(From Photo by the
By JAMES LEIGH.
WITH INTRODUCTORY SKETCHES BY
THOMAS MIDDLETON, FREDERICK HICHAM,
And JOHN CHORTON.
J. HIGHAM AND CO., NORTH CHESHIRE HERALD OFFICE,
Alderman WALTER INGRAM SHERRY
ov T\\t BOROUGH o^ vmt,
For his many noble, generous, and unsolicited acts of
kindness to me,
And more particularly for his action in inaugurating the
movement which made the publication of this book
I dedicate these poems with feelings of deepest
Beg to subscribe myself,
His very devoted and obliged Servant,
Author of this collection of Rhymes and Poems is
sensible of their many defects, and it was with some
little diffidence that he consented to their publication in
book-form. They have appeared from time to time chiefly in
the pages of the "North Cheshire Herald." Some of them
were hurriedly scribbled together to give vent to feeling
during bereavement, or on occasions of joy and sadness.
Other pieces are descriptive of the beautiful and varied
scene? to be met with about Werneth Low and the
neighbouring hills of the High Peak of Derbyshire.
An indulgent public must also remember that the
Author had not the advantages of a liberal education,
inasmuch as he had to commence work at an early age ;
then, too, many of the pieces are written in the dialect of the
district, and are consequently wanting in that strict
grammatical correctness they might otherwise have
The Public of Hyde and Neighbourhood are aware of the
kindness and liberality shown me during his year of
Mayoralty by Alderman Walter Ingram Sherry, J.P., who
afforded special facilities for the publication of this book.
His Worship the Mayor kindly gave a Reception and
Musical Evening in my honour at the Hyde Town Hall, on
Monday, the 24th October, 1904, at which gathering I was
also made the recipient of a most beautiful illuminated
Testimonial, the Address being engrossed upon vellum, and
Some weeks previous to the Reception, the Mayor called
together a number of the leading citizens and literary
gentlemen of the town, including the Member for the Hyde
Parliamentary Division (Edward Chapman, Esq., J.P., M.P.),
who met in the Mayor's Parlour. A number of those present
formed themselves into a Guarantee Fund Committee to
secure me from any pecuniary loss in the publication of my
book. A General Committee was also formed, to which a
number of ladies were added, to see to the carrying out of
all matters connected with the printing and publication of
my book, and placing it in the hands of subscribers and the
public, thus relieving me of a great work (for which I was
totally unfitted), and a heavy responsibility. It now only
remains for me to add that I am almost overpowered with
the kindness of Alderman Sherry, and the ladies and
gentlemen who supported his scheme. To Alderman Sherry
I am especially grateful.
To the Guarantors I tender my best thanks, which I
feel is but a very, very feeble return for the truly noble work
they have done for me.
To the General Committee also I have only the same
poor return to make my thanks for all the self-denying
labours they have ungrudgingly and on so many occasions
put forth on my behalf.
To not specially mention with feelings of deep gratitude
my obligations to Messrs. John Chorton and Tom Middleton,
who as Joint Secretaries have had much labour in correspond-
ence to attend to, would be an act on my part of gross
To all others who in any way have helped forward this
work I tender my sincere thanks.
40, Ridling Lane, Hyde,
n SKCTCF), by TF)OMnS MIDDLCTOM,
Author of "Annals of Hyde;" "Old Godley;" etc., etc.
'0 list of "Lancashire poets" and dialect rhymsters
present day would be complete without the name of
James Leigh "The Hyde Poet" a writer who, as the last-
named definition implies, wields the rhymster's pen in the
town rendered famous in literary history as the scene of the
struggles and triumphs of that wayward genius John
Critchley Prince. Leigh, of course, does not claim quality
with the original "Bard of Hyde'' : he is essentially a "poet
of the people" a bard who views things from the standpoint
of the homely cottage folk among whom the greater portion
of his life has been spent ; and he sings his songs in a
language they can understand. Many of his rhymes are in
the Lancashire dialect, and he is perhaps at his best in this
style of verse ; but his non-dialect pieces also show
considerable merit, and when we take into account the
circumstances of his early life, and the conditions under which
his writings have been produced, it must be allowed that his
command of the "King's English " is surprising.
