The Poetry of the Lancashire Cotton Famine (1861-65)

Lead Research Organisation: University of Exeter
Department Name: English

Abstract

In the 1860s global politics had a profound effect on a local economy when, during the American Civil War, the Union blockaded cotton exports from the Confederacy, and the main raw material of much of Lancashire's industry was cut off at a single stroke. The resulting mass unemployment and welfare crisis has been well documented by historians but the poetic response to this event has never been fully explored. Although nineteenth-century Lancashire poetry, particularly that written in dialect, has been studied by scholars, poetry of the Cotton Famine, including its unique aspects of multiple address and function, and fascinating reactions to the American Civil War and global economics, has received scant critical attention.

Extrapolating from initial research, we estimate that between 900 and 1100 poems of short to moderate length are in existence which relate to the famine. Through newspapers, broadsheets, and published pamphlets, poetry was an important method of social discourse, and its unique forms of address performed functions including petition, consolation, political commentary, reportage, and memorialisation. Common themes include war, slavery, hunger, poverty, prostitution, unemployment, education, charity, alcohol use, and economics.

This project will extend burgeoning recent interest in labouring-class literature by looking at the intersections between literature, regionality, and global politics. Initial research has identified relevant material in contemporary local newspapers, as well as archival material and pamphlets, broadsheets and collections. These full texts, all out of copyright, will form a fully searchable database with accompanying bibliographical information, annotation, essays, and soundfiles. The texts will be organised within the database by locality. For example, Lancastrian towns including Preston, Blackburn, and Burnley will have their own pages, and there will be pages which cover poems with miscellaneous provenance, or poems which were published in abolitionist newspapers in the United States, or poems from contemporary collections. A keyword function will provide full search capability and cross-referencing.

The database will have soundfile capability to include recitations of standard English and dialect poetry (which we estimate comprises about 10% of the total texts) and musical performances of the work where appropriate (a small minority of the material is presented as song and occasionally specifies the accompanying tune). The investigators have already attracted enthusiastic interest from performers including Jennifer Reid and the folk group Faustus. Jennifer Reid will be involved in twelve events aimed at the general public and school-age children across the Lancashire region which will promote the database through presentations, vocal and musical performance, and workshops. Faustus will be commissioned to arrange and record material associated with the project in order to promote the database. The project will also be working closely with Lancashire County Council Heritage Learning to promote the database to teachers in the region and train them how to use it. Schoolchildren will be involved in programmes to search for relevant poetry in their local libraries (many local newspaper archives are held on microfilm), and so to contribute directly to the full-text aspect of the database. This process will be managed and edited by the principal investigator.

The website accompanying the database will include contextual information and essays composed by the principal investigator, co-investigator, and postdoctoral researcher which will be open access and directed towards the general public and scholars. The texts that will form the database will also comprise the basis for scholarly output from the principal investigator, co-investigator, and postdoctoral researcher which will be published in academic journals.

