DH Lawrence was a master of dialect. His plays, novels and poetry captured the rawness of mining communities with such precision, it frightened the life out of middle class Edwardian critics. As part of a BBC Radio 4 series Tongue and Talk: Dialect Poets, I’ll be visiting Lawrence’s childhood home Breach House, and exploring ‘pit talk’ and the Nottingham accent with various poets and musicians.
Like DH Lawrence, I grew up in a mining village. Whereas he was born north east of Nottingham in Eastwood, I was raised in Cotgrave, five miles south east of the city centre. Cotgrave derives from an Old English personal name, Cotta, + grāf, (grove or copse). So over time we went from ‘Cotta’s grove’ to the more sinister Cotgrave. Our respective divides across the city also influence the way we speak and use dialect, even though we might be referring to the same word. This is best illustrated by the commonly used word ‘mardy’. I pronounce this ‘mardeh’ using what Al Needham calls the south Notts ‘eh’ or ‘ah’. Living on the Derbyshire border, Lawrence would have experienced the trimming off of syllables, shortening it to mard as in ‘Eh, tha’rt a mard-arsed kid’ a famous line from his poem The Collier’s Wife.
Mardy is a brilliant word. It means sulky, as in a badly behaved child, and is used throughout the East Midlands as well as parts of Sheffield and Yorkshire. However, it can also mean non cooperative, bad tempered or terse in communication, attributes we can definitely associate with DH Lawrence. In 2017 Toby Campion selected it as his word for Leicester as part of the Free the Word campaign.
Lawrence came from a family of coal miners. His father, Arthur, worked as a butty. The butty was popular during the early part of the nineteenth century when the coal miners were not directly employed by the owners. The butty acted as a contractor, putting together a team to mine coal at an agreed price per ton. I had a slightly different experience growing up. My mother was a typist and my stepfather was a manager of a company in Mansfield. But in the eyes of the locals, anyone who didn’t work down the pit was a ‘posho’. Therefore we were fair game for the occasional kicking. These were rough times, particularly during the Strike of 84. Like Lawrence, I couldn’t wait to escape.
Lawrence would vividly capture life growing up in a mining community in novels such as Sons and Lovers, his Eastwood trilogy of plays, and dialect poetry such as The Collier’s Wife. I’ve done this through a BBC Radio 4 series called Tongue and Talk: The Dialect Poets. In episode 2, broadcast on Sunday 20 May at 4.30pm, I’ll be exploring the Notts dialect and the ‘pit talk’ of mining communities.
One of the guests on the programme is David Amos, an eight generation miner and fellow member of the DH Lawrence Society. David has been working as a research assistant with Natalie Braber at Nottingham Trent University on mining heritage projects. He invited me to attend a rehearsal for Songs and Rhymes from the Mines as part of the Nottingham Poetry Festival. Bill Kerry III told me he had discovered that his grandfather had worked down Ormonde Colliery at the same time as Owen Watson, author of Strong I’th’ Arm – The Rhymes of a Marlpool Miner (1975) and so he’s turning his poems into folk songs to make them accessible to new generations. Meanwhile Al Rate (who also uses the pseudonym Misk Hills) has penned some new songs inspired by pit talk, introducing new generations to words such as ‘powder monkey’. This was the poor bogger who had to set off the explosives down the mine. Such songs are a reminder of how dangerous life was down the pit, something beautifully captured in Lawrence’s poem The Collier’s Wife. In this, a miner has had yet another accident down the pit:
It’s a shame as ‘e should be knocked about
Like this, I’m sure it is!
‘E’s ‘ad twenty accidents, if ‘e’s ‘ad one;
Owt bad, an’ it’s his!
The wife in the poem has seen and heard it all before and is more bothered about the compensation as food still needs to be put on the plate. You can hear David Amos read the entire poem is one go during our show. I only managed the first verse.
When Lawrence used dialect in his early plays about life in a mining community they were dismissed as a ‘sordid picture of lower class life’ with middle class Edwardian critics unimpressed with ‘its lack of verbal beauty’. Lawrence was a master of dialect, using multiple variations of speech patterns that drew influences from the Erewash Valley, Derbyshire and Notts. By using dialect, Lawrence enabled the reader to understand a collier’s particular social class, their education, and their intelligence. The way his characters spoke represented the history of the community, even down to what street they lived on.
Lawrence’s family moved many times across Eastwood, upscaling each time. So during the programme we visit ‘Breach House’ where the family of seven lived between 1887 until 1891. To enter Breach House is to step back in time to Edwardian Britain. Moleskin trousers hang up above the fireplace, the snap tin is on the table, and the Bible and piano take pride of place in the ‘best’ room. Of course it would have been nice to record the show in Durban House, where a young Lawrence and other miner’s sons would go and collect their father’s wages, but this was sold off by Broxtowe Council and has now been converted into a spa – which I guess is more preferable than a Spar.
