Writing with a Mission

Our Radicals research team have been electrified by the story of the great Ethel Carnie.  Project leader Janet Swan considers Ethel’s brief time in London, and how we are now inspired to rename the Pendle Radicals blog in her honour…

Writing with a Mission – One We Can Continue?

Thanks to Pendle Radicals, I have learnt about the amazing Ethel Carnie Holdsworth.  I have also had the opportunity to become involved in groups reading her work, and work with song writers who have taken her poems and turned them into songs. When the personal stories start to flow* as a result of this further work, it makes me feel glad that we may be continuing something that was very important to Ethel.

We know that Ethel Carnie worked in London for at least six months in 1909 when she was aged just 23, writing stories, poems and articles for the newspaper The Woman Worker. But she was to return to London five years later to teach creative writing at Bebel House**, in Kensington – a Labour College for working women with the aim of promoting radical adult education.

It is here that she founded The Rebel Pen Club – for the following purpose: ‘working class women … must learn to cultivate powers of expression in writing and speaking so that they bring to light corners of life unseen by the many superior persons who have shown the necessity that the workers should speak for themselves’.

She is of course advocating that this task should fall to all workers, but for Ethel it was women who clearly knew the realities of not only working life, but also domestic life and who from henceforth refused to ‘stand on a hill, safe and afar, watching the struggle’. But what seems crucial to me about her decision to return to London (which we know she grew to hate when she lived there in 1909) was that this task was too important to ignore. It had to be the workers who described the conditions in factories, mills and forges as they really were.

Later, when Helen of Four Gates was being filmed in 1920, Ethel claims that her authentic portrayal of the mill community ‘has been bred into her, through sharing their lives, their labours, they joys and sorrows, standing at the loom in a factory, living with them in tiny houses in poky streets’. The interviewer concludes that this ‘premier novelist’ of Lancashire ‘is successful because she is certain of herself and her cast … and as a consequence, her work possesses a richness and atmosphere, a boldness and truth’ which was otherwise scarce***. After living in London in 1909, Ethel returned to her roots, to the place where she was best connected, in order to write for the workers not just about them.

Such boldness and truth seem in short supply today, and so if we are to form our own Rebel Pen Club, we would do well to be rooted in real life as Ethel asks, and as far as we are able, cultivate the power of expression or at the very least the power of persuasion, which can come in many forms. But most importantly we must be engaged if we are to share the joys and sorrows of those around us.

As I look forward to a further creative project inspired by Ethel, I can’t help thinking that our greatest legacy would be not only to inspire others to learn more about Ethel and to read her work, but also for us all to take up the challenge of more connected lives.

*For someone involved in one of the projects, for example, it has been family memories that have been stirred – things that she had forgotten about the richness of her working class roots, and which have brought an all important sense of delight at a much needed time.

**Literacy and Numeracy were also taught. There is no evidence that Ethel lived in London at this time. She was probably just a visitor for she was soon to be found living in Great Harwood again.

***This and other quotes from the introduction by Pamela Fox to Helen of Four Gates (The republication of Ethel’s novel in 2016, by Kennedy and Boyd Publishers, Nottingham).


In 2020, the Radicals group will continue the Ethel enquiry with a new phase of audio-based work, leading to some exciting new creative results.  Watch for news, or better still, join the team!
Image courtesy of Helen Brown.

Pendle Radicals Gather at Black Stone Edge…

Remembering the Chartists…

It has been a busy few months for our Radical volunteers.  Recently Bob Sproule and Barbara Sanders attended this years Blackstone Edge Gathering. You can find out more about that and how the attendees at the Gathering heard about Pendle Radicals below…

Bob Sproule:  The Blackstone Edge Gathering is a long standing event which celebrates Chartism, a political movement which flourished in Britain during the early to mid 19th Century. One of its aims was to create a better standard of living for working people, especially those that experienced both hard working and living conditions.


