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Hard Times by H. B. Whitehead (1890 - 1966)


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Hard Times

by H. B. Whitehead (1890 - 1966)

 

Harry Buckley Whitehead was a Saddleworth poet born at Diggle, where my great grandfather, Robert Buckley Sykes, was also born, in 1856. At the age of six he moved to Hilltop near Delph where he lived until about 13, working as a woollen piecer, and it was there he began to feel the first stirrings of a poetic nature. His greatest success has come in poems descriptive of the countryside. He also wrote poetry in standard English and he was a friend of Ammon Wrigley. An internet site notes: "He started work in the mill at thirteen and remained a mill worker until his retirment in the early 1950s. In 1963 his 'Rhymes of a Village Poet' was published, but the book is not readily available.'"

 

The following poem sounds like the work of one who has been through 'hard times' in the cotton industry. Given his epoch that could only be the slump after the short-lived boom that followed the First World War, and led to the terminal decline of the Lancashire cotton industry, but the poem doesn't quite have that ring. The folk memory in Lancashire of hardship suffered by the cotton industry workers was long, however (as hinted in the poem), so conceivably Whitehead is harking back to a time in 1892 when he was a toddler and a strike of over twenty weeks duration paralysed Oldham and ended with hunger and nakedness in the streets of the town. Or it might have been a time 30 years earlier during the Cotton Famine, when the American Civil War meant that no raw cotton could reach Lancashire and again there was actual starvation and widespread hardship.

 

 

 

 

Hard Times

by H. B. Whitehead


Yoh munnut come agen hard times;
We thowt those days were done,
When th’ dust lay thick i’ th’ jinny-gate,
Where the wheels no longer run;
When th’ yed-stocks stood like silent ghosts,
And th’ straps and ropes were still;
Where o abeawt ‘em seemed to say,
“There’s nowt to do i' th’ mill.”

Yoh munnut come agen hard times,
For Owdham’s had its share.
When th’ purse were thin, and times were bad,
And ther’ weren’t mich to spare;
When nob’dy axed, or seemed to care,
Heaw were its troubles met?
Thoose wounds lie deep, the scars remain,
The folk remember yet.

Yoh munnut come to haunt these streets,
Where once yoh left your mark;
Where care and want together walked,
Wi’ thousands eawt o’ wark;
Where daycent men, fro’ daycent whoms,
Wi’ brocken heart and soul,
Went trudgein’ deawn that hopeless road,
To th’ means test and the dole.

 

Explanations:

Jinny-gate - part of the cotton-spinning machinery

Yed-stocks - head-stocks, also part of the machinery

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