Breach House was the inspiration for The Bottoms in Sons and Lovers, my favourite Lawrence novel. It opens with this wonderful description:
‘To accommodate the regiments of miners, Carston, Waite and Co. built the Squares, great quadrangles of dwellings on the hillside of Bestwood, and then, in the brook valley, on the site of Hell Row, they erected the Bottoms. The Bottoms consisted of six blocks of miners’ dwellings, two rows of three, like the dots on a blank-six domino, and twelve houses in a block.”
The novel also helped solve another mysterious word from my childhood: blue. But if you want to know what this means then either read Sons and Lovers or tune into Talk and Tongue on the iPlayer. Let us know what you think on Twitter using the hashtag #TalkandTongue. The programme was a Made in Manchester production.
In the DH Lawrence Memory Theatre we want to address various aspects of Lawrence’s life through artefacts. How do we represent his childhood growing up in Eastwood? What role does coal have to play in his writing? How can we incorporate dialect into our memory theatre? In 2019 we will be building our Memory Theatre and retracing Lawrence’s savage pilgrimage both physically and digitally. If you have an idea for an artefact, get involved. Submit ideas here.
When DH Lawrence attended Nottingham High School he would most likely have taken a detour from Waverley Street and headed through the arboretum. The arboretum was the first designated public park in Nottingham selected under the authority of the Enclosure Act 1845. It was opened on 11 May 1852 at a cost of £6,554 7s. 10d. At the bottom of the arboretum is a bust of the philanthropist Samuel Morley (15 October 1809 – 5 September 1886) by Joseph Else. In this guest blog, Ali Emm gives us a potted history of this much loved philanthropist and political radical.
The youngest son of Sneinton-born John Morley, Samuel was born and raised in London where his father had moved to expand his hosiery business, I & R Morley, co-founded with his brothers at the end of the eighteenth century. If you wanted a proper pair of stockings, theirs were what you splashed out on.
John Morley was no stranger to good deeds, himself having been Mayor of Nottingham and a Luddite sympathiser – even though his factories came under attack – as well as being involved in setting up the Mechanics Institute, a place where artisans and mechanics could go to learn, improve their skills and socialise. So it’s no surprise that he raised Samuel and his five siblings to think for themselves from the get-go, telling them, “I will tell you why I am a Nonconformist and why I am a Liberal, and, if you think I am right, you can be as I am and do as I do, but you are perfectly free to form your own conclusions.”
Samuel was educated until he was sixteen and was considered a methodical student; something that stood him in good stead for when he began working in his father’s business in 1825. His first job at Morley’s was in the counting house, and he stayed there for seven years to learn the business. With factories established across the Midlands and in London, it wasn’t until Samuel left the counting house that Morley’s branched out into flannel under his management. As brave a move as this was – and however much we all love a bit of flannel these days – it wasn’t too successful and he quickly realised that his strength was in numbers, so he returned to the counting house.
Samuel and his brother John took over from their father in 1840, working together until John’s retirement in 1855. It was in 1860, when Samuel’s uncle passed away, that he became the head of the Nottingham business as well. He visited to determine how the business should be handled and employed Thomas Hill as manager. Morley didn’t interfere with the management of the Nottingham businesses, even making Hill a partner in 1870, but made sure he was kept up to date with the welfare of employees, their state of health and all that stuff business owners don’t usually seem to give much of a damn about.
In fact, Morley’s factories in the area were considered the best in the North Midlands: clean, light, well ventilated. He also paid top price for labour and introduced pensions. This might not seem much of a big deal, but his pension scheme was introduced forty years before the Old Age Pension Act was brought in. A nice little anecdote about Morley was when he gave a gift of £5 to a workman. The worker was asked how he reacted, to which he said, “What did I say? I could do nowt but roar.”
Under the Morley/Hill partnership, the Nottingham business was expanded to include a factory on Manvers Street; on the corner of Newark Street. Their choice of location was influenced by Sneinton’s long-established hosiery-making trade, meaning there was a skilled workforce available. They had a bit of bad luck though, with two serious fires in the factory’s early years, the second of which was the costliest blaze in Nottingham’s history at the time. The factory was eventually rebuilt, and went on to employ 500 workers. There was another Morley factory in Daybrook – now, unsurprisingly, a block of flats – and in 1879 the Alfred Street factory, which once created work to a further 350 people, is home to Backlit, an independent gallery and studio space for artists.