James Leigh was born in 1854, at Walker Fold, Hyde,
in an old picturesque homestead which his father had
occupied as a farmer for over fifty years. He came of a
family which farmed land on Werneth Low, and in Ewen
Fields, Hyde, for upwards of two centuries. At the early
age of eight years he went to work half-time as a piecer at
"Randal Hibbert's Factory," Godley, and when he had
attained the age of ten years he left school entirely. With
viii INTRODUCTORY SKETCHES.
the exception of an interval of six years, during which he
worked as a mason, he continued to act as a cotton operative
working at Slack Mills, Hyde, until the year 1896, when
he finally left the mill and commenced a grocery business in
Ridling Lane, Hyde.
From the above brief sketch it will be seen that James
Leigh's life has been of the practical rather than the
romantic order ; it has been spent in a district that is more
famous for the number of its mill chimneys than for the
possession of those attributes that are supposed to give
poetical inspiration. Environment was certainly against
him, and considering the early age at which he was com-
pelled to leave school, and the necessarily small amount of
education he received, it cannot be said that the task of
writing verse was rendered easy in his case. It is indeed
surprising to find him figuring in the role of a Lancashire
rhymster as far back as the year 1868. He was still a piecer
in the mill, and only fourteen years of age when his first
poem appeared in the columns of the "Ashton Reporter."
Since that time, however, he has continued to publish verse,
and is well-known as a contributor to the local press, and to
other largely read Lancashire journals. His pieces form a
lengthy list, and a selection of a few titles may suitably be
given. It should be added that Leigh has frequently
devoted his powers to the production of election verse, which
although exhibiting rare veins of humour is the wrong sort of
matter to enhance his poetic fame. Politics are best avoided
by bards of all ranks and classes, and Leigh's electoral
effusions are left out of the collected edition of his works.
Of his more serious writings a few titles are appended ; it
will be noticed that some of them make reference to well-
known events of local importance, "Hyde Town Hall Clock
and Bells," "Kingston For Ever," "On the death of the
Rev. R. K. Bateson," "New Year's Eve," "Spring/' "Jamie
o' Dicks," "Christmas Time," "Cowd Winter," " The Village
Parson," "Werneth Low," "The Seasons," "Pleasant Walks
with Old Companions," "Rambles Round Mottram," etc.
At the time when Hyde was in the thick of the football rage
INTRODUCTORY SKETCHES. ix
the deeds of the local warriors were sung by Leigh in the
Lancashire style, and few teams have had their exploits
commented on in so witty and telling a fashion.
Of course, in a local poet one never looks for those
brilliant flashes, and that exquisite melody of language which
i-3 the characteristic of the great artists who figure as the
Kings of English verse. In the first place the local poet has
a different public to minister to. "Every-day" people of
the working class order are not yet up to the level of
Tennyson, Byron, Browning, and Keats. They love the
more homely if less classical rhymes of such men as Leigh ;
they read their poems often, and they feel all the better for
the reading. But if Leigh's works are of a homely class
they contain passages much too good to lose. Take his
piece entitled " Lines." Here is a bit of the "sweet singer's
art," rare in these days of doggerel rhyme :
I stood by the grave of a loved one
On a peaceful Sabbath morn,
The time of the year when the reapers shear
And bind the golden corn ;
And I thought of the human harvest
Which Death had gathered in,
As I looked around in that burial-ground
On the many tombs therein.
And there, within God's acre,
I mused on the deathless soul,
And thought with the grand old poet
The grave was not its goal.
Beyond that narrow limit
Which marks the shadowy tomb,
The soul, like a flower transplanted,
In Paradise doth bloom.
I thought of the many loved ones
Sleeping beneath the sod
The sleep that knows no waking,
Except at the call of God.
How many hearts had sorrowed
Above those silent graves,
How many tears had watered
The grass that o'er them waves?
I stood by the grave of a loved one,
And thought of the days gone by,
When life to me was a rippling sea,
With a calm unclouded sky.
But soon o'er life's horizon
There passed the first dark cloud,
As I saw the light of my household
Enwrapt in a snow-white shroud.
The foregoing is, by no means, a solitary instance of
James Leigh's success with rhymes in the ordinary English
tongue. Poets of all climes have from time immemorial
been swayed by a love of nature of the woods, the fields,
the hills, of birds, beasts, and insects ; of the changing of
the seasons as manifest upon the earth in those places where
nature is still unpolluted by the towns and cities of man.
