John Trafford Clegg.

The works of John Trafford Clegg, Th' Owd Weighver. Stories, sketches, and rhymes in the Rochdale dialect online

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Online LibraryJohn Trafford CleggThe works of John Trafford Clegg, Th' Owd Weighver. Stories, sketches, and rhymes in the Rochdale dialect → online text (page 1 of 51)
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The Works


John Trafford Clegg





He had the dialect, and different skill,
Catching all passions in his craft of will."

A Lover^s Comijlaint.




\ A /ITH few exceptions the pieces contained in
this volume were first published in the
Rochdale Observer, appearing in weekly instalments
spread over the space of three years. It was
necessary in this mode of publication that each
section presented should have a degree of com-
pleteness and independent interest of its own, and
this fact determined the general length and plan of
the compositions.

The dialect is closely reproduced from that
spoken in the Roch basin and on the inner slopes
of the hills which enclose it. Concise and forcible,
this tongue speaks of a race who had little time to
waste in idle chatter, whose deep emotions de-
manded strong forms of utterance ; and it connects
us by an unbroken chain with a period long pre-
ceding the Norman invasion. It lacks delicacy,
laughs at refinements, and does not reach the
highest standards of moral or mental elevation, for
which reason it is ill adapted to express minute
shades of character or feeling ; but snobbery and
humbug wither under its vigorous downright
phrases, and we plainly discern in it the shrewd-
ness, humour, thriftiness, honesty, and truth of the
people who have made it their own.



This dialect is rapidly dying. In the last twenty
years its very roots have been cut away. Soon mere
scraps and relics of it will remain — fossils on a beach,
broken melodies of old times heard in a dream.
But such of us as were taught to think and speak in
this unaffected and virile tongue cannot wholly for-
get its music while we live. If we use its terms no
longer they are woven into the texture of our hearts,
preserving for us thoughts of youth, and love, and
hope ; of happy years, and maybe years of sorrow
too we would not lightly forget ; of dear ones
dead and dear ones living ; of kinsfolk, friends,
and every tie that binds us to the irrecoverable past.
The dialect may die, but it cannot die for us until
we ourselves are dead. Love it with natural love,
hate it with aesthetic hatred, as we may severally
choose, we shall still alike be unable to escape from
its subtle influences. Our first learning will abide
with us to the last, and on the grave's brink we
shall hear yet sounding the tones that have echoed
through our native valley for a thousand years.

J. T. C.



Memoir of the Author

Heart-Sthrengs, a Tale o' Yellev Clough

Harvest Hymn

A Mower's Song .


Labour .


Forty Year .

Mi Daughter

Sally Brella

BowD Slasher

T'other side Rio. I. Levin Worn

„ II. Shipboard .

HI. A Warm Shop .

,, IV. Rio to Mazyteawn

„ V. Tuthri Levs fro Squire's

„ VL Squire's Diary — continiied

„ Vn. Squire's Diary — continued

„ VHL Throuble for Lijah

„ IX. Englan, Squire, an' Beauty

Lijah's Fortin. I. Unsattl't

„ II. Tom Speighks up

,, III. Rio to Juiz

„ IV. Bucklin to

„ V. A New Friend .

„ VI. Changes

„ VII. Throubles begin

,, VIII. Ruin Follows

„ IX. Th' Fortin Fund




1 1



















Leetin Blacksnedge

Ben Ramsden

Deawn i' th' Shade

Chattherin Timber

To Lucy

James Leach .

Magic at Norden

The Quarryman

Billy Winker

Mendin Degger

Clog Tops


A AVinther Jaunt

The Miller .

Calder Valley

The Soldier .

Death an' t' Philosoph

Clogden Sing

Blackpool Nowts .

OwD Joseph .

A Sarmon for Dick

List of Subscribers

















Portrait of the Author

Healey Clough

Town Hall Square, Rochdale .
White House (Blackstone Edge)
Statue of John Bright
Rochdale (from St. Chad's Churchyard)
Hebden Bridge .....
The Lodge, Hebden Valley


Owd Joseph

To face title.








