billington or "Tom" Stephenson, most likely both, one after the other, mount their seats to question and challenge the Christian champion.  Eventually, Billington seems to have let Secularism drop; and his poetry, as we have seen, is pervaded by the recognition of the Deity and the assertion of the immortality of the spiritual nature of man.

    William Billington remained, all his life, an inveterate polemic, however.  Once start him off, and he would argue with you the day, or the night, through, if you would stay to continue the contention, with all the logical armoury of proposition and premiss, syllogism and sophism, analogy and inference.  He had so much confidence in his own powers of argument that, rather than be denied the pleasure of confounding an opponent before a company, he would give the man he wanted to tackle the choice of sides on the question mooted.  Of course he was egotistic and dogmatic in his manner, as a man of power cannot help becoming if he seldom meets his intellectual match in the confined sphere in which he is condemned to move.  Had Billington, at the age when his mind and character were maturing, been placed where he could hold converse with men of superior culture, accomplished scholars and strong thinkers, he would have grown into a greater man than he ever was, and, withal, a more modest one.

    I will relate an occurrence, connected with William Billington's tenancy of the "Nag's Head" tavern.  The members of the Literary Club had been having one of their evenings, devoted to elocution and literary criticism, at the Club, and, at its close, about 10 o'clock, a proposal was made that the members present should go across to the "Nag's Head" and spend an hour with the poet Billington.  The visit, it was thought, might gratify and cheer him a little.  A party of twenty, or so, of us went over.  Billington was delighted to receive us, and we were accommodated in his largest room, which was closed for the night to other customers.  Then followed what Professor Wilson might have described as one of his "Noctes Aanbrosæanæ."  Among the party were poets, chief of them the host himself; excellent elocutionists, singers, journalists, and literary critics.  Each had some contribution to make to the entertainment.  Billington was in his natural element.  Like "Tam o' Shanter," among his cronies in the inn, William "was glorious, o'er all the ills of life victorious."  Recitation, criticism, song, discussion, comical story, and bandied "chaff," succeeded each other.  Not much liquor was drunk, but the "flow of soul" was free and abundant.  The time passed too swiftly.  The hour of closing public-houses was then one o'clock; and before his visitors could believe it was midnight, Billington had reluctantly to tell them that the clock had struck the hour.  But, at the moment, some one had just begun to recite a composition, and the company must stay five minutes to hear it.  Billington was very uneasy; he implored his literary friends not to land him in a police prosecution for keeping open after lawful hours, and said he knew that the constable on that beat had been trying to catch him.  It was just fifteen minutes past one, and the company rising to go, when a rattle at the front door, which was closed, was heard.  The door was opened; in marched the constable.  He entered the room with an air of triumph—at last he had got a case against Billington, the landlord; but he was not quite so "cocky" as he had been, in the lobby, when he saw who the persons were that filled the room.  It was very well to summon the keeper of the house, but to haul up, along with him, more than twenty persons, the whole Literary Club, one might say, including nearly all the members who cared anything for literature, and to charge them with "aiding and abetting" a deliberate breach of the licensing law, was rather a bold step to take.  The party spoke in exoneration of Mr. Billington, the landlord, saying, which was true, that not a glass had been filled for half an hour prior to closing time, and that he would have turned the company out punctually at one o'clock had he been able.  The constable replied that he had no option but to report the case, and, no doubt, he did so.  Poor Billington was much alarmed; and several of his literary friends did not much like the thought of being exposed at the Borough Police Court as belated topers—a character in which they were not accustomed to appear.  However, they were spared the ordeal.  Mr. Potts, the then Chief Constable, used his discretion, and, as it was not a very "bad case," and he, perhaps, hesitated to arraign the literati of of Blackburn in a body, nothing more was heard of the matter, and the incident is now for the first time disclosed to the public.  I hope it is too late to institute a prosecution (it is over twenty years since the occurrence), or those few of the offenders who are alive may be in for a penalty after all.  At any rate, poor Billington is now beyond the reach of the law.

    As a young man, William Billington had a handsome face, with uncommon features; the eyes were especially fine; the hair, on his shapely head, was light; and he were a beard on the chin only.  His facial outline used to remind me rather of that of his favourite poet, Shelley, in the well-known portrait, except that Billington's face had more virility in it; that of Shelley was almost feminine in its lineament.  The portrait of the poet in his last years, after a photograph, inserted as frontispiece to his second book, published a few months before his death, and from which the subscription portrait hung in the hall of the Free Library was painted, is a faithful one of that period, but he was broken down in health when that portrait was taken; the features look worn and pinched, and the expression is painful and sad.  An earlier portrait I have is more pleasing, and represents him in health, and hopeful, as he was about the time his first book was given to the World.  In 1883 his ailments had grown upon him so that he was afraid he might not live to see his "Lancashire Songs" through the Press.  Mr. Billington died in his 57th year, on the 3rd of January, 1884.  In the Blackburn Times, after his death, the late Mr. John Walker, Mr. George Hull, Mr. Jardine, and other local writers of verse, offered poetical tributes to his genius.  That of Mr. George Hull contained these lines:—

   "The singer hath departed, and no more
     Is heard the singer's voice strong clear and sweat;
     Cheering the crowds in factory and in street
 With melody, as in the days of yore.
 His was a master mind, and 'twill he long
     Before old Blackburn, through the smoke and gloom
     That gather round the busy lathe and loom,
 Shall see another, half so bright in song."

    Mr. John Walker's ode was the worthiest memorial of a brother bard. The last stanza but one reads:—

"Thou hadst thy weaker moods, and who has not?
     The eagle looks not always at the sun ;
 Fated to struggle with a lowly lot,
     Thy life a course of "sheen and shade" has run.
            Lowly, and yet how high,
            Time yet shall testify;
            For voiceless crowds (Like hurrying clouds)
Go by, and are forgotten as they perish;
            Until one comes like thee
            Gifted with melody—
A singer whose sweet song the World will cherish."

    The last stanza of Mr. Walker's poem was inscribed upon Billington's tomb.  He was buried in the Roman Catholic portion of Blackburn Cemetery; and over his grave a tombstone of freestone was erected, which has this epitaph (with the head of the poet carved in stone on the tomb):—

"Erected by public subscription to the Memory of WILLIAM BILLINGTON (author of 'Sheen and Shade,' 'Lancashire Songs, Poems, and Sketches,' &c.), who was born April 3rd, 1827, and departed this life January 3rd, 1884.

"Dead and yet living—living in that verse
Our children shall rehearse;
 Cleaving to what is fair and good and wise.
     Let the dross pass away,
     Let meaner things decay—
The poet never dies."





William Billington.


William Billington, born at Samlesbury on April 3rd, 1827, was a son of Benedict Billington and Ann (or Nancy) Billington.  The maiden name of the poet's mother was Bolton, and she had a brother named Robert Bolton, who, under the nickname of "Foce Robin," was renowned throughout the countryside, and also in Blackburn and Preston, for his "Pace-egg songs" and his wit.  Robin's verses—with a few exceptions—would be looked upon as doggerel nowadays; but they were remarkable as the work of a man who had received little or no schooling, and who had absolutely no knowledge of general literature to guide him.

    If Robert Bolton was crippled as a rhymer for lack of education, his gifted nephew cannot be said to have been much more favourably situated.  For Benedict Billington died when his son William was only seven years of age, leaving the poor mother with several children, among whom were two boys named respectively Joseph and James, both younger than William.  Under such circumstances there was no chance of any day-school education for the future poet.  He was sent to the Sunday School attached to Samlesbury Catholic Chapel, and his brother Joseph told me that William also went a little to a similar Sunday School at Osbaldeston.  These two Sunday Schools were the only places at which our poet got any learning until after the family's removal to Blackburn in 1839.  Then though working long hours in the factory, he contrived to attend the old Mechanics' Institution in Back-lane.  Here, so early as 18 years of age, we find he was teaching grammar; and it is said that he taught it to many young men who subsequently became very successful in life.

