'Hell, Hull, and Halifax': John Dyer visits the workhouse.
In the third book of his ambitious georgic poem on the textile industry, The Fleece (1757), John Dyer makes a plea for 'Houses of labor, seats of kind constraint' which will bring those 'who now delight in fruitless sports' into the world of industrial and commercial activity. (2) He goes on to describe a Yorkshire workhouse in which wool and other fabrics are processed into yarns, and appears to have been organised rather like a modern factory. The workhouse described has not been identified, and whilst I cannot identify it beyond doubt, I shall suggest in this essay a possible candidate. I shall also attempt to contextualise this passage and consider how a historicised reading of it may yield information unavailable in other sources. This is Dyer's description, with his two original footnotes below:
Behold in Calder's (*) vale, where wide around Unnumber'd villas creep the shrubby hills, 260 A spacious dome for this fair purpose rise High o'er the open gates, with gracious air Eliza's image stands. By gentle steps Up-rais'd, from room to room we slowly walk, And view with wonder, and with silent joy, 265 The sprightly scene; where many a busy hand, Where spokes, cards, wheels, and looms, with motion quick, And ever-murm'ring sound, th'unwonted sense Wrap in surprise. To see them all employ'd, All blithe, it gives the spreading heart delight, 270 As neither meats, nor drinks, nor aught of joy Corporeal can bestow. Nor less they gain Virtue than wealth, while, on their useful works From day to day intent, in their full minds Evil no place can find. With equal scale 275 Some deal abroad the well-assorted Fleece; These card the short, those comb the longer flake; Others the harsh and clotted lock receive, Yet sever and refine with patient toil, And bring to proper use. Flax too, and hemp, 280 Excite their diligence. The younger hands Ply at the easy work of winding yarn On swiftly-circling engines, and their notes Warble together as a choir of larks; Such joy arises in the mind employ'd. 285 Another scene displays the more robust, Rasping or grinding tough Brasilian woods, And what Campeachy's disputable shore Copious affords to tinge the thrifty web, And the Caribee isles, whose dulcet canes 290 Equal the honeycomb. We next are shown A circular machine, (**) of new design, In conic shape: it draws and spins a thread Without the tedious toil of needless hands. A wheel, invisible, beneath the floor, 295 To every member of th'harmonious frame Gives necessary motion. One, intent, O'erlooks the work: the carded wool, he says, Is smoothly lapp'd around those cylinders, Which, gently turning, yield it to yon' cirque 300 Of upright spindles, which with rapid whirl Spin out, in long extent, an even twine. From this delightful mansion (if we seek Still more to view the gifts which honest toil Distributes) take we now our eastward course 305 To the rich fields of Burstal. Wide around Hillock and valley, farm and village, smile; And ruddy roofs, and chimney-tops appear Of busy Leeds, up-wafting to the clouds The incense of thanksgiving. (TheFleece (1757), III, ll. 259-310)
* Calder, a river in Yorkshire which runs below Halifax, and passes by Wakefield.
** A most curious machine, invented by Mr. Paul. It is at present contrived to spin cotton, but it may be made to spin fine carded wool.
I quote the last eight lines primarily to get a bearing on the location of the workhouse, though we may note in passing their historical significance: they are described by one critic as 'perhaps the earliest poetic description of a manufacturing district'. (3) Dyer says that we go eastward from the workhouse to get to Burstal (modern Birstall), where the chimneys of Leeds appear. He has already said that the workhouse is in the Calder valley. The river Calder runs east-south-east, passing to the south of Birstall. The workhouse is not readily identifiable, but seems likeliest to have been in the Halifax area. The argument for Halifax depends on history as well as geography, and involves placing some trust in Dyer's sense of direction. This seems to have been strong, so we may exclude any location further down the Calder than the Brighouse-Rastrick area. East of here, the river veers too far to the south for Birstall to be an 'eastward course' from any location situated alongside it. The Brighouse-Rastrick area itself marks the eastern boundary of Halifax. There is no other obvious location west of Birstall which, even in the more highly populated and industrialised Calder valley of the eighteenth century, would have been substantial enough to have had a factory type of workhouse. (4) Daniel Defoe had crossed the Pennines from Rochdale to Halifax thirty years before The Fleece was published and although he does not follow the highest reaches of the Calder, his description of the eastern hillsides makes it clear that whilst the population of the whole area was large, it was also widely scattered until he gets near to Halifax. As Defoe describes it, each smallholding or separate homestead has cloth-work going on inside it: this is the 'out-work' system, and does not require a concentration of dwellings. (5)
Dyer describes the workhouse, then, as being in 'Calder's vale, where wide around / Unnumber'd villas creep the shrubby hills' (III, 259-60). Defoe had noted these numerous dwellings spread across the hillsides; and a seventeenth-century print showing a 'View of Halifax' reproduced by Hanson shows the hillsides looming over the town, dotted plentifully with shrubs and some houses, though no doubt fewer than Defoe and Dyer would have seen. (6) Halifax is hilly, and Dyer writes: 'By gentle steps / Up-rais'd, from room to room we slowly walk' (263-4), which may suggest that the workhouse is itself 'stepped', built on a slope as many Halifax buildings were. (7) Another interesting detail is the description of 'Eliza's image' (l. 263), high above the gates, i.e. an image of Queen Elizabeth I set above the entrance to the workhouse. It was the Elizabethan Poor Law of1601 that paved the way for the establishment of some of the earliest workhouses and (with some further legislation) held sway until the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834. (8)
That Dyer is describing a real workhouse, and describing it from first-hand experience, is very strongly suggested by internal evidence, notably the topographic referencing and the indirect quoting of the overseer ('One, intent' who 'O'erlooks the work, 297-8). Although Dyer's biographers do not record a trip to Yorkshire, the poet travelled the country widely both as an itinerant painter and to collect materials both for The Fleece and for its forerunner, Dyer's unpublished 'Commercial Map of England'. Our knowledge of his movements is by no means comprehensive. There are other references to Yorkshire in the poem. At I, 368, Dyer writes that the 'Brigantes'--his latinate mytho-topographical term for the people of Yorkshire, in this instance shepherds--rub the skins of sheep with oil to keep off flies in summer. At I, 556-7 he advises his shepherds to obtain their shears from the 'sounding caves / Of high Brigantium, which he glosses as 'the forges of Sheffield in Yorkshire, where the shepherd's shears and all edge-tools are made'.