The event therefore pays tribute to individuals such as Ernest Jones who was a leader of the chartist movement in the 1840s. It is particularly noted that in 1846 Jones addressed a gathering on Blackstone Edge which over 30,000 people attended. Moved by this experience, 30,000 people gathering at one spot, from all different directions, Jones wrote a poem commemorating the event, which you can read here!

The following is organiser Gwyneth Morgan’s account of this year’s event, which she has kindly allowed us to share:

This year about 30 of us braved the cold and trudged up to the gathering place under cloudy skies.  But there was a clear view of Pendle, a hazy view of surrounding towns, Manchester and the hills of North Wales.  And it didn’t rain.

Nine of us walked up from Todmorden, past the Basin Stone where Chartists used to gather, along Gadding’s dam, past one of Simon Armitage’s stanza stones, on to the White House to meet up with others, and then finally up to the gathering placeBEG2019-3-e1557163955372 below the rocky outcrop at the end of the Blackstone Edge ridge.  Four others walked up from Littleborough, and the rest assembled in the carpark below the White House pub and walked up from there. 

Two, alas, headed off in the wrong direction and only reached the gathering place after everyone else had left.  Hopefully they’ll be able to try again next year.

We sang and we picnicked, but this year didn’t linger long as it was so cold.  Behind us three climbers were scaling the outcrop and before us a couple of paragliders were circling.

Andrew Bibby read some of Ernest Jones’s words, taken from reports of his speeches in the contemporary press.

Bob Sproule spoke about Pendle Radicals, a project organised by Mid Pennine Arts and how he aims to create several walking routes as an outcome of this. (Look out for a future blog for more information about this…)

Barbara Sanders told us about research into the life of Ethel Carnie Holdsworth, which is (also) a part of the  Pendle Hill Song Fellowship project.

Thanks to everyone who turned out in the cold to join the gathering, but special thanks to the speakers and to Barbara Sanders and Moira Hill for leading the singing.

BEG2019-1Pictures by David Hedley, Barbara Sanders and Bob Sproule.


Once again we see proof of how inspiring Pendle is for people past and present. If we reflect upon our Radicals cast list for example, it was Pendle Hill that inspired George Fox in the founding of the Quaker movement and it was a trip to Pendle that inspired ‘radical rambler’ Tom Stephenson, leading to the creation of the Pennine Way.




Are you inspired by the area of Pendle? Learn more about our project here and contact Faye for information on how you can get involved.


A very Radical couple of months…

May 2019

Catch up with some of the things we have been up to as part of Pendle Radicals. As Faye Wetherall reports, it’s true to say it has been a very busy and RADICAL few months with lots more to look forward to…


Have YOU got what it takes to be a Radical Explorer?

A few weeks ago as part of Pendle Hill Landscape Partnerships Free Family Nature Sessions we hosted a Radical Explorer themed workshop!  Held at the glorious Clarion House, the last IMG_5813one of its kind in the UK, the workshop shone light on just one of our Radical Trail sites which will be kite marked later this year.  (Look out for more on this…) We recruited lots of new Radical Explorers who made their own Explorer Journals, learnt about their local history and discovered their unique Explorer Name.  It was fantastic to introduce the project to a young audience who particularly enjoyed learning about the extraordinary Ethel Carnie Holdsworth, the first working class woman to have a novel published, just one of the many remarkable, but often forgotten, people of Pendle which Pendle Radicals aims to bring into the light.



Banner, Protests and Campaigning…

Over the last few months we have made lots of progress in the organising of our banners exhibition which will feature in the first British Textiles Biennial in October. We invited banner artist Jamie Holman to come and give a talk to our growing group of volunteers and we are looking forward to visiting the Peace Museum in Bradford later this week for further research and inFKRS8005spiration.

