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.






Tea Party Update…

What an amazing discussion we have just had at Mid Pennine Arts, talking all things Ethel Carnie Holdsworth. It was great to hear from all of our volunteers the snippets of information that they have discovered about this amazing mill worker turned bestselling author. The enthusiasm and drive that we have had from our volunteers so far has been amazing and reflects Carnie’s determination, it is great to see the project develop in this way.

We began by reflecting on Carnie’s writing, but where to begin was the question? In particular, it was interesting to look at her writing in the Daily Herald as this very much highlight’s her humour and feistiness. As well as the Herald Carnie wrote for a number of other newspapers including Christian Common World, The Women Worker, Clear Light and The Weekly Telegraph. How did she find the time we may ask, whilst writing several books, poems and having a family of her own?

We then moved on to looking more closely at Carnie’s poetry, unpicking one poem in particular ‘Why?’ from one of Carnie’s poetry books ‘Voices of Womanhood.’ This is one of a number of poems being considered to be put forward to feature in the National Poetry Archive and YOU can join us in making this decision via our Facebook page.

It was also a great opportunity to discuss with the volunteers another outcome of the project, a production piece. It was great to hear everyone’s different ideas regarding this and we started to form a storyboard of key events and stages in Carnie’s life that we regard as being important. This is something we will share at our next event ‘Searching For a Factory Girl’, so watch this space!!

We were also really excited to discuss our next Radicals Research Trip with our last being a visit to the Royal Exchange Theatre to see Queen’s of a Coal Age. We are hoping to take our team of volunteers to the People’s History Museum to see one of their current exhibitions ‘Represent’, which reflects on those who campaigned for better representation; most famously the suffragists and the militant suffragettes. We look forward to getting this organised in the next few weeks!






Ethel Update

Our second tea party held at the Mid Pennine Arts office was a great opportunity to catch up over tea and cake and hear what information people had discovered since meeting at One Sixty! In particular it was exciting to hear that a relative of Ethel Carnie’s had been in touch, who we hope to soon meet, an amazing opportunity to find out more about this Lancashire mill worker turned best selling author!

Two copies of Clear Light, an anti-fascist journal that Carnie edited and produced during the 1920’s has also been located at the Working Class Movement Library in Manchester, the scale of which would challenge today’s readers. The journal was in many ways aimed at females and emphasised on asking women to share their thoughts. This once again highlights Ethel’s formidable passion as a campaigner as well as being an amazing writer… Go Ethel!

”Despite being flawed we must keep going to do our best…”

In the words of Ethel Carnie Holdsworth, we may not always be perfect but we must always continue to do our best! Throughout discussion we were continuously reminded of Ethel’s determination, strength, bravery, she was almost invincible.

Pendle Radicals - vols gathering - 31.7.18 - 2

What couldn’t she do?

We even discovered that in October 1930 Ethel helped to set up Bebel House in Kensington, where she worked as honouree director, the purpose of which was to educate trade unionists to be propagandists.

This inspired us to think further about our Production Piece, in what way should we show her life, what views and beliefs of hers are important to draw attention to? We reflected also on our recent trip to the Royal Exchange theatre which prompted us to think about what techniques and theatrical devices could be used. After all by the age of 46, Carnie had written 10 novels, 2 films, numerous short stories, 15 serials, several poems and essays as well as editing and producing Clear Light…

It was amazing to start visualising this and without the volunteers contribution this wouldn’t have been possible, the little snippets of information that everyone keeps on discovering is allowing us to continue Ethel’s story, her feistiness, work ethic and incredible literacy!




A night at the theatre…

Queens of the Coal Age

Our first Radicals Research Trip was to the Royal Exchange Theatre to see Queens of the Coal Age, and what a great evening it was! The production was centred around the story of  four fearless women who stood up for change, they were BRAVE, DETERMIND and in so many ways showed POWER and FORTITUDE.

Does this remind you of anyone? Of course, one of our Radicals Ethel Carnie Holdsworth.

Ethel Writing

The purpose of the play was to very much celebrate the fighting spirit of these women and to not allow their protest to be forgotten. It carried on their determination and bravery and allows for people to remember their passion.

This is similar to the aim of our Pendle Radicals project, to not let people such as Ethel Carnie be forgotten and therefore pay tribute to her life and career.

This therefore was a great opportunity to gather more research and an insight into what one of the main outcomes of the Pendle Radicals Project may be….