Yorkshire is not one of the counties for which Dyer's notes towards his 'Commercial Map' survive; but in his 'Discourse' on the map Dyer observes:
how Leeds, Huthersfield, Halifax <del. Rotherham> &c, lie in a homely Northern Countrey, among Steep Hills and Dales, unfit for Sports and Races, unfrequented undisturbed by the great and Polite; yet among navigable Rivers, and Veins of Coal and Pasturage and flocks of Sheep affording <del. suitable Wool to the most common and useful of their manufactures> no small quantity of that kind of Wool w[hi]ch is Suitable to the most common and useful of their Manufactures. (9)
The workhouse passage from The Fleece led, we saw, into a description of Leeds, a passage that gives further information on the trade of the river Aire, and moves into a description of the wholesale selling of wool (III, 340-48):
Lo! in throngs, For every realm, the careful factors meet, Whispering each other. In long ranks the bales, Like War's bright files, beyond the sight extend. Straight, ere the sounding bell the signal strikes, Which ends the hour of traffic, they conclude The speedy compact; and, well-pleas'd transfer, With mutual benefit, superior wealth To many a kingdom's rent, or tyrant's hoard.
This closely follows Defoe's detailed description of the cloth-market in Briggate, Leeds, (10) including the closing bell, the array of goods, the international buyers and the whispered transactions, and indicates that here, at least, Dyer's information on Yorkshire owed much to earlier sources. So his presumed visit to Yorkshire was clearly supplemented by information from other travellers.
Nevertheless Herbert Heaton, in his standard history of the Yorkshire textile industry (1920), felt confident enough to write of this passage in The Fleece, without citing further evidence, that 'the finest description of a charitable mill comes from the pen of John Dyer, who certainly knew Yorkshire very well'. (11) An important source for Heaton, the passage under discussion has also been drawn on extensively by other textile and industrial historians. (12) Heaton quotes the workhouse description (13) and cites or quotes the poet as a historical source on wool smuggling, fraudulent practices in wool-selling, sorting wool, setting up the warp, weaving broad-cloths, and fulling. (14) In his history of the woollen industry Lipson (1921) cites Dyer on combing wool, sorting, distaff spinning, weaving and fulling; on Paul's spinning machine, on encouraging the spinners, and on the broad loom. (15) In his account of early inventions in the textile industry Walter English (1969) quotes Dyer on hand-spinning, quotes and discusses the description of Paul's spinning machine, and quotes Dyer on warping. (16) His later article on Paul's spinning machine (1973) again quotes and discusses in some detail Dyer's description of the machine. (17) Introducing a reprint of Baines's Account of the Woollen Manufacture of England (1875), Ponting quotes Dyer's description of Paul's spinning machine, and his carding machine, noting that they suggest Dyer had seen these. (18) In his history of early
textile manufacture in England Kerridge (1985) uses Dyer extensively as a source for the eighteenth-century textile industry, quoting the poet on the significance of English combing wool, outdoor spinning, and again Paul's spinning machine. (19) He also cites Dyer on Flemish women as sorters, on woad, logwood, alum, gall-nuts, sumach, cochineal and weld as dyes, on 'double-wheel' hand spinning, and on loom construction. (20)
Richard M. Swiderski in his history of anthrax quotes six lines from Dyer on sorting the different types of wool in a fleece, a tiny detail with (in this instance) an unexpected importance. (21) Deborah Valenze in her account of 'The First Industrial Woman', makes use of Dyer's description of the workings of Paul's spinning machine to show how 'women's work' was being industrialised. (22) Finally, in her two assessments of industrial literature Kovacevic notes the significance of Dyer's description of Paul's 'epochal' invention, and especially the fact that the poet seems to be ahead of history in them. (23)
By contrast to this rich historical mining of the poem few of Dyer's major critics and editors makes any significant comment on the passage in question, and little on any of the industrial material. (24) The literary-critical silence is broken only by one serious discussion of the workhouse passage, a recent and beautifully nuanced examination of georgic ideals and motifs in the passage by David Fairer. (25) This intervention, by the subtlest critic working on eighteenth-century poetry today, is certainly a welcome development. Otherwise, Dyer has been used only as a source of specialised historical information, and he has been taken fairly seriously in these terms. What, then, is the value of Dyer's description of the workhouse? Firstly, although the evidence strongly indicates that Dyer is describing a 'real' workhouse, we cannot be absolutely certain about this, so that what follows is necessarily speculative. But if, as I have argued, Dyer's topographical referencing points most obviously to Halifax, and if this is where his workhouse was, then it is likeliest to have been the one established by Nathaniel Waterhouse (1586-1645) and given official status by Charles I under the terms of a royal charter dated 14 September 1635. (26) Waterhouse (whose charitable trusts still exist) owned extensive property and set up a large network of related charitable concerns in his lifetime and through his will, in different areas of the town. They included almshouses, an orphanage/ bluecoat school, and the workhouse; and they have gone through a number of physical and organisational changes over four centuries. The original workhouse was situated at 7 Upper Kirkgate, near the parish church. (27)