    No amount of hard work—between boyhood and middle age he had been a "doffer," a "stripper and grinder," a weaver and a taper—could quench his thirst for literary knowledge; and at the age of 26, as Mr. Abram, who knew him well, testifies, "he had read and re-read Shelley, Byron, Keats and Burns through," and "was well versed in the older poets, Chaucer, Spencer, Shakespeare, Milton, Dryden, and Pope."  He had also read "the later works of Scott, Coleridge, and Wordsworth."

    It is impossible, in the course of a work like the present, to give anything like a complete biographical sketch of Billington, and at the same time find space for specimens of his poetry.  And even if it were possible, a detailed biography would not here be necessary; seeing that so many previous local writers have dealt with the subject.  On the whole, Mr. Abram's article on Billington [ED.above]—in "Blackburn Characters of a Past Generation"—contains the most concise account, and the fairest estimate, of the poet and his poetry that has yet appeared.

    Mr. Abram's volume, to which I have alluded in previous chapters, may be had at the Blackburn Free Library, and his account of Billington's life and work should not be overlooked by any student of local literature.

    The first five of the poems which follow are taken from the earlier of Billington's two volumes, namely, his "Sheen and Shade," published in 1861, when the poet was 34 years of age.  Many of these pieces appeared, during 1857-8, in the "Blackburn Standard," over the nom-de-plume of "Julian."  Some, however, were written much earlier, and among the earlier ones was the following, commenced when the poet was 24 years of age:—


Inhabitant of mine own native vale,
Sweet-scented consort of the red wild-rose
Which pours its perfume on the summer's gale,
As thou dost upon every breeze that blows,
When morning smiles, or when the day doth close
In fiery grandeur flaming from the west,
O! how I long to drink the tide that flows
Like nectar-streams through thy ambrosial breast

With feelings such as once my infant heart possessed.

When in my father's cottage I did dwell,
Ere seven summers since my birth had fled,
Death's fatal summons broke the fairy spell
That bound my heart, and o'er my youthful head
A halo of enjoyment ever shed,
Inspiring hopes of bliss through future years:
Yes—laid a father sleeping with the dead,
And turned those hopes and joys to sighs and tears,

And taught how much an infant's heart unbroken bears.

For in that cot, of which I mention made,
The happiest hours of life's long day were spent;
The morning of existence there I played
Away in ceaseless joy and merriment;
And still the scenes, which I then did frequent,
Are truly mirrored in my memory's glass,
Though Fortune's ruthless hand hath long since rent
Me from their much-loved presence, and, alas!

Instilled the hopeless wish to be what then I was.

To wander in the woods, as once I did,
And listen to the music of the grove;
To view the towering pine, or pyramid
Of rocks, glassed in the torrent, from above
While heaven's blue to earth's deep centre drove
Its bending arch, and on my wandering eye
Flashed images of beauty—stars that move
In harmony through ether's realms on high,

Deep-tossing in the gulf of an inverted sky.

My heart beat with a sense of love and beauty
That dwelt in every sylvan sound I heard,
The woodland walk I made my daily duty,
And to all other pleasures, I preferred
To list and learn the song of every bird
Whose love-notes echoed from each flowery nook,
Till loud, hoarse bleatings of the lowing herd,
Mixed with the bubbling music of the brook,

Sang farewell to the day as Sol the west forsook.

Then to the top of an adjacent hill,
To watch the setting sun, when clouds of splendour
And fire-flushed light the western skies did fill,
And upward streams of sunbeams bright did render
Their skirts transparent, piercing them with slender
Sharp shafts of gold and flame, whose tints did seem
Than lovely Flora's cheeks more soft and tender—
They faded like the drapery of a dream,

When Ocean swallowed Phœbus and his fiery team.

Then slowly down the steep hill's flowery side
With cautious steps the winding ways I wended,
To view the roses veil their blushing pride
And hang their heads as evening's dew descended—
Contract their petals, which had been extended
From morn till eve, to sip the solar ray,
Till, as dun Night her sable throne ascended,
All bathed in tears upon the thorny spray,

Seemed shrunk within themselves to mourn the absent day.

But scenes like these have vanished long ago
And other objects entered in their room,
My mirthful heart, a magazine of woe
Hath now become.   The beauty and the bloom
Of boyhood now lie buried in the tomb
Of memory; and yet, I am but young!
My task is now to tend the labouring loom,
And work the woof, yet needs must ply my tongue,

Impelled by heart and head, and sorrow is my song.

    "Sheen and Shade" was an attractive and well printed book of 160 pages, containing "Lyrical Poems," "Poems for the People," Sonnets, Acrostics, and "Epistles." It is worthy of note that Mr. Abram, writing so lately as 1893, stated that he estimated the book, on the whole, quite as highly then as he did 32 years before, when it first appeared.

    Of course the book is somewhat unequal; but then all books are so, more or less.  The Acrostics and Epistles might all have been omitted without much loss, and the same remark would apply to perhaps one or two poems in each of the other three sections.  There are metaphors and similes in some of the poems to which strong exception has been taken by competent critics, and there is a certain amount of redundancy.  But when all has been said that criticism demands, "Sheen and Shade" remains, as the work of a self-educated workman, a book of marvellous power and almost boundless promise.  It is impossible to do justice to it within the space at my disposal; because some of the finest pieces are far too long for quotation here, while mere extracts would give little idea of their many merits and their sustained power.  The poem entitled "The Autumn Spirit," occupying eight pages of the book, is an example of what I mean.  Here is one of the shortest of the lyrics, well worth committing to memory:—


This world is a world of glory and gloom,
    Of opposites in the extreme,
Of mirth and of misery—toil and the tomb!
    But things are not what they seem.
I dwelt in the vale of the Shadow of Death,
    And its storms broke over my head,
With pitiless peltings, that robbed me of breath,
    And I, coward-like, wished myself dead;
Yet I thought in my heart, as my spirit doth live,
    The troubles, that o'er me impend,
Are ordered by Heaven, some lesson to give,
    And right will be might in the end!

An Angel there came to my lattice one night,
    Beautiful, bright, and bold,
And bade me look up at the heavens so bright,
    All fretted with fire and gold,
And said there were worlds on worlds above,
    And God was the God of them all,
That, wanting His will, not a world might move,
    Nor even a sparrow might fall;
Then I said in my heart, as my spirit doth live,
    The sorrows that on me descend
Are governed by God, some lesson to give,
    And all will be well in the end!

    Some of the sonnets are very fine.  I would not like to say that the one which follows this paragraph is the finest; but its beauty has appealed strongly to me ever since the night—now nearly twenty years ago—when I first heard it, from the lips of its author himself, as we sat alone in his humble dwelling:—


O this fair world were dreary, dull, and dark,
But for the presence of the light of Love—
That Sun of Life—that quintessential spark
Which kindled worlds through Night's dark wilderness!
It is God's highest attribute no less
Than Man's most golden gift—his spirit—ark
That floats on Time's deep deluge, as a bark
Sits on the sleeping Ocean; 'tis the boat
That bears him to the haven of his hopes—
Truth's Land of Promise.  Ever let him bless
God for the gift, and use it as he ought—
Plant groves of Bliss on Life's most barren slopes,
Till Earth in virtue vies with Heaven above,

And Love in every breast sits like the brooding dove!

    The book contains some weird mystical poems, such as "The Angel's Tomb" and "The Coffin and the Shroud;" which are far too deep and gloomy to suit ordinary readers; but are fraught with meaning for the student.  In striking contrast to those mystical pieces are such poems as the one from which the following stanzas are taken, entitled—


The sapling more gracefully grows than the tree,
In purity, dewdrops excel the deep sea,
The morning, in beauty, outlustres the noon,
Maiden May is more lovely than leaf-mantled June.
The home of our childhood we never forget,
The first kiss of love is the sweetest kiss yet.
No rose is so chaste as the rose-bud unblown,
Then mate me with children or leave me alone!