And it comes as no surprise to hear the Hyde bard sing of
Pleasant walks through rural scenes,
By devious paths and winding streams ;
Pleasant walks along the vale,
Where steals a gentle whispering gale.
Oh, when a week of toil is o'er,
How sweet to roam the fields once more,
To ramble through old country lanes,
Where we can hear the wild birds' strains.
Come, let us away, blithe hearts, away,
This beautiful autumnal day ;
Come, let us away with a joy new-born,
And watch the reaper among the corn :
He bindeth the last of his golden sheaves,
Amidst the rustle of autumn leaves ;
When he layeth his well worn sickle aside,
With joy on that last load home he'll ride,
While Robin cracks his whip for joy,
And shouts to Dobbin, "Gee up, old boy!"
And the good old waggon will creak and groan
With the last big load of the harvest home.
INTRODUCTORY SKETCHES. xi
The verse last quoted is taken from a piece called
"Autumn," which forms part of a series of poems on the
seasons. From this same series I cull the following further
specimen of Leigh's felicity of expression :
Spring 1 , summer, and autumn come,
Spring, summer, and autumn go ;
O'er hamlet, village, and town
The keen north wind doth blow.
The Christmas bells chime out,
And the New Year comes apace,
Our hearts are filled with hope and doubt
As we look him in the face.
* * *
The farmer is sitting- at ease
By the side of his ingle bright,
With a tankard of rare October-brewed,
Which he quaffs to his heart's delight ;
* * *
The bowl of his long clay pipe
In the fire he'll now and then poke,
His schemes of the future realised
He sees in the curling smoke.
* * * *
He is building his castles in air,
And his heart is all aglow,
But the realisation can never come,
Except God wills it so.
And so in the chimney nook,
With a heart more at ease than a king,
He nods and dozes, and dozes and nods,
And dreams of the coming spring.
A feature of Leigh's work is the strong vein of optimism
running through it.
To-night I listen to the wild winds moaning
With heavy heart, and spirits far from gay ;
A twelve month back my heart was filled with mourning
For near and dear ones who had passed away.
* * * *
But there is joy and blissful consolation
In the thought that surges through my brain
That when we leave this temporal habitation
We may embrace our loved ones once again.
It is, however, as a writer of Lancashire verse that
James Leigh excels, and in depicting scenes and incidents
from the humorous side of local life he is peculiarly at his
Owd Jamie o' Dicks wur a mpn
L t could drink a whul brewin' o' ale ;
He liked it, no matter how dark,
He liked it no matter how pale;
He liked it no matter how seaur,
He liked it no matter how sweet ;
He'd o sit with it heaur after heaur,
If it wur coed ale it wur reet.
But Leigh's Lancashire verse is not all devoted to the
humorous strain. He touches the right ring of pathos in
many of his dialect pieces. Three of these I feel constrained
to quote from -the first written in commemoration of Ben
Owd Ab's gone whoam, his shuttle's stopt at last,
Th' owd loom-heause wears a drear deserted look ;
O'er Walmsley Fowt a heavy gloom is cast,
Th' owd rib sits mourmn' in her chimney nook.
Deep sorrow reigns i' every heause i'th' fowt ;
O' th' neighbours talk i' whispers sad and low :
An' even th' childer cease ther joyous shout
They seem to feel and share the heavy blow.
Jim Thuston mourns an' rambles reawnd th' owd place,
An' wonders why sich things should come abeaut ;
Whilst manly tears are tricklin' deawn his face,
He feels as though life's lamp had just gone eawt.
Poor Jack o' Flunters ses 'twill noan bi lung
Before he follows 'n his owd friend's track ;
He ses ut death, that wrestler stern and strong,
He feels ere lung will throw him on his back.
Down at th' owd Bell owd croneys sit and smook,
An' tawk of one beloved (as owd Ab wur),
Whilst o'er each face there steals a wistful look,
Wi' every foot that enters in at th' dur.
Owd Ab's gone whoam, his clogs are laid aside,
Th' last of a pure and high-souled minstrel band ;
The weaver minstrel was our joy and pride
He swept his harp with perfect master hand.
Farewell ! owd brid I thi warblin' days are o'er,
Thy cheerful lays have gladdened many a heart ;
Thy genial face is gone for evermore,
Though we were loth with thee, owd friend, to part.