The 1896 Government report on the Charities of Halifax summarises the history of Waterhouse's charitable establishments. In 1635 the workhouse was incorporated and given a Master and Governors; by his will of 1642 Waterhouse left his lands and properties with sixteen trustees, who were instructed to set up a number of charitable institutions. Of these, one is of possible interest here: this is a plan for 'a house with the appurtenances in Halifax' including 'bed rooms and working rooms, for ten boys and ten girls': a bluecoat school. The trustees 'should choose the overseer of the workhouse to be overseer and master of the twenty children'. The children so chosen were to be full orphans; and they were to be 'taken into the house at the age of six years, and there kept at work ... till they should accomplish the age of thirteen or fourteen years'. Their 'work' is officially 'training up and teaching ... in such employment and work as they should be most apt for'; but since the overseer is permitted to 'take the gains which he could make of the reasonable service of the children' it looks very much as if they are working rather than studying or training. These may be Dyer's 'younger hands' who 'Warble together as a choir of larks' (III, 281, 284) as they sort wool, flax and hemp. (The work Dyer describes all takes place in one extended set of rooms, divided for different purposes, so this would mean the bluecoat orphans were being worked alongside adult paupers, presumably in the workhouse rather than the school).
The management of the workhouse itself seems to have gone astray. A commission in 1719 found it had been 'misemployed, and the rents and profits ... misconverted, and divers other abuses committed in the trust', and the commission therefore dismissed the trustees and rechannelled the 'rents and profits'. The Commissioners of Pious Uses in 1749 broadened the scope of the workhouse, giving its management draconian powers over the poor in a much wider area than Halifax itself. Dyer's visit may have taken place either before or after this change; no further change to the workhouse occurred in his lifetime. (28)
As for the work carried out in the workhouse, the primary activity was the spinning of wool taken in from clothiers, either done on the premises by paupers, or farmed out to workers who had sufficient equipment to do it at home. (29) This is less diverse than the work Dyer describes, which covers several stages in the processing of textiles. His account of dyeing (III, 287-91) reminds us that Waterhouse had made his money, as Wright records, in the role of 'a Salter or Oyl-drawer [whose business] consisted chiefly of selling Oyl and dying goods to the Clothiers and Dyers'. (30) Through the terms of his will and his direct involvement in management in the last three years of his life (after the will was written) Waterhouse stamped his own character on the workhouse and other charitable entities, which may have contributed to the establishment of wool-dyeing as part of the workhouse's activities.
There is of course a considerable degree of speculation here: were my proposed identification of Dyer's workhouse more strongly evidenced it would give the description considerable local significance. The fact that Dyer himself fails to identify the precise location of the workhouse raises questions about the relationship between georgic poetry and historical fact. It cannot be ruled out that Dyer might be combining elements from different sources (as he does, for example, in describing an idealised 'Silurian' sheep, in Book I of the poem). (31) He could have seen Lewis Paul's spinning machine in action in Birmingham, where there was such a machine in operation. (Dyer lived in nearby Worcester in the 1730s.) (32) I do not think he did so, however. There is an individualised element in his description of the Yorkshire workhouse, with its knowledgeable overseer, visionary scale, sense of movement, and visual details, although one's sense of this, as a reader, depends partly on aesthetics and poetry rather than verifiable historical fact. As a poet, Dyer could quite legitimately be blending elements from different sources.
This query over the specificity of Dyer's description qualifies the nature of the historical information he offers, but should not necessarily detract from its larger significance. There were very few factory-type textile-processing centres of any sort in 1757 when the poem was published; and a mere handful which could have contained working examples of Paul's spinning machine (first patented in 1738). (33) In this sense it is a 'historic' description, wherever its location may be. Of course there are other ways of establishing the nature of the machine (not least its extant patent, quoted below); but there is no other early description of it in action, or of a working factory with the new machines in operation and people at work around them, as might be experienced by an observant visitor.
