On 06.03.2019 a Carers Link Group joined us for a trip to Accrington Reference Library for an archive research session with the team there. All participants commented that they had never visited an archive previously.
John Simpson, the local history facilitator, kindly helped us to locate the 1891, 1901 and 1911 census returns for Great Harwood. These were useful to identify where Ethel Carnie was living at the time and with whom.
We also found the first edition 1893 Ordnance Survey map showing Roe Greave Road in Oswaldtwistle, where Ethel Carnie was born in 1886.
In the immediate vicinity to Roe Greave Road, we noted four cotton mills, one colliery and two chemical works. Ethel’s formative years really were in the shadows of the cotton mills. These scenes would later form the inspiration for her novels and poetry.
The group also searched the postcard section and found a post card of a cooperative march in Oswaldtwistle at the turn of the century. We also found a letter written by Ethel to a Mr. Wallas reprimanding him for his condescending manner towards the ‘working class’.
Another very interesting find was the reproduction of a 1926 Russian edition of ‘This Slavery,’ using soviet style artwork typical of the time:
Carole Moulton the Youth Carers Development Worker at Carers Link Lancashire collated the ‘Young Carers’, findings from the archive material and their responses towards Ethel Carnie’s poetic and prose output. The library had a first edition of ‘Rhymes from the Factory’.
All participants chose their own favourite poem from the collection.
One person commented how ‘powerful’ her poems were and ‘loved her strong metaphors.’
The group now intend to create a banner which will celebrate the life and work of Ethel Carnie Holdsworth.
Thanks to everyone involved – it was a great session!
Discovering Old Oswaldtwistle- We need your Ossy stories!
Join us this coming Sunday 3rd March for an exciting Sunday afternoon walk and story sharing session, celebrating people’s memories of Oswaldtwistle. Listen as local history is re-told on an interactive walk through Oswaldtwistle and share your own personal stories along the way.
The interactive walk will start at 2pm from Hippings Vale community Centre on Harvey Street Oswaldtwistle. The walk has access for all throughout and is wheelchair/ pram friendly. After the walk join us for soup and warm drinks back at Hipping Vale and listen to old Lancashire songs performed live.
A group of young people will also be joining us gathering research for a local history projects. They would love to chat to anyone who would like to share their own stories and experiences of living in Oswaldtwistle as we go on the walk. This is the start of a number of exciting history events funded by Heritage Lottery created by the Civic arts Centre and Theatre.
This event will be FREE to attend- Everyone welcome. For more information contact Gayle or Sophie at the Civic Arts Centre and Theatre.
The People’s History Museum is the national museum of democracy, telling the story of its development in Britain. The museum consists of two main galleries and a conservation department.
After we signed in the visitor’s book, we were then guided through the modern extension by an education coordinator to the activity room. We then participated in a Living History workshop based on the London matchgirls’ strike of 1888 at the Bryant and May Factory in Bow. We were each given a specific role within the match factory. The horrific conditions were explained, for example the severe occupational diseases of working with allotropes of white phosphorus, such a ‘phossy jaw’ which destroys the bones of the jaw. We also learnt about the harsh penalties workers received for minor transgressions.
The first living history workshop we attended was based on the story of a young girl working in a Victorian match making factory. We met an incarnation of Maggie McCallow, a Victorian match girl involved in the match factory strike of 1888. Through the performance we found out about her campaign for better rights for workers. This was part of our contextual exploration of industrial life for working class people. This would set the scene for our study of Ethel Carnie and her life as a part time winder in the cotton industry from the age of eleven.
Gallery one illustrates the Industrial revolution in Manchester and how Manchester became the world’s first industrial city. It charts how workers endured appalling living conditions and their struggle for representation and reform of the political system. Here a section displayed the oldest trade union banner in the world from 1821 made by the Liverpool Tinplate Workers.
