Ashton-under-Lyne is a Lancashire mill town with a long radical tradition and a brief but brutal history of urbanisation and industrialisation. By the 1840s, it was, in the words of the eminent Chartist historian Dorothy Thompson, “the most radical and Chartist of all the factory towns”.
But alongside a history of activism that encompassed Luddism, trade unionism and more, in the 30 years after the Napoleonic Wars it also developed a rich radical culture.
In Ashton’s Radical Poets: A Tameside Libraries event for the Festival of Libraries, Dr Mike Sanders, senior lecturer in 19th century literature at the University of Manchester, talked about the work of two working-class Ashton poets – both of whom, unusually for the period, had books of their work published. They were John Stafford and Joseph Chapman.
Alongside Dr Sanders’ explanation of the poems – actually the words for songs – and the context in which they were written, ‘Langley Linnet’ Jennifer Reid, ‘the pre-eminent broadside balladress of the Manchester region’, performed a number of these songs, beginning with Stafford’s Song Composed During Ludding Time, and including several Chartist ballads.
Both Mike Sanders and Jennifer Reid are members of the Society for the Study of Labour History’s executive committee.