The description's historical significance is, however, also necessarily literary: this is a poet's-eye view. To get a sense of what this means, we might compare Dyer's description of the spinning machine with the description in Lewis Paul's patent itself (very full by normal standards). The patent reads, in part:
The said Machine, Engine, or Invention will spin Wooll or Cotton into Thread, yarn or worsted, which, before it is placed therein, must be first prepared .... The Wooll or Cotton being thus prepared, one end of the Mass, Rope Thread, or Sliver, is put betwixt a pair or Rowlers, Cillinders, or Cones, or some such movements, which, being twined round by their motion, draws in the Raw Mass of Wooll or Cotton to be spun, in proportion to the velocity given to such Rowlers, Cillinders, or Cones: as the prepared mass passes regularly through or betwixt these Rowlers, Cillinders, or Cones, a succession of OTHER ROWLERS, Cillinders, or Cones MOVEING PROPORTIONABLY FASTER THAN THE FIRST, draw the Rope, Thread, or Sliver, into any degree of fineness which may be required: sometimes these successive Rowlers, Cillinders, or Cones (but not the first) have another Rotation besides that which diminishes the Thread, yarn, or worsted, (viz.) that they give it a small degree of Twist betwixt each pair, by means of the Thread itself passing through the axis and center of that Rotation. In some other cases only the first pair of Rowlers, Cillinders, or Cones are used, and then the Bobbyn, spole, or quill upon which the Thread, Yarn, or Worsted, is spun, is so contrived as to draw faster than the first Rowlers, Cillinders, or Cones give, and in such proportion to be diminished. (34)
Dyer, as we saw, described this as:
A circular machine, of new design, In conic shape: it draws and spins a thread Without the tedious toil of needless hands. A wheel, invisible, beneath the floor, To every member of th'harmonious frame Gives necessary motion. One, intent, O'erlooks the work: the carded wool, he says, Is smoothly lapp'd around those cylinders, Which, gently turning, yield it to yon' cirque Of upright spindles, which with rapid whirl Spin out, in long extent, an even twine. (III, 292-302)
Clearly the purposes of these texts are different. Paul (or more probably his legal advisor) uses a specialised style and offers a technical description designed to explain the precise workings of the machine and include all variables (to protect his rights to the invention), whereas Dyer has free rein and can use the open-endedness of his blank verse to select and focus on particular elements. A thoughtful historian might want to consider both sources: but perhaps for slightly different reasons. Paul's description shows precisely how the machine worked, and what it was capable of. One imagines that an industrial archaeologist or a practically-minded historian might be able to reconstruct the machine, or something very like it, from this account. In his poem, Dyer gives an overview that combines significant detail with a strong sense of purpose. He is observant; trained as a painter by Jonathan Richardson, he shows great skill throughout The Fleece at selecting significant visual details, and here his points of emphasis are painterly. (35) He selects the shapes of cone, cylinder and wheel in a way that suggests the artist's eye for composition. But the industrial visionary and the scrupulous recorder of facts are also present. Dyer pinpoints the machine's major significance--that it works 'Without the tedious toil of needless hands'; and he intelligently draws on the overseer's account of the machine's workings, recognising a good clear explanation when he hears one. It is, as Heaton notes, a 'fine description' in more ways than one.
This is made especially clear, I think, in Deborah Valenze's brief analysis of The Fleece, in a chapter called 'The Quarrel with Women's Work'. Valenze describes the poem as being inspired by a 'powerful combination' of 'Baconian optimism, national pride, and economic success'. She focuses on the description of Paul's spinning machine in the workhouse passage, finding in it evidence of a new enthusiasm for the 'potential for a fantastic multiplication of productivity' brought by the new technologies. (36) It is also held to display evidence of male triumphalism in its gender politics, which Valenze discovers by paying careful attention to Dyer's phraseology. What Dyer calls the 'tedious toil of needless hands' is the female work of handspinning, which the new machine seems to eclipse. Valenze notes the centralised power of the male overseer, the 'One, intent', who now controls the machinemanufacture. He is notably articulate in explaining the workings of the machine, a rationalising spokesman for the eighteenth-century project of harnessing scientific advance to economic productivity. (37)
Valenze writes as a historian, but her analysis uses literary critical techniques; for example her interesting observation that in Dyer's description Paul's machine 'takes on the qualities of the Newtonian solar system', perhaps a fanciful one, but it fits neatly enough with the picture Dyer gives of science and knowledge harnessed to machine productivity. (38) One might also focus on the 'georgic' ideology embodied here: the machine is among other things the ideal georgic device, 'harmoniously' extracting labour from the labourer, through the 'invisible' wheel that drives it, in the same way that, for critics such as John Barrell and Raymond Williams, the passive constructions of georgic poetry itself do; in both cases the worker is reduced to a neutral figure, observed from above by a controlling overseer. (39) These ideological viewpoints are readily available in Dyer's description, which works in ways that both the historian and the literary critic can value.
What conclusions, then, should we draw from Dyer's description of the workhouse? Firstly, most strikingly, that Dyer is directly engaging with contemporary history, and doing so in a way that suggests a keen awareness of major developments. Paul's was an important early machine, patented thirty-one years before Arkwright's more famous invention, and clearly of great significance as a prototype for the later developments in textile-processing machinery, on the success of which the Industrial Revolution was based. (40) In historical terms, Dyer's enthusiasm for the machine is well-founded.
