William Billington (1825-84) was born at Samlesbury, his parents being impoverished handloom weavers. He received little formal education, but despite his harsh beginning he became a noted "artizan poet" and, within his lifetime, acquired the epithet, "The Blackburn Poet". Billington is mainly remembered for his popular Lancashire dialect poems "Th' Shurat-weyvur's song" and "Aw wod this war wur ended", both of which deal with the devastating effects of the "Cotton Famine" of the 1860's. He also became a newspaper columnist, writing in The Blackburn Standard and The Blackburn Times on local literary subjects. Billington's poetry was published in two volumes, "Sheen and Shade" (1861) and "Lancashire Songs with other sketches" (1883), both of which are available on the Internet.
By Ian Petticrew
For Shakespeare and Ben Jonson the Mermaid Tavern was the favoured hostelry and source of inspiration. For Blackburn's bards in the middle of the 19th century it was a beerhouse on the corner of Bradshaw Street and Nab Lane, known as 'Poets' Corner.' Here congregated such luminaries as William Billington, John Baron, John Critchley Prince and Richard Dugdale. In an article in the Blackburn Times of June 23rd 1972 George Miller describes a typical exchange of wit:
Another distinguished rhymster to grace the tavern with his presence was John Critchley Prince. He acquired more than local fame, 'wrote like an angel' but, alas, lived like the Devil, being sadly addicted to the bottle.
It was while presiding at the Blackburn Scotsmen's dinner, held here about 1849, that Prince toasted a fellow poet, Richard Dugdale, known to fame as the 'Bard of Ribblesdale', with the dubious words, 'a fine man, but no poet.' To which witticism Dugdale instantly replied by proposing the health of Prince, 'a fine poet, but no man.'
The work of our dialect poets is not given the attention it merits. Burns and the Border balladeers are accorded their place in literary history, but the likes of Edwin Waugh, Sam Laycock are sadly overlooked. As George Miller remarked: 'Humble and self-taught there is a wholesome quality in the simple verse of these men that we shall seek in vain in the sophisticated products of most contemporary poetry.'
One other who did his utmost to honour their genius was George Hull who published 'The Poets and Poetry of Blackburn' in 1902. It contains biographies and examples of some our best local poets' work, such as this by William Baron:
For an on-line version of George Hull's book, click here.
Joseph Baron was a dialect writer, born in Rishton in 1859.He attended Blackburn Grammar School and later worked as a solicitor's clerk. After this he worked in the commercial department of the Lancashire Evening Express, which he left after two years to devote himself entirely to journalism. He is probably most famous for the works "Blegburn Dickshonary" and "Lankisher Dickshonary", in which he listed popular dialect word and phrases form the local area.
This article was taken from the Blackburn Times, March 15th 1924:
Charles Hodgson from Canada contacted Cottontown about the Blegburn Dickshonary. He presents a daily web-based broadcast about interesting words and their derivation. He had seen this work cited in the Oxford English Dictionary and was curious to know more about it.
We were happy to tell him about Joseph Baron and his dialect works.
He was keen to have a derivation of one of Joseph's words read for his website, in an authentic accent. We were happy to oblige, and Diana Rushton read the derivation of the word Baby or Babby.
This is a wonderful thing, an heaw mich wonderful depends on id number. Iv it's th'fost it's a hangel; yo' mezzer id an weigh id every Setterda'neet, an book th' perticklers deawn in a family Bible. An' when id says "Daddy" an' "Mammy"- wey, yo' wodn'd tek th' Nash'nal Det for id. But iv it's th' duzzenth, it's a little imp an' id gets plenty o' strap; aw know abeawt id, becos aw've hed' em - at leeast th'wife hes, an it's o th'same.
The recording of "Babby" was broadcast on Charles's website on 28th October, 2005
Dr Simon Rennie and Dr Ruth Mather are currently working on a project exploring the poetry written during Lancashire's cotton famine. The primary focus concerns the poetry published in local newspapers, particularly in the Blackburn Standard and Blackburn Times.
Further information about the whole project can be found by selecting the following link: Cotton Famine Poetry