Piston, Pen & Press: Literary Cultures in the Industrial Workplace from the Factory Acts to the First World War

Lead Research Organisation: University of Strathclyde
Department Name: English

Abstract

As the newspaper poetry columns, workers' periodicals, surviving records of local libraries and reading rooms, and society accounts show, industrial workers spent substantial amounts of their working lives and brief leisure time in writing, reading, and discussing works of literature. Every industrial workplace had its writer in this period. Most had more than one, like poets and journalists 'Nisbet Noble' (James Ferguson) and 'Will Harrow' (John Stanley) at Stanley Mills in Perthshire, or autobiographers and poets 'Rustic Rhymer' (Thomas Stewart) and 'Davie' (David Wingate) in the same Lanarkshire mine. 'Piston, Pen & Press' recovers the forgotten ways in which these industrial workers engaged with literary culture from the 1840s to the First World War. By focusing on miners, railway workers, and textile factory workers it will investigate how profession, location, and the perception of being part of a specific workforce community influenced workers' activities as authors, performers and readers.

Our concentration is on Scotland and the North of England, with Britain's two greatest Victorian industrial cities, Manchester and Glasgow, as centres of interest. We will use archival research and scoping studies of newspaper and periodical databases to uncover the poems, songs, periodical and newspaper writings and other prose writings (including autobiography and biography) of workers in these industries. We will additionally work with the preserved records of nineteenth-century libraries and reading rooms to trace a history of reading through borrowers' records, and to study records of 'literary' associations (minute books, members' directories, manuscript magazines) linked to specific workplaces or operating in their vicinity.

No previous project or published work has attempted to reflect on working-class literary cultures in the long Victorian period in terms of both profession and location. Further, existing studies and anthologies do not provide our interdisciplinary focus on the history of reading, the history of associational culture, and the literary analysis of workers' writings. Although recent historical work on Britain's industrial revolution has shifted towards a greater consideration of workers' writings, research into literary representations of Victorian industry is still dominated by accounts of observers or employers, not by how workers themselves represented their labour and presented themselves as a cultured workforce with investments in established as well as popular literature. Despite growing interest in working-class reading, much evidence of workers' cultural investments and cultural literacy remains scattered in local and regional archives. What we currently know or hypothesize about what Victorian workers (like those listed above) wrote, read or sung, and how they accessed literary works, is a fraction of what we could know through in-depth archival research and a careful and comparative analysis of findings.

While the academic outcomes of this project will contribute significantly to the study of working-class culture, history and literature, and to our scholarly perceptions of Victorian industrialism, we also seek to create public awareness of this neglected aspect of industrial heritage. Building on our existing connections and developing new ones, we will work with selected museums and non-academic partners, both national and local, on ways to include this vital intangible heritage in their collections and outreach activities. In doing so we hope to foster fruitful discussions between institutions and individuals in the heritage sector in Scotland and the North of England about the status and significance of literary cultures in Britain's industrial past. Through our connections to the General Federation of Trades Unions and potentially other unions, 'Piston, Pen & Press' will also incorporate reflection on the 21st century workplace and historical workplace culture.

Planned Impact

This project has been conceived and designed in partnership with industrial heritage museums, libraries and trades unions, and largely stems from discussions with museum partners about their desire to incorporate workers' experience and voices in settings that have previously focused on tangible heritage (machinery, objects) and on 'captains of industry' rather than employees. 'Piston, Pen & Press', as our letters of support show, involves collaborative exchanges with museum and other partners, through exhibitions, public events and work with school and community groups; and seeks to model ways for academics and museum professionals to exchange knowledge and expertise. We consider it essential that this project works both with major national museums (e.g. the NRM and the National Mining Museum) and with smaller regional museums, several of which have never previously worked with academic researchers. Via our partners we also have links both to major heritage organizations - the National Trust for England and Scotland, Historic Environment Scotland, the Science Museums Group - and local organizations, such as the Dundee Heritage Trust. Because our research directly features the local areas served by every museum, most of which are located in post-industrial towns or regions, it has immediate relevance to the communities they work with. We seek to involve these communities not simply as audiences, but as interactive participants in our reading project and MOOCs, and as local researchers who can contribute material to the database, during and beyond the project's funded period.