WHENEVER a man displays superior abilities and rises
above the common level, his admirers invariably mani-
fest an eager desire to know something of his personality
and the story of his life, and this is especially true of him who
achieves success in either art or literature. The desire is a
natural one, and should be gratified within reasonable limits,
though it has been well remarked that " the inner life " of such
a man of genius, " the secrets of his inspiration, the mysterious
process by which his pearls of thought are produced, can never
be made known, and the circumstances of his daily life have
little more interest than those which fall to the common man."
The unfortunate and lamented death of the author of the
collected works contained in this volume, in the prime of life
and at the moment of brightest literary promise, has rendered
necessary this brief sketch of his interesting but singularly calm
and uneventful career. He had but just commenced to tread
the thorny paths of literature, for his literary birth may be
truly said to date scarcely more than three years ago ; and the
possibilities of the future can only be dimly discerned by
careful perusal of the first-fruits of his pen, and of these the
reader must judge for himself. A literary career so brief and
yet so brilliant and promising is probably unique ; and this
much may be said without any appearance of undue exaltation
of the merits of the author, or claiming for him more than
may abundantly be proved from his published writings, that he
was a man of true literary genius, of original thought and keen
mental insight and penetration, of rare powers of observation,
and of cultivated tastes and style, and that he needed nothing
more than the ripening and mellowing influences of time and
experience. How far his surroundings may have tended to
awaken and develop the latent talents of the man will perhaps
be gathered from this memoir.


John Tr afford Clegg was born on the 22nd of January,
in the year 1857, at the village of Milnrow, near Rochdale,
noted for having been the home for so many years, and till
his death, of John Collier, the eccentric genius who, under the
quaint pseudonym of " Tim Bobbin," published the famous
dialogue of "Tummus and Meary," which laid the foundation
of Lancashire dialectical literature. He was born in the very
heart of the village, where his father followed the business of
a grocer. Both his parents came of old Lancashire families.
The Cleggs have been resident in the township of Butterworth,
of which Milnrow is the centre, from time immemorial, their
occupation most probably dating from Saxon times. Within
the township are the hamlets of Clegg (in which is situated
the ancient many-gabled mansion known as Clegg Hall, the
scene of one of the weird romances of Roby's "Traditions of
Lancashire") and Little Clegg. It is in this district, and chiefly
on the uplands and in the doughs and denes of the western
side of the Penine Range, that the homely but virile folk-speech
of these parts of the County Palatine is most heard. Here,
too, it has the nearest approach to the ancient idiomatic usages
and peculiarities of pronunciation which distinguish it from other
and kindred dialects of Saxon Northumbria as they survive to
this day. The same dialect, becoming day by day less marked
in character, prevails largely in Rochdale and (with some
variations, of pronunciation chiefly) within an area whose radius
extends to about half-a-dozen miles from the centre of the
County Borough. Of its special characteristics nothing need
be said here ; they are well and truthfully illustrated in the
volume to which this memoir is prefixed. Our author's view
of it will be found briefly stated, but with keen critical appre-
ciation, in the second paragraph of a preface which he wrote —
rather it should be said, outlined — for this edition of his collected

John Trafford, as he was baptised, was the second son
of his parents, who, a little more than a year after his birth,
removed to Rochdale, about two miles distant. Here the father