This, we might note, cannot easily be reconciled with the familiar literary- historical model of what John Sitter called the 'flight from history' in mid-eighteenth century poetry. (41) Dyer is clearly in tune with developments in textile manufacture, and in fact we have evidence that he is also in tune with (sometimes even ahead of) historical developments in other fields. In his surviving prose notes, as well as in The Fleece, Dyer makes significant and often pioneering comments on such subjects as canal building, veterinary practice and animal breeding. (42) His abandoned 'Commercial Map of England' project incorporates important work on cartography, and the surviving manuscripts are a valuable historical resource, albeit one as yet unused by historians. (43) As well as engaging with history in the sense of keeping up with new inventions and developments, Dyer also engages with the other, antiquarian kind of 'history'. In his last years at Coningsby, Lincolnshire, for example, he discovered two Roman encampments in the grounds of Tattershall Park, and his account of them was thought significant enough to be included in the 1789 edition of Camden's Britannia. (44)
Looking more broadly at the description of the workhouse, however, one grows uneasier about Dyer's role as a historical witness. We are nowadays accustomed to seeing history to a great extent 'from below', and in this respect Dyer's account of the workhouse fails dismally for the modern reader. One can understand his enthusiasm for the innovative factory-type organisation of the work. In the case of something like his description of 'Busy Leeds, up-wafting to the clouds / The incense of thanksgiving' (III, 309-10), we have centuries of hindsight and industrial pollution to make his idealism seem misplaced, but can still understand how such idealism may have seemed credible at this early moment in the Industrial Revolution. The workhouse's organisation is a different matter. If the workhouse is the one I think it is--which will in any case serve as a suitable example of how they may often have been organised in the early period of their existence--we know a little about its regime. The working hours were long--from 6 a.m. in winter (5 a.m. in summer) to 8 p.m., with halfan hour for breakfast and an hour for dinner. Discipline was draconian: in the first three years after 1635, for example, some seventy men and women were whipped, for reasons that ranged from 'scolding' to 'begging', and from 'idleness' to 'spoiling work'. Its powers not only over its inmates, but over the 'paupers' of Halifax, were enormous. It could effectively discipline or press anyone it wished to, and in the early years clearly held a reign of civic terror. For example:
George Birkhead, who confessed that he had wandered and rogued up and down for four years was whipped in the Workhouse and then set to work. Isabel Cowburne and Alice Wood, two of the poor in the Workhouse, were there whipped for scolding. John Eagland whipped for begging wool. Ann Godson, found by the privy watch in the house of Bridget Waddington, a suspected tipling house, about eleven o'clock on the night of Feb 13 1635-6, was ordered to be whipped because she was a vagrant and could not give an account of her living.
As with all tyrannies, it would not be spoken against. On 13 July 1636:
Susan, the wife ofJohn Brooksbank, was ordered to remain and be employed in the Workhouse till she find sureties for appearing at the next session, and in the meantime to be of good behaviour for speaking words to the effect of following, viz: That she wished the Workhouse on fire and all that is in it, for there were none that belonged to it but bankrupts, etc. (45)
Others doubtless kept such feelings to themselves, though the traditional saying of my heading quotation, 'From Hell, Hull and Halifax / Good Lord, deliver us!' casts light on the popular estimate of the town's harsh treatment of criminals and of the poor.
Dyer's comforting interpretation of the press-ganging part of the operation, in phrases such as 'kind constraint' and 'charitable rigour' (III, 235, 248), is naive, and he seems impervious to the corruption and brutality of the workhouse system. This suggests that he sees the workhouse from the point of view of a visitor, and through the spectacles of an 'improving' mentality. Between them these facts place important limits on how far we can trust his description, on its value as interpretative history, and even as descriptive history. Dyer believes, for example, that the children are singing from the 'joy' which 'arises in the mind employ'd' (III, 285). I would think it likelier that their singing has to do with getting through the labour and the day, operating as a rhythmic stimulant to make the monotony of the work bearable, as it familiarly did among slaves or among gangs of working sailors. Joy is not suggested by anything that we can establish through external evidence: fatigue and fear seem likelier responses to such a regime. We need to be aware that what we read here is only one version of history. Taken on its own it would be distorting and inadequate. (46)
Secondly, perhaps unsurprisingly, we have seen in this example that we cannot really separate 'poetry' from 'history'. The poetry resides in the way Dyer describes the scene in a compositional way; and in the vision of harmony which emerges, not only in his description of the machine, but in his utopian vision of the 'spacious dome' that houses it, in which various forms of productive labour seem magically to work together. Because the descriptive and visionary work go together, two kinds of history emerge: the first an observational kind, a 'first hand account'; the second a summarising kind, which presents an overview, selecting what is significant, and more open, as I think we have seen, to ideological pressures. Both these kinds of history, of course, may be available in other forms--in prose accounts, or technical sources such as the patent quoted earlier. But I would suggest that it is the fact that Dyer is writing poetry that enables him to compress both kinds of 'history' so successfully into this short passage, and makes it, as Heaton says, the 'finest' extant description of its subject. Historians differ on the value of 'literary' sources: some draw on them extensively, even uncritically; others sceptically doubt their value. A case cannot be proved on one example, but Dyer's workhouse would seem to suggest that certain kinds of literature--in this instance the georgic poem--may be potentially valuable as historical sources. And this may work the other way round. If a poem is a useful historical source because of--rather than in spite of--the fact that it is a poem, then an assessment of its value as a poem can hardly be made without reference to it as a historical document. Some of the more recent accounts of The Fleece seem to acknowledge this, emphasising its role in the construction of imperial and patriotic ideologies. (47) The poem offers a valuable insight into these larger historical perspectives, and illuminates the specific, often neglected, local details from which Dyer, with his painterly eye and moralising turn of mind, constructs them.
John Goodridge Nottingham Trent University
(1) Quoted from The Beggar's Litany in Herbert Heaton, The Yorkshire Woollen and Worsted Industries (Oxford, 1920), p. 395.