Plans for impact, outlined in the letters of support, include:
- A portable exhibition based on our research, divided into three subsections on textile factory workers, miners and railway workers. The textile workers' exhibition will tour Stanley Mills (Perthshire), Innerleithen Museum (Borders), Verdant Works (Dundee) and Quarry Bank Mill (Cheshire/Greater Manchester). The mining exhibition will tour the National Coal Mining Museum (Wakefield) and the Scottish National Mining Museum (Newtongrange). The railway exhibition will be displayed at events hosted by the National Railway Museum (York/Shildon). At the end of the project, the whole exhibition will be brought together in Manchester. We are also involved in an international digital exhibition and a library exhibition.
- Events linked to these exhibitions: we will have replicable public-facing events hosted by each museum and library partner; these will include talks, readings, song and music, family workshops and schools events.
- Music: our partners include well-known Northern folk and broadside singer Jennifer Reid and Scottish traditional musicians Gillian Frame and Findlay Napier. By incorporating materials from our research into their performances and new songs, these materials will be revived for music audiences. As the letters of support indicate, there are strong possibilities that these songs will be included on future CDs and become part of performance repertoire beyond project-sponsored events.
- Theatre: our partnership with Lanarkshire playwright Martin Travers, producer Guy Hollands and the Citizens' Theatre Glasgow will result in a play, in Scots, based on Scottish miners' lives and writing in our period, 'Sing Up the Songs o' Iron and Coal'. We will record a staged reading of the play, produced with drama students from New College Lanarkshire, for our website.
- Trades union involvement: we will run an educational workshop/course with the GFTU.
We consciously limited our number of project partners, and anticipate working with a number of other interested museums and libraries. Overall, 'Piston, Pen & Press' will have a long-term impact on how industrial heritage museums work with literary materials and represent historical workers' cultural engagements, and on how communities served by these museums view their local literary heritage.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Title A Daurk Maiter - dramatic script 
Description A play in Scots by Martin Travers, centred on a group of young Lanarkshire miners in the 1880s. The central narrative is a romance between aspiring poets Charlie, a miner, and Rose, who works at the miners' lodging house. 
Type Of Art Creative Writing 
Year Produced 2019 
Impact Workshop and first reading of the play are listed under engagement activities. Feedback from the young people involved as performers and the first audiences suggest a shift in attitudes towards this historical period, and in some cases towards the use of Scots in performance. 
 
Title Exhibition 'Literature in the Factories & Mills' 
Description Exhibition consisting of 8 banner stands featuring research findings from the project. 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2019 
Impact Exhibition was seen by over 3000 visitors to Verdant Works (the Jute Museum) in Dundee and Dundee Central Library. As of February 2020 it is also on display at New Lanark World Heritage Site. Feedback from visitors was very positive, and the exhibition resulted in a new collaboration between the Central Library and Verdant Works, which lent each other material objects to display alongside the banners. 
 
Title Exhibition 'Literature in the Mines' 
Description Exhibition consists of 8 banner stands featuring research findings from the project. 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2019 
Impact The exhibition banners were on display at North Lanarkshire Heritage Centre as part of their 'Rhyme and Reason' exhibition on local writers. Blair advised the exhibition team and shared her research findings on North Lanarkshire writings. Feedback from the heritage officers and members of the public was very positive and the exhibition resulted in a new and ongoing partnership between North Lanarkshire Heritage Centre and 'Piston, Pen & Press' 
 
Title The Factory Muses performance 
Description This is both composition and performance. Three musicians (Gillian Frame, Findlay Napier, Jennifer Reid) took lyrics by millworkers located through the project and either wrote new settings for them or selected an existing traditional tune for the words. The songs plus spoken introductions by Blair were then incorporated into a performance (see engagement activities). 
Type Of Art Performance (Music, Dance, Drama, etc) 
Year Produced 2019 
Impact Audience feedback suggests a change in awareness and attitudes towards workers' writing as a result of this performance. 
 
Description Impact-related activities are entered in the relevant sections. Project research has been used: In creative outputs In exhibitions In schools workshops and workshops with community groups In three MOOCs The impact resulting from this project forms a substantive part of a REF 2021 case study in preparation at the University of Strathclyde.
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Creative Economy,Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

 
Description British Academy Warton Lecture on English Poetry 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Delivered the British Academy Warton Lecture on English Poetry in London, May 2019. The lecture was recorded and made available online as a podcast. Attendees were drawn from academia and from the general public.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://soundcloud.com/britishacademy/piston-and-pen/s-BQd7s
 
Description Centre for Lifelong Learning talk 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact November 2019 talk organized via CLL and advertised to their students (adult learners). Talk was on the 'Piston, Pen & Press' findings.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Community group workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Two workshops with the 'Time for You' community group in Cumbernauld, Lanarkshire. This is a women's support group for those experiencing loneliness or mental health issues.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019,2020
 