At Gallery Two a guide explained the story of the Peterloo Massacre of 1819 and showed us items made to commemorate the event. We also saw an impressive display of political banners. From gallery two one can see through a viewing area into the conservation department which specialises in the care and treatment of textiles. Here our guide showed us, through a microscope, some examples of insects which can attack the textiles.
Following our lunch we participated in a workshop called ‘Print Power’. First we looked at the collection of banners and discussed the meanings of their signs and symbols. We then experimented with screen printing and mixed materials and created a piece of work to take home. We also saw many banners associated with the Suffragette movement. This also linked into Ethel Carnie’s campaigning work as a suffragist and spokesperson for women’s emancipation.
We intend to follow this visit up with a trip to the archives to research Ethel Carnie and record our findings in our own Banner that commemorates Ethel Carnie’s life and achievements as a working class author.
Thanks to all the PHM staff who worked with the groups today, and thanks to National Lottery Heritage Fund for their support.
For those of you loving Ethel’s work as much as we are, here are a few of her poems to read and enjoy: A Lullaby, Epitaph on a Working Woman and Epitaph On A Toilers Child. All three, and more, can be found in the book ‘Voices of Womanhood’
Without Apologies To Sir Walter Scott.
O Hush thee, my baby, thy sire was a slave,
Whom overwork thrust, in the dark early grave;
The gloomy, grey streets from this den which we see,
Are hungrily waiting, dear baby, for thee.
O hush thee, my baby.
O sleep whilst thou may, babe, by night and by day,
Thy pale mother rests not, but stitches away;
There’s no one to guard thee from hunger but she,
Her tears flowing silently all for thee.
O hush thee, my baby.
O hush thee, my baby, through days dark and wild
Stream sun-shafts of glory that can’t be defiled;
The marching of myriads is born to our ears,
And we will march with them, and sing through our tears.
O hush thee, my baby!
Epitaph on a Working Woman
Nothing can disturb her now,
Peaceful heart and peaceful brow;
Smiling through a filmy veil,
Tires eyes closed, and sweet lips pale,
Tired hands folded on her breast
In a little prayer for rest.
Weary ends that would not meet,
Vexed and helpless wait outside-
Death has claimed her for his bride.
And his house is small and still,
But more sweet than hidden rill
Is his silence, as you rest,
Tired hands crossed upon your breast.
Epitaph On A Toilers Child
Sleep, pretty one, who has not known
The care that’s heavier than a stone,
The heated rush from morn to night
Till life grows barren of delight,
The stunted soul, the wearied limb
And bright blue eyes to early dim,
The dreams too early thrust aside
To swell the merchant’s worldly pride.
Thou hast not known the endless day
When every hour is wished away,
And toil and sickness, wrestling, stand-
The aching heart, the trembling hand,
That still must ply the weary thread
To earn its dole of daily bread.
Thou hast not, quivering, felt the life
Of mother, sister, child or wife
Dependent on thy body’s health,
The power that heaps thy master’s wealth.
Death with a few short pangs gave rest,
He snatched thee from thy mother’s breast.
Another great discovery – a Children’s story and illustration. The story is ‘Billy in Rainy Land’ from The Lamp Girl & Other Stories. Click in the link below to view:
Great news – we’ve discovered that some of Ethel’s books are being republished as part of a project undertaken by Nicola Wilson and Nottingham Trent University. Here is a link to one of Ethel’s most famous novels ‘This Slavery’ that has, previously, been tricky to get hold of at a reasonable price. You can pick up a copy here for just £12!
The book is described as follows ”a radical feminist and socialist tale of love, loss, poverty and politics. The action follows two sisters, mill-girls Hester and Rachel Martin, whose lives are thrown into turmoil when a fire at the mill leaves them unemployed. As the material poverty of their home-life deepens and the girls are forced to confront the difficulties of their economic circumstances, Hester and Rachel make romantic and political choices that will place them on opposite sides of the great class divide.”
