Ethel and the Archives

A Week in Lancashire Part One

PhD researcher and Radicals collaborator Jenny Harper had a very busy week on her first study visit to Lancashire.  It started with a delve into some precious public collections.

As part of a packed week of Ethel Carnie Holdsworth-related activities, I ventured deep into the library archives of Manchester and Bolton. In carrying out my six-year PhD project on Ethel, I’m always seeking to dig deeper, to find out where new connections can be made, and to thus bring Ethel into sharper focus.

My first stop was the Ethel Carnie Holdsworth box and holdings at the famous Working Class Movement Library The have a fascinating collection including hand-written notes by the Frows tracing Ethel’s life story and literary output. I read with great interest the lively communication between the Frows and H. Gustav Klaus as they drafted a contribution to his important 1987 book, The Rise of Socialist Fiction 1880-1914. Their chapter on Ethel marked the start of a period of recovery, as she began to become recognised as an important and previously neglected figure within the genre. The records are convivial, including a note from Gustav Klaus wishing the Frows an enjoyable summer holiday in their caravan. As the Frows pointed out in a 1987 Observer article, Ethel had at that point become almost entirely forgotten. Not a single obituary marked her death in Manchester in 1962.[1] And yet in 1920 the Blackburn Weekly Telegraph reported that sales of Helen of Four Gates had hit 25,000.[2] Ethel had become almost entirely erased from history within a period of less than 50 years.

What is perhaps most interesting about the Carnie Holdsworth holdings at the WCML is the way they so effectively trace the variation in her literary output. Her status as a working class writer bounds the nature of her literary production. Within an edition of The Woman Worker in December 1909 her strident voice addresses social injustice head-on as she expresses little surprise that women were having to sell themselves for bread to escape starvation.[3] In an earlier October 1909 editorial, she reflects on the disparity between her wages at the cotton mill and as a paid author. In two hours, she could write, ‘an impossible tale in a mediocre journal which could earn her three guineas,’ she notes.[4] June 1927’s The Wheatsheaf features perhaps the sort of story that she was referring to as Mr Ratchetty Considers a Vital Question in a light popular romance piece. She contributed regularly to The Wheatsheaf during this period, earning her own bread in the way she could best.[5]

Onto the John Rylands Library, and their C.F. Sixsmith Walt Whitman Collection, which holds many archival materials on the Eagle Street College, an important group of British ethical socialists. As the Frows noted in documents at the WCML, Ethel was familiar with a wide range of authors, including Edward Carpenter, a key member of the Eagle Street collective. A strand of my research traces how the British ethical socialists influenced Ethel’s own literary output and the opportunity to handle items from this important collection was a real privilege. A letter to Whitman from Robert Ingersoll was of particular interest: Ingersoll was a renowned American free thinker and agnostic, who gave a famed eulogy at Whitman’s funeral in 1892, and whom Whitman described as the embodiment of Leaves of Grass.[6] Ingersoll is named within a pivotal passage in Ethel’s Barbara Dennison, and this intriguingly evidences a direct American influence on her writing.[7] The question of how she came across Ingersollian philosophy remains enticingly to be discovered, but it does strengthen the theory that the Whitmanite worldview coloured her own.

A final archival visit to the Bolton History Centre next, and an opportunity to investigate their excellent Bolton Whitman Fellowship collection, after an informative chat over lunch with Whitman expert Paul Salveson and Julie Lamara (Collections Access Officer). This wide-ranging collection includes a stirring letter from 1894 to the Bolton group from Katharine Bruce Glasier, who once referred to Leaves of Grass as her ‘bible.’ ‘From comrade to comrades,’ she writes, ‘Look up, cry aloud! Your long travail is over: a new life is born in the land of the sun; a life of fruition, of lore and of colour- full, free and sufficing- for all or for none.’[8] Such anthemic words resonate with Ethel’s own. In April 1909’s The Woman Worker, Ethel joined the cry, calling out for the rights of the working classes to have some ‘colour’ in their lives.[9]

Without doubt the archives in Lancashire are holding on to many more Ethel Carnie Holdsworth secrets, and I very much look forward to sharing further insights as her story unfolds.