They are haunted by angels, 'tis said, and it seems
That sweet fancy is true, for they smile in their dreams,
When their spotless young spirit strays thro' the blest bowers
Of the soul's inner Eden to gather God's flowers.
Where the angels may meet them, as doubtless they do—
What the heart holdeth good, let the reason hold true!
While Felicity reaps where Affection hath sown,
O mate me with children or leave me alone!
.            .            .            .            .            .            .            .            .            .
I care not for company, revel and rout,
'Mid the boisterous laugh and the Bacchanal's shout
Should I lucklessly linger, my spirit will roam
To brood o'er its own little Heaven at home.
Where I've two charming children—a boy and a girl—
A rose and a lily, a pink and a pearl—
In that palace of life, and their love fills its throne,
So mate me with children or leave me alone!
.            .            .            .            .            .            .            .            .            .
They scatter new gloss upon Time's hoary wings,
String the harp to the heart with more musical strings;
Sow the sunshine of youth in the furrows of age,
Making Spring greenly smile where grave Autumn looked sage;
Their love-litten laughter can pierce the dark pall
Settled Sorrow wraps round her, cause Care to let fall
His unbearable burden, still Misery's moan,
Then mate me with children or leave me alone!

Those readers—and at this date they must be the majority—whose acquaintance with Billington's work is limited to the Lancashire Songs and other Poems
of his later volume, can have no idea of the beauty of his earlier lyrics, of which the following is an example:—


My heart alway pure homage will pay
    To its Empress Poesy,
And the tapers that shine in her palace divine
    Will my load-star of life still be;
My soul, sleep-crossed by dreams of the lost
    Life-treasures in Hope's wrecked barque,
Must borrow a ray from the sun of Youth's day,
    To make Manhood's night less dark.

The loved resorts of childhood sports,
    The spot where Thought first bloomed,
And blushed, and blew, and joy-buds out-threw,
    Now blighted and entombed;
That glory-trance in Life's romance
    Whose glow Time's gloom ne'er shrouds,
Through Memory gleams, as the sunset streams
    Through a sea of golden clouds!

As in the shade of a hollow glade
    Where greening forests gloom,
A lonely Tree transfigured may be
    In the light of its golden bloom,
So I bask in the beams of my youthful dreams
    When immured in the Castle of Care,
Like a star ringed with gloom, or a soul in the tomb,
    Or a hope in the heart of Despair.

When, brooding and black as the thunder-rack,
    Grief's world-waves o'er me close,
On Poesy's wings my spirit upsprings
    From a surging sea of woes,
And I live in a world which Fancy hath furled
    Like a Heaven around my heart,
Lit up by the beams of my youthful dreams
    Whose lustre can never depart.

The glimmering nooks by the glassy brooks
    Where Oaks shook hands o'erhead,
And wild strawberries, as red as cherries,
    Looked up from their lush green bed,
The rush-isle dank, and the violet bank,
    The poplar's palsied leaves,
The robin's red breast, and the swallows that nest
    In the straw-thatched cottage-eaves;

The green hedge-rows, where the wild rose grows,
    The daisy-dappled mead,
The cloud-like woods that follow the floods,
    And the dawn-flushed mountain-head,
And all the range of greenery, grange,
    Dim forest and flower-flushed field,
And wind-lashed trees, that surged like seas,
    In Memory stand revealed!

The doves that cooed, and all birds that brood
    In brake, bank, bush, or tree;
Like the lark that soars to Heaven's blue doors,
    Seemed ministrant spirits to me;
Queen Fancy teems with youth's Eden-dreams,
    Bewildering Sense and Thought,
And my spirit, in spite of Truth's blinding light,
    Is back to my childhood brought;

For Time and Space have lost their place
    On Reason's tear-dimmed chart,
And Sorrow and Hope are building a cope
    O'er the tomb of a martyred Heart!
Yet I live in a world which Fancy hath furled
    Like a Heaven around my soul,
Which lights Life's way from day to day,
    And will gild its gloomy goal.

    Twenty-two years elapsed between the publication of "Sheen and Shade" and its author's second volume.  The latter, issued in 1883, was entitled "Lancashire Songs, with other Poems and Sketches."  The "Lancashire Songs" were nineteen in number; the "Lancashire Poems and Sketches" five—(with only one of the sketches in prose); and the "Poems and Songs" fifty-eight,—in all, eighty-two pieces, exclusive of the following very beautiful—


To whom shall I with such a perfect grace
    And pure delight, enthroned above all others
In my proud heart, this fitting tribute trace
    In dedication, as to those twain brothers
Whose sweet companionship hath filled life's race
With peace and hope and happiness, nor place
    For doubt or discord left; but when a mother's
Lone life was darkened, bravely battling for
Her orphaned children's welfare, shielded her
    From dearth and danger's menace when grim want
    Was grown familiar, labour scarce, and scant
Our Pittance.   O! 'twas then, those golden chains,
The filial and fraternal fused, and there

The two were forged in one, which evermore remains.

    It is on record that after the publication of "Sheen and Shade," when the Cotton Panic made Lancashire people too poor to buy books, Billington visited other counties, lecturing, often on the British poets, at Oddfellows' Lodges and elsewhere, and selling copies of his book to some of those whose interest in poetry he had thus stimulated.  One can fancy the delight with which some rapt young student here and there would peruse the glowing pages of the workman-poet's book; and how, in some homes far distant from his native Lancashire, Billington's first volume would be treasured for a lifetime.  But if, twenty-two years later, a copy of our poet's second volume, with the telltale title page torn out, had been placed in the hands of such a student, I question whether he would ever have discovered, unaided, that the 1883 volume was the work of the author of "Sheen and Shade."  It would not require the dialect poems and sketches to throw such a student off the scent: the Poems and Songs which are not in dialect would amply suffice.  I am well aware that the later volume contains poems, both in dialect and modern English, which were written before "Sheen and Shade" was issued.  For example, the poem placed last in the later volume, "To George Salisbury," is dated 1856, and one of the dialect pieces, "Where will t' Goose Come Fro'?" was written as far back as 1852.  Nevertheless, the Poems included in the 1883 volume are very different, both in style and tone, from those published in 1861.  "Blackburn as It Is" and "The Cry of the Crowd,"—two noble poems, born of the Cotton Panic in 1862,—both breathe a spirit of sadness which is never long absent from the pages of this later volume.  Even the dialect poems, though packed with homely philosophy and flashing with humorous phrases, take mostly either a sorrowful or a sarcastic view of life.  I know there were sad songs in the first volume; but they did not suggest the "settled sorrow" of the second.  "Sheen and Shade" contained a cheerful poem entitled "This Bad World is Better than Good Men Allow," and many another written in similar strain; but there is a great contrast between those hopeful songs and the almost despairing sarcasm of such dialect poems as "Heaw to Ged Rich" and "Goo In to Win."  From the strictly poetical point of view,—and that is of course the point of view from which we are entitled to consider them,—neither the dialect poems nor the others in the later volume come anywhere near fulfilling the promise of "Sheen and Shade."  But, when we have, in the interests of fair criticism, made this admission, we must be careful not to overlook the fact that both kinds of poems possess other claims on our attention.  These later pieces are full of truth; and if, in most of the dialect poems and in some of the others, that truth is bitter and unpalatable, we ought not to grumble at the poet who makes it known, but rather at the worldlings who occasion its utterance.  Take "Look Under t' Leeaves if yo want Ony Nuts"—one of the best known pieces—for example.  Its sixth stanza is indeed too blunt for indiscriminate reading; but, when that is omitted, who can deny that every other line of the piece is true enough to live as long as ever there are Lancashire people to understand it.  "Friends are Few when Fooak are Poor"—another well-known poem—is a characteristic piece; as also—among the non-dialect pieces—is the one (made up of two scathing sonnets coupled together) entitled:—


With what unutterable shame and scorn,
    Humiliation and indignant rage.
The bosom of the honest man is torn
    Who contemplates the evils of this age—
Light weights, short measures, packing, paint and gloss—
One half the world kept by the other's loss—
    Cheating, chicane, bankruptcy, liquidation,
Clayed-cloth, damped yarn, short counts, and watered weft,
With antiseptic's scientific theft—
    All trades warm-eaten by adulteration!
What folly—what shortsightedness—what sin—
Enough to make the very Devil grin!
By cheating, one may gain some paltry pelf;

But, as a whole, the world can only cheat itself.

