'Forgotten' Lancashire dialects revealed in poetry research

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
The so-called cotton famine threw tens of thousands of Lancashire mill workers into poverty

Poems written in "forgotten" Lancashire dialects have been uncovered as part of an academic research project.

Simon Rennie from Exeter University made the discovery while trawling for "moving poetry" written about the 1861-65 cotton famine in Lancashire.

People used their local language to record the poverty caused by the crisis which resulted from the American Civil War.

Dr Rennie believes about 1,000 poems have survived from the troubled era.

The famine was caused by the blockade of US ports which stopped the importation of raw cotton to British mills.

This led to abject poverty and food shortages across the historic county of Lancashire.

Image source, University of Exeter
Image caption,
One of the dialect poems, The Poor Mon Un His Childer

Dr Rennie believes most of the poems about the crisis were published in newspapers rather than books, and that they have been largely forgotten.

"In just one newspaper in Burnley," he said. "I found 18 poems published in a three-year period around 1862 about the cotton famine.

"These are poems - language, ideas and words - that nobody has read or studied for years and years and it's very exciting to be able to discover them and show them to people today.

"It's fascinating how people turned to and used poetry, in their local languages, to express the impact events so far away were having on them."

Media caption,
'Forgotten dialects' poetry uncovered

Christopher Donaldson, lecturer in regional history at Lancaster University, said the research showed the role that dialect verse played in "consolidating a sense of community during a time of extreme hardship".

"Such sources often give voices to otherwise voiceless individuals, and they communicate far more personally and powerfully than statistical records both the distress the local working families faced and, in many cases, their collective sense of resolve."

Jo Harding, facilitator of Pennine Lancashire Poetry Stanza, said the poems threw "fresh light on a difficult period in Lancashire's history".

"It is wonderful that new poems are being unearthed and especially new poems in dialect. It is vital that these dialects are not lost."

Dialect poetry and song about the Lancashire Cotton Famine will discussed at an event in Dorset on 23 November and performed by Manchester ballad singer, Jennifer Reid.

Lancashire cotton famine

  • Poverty and food shortages in Lancashire from 1861 to 1865 became known as the 'cotton famine'
  • The American Civil War stopped the flow of cotton from the United States to mills in Britain and Europe
  • Confederate Southern ports being blockaded caused starvation, mass unemployment and migration in areas where people depended on cotton mills for employment
  • Up to 400,000 workers in 2,500 cotton mills were thrown into hardship and many left the region to look for work elsewhere
  • In one week in Preston alone, relief committees distributed 500 tons of coal and 33,811 loaves of bread
  • Abraham Lincoln said at the time: "I know and deeply deplore the sufferings which the working-men of Manchester, and in all Europe, are called to endure in this crisis."