We’re really lucky to have been given permission to use and share this new picture of Ethel. The image was supplied by Working Class Movement Library, Salford. We’ve saved it as our featured image and here’s a copy too:
We are working alongside Mid Pennine Arts to get some of Ethel’s poems on the poetry archive. Some of her work will be accessible via the Poetry Archive . This is an online resource where poems are read by the poets who wrote them – if they are still alive – or if not, by actors / people who can represent the authorial voice authentically. This is a fantastic resource so watch this space over the next few months for more updates!
Dominic and Martin had a good day on Friday last week – they were out and about visiting Lancashire Archives, Preston and Blackburn Library. With the help of Mary at Blackburn Library we were able to view and read up on Ethel Carnie through newspaper clippings from the early 1900’s – some of which you can see here: Ethel Carnie Holdsworth Newspaper Extracts
They also discovered a lovely picture of Ethel, a copy of the England & Wales Census of 1911 with her Ethel mentioned on, some great poems and a fantastic book of children’s short stories which we hope to share with St Andrews Primary School and Oswaldtwisitle Civic Theatre.
For those of you that would like to know more – please see below for a brilliant summary of Ethel and her work. This has been shared with us by reading facilitator Janet Swan and the team at Mid Pennine Arts:
Ethel Carnie Holdsworth
Reader, writer, poet, pacifist, suffragist, Co-operator, educator, believer in the goodness of the human spirit and the powerful effect of beauty and freedom upon it.
In 1932, when Ethel Carnie Holdsworth was 46, she was described as “an ex mill girl who became a literary celebrity”: she had written 10 novels, 15 serials, 2 films plus short stories, essays and poems, mostly with the theme of injustice for women and for working people in general being at their heart, but also with a strong sense of nature and what working people were missing out on because of the slavery of working life.
Some facts of her life
Ethel Carnie was born on 1 January 1886, at 80 Roe Greave Road, Oswaldtwistle. Both her parents were cotton weavers. By 1892 she had moved to Great Harwood and attended the nonconformist Great Harwood British School. We know that she also used the Great Harwood Co-operative Lending Library throughout the time that she lived there and was extremely well read as a result. Here she talks of what it meant to find the time to read at the library (of which the newsroom was part): ‘As a half-timer, I have waited my turn in queues at the top of the newsroom stairs, and have often had to be content with four hours sleep’
In 1897, at just 11 years of age she started work as a half-timer as a “reeler” at Delf Road mill and from 1899 (aged 13), having been taught the art of “winding” she worked full time as a “winder” and later a “warper and beamer” at St. Lawrence mill. This she did until 1908 (aged 22), and Roger Smalley argues that she and other women would have been paid the same as a man at this time. Important to note the effect of this on her self image / self belief – especially as not only was she being paid an equal wage, she was also surrounded by other women who would have been earning the same. This may have had a very large impact on Ethel’s ability to write and ultimately be able to stand up and address large audiences.
But this wage was not always available. Ethel would certainly have known one of the many depressions that caused widespread hardship. In addition Ethel’s parents split up in 1901 so Ethel was also living in a single parent family with her mother and brother – now in Great Harwood. She would also have known about the harsh conditions of working in the mill – but for Ethel there was an escape route – she used her imagination to write poetry from an early age.
In 1905 Ethel attended Social Democratic Federation (SDF) and Independent Labour Party (ILP) meetings in Burnley and Blackburn. She no doubt attended many others because in 1908 she became a member of the ILP. Here she would also have heard songs and poems – useful for the working man and woman – many of whom didn’t read.
So Ethel wrote, and in 1906, one of her earliest poems The Bookworm (a rapturous depiction of “the world of books” and how the printed word could be used to enact change) and other poems were published in local newspapers (and later in pamphlets that were distributed in Lancashire mills e.g. Voices From The Loom). They drew the attention of W.H. Burnett from the Blackburn Society of Authors, who in 1907 sponsored 500 copies of her first book “Rhymes from the Factory”. Because of interest nationally and internationally, the first edition sold out within a month and soon republished.