Commerce, thou hast much to answer for,
    Cold, callous King of Trade's unconscion'd mart;
No bolt of Jove, no hammer stroke of Thor
    Could singe or dint thine adamantine heart;
    From morals, from religion far apart,
Thy God is gold, thy Gospel selfish gain;
Thy bastard twins, pale Poverty and Pain,
    Foul imps by thee begotten upon Fraud,
Infest our cities, fill our cots, and fain
    Would shrink from out existence, or have thawed
The heart of Avarice, blocking Pity's way.
When Rings and Corners—swindling guilds—hold sway—
When vices rise which pulpits fail to reach,

The poet, not the parson, then must claim to preach.

    Billington did preach, with a vengeance, in this later volume; and for the most part his poetic sermons are such as neither rich nor poor can deny.  Speaking of the poor, one should never forget how constantly, throughout his whole life, Billington pleaded their cause.  This fact does indeed, far more than anything else, link together his two otherwise widely-differing volumes; and give them a real and unmistakeable unity of purpose.  In the second volume, as in the first, he was never tired of advocating the claims of the toiler:—

My lot is cast amid the lowly masses
    Whose joys and sorrows I full aft have sung,
And through the glooms which cloud the working classes
    Some feeble gleams of sunshine may have flung;
But whether this be fact or fancy, lo!
    Once more my lowly harp I humbly string
To teach them what they each full well must know,
    But oft forget, that Time is on the wing!

    The patient endurance of the Lancashire factory operative under the heavy trials of the great Cotton Panic was surely never more truly pourtrayed than in—


I can easily fling
    Common cares to the wind,
For every heart hath its grief,
    And merits the sting,
        Every soul having sinn'd,
But mine may not hope for relief.

I am loth to complain,
    Though I might have had cause,
For hunger is hard to endure;
    Yet I will not arraign Either
        Heaven or the laws
Of my country because I am poor.

I have battled with Want
    For a terrible term.
And been silent, till silence seemed crime;
    Yet I mean not to rant.
        But will yield you a germ
Of plain truth in an unpolished rhyme.

My health—that is good;
    My family—few;
Accustomed to labour withal,
    'Tis a marvel we should.
        Yet alas! it is true.
Either starve or be stinted—but call

At the cabin I live in
    And see for yourselves;
The walls and the windows are there,
    But the fire has ceased giving
        Its light, and the shelves
And the table are foodless and bare.

These walls once were hung
    With the triumphs of Art.
This pantry with plenty was stored,
    And Happiness flung
        Her rich light on the heart
Of the dear ones who sat at this board.

Those dear ones are dead—
    Though it cost me a tear
To tell how they drew their last breath—
    Be it so!—want of bread
        Brought on fever—severe!
And fever and famine brought death.

And now my lone heart,
    Like a plummet of lead
That is dropt in the sea's sullen wave,
    Droopeth far, far apart
        From its owner; its bed
Is down deep in our little ones' grave.

The loud-prattling tongue,
    The sweet simple look,
Little feet patt'ring over the floor
    To the past must belong,
        And the heart that must brook
Their deep loss is indeed rendered poor!

Long years may roll on,
    Good times may return,
And life seem as sweet as of yore;
    But our loved ones are gone,
        And their beauties will burn
In our desolate dwelling no more!

    From the later dialect poems I have selected one, not indeed typical of his best known pieces, but much more bright and cheerful:—

Tune:—"When Molly an' Me Gets Wed."

Bi yon bonk side at t' nook o' t' wood
    There runs a river clear,
An' theer a little, sweet rooasbud—
    A bonny lass lives theer;
Hoo's th' owd mon's boast an' t' young men's toast—
    Her mother's pet an' pride!
Her name's a slip o' poesy,
    It's t' Rooas o' t' river side.

Her feyther swears an' carries on—
    Aw monnud hev his lass!
For Rooasy awt to wed a mon
    Ut's wo'th a bit o' brass;
But aw cud wark an' bring her brass,
    An' som'at else beside—
A loyal heart brimful o' love
    To bless mi bonny bride.

Wheer t' sun-forsaken alley lies—
    I' th' factory among th' looms
True love con meek a Paradise
    O' wheer id buds an' blooms;—
Nod daisies, pinks, nor daffodils—
    Nod pansies prankt an' pied,—
Nor lilies fair con aw compare
    To t' Rooas o' t' river side.

Aw've awlus Rooasy i' mi thowts,
    I' th' mornin'; an' at neet,
Aw'm like to wander theerabeawts,
    For th' air's so fresh an' sweet!
Theer t' gress is greener—t' skies moor blue—
    An' t' fleawrs moor deeply dyed;
But nooan so deeply dints this heart
    As t' Rooas o' t' river side.

When crossin' o'er bi th' hillock crest
    Aw've skent at th' cottage dur;
Mi heart played skittles i' mi breast
    To ged a glint a' hur;
An' when within thad lattice porch
    Mi bonny lass aw spied,
Aw thowt o' wings—then wedding rings
    An' Rooas o' t' river side.

Her een's like yon blue lift aboon;
    Her locks are cleawdy gowd;
Mi pulse played music—beat a tune—
    When fost mi love aw towd;
An' then when Rooasy smiled on me,
    For joy aw cud ha' cried,
An' blessed the Peawer as formed thad fleawer,
    Sweet Rooas o' t' river side.

Aw praised her name as t' prattiest name
    As ever aw hed known;
Hoo hinted iv aw pressed mi claim
    If Hoo'd swap id for mi own;
Sooa Rooas an' me ull soon be one,
    As streoms together glide,
Then buds ull spreawt an' branch abeawt
    This Rooas O' t' river side.

When care shall come; an' life look glum,
    An' trouble's billows roll.
Her smile hes peawer to sheed a sheawer
    O' sunshine i' mi soul!
So neaw for better or for woss,
    Let weal or woe betide,
Aw'll buckle to an' link mi lot
    Wi Rooas o t' river side.

    Among the finest of the poems contained in this later volume are "The Singer," "The Pilot Maxwell," "Duty," and the tender lyric—written only a year after the publication of "Sheen and Shade"—entitled:—


One moody April even,
    That month of smiles and tears,
When Iris up to heaven
    Her arch of raindrops rears;
By bright Apollo's gilding,
    When shade and shower had gone,
Slant roof and slated building
    Like sheeted silver shone.

The meads and groves more greenly
    Were glowing after rain.
And Flora smiled more queenly
    On hill and flowery plain;
My beautiful, my fairest,
    My heart's own blooming bride,
My loveliest and dearest
    Was walking by my side!

The muse with rapture glowing—
    Brink full of boundless bliss,
My heart was overflowing
    With maddening ecstasies;
I seized a sprig of ash
    Which March winds off had torn,
And wielding it would dash
    The raindrops from the thorn,—

When flash! and out there came
    A parti-coloured bird—
A spirit wing'd with flame
    Which my flush'd spirit stirred.
Like rustling harvest sheaves,
    Shook many a leafy spray—
The queen her palace leaves
    For danger threats her stay.

Deep, darkling in the shade.
    By green leaves overgrown,
A dainty nest was made,
    Of mingled moss and down;
And eggs warm, polished, bright,
    Lay in that downy bed,
With shells of Parian white
    Sprinkled with specks of red.

"Alas! alas!" said I,
    "That men should still despair
With happiness hard by—
    'Mong tenants of the air;
See all that luscious love,
    Undashed by doubt or fear,
Which wedded hearts should prove
    Sweetly secluded here!"

For there, in unison
    With Nature's simple plan,
Life's brightest thread is spun
    Nor soiled, except by man.
I looked upon my wife
    With love too deep for words,
And sighed that human life
    Should lessons learn from birds.

