My Boris love song was given its first sounding at The Baum in Rochdale on Sunday (see photograph above). Some might feel there is often too much anti Boris work read out at these events – and too much one-sided politics altogether, so I penned my paean on Sunday afternoon and set it to my own tune. The two line verse however is sung to the tune of Charlie Is My Darlin’.  

Robin Parker sang a carol to St Greta of Sweden (Thunberg) – one of the Rev Mark Coleman’s alternative Climate Change carols performed at St Chad’s in Rochdale before Christmas. Not everyone is a believer and even fear young Greta is being elevated above her ken. However, some don’t like Boris either, whilst others argue he is, at least, entertaining and she isn’t. So. come on then, let´s all sing together.

I Love Boris, I love Boris, and Boris loves me

I think we have an affinity.

He has blond hair and so do I and our eyes are blue just like the sky.

He has mop hair And mops love me,

He wears a long tie that flaps upon his knee,

And he shuffles about, and my oh my,

He copies me when he rolls his eye.

He speaks good English, Just like me,

But speaks better French that is the mystery,

He is multilingual and so he might

Oh Boris, Boris, my erudite. He stands right up to lead the fight

Against the Autocrats and Bureaucrites

Of the European Union and Luxemburg touts

And unelected institutional louts.

Wine in his hand And spilled on his tie,

Or on the sofa as he shuffles by,

Just like you and just like me, I feel we have an affinity,

‘Tis the British thing  To shuffle on,

Ignoring the doomsayers and everyone,

Who says Boris cannot get things done,

Looking like he does with his buttons undone.

Just like me And just like him,

We dance together like angels on a pin,

Much better than the Lefties and the Marxist scum,

We have a proper Momentum.

Oh Boris is my darlin’, my darling, my darlin’….Boris is my darlin’- the bold Brexiteer.

Michael Higgins

The upper room was packed and there were twenty three Bard From The Baum performers at the latest in more four or five years of folk n´ poetry nights held monthly on a Sunday Evening. This real ale pub on Toad Lane in Rochdale is on a historic site between a huge, looming church and the location where thirteen pioneers conceived of the co-operative movement, but a less likely looking bunch of subversive contemporary poets than these here tonight is hard to imagine.

Tonight´s guitarists (including the bar man downstairs popping up to sing two of his own penned songs), the ubiquitous ukelele band and some old favourite performance poets – ´Graham´ was one – and a newer but familiar face called Alan, ‘rapping’ under the name Gordon Zola was another. Val Chapman and Alfie Fairhurst were there, and Alyson Brailsford (albeit mis-cast, by co-compere Eileen Earnshaw, as ‘Alan’) who sang and recited.

Along with delivering my ´Boris bonus´ I also plugged the Edwin Waugh Dialect Society writing competitions with a deadline of 31 January (or first meeting in February – the 12th– if you turn up for the meeting with your entry or entries in person) or any hopefuls can email them to me, as I am not judging.

Eileen Earnshaw

Compere Eileen, too, of course, recited.

In fact, the whole lot did not end till 10pm. A full house and a late finish are evidence that Robin and Eileen certainly have resurrected the burning embers after the departure of a certain Norman Warwick, who might have thought he was indispensable.

the late Jake Thakray

Nevertheless, after 23 individual performances last evening I cannot remember the subject or content of every one. However Peter Fitton preformed a Charles Causley poem and sang a Jake Thackray song and John Leach read two poems on his favourite subject- women he pursues at dance venues ! I spoke to him in between the action and learned that his latest flame, who he says is ‘a woman of substance’ has, alas I fear, made it quite clear that she isn’t interested. I told him to keep his chin up and try elsewhere though I hope I have not encouraged a wrong endeavour.

I would remind you that I continue to write my local history pieces for The Bugle and to enjoy my poetic odysseys with Robin Parker and Sid Calderbank as we visit the various railways stations of the region that can still offer us a platform for our poetry.

Meanwhile The Edwin Waugh Dialect Society writing contest rules, are available on our web site. Your reader might like to check out https://www.edwinwaughdialectsociety.com

I am afraid few writers produce dialect these days but I hope a few more will try the standard English options. All entries are welcome.

Meanwhile I have just received a video of the full performance of a magical performance that emerged from the artist residency for Spodden Valley Revealed by David Chatton Barker.  This is based on a local folktale which tells of a vengeful shape shifting water spirit, named The Queen of the Well, who inhabits the well on the summit of Brown Wardle Hill. You can see the full performance here: https://vimeo.com/347158154

Spodden Valley Revealed will be a new kind of visitor destination, celebrating the stories of the area around Whitworth, in Lancashire, by linking a dozen historic sites.

