Earnshaw & Bailey debut new poem commissioned by KYP.

Although ‘Earnshaw and Bailey’ sounds like a crime-fighting duo, it is, in fact, the surnames of two of our Touchstones Creative Writing Group members.  On 7th March 2018, Eileen Earnshaw and Jennie Bailey performed a poem that they wrote for KYP’s Ambition for Ageing ‘Standing Together’ event. This had a focus on the First World War where speakers were invited to talk about some of the little-known experiences of the community and those who fought or laboured. From Southern Voices talk on the perspectives of colonised people, the experience of Abdul Jabbar a Muslim veteran who served in the 1980s and 1990s, Steve Butterworth introducing veterans’ work in the community, and Major Dr Paul Knight discussing histories of the Indian army in WW1, there was much to learn. Eileen and Jennie were commissioned to write a poem about women’s contribution to the war. (Jennie has blogged about the experience of researching this here.) On International Women’s Day it seems apt that we are republishing the poem here:



A Woman’s War – Eileen Earnshaw & Jennie Bailey


Each day, we fight this intimate war.

Our hair cut short,

our children in others care.

Each day, we read the list of loss,

names known of men and boys.

Still, faith is constant. Re-enforced

in factories and shops.

Each bobbin wound, each woven thread,

Each length of cloth, each twelve-hour day.

This hurt will soon be over.

Each working hour it’s closer.

At night, we touch his coat,

Still there by the door,

His chair, his pipe, his book,

We leave them there,

as he left them there.

This too a sign of faith.


And we are all the women

who fight in this bloody war.

Weavers with pricked fingers

whose blood ends up in battle.

The clothes we make go to the front:

a piece of me with you.


And the suffragist, the objector,

no coward is she for peace.

She sees the waste of all the lives

holds banners all year long:

‘Equality not brutality’.

See her in winter, in the snowfall:

the flutter of cold white feathers.


And all those lads who fell

and those who made it home.

Who made the munitions? Yes,

this is a lass’s war.


The Canary Girls, their make-up

is jaundice from TNT

from the factory,

but they carry on,

their work a sign of faith.


Faith that’d it all be soon over,

by Christmas became the lie.

Every night they still touch his coat

pop a snook of baccy on the side.


The weavers make the khaki clothes

for the daddies who never came home.

Lovers wept over, but the day comes closer

when one day there’ll be no war.


And here among the looms and frames,

his reality becomes a picture

without essence, the features familiar.

We drag back the memory:

how he was, what he did,

how he could do anything. Everything.

How his shoulders filled the doorway,

darkened the room

as the laughter in his eyes

brightened our world.


The memory of his body,

more real than any image.

Our faith more solid

than a report of death.

The way was clear,

as we weave we,

work, work away the anger.

Work, work away the hurt.

Work, work away the fear.

Work to bring him home.


Touchstones Creative Writing Group has received funding from KYP for our work in Rochdale, this allows us to continue to provide high-quality creative writing sessions for the community and a space to connect with other writers.


Cotton Famine Road poems

On 14th August 2016 members of Touchstones Creative Writing Group performed original poetry to help celebrate the unveiling of a plaque dedicated to the community who sided with the cotton picking slaves.

This event -now an annual occurrence -is to raise awareness about the road, the role of the local people involved in the road building scheme and their role in the anti-slavery movement. There’s a video with the poets here from 2016: poetry for Cotton Famine Road. We have reproduced some of the poems written for the event in 2016 and for the 2017 event below:


For black folk there was nothing but the cruellest life each day.
The whip, the breaking backs as cotton bales were sent to weigh,
While white folk trudged the Cotton Road to reach the cotton mill
Where they would slave in dampness and conditions that could kill.

So many miles away across the endless ocean’s waves,
A Civil War was brewing that could free the captive slaves,
And even England’s poorest joined their voices to the fight
For they could understand the awful horror of their plight.

Then cotton ceased to come as ports were blocked ‘til slaves were freed,
But here, the mills fell silent and the people cried in need,
And walked the tired horses down the Cotton Famine Road
To find no work was waiting and no cotton to unload.

And little children cried because the hunger brought them pain,
And parents didn’t know if they would ever work again.
When one by one the mills began to close or change their path,
For England’s North was altered in the famine’s aftermath.

But like the cobbled Cotton Famine Road that would survive,
The ordinary Rochdale Folk have kept the past alive
And it’s become the future for the cotton industry
Is coming back to Manchester – without the slavery.

© Annette Keeble Martens


(When cotton was king)

Saw a train set the night on fire
Hauling raw cotton on iron racks,
To-ing and fro-ing on cold steel tracks,
Weaving weft by day and night,
Shuttles flying forth and back.

Warp and Weft spells piecing seams,
Fabric; colour washed in icy streams,
Woven from visions of young girl’s dreams.

Back and forth from port to hills,
In and out of forbidding mills.
Train gangs stoke with coal and coke,
Mill folk choke on thick black smoke.