(2) The research for this essay was begun during my tenure as Lord Adams Research Fellow at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne and revised and completed during research leave from Nottingham Trent University. I am grateful to the Fellowships and Studentships Committee at Newcastle and the English Research Group at Nottingham Trent. Thanks are also due to Bill Speck and his Eighteenth-Century Research Seminar at Nottingham University, my sister Meggie and my mother Gill Goodridge for help with the Halifax research, P. Sewell of the West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale, for information on the Waterhouse Charities and Halifax workhouses, Chris Aspin for information on Lewis Paul's spinning machine, and the Dean and Chapter Library, Durham University, for permission to quote from Dyer's unpublished manuscripts. Tim Burke, David Fairer, Tim Fulford, Gill Goodridge, Juan Pellicer and Alison Ramsden kindly read and commented on the typescript. The essay necessarily contains some points first made in my book on Rural Life in Eighteenth Century English Poetry (Cambridge, 1995).
(3) A. D. Harvey, 'First Public Reactions to the Industrial Revolution', Etudes Anglaises, 31 (1978), 273-93 (277). For comparable early poetic descriptions of manufacturing districts see Ivanka Kovacevic, 'The Mechanical Muse: the Impact of Technical Inventions on Eighteenth Century Neoclassical Poetry', Huntington Library Quarterly, 28 (1965), 263-81, and Fact into Fiction: English Literature and the Industrial Scene 1750-1850 (Leicester and Belgrade, 1975), pp. 19-23.
(4) The Halifax workhouse was designed to take in individuals from Halifax and from nine adjacent 'towns within the parish', i.e. parts of the wider Halifax area (Crabtree); from 1777 each of these 'townships' would be required to 'support their own poor' (Clayton). It therefore seems unlikely though not impossible that there were other factory-style workhouses in the area when Dyer visited, probably in the late 1740s or early 1750s. See John Crabtree, A Concise History of the Parish and Vicarage of Halifax in the County of York (Halifax and London, 1837), pp. 157-8; John Clayton, 'A History of the Waterhouse Charity, Halifax' (unpublished MA dissertation, University of Leeds, 1943), pp. 52-3.
(5) Daniel Defoe, A Tour Thro'the Whole Island ofGreat Britain [1724-25], ed. G. D. H. Cole (London, 1968), II, p. 600.
(6) T. W. Hanson, The Story ofOld Halifax  (Wakefield, 1968), p. 145.
(7) A photograph of the 'Waterhouse Homes' which in 1965 were built on the site of the Bluecoat School shows a 'stepped' roof of this type. See Rayner Hardcastle, 'Charity Pioneer's Historic Work goes on, Halifax Evening Courier, 8 December 1989.
(8) This is greatly to simplify. For a nuanced account of the treatment and experience of the poor see Lorie Charlesworth, Welfare's Forgotten Past: A Socio-Legal History of the Poor Law (Abingdon, 2010).
(9) John Dyer, unpublished manuscript notes and plan for a 'Commercial Map ofEngland' and related materials, Longstaffe MSS, Dean and Chapter Library, Durham, f. 46.
(10) Defoe, Tour, II, pp. 611-13.
(11) Heaton, The Yorkshire Woollen and Worsted Industries, p. 355.
(12) Walter English, The Textile Industry: An Account of the Early Inventions of Spinning, Weaving and Knitting Machines (London and Harlow, 1969), p. 40, and 'A Technical Assessment of Lewis Paul's Spinning Machine, Textile History, 4, (1973), 68-83 (80-2); Eric Kerridge, Textile Manufactures in Early Modern England (Manchester, 1985), p. 170; Kovacevic, 'Mechanical Muse, 270-1 and Fact into Fiction, p. 21; E[phraim] Lipson, The History of the Woollen and Worsted Industries (London, 1921), pp. 147-8; K. G. Ponting, Introduction to Baines's Account of the Woollen Manufacture ofEngland (Newton Abbot, 1970), p. 58, note 28. All citations to The Fleece given by English, Heaton, Kerridge, Lipson, Ponting and Swiderski are either incomplete or inaccurate, and I have corrected them for the record in the references given below.
(13) Heaton, pp. 354-6, conflating The Fleece, III, 259, 261, 263-9, 275-7 and quoting 291-6.
(14) Heaton, p. 324, citing The Fleece, II, 455 (smuggling); p. 331, note 1, quoting The Fleece, II, 110-14 (fraud); p. 332, quoting II, 72-4 and 83-6 (sorting); p. 339, quoting II, 131-4 (setting up); p. 340, quoting III, 147-52 ( (fulling).
(15) Lipson, p. 92, citing The Fleece, II, 443-5 (combing); p. 129, citing II, 72-5 and 83-5 (sorting); p. 133, citing III, 67-9 (spinning); p. 137, citing III, 131-9 ( weaving); p. 140, citing III, 161-6 (fulling); p. 147, citing III, 291-301 (Paul); p. 180, citing III, 86-7 (spinners); p. 182, citing III, 147-8 (broad loom).
(16) English, Textile Industry, p. 1, quoting The Fleece, III, 67-9 (hand spinning); p. 40, quoting III, 292-302 (mis-quoting 'twine' as 'turne' in 302) (Paul); p. 99, quoting III, 131-2 (warping).
(17) English, 'Technical Assessment, pp. 80-2.