Although kind and concerned with the wellbeing of his workers, Morley was a stickler who couldn’t tolerate bad work or laziness, and he loathed waste. He also considered drinking to be an unmitigated evil and regularly spoke up about temperance and total abstinence, especially to working men. Challenged once by a labouring man who interrupted Morley’s speech on abstaining, he was asked, “Do you go without yourself? I dare say, if the truth’s known, you take your glass of wine or two after dinner and think no harm of it. Now, sir, do you go without yourself?”
Of course, Morley did like to have a couple of glasses with his dinner. “This rather shut me up for an instant,” Morley said when recounting the story, “but when I looked round at those poor fellows whom I had been asking to give up what they regarded – no matter how erroneously – as their only luxury, I had my answer ready pretty quickly. ‘No’, I said, ‘but I will go without from this hour.’” True to his word, he didn’t touch another drop, with the exception of a couple of ‘medicinal’ drinks during a period of illness on the insistence of his physician.
A dedicated father, Samuel wrote to his eight children regularly when he or they were away from the family home. He kept all correspondence from them, and these letters show an openness in their relationships in that they freely discussed their successes and failures with him. He encouraged his children in all their hobbies – even though he was not partial to any sports or pastimes himself, preferring to work, lobby and help the church – but he drew the line at dancing, which he objected to greatly.
To say that he wouldn’t compromise on his morals would be an understatement. Morley was no wallflower, especially where reform was concerned. In late 1854, the Crimean War was in full swing and, partly as a response to this, the Administrative Reform Association was formed with Samuel Morley as president. A pressure group – of which Charles Dickens was another notable member – aimed to expose abuses of the departments of state, and Morley believed that the necessity for this reform existed long before the war and would exist long after its conclusion.
An abolitionist, Morley helped to free an escaped American slave, Josiah Henson. Henson went on to document his life in Uncle Tom’s Story of His Life: an Autobiography of the Rev. Josiah Henson. This later inspired the classic anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin. When asked to join the anti-slavery movement that was part of the American Civil War, he declined stating, “… while the South disgusts me with its shameless advocacy of its ‘peculiar institution’ as the ‘corner-stone’ of its government, I cannot sympathise with the North, for it is, I fear, abolitionist in proxy – only through force of circumstance – and not from the conviction of the inherent immorality in slavery, or humane consideration for the welfare of the slaves.” So no half measures from him then. On the more positive side of things, it wasn’t long after this request that he consented to stand for the town of his ancestors, Nottingham, in 1865.
He was one of two Liberal candidates in the running against the Conservative Sir Robert Clifton. Never one to be associated with anything boring, the election fight was said to be “the most sharp and bitter of any throughout the country.” As is often our way, the borough was once notorious for its lawlessness, and it was during the elections that this old spirit came to the fore in support of Clifton; riots broke out and the mob ruled.
On one occasion, the magistrate sat in the Exchange Buildings with the entire body of the borough police gathered round for protection, and a reserve set up in another building, while the crowd wielded stones, bludgeons and faggots; bundles of steel to you and me. This crowd then moved on to the hotel where Morley was staying and pelted him with stones, forcing him to remain hidden until they’d passed. These rather unsavoury sorts were the notorious Nottingham Lambs, a right bunch of ruffians who’d do pretty much anything for the price of a couple of pints. Rabble rousing and rioting aside, Morley just swung it with 2,393 votes over Clifton’s 2,352.
Sworn in, his early impressions of parliament weren’t that great, but he hung on to the hope that he could do some good. Morley was unseated by petition after his peers voted him out of parliament in April 1866. A bit of a blow, he questioned if he’d been sufficiently suspicious of friends, but took solace in the fact that he’d maintained integrity. He stated, in regard to the election, that “he never said a word he wished unsaid, or did a deed he wished undone.”
The Bristol branch of the Liberal party still believed in him and made it clear that they still wanted Morley in their corner, so when a seat became available, they approached him. In a case of ‘you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone’, when the Nottingham branch heard, they grovelled a bit to try and get him back.
He was defeated in Bristol and the hopes of electors at Nottingham were revived, asking Morley again to represent Nottingham. However, it seemed that the opponent in Bristol had been up to no good, Morley accusing him of “gross and illegal acts”, and in June 1868 his opponent was unseated. Morley – probably really politely and not with a two finger salute – declined to return to Nottingham and stood as Bristol’s representative for seventeen years.
A long-time fan of Gladstone, you’d think he would have been pretty chuffed to be offered a peerage by him. But when Gladstone wrote to him with the offer in 1885, Morley turned it down because he didn’t want to appear to have gained personal advantage from his selfless acts. If only all politicians thought that way, eh? With regards to wealth, Morley also saw this as a means to an end, giving it value based only on its use for noble purposes. He felt that it laid upon him the most binding obligations, and that he was accountable not only for the right use of it, but the best use possible. What a guy.