Relentless hum; clackety, clackety, clack.
Mill’s whistle blows; engines hoot right back.

Sheets on beds and clothes on backs,
Shrouds and shirts and gabardine Mac’s
All shunted on the trains strong back.

© Catherine Coward 15/07/15



Lives in Alabama, twisting and turning like cotton on trees,
as hardship and grievance across oceans interweave.
Fired by inequality, earth trembled with the sound of shot;
the ground stilled when the looms stopped.

Bales began stockpiling, men and industry together dying.
Some slaved in heat, some slaved in cold,
pursuing solidarity in a parallel world.
Children of the revolution laid each cold stone
trying to appease their hunger on the Cotton Famine Road.

For every shuttle stopped, another stone was laid,
with long hard labour Rooley Moor was paved,
while war against slavery raged.
A bowl of rice, a cup of soup, an early grave,
was the pittance both sides were paid.
Gangs without a chain; slaves in all but name.
Alabama blues made front page news.

The Poor Law’s lasting monument to hardship and the poor
lies embedded on the hillside; battered by wind and rain
on the former Catley Lane.

© Catherine Coward


Cotton Famine Road

Stretching over Spodden Moor,
As far as eyes can see.
Stone setts, side by side,
stepping stones to victory.
O’er aching backs,
stone ripped hands
capitalist and kings.
Part-time schools, poor education;
Low wages, near starvation.
Slaves in all but name
men who built the Famine Road
could hear their children cry,
for want of warmth in winter,
For clothes to keep them dry.
In fields abroad, or Lancashire
men should be above the beast;
See every stone a protest
that men should all be free.
Behind this simple tenet
United we should be.

© Eileen Earnshaw. Summer 2017

Rooley Moor Road (AKA the Cotton Famine Road)


The Cotton Famine Road

Together, let’s celebrate Lancashire’s spirit,
especially today, at Catley Lane Head,
where a set stone road begins and straddles
Rooley Moor’s peat bog beds.

Step on stones of this Victorian road,
one of England’s highest, they said.
It’s certainly seen for miles around,
slashing the moor with its ancient tread.

Before it was laid, life was good for its makers.
Plentiful work in warm mills, using skill.
Well paid, in those days of the eighteen fifties,
Able to pay any household bill.

Then civil commotion across the ocean
ricocheted here to our nation.
Cotton fell scarce; men laid off work,
and stoppage brought with it starvation.

Work offered in lieu for a pittance each day.
Slave labour akin to black vassals.
Toilers broke stones and surfaced the road;
Showed guts in spite of all hassles.

No money to spare, they slept where they could
still clothed, to fend off the cold,
living on oats and their will to survive.
Their story deserves to be told.

Today, the road embodies their grit
brought about by commercial uncertainty,
reversing the pattern, the course of men’s lives,
bringing them down in deep poverty.

Their legacy endures, can be seen here today,
And merits more worthy attention,
by highlighting facts about Rooley Moor Road
and the men behind its invention.

© Glenis Meeks July 2017


Famine Weavers

My grandmother saw them gather once
restless particles forming in fog
awakened by frost dressing rooftops
like a knocker-up tapping on glass.
Murmuring shades, ragged skeletal moths
dancing in hisses of gas light,
grouped tight to keep the living out,
reflecting in mill windows and puddles.
Clogs echoing on wet cobblestones,
mee-maws hollowing into the night.

© Shirley-Anne Kennedy


Ghosts of Cotton Famine Road

Lowering clouds rest heavy on high peaks.
From those dank mists there flows a road of stones
And here my restless presence haunts the way.

Bound to this bleak place by distant woes,
Here once I stumbled blindly with fatigue,
Lay down to rest and never rose again.

Listen and you may hear the far off sounds
Soft cries and groans carried on bitter winds
And sharp metallic ring of tools on stone
As spirits of the dead still build the road.

They do not know that their hard day is done
Or that they have no more a need to toil,
But slave-like still they wearily work on
To earn relief for loved ones long since passed.

There is no welcome rest for such as they
Who needs must labour for a paltry sum,
Bent to the will of greedy, wealthy men
And they no choice but do as they are bid.

© Susan Gash


Sixpence for a Song

The silence in the village crept eerily around
And a quietness hung in the air.
Few carts rattled by in these times of cheerless need.
Men leant upon the bridge, cold, listless;
No one hurried now.

Unlike the earlier years
When the tall mill chimneys would smoke foggily,
And loads of twist and cloth pervade the cobbled streets.
The flower of our working population,
Of finer stuff than the common staple.
And folk would hurry by to the busy factory,
Full of life, full of glee.

Suddenly, the sweet, plaintive song of a young girl
Floated along in the calm, still air.
How could she feel like singing
When they had no clothes to wear?