I am always eager to collaborate on anything Ethel Carnie Holdsworth-related and can be contacted at

Jenny Harper’s PhD research is supported by the South West & Wales consortium of universities, through their Doctoral Training Programme.  It is a collaboration between Reading University, Exeter University and Mid Pennine Arts through the Pendle Radicals project.

[1] Working Class Movement Library, Typescripts of article/lecture(s?) by Ruth and Eddie including list of references, notes and correspondence connected to above item, Ethel Carnie Collection, PP/CARNIE.

[2] Working Class Movement Library, Photocopies reviews from Blackburn newspapers, Ethel Carnie Collection, PP/CARNIE.

[3] Working Class Movement Library, Typescripts of article/lecture(s?) by Ruth and Eddie including list of references, notes and correspondence connected to above item, Ethel Carnie Collection, PP/CARNIE.

[4] Working Class Movement Library, Typescripts of article/lecture(s?) by Ruth and Eddie including list of references, notes and correspondence connected to above item, Ethel Carnie Collection, PP/CARNIE.

[5] Working Class Movement Library, Photocopies of articles and stories from The Wheatsheaf 1910-1936, Ethel Carnie Collection, PP/CARNIE.

[6] University of Manchester Special Collections, C.F. Sixsmith Walt Whitman Collection, 25th March 1880, GB 133 Eng 1170/1/1/5

[7] Ethel Carnie Holdsworth, Barbara Dennison (Stanley Paul, 1928), p. 271.

[8] Bolton Whitman Fellowship Archive, Bolton Whitman Fellowship Papers, 23rd February 1894, ZWN, 45.

[9] Ethel Carnie Holdsworth, ‘How Colour is Introduced’, The Woman Worker, 7th April 1909, p. 323.

Selina at the Unity

In autumn 2021, many of our Radicals contributors joined the celebration events for the delayed and much-anticipated launch of the Selina Cooper project at Nelson’s Unity Hall.  Selina at the Unity has now been featured in the North West History Journal.  Kevin Webb, one of the prime movers behind this lovely project, gave us this recap on how it all came about.

In the spring of 2018 the Unity Hall in Nelson, Lancashire was reopened as a resource for the local community after Nelson Town Council purchased the building and secured funding for its renovation. The hall was for many years the headquarters of the local Independent Labour Party (ILP) and local suffragist , Selina Cooper, was one of the two women who laid the foundation stones in July 1907.

At around the same time as the hall was reopening a set of display boards celebrating the life of Selina Cooper, who had lived most of her life locally, were discovered in the archive at Nelson Library.

The two brothers who discovered the Selina Cooper material, Kevin and Gary Webb, had visited the newly reopened hall and had seen that it had plenty of empty wall space and decided that the material was wasted languishing in the archive and an ideal location for it would be the walls of the Unity Hall.

Fast forward eighteen months to the autumn of 2019 and the news came through that, at the third attempt the National Lottery Heritage application that the brothers had submitted through Nelson Council had been successful and that £50,000 of funding had been awarded.

Kevin Webb who wrote the funding application said :

The history of the rich and powerful is usually well documented, whilst the history and achievements of working people is forgotten and uncelebrated. One of the things we wanted to achieve was to make sure that this particular piece of working class history was not forgotten and that the achievements of Selina Cooper, and the history of the Unity Hall and what it meant to local people, were commemorated in an appropriate way.

Since then the project, aided by the project facilitator, Charlotte Bill, who was appointed in the summer of 2020, has worked to achieve the projects objectives.

They have installed, in the Selina Cooper room, four replica stained glass ILP windows, these replace the original windows which were removed when the hall suffered a period of deterioration.

