Saturday, May 09, 2009

Lancashire’s Romantic Radical

It’s time for a personal review of the latest book about Allen Clarke, which by a massive coincidence has the same title as this posting, by Paul Salveson. The book’s by Paul Salveson that is. The review is by me. The atrocious grammar is mine as well. The photograph is of me too. At least the first one is. But the book I’m holding isn’t by me. That’s by Paul Salveson. Right, I’m glad we’ve sorted that out.

Regular followers of this board (by which, of course, I’m referring to the three or four lonely individuals with no life to speak of who return here twice a week and suffer this interminable rubbish, as opposed to those passing travellers cycling randomly along the Information Highway who’ve dropped in by mistake but go to the toilet every day ‘regular like’) will already be aware that I’m a big fan of Allen Clarke, author of Windmill Land, Teddy Ashton’s Annual and various other Edwardian works of Lancashire literature (now, unfortunately, mostly out of print) and a thoroughbred, old fashioned socialist of the pre-Stalin variety -- or to put it another way, of the sort actively pursuing their radical notions when socialism was still an excellent ideology before the usual dictatorial complications that attach themselves to every worthy cause at some point or other and corrupt it out of all shape and recognition took a stranglehold on the original ‘fairer world’ concept – somebody help me stop this sentence before I die of asphyxiation…

Gordon Bennett! Where was I? Oh yes, Paul Salveson’s book about Allen Clarke that you can see me holding in the aforementioned photograph is a very interesting and well-researched book; as well it ought to be considering that, according to the author, he’s been writing it since 1982.

Or rather he had been, because he’s finished writing it now…obviously.

Want to see a photograph of the author? (It’d probably be for the best if you did, if only to push this article forward.)

There he is, in Blackpool Library at the book launch (which Michelle attended but she’s not on the photograph) with Shirley (on the right…or on the left from Paul Salveson’s perspective I suppose) who is Allen Clarke’s granddaughter – er, Shirley that is -- (as, once again, our regular readers – who are probably going to become an awful lot less regular by the time they’ve finished this increasingly long-winded review – will be aware).

The book charts Allen Clarke’s life and times, his birth in ‘Steam Engine Land’, his personal reflections on industrialisation, his attempts to create a better world for the working masses, and the usual failure that attends such reformations (people are people regardless of how high radicals hold them in esteem – you might as well try to convince lemmings that competitive show jumping would be a good career move than to explain to the downtrodden that waving flags at the queen and voting tory is probably not such a good idea).

Allen Clarke was a visionary. He believed in socialism. He believed in abolishing child labour. He believed in equal rights for women. He believed in recycling. He believed in stamping out racism. He believed in vegetarianism. He believed in healthy exercise. He believed in overhauling the factory system with its grime and its drudge and its terrible death rate and returning instead to a more agricultural-based way of life, getting back to the land and communing with nature and stuff.

Unfortunately he also believed in people.

Time and time again his well-intentioned schemes failed; the Daisy Colony, his attempts to become a politician -- how fantastic would that have been if he hadn’t only polled a couple of hundred votes? A politician who actually gave a damn and believed in honesty and fair play? -- the creation of the Lancashire Authors’ Association – all right that last one didn’t fail as such, but it’s possibly not quite the voice of ordinary work-a-day folk that he intended. At least, that’s the impression I got from the book. Don’t quote me on it because I could be massively wrong.

Despite his love of the Fylde and Wyre (or ‘Windmill Land’ as Clarke referred to the district) there’s barely a mention of it in Mr Salveson’s book.

This isn’t a criticism.

Far from it. Me and Michelle are still in the process of writing ‘Return to Windmill Land’ (we’re up to page ten so far…it’s slow progress, but we are still hobbling along). The fact that Paul Salveson comes from Bolton might explain the book’s leaning towards ‘Steam Engine Land’, but that makes it all the more fascinating, because there’s loads of stuff in this book we never knew before. (Being Fylde and Wyre born we never bothered researching ‘Steam Engine Land’, you see? It’s all a bit parochially recursive in the end.)

Time for another photograph. Carol was at the book launch. I thought I’d post this photograph of her for two reasons; firstly, to prove to any readers who might have been concerned, that, despite my best attempts with a certain article (now banished to the great Internet Dustbin) to get her the sack a few weeks ago, she’s still very much in work, and secondly, because I know it’ll annoy her if she happens to be passing and notices.

I have one iddy-biddy qualm about ‘Lancashire’s Romantic Radical’. It’s only small, but I think it’s important for my own self-esteem to find a negative point about it somewhere. My qualm is this (summed up in two words): Fifteen quid?

I realise that local history with its smaller-than-average print runs tends to be a bit expensive. But fifteen quid?