And now thy soul has winged its heavenward flight,
Lot's hope when God calls thy owd rib to thec,
A "Daisy Nook" you'll find i'th' realms o' light,
Wherein to dwell through all eternity.
Little wonder that the above has found a warm place
in the hearts of all lovers of the old-fashioned Lancashire
life so ably depicted by Ben Brierley. The following
selection, from "Up Aboon," speaks for itself :
Ther's a whoam for us o' up aboon,
T'other side o' yon bonnie blue sky,
An' am hopin't trudge to it as soon
As this body o' mine is laid by.
Tiler's a whoam for us o' up aboon,
An' ther's nobbut one road wi con get,
But mony a theausand 'as gone,
An' theasuands are still goin' yet.
It may be added that Mr. Leigh has taken a fair share in
public work ; he has been connected with several societies,
and has held office as an Oddfellow for over twenty years.
For fifteen years he was treasurer of the Mechanics' Lodge,
Independent Order of Oddfellows, Manchester Unity, Hyde
District. He is very popular as a Lancashire reciter and
humorist, and his services in this capacity have for years
been ungrudgingly given in aid of local charities. More
fortunate than many local writers, he received public
recognition of his efforts whilst still in the land of the living,
for in October, 1904, a Reception was given in his honour by
His Worship the Mayor of Hyde (Walter Ingram Sherry,
Esq., J.P.), at the Town Hall, Hyde; and he was then
presented with an illuminated address. The Mayor of
Hyde at the same time inaugurated a movement for raising
funds for the publication of Leigh's poems in book form,
with the result that a collection of his best pieces was issued
as an octavo volume under the title "Gleams of Sunshine, and
Mr. Leigh has been twice married. His first wife, who
was a daughter of Mr. F. Hill, contractor, of Hyde, died in
1882, leaving him with four young children. Ten years
later he married a daughter of Mr. W. Hurst Moss, of Mill-
brook, near Stalybridge.
xiv INTRODUCTORY SKETCHES.
In appearance Mr. Leigh is anything but the poet of the
novelists. He is a stout, robust, ruddy-faced Englishman,-
a typical John Bull ; and in character as well as appearance
he is a genuine reproduction of the prototype of
English life. I have known him for many years,
and have met him at literary gatherings, and else-
where ; and in every case his presence has added zest to the
proceedings. He is respected by all classes of the com-
munity, and is one of those few mortals of whom it may be
said with some degree of accuracy that he has hosts of friends
and well-wishers, and no enemies. Beneath a quiet, unosten-
tatious exterior there lies a rich vein of rare humour, and his
conversation is always a welcome factor in any company.
He has had his ups and downs in life, and perhaps more than
his fair share of disappointments, but he faces life in the
true English spirit, always looking to the bright side of
things, and ever marching breast forward with hope. His
motto is to make the best of life, and to put to good use the
talents God has given him. He believes that every man
may play his part well on the great stage of life, and this
healthy view of things he has incorporated in his poems. An
extract from a poem addressed to his friend the bard of
Stalybridge will form a fitting conclusion to this article, for
in it Mr. Leigh well expresses the simple faith which has been
a governing factor in his own life, and the spirit of which
men of all ranks and classes would do well to follow.
This world to me's a woodland fair ;
I' eve-y bush and tree
Aw hear some sort o' singing brid
\Vi' sweeter song than me.
Yet there is just one sylvan spot.
One quiet snug retreat,
Wheer aw con twitter forth wi' joy
My feeble, faint pee-weet.
An' weel aw know mi humble song
To some great pleasure gives,
So thee bi same a_s me, owd brid,
An' twitter while theau lives.
Cntcble\? prince ant> James
complying with a request to contribute something to
.^ this book of a reminiscent nature, the writer feels that it
is a privilege to speak of the personalities of two noted poets
whom the Cheshire town of Hyde claims as its own,
and on which town this poetic twain have cast
lustre by reason of their unusual capacity to give
effective expression in, and to imbue the English
language with, musical cadence. "By ther* works
ye shall know them" John Critchley Prince and
James Leigh. Some critics might call such capacity as
alluded to by the name of "talent" ; others by the title of
"genius." The writer ventures to think that w r orks of a
creative order which are inspired may genuinely be ascribed
to genius. Who w r ill have the hardihood to deny that many
of Critchley Prince's creations are works of genius, with
their delicate finesse and noble sentiment such
nobility of thought and truth as have drawn
forth eulogistic approval from some of the greatest
minds in our favoured land? And who can honestly deny
that, although more humble in pretensions, there is not a
similar spirit or breath of inspiration running through friend
xvi INTRODUCTORY SKETCHES.