Photo: N Hunt

One full wall of the Revive café, which is located on the ground floor of the hall, is now home to a mural depicting the key events in the history of the Unity Hall from its inception to the present day.

Just outside the Revive café on either side of the main ground floor corridor you can find eight display boards. Four of these illustrate the story of Conscientious Objection in North East Lancashire during the first world war, with more CO’s coming from Nelson than nearly any other town in the country, a fact not unrelated to the ILP’s opposition to the war. The other four panels are devoted to the Women’s Peace Crusade of 1916 to 1918 , which although a national movement was particularly active in Nelson.

Photo: N Hunt

Just off this corridor is the Reading Room which is a reconstruction of the Library that the founders of the building created over one hundred years ago. This room is open to the public and contains some of the original furniture and a large collection of socialist books.

The project has also publicised the history and heritage connected to Selina and the Unity Hall by creating a webpage devoted to the project which can be found on the Nelson Town Council website.

Five thousand copies of a brochure advertising the Unity Hall and the project were also produced and were distributed before the delayed project launch event which took place on Saturday 26 June 2021.

A booklet which tells, in detail, the history of the hall has been created. Sections of the booklet have been written by a local historian whose grandfather was a founding member of the Nelson ILP and another section by a group of students from the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) as part of their degree studies.

Four mobile displays have been created relating to the Clarion movement. The first of the four banners concentrates on the Clarion newspaper and the cultural influence it had on its readers. Another banner relates to the Clarion vans and Julia Dawson, a third to Clarion clubhouses (the last remaining clubhouse being our own local Clarion House at Newchurch-in-Pendle, near Nelson), and a fourth banner to the history of the Clarion cycling clubs.  These could be seen recently at our co-commission for the British Textile Biennial at Helmshore Textile Mills Museum in October 2021. They complemented the artist James Fox’s work beautifully and we were very grateful for the loan.

Photo: N Hunt

Charlotte Bill, the project facilitator, has conducted sessions with students from both Nelson & Colne and Burnley further education colleges which have proved very successful with great feedback from students. Charlotte said:

I have really enjoyed learning about the people who created this amazing building, visionaries, internationalists, feminists, socialists, they believed the people who created the wealth of the nation should have a say in how that wealth is spent and that everyone should be represented in Parliament. This building is a wonderful legacy for Nelson’s community, with its Reading room, Archive and Revive café, ready to welcome everyone in, just as the founders intended in 1907.

Photo: N Hunt

The Unity Hall was closed for much of 2020 due to the Covid lockdowns, but gradually reopened as the restrictions eased. It was fully accessible from June 2021 (please check latest guidelines before planning a visit).

The project group and Nelson Town Council hope that people from far and wide will visit the hall, enjoy the displays, utilise the Reading Room and visit the Revive café. The Clarion clubhouse at Newchurch, which is run by a group of volunteers, is only a couple of miles away, and is open on Sundays throughout most of the year and is also well worth a visit.

None of this would have been possible without the support of the National Lottery Heritage fund. The project team and Nelson Town Council are extremely grateful to NLHF for allowing them to bring these stories to the attention of a new generation in Nelson and beyond.

Visit the Unity Hall – Selina Cooper project website

Visit the Clarion House website

Thank you to Kevin Webb for allowing us to base this blog on his article published in the North West History Journal (The journal of the NW Labour History Society) – No. 46 2021-2022

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.

A Life in Common

Ever daydreamed about swapping your day job for a life of utopian idealism on a commune? Meet Chris Coates, who ran away to join a commune.

Pendle Radicals is delighted to welcome former MPA Trustee Chris back to Burnley to talk about his experiences with the People in Common experiment in communal living. This FREE event, to launch his book, will take place at Finsley Gate Wharf on Sunday 26 September 2021. Links below.

