Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Allen Clarke Diaries

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 quart
er 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, wou
ldn’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 rig
ht…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):


31 comments:

John said...

Very interesting, and hardly biased at all. ;0) Kidding, of course... only someone from the Fylde and Wyre could properly appreciate all the nuances, of course, of Clarke's writings.

I suspect he's standing on the step because he may not have been the tallest man in the Wyre, but then again, perhaps he just liked the step?

As for Return to Windmill Land via Train and Bus? I look forward to it. Be sur eto include loads of before and after photos, eh?

And as for the bloke holding up the book? With the right scarf, he could look like Doctor Who... you know the one. The guy with the long scarf.

Cheers! I'll go check out that website now. JOHN :0)

John said...

PS What's a Post (peg) Mill, as mentioned alongside windmills over at Shirley's site?

JOHN :0)

Andrew said...

I should have worked it out by the book title, but further research shows me that it is a book about windmills. Really should have worked that out myself.

RVB said...

He sounds like an interesting chap that Allen Clarke...but if he's driven you into passionate effusiveness as such...I begin to wonder who's the messiah here.

Not Jesus.

Moving on...

Your computer monitor looks ancient...I'd have it replaced if I were you.

Brian Hughes said...

John,

"And as for the bloke holding up the book? With the right scarf, he could look like Doctor Who."

Well, Dr Who has become something of a sex symbol these days.

"What's a Post (peg) Mill?"

They're wooden mills based on a very early mediaeval design that have the ability to rotate entirely on a central wooden post so that the sails can face into the wind.

Andrew,

It's not just about windmills...although windmills are the central theme, of course.

That monitor is ancient, because that's my spare computer, just in case. My proper one's upstairs. It's almost as ancient in its own right, but works off steam as opposed to water power.

Brian Hughes said...

Ahem...sorry about that...that last remark about the computer was addressed to Reuben, obviously. I haven't woken up yet. You might have noticed.

JahTeh said...

You look extremely dashing in that photo. How old is it, by the way?

Brian Hughes said...

Witchy...about a week and a half. I keep telling you...I'm not physically ancient, just mentally decrepit.

Lord Sedgwick said...

Coppertop, you can determine the age of the subject by the time honoured method of examinising the tree rings of the tiny stump hidden deep in the nether regions of that old scarf bedecked codger's Y-fronts. (BYO electron microscope, rubber gloves and capsicum spray.)

Jayne said...

Dousing and windmills could employ a good many people who used to imagine they could find squillions of $ of interest in other people's money by staring into a force 10 gale while standing on 1 leg and chanting the full Karma Sutra in Swahili.

Brian Hughes said...

Sedgers,

That's not a reliable dating method in my case. To coin an American euphermism, I prefer to go commando.

Jayne,

I think that latest batch of egg-nog might be starting to turn.

Jayne said...

Damn! I was hoping it was Stephen Fry that was on the turn....

Brian Hughes said...

Jayne,

I think he's revolved 360 degrees several times already, hasn't he?

JahTeh said...

Commando, Fleetwood?
No wonder you complain so often about the cold.


Any photos?

Jayne said...

When he pops through the revolving door again, Brian, just prop it open with a twig, ok, ta :P

Brian Hughes said...

Witchy and Jayne,

I said I prefer to go commando, not walk about with my flies undone.

Jayne said...

Wombats and chooks are handy for nailing a delicious Stephen Fry to this side of the fence :P

Lord Sedgwick said...

First off - word verification (true dinks) - 'nobsor' obviously refers to Brian's commando protocol. That's the invasive Big Brother Google streetview upknickerbockers for you.

Now Jayne, please - a bit of Chrissie decorum if you don't mind umpire!

"Wombats and chooks are handy for nailing"

Whatsmore that is, as Broyan (do read his autobiography 'Lord of the Flies' recently made into a fillum by that Hammer studio gothic mob and rebadged as 'Master and Commando') will attest (what him with having calalogued my entire polaroid collection for the Fleetwood Public Library) my bailiwick.

"Witchy, peel me another Bombay Sapphic."

Brian Hughes said...

Jayne and Sedgers,

Obviously the egg nog's kicking in. I sense a definite downturn in both taste and intellectual debate, much like the Preesall Over 80's Annual Cucumber Sandwich Dinner as it approaches eight-thirty p.m.

Jayne said...

Ohhh errr, they do a nice Bombay Sapphic in the Greek Isles but I'm not sure them bailiwicks are what mumsy's after, no indeed.

shirley said...

you lot are so good at bantering I hope you all come to the feb do at the mill like to put faces to your names. By eck that's a dashing young fellow holding up my grandfather's book in Shirley Matthews mode tee hee. Glad I joined you lot what about a membership? or is it only for those over the border. Shirley or as known in these parts 'Windmill Lady' and yes I've had the gags before and egg nog does it for me!

Brian Hughes said...

Jayne,

I'll leave you to carry on your antipodean speak with Sedgwick. It's all double dutch to me.

Shirley,


"...that's a dashing young fellow holding up my grandfather's book..."

I've always been dashing. It must be my chronic diet and the fact that I'm never close enough to a convenience.

"...what about a membership?"

We have one of them for Wyre Archaeology (you get a membership card and everything...at least you're supposed to...I still haven't had mine for this year and I designed it) but not for the website. The website's free, which probably explains why all these weird Australian types end up here.

Jayne said...

Double brandy will help with that, Brian :P
We only congregate here coz the early closing hours of the local leaves us without a decent drinking spot.... :P

JahTeh said...

Early closing Jayne? I come here to sling mud at the dodgy archilogist bloke, you know the famiss ditch digger, Lord Huge Of Nitwick.

JahTeh said...

Shirley, this is not a site for a well brought up English gentlewoman but if you're from Fleetwood then welcome aboard and open the gin.

Brian Hughes said...

Jayne,

Just be glad you don't have 24 hour drinking laws such as those they've introduced to Blighty in recent years. Listening to all the drunken punch-ups and windows going through over the Christmas holidays is a real treat.

Witchy,

I think you'll find that absynth with a meths chaser is the tipple of choice in the realms of the Codhead.

shirley said...

this blogging has done my head in it keeps throwing me out Me thinks somrthing is a foot. Shirley
tried to post three times

shirley said...

ha ha at last and I seem to have a title here well brought up English gentle woman. Bye 'eck and me a true sandgrownan who has oodles of relatives in Fleetwood. Many a trip on a tram from Blackpool to the fish shop ah fish & gin. Well in 2009 they the esteemed council are naming a tram after my grandfather so I will be arriving in my gentle woman guise with a royal wave to one and all. In the graveyard at Fleetwood there is a gravestone with Little Marton Windmill painted on it. Allen Clarke's Fleetwood grandaughter. If I knew how to post on here I would send a pic in full colour. So chaps and chapesses does tha think i'll fit in with thee now. Hey this is my Birthday and am off for session with my hubbie (was a bouncer in the pubs in Fleetwood) Shirley

Brian Hughes said...

Shirley,

Send me the photograph and I'll post it over at the forum for you. In the meantime, have a reet gradely buthdee! (A buthdee ont' Boxin' Dee, 'ow grand ist thart?)

Daisy said...

Well, aren't you lovely?!

Brian Hughes said...

Daisy,

That's not a word that other people generally use with regard to me. I can think of a few they might use instead...but I don't want to repeat them on a family site such as what this is.