13 April 2016

Paul Salveson: Lancashire's Romantic Radical: The Life and Writings of Allen Clarke / Teddy Ashton (2009)

The subtitle here – The Life and Writings of Allen Clarke / Teddy Ashton alludes to the fact that Allen Clarke (1863–1936) sometimes used the pseudonym Teddy Ashton, in fact it could be said that it was a form of literary alter ego: when he used his birth name he tended to be more politically serious, in fact the working-class intellectual he was; 'Teddy Ashton', though, wrote in a simpler way, often humorously.

Allen Clarke was born in Daubhill, Bolton, and died in Blackpool. His socialist message was essentially conveyed through journalism, and after initially working for a few papers he created his own Teddy Ashton's Journal in 1896, which became the very popular Teddy Ashton's Northern Weekly in 1898, selling mainly in Lancashire cotton and market towns, including Manchester: it included the 'Tum Fowt Sketches', plus a romantic serial novel, and although light on politics was of course determinedly socialist. Teddy Ashton's Northern Weekly ran into financial difficulties in 1906, was renamed Fellowship, and folded in 1908.

Clarke also wrote a number of books, notably The Effects of the Factory System (1899). Using another pseudonym, Ben Adhem, he wrote more philosophical works. He was interested in spiritualism and published Science and the Soul (1904) and What Is Man? (also 1904), tending to embrace eastern beliefs. He dabbled with anarchism and was influenced by Tolstoy, with whom he corresponded and from whom he received encouragement. But Clarke's 'Daisy Colony' experiment failed and left him in debt.

In addition, Clarke wrote plays, short stories, and Paul Salveson reckons that he wrote over twenty novels, although most of these were published as serials and never published separately. Most noteworthy are John o' God's Sending, or the Lass of the Man and Scythe (set during the Civil War, named after the famous pub in Bolton and published in 1891 and 1919 (extended form)); The Knobstick (1892, set during the Bolton strike of 1887); and 'A Daughter of the Factory', which was unfortunately only published serially but whose main character has gypsy blood and who reminds me of Nottinghamshire novelist James Prior's gypsy-like New Woman creations.

Allen Clarke sounds like an amazing person: he supported women's rights, children's rights, was anti-war (which caused a rift with Robert Blatchford), anti-imperialist, pro-animal rights and vegetarianism, and was anti-vivisection. He was also a keen cyclist and windmill enthusiast, which reminds me of course of Karl Wood (although Wood's dreadful politics were very different).

I only stumbled on the existence of this book by chance, but I'm very fortunate in doing so: Paul Salveson has done an excellent job here, revealing many things about an important literary figure who (in spite of the Little Marton Windmill memorial) is probably essentially remembered only by a limited number of Blackpool locals.

This is a fascinating, even vital book, and I have only two niggles: I noted that it's in exactly the same format as my booklet on Nottinghamshire windmills, although this 118-page book is even more uncomfortable to read because of its size; and there were a few repetitions, probably due to the different times in which the book was written.

My other post on Allen Clarke:

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Little Marton Windmill, Allen Clarke and Cornelius Bagot

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