Furloughed from his job at Halton Mill and locked down for the best part of the last twelve months former Green Party County Councillor Chris Coates spent the time writing an  ‘autoblogography’ of the time he spent living and working in an alternative community in Burnley called People in Common.

Chris said “Each week I posted a story about some aspect of life at the commune. I started by posting photos and scans of the odd old document I came across while rummaging through my filing cabinet. As Covid lockdown kicked in I started to conceive of using the enforced downtime to see if I could complete some sort of record of the years I spent at People In Common.”

The collection of blog posts has now been published in book form. Telling a sort of alternative poacher turned gamekeeper’s tale of Chris’s journey from leaving school in 1975 and being part of the London squatting scene. Through spending twenty years trying to work out how to ‘live the dream’ in East Lancashire to the building of Lantern House as a Centre for Celebration as part of Welfare State International in Ulverston at the turn of the millennium.

Chris went on to say “ People in Common grew out of the counterculture of the 1970’s. We didn’t call ourselves a commune because of all the assumptions that are made about the hippy lifestyle and Burnley isn’t the obvious place that you’d think of for an experiment in communal living.”

Chris moved to Lancaster in 1999 and was elected to the Lancashire County Council for the Green Party in 2005. He was part of the group that set up the Forgebank Cohousing project in Halton in 2012 where he now lives.

For more information about the event and to book your FREE place please visit our Eventbrite page. Places must be booked in advance.

A Life in Common is published by Diggers & Dreamers.
200 pages Colour & B&W pictures.

It is available priced £12 + p&p from the Diggers & Dreamers Website. Copies will be on sale for the special price of £10 at the book launch.

If you can’t make the in person event, but would still like to hear Chris talk about his experiences, there is an online event organised by Diggers & Dreamers on the 30th September. Full details and booking HERE.

Altham Corn Mill


Sunday 19 September

Clarion Sunday 2021

An artist’s project to celebrate this unique and historic event

Clarion Sunday is the annual pilgrimage to the last Clarion House by Clarion Cycling Clubs across the north of England.  It is always a special occasion.  This year, after repeat postponements, it really means a lot.  So we have commissioned Alan Ward for an artist project to make the experience of taking part just a bit more special.  If you are a club member, an individual cyclist, or just a Clarion enthusiast, Alan wants to hear from you.

With the rearranged date now fast approaching, and the promise of outdoor events going ahead, we are looking forward to seeing cyclists at Clarion House on the 19th September.

Alan J Ward artist, photographer and devotee of cycling culture, will be present to take a formal portrait of each rider with their mount, using a pop-up studio. He is also inviting cyclists to participate from different Clarion clubs to document their rides to Jinny Lane on the day, using the data provided by tools like Strava and Garmin. Alternatively why not take photographs en-route, make notes about the journey, reflect on the importance of Clarion’s roots, or share personal Clarion artefacts – creative contributions are very welcome!

As the Pendle Radicals commission by Mid Pennine Arts has now launched, Ward is particularly keen to reflect the communal cultural heritage of Clarion Cycling and its Socialist roots at this last Clarion House.

All of this material will be assembled and interpreted in a limited edition artist publication, which each participant will receive after the event with MPA’s compliments. All participants on the day will also receive a special memento to celebrate the day.

Alan Ward invites interested clubs or individuals to register involvement and participation by emailing him at Also follow him on Instagram: alanjward_axisdesign & Strava: Alan Ward (#i_am_clarion)

Something Borrowed, Something BLUE – Rosie’s Plaques x Pendle Radicals

We are delighted to be welcoming this award-winning women’s project from Norwich, coming to Clarion House in July as first stop of their Covid-delayed national tour.  Shonagh Ingram explains the inspiration for this fantastic project, and the challenge that it gives us…  Which extraordinary but unsung, radical women to celebrate?  There are so, so many to choose from!

In 1867 the very first blue plaque was unveiled to mark the London birthplace of Lord Byron. These iconic heritage plaques can now be found on buildings across the UK, celebrating ‘great figures of the past from all walks of life who have contributed to society’ [1]. But do they tell the whole story?

