Ethel the Poet

Faye Wetherall brings you the latest on our mission to tell the world about Ethel Carnie Holdsworth…

Last week we had yet another successful Ethel Carnie inspired tea party, thanks to great company and, of course, great cake!  Ethel Carnie Holdsworth is just one of an extraordinary cast of characters that Pendle Radicals aims to explore. She was the first working class woman in Britain to publish a novel and, despite juggling being a wife and mother, she was a remarkable poet and social activist.

Ethel started writing poetry at a very young age – as she stood at her loom in the mill – she says in the introduction to her first collection. She subsequently published three collections between 1907 and 1914 but wrote many more that were published in a wide range of newspapers and magazines.


The poem above demonstrates her talent.  It is taken from her last poetry collection called Voices of Womanhood.  It also shows her frustration over women’s subordinate position in society.  Ethel wasn’t afraid to speak out about such issues, whereas many other women of the time accepted that this was how society ran and didn’t challenge the status quo. The poem for me sums Ethel up in a nut shell, her determination, fieriness and her strong views. She used poetry as a platform to speak out and connect with other women and mothers who were too afraid to do so.  However, she had no wish or desire for this to bring her fame or reputation.

By the age of 46, Carnie had written 10 novels, two films, numerous short stories and poems, fifteen serials, plus essays.  She also edited and produced The Clear Light – an anti-fascist newspaper, however, many people are unaware of the remarkable efforts and work of this mill worker turned best-selling author.

ethel1_from-hbrown-1In light of sharing Ethel’s incredible talent as a writer, feminist and activist and allowing her work to be enjoyed by others, Pendle Radicals has put forward a number of Ethel’s poems to be included in the national Poetry Archive. Choosing the right poems from the endless amount of exceptional poems that she wrote has been extremely tricky however – especially as we only have a relatively small amount of audio space available to us.

With the help of our project volunteers or ‘Radicals Research Team’ as we refer to them, plus contributions from Dr. Roger Smalley (who wrote his PhD and a further book about Ethel Carnie*) and Dr. Patricia Johnson (from her excellent paper on Ethel’s poetry **) we were slowly able to move towards a decision. We wanted a wide audience to be able to connect and relate to these poems whilst representing Ethel’s early, mid and late career. We intend for the poems to grab people’s attention and highlight Ethel’s rare and distinctive talent, and we now believe that after all our cogitations, the poems below achieve and encapsulate this.


The Bookworm Rhymes from the Factory Blackburn: R Denham and Co 1907
Who are the Great? Rhymes from the Factory Blackburn: R Denham and Co 1907
Faith Songs of a Factory Girl London: Headley Brothers 1911
The Universal Life Songs of a Factory Girl London: Headley Brothers 1911
Reveille Daily Herald newspaper; 11 July  1913 1913
Why? Voices of Womanhood London: Headley Brothers 1914
Power Freedom newspaper; June 1925 1925
The Meadow Clock Wheatsheaf 1932 1932


Our next step
For the Poetry Archive, we will record the poems read aloud by two women who hail from East Lancashire – Jules Gibb and Elizabeth Catlow. These will then be sent to the Poetry Archive which, with the addition of some biographical information about Ethel written by Janet Swan, will form the full entry for one of the first working class women poets in this country.  A great job well done – and thanks to our amazing team of volunteers for reading the poems and bringing them back to life for all to hear.

*Smalley Roger, (2014) Breaking the Bonds of Capitalism: the political vision of a Lancashire mill girl. Regional Heritage Centre, Lancaster.

** Johnson, Patricia E. (2005) Finding her voice(s): the development of a working-class feminist vision in Ethel Carnie’s poetry. Victorian Poetry Vol 43, no 3.

Interested by this? Read more about the project here.

Would you like to become a member of the Radicals Research Team? If so, contact Faye for more information.


One thought on “Ethel the Poet

  1. Pingback: Ethel the Poet (via the Radical Echo) | Mid Pennine Arts

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