17 June 2013

David Huk: Ben Brierley 1825–1896 (1995)

David Huk's biography of Ben Brierley, one of the many local history publications by the late Neil Richardson, is very useful in that it is the only book I'm aware of (with the exception of Brierley's autobiography) that deals with Brierley in such depth: there are 48 A4 pages here, and Huk has obviously studied his subject in some detail and a great deal of enthusiasm.

Brierley was born in Failsworth between Manchester and Oldham to a handloom weaver, and the book traces his intellectual progress and vision as a writer – from meeting the poet and bookseller Elijah Ridings (also born in Failsworth and buried in Manchester General Cemetery) in his lunch break in the 1840s, having his poems published in John Bolton Rogerson's Oddfellow's Magazine, his relationship with Samuel Bamford, Samuel Laycock and Edwin Waugh, the publication of the highly successful Ben Brierley's Journal, his visits to the USA (the first one being with Sam Gradwell, and much more.

This is the story of a man's rise from very modest circumstances to a relatively comfortable position and then back again towards the end of his life. His alter ego, Ab o'th'Yate, achieved considerable success, and his short story 'A Day Out' (1855) led to the great popularity of an area (imaginary to begin with) being called Daisy Nook and associated by the artist Charles Potter with Waterhouses: Huk says the area was 'transformed almost overnight into a mini-Blackpool'. Today, the name Daisy Nook survives in a country park named after it.

The principal faults of the book are its many completely unnecessary exclamation marks, which frequently follow Huk's equally unnecessary chatty asides: for instance, I really didn't need to know that Huk fortified himself for his visit to Harpurhey Cemetery with drink from a large hip flask, or that his mother went to James Middleton's funeral, and so on – I suspect that he often forgot that he was writing a book and instead imagined himself gossiping in the local pub.

Link to my other Ben Brierley post:

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Ben Brierley in Failsworth and Harpurhey

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