(1859-1907) Francis Thompson was born in Preston in 1864 but moved to live with his family in Ashton-under-Lyne in 1864. Raised as a Roman Catholic and educated at home, in 1870 he went into Ushaw College to train for the priesthood. However, his tutors found him to be temperamentally unsuited and he left to study for a degree in Medicine in Manchester’s Owens College (later to become the University of Manchester). In the event, he did not complete the course and was thrown out by his father.
He then moved to live in London where he would probably have ended his short life as a drug addict were it not for the intervention of Wilfred and Alice Meynall, publishers of the Merrie England magazine, who, recognising the quality of his writings, took him in, nursed him back to health and became his major promoters and benefactors throughout the remainder of his life. Thompson went on to write many poems and was at his most prolific between 1888 and 1897, including his best known “The Hound of Heaven” . Other works include “Poems” in 1893, “Sister Songs” in 1895, as well as his “Essay on Shelley” and “Life of Saint Ignatius Loyola” , both published after his death in 1909. Thompson also contributed to magazines like the Athenaeum and the Academy.
John Critchley Prince
(1808-1866) John Critchley Prince was born in Wigan in 1808 but moved to live in Hyde for a number of years after marrying local girl in that township. Prince had little formal education – only that gained at the local Baptist Sunday School. By the age of nine he worked in a local cotton mill. Married young, he was the father of three children by the age of 21. However, employment prospects were tenuous at best and by 1830, unemployed, he was forced to leave and seek work in Europe. Conditions were no better there and he walked home in 1831, destitute and virtually starving.
Worse was to greet his return as his wife and children were by then in a Wigan poor house. Prince moved around Lancashire following any casual work opportunity that presented itself – in Blackburn, Ashton and Hyde. Despite these troubled times, he continued to write poems in the Lancashire dialect, including “Hours With the Muses” in 1840, “Dreams and Realities” in 1847, “The Poetic Rosary” in 1850, “Autumn Leaves” in 1856 and “Miscellaneous Poems” in 1861. John Critchley Prince died in Hyde in 1866.
(1864-1909) Sam Hill was born in King Street in Stalybridge in 1864, the son of a local blacksmith. At the age of fourteen he was apprenticed at Taylor Lang and Company as a machine joiner. During this time he found an interest in painting and drawing, and took lessons from Joseph Taylor, a friend of the family. From 1885 he worked in a number of local mills in Dukinfield, Stalybridge and Guide Bridge. In 1886, his father suffered a serious accident and Sam took over his business. However the increased use of machine-made goods meant that his father’s trade was in serious decline and Sam was forced to return to his own trade. In 1892 he moved to work as a stage manager and carpenter in Macclesfield. He remained in this employment for many years, and wrote poems in his spare time, most of which were in the Lancashire dialect. In 1906 he moved back to live in Stalybridge and published many poems in the Ashton Reporter and the Stalybridge Herald, including “Aleheause Signs”, “Old Lancashire Songs and Their Singers”, “Lancashire Poets and Their Poems”, “Foirewood, or Splinters an’ Shavin’s fro’ a Carpenter’s Bench” , and “Little Spadger’s Dog” in 1906. His last poem, “Byegone Stalybridge” , a history of the town was published in 1907, shortly before his death in 1909.
(1826-1893) Born in Marsden near Saddleworth (then in the County of Yorkshire) in 1826, Sam Laycock was to become one of Lancashire’s most famous dialect poets despite little or no formal education. He began his working life at the age of nine working in Robert Bowers Woollen Mill in Marsden. In 1837 his family moved to live in Stalybridge and it was with this township that he was to be associated for the rest of his life. Here he became a powerloom weaver in Leech’s Mill and was to meet and marry Martha Broadbent. Martha died in 1852 and in 1858 Laycock was remarried to Hannah Woolley. Between 1855 and 1867 Laycock was to write most of his best known poetry including “Bowton’s Yard”, “Bonny Brid”, “Lancashire Lyrics” and his first published work, “A Little Bit on Both Sides” in 1855 Laid off work during the Cotton Famine of 1861-1865, it prompted his twelve “Lancashire Lyrics” and after this time he was never to work in a mill again. Much of this work described in local dialect verse the conditions and disastrous effects that such widespread unemployment had on the local districts of Stalybridge, Ashton and Dukinfield – areas almost totally dependent upon the textile trades for their livelihood. He followed this publication with ” Lancashire Rhymes” in 1864 and “Lancashire Songs” in 1866. His works were immensely popular among working people who readily identified with his sentiments – many poems were set to music and became popular songs. Laycock’s work also constitutes a valuable record of working peoples’ experiences at the time. In 1865 Laycock became librarian and caretaker at Stalybridge Mechanics Institute as well as being a member of the Manchester Literary Club. Poverty and depression continued and Laycock was forced to seek employment outside the area and moved to Fleetwood where he worked as curator at the Whitworth Institute. He was elected to Blackpool Library Committee, and wrote several other notable poems, including “Lancashire Poems, Tales and Recitations” in 1875 and “Warblin’s From’ An Owd Songster” in 1893. He died on 15th December of that year and is buried in Blackpool cemetery.