He received hundreds of letters annually asking him for his help. Allegedly he read each one, and at the top left-hand corner of each is a note in his hand, brief but functional: yes, no, litho (letter of refusal to be sent), inquire further, impossible, sorry, unable, acknowledge, don’t know, apologies for delay, or amounts to be sent in appeals for money. Solely chucking money at things wasn’t what he was about, though. If he gave to societies, he personally acquainted himself with their work, would visit the churches he gave assistance to, and took pains to make sure that the beneficiaries of his help were the right ones, offering his knowledge in tandem with any donations.
One of the reforms that Morley believed in most was the introduction of a National Education scheme. England was behind most ‘great’ countries when it came to educating the lower classes. More than two thirds of children were left without ‘instruction’ and Morley spent 25 years trying to convince the government to change this so that every child received a good education. More locally, in 1881, the University College, Central Library and Natural History Museum on Sherwood Street and Shakespeare Street were opened.
The library, however, was a no-child zone and was only open to those aged fifteen and over, but Morley believed that young ‘uns should have access to libraries. He proposed to the mayor, “Everywhere in our towns the working classes are deluged and poisoned with cheap, noxious fiction of the most objectionable kind, I should be thankful to do something to counteract this mischievous influence, and if young people are to have fictitious literature, and I see no reason why they should not, to do something to ensure that all events, it shall be as pure and wholesome as we can provide for them. I gladly offer £500 as a commencement of a library for children…”
Nottingham Corporation didn’t hang around, and in 1883 a separate library for children was opened about 100 yards from the main library. It was the first of its kind, and although it’s not been used for this purpose for over eighty years now, the building’s still there today.
Later in life, he relaxed a little bit and conceded that entertainment and amusements were, in moderation, no bad thing. He became involved with the ‘Old Vic’ – the Victoria Temperance Music Hall – a theatre that had been reopened by another philanthropist, Emma Cons. Once known for being a place to get sloshed and see a bit of action, Emma Cons reopened it to provide moral and affordable entertainment, a place for temperance meetings and ‘penny lectures’ by eminent scientists.
These lectures helped pioneer adult education, and not just for the wealthy. Morley, satisfied that they were above board and not a den of iniquity, offered them his financial and personal skills. The popularity of the penny lectures led to the opening in 1889 of the Morley Memorial College for Working Men and Women. The college is still going today and maintains a lot of the original ethos it was built on.
Morley passed away in 1886, leaving an estate of £474,000. As you’d imagine, he made sure that this was all distributed and dealt with properly. He left instructions to the executors that they were under moral obligation to fulfil all the promises he had made in life. The money went to all the causes he had supported, plus he also left some legacies to long-serving workers in his firm.
After the publication of this blog we received an email from Carol Mills who believes there may be a more tangible link between Lawrence and Morley. Carol wrote: “The connection is mentioned in May Holbrook’s (nee Chambers) letter to her brother David, dated 28 November 1949, which is held in the Manuscripts & Special Collections at Nottingham University ref. LaCh56. In it she states that from the age of three, their maternal grandmother, Jane Newbold, was brought up by John Morley, of I & R Morley, as his daughter. Apparently, so the story goes, she fell in love with one of the Morley sons but something happened and she left. She had to earn her living by working in the Lace Market and moved in with her married sister. This is confirmed in the 1851 census. However, in the letter, May appears to confuse John Morley with Samuel his son and since that side of the family were based in London in the 1820’s, I wonder if the benefactor was Richard Morley, who remained in Nottingham.
The catalyst, whichever Morley was responsible for Jane’s upbringing, appears to be the suicide of her father, Thomas Newbold, which as far as I have been able to ascertain seems to have occurred in 1826 which fits in with Jane’s age. This tragedy forms the basis of Jessie Chamber’s short story ‘ The Bankrupt’ also held by the Manuscripts Department ref.LaCh/4/6. (Jessie Chambers being Lawrence’s childhood sweetheart and the person credited as kickstarting his writing career). Both Clive Leivers of the HFPS & myself have been researching this death, unable to trace any record but have recently discovered a newspaper report that may be relevant.”
In the DH Lawrence Memory Theatre we want to address various aspects of Lawrence’s life through artefacts. The arboretum, which hosts Morley’s bust, would have been of great interest to Lawrence given his love of nature. In 2019 we will be building our Memory Theatre and retracing Lawrence’s savage pilgrimage both physically and digitally. If you have an idea for an artefact, get involved and submit ideas here.