She pulled her baby close to her,
There was no bonnet for its head,
As with nervous grasp, a timid air,
And downcast eye, she sang as she hugged her little one.
The Chartist orator, Ernest Jones, never forgot the men of Rochdale
And their love of freedom’s truth.
And for the freedom of the black,
Joined towards the Charter of the Englishman’s liberty.

With her sweet song ended and her soft voice fading away,
She had every heart strung to sympathy.
And lifting her eyes to reality,
Burst into a flood of passionate tears.

Lancashire folk were never known to remark
Or hawk their troubles around;
They were always sufficiently worthy of themselves.
But a Lancashire lad had heard her song, and with pity,
Laid down his hat at her place on the cobbles,
And collected for her a few ill-afforded pennies,
He himself giving her a sixpence for her song.

July 2016 © Val J Chapman

If you’re interested, have a look at this fascinating historical and literary research project that is currently led by Exeter University on the poetry of the Lancashire Cotton Famine. (Clicking the link will take you to the website.)

Focus on our members: Gerry Fitton

After our session on sonnets, Gerry has written two cheeky pieces inspired by New Year resolutions!

New Year’s Resolution revisited

My friends will go for exercise;
The treadmill and the weights await.
No more they’ll snooze until quite late –
Oh no, they’ll greet the sunrise!

And some will hail the salad bowl;
The cucumber and radish, on healthy seed
And leafy greens and tofu will they feed,
Nor will they heed the way their tummies growl.

Now, as for me, the sofa gently beckons;
A stack of books, unread and tantalising…
Forget the gym, no matter what your guru reckons!
I’d rather spend the time in endless fantasising
For resolutions, I have found, do not have staying power…
But reading on the sofa? I can do it by the hour.

New Year’s Resolution Homework

Grey drizzles at my window, no visit cheers the day
Dull boring trees hide every silent bird
No butterflies dance by, no humming bees are heard
More of the same tomorrow, no one will come my way

Off-hand and short the e-mail: ‘Guess you are okay?’
My tired family won’t waste the extra word
Unless, unhappily, a bad thing has occurred…
It cannot be denied; a long time until May

Oh, SOMETHING must be done!
I won’t slump and be dull
Too many days have gone

A New Year’s Resolution, that’s the thing!
With virtuous striving my days will be full
And if I fail…I will indulge in one wild fling!
OR (slightly more combative)
A New Year’s Resolution! I shall fight, alone!
Of ceaseless striving my days will be full
And if I fail, I shall with braver deeds atone.

This year’s facilitators

Happy New Year writers of Rochdale!
Touchstones Creative Writing Group’s committee are happy to announce this year’s facilitation rota. Further information about the writer/facilitators and the sessions will be given prior to each session.

We look forward to meeting you!

First Thursday in the month – 2 – 4pm, Touchstones Rochdale

Jennie Bailey
4th January

Seamus Kelly
1st February

Anthony Costello
1st March

James Nash
5th April

Jennie Bailey
3rd May

Seamus Kelly
7th June

Anthony Costello
5th July

James Nash
2nd August

Jennie Bailey
6th September

Seamus Kelly
4th October

Anthony Costello
1st November

James Nash
6th December

Pulling Threads Update: Postcards from Passchendaele

Pulling Threads, Touchstones Creative Writing Group’s performance arm, are being busy bees this summer; they’re preparing for a piece of original writing. Here are notes from the meeting and the performance dates.

Reflecting on the pity of war: draft script, replica pistol & cloth to clean it.

Pulling threads rehearsal & planning meeting, Falinge Park 13th July 2017

To commemorate one of the “greatest of the four battles of Ypres”, Pulling Threads are pulling together a piece of original drama based on testimonials from the battle. Annette Martens is the artistic director for this production which features dramatic true stories, horrific images, and sound. The italicised phrases are from some of the writers.

“Here are our gifts to the Gods” “roads that lead to the killing Fields”
The voluntary group of players have all contributed pieces to this performance in order to capture the human element; it’s not just the facts, the sheer number of the dead or the time and slog of the battle it’s about getting to the heart of it. The facts are woven in and there is compromise and cooperation in editing the pieces.

“I don’t usually carry a weapon, I carry arms… I’m a stretcher bearer”
There is pathos, and sympathy, created for the characters – the nurse, the stretcher bearer, the man who had his face half blown off but lived. And there is so much mud, a mud world, who thought you could drown in the battlefield?”. The emotion and empathy that has been created shows that “bravery can take many forms”.

“The government, the general, and the Kaiser sat down”
For a small piece of land many gave their lives, and as the performance comes together the script is becoming stronger. Any audience will be moved.

Performance Dates
10th November Oldham British legion, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Oldham. 19:50 – 20:20
22nd October, Part of Rochdale Literature & Ideas Festival Fringe. Vibe, Drake Street, Rochdale. 13:00 – 13:40

Next meeting: Thursday 27th July 3pm, the Heritage Cafe in Falinge Park.