In the build up to what we hope will be a very impressive showing of textile banners both past and present, we are working with a group of GCSE Textiles students at Marsden Heights Community College. Over the course of seven sessions, the students will be thinking about what challenges they themselves face as young women today and what issues they feel strongly about. They will be inspired by the needlework of the suffragettes and will be thinking about what these women would be fighting for today. The work will be exhibited in the lead up to the British Textiles Biennial, with the students given ownership of how their work is displayed…


People Enjoying Nature…

We had a great day with Pendle Hill Landscape Partnership, providing a Radicals themed session as part of their People Enjoying IMG_6466Nature programme. These sessions provide individuals and groups dealing with mental health issues and social isolation the opportunity to learn new skills and meet new people, and so it was amazing to share our project with them and leave them wanting to learn more about the amazing people and places associated with their area. It was a fabulous day of making and walking, we took in two of our Radicals sites, the Inghamite church and Clarion House and the group were inspired by the work of Selina Cooper and Ada Nield Chew, thinking about and expressing some the issues they would be fighting for today!



A Full House for Peterloo

It was great to see lots of familiar and new faces at the screening of Peterloo as part of In-situ’s Pendle Social Cinema programme.  Ballad singer Jennifer Reid kicked off the evening with some live singing which certainly warmed up the audience, Jennifer will be leading her own project as part of Pendle Radicals… keep scrolling for more information. Nick Hunt (MPA Creative Director) followed with an update about the project. All proceeds from the screening are going to Clarion House.  Sue Nike from the Clarion told us about some of its interesting and radical history!



Novels, Poetry and Songs…

Reader, writer, poet, pacifist, suffragist, co-operator and educator Ethel Carnie Holdsworth has gPR - Audio Premiere - ECH - 25.3.19 - 2reatly inspired our team of volunteer researchers. With their help, as well as Drama Specialist Jules Gibb and broadcaster Liz Catlow, we have recorded a selection of Ethel’s poems which will feature in the National Poetry Archive. We are therefore inviting you to a celebratory event of this happening on Friday 7 June. As well as hearing these poems being brought to life, you will also have the opportunity to learn about one of Ethel’s novels that has been recently republished. East Lancashire Clarion Choir, based in Burnley, is currently singing about Ethel Carnie in a project called the Pendle Hill Song Fellowship. Come and hear the Songs of a Factory Girl – in song. Find out more here.


Broadside Ballads and Paul Graney…

Inspired by one of our Pendle Radicals, Paul Graney, ‘the man with the tape recorder’, Jennifer Reid will be creating a dialect reading group which will develop into a dialect writing group for people who live around Pendle Hill. Is this you? Why not some along to an introductory session to find out more about Paul Graney, his work and how you can get involved in this project.


This is just some of the RADICAL things that have been keeping us busy over the last few months… learn more about the project here and how you can become involved as a volunteer!




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.

Links in a Chain

Anne Cochrane, a member of the volunteer Radical Research Team, shares some fascinating connections discovered during her work as a volunteer researcher and archivist…

I now have three volunteering hats, one is for Burnley Library and the Lancashire Archive, one is for the Pendle Radicals project, and the third is as unofficial keeper of the archive for Lowerhouse Cricket Club, (1862 – and counting). I can prove that all three projects are actually connected, albeit the cricket club link is a bit tenuous, so I can wear all three hats at once, I am thinking flat caps here rather than top hats.

For the Lancashire Archive, I scan photos from the Burnley Library collection, add relevant information and they end up here. Of course, I only pick images/subjects I am interested in, so I did a series covering all the Members of Parliament for the parliamentary constituency of Burnley up to 1945, plus some unsuccessful candidates. They all proved at the very least interesting, some were absolutely fascinating, at least, one, Jabez Balfour, was an unmitigated scoundrel.

The first  and main link in my chain therefore is David Daniel Irving, Burnley’s first socialist/Labour M.P., from 1918 to 1923.