In 2018, while researching their show All Mouth No Trousers, The Common Lot theatre discovered that of 300 heritage plaques in Norwich, only 25 celebrated women. Outraged by this shocking imbalance, they instigated a guerrilla art project, creating their own plaques to commemorate the women of Norwich that history has forgotten or erased.

Under cover of darkness, and dressed as Rosie the Riveter, we carefully erected alternative blue plaques on significant buildings in the city. Then we waited to see what would happen. [2]

The project was such a runaway success that the team of Rosies decided to take it on a national tour, seeking out stories that deserve to be heard, of extraordinary women who changed the world. And as anyone who has been following the progress of the Pendle Radicals programme will know, there is a long and proud history of extraordinary women in the communities around Pendle Hill.  We just had to invite them to Lancashire!

Of course, this presents the Radicals Research Team with a challenge – with the Plaque Shack only in town for one weekend, whose story should we tell?

Ethel Carnie Holdsworth, the first working class woman to have a novel published and a tireless campaigner for the mill workers of Lancashire?  This powerhouse, prolific, radical writer lived in three Pendle towns during her adult life, but how would anyone know?

Mary Winter, the Burnley bus driver sacked for wearing a Lesbian Liberation badge to work in 1978, who went on to lead a local campaign for LGBT rights?

The Nelson Women’s Peace Crusade, who led passionate demonstrations against the continued slaughter of World War I?

How about Bessie Dickinson, fined for ‘watching and besetting’ knobsticks (ie scabs) in the More Looms disputes of the 1930’s?

Or Maud Davies, champion swimmer, who beat all her male competitors to swim across Morecambe bay in a record time that might still stand today?  

With such a wealth of stories of suffragettes and socialists, wise women and female firebrands, we are expecting a heated debate to narrow down the list, but it is such a privilege to find out more about the women who have shaped Lancashire and the world, each and every one of them deserving of their own blue plaque.

To see Rosie’s Plaques x Pendle Radicals in action, find us and the Plaque Shack at Clarion House, Newchurch, in July 2021.  On Saturday 3rd, join the workshop session fabricating our series of new plaques.  Or on Sunday 4th July, when Clarion should be open to the public, come for a brew and a first look at the end results! 

For more information on the project, email Shonagh at MPA.

[1] Dr Simon Thurley, Chief Executive of English Heritage 


UPDATE: The women chosen can be viewed on the list below.

You can view our film of the weekend’s activities below.

In the Footsteps of Extraordinary People

March 2021… The pandemic still ruling our lives, and stopping us getting together with the Radicals’ team. Except on Zoom! During March we presented two packed events for the Pendle Hill online programme. And it was lovely to see so many Radicals’ contributors.

The first, on International Women’s Day, celebrated the magnificent Ethel Carnie Holdsworth with an in-conversation event focused on the making of our podcast which is about her and her novel, This Slavery, a radical feminist and socialist tale of love, loss, poverty and politics.

Jules Gibb and Liz Robertson, creators of the podcast series, offered a unique insight into why and how the podcast came about, the importance of the text and the impact that the extraordinary Ethel herself had on the world. They were joined by Dr Nicola Wilson, whose academic study of Ethel has brought about the republication of some of her novels.

It was a well attended and lively event much enjoyed by those that took part…

Great talk, really engaging and making Ethel very current at this time.

Brilliant evening thank you!

If you’d like to listen to the event you can find a recording on SOUNDCLOUD. You can find the podcast links HERE.

Later in the month we had a full house for an event to Meet the Radicals… On this evening we introduced some of the nonconformists, reformers and change makers researched by the volunteers of the Pendle Radicals project, and introduced The Radicals Trail, a new way of exploring our rural communities around Pendle Hill.