• • t


continued in his old business, and brought up a family of five
children, three of them sons, the oldest and youngest of whom
survive. Three other children died early. Milnrow, or the
ancient township in which it stands, has produced more than
one centenarian, and often furnishes instances of remarkable
longevity, and it is worthy of note that Mr. Clegg, senior, and
his partner in life, are still living, and that he is over fourscore
years of 'age, and still fairly hale and hearty. Trafford's boy-
hood's days were passed in Rochdale, with, of course, frequent
visits to his native village, for which and its homely, honest,
hardworking, and true-hearted inhabitants he always entertained
the greatest affection. The older resident families are largely
bound together by ties of kindred, and there are those who
claim that some of the blood of " Tim Bobbin " flows in their
veins. Not long since, being asked if he or his family did not
claim some degree of kinship with Collier, "Th' Owd Weighver"
jocularly replied, "Well, yes, Tim Bobbin's cow and my 'gron-
feyther's' cow used to drink out of the same stream!" There
are very few INIilnrow people who do not speak the dialect
from the time of their very first efforts to prattle, no matter of
what station in life. Thus Trafford Clegg learnt it naturally
and from his parents' lips, though in after life he could converse
without the slightest perceptible trace of dialect. This is partly
accounted for by the fact that when of sufficient age he was
sent to Rochdale Grammar School, the foundation of Archbishop
Parker in the reign of Queen Elizabeth. In this school, under
the tuition of Mr. R. R. Grey, who had recently been appointed
headmaster, he not only acquired a good, sound English
education, but considerable mastery of the Latin tongue. In
later life he was a diligent student of the English classics, and
gained a wide acquaintance with current scientific and general
literature. Beginning at a very early age to commit his thoughts
to paper, he acquired an excellent style of composition, and
wrote with perfect ease and fluency. He is seen at his best
in his epistolary and other correspondence, for dialect-writing
affords but scant opportunities for the display of the charms


and graces and artistic perfection of a highly cultured and
polished style.

Our author's literary tendencies evinced themselves at an
early period of life. Poetry was his especial delight, and his
first literary attempts were in the way of versification. These
youthful productions, which members of the family, and intimate
friends to whom he showed them, judged to be excellent in
their way, were far from coming up to his own mental standard;
and with the native modesty and delicacy of feeling which
characterised him throughout life, he declined to allow them
to be published, and they appear to have been destroyed.
Renewing his efforts and becoming more confident of his
powers, he composed a considerable quantity of verse of a varied
character when a young man, and consulted his elder brother,
a master printer, as to the advisability of publishing the poems
in a small volume. He was dissuaded, however, from his design,
as such a venture would almost certainly have resulted in
financial failure. Some of the poems appeared subsequently in
magazines, and others are admirably fitted into the text of his
stories and sketches. We have his own testimony to the early
bent of his genius. Writing some months before his death to
the London correspondent of the Alaiichester Evening News,
with whom he was on terms of intimate friendship, and whom
he had consulted with regard to a projected new novel, local
and historical, this truly " pregnant and pathetic sentence "
occurred, as the correspondent himself described it : — " I have
been guilty of imaginative writing ever since I could use a pen;
the vice would not be stamped out ; it has been every year
more difficult to repress, has now mastered me completely, and
before long will dance an exultant hornpipe over my grave."
The projected novel which he discussed with his friend was the
last which came from his pen, though at the time of his death
he was engaged upon a " sketch " which he left uncompleted.
It is entitled "The Milnes of Whitacre," and is now in course
of serial publication in the Rochdale Observer, in which news-
paper all his productions, except those of his earlier years, have
first appeared.


After leaving school, Trafford was apprenticed to his elder
brother, in whose establishment, now known as "The Aldine
Press," he acquired a knowledge of the business in all its
departments. He was studious in his habits, and was also very
fond of music, the science of which he thoroughly mastered,
and he became an able executant on the organ and pianoforte.
If not devoted to music, his spare hours, in summer evenings
especially, were usually spent in rambling with kindred spirits
amid the beautiful and romantic scenes which are still to be
found amongst the hills and dales in the neighbourhood, but
at times his sole companion was some favourite book. In this
respect he much resembled the late Edwin Waugh, with whose
works and those of "Tim Bobbin" and other dialect-writers he
was perfectly familiar. Probably he never dreamed at the time
of aspiring to become " a worthy member of the Lancashire
brotherhood of authors," but he was unconsciously qualifying
himself to rank with the best of them in due. time and
season. Before he was out of his apprenticeship, and while
yet in his teens, Trafford, by arrangement, left the printing
office of his brother and went to reside at Glossop, where his
father had purchased a cotton mill. Here he had not only
change of air and scene, but a new experience which he after-
wards turned to such good account. He acquired a knowledge
of all the details of the cotton manufacturing process, and of
the quaint and curious technical terms in use amongst the
workpeople, many of them survivals from very early times and
extremely puzzling to the strange visitor. It was this experience,
with his keen powders of observation, which enabled him in
his local sketches to pourtray the life, character, manners, and
modes of thought of the "mill hand" so sympathetically, and
with a vigour, a truthfulness, and a naturalness unapproached
by any other writer of the same class. While at Glossop, his
old habits clung to him, and when, after the mill had been
running for over two years, his father disposed of it, and he
returned to his brother's printing office, he fell into the old
"vice." He was now over twenty years of age, tall, and rather


slender, but apparently wiry, and certainly exceedingly active.
This restless activity, indeed, characterised him throughout life,
and probably led him, by overwork, to undermine a constitution
apparently predisposed to pulmonary consumption.

