No…not that Allen Clarke! Not the tory one with the bad social attitude, too much money, too little decorum and a rather chronic case of foot in mouth disease. The other one; the socialist one; the one who wrote entertaining poetry and books and stuff about the Fylde and Wyre; that’s who we’re writing about here.
“Will you ramble with me in Windmill Land? In Lancashire. Yes – drop that stare of incredulity…”
Allen Clarke ‘Windmill Land’ published 1916
It’s been almost a century, give or take the odd year – all right, take the odd seven and a quarter years then, it’s still a long time -- since J. M. Dent and Sons of London first published Allen Clarke’s ‘Windmill Land’, a milestone of northern literature (well, it is as far as we’re concerned), famous as much for its author’s wit as for its portrait of a Lancashire landscape much maligned by those ‘not in the know’.
Almost one hundred years later and ‘Windmill Land’ is still as young and fresh-faced as ever; as entertaining a work as it was on the day that Mr. Clarke first penned those words at the top of this posting…that is, almost at the top of this posting. They would have been at the top of this posting if I hadn’t stopped to explain exactly which Allen Clarke we were writing about for the benefit of any confused readers who happened to alight on this website under a misapprehension.
I’m a big fan of Allen Clarke. Michelle’s a big fan of Allen Clarke’s too. Which is why we decided to write this article…such as it. So here’s a potted history of the great man himself, but first let’s have a photograph, which we’ve borrowed off Shirley Matthews, Allen Clarke’s granddaughter…without her permission. I’m sure she won’t mind though. We’ve talked with Shirley and, believe it or not, she’s a big fan of Allen Clarke’s too.
Right then, Charles Allen Clarke (also known as ‘Teddy Ashton’) was born on the twenty-seventh of February 1863 at forty-seven Parott Street, Bolton. As a child, like many Lancashire kids, he worked in the local cotton mill, but eventually won a scholarship as a student/teacher to a Bolton school and escaped from what would otherwise have been a life of drudgery.
In 1909 he founded the Lancashire Author's Association (along with a number of other people we ought to add) and died on December the twelfth 1935 at the age of seventy-three.
That really was a potted history, wasn’t it? Perhaps one or two areas need a bit of elaboration.
Amongst his works, then, are the oddly entitled, ‘Lass at the Man and Scythe’, ‘The Object Of Life’, ‘Tum Fowt Sketches’, ‘Medical Humbug,’ and ‘Eawr Sarah's Chap’.
However, it was ‘Windmill Land’ (along with its equally readable although not particularly inventively-named follow up ‘More Windmill Land’) that was, in our opinion at any rate, his finest hour. Well we would say that, wouldn’t we, considering that this is the Fylde and Wyre Antiquarian website? Nonetheless, we wouldn’t make such a claim lightly.
You see, Mr. Clarke loved the Fylde and Wyre, comparing them to ‘Fairyland’ (a name that, nowadays, would be more associated with certain nightclubs round Talbot Square); their rural idyll so removed from the grimy landscape of his youth, so populated with rustic characters and unpretentious history that, as an adult, he settled contentedly within our borders and became, by unanimous decision, an honorary Blackpudding.
There’s a lot more information about Allen Clarke (especially his early life and works) over at Shirley’s site: http://www.windmillland.com. It’s well worth a look. In the meantime, here’s a photograph of me, looking incredibly serious and full of gravitas and what have you, holding a first edition, signed copy of More Windmill Land, just to prove that me and Michelle really are fans. (I was going to photograph myself holding our copy of the original Windmill Land as well, but, as luck would have it, Michelle’s taken it with her to read at work, which just goes to show…)
Yes, I know what you’re thinking: “How can anyone be so damned good looking and so brilliantly intelligent at the same time? Life really isn’t fair on the rest of us!”
Live with it.
We mentioned earlier that Allen Clarke also went under the name of Teddy Ashton. It was in this guise that he wrote ‘Teddy Ashton’s Northern Weekly’ and ‘Teddy Ashton’s Annual’, both of which (being, as they were, a compilation of dialect poetry and prose) he sold to the linen and textile workers visiting the town. The offices for the Northern Weekly stood on the corner of Shaw Road and Blackpool promenade, a location now occupied in traditional Blackpool fashion by a chippie.
Here’s a photograph that Shirley hasn’t got on her website. That’s because (I suspect) it’s copyrighted to the Evening Gazette. (Potential infringement suit to follow, but what the Hell? You can’t get blood from a stone.)
That’s Allen Clarke himself there, look, having a chinwag with a couple of kids whilst sat on his bike.
Clarke was a big fan of cycling, the journeys undertaken in his Windmill Land books all being, of course, conducted on the saddle. One of these days (if we ever get the chance between digging up and recording most of North Lancashire) me and Michelle intend to write our own follow up to More Windmill Land. We’re going to call it ‘Return to Windmill Land’ (well, why not?) and compare the rural landscape of Allen Clarke’s day with the Fylde and Wyre of modern times.
We won’t, however, be using our bikes to get around. Trams, buses and automobiles seem a more sensible (if not considerably lazier) bet.
Anyhow, with that in mind, here’s one final coupling of photographs, borrowed once again from Shirley’s website (go and visit it…you can even purchase an e-book version of Windmill Land there). The first of the photographs (I’ve just noticed) is actually the same as the one at the start of this posting (look, it’s been a long week, all right…mistakes just happen sometimes), whereas the second shows Allen Clarke, his bicycle and his cycling companion Owd Tom Hughes (and with a name like that he must have been a grand bloke):