There must have been something in the air, because radical history is all around us. You just need to know where to look… The event looked at some Pendle Hill people who changed the world! Including the first Quaker, a Higham boy who became a beacon of the Enlightenment, the pioneers of the Independent Labour Party, and campaigners for women’s suffrage and for the right to roam. We shared information about themed Radicals walks and about future plans to grow and extend The Radicals Trail. As well as our own team we were joined by a current member of the Quaker community, a film maker working with Clarion House on a project to celebrate Selina Cooper, and two of our Radicals volunteers talking about the series of walks being created, including the Two Toms and the Wonder Women!

It was a packed event, with so much to say that we overran by 20 minutes! Nobody seemed to mind though…

Pendle Radicals, what a great way to bring the past to the present. Thank you. Tonight’s presentation has been excellent.

I’ve been enthralled with this presentation. Thank you for all the information. Going to get my walking boots back on real soon!

If you’d like to listen to the event you can find a recording on SOUNDCLOUD. Two film clips were shown as part of the event. You can hear the sound on the recording but if you would like to see the films you can find the links in the document below. This PDF document also has details of all websites and other resources mentioned on the night.

Radicals Trail panel for George Fox on Pendle Hill

Rhythm of the Looms

In this blog we hear from the team commissioned to create our first podcast series for Pendle Radicals. Over the past two years they, plus the Pendle Radicals volunteers and the Clarion Choir, have worked with us on a series of sharing events based around Ethel Carnie Holdsworth’s life and works. All the research was intended for a final performance piece, which may still happen in the future, but wasn’t possible in 2020. However, that gave us the opportunity to concentrate on our long held ambition to create some original audio, and so the podcast idea was born! It was a new adventure for them too, so what did Jules, Liz and Scott make of the experience…

What a joy it has been for us creating the This Slavery podcast series.

From a small professional studio in the Ribble Valley, we have been honoured to bring Ethel to life through music, writing and soundscape.

Also, hearing the amazing voices of the Clarion Choir and the crowd scenes created by the Radicals volunteers – intertwined through the podcasts – we have tried to demonstrate how much Ethel means to all our creative community. 

We have had such wonderful reactions from across the spectrum of listeners – smiles, tears, laughter and an outpouring of love. What more can we possibly ask for?

Jules Gibb: 

This Slavery is such a cracking book that when we got the chance to do something in-depth about it I jumped at it. I’m a big fan of Ethel Carnie Holdworth, she seems to represent all the things I think are important and coming from Lancashire and a weaving heritage, it’s no wonder we want to shout about her from the rooftops. It’s been inspiring working with Liz and Scott. They are so skilled, and we work together really well, sparking ideas off each other. I’m really proud of the end product. It feels like we are lifting Ethel up and running around the streets with her, trying to tell everyone how fabulous she was.

Scott Robertson: 

It was so important to me, to make sure the rhythm of the Lancashire Looms provided the beating heart of this podcast. Yes, there was darkness in the mills but the beat of the rhythm of the looms – when owned by the mill workers in their singing, became a thing of sheer beauty. My piece of music, Looming, took its rhythm and timing from the Lancashire Loom’s punch cards, which look so much like my 2021 Pro Tools digital production screen – bizarre!

Liz Robertson: 

I am so pleased I had the opportunity to capture much of the soundscape from Queen Street Mill and our live performances with the Radicals volunteers and the Clarion Choir, before we went into Lockdown. Who would have thought that our production would have been punctuated by temperature checks and Covid tests… but, just like the mill workers in This Slavery‘we’re not downhearted no…‘. We took a bit of Ethel’s spirit, overcame obstacles and found a way to enable those magic hours of creativity to take Ethel’s work forward to new generations, post Corona!

Working collaboratively has made this happen, not just us (Jules, Scott & Liz), but all the contributions from the Radicals volunteers, the Clarion Choir, the teams at Mid Pennine Arts and Lancashire Libraries – it’s been like the best ‘virtual’ Pie & Chips Supper Ever!


