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Allen Clarke

(1863—1935) journalist and dialect writer


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(1863–1935) married first, (late 1880s) Lavinia Pilling (d. after a few months) and, secondly, Eliza Taylor (d. 1928). Born during the cotton famine caused by the American Civil War blockade, at Bolton, Lancashire, the eldest of nine children of two textile workers, Clarke devoted his life to writing for and about the working class. At 13 he began part-time work at a mill in Bolton, while still attending some classes at school. He was later a pupil teacher, and taught until at 21 he managed to get into the fringes of journalism. He worked on the Bolton Evening News until 1890, when he started his own weekly, the Labour Light. In the following year this was replaced by a lighter paper, the Bolton Trotter (1891–2), in which was serialized Clarke's first novel, The Knobstick (1893), based on the strike of Bolton engineers in 1887. He then worked for the Cotton Factory Times and as editor of the Blackpool Echo (1896–1900) and Northern Weekly (1900–6). He started another vehicle for his humorous writing, Teddy Ashton's Journal (1896–1908), which reached a circulation of 30,000. His book The Effects of the Factory System (1899) attacked the half-time education which he had himself received, and led to a correspondence with L. N. Tolstoy (1828–1910), who had it translated into Russian, and proposed also to translate Clarke's novels. Clarke stood unsuccessfully as ILP / SDF candidate for Rochdale in 1900. After the drowning of his son in 1899 he became a convert to spiritualism; he was also interested in Maude Egerton King's revival of rural crafts. Clarke's copious output includes non-fiction, Lancashire topography and history, and humorous sketches, many published under the pseudonym ‘Teddy Ashton’. His fiction in this period includes the anti-Imperialist Starved into Surrender (1904), in which a wicked Russian prince resolves to bring down the degenerate British empire by buying up all the corn in England and blockading the ports, which leads to starvation, revolution, and the establishment of a utopian commonwealth, and Lancashire Lads and Lasses (1906), in which a mill-owner's son falls in love with a mill girl whose father was swindled by his father; he is nearly hanged for parricide but all is revealed and the novel ends with a wedding and a chorus of congratulation.

From The Oxford Companion to Edwardian Fiction in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Literature.


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