    No account of Billington or his contemporaries would be complete or appropriate without the inclusion of his characteristic and beautiful stanzas, entitled:—


I met an acquaintance a day or two since,
A friend of the reedmaker poet, J
A man whose acquaintance with men and with books
Hath seldom been rivalled, 'twas Mr. C
The "Junius of Blackburn" named, once on a time,
A master of prose and a critic of rhyme;
Whilst a tear and a tribute were paid to old John,
He asked,—Where the poets of Blackburn had gone?

My answer was ready, if time for a walk
Were at his disposal, the toil by the talk
Would be doubly repaid; he endorsed the remark,
Took my arm, and we sauntered along through the Park.
This scene was once rural and rugged enough,
A quaint rustic valley called Pemberton Clough,
Where "Ribblesdale's" gooseberry garden once shone,
But alas! both the "bard" and the garden are gone.

The time had been short but the changes were vast,
Our thoughts and our sympathies turned to the past,
And, with fond recollection, flew back to those days
When we loitered up Longshaw, or strolled through Damheys
With a posse of poets, though local in name,
Whose merit might match some of national fame—
Some are dead, some have fled, some have ceased to sing on,
But the most of the poets of Blackburn are gone!

Since H
ODGSON, and BARON, and DUGDALE are dead;
Since C
HADBURN, and WALKDEN, and DALY are fled;
Since C
Have vanished; since S
ALISBURY deserted the muse;
Since A
Seem to rest on their laurels, defying the fates,
There's J
Why, why are these silent, and where have those gone?

I replied, being queried, which did I like best,
The singing of G
RAHAM, the silence of WEST,
The language of L
ITTLETON, least understood,
Or C
HIP'S single song, and his "goose"?—which was good,
Don't hide in a napkin your talent, like W
Nor scruple to sing, lest you should not sing best:
The steps to the heavens that glitter up yon,
Each rests on one lower, and all upon one.

He meets retribution, and merits it quite,
Who under a bushel obscureth his light;
The God-given talent should not be confined
To a circle of friends, when 'twas meant for mankind;
Go, lay out your money, in trade or in trust;
Machines when left idle will ruin and rust;
Or reckon all reasons, the pro and the con,
For singing we've many, for silence we've none.

The spink and the sparrow will twitter in spring,
The swift or the swallow in summer will sing;
The thickets with music in May will abound,
But the lark and the linnet sing all the year round.
Then why should the bards of my own humble sphere,
The gifted and goad, wham I'm proud to revere,
Relinquish the lyre, while the least worthy one,
In sadness of heart singeth—"Where are they gone?"

We've climbed up the mountains and sailed on the sea;
On beauty we've banqueted, bounding and free,
Britannia's green valleys we've traversed by times,
Making many-voic'd echo give answer in rhymes;
And we read the sweet poets of many a land,
Ere Death and old Time had divided our band;
But soon the last scene will be closing upon
One more, to be gathered to where they are gone!

In fine, may the bards of this smoky old town
By their confluent gleams add a glow to its crown,
"Like stars in one sky let them mingle their blaze
Of light, nor be jealous of each other's rays";
Like flowers in one garden put forth their bright bloom,
Nor envy the fairest its tints or perfume;
The pipes of an organ all vary in tone,
Their sound must be several, their music is one.

Poets' Corner, Nab Lane, Blackburn,
                   May 2nd, 1882.

    The closing couplet of the eighth stanza proved sadly prophetic, for William Billington passed away on January 3rd, 1884, in his 57th year.  By his death Blackburn lost its foremost son of song, and the writer of these chapters a friend whose kindness and wise literary counsel he will never forget.





Michael I. Watson, M.A.

This brief biography was first published in  The Transactions of the
Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire,
 Vol. 134.

For most of the nineteenth century, Blackburn was a major centre of working-class literary activity and self-improvement.  Blackburn was the largest town in north-east Lancashire and attracted working people who wanted to educate themselves and find others with similar interests.  It is, moreover, surrounded by rich and varied countryside and the stark contrast between this and urban life appears to have stimulated many working men to write poetry. [1]  Blackburn also possessed an ancient literary tradition.  The poet Joseph Baron claimed in 1902 that his list of local writers in prose and verse during the previous three centuries ran well into the 'second hundred' and it is clear from the work of George Hull that many, perhaps most, of these could be considered working class. [2]  The vitality of Blackburn's proletarian literary culture was mainly due to the work of a few individuals, however, and the most important of these was undoubtedly William Billington.

George Hull

   William Billington was born in Samlesbury, near Preston, on 3 April 1825.  His parents were illiterate hand-loom weavers and had several children.  The family lived and worked in a building which was later described as 'a low built, straw-covered hut . . . which possessed neither parlour nor pantry, oven nor boiler, closet nor kitchen, not yet a single flag upon the clay floor except the hearthstone.'  When William Billington was between the ages of six and nine, his father died and three brothers and a sister were 'carried off' by consumption.  His mother, Ann Billington, had to support the remnant of her family by her labour on the hand-loom and 'fought one of the most terrible and protracted life-battles that man can well conceive.'

    These domestic tragedies, and the poverty and squalor in which his family lived, undoubtedly had a profound effect on Billington's intellectual and emotional development.  Despite these hardships, however, his childhood does not appear to have been particularly unhappy or barren.  He derived great pleasure from the countryside and learnt songs and folk-lore from his mother.  He later claimed that his mother's memory had been as 'full-of unlettered poesy as heaven is full of happiness.' Although Ann Billington 'knew not the value of education,' she sent her son to Catholic Sunday Schools in Samlesbury and Osbaldeston where he learned to read and write.

    An important influence on the young William Billington was Robert Bolton, his mother's brother.  Robert Bolton was literate, 'much and deeply read,' and had a local reputation as a poet.  He wrote hundreds of poems and songs about farming, weaving, local characters, Chartism, church rates and other subjects and some of these may have been printed.  William Billington admired his uncle and may have begun writing poetry in imitation of him. [3]

    In 1837 the handloom weaving trade was very depressed [4] and William Billington reluctantly went to work in the throstle room of a cotton factory at Mellor Brook.  An elder sister and younger brother were also employed there and their combined incomes amounted to 14s. per week.  After a few 'months of servitude,' the firm failed and the family again experienced great hardship.  William Billington was forced to collect rushes which he sold in Blackburn.  Billington later claimed in his autobiography that, whilst employed as a rush-gatherer, he decided to become a poet and to move to Blackburn in order to find work and an education.

    William Billington went to live in Blackburn, obtained work there, and attended a night school for about six weeks.  His early experiences of urban life were far from happy, however, and he soon returned home 'disgusted with the apparent aimlessness of life in Blackburn, especially the life of a working man in a factory.'  Mellor Brook Mill re-opened and he worked in its scrutching room for some time.

    After a few months his family moved to Blackburn and he again found employment in a textile factory.  He worked in carding and scrutching rooms for several years but the impure air he had to breathe affected his health.  When he was about eighteen he tried to leave the cotton industry.  He was unable to obtain 'a trade', however, and eventually became a weaver.