David Dan Irving, first Burnley Labour M.P

A very brief outline of Irving’s life is that he was born in Birmingham in 1854, went to sea from age 13 to 20, settled in Bristol, married Clara Beadsman and in his twenties lost a leg in an accident whilst working as a railway shunter. He became involved in trade unionism and socialism which eventually led to a job as branch secretary of the Socialist Democratic Federation in Burnley, and from 1894 to his death in 1924, he dedicated himself  to the  working people of Burnley, culminating in his election as M.P. in 1918.  After being  re-elected  for the third time in December 1923, he was made a Freeman of the Borough in January 1924, (see link to photo) went back to Westminster, became ill with pneumonia and died of a heart attack.

Want to learn more about this remarkable man, use this link!

The Pendle Radicals project provides the next links in my chain – Ethel Carnie Holdsworth and Katharine Bruce Glasier.17079461_116652049421

One of the first things we learnt about Ethel was that her father was involved with the SDF, and she attended meetings at a young age. She must have come into contact with Dan who was the driving force behind the SDF in this area, standing for parliament in Accrington in 1906 for the SDF, and surely had him in mind when she made her character of Bill Cherry in The Taming of Nan (1919)  a double leg amputee, as a result of an accident working as a railway porter. The next link is a bit more substantial…

Katharine Conway, later Bruce Glasier, daughter of a Congregationalist minister and committed Christian, was working as a High School teacher in Bristol when she became a socialist, and took a job teaching poor children. Upon research I have also found that she moved into the Irving family home to help look after Clara who is described as an invalid. Certainly the 1891 census records her at the Irving’s’ but describes her as a visitor, and a High School Classical Mistress. The household also comprised Irving’s two young daughters and his slightly older brother William. Irving is described as a weighbridge clerk and his brother as a Grocer’s warehouseman.

In 1892 a group of Bristol socialists, including the Irving’s, Katharine Conway, and Edith Stacey  gave up everything and moved to the Lake District to help run the Reverend Mills’ Starnthwaite Colony, a socialist Utopian experiment in land settlement for the urban unemployed. They didn’t last long and were soon expelled, being unable to work with the autocratic Mills. In 1893, Katharine Conway married John Bruce Glasier and together they helped to found the Independent Labour Party.220px-Katharine_Glasier_0001

Irving, now “entirely adrift ” scraped a living as an SDF speaker, until in 1894 he was made the first full time secretary for the SDF in Burnley.

Irving’s unexpected death in 1924 caused an outpouring of sorrow from friend and political foe alike and the town held a massive public funeral.

Amongst  the hundreds following the coffin was Selina Cooper.  There is no evidence that Katharine or Ethel were there, but with poetic licence, I am placing them behind Clara side by side with Selina. Clara Beadsman Irving, J.P., subsequently erected a monument  at the grave, and his socialist and Labour friends added stones with tributes to his life as Member of the School Board, Board of Guardians, Town Council and House of Commons. Clara died in 1944 and is also commemorated on the stone which still stands proud, if slightly wonky in Burnley Cemetery.

Clara wrote to Katharine in 1943,  wishing her a happy 80th birthday, the letter is part of the Bruce Glasier archive at Liverpool University. Katharine died in Earby in 1950.

And the Lowerhouse CC link… Dan Irving was one of the first socialists elected to the Town Council in 1902, for Gannow Ward. He probably knew my Grandad who was a union organiser.  I was brought up on Gannow Lane. I’m the link. (Told you it was tenuous.)

Burnley's Dan Irving, and H. M







A fruitful encounter…

Janet Swan tells of a fruitful encounter between the volunteer Radicals’ Research Team and a knowledgeable guest…

voicesofwomanhoo00carn_0016On the 20th November a group of us who have been researching the life of Ethel Carnie Holdsworth as part of the Pendle Radicals Project, met together to look more closely at her poetry and to meet with a very knowledgeable guest. Our aim was to choose some poetry to add to the national Poetry Archive. Our guest was Roger Smalley who wrote his PhD on Ethel and who is still, 20 years on, a passionate ambassador for Ethel’s work. As you will see, I think he was as glad to meet us as we were to meet him.