Planned Impact

Beneficial impact upon non-academic institutions, groups, and individuals is integral to this project. Those who will benefit will be schools, museums, libraries, local history groups, and members of the general public. A recent day-long workshop related to the project held at Chetham's Library in Manchester established links with several other non-academic institutions and individuals including The People's History Museum, The Elizabeth Gaskell House, The Portico Library (Manchester), The Working Class Movement Library (Salford), Lancashire County Council (Museums, Heritage Learning, and Libraries), Jennifer Reid (Musician, Performer), and Faustus (Traditional Music Group). All of these have agreed to be partners in the project to achieve a high level of public engagement.
The project will achieve impact in non-academic circles in the following ways:
1) The database - This project will create a sustainable, growing repository of material and a focal point for learning and teaching activities. The full-text database of Cotton Famine poetry material will be publically accessible, and the public, through managed research findings, will be able to contribute to it. These contributions could be made by individuals, historical societies, or could be the result of school and college projects which undertake searches of digitised or archived material in Lancashire towns specifically associated with the crisis. There will be close consultation with Lancashire County Council to co-ordinate educational projects across the region. The database will enrich Lancashire's perspective of its cultural heritage through the recovery of a unique poetic testimony, but broader appreciation of the history of global-local economic and cultural dependencies will also be achieved.
2) Public engagement - A series of events will acquaint young people and the general public in Lancashire with the context of the Lancashire Cotton Famine, and introduce them to the poetry that attended it. The events will consist of public talks, performances of recitation and song, and workshops. Whilst the events will have educational and entertainment value, they will also serve to publicise the poetry database in terms of future use, study, and contribution. The principal investigator is part of the University of Exeter's successful bid for inclusion in the November 2016 'Being Human' festival. The event associated with this festival will act as a template for the project events which will be held in association with some of the project partners.
3) Media outputs - The respected traditional music group Faustus, whose previous material is derived almost entirely from historically recovered archives of song and lyric (often from sources including Cecil Sharp House), have agreed to be partners in this project, and will be commissioned to record and perform arrangements of Cotton Famine lyrics sourced from the research associated with the project. In addition to providing soundtracks for audio files included in the database, these recordings could appear on the next Faustus album, and will be used in public events and distributed to the media in order to publicise the database and the wider project. Other project partners including Chetham's Library and Jennifer Reid have already been involved in a BBC Radio Four programme relating to Manchester Ballad broadsheets alongside Eliza McCarthy (see Chetham's letter of support) and pitching for similar media outputs for the current project is in the pipeline.
4) School projects - Lancashire County Council Heritage Learning are planning a series of teacher training exercises associated with the project in order to maximise engagement with the project and the database within the region. The project in principle already has the support of consulted Lancashire teachers who see the benefits of the database as a valuable tool for teaching research methods, history, and literacy.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Title 'Cotton Lords' 
Description This is a setting by the traditional music group, Faustus, of a poem found in a Blackburn newspaper in the summer of 2017. The poem was published in 1864 and is a rare example of popular anger against factories owners during the Lancashire Cotton Famine. The track is now part of Faustus's repertoire and will be played live to thousands of people during their coming tours. 
Type Of Art Performance (Music, Dance, Drama, etc) 
Year Produced 2017 
Impact This composition and recording of this track and others is enabling us to pitch for a programme on national radio based on the research and its outputs. Audiences are now engaging with texts uncovered during the research in a much more concrete way and the eventual creation of a CD of the material will provide a lasting legacy within Faustus's recording history. 
URL http://cottonfaminepoetry.exeter.ac.uk/2017/11/21/cotton-lords-new-faustus-track/
 
Title 'The Lancashire Factory Girl' 
Description This is a setting by the traditional music group Faustus of a text discovered during research for the project which was originally published in 1862 in Burnley. 
Type Of Art Performance (Music, Dance, Drama, etc) 
Year Produced 2018 
Impact This song showcases themes of poverty, war and homelessness central to the project's texts and allows for public engagement with the texts in ways which were previously not accessible. Clips from the song have been played on national radio (BBC Radio Four's Feedback) and it will be played to large audiences across the country and on their upcoming Australian tour. 
URL http://cottonfaminepoetry.exeter.ac.uk/2018/02/16/the-lancashire-factory-girl-exclusive-new-faustus-...
 
Title Cotton Lords EP CD 
Description Faustus have released an EP CD containing five tracks adapted from poems discovered during the research for the project. The CD package also contains a booklet written by the Principal Investigator, Dr Simon Rennie, giving a brief history of the Cotton Famine, and detailed commentary on each of the texts the tracks are based on. 
Type Of Art Artefact (including digital) 
Year Produced 2019 
Impact The CD is selling in its hundreds and each person who buys it receives in effect a potted history of the Lancashire Cotton Famine and engages directly with texts discovered during the research. At the time of writing, the CD has only been available for a few weeks but Faustus are currently promoting the CD in Germany and we are seeing considerable interest in the website from that country. There will be an official launch in May with two concerts and media coverage. 
URL https://faustusfolk.bandcamp.com/
 