After becoming entitled to rank as a journeyman, Mr. John
Trafford Clegg was appointed foreman in his brother's estab-
lishment, and this responsible position he occupied for many
years. At the age of about twenty-four, he married Miss Flinton,
daughter of a farmer of Staxton, Ganton, near York, who survives
him with their three children. He had obtained the appointment
of organist and choirmaster of St. Mary's Church, Wardleworth,
Rochdale, and was now settled down in a comfortable position
in life. The tenour of his career was henceforward uneventful,
and though occasionally doing some literary work on his own
account, in the way of poems and short stories which found
acceptance in Chambers^ Journal^ the Matichester Weekly Times,
and other publications, in later years he was mainly engaged
in superintending the production of the works of others, issued
from "The Aldine Press." Amongst these was what may be
considered Mr. Henry Fishwick's chief work, the " History of
the Parish of Rochdale." A considerable portion of this book
he put in type with his own hands, and he was very much
interested in the whole work. One of the strongest points of
Mr. Fishwick's history is the copiousness of the genealogical
information relating to local families. It was the perusal of this
information which, on the best authority, suggested to Mr.
Trafford Clegg the outlines of his local sketches and stories,
which would undoubtedly have appeared in another form had
not his attention been directed by a singular accident to his
native dialect as perhaps the best and most suitable medium
for his purpose. It was a fortunate accident, for it resulted in
giving an intensely local colouring to his work, which smacks of
the soil, and his characters pass before us absolutely true to the
life, expressing their thoughts and feelings in the only language
by which they could be adequately conveyed, and whose nice-
ties and subtleties it were impossible to translate into "standard


English." In one of his longer sketches, entitled, " To'ard
Ash'oth," the author has acknowledged his indebtedness to Mr.
Fishwick in a humourous manner, in language suited to the
character of "Th' Owd Weighver." The garrulous weaver of
cloth, passing by Oakenrod, in Bury Road, Rochdale, on his
way to Ashworth, steps aside to give his companion, "John,"
some details of the ancient family of Garside or Gartside, much
to his surprise, and John thereupon asks :

"How have you come by all these curious things?"

Th' Owd Weighver replies: "Aw didn't find it i'th' loom-box, tha
may be sure. We'n a chap i' th' teawn at"s olez scrattin' among owd
lumber — a sort o' hee-class rag and bwon picker, an' aw've getten it
eaut ov a book he's printed. Gie him a crackt owd gravestwon, a
church-book full o' dyeaths an' kessenins, or a bundle o' scrawlt papper
covert wi' dust an' eddycrop [spider] neests, an' he's abeaut reet."

John: "He's an antiquary, evidently."

Th' Owd Weighver: " Summat o' that mak."

About half-a-dozen years ago, Trafford Clegg left his
brother's printing office to undertake similar duties for the old
Rochdale firm of E. Wrigley and Sons, Limited, letterpress and
lithographic printers, and it was not long afterwards that the
incident occurred which led him to devote nearly the whole of
his spare time to literary work, and at a later period, through
the gradual advance of the insidious disease to \\hich he at
length succumbed, to rely chiefly upon the productions of his
pen for the maintenance of himself and his wife and family of
young children. At a Board School prize distribution, in the
early part of the year 1890, Mr. J. H. Wylie, M.A., one of
H.M. Inspectors of Schools, who was then resident in Rochdale,
expressed regret at the decadence of the ancient folk-speech of
the district, which is largely due, of course, to the levelling-up
influences of our modern educational system, for the school
children of to-day are beginning to despise and deride the
homely speech of their forefathers as something rude and bar-
barous. He desired to see more general interest taken in the
preservation of the dialect as a living form of our old English
tongue, and went so far as to make the somewhat curious
suggestion that a reading-book in the dialect should be provided