The most important thing about choosing any of Ethel Carnie Holdsworth’s poems is that we must be sure that they give the average browser, who may never have heard of her, a glimpse of her as the amazing woman she was. Ethel the reader, writer, educator, pacifist, suffragist, co-operator and believer in the goodness of the human spirit and the powerful effect of beauty and freedom upon it.  But as the amount of time that we have been allocated for Ethel’s ‘voice’ in the Poetry Archive is only 10 minutes, we also needed some other criteria for helping us make the choice about which of Ethel’s poems should go in.

We decided that we needed to choose poems that:

  • Grab the attention, or have strong punchy lines;
  • Represent her early, mid and late career, and her views;
  • Are not too long, so that we can have a range of poems in the 10 minute time frame;
  • Work effectively as audio.

Fortunately, we realised that as we are also able to write a biography of Ethel as part of the entry in the archive, then other poems could be added in written form and so some of the longer ones can be included that way. And of course we will be bringing other poems to life in other ways – for example A Marching Song being turned into a song.

What I also realised from the conversation with Roger Smalley, was that there are other poems out there that we haven’t yet considered. So while we thought we had a long list – and that really helped us to make a start on choosing – there are still a few poems that might creep into the final selection. Reading Roger’s book Breaking the Bonds of Capitalism: the political vision of a Lancashire mill girl and this article* by Patricia ethel1_Johnson, will help us ensure that we haven’t forgotten anything. And I feel that we owe it to not only Ethel, but also Roger, to be sure that we get this selection right. For him, bringing Ethel’s voice back to the notice of more than just a few academics, has been a big part of his life. He was so grateful to us that we are taking the task seriously.

If you would like to contribute to selecting the poems to go into the Poetry Archive – please ask to join our Radicals Research Team on Facebook. Alternatively, send us a message using the form below. Of course, if you have further suggestions of your own – please let us know. We will be making the final choice towards the end of January 2019.

*You can read an extract from the article on the JSTOR website. You can have free access to the complete article, but will need to sign up to JSTOR for that.


Searching for a Factory Girl

Reflecting on our last event at One Sixty, ‘Searching for a Factory girl’ as part of Burnley Literary Festival… and what a great night it was of songs, readings and amazing discussion!

The event at One Sixty was to provide people with an insight into the progress of the Pendle Radicals Project so far, which sets out to explore some of the extraordinary, non-conformist souls of the area around Pendle Hill. This includes the likes of George Fox, Selina Cooper and Jonas Moore however, it is the extraordinary story of Ethel Carnie Holdsworth, mill worker turned prolific writer and activist, whom the Pendle Radicals volunteer group have chosen to focus on for their first enquiry.

The event therefore highlighted what the volunteer team had discovered so far about Ethel Carnie Holdsworth from getting married and having children to getting her first novel published ‘Miss Nobody’ and writing for a number of newspapers.

Janet Swan led the discussion centred around a story board which displayed key parts of Carnie’s life, working half time at the Mill whilst being in school, writing her first poetry book ‘Rhymes from the Factory’, writing for the ‘Women Worker’, moving to London on her own and setting up Bebel House and having one of her novels turned into a film.

We had a number of guest speakers bringing Ethel’s story to life, including Liz Catlow and Peter Kenyon who read a number of Ethel’s amazing poems, a small number of which we are hoping to submit to the National Poetry Archive. Help us make the decision of which poems to select by visiting our Facebook page, and casting your vote!




Ethel’s writing is fearless, she was certainly not afraid to speak out and despite everything always kept going to do her best. The event was fully booked creating a great atmosphere, it is clear that Ethel’s strong nature and determination has caught many people’s imagination and we hope that this continues as we start to unpick more of this Lancashire girls life and career.