"Having been a mill worker for the first fourteen years of my working life and a lover of the industrial history of England, I have always been fascinated by the history of the mills in West Yorkshire and Lancashire during the 19th century when England was the texile capital of the world. With the exception of a few philantropic mill owners like Sir Titus Salt, who in 1853 built Salt's Mill in Saltaire, Bradford, along with a model village for his workers, which held a church, school, canteen, library and other outlets to keep his contented workforce Christian, other mill owners were far less charitable.
The vast majority of mill owners had only one prime concern; that of making as much profit as they could, and towards this end, they worked their workers to the bone for pitiful wages and kept their overheads as low as possible. Such practices meant that the safety of the workers was never a primary concern of the mill owner. Workers would work exceedingly long hours in the coldest of conditions. Indeed, their environments were deliberately kept at a low temperature in order to encourage greater worker speed. There were often a few brief breaks during their long day and their food sustanence would have to be eaten at their looms.
In fact, most things happened within visual range of their loom and work bench. Being reminded of such days recently by my friend, Joseph Newns from Warrington, it spurred me on to pen this poem. It is about a young woman who conceives and delivers her baby on the mill floor within sight of her loom during her brief work break one winter's morn. Dedicated to Joseph Newns.
'Cockhedge Mill' by William Forde
In Cockhedge Mill one winter morn, a boy called Joseph Newns was born.
As mother lay upon the ground, the wooden flooring did abound,
as sounds of looms went, clickerty clack,
the shuttles shot forward, then shot back.
The bundled babe filled mother's arms,
as weavers worked around the charms of mother feeding from the breast,
still anchored to the floor did rest until the foreman spotted her, rebuking her for heaven's sake,
for having baby in her break.
Get back to work, you sorry wench,
move, get thee sharply to thy bench.
The mother thought how babe was born, behind the loom one Friday morn.
Conceived and birthed upon same ground, if poetic justice could be found,
it would be found in the sound of the shuttlecock.
William Forde Copyright: July 26th, 2016.