Leigh's creations which they certainly are? Some of his
more serious poems are imbued with a richness and
generosity of sentiment that undeniably point to genius,
which is still further supported by facility of expression and
happy axiom and idiom. Thus it becomes a privilege to
speak of two remarkable men whom the writer knew, and
knows, in the flesh, the one honoured after his death and
the other honoured while alive. It needs no great stretch of
memory to go back to the days when the "Prince" of poets
was wont to make a usual place of call at the printing works
in Hamnet Street, Hyde, where I, as a boy, was engaged
Though Critchley Prince cannot be said to have been pre-
possessing in looks, there was a dignity of carriage that to a
stranger would convey the impression that it was borne by a
man of distinction. He would walK in often with his snuff-
box in his hand and say to the boy of that day, "Shake
hands with the Prince," suiting the action to the word with a
merry twinkle in his eye. He would then sit down near the
old square stove, and "Muse" for hours together in the same
room in wliich Samuel Laycock's "Welcome, bonny brid"
first saw the light of day. So there seems to be something of
a happily-coincidental nature in the fact of the writer know-
ing Hyde's previous and distinguished poet and also in
enjoying the friendship and confidence of the present "Hyde
poet," which is of itself a gratifying circumstance. Prince
was rather of a reserved demeanour, his brilliant eye and
general bearing, together with a high and noble forehead,
conveying the impression of the stamp of intellect. The
present Hyde poet is in appearance of the jolly, good-
natured kind, whose good offices in aid of many charities
and schools have so often been called upon, in addition to his
undoubted claim to be classed as a poet. His mastery of
the dialect is no less appreciable to an audience than are his
expressions in rhyme and poesy, which range from the
humorous to the sublime.
J v he\/\/opk5 of OUP Local poet
By JOHN CHORTON, Public Librarian, f)yde.
9||T is many years since I was told, on good authority, that
55 the collected poems of our local poet (James Leigh)
were soon to be published in book form.
Having been an admirer of these poems as they have
appeared from time to time in the local press, for upwards of
twenty years, and yet no nearer signs of seeing the book, I
began to despair as to their ever seeing the light of day, and
consequently their value to the people of this and surround-
ing districts being lost and forgotten.
However, through the generosity of a well-wisher of the
Author (to whom this work is dedicated), supported by a
band of willing workers, a good impetus was given to help on
the desired object, which we are now pleased to see is an
As previously stated by another writer, it is not claimed
that the Author is a classical poet, but that his poems are
real, honest, homely sketches of the people, and of the hills
and dales in the district of his native soil.
Some of them are told in the every-day dialect, as spoken
by the people by whom he is surrounded, and are described
in both a humorous and pathetic style. The character of the
Author is what Nature has engraven, and is indicated in his
As will be seen on reading his works, that he is a keen
admirer of the country. He, therefore, invites his fellow-
citizens to share more of Nature's joys. He believes with
Burns when he says :
"Nature smiles as sweet, I ween,
To shepherds as to kings."
xviii INTRODUCTORY SKETCHES.
His poems have a thorough Christian, patriotic appeal
for the good of his country, and the uplifting of humanity,
and may with interest be read by all sects and classes.
They will always be of interest by reason of the many
references to local events -whether it be in the jubilation of
the people through the gift of a Public Clock and Bells, or
in memory at the loss of some good benefactor to the town
It is not my intention to flatter the Author with undue
praise, but let his works speak for themselves, through the
expressions that he has placed in them.
The Author's love of rural scenery and country enjoy-
ments is beautifully depicted in "The Seasons." The
inspiration under which he wrote 'The Seasons" is so clearly
genuine that they must have been in his mind some
considerable time before they were written, although they
may not be so polished as some fine critic would have them,
yet they possess an original force, and a fidelity of description,
which can only be equalled by writers of a higher scale.
The country side, with its bleak aspect on a wintry day,
its cheerful farmsteads in the summer have been penned in
realistic language. These, together with his country walks,
are worthy of being carefully read and considered. They
abound in observations of almost all that is familiar in the