You can now listen to the first episode of the podcast, created in partnership with Lancashire Libraries and Libraries Connected. The three part series is entitled This Slavery, and you’ll find the first episode, Pies, Chips & Politics, on Our Podcasts page.

You can also hear more about the process of making the podcast, and about Ethel, at a FREE online event for International Women’s Day on the 8th March 2021. Find all the details HERE.

MPA is very grateful for the support we have received through COVID-19 emergency funds, from sources including Arts Council England, National Lottery Heritage Fund, CAF, Burnley Borough Council and HM Government Cultural Recovery Fund.  This support continues to be vital in helping us survive the pandemic and carry on developing some very special projects.  Thank you!   

A Podcast and a PhD

It is two years now since our Radicals team embarked on an enquiry into the singular life and work of the extraordinary Ethel Carnie Holdsworth.  Now Janet Swan reports on two exciting developments in swift succession, which give a wonderful new impetus to our ongoing research into Ethel.

Ethel Carnie Holdsworth, mill girl turned literary celebrity, was the first subject chosen in an ever expanding cast list of Pendle Radicals.  Ethel was always likely to surprise us as we uncovered more and more about her.  And now, through our project, her work and her story are to be the focus of further regional and national attention, thanks to two separate but equally welcome initiatives.

For an introduction to Ethel, her working class and socialist roots and her writing, please search for her name in the drop-down list of categories on this blog.  Previous entries include a report on our first artefact, the new audio recordings we commissioned of some of her poetry, now uploaded in recognition of her importance by the national Poetry Archive.

Since then, we have created an original performance for Great Harwood Library, commissioned by Spot On, and inspired by that, a group of us* started to work towards the idea of a podcast…  an audio retelling of the part of Ethel’s story that relates to her writing.  

While we were in the process of musing how best to portray Ethel, while at the same time portray some of the thinking that went into her novels, serendipity struck!  We were approached by a partnership of the BBC Novels project, Lancashire Library Service and Libraries Connected (a national body that aims to maximise the offer from libraries).  A podcast on Ethel would suit them very well… 

Thanks to this exciting collaboration, it will soon be possible to download and to hear the first of a three part podcast series, focusing on Ethel’s most important novel, This Slavery, which will also be available to borrow from Lancashire Libraries.

This Slavery deserves this attention. It is the story of a family of women including two sisters – Rachael and Hester – who are living through a time of great hardship.  The novel is a love story, because Ethel knew that this is what women like her were most likely to read at this time, but it also helps portray two views about how working class women could lift themselves out of the hardships of being mill girls.  

Because of the importance of this novel – i.e. that it is considered one of the most important early novels by a working class woman – it is hoped that we will have commentary on the podcast by Dr Nicola Wilson – associate professor at the University of Reading with specialist interests in feminism, class and publishing. Nicola has been involved with our project before – giving a talk about Ethel at Great Harwood Library in 2017 and again in 2019.

And it is because of our links with Dr Nicola Wilson that we have a new academic collaboration to report, and a PhD about Ethel!  Now being advertised as a fully funded collaborative doctorate, the PhD is entitled ‘Songs of a Factory Girl: Ethel Carnie Holdsworth and radical working-class women’s writing’.  Alongside Nicola Wilson, the team supervising the study will include MPA Creative Director Nick Hunt (with our team of Radicals researchers) and Dr Simon Rennie – Senior Lecturer in Victorian Poetry at the University of Exeter and creator of a database of poetry in response to the Lancashire Cotton Famine.

The first part of the doctorate will focus on cataloguing Ethel’s disparate writings.  As we ourselves have discovered, Ethel wrote extensively in newspapers, and these can only be found with special study and tools such as the Digital Humanities Lab at Exeter University.  The impact of these writings on her novels will be explored and also the student will be able to assess Ethel’s legacy and creative impact.  Some of this impact has been stimulated by the Pendle Radicals project and accordingly the student will be located with Mid Pennine Arts at times, and make their own creative contribution to the Radicals project.

