OS Grid Reference: SD 8287 1957. On windswept Scout Moor between Edenfield and Cowpe in the Rossendale Valley, Lancashire, stands the Victorian memorial known as Waugh’s Well, named after the famous Rochdale-born dialect poet Edwin Waugh (1817-1890), who was the son of a shoemaker. The poet often came to stay at a farm on the moors and, very often would visit and sit beside a spring of water, at Foe Edge. In 1866 a wellhead with a carved stone-head of the poet and a gritstone wall at either side, was built to honour the man who would come to be known as the Lancashire Poet Laureate and also Lancashire’s very own “Burns”. Following his death at New Brighton the well became a place of pilgrimage for devotees of the poet, but it was here on the moor at Foe Edge that Waugh composed some of his famous dialect poems, all having a strong Lancashire feel about them. The well lies about ¼ of a mile to the east of Scout Moor High Level Reservoir on the Rossendale Way footpath. The site is probably best reached from the A680 road and the footpath going past Edenfield Cricket Club, and then eastwards onto the moor itself for a few miles towards Cowpe.
Nick Howorth writing in a magazine article (1996) says of Waugh’s Well that: “The well, originally a spring, was converted into a memorial to Waugh in 1866. This was an extraordinary tribute to a man who was not only still in mid-career at the time, but who had only been famous as a writer of Lancashire dialect songs and poems for 10 years. His fame grew to the extent that by the time he died in 1890 he was variously called “”The Laureate of Lancashire”” or “”The Burns of Lanca-shire””, although he never achieved an international reputation. The well was rebuilt in 1966 and shows a bronze figurehead of Waugh with his dates, 1817-1890. His connection with the spring on Scout Moor was that he often stayed with friends living at Fo Edge Farm near the well, finding the solitude good for composing songs and poems.
The name ‘Waugh’ is variously pronounced in Lancashire to rhyme with ‘draw’, ‘laugh’ or cough,…..but today ‘Waw’ is more usual. Edwin was born in 1817 in a cottage at the foot of Toad Lane, Rochdale, the second son of a prosperous clog-maker. All was well until his father died of a fever aged 37 when Edwin was nine years old. Years of penury followed but Edwin’s mother, Mary, held the family together. She was a devout Methodist, intelligent, and a good singer. By being careful, she kept Edwin at school until he was 12. She then educated him at home herself, fostering in him the seeds of artistic talent.”
Howorth goes on to say that: “His early career was a struggle against poverty. He was apprenticed to a Rochdale printer, Thomas Holden, when aged 14. This gave him opportunities to read widely although he was often ‘ticked off’ for reading during the shop hours. He also met local literary figures and politicians. Waugh held strong Liberal views but his boss was a Tory; they did not get on well. Between the ages of 20 and 30, Waugh worked in London and the south of England as a printer, but in 1844 he returned to Rochdale to work at Holden’s. They fell out over politics and Waugh left in 1847. In that year he abruptly married Mary Ann Hill, but although he loved her deeply, their natures were so far apart that the marriage was a disaster.
“For the next five years Waugh worked for the Lancashire Public School Association whose aim was to make a good quality primary education available to poor children. Waugh worked in Manchester, which he hated, but he met many of the city’s literary and intellectual leaders and talked literature, education and politics with other struggling writers. He was beginning to get articles and poems published in Manchester. He worked partime as a journeyman printer, earning money by printing copies of “Tim Bobbin” (John Collier’s masterpiece of 1746). In 1855 he borrowed £120 and published his first volume of essays, “”Sketches of Lancashire Life and Localities””. Then in June 1856 came the big breakthrough when “”Come Whoam to thi Childer an’ Me,”” was published in the Manchester Examiner, bringing him national prominence. The poem was republished as a penny card, earning him £5 for 5,000 cards.
“His reputation was made and he never looked back. His first collection of poems and Lancashire songs followed in 1859. A few of the titles give the flavor: “”God bless these poor folk!””, “”while takin’ a wift o’ my pipe”” and “”Aw’ve worn my bits o’ shoon away.””
“Apart from courtship and family life, his great love was nature. Many of his essays described excursions far beyond the Lancashire moors, such as Scotland and Ireland. Essays were often published as pamphlets selling for 6d or 1s, eg ‘Over Sands to the Lakes’, ‘Seaside Lakes and Mountains of Cumberland’, ‘Norbreck: A Sketch of the Lancashire Coast’ cost 1d.
“Waugh’s third area of composition was poetry in standard English. A few titles are: ‘The Moorland Flowers’, ‘Keen Blows the North Wind’, ‘God Bless Thee, Old England’ and ‘The Wanderer’s Hymn’. Subjects like these no doubt reflected the tastes of Victorian England.”
Nick Howorth (1996) also adds that: “Another important Waugh activity for many years was giving public readings of his works, rather like his contemporary, Charles Dickens. Although these did not pay very well, they kept his name in the public eye. His big, open, friendly face and soft Lancashire accent made him a popular performer. He did not dress up for these public performances, was always an unkempt figure with big boots, thick tweeds and a heavy walking stick. This emphasized his humble origins to his audiences. In 1869, he read in public almost fortnightly in town halls all over the midlands and the north.
Waugh was an important figure in Lancashire’s literary history because he popularized dialect poetry and made it a valid part of English literature. Before Waugh, Lancashire dialect was difficult to follow, because it contained so many obscure words and spellings. Tim Bobbin, dating from 1746, is the best example of the “”old dialect”’. Readers have to refer con-stantly to the author’s glossary. Waugh simplified and standardized how Lancashire dialect should be written down, and it has hardly changed since then.
“George Milner (1889) in an essay setting out his views “”on dialect as a vehicle for poetry”” in his collection of Waugh’s poems and songs showed that dialect can express feelings with a simplicity and directness not so easily achieved in Standard English.”
At the western edge of Broadfield Park, Rochdale, overlooking the Esplanade there is a very fine four-sided monument commemorating Edwin Waugh and three other local poets. This monument is called ‘The Lancashire Dialect Writers Memorial’. It was designed by Edward Sykes and erected on the land above the Esplanade in 1900. The pedestal is made of red granite and is topped by an obelisk. The four local poets are: Edwin Waugh (d. 1890), Oliver Ormerod (d. 1879), Margaret Lahee (d. 1895) and John Clegg (d. 1895). This fine memorial is inscribed with various poems and information regarding each writer, with their carved heads. A bit further along the path is a statue of John Bright (1811-1889 the Liberal MP for Manchester. Bright was a reformer and campaigner for the repeal of The Corn Laws (1839). In St Chad’s churchyard, Sparrow Hill, is the grave of Tim Bobbin alias John Collier (1708-1786), the satirical dialect poet who frequented the inns of Rochdale. His grave, with its now worn epitaph, is behind iron railings; but ‘the’ grave has become a place of pilgrimage for devotees of his life and works.
Sources/References and related websites:-
Nick Howorth, ‘Edwin Waugh – a man of ink, and his well’, Really Lancashire – A Magazine for the Red Rose County, Landy Publishing, Staining, Blackpool, Issue No. 2, August 1996.
© Ray Spencer, The Journal Of Antiquities, 2018.