Don’t get me wrong. It’s an excellent, intelligent, well-written and fascinating book and, in every respect, worth every single penny. It’s just that I can’t help picturing Allen Clarke sitting there behind his desk, pruning his moustache disconcertingly with the stem of his pipe, muttering:

“Fiftin quids? Us can’t be ’avin’ wi’ innee o’ that! Thars folks owt thur ’at can’t affooard fiftin quids! Now ’ow can us get thart preece doan a bit?”

And the answer, of course, would be to lose the glossy pages and replace them with cheaper, less fancy stuff.

Like I say, it’s not really a criticism of the book itself; just the old Clarkeian socialist in me wanting to see this important biography distributed as widely as possible.

In summary then:

An excellent read and well worth buying (even if it is fifteen quid), although, off hand, I’m not sure where you can obtain a copy. Probably the usual outlets. We bought ours at the book launch so I couldn’t swear to that.

For fans of Allen Clarke, go and buy it.
If you’re not a fan, buy it anyway and you’ll probably end up one


Ann oDyne said...

Down here in the state named for Queen Victoria, we have windmills too - Southern Cross" brand.

Dear Carol greetings from your fans in the city re-named for Lord Melbourne.

Brian Hughes said...


Those windmills of yours look a bit annorexic. It's not a proper windmill unless you can live inside it with fifteen sheep, a flying car and a grandfather who has tea with Queen Victoria in the outside bog.

Jayne said...

I hadn't realised Shirley's grandfather was so much more than a not-so-'umble author; wow, he was a busy lad!

JahTeh said...

I wish you had put the photos of Shirley and Carol up first, delightful women, instead of the morbidly depressing sheepbotherer holding the book. I nearly lorst me lunch.

Fifteen quid? How much in decent Oz money because I love a book with shiny pages?

Brian Hughes said...


Same here. He's climbed even higher in my opinion since reading his biography.


I've checked the exchange rate and in Oz money that'd be about 200 million dollars, or four sheep and the entire revenue of Melbourne for fifty years.

Brian Hughes said...

p.s. I didn't think the photograph of Paul Salveson was that bad.

John said...

What's this about lonely people with no lives to speak of? I'm hardly lonely, and have quite a busy and exciting life, thank you. Why, just today I went for a walk, went bowling, weeded the front garden, and started a new illustration. So there.

I happen to spend me valuable time here looking for some erudite learning and educating. I've already invested enough time that I have to keep coming back in the hopes that some erudite learning will eventually show up and I can educate myself through your wordly wanderings through the Wyre, and justify the time already spent.

Now, you never mentioned if the book had photos or illustrations. That's important to some of us.

Cheers, JOHN :0)

PS Apologies can be sent to the usual address.

PSS wv= borprons doesn't THAT sound like an enemy of Doctor Who?

Brian Hughes said...

John,"Now, you never mentioned if the book had photos or illustrations." has a few."...borprons doesn't THAT sound like an enemy of Doctor Who?"

Sounds more like an embarassing medical complaint to me.

Lord Sedgwick said...

Initially this posting had me seriously perturbed.

Broyan's melancholic physiognomy.

Then I was uplifted (Boom! Boom!) by young Carol's horizontally framed busty substances. (She can cross over to the dark side any time she likes.)

Brian Hughes said...


What d' y' mean, melancholic physiognomy? That's my smouldering, sexy but nonetheless intelligent look that is. You want to see me when I really turn on the charm and cross my eyes.

Lord Sedgwick said...

"smouldering, sexy but nonetheless intelligent look"That's 'xactly what I noticed 'bout Ms Carol.

Anonymous said...


Lord Sedgwick said...

You're not alone Carolnymous.

The entire antipodes share your antipathy.

Broyan is not an antiquarian he's just a very naughty muddy booted curmudgeon!

F.G. Marshall-Stacks said...

OW my gawd ... I thought he was impersonating Harry H Corbett.

Brian Hughes said...


Please take a ticket. Your position in the queue is currently 4,872.


I'm not a antiquarian, I'm just an antique.


Marginally better than Wilfred Brambles, I suppose.

shirley said...

So posting pics of carol and I and author where is pic of my matey Michelle with author. I agree £15 a bit much (Shirley coverts her signed free book lovingly) Am sending you some more windy pics Brian of the mill variety.
To Frank can you fit two of us ladies of a certain age in your aircraft for a windmillian airel trip of the mills. Did you arrive at opening in disguise???


Brian Hughes said...


Michelle asked me to remove any images of her from the photographs before I posted them. (She hasn't actually seen the photographs yet. She refuses to look at them on the general grounds that she's in them and doesn't want to know.)

Carol, on the other hand, didn't submit any formal request in writing, and now I suspect she isn't talking to me. I don't know...some people just don't consider following the correct procedure when it comes to such matters.