Rhyme and Reform

Victorian Working-Class Poets Elizabeth Barrett Brownings "The Cry of the Children"

VII: “The Cotton Mill”

Published in the poetry column of the Bolton Chronicle, 24 September 1864, this poem is signed “An Operative”, Bolton, September 1864. It brilliantly represents the noise of the mill and the constant motion of the machines, using technical language and sliding into Lancashire dialect (“a’st ha’” – “all will have”) at the end of the…

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VI: “The Collier’s Wean”

This poem was published in Glasgow’s The Commonwealth newspaper on 5th September 1857, signed “Davie, Darngaber, Aug, 1857”. “Davie” was the pseudonym of miner David Wingate. Born in 1828, he had worked as a miner in the south of Glasgow since he was nine years old. In the 1850s, he began to publish poems in…

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V: “The Whistle” and “The Dinsome Mill”

“The Whistle” and “The Dinsome Mill” are by Perthshire poet William Pyott. Most likely these two companion poems were published in his first collection of 1869, which I have not managed to trace. Contemporary writer Robert Ford identifies Pyott as a millworker and son of a mill overseer, who started work in a flax mill…

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IV: “The Steam King”

This poem, published in The Northern Star on the 11th of February 1843, was written by Edwin Mead.  Known as “the Commodore,” Mead was an important regional Chartist leader in the East Midlands of England (especially Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire).  He was a staunch ally of the Chartist Leader, Feargus O’Connor, and a friend of the…

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III: Slavery in Great Britain: Employment of Women and Children in Coal Mines

These extracts (below) are taken from the Parliamentary Report of the Royal Commission on Children’s Employment in Mines and Factories (the same report that prompted Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poem).  They were printed on the 28th of May 1842 in the English Chartist Circular, a journal which was closely associated with “Temperance Chartism” and “Knowledge Chartism.” It…

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II: “On Joseph Rayner Stephens”

This poem was published in The Northern Star on 18th May 1839, signed “E.H., a Factory Girl of Stalybridge.”  The Northern Star was not only  the leading newspaper of the Chartist movement but also one of the most widely read newspapers in Great Britain at the time.  At the peak of its popularity in 1839,…

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I: “The Wail O’ The Factory Lass”

This poem is written in Scots, as was very common in poems which represented the voices of Scottish workers, who would have spoken in Scots themselves. It was published in the poetry column of the very popular People’s Journal, a newspaper based in Dundee on the east coast of Scotland, on 25 January 1862. Focusing…

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