Weaving a Way Back to Ethel

The latest turn in our collective exploration of the great Ethel Carnie takes MPA and Pendle Radicals into uncharted territory.  We embark on that rare thing – a collaborative doctorate, with MPA as the non-academic partner – and we welcome the new PhD candidate who was awarded the opportunity.  Here, Jenny Harper introduces herself and the personal history that ties her to the mill working milieu that Ethel writes so powerfully about.

My grandfather Neville Hartley worked all his life in the Jimmy Nelson Cotton Mill in the town of Nelson, starting in 1930 at 14 as a half-timer, and taking early retirement at the age of 62. Apart from occasional holidays, his only real break from the mill came when he served in the Manchester Regiment during WW2 (pictured). He saw huge changes in that time.

My grandfather Neville Hartley in his WW2 Manchester Regiment uniform.

When he started work, he was trained as a drawer and a twister.  Towards the end of his time the company was taken over by Courtaulds, who brought in gleaming modern Swiss machinery purpose-made to maximise efficiency.  When he was young, he quickly had to learn to lip-read in order to make himself understood over the noise of the machines.  When the 1960s came, he saw young men join the older workforce who wore their hair long to the perturbance of the more traditional workers.  He was there as the first migrants from Pakistan and India came to East Lancashire adding weight to the labour force, often working the night shift as the textile industry looked to increase production.

Walter Hartley 3rd from right, heading out for a cotton workers trip out, bus just in the picture on the left

I’m not sure what Neville would have thought of his grand-daughter studying for a PhD based on a fellow East Lancashire millworker – the great writer Ethel Carnie Holdsworth.  From my perspective I am hugely excited to be part of a project that has real resonance both personally and academically.  Carnie Holdsworth was an extraordinary author, a radical socialist and feminist, who captured much of the social and political change she observed in a hugely varied and important body of work.  To be given the opportunity to take part in the literary recovery of such an overlooked yet enormously significant historical figure is a genuine privilege, and I am delighted to be starting a six-year study of her.

Expertly supervising my PhD will be Doctor Nicola Wilson, Doctor Simon Rennie and Nick Hunt.  Nicola Wilson (Associate Professor at the University of Reading), a familiar name to many, has already been involved in the republishing of many of Carnie Holdsworth’s works; Simon Rennie (Senior Lecturer at the University of Exeter), led the fascinating Poetry of the Lancashire Cotton Famine project recently, and of course Mid Pennine Arts’ own Nick Hunt brings an extraordinary breadth of experience in the arts and heritage sector to the PhD.  I am looking forward enormously to becoming embedded in shared research with the Pendle Radicals group, and already have to express my gratitude to some local Lancashire luminaries in the shape of Janet Swan, Bob Sproule and Paul Salveson, who have provided excellent research advice and guidance already.

I am very much looking forward to contributing to Mid Pennine Arts, both in-person, and via all the usual channels that we have now become familiar with.  I am intrigued to find out more about Carnie Holdsworth, and how she took inspiration from the beautiful Lancashire countryside.  Likewise, I am keen to find out about how the cotton mills and the working conditions within them drove her Socialist ideology and determination to fight against social and economic disparity.  My grandfather’s stories from the cotton mill reflected a time of increasing social change and mechanisation.  Carnie Holdsworth’s experiences in the mills of Great Harwood precipitated a lifelong passion to stand up for what was right, a commitment woven into the very fabric of her own published stories.

Neville Hartley grandfather left, Dorothy Cooper grandmother centre, Walter Hartley great-grandfather right, outside 147 Hazelwood Road, Nelson, Neville and Walter were both weavers

Jenny Harper will be contributing to Pendle Radicals as we continue our exploration of Ethel.  She will feature in a forthcoming Zoom event, where we present updates on some exciting  new developments.

3 thoughts on “Weaving a Way Back to Ethel

  1. Pingback: Weaving a Way Back to Ethel (via the Rebel Pen Club) | Mid Pennine Arts

  2. Bob Sproule

    Hi Jenny, I have a copy of a booklet written by Bessie Dickinson called, “James Rushton and his Times “. Although it tells the story of communist Rushton, more importantly it’s the only history of the more looms dispute that covered the best part of 6 years, that’s wrote by a weaver involved in the dispute. I also have a copy of the history of the Nelson Weavers Association. These are available to borrow from me.
    Best wishes, Bob


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s