(18) Ponting, Introduction to Baines's Woollen Manufacture, p. 58, note 28, quoting The Fleece, III, 79-85.
(19) Kerridge, pp. 150 and 316, note 83, quoting The Fleece, III, 134-41 (combing); pp. 159 and 320, note 184, quoting III, 67-73 (outdoors); pp. 170 and 327, note 8, quoting III, 292-302 (Paul).
(20) Kerridge, pp. 148 and 316, note 68, citing The Fleece, II, 75-85 (sorters); pp. 166 and 324, notes 45 and 48, citing II, 600-5 (woad); pp. 167 and 325, note 53, citing III, 188-9 (dyes); pp. 167 and 325, note 56, citing II, 590 and III, 189 (cochineal); pp. 167 and 326, note 60, citing III, 188 (weld); pp. 169 and 327, note 1, citing III, 65-7 (hand spinning); pp. 174 and 328, note 27, citing III, 100-20 and 117-18 (looms).
(21) Richard M. Swiderski, Anthrax, a History (Jefferson, NC, 2004), pp. 14-15, quoting II, 72-4 and 83-85 (silently merged; first word ofline 85 omitted). According to Swiderski the wool-sorting process may have helped to spread anthrax.
(22) Deborah Valenze, The First Industrial Woman (Oxford, 1995), pp. 77-8 (see also pp. 68 and 70), quoting and discussing III, 292-7 and 297-302.
(23) Kovacevic, 'Mechanical Muse' 270-1 and Fact into Fiction, p. 21.
(24) But see Eighteenth-Century Poetry: An Annotated Anthology (Oxford, 1999, 2nd edn 2004), whose editors, David Fairer and Christine Gerrard, annotate the passage usefully and summarise some of the conclusions made in the present essay; also The Fleece, ed. John Goodridge and Juan Christian Pellicer (Cheltenham, 2007), pp. 159-60. Fairer discusses the passage briefly in his English Poetry of the Eighteenth Century 1700-1789 (London, 2003), pp. 98-99 (see note 37).
(25) David Fairer, '"Where Fuming Trees Refresh the Thirsty Air": The World of Eco-Georgic' SECC, 40 (2011), 201-18.
(26) Thomas Wright, The Antiquities of the Town of Halifax in Yorkshire (Leeds, 1738), pp. 115-17.
(27) Hanson, Story, p. 134; Alan Betteridge, 'Halifax before the Industrial Revolution: A Study of Local Administrative Records 1585-1762', Transactions of the Halifax Antiquarian Society (1979), p. 86. See also the useful summaries and extracts on these web pages: http ://www.calderdale.gov.uk/wtw/sources/themes/socwelfare.html; http://free pages.history.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~calderdalecompanion/mmh55.html.
(28) Report on the Charities of the Parish of Halifax of the Commissioners (London, 1896), pp. 1-3. Frederick Morton Eden's The State of the Poor; or, An History of the Labouring Classes in England, from the Conquest to the Present Period (London, 1797) states that there are now 89 paupers in the workhouse, of whom the women and children spin worsted, and some of the men are employed in the town at 15 shillings a week (III, pp. 820-1).
(29) Betteridge, 'Halifax before the Industrial Revolution' 85.
(30) Wright, Antiquities, pp. 115-16. The Royal Charter of 1635, incorporating the Workhouse is in the Bankhead Museum, Halifax (copy in Halifax Reference Library, MS Misc: 5/96a/1). There is a copy of a petition to Parliament by parishioners, related to the Waterhouse Charities, dated 1 August 1776, in Halifax Reference Library (MS Misc: 5/96a/4). See also John Watson, The History of the Antiquities of the Parish of Halifax in Yorkshire (London, 1775); Crabtree, Concise History, pp. 157-73; TW. Hanson, 'The Minutes of Halifax Workhouse 1635 to 1704', Papers and Reports of Halifax Antiquarian Society (1921), 77-83.
(31) John Goodridge, Rural Life in Eighteenth-Century English Poetry (Cambridge, 1995), pp. 138-43.
(32) Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 'Paul, Lewis (d. 1759), textile innovator'; Edward Baines, The History of the Cotton Manufacture in Great Britain , 2nd edn (London, 1966), pp. 119-21; Ponting, Introduction to Baines, Woollen Manufacture, pp. 40-1; Kerridge, pp. 170-1; Lipson, pp. 145-9.
(33) I have been unable to establish a link between Dyer's description of Paul's machine and the activities of the most prominent proto-industrial textile magnate in the area at this period, Samuel Hill (1677-1759) of Making Place, Soyland, Halifax. But the facts are suggestive, and it seems probable Dyer would have sought out this hugely successful progressive manufacturer. Hill ran his business in Calderdale from 1706 to 1759, exporting shalloons, bays and kerseys to Belgium, Germany and Russia. This is precisely the route Dyer follows in the opening lines of Book IV of The Fleece. In 1747 Hill turned over 35,500, [pounds sterling] and claimed to have exported 1,200 bales of cloth to St Petersburg in a single year. See Some Aspects of the Eighteenth Century Woollen and Worsted Trade in Halifax: The Letter Books of Joseph Holroyd, cloth-factor, and Sam Hill, clothier, edited by Frank Atkinson (Halifax, 1956).
(34) Paul's patent, as reproduced in Baines, Cotton Manufacture, pp. 122-3.