    Ann Billington, like many other widows, took in lodgers to increase her family's very limited income.  One of these intended to become a preacher and allowed William Billington to borrow books about grammar and other subjects.  William Billington also joined the Mechanics' Institution when it opened in 1844.  He attended many lectures and made frequent use of its library. [5]  He also met other self-educated working men there.  Joseph Hodgson, a former hand-loom weaver, was librarian of the institute and a well-known local poet.  Billington appears to have been familiar with his extensive personal library as early as 1840 and wrote an article about him in 1883. [6]  Richard Dugdale, a Blackburn printer and engraver, appears to have been another important influence on William Billington.  He met Billington in the early eighteen-forties and a friendship was formed which lasted until his death in 1875.  Dugdale was born about 1790 and was largely self-educated; he was a talented local poet and was widely known as 'the Bard of Ribblesdale.' [7]

    William Billington appears to have spent much of his limited spare time reading the works of the best-known British poets and by the age of twenty-six,

had not only read and re-read Shelley, Bryon, Keats, and Burns through, until he could recite hundreds of lines of each of them, but was well-versed in the older poets, Chaucer, Spencer, Shakespeare, Milton, Dryden and Pope; and in the later works of Scott, Coleridge and Wordsworth. [8]

His approach to literature clearly reveals the 'exhuberent catholicism' characteristic of so many self-educated working men. [9]

    William Billington was also able to acquire a 'complete knowledge of the grammar of his mother tongue' [10] and seems to have taught a grammar class at the Mechanics' Institute before he was twenty. [11]  He later came to an agreement with a local schoolmaster and taught a grammar class in his school in return for lessons in arithmetic and mathematics.  He was a popular teacher and the class grew too large for the room in which they met.  They decided to form a mutual improvement society and rented a room which had been used as a hay-loft by a local inn.  Billington claimed in his autobiography that the society organised classes on logic, rhetoric, oratory, history, geography, chemistry, medical botany, phrenology, reading, writing and arithmetic, as well as grammar. [12]  When Billington was about twenty-four he was also an active member of a 'Lecture and Debating Society' which was based in Accrington. [13]  Most of the members of these societies were probably young men in their late teens or early twenties.  Men in this age group usually had adequate incomes and limited family responsibilities and were able to devote a substantial portion of their time and money to the pursuit of knowledge. [14]

    William Billington was also interested in radical politics and secularism.  The origins of Billington's radicalism are somewhat obscure but his early reading was almost certainly an important factor and it may be significant that Shelly and Burns were two of his favourite poets. [15]  There was also considerable political excitement in east Lancashire throughout his youth [16] and his uncle, Robert Bolton, wrote poems about Chartism. [17]  The power-loom weavers seem to have been particularly militant in the late eighteen-forties and there were numerous strikes in 1846 and 1848. [18]  Billington later recalled that 'wage disputes were of daily occurrence, and their sequel, strikes of larger or lesser dimensions, became the recognised order of the day. [19]  Industrial disputes undoubtedly 'encouraged a critical attitude towards the pretensions and powers of employers,' [20] and it is not unlikely that Billington was influenced by Edward Whittle.  The two men became acquainted when both were employed as weavers in the same factory in Jubilee Street.  'Ned' Whittle was an educated man and a committed trade unionist. [21]  He won 'European fame' for his part in the great Preston strike of 1853-4 [22] and was the first secretary of the Blackburn and District Power-Loom Weavers' Association.  About 1858 he became a schoolmaster and taught in the Swedenborgian schoolroom, Brookhouse Fields. [23]

    William Billington was involved in trade union activity for much of his life and was often very critical of the mill-owners.  He advocated moderation, however, and admired cautious trade union leaders such as John Whalley. [24]  According to William Whitaker, Billington's judicious counsel and advice to his fellow operatives in cases of dispute with employers . . .  averted many a strike and consequent disasters.' [25]  He was contemptuous of those who tried to involve their unions in party politics and towards the end of his life referred to 'that unanimity of sentiment and goodwill which ever ought to subsist between employer and employed.' [26]

    Although his parents and uncle were Roman Catholics, William Billington became interested in secularism soon after moving to Blackburn. [27]  There was clearly considerable religious indifference in Blackburn at this time.  In 1851 only 10-15 per cent of Blackburn's manual workers regularly attended religious services; 'the great majority of the working class went nowhere, and were not directly influenced by church or chapel.' [28]  Self-improvement and personal experience of great hardship and injustice caused many working men to lose their faiths, [29] and close ties had existed between radicalism and rationalism since the eighteen century. [30]  The churches were also often associated with political repression.  The Church of England was 'hated as the spiritual arm of an oppressive state,' and 'throughout the nineteenth century, English radicals looked out over a European continent where political reaction ruled supreme in alliance with the clergy of the Catholic Church.' [31]  It is hardly surprising that the young admirer of Shelley and Burns was attracted to the strong secularist movement which existed in Blackburn. [32]

    In the late eighteen-forties and early eighteen-fifties Billington acquired a certain notoriety in Blackburn as an 'infidel.' [33]

At one time, if you went to hear a lecturer in defence of Christianity who had came to answer a previous lecture by Mr. Holyoake, Mr. Robert Cooper, or Mr. Southwell, you expected to see, the moment the lecturer had finished, 'Will' Billington or 'Tom' Stephenson [sic], most likely both, one after the other, mount their seats to challenge the Christian champion. [34]

Thomas Stevenson was the secretary of the Blackburn Secular Society.  In 1852 it had fifty members and met regularly in the Mutual Instruction Society Rooms in Ainsworth Street. [35]

    In June 1846 William Billington married Elizabeth Whalmsley, a young weaver from Church.  His wife was unable to sign her name but literacy was uncommon amongst female factory operatives in the eighteen-forties.  There was eighty-four per cent female illiteracy in Oldham in 1846. [36]  She died in 1857, aged twenty-nine, leaving her husband with two young children.  Little is known about their relationship although they appear to have been happy together. [37]

    Most nineteenth century working-class poets began writing poetry as part of a wider process of self-education. [38]  William Billington seems to have first taken a serious interest in writing poetry in the late eighteen-forties and many of his poems appeared in local newspapers in the eighteen-fifties.  In 1861 a collection of these was published in book-form.

    Most of the poems in Sheen and Shade are conventional in form and content and many are clearly modelled on the works of the romantic poets.  Despite their frequent sentimentality, however, several of the poems vividly describe the pains, sorrows and frustrations experienced by Billington and other members of his class.  Some were written to give working people hope and encouragement.  In 'The Golden God' Billington expressed the profound contempt he felt for what seemed to be the dominant values of his age:

Oh! this is a steam-born and iron-bound age
    of factories and foundries, of gold and of gain,
of Prisons and workhouses-Want's heritage!
    Of Railways and rivalry, paupers and pain,
Of printing and preaching, and men who mortgage
Their souls to serve Mammon, the god of the age! [39]

Some of the most interesting poems in Sheen and Shade are autobiographical. In 'The Trinity of Life' Billington tries to describe his intellectual and spiritual development. [40]

    Sheen and Shade was reviewed by several local newspapers.  The Blackburn Standard acknowledged that Billingon's 'name and fame' were 'already more than local', and claimed that

a perusal of this volume will . . . shew what the history of self-educated men has already proved, that genius is an innate power, which is not dependent upon but ever rises superior to all external disadvantages, and asserts its heavenly origin. [41]

The publication of Sheen and Shade coincided with the outbreak of the American Civil War and the Cotton Famine began in 1862.  Although there was a rich tradition of oral dialect poetry in east Lancashire in the first half of the nineteenth century, little of this appeared in print. [42]  Increasing popular literacy and growing class-consciousness made dialect poets such as Edwin Waugh and Sam Laycock more confident, however, and in 1856 Waugh published 'Come Whoam to thi Childer and Me', the poem which 'put Lancashire dialect poetry on the map.' [43]  By the early eighteenth-sixties dialect poetry was sufficiently 'respectable' to be acceptable to the editors of local newspapers.  It is impossible to know when Billington wrote his first dialect verses but the Cotton Famine certainly inspired him to write many of his most popular poems.  One of Billington's best-loved dialect pieces describes the difficulties experienced by weavers who were forced to use poor quality Indian cotton.  'Th' Surat Weyver's Song' was first published in broadsheet form and fourteen thousand copies were sold.  [44]  It seems likely that the enforced idleness of tens of thousands of cotton operatives, together with efforts to teach adults to read, stimulated the market for printed dialect poetry. [45]

    The trade of Blackburn was greatly disrupted by the Cotton Famine and Billington was unemployed for long periods.  He was an Oddfellow and lectured at lodges in the Midlands and elsewhere. [46]  The needs of others were not forgotten.  In March 1862 William Billington and John Baron, another Blackburn poet and a former handloom weaver, gave recitations from their writings at the Preston Spinners' and Minders' Institute.  The money collected from the large audience was used to help unemployed operatives with large families. [47]

    The American Civil War divided the cotton communities of east Lancashire.  Employers and operatives were both divided in their opinions and political sympathies cut across traditional party lines. [48]  There is also considerable disagreement amongst historians.  Stanley Broadbridge has argued that the cotton workers of Lancashire gave 'hearty support to Lincoln' [49] while the work of Mary Ellison suggests that most cotton operatives supported the Confederacy. [50]  Billington's poems reveal that he was sympathetic to the North and was opposed to slavery.  The clearest statement of his views is found in 'Aw Wod this War wur Ended':

Some factory maisters tokes for t'Seawth
    Wi' a smooth an' oily tongue,
Bud iv they'd sense they'd shut their meawth,
    Or sing another song;
Let liberty nod slavery
    Be fostered and extended—
Four million slaves mun yet be free,
   An then t'war will be ended.' [51]

In the mid-eighteen-sixties prosperity began to return to Lancashire but Billington was unenthusiastic about returning to his former occupation.  It was common for textile operatives in their early forties to seek less demanding forms of work and many mill-owners were reluctant to employ middle-aged men. [52]  Billington had also always loathed factory work.

