Here's a virtual movie of the brilliant and celebrated Lancashire poet Samuel Laycock reading his beautiful gritty twist in the tale poem "A Street Scene".Laycock's poems provide a valuable record of working-class life in the Lancashire cotton towns during the second half of the 19th century. They illustrate the domestic problems and misery caused by hard times and express an attitude that probably prevailed among the respectable working-class of that age, that men should find an honourable way of standing up to their hardships and not be reduced to complaining about their suffering.
The "Cotton Famine" (1861-64) caused massive unemployment, particularly in the areas of Ashton-under-Lyne, Stalybridge and Dunkinfield, three towns whose industry was almost entirely dependent on cotton. By November 1862, over 40% of the population of the Ashton Poor Law Union (which included Stalybridge) were receiving relief.
Samuel Laycock was one of the many cotton workers laid off by the famine. In common with others of the unemployed, he turned to schemes to make extra money. He found there was a market for his poems, which he published as "Lancashire Lyrics" in broadsheet form (i.e. single sheets at a penny a time). They proved popular and many thousands were sold, some also being set to music.
Samuel Laycock (1826--1893) was a dialect poet who recorded in verse the vernacular of the Lancashire cotton workers.
He was born on 17 January 1826 at Intake Head, Pule Hill, Marsden, West Yorkshire, the son of John Laycock, a hand-loom weaver. His formal education consisted of attending Sunday school and a few months at a local school. Laycock began work in a woollen mill at the age of nine. In 1837, when the family moved to Stalybridge, Cheshire, he worked as a cotton weaver and later cloth looker. The American Civil War (1861--1864) badly affected the Lancashire cotton towns as supplies of raw cotton dried up. Laycock was one of the thousands unemployed and tried to earn a meagre living by writing verses which the unemployed could set to music and sing in the streets for pennies. In 1864, he published Lancashire Rhymes and in 1866, Lancashire Songs, poems which documented the everyday life of cotton workers.
In 1865, Laycock became the librarian at Stalybridge Mechanics' Institute, and in 1867, took up a similar post at The Whitworth Institute, Fleetwood. He moved to Blackpool in 1868 because his health was poor. He continued writing while working as a photographer, while his wife ran a lodging-house. Just before his death in 1893, he published a collection of poems, Warblin's fro' an Owd Songster.
In 1850, Laycock married Martha Broadbent, a cotton weaver, but she died two years later. He remarried in 1858 to Hannah Woolley, who died in 1863. His third marriage was to Eliza Pontefract in 1864 and she survived him. He had several children by Hannah and at least two by Eliza, including Arthur, who became a novelist.
Laycock died of influenza which developed into acute bronchitis on 15 December 1893, at his home, 48 Foxhall Road, Blackpool. He was buried in Layton Cemetery, Blackpool.
All rights are reserved on this video recording copyright Jim Clark 2013
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