Title Faustus Concert at Manchester Literature Festival 
Description Faustus played to a sell out audience at Manchester Central Library for the Manchester Literature Festival. The performance mostly consisted of tracks adapted from the texts discovered during the project. PI Simon Rennie gave a short talk before the performance. 
Type Of Art Performance (Music, Dance, Drama, etc) 
Year Produced 2018 
Impact This was a new audience for Faustus and also for the project as the MLF attracts a broad range of participants. Audience members approached the research team afterwards to ask questions. 
URL http://www.manchesterliteraturefestival.co.uk/events/faustus-38508
 
Title Faustus concert at Helmshore Mill Museum February 13th 2019 
Description The Faustus concert at Helmshore Mill Museum was held in an authentic industrial environment and was developed in association with Lancashire Museums and Heritage. 
Type Of Art Performance (Music, Dance, Drama, etc) 
Year Produced 2019 
Impact There were several questions from audience members afterwards and some information given emerging from local knowledge which enhanced specific research elements. 
 
Title Peformance of musical adaptations at Halsway Manor 
Description On February 8th 2019 four separate groups performed their musical adaptations of Cotton Famine poetry texts to a live audience at hallway Manor. The groups were workshop participants coached by the folk group Faustus and PI Simon Rennie. Simon Rennie gave a talk before the performance. 
Type Of Art Performance (Music, Dance, Drama, etc) 
Year Produced 2019 
Impact There were approximately 60 audience members who heard about and engaged with the texts probably for the first time. 20 workshop participants engaged deeply with the texts and several have requested further texts in order to engage more. 
 
Description The research undertaken associated with this award has uncovered and collated over seven hundred Lancashire Cotton Famine poems from newspapers published in the towns of Lancashire. The search in these towns is not yet complete and there are more towns to go. These poems have transcribed and 'marked up' with TEI/XML digital language in order for them to be included in the project's database, which became available to the general public in a 'soft launch' in May 2018 with 100 poems, complete with text commentary for each poem and an audio recitation. There are several hundred more poems being developed f0r inclusion on the site.
Exploitation Route The database of Lancashire Cotton Famine poetry is publically accessible and fully searchable, containing the poetry alongside explanatory material, musical recording, recitation recordings, and maps. It enables the public, scholars, and students access to material which has hitherto been distributed across thousands of newspaper pages in the archives of local libraries. This database is also being used by schools as a teaching tool and we are collaborating with Lancashire Museums and Heritage in this.

The database is also being used pedagogically at Exeter University and by researchers with an interest in working-class literature of the nineteenth century.
Sectors Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

URL http://cottonfaminepoetry.exeter.ac.uk/
 
Description Our research has resulted in impact on schools, voluntary organisations and the general public. Public events such as the one in Blackburn have enabled Lancastrians to learn about their own literary heritage in a way which would have been impossible without the work done for this project. In addition, we are currently working with schools in the region to teach students how to undertake primary research and join us in our search of Victorian local newspapers for Lancashire Cotton Famine poetry. We are developing a similar relationship with the northwest branch of the voluntary organisation University of the Third Age. Media appearances through the print press and radio have made thousands of people (in terms of Radio Four's Feedback programme, this more likely millions) aware of the cultural phenomenon of Lancashire Cotton Famine poetry. Very few people in the country were aware of the extent and variety of Lancashire Cotton Famine poetry before this project began. The publication of the Lancashire Cotton famine poetry database has led to extensive engagement with the subject in a way previously not possible. It contains at present 100 poems previously distributed amongst local newspapers of the 1860s. There are several hundred poems waiting to be included on the database for its full launch in the Spring of 2019. The database is being used by the public and academics and students. It has had over 8,400 engagements since its launch. The well-known traditional music group Faustus have worked closely with the project and have participated in public performances, school interactive concerts, musician workshops. They have also produced an EP CD based on musical adaptations on poems discovered during the project research. The CD includes a booklet written by the PI and this provide information about the history and literature of the period which few people were previously aware of.
First Year Of Impact 2017
Sector Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