(35) J. G. E. Davies, 'An Edition of the Poetical Works of John Dyer' (unpublished M.A. thesis, University of Wales, Aberystwyth, 1968), p. 81, concludes his Introduction to the poem, 'Ultimately the achievement of The Fleece, like that of his other major works, is Dyer's pictorial talent'. Other critics have also noted the poet's visual skill, and it is sometimes suggested that the perceptual and compositional skills he had learned as a painter found their best means of expression in his poetry.
(36) Valenze, The First Industrial Woman, pp. 77-78.
(37) Valenze's reading over-simplifies Dyer's position, however: earlier in Book III he reassures the women spinners, who are understandably angry about the possibility of being made redundant, that their 'hands will ever find / Ample employment' (III, 89-90). Perhaps such blandishments are disingenuous, but Dyer does not accept that the machine must eclipse the hand-spinner, and he wants the ancient technique to co-exist with the modern, a good example of the conflict in eighteenth-century georgic between conservative and progressive impulses. On Dyer's conflicted vision see especially Richard Feingold, Nature and Society: Later Eighteenth-Century Uses of the Pastoral and the Georgic (Brighton, 1978), pp. 1-17 and 83-119.
(38) Valenze, The First Industrial Woman, pp. 77-78. David Fairer also sees the description as Newtonian, but via Thomson: 'A solitary worker indicates yon cirque as if pointing up to the heavens, and we notice how this new system of necessary motion has been naturalised in georgic fashion, unproblematically fitted into James Thomson's vocabulary of Newtonian providence--only here the harmonious frame is made of wood and metal.' (English Poetry of the Eighteenth Century, pp. 98-9).
(39) Raymond Williams, The Country and the City (London, 1973); John Barrell, English Literature in History 1730-80: An Equal Wide Survey (London, 1983).
(40) Kovacevic, 'Mechanical Muse', 270. See also Lipson, p. 146.
(41) See John Sitter, Literary Loneliness in Mid-Eighteenth-Century England (Ithaca and London, 1982), pp. 77-103.
(42) For Dyer on sheep-breeding and veterinary practice see my Rural Life in EighteenthCentury English Poetry, chapters 7 and 9; on his discussion of technological developments see pp. 137 and 204.
(43) On the 'Commercial Map' materials see John Barrell's 'Afterword' to The Country and the City Revisited: England and the Politics of Culture, c. 1580-1850, ed. Gerald Maclean, Donna Landry and Joseph P. Ward (Cambridge, 1998), pp. 231-50 (238-45).
(44) See E. G. R. Taylor, 'Cartography, Survey and Navigation 1400-1750', in Charles Singer et al, A History of Technology, III. From the Renaissance to the Industrial Revolution, c. 1500-c. 1750 (Oxford, 1957), pp. 530-7; Ralph M. Williams, Poet, Painter and Parson: the Life of John Dyer (New York, 1956), pp. 98-101, 128 and note; William Camden, Britannia: or, a chorographical description of theflourishing kingdoms of England, Scotland, Ireland, and the islands adjacent, from the earliest antiquity, translated from the edition published by the author in 1607, enlarged by the latest discoveries, by Richard Gough (2nd edition, London, 1806), II, p. 279.
(45) Hanson, 'Minutes of Halifax Workhouse', pp. 78-9, drawing on the minute-book of Waterhouse's workhouse. It is not clear from the context whether Susan Brockbank's phrase 'bankrupts' refers to the overseers or fellow inmates.
(46) Some of Dyer's contemporaries agreed with his view that workhouses were benevolent and progressive. See, for example, Nathan Drake's account of the poem in Literary Hours, or, Sketches Critical and Narrative (2nd edition, corrected and enlarged, Sudbury, 1800), I, p. 241 (No. XIII). Dyer also anticipates Andrew Ure's sustained defence of the cotton factory system, particularly on the supposed healthiness and social good of mechanised industrial work for children: see Ure's The Philosophy of Manufactures: Or, an Exposition of the Scientific, Moral and Commercial Economy of the Factory System of Great Britain (London, 1835), esp. pp. 288-322, 349-52, 357-63, 389-411. Ure does not cite Dyer, but interestingly appeals to the authority of two slightly later, famously contrasting poetical accounts of rural life, Goldsmith's The Deserted Village (1770) and George Crabbe's The Village (1783). Those who 'lately declaimed so loudly about the inmates of factories being universally victims of oppression, misery, and vice' might have examined more carefully the nonindustrial alternatives and 'ascertained very soon whether Goldsmith's Auburn or Crabbe's Village, reflected the truest picture of their country's pride; and by inspecting thereafter a prosperous factory village, they might have discovered whether the town was staining the country or the country the town' (pp. 353-4). Like Dyer, Ure sees regulated industrial employment as an antidote to 'reckless idleness and profligacy' (p. 257).
(47) Suvir Kaul, Poems of Nation, Anthems of Empire: English Verse in the Long Eighteenth Century (Charlottesville and London, 2000), pp. 219-29; Dustin Griffin, Patriotism and Poetry in Eighteenth-Century England (Cambridge, 2002), pp. 180-204.
Address for Correspondence
Professor John Goodridge, School of Arts and Humanities, Nottingham Trent University, Clifton Lane, Nottingham NG11 8NS.
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|Publication:||Literature & History|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2012|
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