By 1909 her work had been published in Women’s World, The Red Letter, Homer’s Weekly, The Co-operative News, The Millgate Monthly and Clarion as well as in local papers. A favourable review of Rhymes from the Factory in the magazine, The Woman Worker, prompted its proprietor, Robert Blatchford, to offer her a job on the staff of The Woman Worker and she accepted. After nine years at St. Lawrence mill she went to London to begin the most important part of her pre-war journalism – writing a column under the title The Editor’s Chair and other pieces.
Quote from one of her articles e.g. “For God’s sake, women, go out and play. Instead of staring round to see what wants polishing or rubbing, go out into the open and draw the breath of the moors or the hills into your lungs. Get some of the starshine and sunlight into your souls, and do not forget that you are something more than a dish washer – that you are more necessary to the human race than politicians – or anything”.
After falling out with Blatchford (probably over matters of politics and representation), Ethel returned to East Lancashire. In 1911 a second collection of poems entitled Songs of a Factory Girl, and in 1913 a selection of children’s stories first issued as Books for the Bairns, but now collected under the title The Lamp Girl and Other Stories, were published. They were followed by her first novel, Miss Nobody, also in 1913, and a third volume of verse, Voices of Womanhood, in 1914. All were produced under difficult circumstances – between serving customers at the draper’s shop her mother had taken in Little Harwood, between lectures at Owens College, Manchester, where she registered as a non-degree student from 1911 to 1913, and between the creative writing classes she taught at Bebel House in London in 1913 and 1914. There were periods too when she went back to St. Lawrence mill or sold ribbons and laces at Blackburn market.
In 1915 Ethel married Alfred Holdsworth and they lived at 76, Garnett Street, Barrowford. From there Ethel became more active in the political hotspot of Nelson – for example in 1915 she chaired an anti-conscription rally and in 1917 addressed a rally of 20,000 people at a rally calling for an end to war. Alfred, who served in WW1 was reported killed in 1918, but later returned home having been a prisoner of war. We can imagine the emotional impact of this. During this time when Ethel thought she was a widow, she moved with her daughter Margaret to lodge with the Simm family in Blackburn, but later moved to Nelson where her second daughter was born.
In 1923 Ethel and her husband were publishing a radical penny monthly called The Clear Light – an anti fascist newspaper in which, for example she warned even at this time, of the power of Mussolini.In the early 1920s Ethel’s most famous book “Helen of Four Gates” (that sold 50,000 copies when it was first published) was made into a film – shot in the Hebden Bridge area. (See BFI website).
Much later Ethel and her children moved to Manchester. She continued to write poems and short stories till 1936 and then lived alone after the marriage of her daughter. Ethel died at Crumpsall hospital at the age of 76 (28 December 1962). It has been argued that Ethel faded from view because she lacked the support common for middle class writers. See Guardian Article: Neglected women writers: this is a class issue.
If you’d like to find out even more about Ethel, then here are some more great sources to take a look at:
We are pleased to announce the start of a new project: Finding Ethel- Archivists of a Lost Historical Figure. With great thanks to Heritage Lottery Fund (National Lottery) we will be able to work with partners including Oswaldtwistle Civic Theatre, Huckleberry Films and Janet Swan. The project will focus on the literary work of Ethel Carnie Holdsworth. The work of Ethel Carnie Holdsworth is significant culturally to East Lancashire and nationally as she was the first working class woman to be published in Britain. This project will use her writing to focus on the historical and cultural heritage of the late 19th century and early 20th century in Lancashire, and particularly in Hyndburn. The project is an opportunity to use this unique source to engage people with their heritage and learn about both the cotton industry and society at that time. It also looks at how many of the characteristics of her time still apply it to modern life today.
This is a really fantastic project and, if you would like to get involved, don’t hesitate to get in touch -we’d love to hear from you. Here’s a new project logo / image of Ethel courtesy of Dominic Cooper.