 
Title Lancashire Cotton Famine Poetry Database 
Description The database is open access and contains a fully searchable repository of poem texts from the Lancashire Cotton Famine 1861-65. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2018 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact This database with its unique research and literary profile has been showcased at the International Digital Humanities Conference in Mexico 2018. It is also being used collaboratively with the University of British Colombia and Exeter Digital Humanities as a research tool for undergraduate students. Third year students at Exeter University have provided detailed commentary for several of the poems on the site, and the successful AHRC bid for the Pistons, Pens, and Press project was inspired partly by the development of this site in order to design their own outputs and research methodology. 
URL http://cottonfaminepoetry.exeter.ac.uk/
 
Description Lancashire Museums and Heritage 
Organisation Lancashire County Council
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution The project has provided subject matter for events and workshops enhancing public engagements with intangible cultural heritage.
Collaborator Contribution The partners have provided venues for events and publicity and staffing. (Helmshore Mill Museum)
Impact Faustus Helmshore performance. Faustus/Jennifer Reid schools interactive concert.
Start Year 2017
 
Title Lancashire Cotton Famine Poetry Database 
Description The Lancashire cotton Famine Poetry database is an open access, fully searchable repository of texts recovered from the research. It contains poems alongside commentary and audio performances, and some educational material. 
Type Of Technology Webtool/Application 
Year Produced 2018 
Open Source License? Yes  
Impact In its first year the database had had 8,400 hits and been accessed in many countries across the world including North America, Australia, Germany, and Spain. The site has been used as a teaching tool by schoolteachers in Lancashire after pupils were introduced to the material during a dedicated interactive Faustus concert at Helmshore Mill Museum in Haslingden. Several members of the public have been in touch regarding the site and its content either to express appreciation or in several cases to offer voluntary services to the project in the shape of poem commentary or recitation or musical adaptation of the texts. 
URL http://cottonfaminepoetry.exeter.ac.uk/
 
Description Burnley Presentation November 24th 2019 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Project members used local actors to perform Cotton Famine poetry specifically from the town of Burnley in an event at the Central Library there.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Cotton Famine Poetry Workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact As part of the Manchester Literature Festival, a workshop was held open to the general public introducing Lancashire Cotton Famine poetry. Exercises were given in the interpretation of the poetry. Members of the University of the Third Age participated and went on to search for the poetry themselves.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL http://www.manchesterliteraturefestival.co.uk/events/finding-the-poetry-of-the-cotton-famine-worksho...
 
Description Database launch event at Portico Library Manchester 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact On July 31st 2018 the database was launched and a public event was held at the Portico Library to celebrate it. The event was sold out (it was free but places were limited to just over 100).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Faustus and Jennifer Reid Schools interactive concert at Helmshore Mill Museum February 13th 2019 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact The Faustus and Jennifer Reid Schools interactive concert at Helmshore Mill Museum on February 13th 2019 engaged over 90 schoolchildren with texts from the project. Follow on teaching activities are being carried out using the database.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Halsway Manor Workshops 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact From the 4th to the 8th of February 2019 PI Simon Rennie worked with Faustus to teach 20 workshop participants to adapt Cotton Famine poetry texts to music for performance.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://halswaymanor.org.uk/
 
Description Interview on BBC Radio Four Feedback Programme 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Dr Simon Rennie and his partner Libby tempest were interviewed on Radio Four's Feedback programme about how the transmission of an edition of the radio programme In Our Time inspired the research which became the Lancashire Cotton Famine poetry project. It was a light-hearted piece but it served to publicise the project and its funders, the AHRC.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09hw97h
 