Ethel, who was successful because she was certain of herself and her cast and who knew how to boldly portray her people, has once again inspired others.  This funding from the South West and Wales Doctoral Training Programme is extremely important and will help inspire a national reassessment of her work.  

*The group working on the podcast includes Jules Gibb who is writing the script, Liz and Scott Robertson who will be producing, directing and adding sound effects, and Janet Swan, project coordinator.  We’re delighted also to welcome Geoff Bird, Radio 4/World Service/freelance producer, as our mentor/production adviser.

Find the podcast HERE
Details of the collaborative doctorate can be found HERE.

Still Sick of Being Normal

by Stephen John (Sage) Hartley

Sick of Being Normal

is a song by Notsensibles.

I wrote it.

It’s just a nondescript one chord teenage angstism.

40 years later, and catalysed by Mid Pennine Arts (no hyphen), who were there right at the start,  the idea of a celebration of the local punk scene is born. It slots neatly into Mid Pennine’s Pendle Radicals project. We’re close to Pendle (I have a splendid view from the ranch) and by jove we’re radical.

It’s Boff’s idea and Casey and I complete the working party. We’re soon meeting regularly with Nick and colleagues at Mid Pennine.

It’s not just an old farts’ revival party – it’s a multi-dimensional, cross-generational thing.

There’ll be a gig + an exhibition of then and now pics of some of the main protagonists + a fanzine-like publication with interviews with aforementioned by me and Boff. Casey (a photographer) takes the pics. There’ll also be a film of the night, then the exhibition and associated talks and giglets will tour Pendle. Neat.

It gathers interest and momentum. What shall we call it? Sick of Being Normal?  Why not? It somehow captures the then-and-now anti-establishment irreverence.

What’s important is to feature how the punk movement has moved into and influenced the current generation. We find MeLeon a rapper and the house band for the night is half oldies and half youngies.

Like any big project, it’s not without hitches. We thought we’d found the perfect venue – the old Kippax factory in Colne, now a skating rink. It falls through and we have to find somewhere else at short notice.

Coincidentally, Jamie Cunningham, another local muso mover and shaker is putting on events upstairs at the Burnley library. He uses one of the large majestic rooms. The mirror-image one across the way is empty. It was originally the children’s library. The atmosphere is amazing and the architecture is stunning. Bingo.

It’s not all plain sailing. Is it Pendle enough? Is it big enough? Can we stay late enough?

Coincidentally there’s a cool new bar in town The Gallery at Creative Arts. It all clicks into place. We can have the gig at the library and an after-party with DJs at the bar. Cool.

The last minute preps are frantic. It sells out and suddenly everyone want to come.

Can you get me a ticket?

It’s alright on the night. It’s more than alright. It’s an astonishing success. Khany comes from America and people travel from all over. The after-party is a blast.

Originally we were aiming for the end of the year (2019) but realised that was over-ambitious, so we went for early 2020. January is a non-starter. We discussed waiting until spring, but opted for early Feb. Was it insight? Was it intuition? Probably not. Any later, and it would have been another Covid victim.

Then Lock-down comes and for me, it really is lock-down. I work in a f’ing hospital innit!

Music goes out of the window, but the seeds are sewn and the project has its own quiet momentum. Now the film is finished and off we go again. We’re doing the digital online shit which isn’t my bag but it’s still punk and we’re still sick of being normal.

Stephen ‘Sage’ Hartley is the guitarist in cult East Lancs band Notsensibles, an A & E consultant, author, record label owner, printmaker and small scale organic farmer! Read more musings from Sage on his blog – Hartley’s Plot.
The Sick of Being Normal film is available HERE.
The ‘digital online shit’ happened (for the first time) at 8pm on Friday 18 September 2020. You can find out more about it HERE.