for use in the schools of Rochdale and the district in which
this particular idiom prevails. Inasmuch as the dialect has
never been grammatically analysed and reduced to system by
anyone having a thorough knowledge of it, and its orthography is
in a state of chaotic confusion, to many persons, and Mr.
John Trafford Clegg amongst the number, the proposal
seemed Quixotic and impracticable. Even if the first difficulty
were overcome and such a book provided, very few schoolmasters
or mistresses could be found who have known the dialect from
their infancy, and to most of them it is an unknown tongue ;
and to employ a "native" teacher for the special purpose of
teaching the various classes of school children to speak the
dialect as it should be spoken would appear ridiculous. Our
author keenly criticised the proposal, aptly using the dialect
itself to sharpen the edge of his satire. His letters to the
newspapers attracted great attention and interest, and they were
indeed admirably written. Such was their influence that no
attempt has ever been made to give practical effect to Mr.
Wylie's suggestion.

Prior to the time of the foregoing incident, Mr. Trafford
Clegg was entirely unknown to his fellow-townspeople as a
man of literary talent and aspirations, but the time and circum-
stances were now combined which were to bring him to public
notice and stimulate the natural bent of his mind. The
proprietor of the newspaper was so impressed by the merit of
his contributions that he invited him to submit "more fruit
from the same pannier," to quote an odd phrase of "Tim
Bobbin's." The invitation brought forth the brilliant sketches
of Lancashire life and character which, with a few others not
previously published in serial form, were collectively issued
under the title of "Reaund bi th' Derby," the scenes in the
leading sketch being chiefly in or near a noted hostelry on the
Blackstone Edge range of hills and moors, known by the name
of " The Derby." The instalments week by week were eagerly
looked for, and the author rapidly made his name as a writer
in the dialect amongst those best fitted to judge of the merits


of such work — the men and women of his native district,
with whose thoughts and feelings he was thoroughly in
sympathy. His other works followed in rapid succession, for
he was a most indefatigable writer. Except when his profes-
sional duties as a musician required his attention, his daily
routine was from the printing ofifice to his desk and from his
desk to the printing office, and the hours of night and sleep
and rest were often entrenched upon. Such was the vigour of
his intellect, notwithstanding his bodily weakness, that the last
evening of his earthly life was spent in an endeavour to finish
an uncompleted sketch, entitled "Th' Flagged Yard."

His work in the dialect met with unqualified praise from
critics, who were unanimous in their opinions of its merit.
Such high-class journals as the London Morning Post, and
Lloyds^ News, and several of the leading literary journals, gave
most highly favourable notices of his first publication, " Reaund
bi th' Derby;" and the Saturday Review had the following
appreciative criticism, which is the highest testimony to the
author's abilities: "The author is a Rochdale man, and an
acute observer of the humours of Lancashire weavers. His
descriptions of rambles about the country, possess the best
qualities of sketches. They are full of brightness and life.
His verse, too, shows other gifts of the poet than the mere
accomplishment of rhyming." This high character is maintained
through all the author's productions in the dialect. The scenes
are mostly in the neighbourhood of Rochdale, but occasionally
the author has travelled farther afield. One of his sketches
takes us into the lovely vale of the Calder, and another into
the Lake country, and he was evidently well acquainted with
the topography and history of the districts traversed. Fine
descriptions of natural scenery alternate with life-like portraiture
of people met, and delightful digressions into local history and
legend. One of his sketches, entitled, " T'other side Rio," tells
the story of the up-country experiences in Brazil of two Rochdale
men, true types of their class, who went out to fit up a cotton
mill; and, like all his sketches, contains many touches of tender


pathos intermixed with the most genuine and innocent humour,

Online LibraryJohn Trafford CleggThe works of John Trafford Clegg, Th' Owd Weighver. Stories, sketches, and rhymes in the Rochdale dialect → online text (page 1 of 51)