Over two years, we are building up this trail of discovery through landscaping works and improving access, but also through a huge programme of opportunities to get involved, for people of all ages. We are also investigating the stories of the area and commissioning artists to create new works of interpretation of those stories and the landscape. Spodden Valley Revealed is made possible by investment from National Lottery Heritage Fund. The project was initiated by Whitworth Town Council, and is also supported by Lancashire Council, Newground Together, Lancashire Environmental Fund, Ernest Cook Trust, Crook Hill Community Fund, Sylvia Waddilove Foundation and Rossendale Community Fund.

You can read more about the project and David’s residency on the following links:


You can also hear a recording of the Queen of the Well on Soundcloud:

Forward this email to your friends and family so that they can watch the video too.

The next public reading of the Queen Of The Well will be in February at the Whitaker Museum and Art Gallery in Rossendale.

Since attending the workshop called Writing Divinity I have joined the Travellers, a writing group recently established by an enclave that includes Andrea Sarginson, an award winning writer and a member of Touchstones Creative Writing Group. The group is supported by The Diocese Of Manchester and have met so far in St. Chad´s church in Rochdale and at St. James Church in East Compton. Their first project involved members in writing for a ´Poetry Christmas Tree´ and, coincidentally I wrote about the The Three Kings Parade which is held in the towns of Lanzarote and that I have seen Norman reporting on here on Sidetracks And Detours and also on the pages of The Lanzarote Information web site, (I have attached it for his consideration regarding publication, but it might have to wait until next year, now!) To be honest, I am not particularly pious about joining a Christian writing group so I may be an uneasy member. However, the ethos is on writing by Christians rather than necessarily for the church or in promotion of Christianity, so we shall see if The Travellers prove to be literary Romanies or not.

Didn´t a poet once say ´it is a long way to Bethlehem´? (Ed. Yes, Michael Higgins, you did !)

With that in mind I should report that The Reverend Mark Coleman of the St. Chad´s church referred to earlier and of Extinction Rebellion fame is ´leaving the ministry to pursue his other interests.´

Performance poetry, video making and creative writing notwithstanding I continue to write, in my afore mentioned role as local historian for ´The Bugle,´ The Royton Local History Society Newsletter. I have been looking back at Christmas 150 years ago for a while now and have been able to find interesting, if not amusing news items from the 1860s editions of the Oldham Chronicle and Oldham Standard.  These two rivals were very political the first being Liberal and the latter Conservative and both betray the practice of the time by playing politics a basic level.  The Chronicle usually gave better coverage of Royton by having sympathetic readers and a local correspondent on hand. 

The Standard perhaps not being so well received in Royton with its ´Seven Liberal councillors´ who went on that famous picnic in seven carts and ´came awhoamo i´ eight´, often cannot seem to spell local street names properly.

The Oldham Chronicle is also easier to read on microfilm as an earlier is one of those years and though I strained the best way I could to find overage of local events, their reporter or correspondent, must have been busy elsewhere.  I am afraid the chronicle is only a little better in that way but cannot compare to coverage of Christmas and New Year events in earlier years.

Yet the Chronicle of January 8th 1870 can claim: ´Royton, as well as other places, has kept up the new year and honoured its advent by a series of tea parties and other pastimes and amusements.  None of the Sunday Schools have allowed it to pass without calling the children together of various venues in Royton but the reporting is generally scarce.

The Standard is a poor source, save for the opening of the Haggate Conservative Working Men´s Club before the Christmas period, itself a reminder that Royton had a firm Conservative base and leadership in the Cooper family of Downey House.  The Coopers were also staunch Methodists, having obtained a licence to open a Methodist preaching house in 1794 and building the denominations first chapel a few years later behind the Hope and Anchor pub.  When grander premises were later built in Market Street the old chapel became the Philharmonic Institution, home to Royton Brass Band and other community entertainments and sports societies.  In the spirit of Christmas the Institution held its own party on December 11th, featuring Mr Mellor, the ventriloquist, recitations by Mr Butterworth, songs by the Glee Society, whose ´glees, duets and songs, were delivered under the leadership of J. Jarvis, Mr Robert Whittaker, JP and mill owner, presided.

The Coopers were former farmers turned corn dealers and cotton mill proprietors whose property stretched from Sandy Lane over much of the old Downey Field. In the 1830s they builT Downey mills (spinning and weaving) behind their chapel, and in 1844 they built Downey House.  

Downey House

Ironically the effective leader of Royton´s dominant Liberals, Thomas Seville, JP and mill owner, built his new house (Elm House) right next door to Downey House and the extreme politics of the day had to become subsumed in neighbourly harmony.  Ironically too, Thomas Seville was also a staunch Anglican and churchwarden at St Paul´s chapel (later church) which stood almost opposite both houses on what was then Chapelside Gardens or Garden Road (now Church Street).  Hence the modern Church Street (Anglican) and the parallel Chapel Street (Methodist).  As I write of course Downey House is now firmly in the hands of Anglicans who use the old mansion as a parish centre and community hall.  Such is the irony of history.