(1817-1890) Born the son of a shoemaker in Rochdale in 1817, Edwin Waugh was perhaps one of the most successful of the Lancashire dialect poets. His childhood was desperately impoverished and at the age of ten he was employed by a local bookseller, Thomas Holden. It was here that Waugh, surrounded by books, gradually educated himself. By 1847 he had become assistant secretary to the Lancashire Public Schools Association and moved to live in Manchester. He wrote highly sentimental poetry, at that time in standard English, including “Sketches of Lancashire Life and Localities” , his first book. It was in 1856 that his first dialect poetry appeared, including his most famous, “Come Whoam to thi’ Childer an’ Me” . On the success of these works he was able to devote himself full time to writing. Socially aware and deeply conscientious, Waugh felt compelled to also write on serious matters and made many reports and essays on social and economic issues affecting Lancashire working people and their poverty, particularly during the Cotton Famine of 1861-1865. Waugh died at New Brighton in 1890 and is buried at Kersal.
(Born 1943) Writer, academic and novellist, Terry Eagleton was born into a working class family in Salford in 1943 and reputedly began writing short stories by the age of six. He went to school at De La Salle College and became interested in drama. After reading English at Trinity College, Cambridge, he achieved a First Class Degree with special distinction in 1964, and was awarded a PhD in 1967. Later, he became a research fellow at Jesus College. In 1969 he moved as a lecturer to Wadham College, Oxford where he was eventually to become Thomas Warton Professor of English Literature. His several books on literary criticism include “Literary Theory – an Introduction” in 1983, “Heathcliffe and the Great Hunger” (1995), “After Theory” (2005). Other work includes “The English Novel: an Introduction”, “The Significance of Theory” (1990), the novels “Saints & Scholars” (1987) and “The Gatekeeper” (2001), as well as several plays. Regarded as a leading intellectual and British Marxist literary critic, he lives with his wife and their son in Londonderry and is currently Professor of Cultural Theory and John Rylands Fellow at the University of Manchester.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
(1859-1930) Born Arthur Ignatius Doyle on 22 May 1859 in Edinburgh into a prosperous Irish Catholic family, the world-famous author of the Sherlock Holmes books, from the age of eight Sir Arthur Conan Doyle attended Stonyhurst College, the Jesuit boarding school at Hurst Green in Lancashire. It was here that he set one of his most famous stories “The Hound of the Baskervilles”. A little known fact is that he played in the position of goalkeeper for Portsmouth Football Club (under a pseudonym). At the age of seventeen, in 1876, Arthur Doyle graduated and was intending on a career in medicine. However, as a young medical student he came into contact with several future authors, including James Barrie and Robert Louis Stevenson, and they seem to have had a profound influence upon him. His first known story “The Mystery of Sasassa Valley” was published in Chambers Journal , an Edinburgh magazine, followed by “The American Tales” published in London Society Magazine. He briefly worked as a medical officer on the steamer Mayumba , an old ship that travelled between Liverpool and West Africa, but he soon grew tired of this and determined to set up his own medical practice in Portsmouth. The years following saw him juggling the life as a doctor with his aspirations at authorship, with some degree of success. But it was the Sherlock Holmes character and the series of books that centred around him that caught public attention and for which he remains best known. Others flowed with equal success, including “The Sign of Four”. Later he moved to a practice in Wimpole Street in London. He made lecture tours of many countries, including the USA where he spoke in more than 30 cities to packed houses. With the outbreak of the Boer War, and now too old to enlist, Conan Doyle volunteered as a medic and left for Africa in February 1900. On the death of his wife he moved with his daughters to live in Windlesham, in Sussex, where he remarried and remained for the rest of his life. In later life, having killed off Sherlock Holmes in the last of the series, “The Final Problem” , he wrote several science fiction stories, including “The Lost World” , and delved into spiritualism. He became increasingly preoccupied with the occult, to the detriment of his writing, and his later books all concerned the world of the psychic and the paranormal. In 1929, after an exhaustive tour of Holland and the Scandinavian countries he returned an ill and broken man and died on Monday 7th July 1930, surrounded by his family.