I never knew a man, whom I could call a man in the full sense of the word, that ever did like working in the factory; the work is so tedious, so tiresomely monotonous, so incessant, so exacting and withal so exhausting, in an artificially heated and often foul and fetid atmosphere' [53]

Some public houses were important centres of proletarian literary activity [54] and Billington was attracted to the licensed trade.

    In 1867 he married Maria Fairbottom, a twenty-two year old cotton operative.  Like his first wife, she was completely illiterate.  She was 'buxom' and a talented singer, however, and Billington felt that she would be a good landlady. [55]  They had a son, John Bright Billington, in 1868, and about a year later William Billington became the proprietor of a public house in Northgate, Blackburn.  Although the Blackburn Literary Club occasionally met there, [56]  the 'Nag's Head Inn' left much to be desired.  According to William Whitaker, one of Billington's friends, it was a 'musty-fusty, tumble-down, dark and insanitary semi-ruin; incommodious and dubiously situated, with an equally dubious reputation' [57]

    In the early eighteen-seventies, Billington's marriage broke down and his wife abandoned him and their infant son.  Few self-educated working men appear to have expected their wives to be 'equal partners in the search for reason and truth' [58] but Maria Billington was openly contemptuous of her husband's literary activities. [59]  Like other autodidacts, William Billington was often faced with the hostility of other members of his class and he turned to drink for consolation. [60]

    About 1875 the 'Nag's Head Inn' was largely rebuilt and its trade was disrupted. After losing a considerable sum, Billington became the proprietor of a beerhouse in Bradshaw Street. [61]  This was more manageable than the 'Nag's Head' and became known as 'Poet's Corner'.  For almost ten years it was an important centre of working class literary and educational activity.  William Billington was an 'inveterate polemic' and weekly debates were held at 'Poet's Corner' on Sunday evenings.  These were advertised in the Blackburn Times and the subjects discussed included 'Protective Tariffs', 'Wordsworth v. Byron', 'Teetotalism', and 'Religion in Ireland.' [62]  Lectures and poetry readings were organised and on Wednesday evenings Billington taught young men 'grammar, composition and elocution'.  There was no charge for these lessons. [63]

    Soon after Billington moved to Bradshaw Street, one of his longest poems was published in pamphlet form.  Pendle Hill has thirty-nine stanzas and describes an excursion made by the poet and several friends.  It is not one of Billington's finest pieces but reveals a good deal about his interests.  Several verses are devoted to local folk-lore and fossil collecting is also described.  Billington learnt the folk-lore and traditions of the Ribble Valley when a boy and the stories continued to fascinate the middle-aged sceptic.  He shared an interest in geology with many other autodidacts in Blackburn and elsewhere. [64]

    In 1883 William Billington wrote twenty-eight 'Local Tales and Sketches' for the Blackburn Standard.  Some of these, like Pendle Hill, describe the countryside, folklore and history of north-east Lancashire.  The most interesting are biographical sketches of local characters and some of these have already been referred to.  These reveal Billington's intimacy with trade union leaders and other self-educated working men and are of considerable historical interest.  His treatment of John Baron, his chief rival, is one of the few surviving examples of the perceptive, witty and often devastating literary criticism which earned Billington so much respect in his lifetime.  It also reveals something of what he felt was the purpose of poetry.

... Baron's muse was a most prolific jade, one might almost say omnivorous slut.  She sings on any, almost every subject, but seldom rises into the region of moral speculation or social ethics, nor does she ever aspire to be a didactic teacher.... Like many less worthy men, Baron looked to the present rather than the future and mistook the applause of the rabble for fame.... He seized every opportunity of writing on any 'startling occurrence' or 'dreadful catastrophe' that might happen.  Poems on such subjects must be as ephemeral and local as the subjects themselves but this was neither seen nor felt by Baron. [65]

The same year witnessed the publication of a second volume of Billington's poetry.  The poems included in Lancashire Songs, with other Poems and Sketches are very different from those published twenty-two years earlier.  They are less idealistic and contrived, and pieces such as 'Friends are Few when Fooak are Poor' and 'Fraud, the Evil of the Age' are clearly the work of a bitter, cynical and extremely unhappy man.  Billington had experienced many physical and emotional hardships and clearly felt that his talents were insufficiently recognised by others. The book contains an interesting 'Proem' which begins

The true poet is never duly appraised or understood by his neighbours or his contemporaries ... the world refuses ... to let him pass for his true worth till time shall have purged his thoughts of their mortality and thus purified and hallowed his memory.

Billington's bitterness did not prevent him from pleading the cause of the poor, [66] however, and many of the poems in Lancashire Songs are highly critical of materialistic values and the power and status of the aristocracy.

On heraldry, on pedigree,
    they take their lofty stand,
From century to century
    Monopolise the land;
Their larders teem with luxuries,
    While workmen's shelves are bare;
They've leaned on our forbearance long,
    But let the lords beware! [67]

Towards the end of his life, Billington suffered from heart disease and bronchitis.  He feared that he would not live to see Lancashire Songs in print and was greatly relieved when the book was published. [68]  Despite his worsening health, the weekly discussions at 'Poet's Corner' continued until the last Sunday of 1883. [69]  He died at 'Poet's Corner' on 3 January 1884, after a short but severe attack of inflammation of the lungs and bronchitis. [70]

    William Billington's life is an interesting example, of Victorian self-help.  Despite his extremely humble origins, he educated himself and achieved considerable local fame as a writer.  In January 1884 local newspapers lamented the passing of 'the Blackburn Poet'. [71]  George Hull called him 'Blackburn's foremost son of song', [72] and one local historian has described him as 'a poet of the highest order.' [73]  He was also a talented and popular teacher and a prominent trade unionist.  Billington's talents and not inconsiderable achievements brought few material rewards; like many other nineteenth century autodidacts, he never enjoyed economic security and often experienced real poverty. [74]  This clearly contributed to his cynicism but there is little evidence that William Billington ever actively sought material success.  His main interests were literary, religious and political and he seems to have paid little attention to engineering and commercial subjects.  Like many other self-educated working men in Blackburn and elsewhere, Billington undoubtedly felt that intellectual improvement and political awareness should be the most important aims of education. [75]  He devoted his adult life to helping, encouraging and inspiring working people.  His educational work continued until the last week of his life and he gave at least some of his pupils 'an abiding love of the sweet pastures of English literature.' [76]

    Billington's educational and political activities were closely related.  His political views defy easy categorization but he was essentially a Liberal maverick, [77] not unlike his hero John Bright, after whom he named his younger son.  He was a committed democrat and despised aristocratic government.  His attitude towards political economy was more ambiguous and he appears to have desired a genuine partnership between capital and labour.  There is little evidence that Billington was an early socialist.  He was strongly opposed to Home Rule for Ireland and towards the end of his life was angered by Gladstone's conciliatory Irish policy.  Unlike most of Blackburn's autodidacts, Billington was for much of his life an advocate of Malthusianism.  One of his most controversial poems was the satirical 'Anti-Malthusian's Song':

Oh! wedlock is wonderful happy,
    Fro th' altar to th' edge of a grave,
Wi' a wife as is nowt but a wet-noss,
    A husband is nobbud a slave." [78]

The origins of Billington's Malthusian views are somewhat obscure but the hardships experienced by his mother may have been a factor.