The weather does not seem to be an issue in 1869 as it sometimes was earlier in the sixties with either rain spoiling things or snow and ice adding its Christmas magic.  The ice and snow could be used as candle holders for the odd festive waggon on the streets, defying hot wax and flame to melt things somewhat.  But the weather was indeed important to the Oldham Chronicle for one reason: 12 months prior to his death in August Mr Heap had supplied the Chronicle with weekly meteorological reports and was one of the most noted of these were John Butterwoth of Haggate, Mr Heap´s tutor and friend, and John Kay (spelt  Kaye in the Chronicle).  More should be written of these men.  Described as of ´quiet retiring, amiable and inoffensive disposition´ he contributed much to the literature of the day, was a member of the century old Oldham area mathematical club, and met regularly with fellow mathematicians and geometricians from Manchester and Liverpool.

Rain had spoiled the Wakes holiday in August but it was ´the plague´ (Foot and Mouth) which disturbed Royton at Christmas opening up the idea of appointing an Inspector of Cattle.

A cow of William Rogers at Thornham Fold Farm and 7 cows and 1 bull of William Taylor of Tandle Hill Farm were the worst though one cow belonging to John Whittaker of Dryclough was affected.  Mr Taylor was fined £8 pounds for not reporting the outbreak.  When he protested the magistrates haughtily informed  him that it was his first offence and that they could have fined him £40.

While this drama was unfolding St Paul´s National Schools held their prize evening with Thomas Sevillle of Elm House in attendance, along with Dr John Kershaw, Rev. Richard Hill, the long-serving  vicar, and Mr Hibbert, MP.  Out of a total of 40 pupils, 32 had gone forward for consideration and 22 had succeeded with good passes.  In the succeeding speeches an opinion was put forward on the looming Education Act and compulsory education for all.  The system might work but only at the expense of ´the lowest scum of the earth´.  Later on Christmas Eve the rival Wesleyan Sunday School held their party on Christmas Day for 330 scholars, teachers and friends at the new building in  Market Street, going so far as to ´open´ one of those new-fangled Christmas  trees which were eventually to replace the old household Kissing Bush holly garland.  The Rev John Morris of Oldham presided over Christmas songs and recitations.  The Primitive Methodists also held a party for 200 scholars, chaired by Mr John Cooper of Oldham although the Chronicle reported that this was ´a lengthy programme, which ran out of time´.  The Literary Institute on Market Street held its annual Christmas Eve Dinner for 118, supplied by Mr Lund, the landlord of the newly built Duke of Edinburgh.  This event was livened by competitions in single-step dancing for a silk ribbon (won by Adam Hilton) and Waltzing (won by David Broom and his partner) and other entertainments until ´the small hours of morning´.

Not to be outdone St Paul´s School held its Annual Teachers Tea Party for 70 attendees.  Vicar Hill presented bibles to firstly John Lees (as a token of respect from fellow teachers), and Mr and Mrs Thomas Lees, remarking that ´nothing could be so suitable a present for a newly married couple´. 

After singing and reciting, and after ´the village clock had boomed out the hour of midnight´ the party proceeded to the vicarage ´where the usual Christmas hymn was sung´.  The Christmas Hymn, or Kesmas Hymn, was the name given to John  Byrom of Manchester´s Christians Awake

There is no mention of village waits and carollers strolling round Royton at midnight as in former years but that does not mean they were absent. 

Likewise much may have gone on that was not reported.  Vicar Hill was blissfully unaware of the Ritualistic Controversy which caused the Mayor of Oldham to walk out of St Thomas´s church at Werneth.  Following the Oxford Movement, the vicar and curate had opted to wear traditional ´catholic´ surplices instead of the traditional Anglican black and white.  The issue would eventually affect St Paul´s but not for many a year yet, and no one is recorded as walking out of Royton Churches at Christmastide.  On as sad note however, an inquest was held in the new year at the Hare and Hounds, Higginshaw, for a three day old infant of John Chadwick ´found dead lying in its mother´s arms´.  As the Kesmas Hymn is about the babe in the manger it is hard to equate celebration with bereavement.  Nor is it to equate loss with surplus time and money as exhibited at the Royton Agriculture Society´s meeting in January to decide what to do with the bounty of £120. 

And so we move into 2020, another year further away from the events described above. To keep abreast of the current news of 150 years ago check out Royton Local History Society on www.rlhs.co.uk

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