Description Design and delivery of 3 MOOCs 
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 Designed 3 4-week FutureLearn MOOCs incorporating material from the 'Piston, Pen & Press' project and working with project partners:
1. 'Working Lives on Britain's Railways: Railway History and Heritage' (co-designed with CI Dr Oliver Betts, in partnership with National Railway Museum)
2. 'Working Lives in the Coal-Mines: Mining History and Heritage' (co-designed with Prof Arthur McIvor (member of project advisory board), in partnership with English, Welsh and Scottish mining museums)
3. 'Working Lives in the Factories & Mills: Textile History and Heritage' (co-designed with CI Dr Mike Sanders, in partnership with New Lanark, Quarry Bank Mill, Verdant Works, Stanley Mills)
As of the start of the second run, Feb 2020, over 5000 learners have taken these courses.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019,2020
URL https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/working-lives-on-the-railway
 
Description First reading of Martin Travers' play, A Daurk Maiter 
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 Drama students from New College Lanarkshire performed a reading of scenes from Martin Travers' new play, A Daurk Maiter, directed by Guy Hollands of the Citizens Theatre. The play is an output of the project and contains project research. The scenes were introduced by Blair. This took place at North Lanarkshire Heritage Centre, September 2019.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Guest lecture on 'World Literatures' Queen's University Belfast 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact In January 2020 I gave a lecture on Victorian industrial workers and emigrant literatures to the adult learners in the Continuing Education 'World Literatures' class. at Queen's University Belfast. c.120 people attended.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Institute for Railway Studies talk 
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 on literary railway workers and the project at the Institute for Railway Studies seminar, National Railway Museum, November 2019. After this event, met with lead curator to discuss future collaborations after success of the 'Working Lives on Britain's Railways' MOOC.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Musical performance 'The Factory Muses' at Sloan's Bar, Glasgow 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Performance by Gillian Frame, Findlay Napier and Jennifer Reid (project partners) of millworkers' songs from Scotland and the North. In a public venue in Glasgow, November 2019.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Musical performance 'The Factory Muses' at Verdant Works, Dundee 
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 Musical performance by Gillian Frame and Findlay Napier (project partners) at Verdant Works, of millworkers' songs found through the project. Songs introduced by Blair. This was in conjunction with the display of the 'Literature in the Factories & Mills' exhibition.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Partner meeting and project introduction 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact We invited all our formal project partners and others interested in joining the project to a meeting and networking event over lunch. Participants were introduced to each other, briefly discussed their interest in the project, and the team gave a presentation outlining our plans, explaining how partners could get involved, and highlighting a few examples of our initial findings.

Partners in attendance: 2 staff from Scottish National Mining Museum, 1 staff member from Stanley Mills, 4 musicians (Gillian Frame, Findlay Napier, Jennifer Reid, Paul Sartin), 2 representatives Leadhills Trust, 1 staff member from Dundee Leisure and Culture, 1 staff member from Finnish Labor Museum, Citizens' Theatre producer (Guy Holland), 4 PhD students from Strathclyde, 1 staff member from National Railway Museum.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Primary school workshops 
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 Ran 28 workshops on local Lanarkshire working-class writers and/or on mining poetry and song from Lanarkshire with primary schools in the region. This was via a new partnership with North Lanarkshire Heritage Centre. Also delivered a talk to c100 14-15 year old students at Airdrie Academy, on working-class writers from Airdrie.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019,2020
 
Description Talk at Verdant Works (the Jute Museum) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A talk on 'Dundee Workers and Their Writings', co-delivered with Dr Erin Farley of Dundee Central Library in Oct 2019, at the Verdant Works museum in Dundee. This was in conjunction with the display of the 'Literature in the Factories & Mills' exhibition.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Twitter account 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact We set up a Twitter feed in Oct 2018. We have 210 followers and have experienced relatively significant activity on the feed.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://twitter.com/PistonPen
 
Description Website, blog and twitter 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact In October 2018 our website and blog went live:
https://www.pistonpenandpress.org/
We are currently attracting around 200 hits per month, of which at present 50% are new hits. These come from more than 15 different countries. We cannot tell who our users are, but they are likely to be drawn primarily from academia and the third sector, as well as other audiences e.g. local historians and community members interested in our research in their area.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.pistonpenandpress.org/
 
Description Workshop with drama students on Travers' play 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact The audience for this event was students at an FE college. This workshop at the Citizens Theatre (a project partner) introduced them to the historical and cultural background of Martin Travers' script for his play about Lanarkshire miners, A Daurk Maiter, including discussion of poetry-writing miners and Lanarkshire's local literary cultures.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019