Description Interview on BBC Radio Four World at One programme 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Interview with Mark Mardell of radio Four's World at One on the project's findings.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0bd6yct#playt=00h40m00s
 
Description Interview on BBC Radio Lancashire 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Dr Simon Rennie was interviewed on BBC Radio Lancashire on the morning of January 3rd 2018 in relation to the Lancashire Cotton Famine poetry project. The interview was conducted over the course of approximately 45 minutes of airtime and ranged over the context of the Cotton Famine, the nature of the texts being discovered in local libraries, recitation of some dialect poetry, and a recording of musical performance by the traditional music group, Faustus. There was also an opportunity to publicise an event later that week in Blackburn presenting the material emerging from research to the public. A listener subsequently edited the interview and posted a version of it on Youtube for public record.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mbu1uq6PkMM&t=37s
 
Description Interview with Guardian 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact After this article in the Guardian there was international interest in the research, for example, the Smithsonian Magazine, picked up on the story, and a Spanish linguist got in touch to write commentary for the database (the Guardian piece was translated into Spanish).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/aug/09/mill-workers-poems-about-1860s-cotton-famine-rediscove...
 
Description Interview with Sunday Times 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The Sunday Times published a half page article based on an interview with PI Simon Rennie
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/williffe-cunliam-lost-victorian-poet-becomes-a-new-literary-star-...
 
Description Public Talk in Bath 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact I gave a talk on the findings of the Lancashire Cotton Famine Poetry project to the southwest branch of the Elizabeth Gaskell Society which was open to the public. There was discussion afterwards, and several audience members pledged to engage with the forthcoming database
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Public event presenting research 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact An event presenting poetry written in Blackburn during the Lancashire Cotton Famine was held in a room above a pub in Blackburn in January 2018. The room was full to capacity and the audience were presented to by the researchers Dr Simon Rennie and Dr Ruth Mather, and the balladeer Jennifer Reid. We explained the historical context, talked about how we undertake finding and collecting the poetry, and recited some of it. In addition, there was musical adaptations of the texts by Jennifer Reid and we played recordings of the new musical settings of text discovered during the research by the traditional music group Faustus. The success of this at a local level has inspired us to repeat this kind of targeted local event in several of the towns where we have found poetry.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Research Seminar at Liverpool J0hn Moores University 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact This was a research workshop/seminar where members of the Cotton Famine Poetry project presented their findings and discussed their methodology with staff and postgraduate students.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Smithsonian Magazine Article 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Article in the Smithsonian Magazine brought international attention to the project and increased engagement particularly from the public and academia in North America
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/hundreds-newly-found-poems-reveal-devastation-uks-cotton-f...
 
Description Talk to South East Branch of Elizabeth Gaskell Society 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Talk to South East Branch of Elizabeth Gaskell Society sparked much discussion and engagement.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Teacher Training Event 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact On November 6th Dr Simon Rennie, Professor Brian Maidment, and Dr Ruth Mather led a workshop for a group of teachers and librarians from the Lancashire region in order to discuss the logistics of pupil involvement in primary research related to the project as stated in the bid. There was considerable interest but also some resistance in terms of funding and the logistical issue of taking schoolchildren out of school given current educational pressures. However, as a result of the event we are now working with a primary school in Accrington engaging pupils in the search for Lancashire Cotton Famine poetry.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description University of the Third Age Workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact On August 22nd 2018 project members ran a University of the Third Age Workshop at Manchester Central Library in order to instruct participants in how to carry out research to find Lancashire Cotton Famine poetry in local libraries. This led to members of the public contributing to direct research findings.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Website with blogs 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The Lancashire Cotton Famine poetry project will soon have a database of the poetry discovered during research but for now the public face of this is a website containing a rolling blog. This is used to publicise and report on events, present interesting discoveries to the public, and showcase musical settings of the texts.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL http://cottonfaminepoetry.exeter.ac.uk/