    Much of Billington's life was devoted to raising the political consiousness of the working people of Blackburn.  This was the chief aim of much of his poetry.  Many of his poems are 'poetic sermons' [79] and, unlike John Baron's verses, had a clear didactic purpose.  They criticized ignorance, superstition [80] and greed, [81] and advocated trade unionism, [82] co-operation [83] and labour representation in Parliament. [84]  'The most common function of working class literature was reassurance' [85] and poems such as 'The Spinner's Home' describe working people who preserved their dignity despite great poverty. [86]  It is clearly difficult to assess the social and political importance of Billington's work but he undoubtedly strengthened the local and class pride of the working people of north-east Lancashire.  Although Billington campaigned for the Liberal party at elections, [87] it is likely that his teaching and poetry helped to erode the rather mindless communal politics which were so characteristic of the towns of east Lancashire in the mid-nineteenth century. [88]  William Billington was also largely responsible for the exciting proletarian literary culture which existed in Blackburn in the Victorian period, and made a major contribution to the development of an authentic form of working-class literature.



[1.]   G. Hull, The Poets and Poetry of Blackburn (Blackburn, 1902), p. x.

[2.]   Ibid., p.xiii. See also W.A. Abram, Blackburn Characters of a Past Generation (Blackburn, 1894), p. 327: 'It is unaccountable that Blackburn, including the neighbouring rural townships, should have produced in the course of one or two generations out of a peasant class accounted by the Outer World rude, illiterate, unintellectual, and self-characterised as matter-of-fact, so many men who have aspired to the name of poet'.

[3.]    Northern Daily Telegraph, 4 April, 1925.

[4.]    D. Bythell, The Handloom Weavers (Cambridge, 1969), p. 105.

[5.]    Northern Daily Telegraph, 4 April, 1925.

[6.]    Blackburn Standard, 19 May, 1883.

[7.]    Ibid., 28 April, 1883.

[8.]    Abram, pp. 223-4.

[9.]    D. Vincent, Bread, Knowledge and Freedom (1981), p.120; see also p. 156.

[10.]    Abram, p 223.

[11.]    Blackburn Times, 10 Sept., 1887.

[12.]    Northern Daily Telegraph, 4 April, 1925.

[13.]    Blackburn Times, 17 Sept., 1887.

[14.]    Vincent, pp. 128-30.  In 1850 the average age of the members of the Leeds Mutual Improvement Society was twenty-three; see M. Tylecote, The Mechanics' Institutes of Lancashire and Yorkshire before 1851 (Manchester, 1957), p. 104.

[15.]    Abram, p. 224.

[16.]    D. Read, 'Chartism in Manchester', in Chartist Studies, A. Briggs, ed. (1959), pp. 29-64; J. Foster, Class Struggle and the Industrial Revolution (1974), pp. 114-117.  For Billington's account of the Blackburn Plug Riots see Blackburn Standard, 15 Sept., 1883.

[17.]    Blackburn Standard, 13 Oct., 1883.

[18.]    H.A. Turner, Trade Union Growth, Struture and Policy (1962), p. 117.

[19.]    Blackburn Standard, 6 Oct., 1883.

[20.]    T.R. Tholfsen, Working Class Radicalism in Mid-Victorian England (1976), p. 278.

[21.]    Blackburn Standard, 6 Oct., 1883.

[22.]    Turner, p. 132.

[23.]    Blackburn Standard, 6 Oct., 1883.

[24.]    Ibid., 18 Aug. 1883.

[25.]    Blackburn Times, 19 Nov., 1887.

[26.]    Blackburn Standard, 6 Oct., 1883.

[27.]    Northern Daily Telegraph, 11 April, 1925.

[28.]    P. Joyce, Work Society and Politics (1980), pp. 244-45.

[29.]    Vincent, pp. 180-81.

[30.]    Edward Royle, Radical Politics 1790-1900, Religion and Unbelief (1971), pp. 17-22.

[31.]    Ibid., pp. 6-7.

[32.]    Northern Daily Telegraph, 11 April, 1925.

[33.]    Abram, p. 220.

[34.]    Ibid., p. 228.

[35.]    E. Royle, ed., The Infidel Tradition (1976), p. 71.

[36.]    Vincent, p. 8.

[37.]    Blackburn Times, 5 Jan., 1884.

[38.]    M. Vicinus, The Industrial Muse (1974), p. 158.

[39.]    W. Billington, Sheen and Shade (Blackburn, 1861), p. 103.

[40.]    Ibid., pp. 1-7.

[41.]    Blackburn Standard, 1 Jan., 1862.

[42.]    B. Hollingworth, ed., Songs of the People (Manchester, 1977), pp. 2-3.

[43.]    Ibid., pp. 4-5, 138.

[44.]    Blackburn Times, 31 March, 1900.

[45.]    Hollingworth, p. 4.

[46.]    Blackburn Times, 12 Jan., 1884; Hull, p. 122.

[47.]    Preston Guardian, 26 March, 1862.

[48.]    Mary Ellison, Support for Secession: Lancashire and the American Civil War (Chicago, 1972), p. 13.

[49.]    S. Broadbridge, 'The Lancashire Cotton Famine', in The Luddites and Other Essays, L. M. Munby, ed., (1971), pp. 143-44.

[50.]    Ellison, passim; see especially pp. ix, 26, 34, 96, 112, 190.

[51.]    W. Billington, Lancashire Songs with other Poems and Sketches, (Blackburn, 1883), pp. 27-28.

[52.]    Foster, pp. 91-92.

[53.]    Blackburn Standard, 6 Oct., 1883.

[54.]    Vicinus, p. 176; Blackburn Times, 22 Oct., 1887. Ben Preston, the Yorkshire radical poet, kept an alehouse near Bingley; see K.E. Smith, 'Ben Preston in his Time and Ours', Transactions of the Yorkshire Dialect Society, 15, part 80 (1980), pp. 37-38.

[55.]    Blackburn Times, 22 Oct., 1887.

[56.]    Abram, pp. 229-31.

[57.]    Blackburn Times, 22 Oct., 1887.

[58.]    Vincent, p. 44.

[59.]    Blackburn Times, 22 Oct., 1887.

[60.]    Hollingworth, p. 152; cf. Vincent, pp. 183-85.

[61.]    Blackburn Times 5 Jan., 1884.

[62.]    Ibid., 2 July 1882;  27 Aug., 1882;  2 June, 1883; and 10 Feb., 1883.

[63.]    Ibid., 12 Nov., 1887.

[64.]    Vincent, pp. 172-74.

[65.]    Blackburn Standard, 9 June 1883.

[66.]    Hull, p. 124.

[67.]    Billington, Lancashire Songs, p. 128.

[68.]    Abram, p. 232.

[69.]    Blackburn Times, 19 Nov., 1887.

[70.]    Ibid., 5 Jan., 1884.

[71.]    Ibid., Blackburn Standard, 5 Jan., 1884.

[72.]    Northern Daily Telegraph, 4 April, 1925.

[73.]    G. C. Miller, Blackburn Worthies of Yesterday (Blackburn, 1959), p. 42.

[74.]    Vincent, pp. 68-9

[75.]    Ibid., pp. 133-195; see especially p. 160.

[76.]    Hull, p. 245.

[77.]    Blackburn Times, 19 Nov., 1887.

[78.]    Billington, Lancashire Songs, pp. 23-25.

[79.]    Hull, p. 124.

[80.]    Billington, Sheen and Shade, p. 2.

[81.]    Billington, Lancashire Songs, pp. 104-5.

[82.]    Ibid., p. 114.

[83.]    Billington, Sheen and Shade, p. 117.

[84.]    Billington, Lancashire Songs, pp. 127, 131.

[85.]    Vicinus, p. 2.

[86.]    Billington, Lancashire Songs, pp. 80-81.

[87.]    Abram, pp. 334-35.

[88.]    Joyce, passim; see especially p. 203.


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