Last week saw celebrations to mark what would have been the 150 birthday of Allen Clarke and altblackpool’s Neil Measures was on hand to find out more.
Following his death in 1935, Allen Clarke the sombre-chap, as he was known in Blackpool, or Teddy Ashton, the cheeky-chappie, as he was known in Bolton, had *Little Marton Windmill in Blackpool dedicated to his memory. Today he got more than he bargained for too, apart from a large gathering of friendly folk; he got a personal appearance, albeit by letter. The Brunswick Room in central library was so full of interested people that the order was sent to neighbouring offices for more chairs.
An official welcome was smoothly delivered to a cheerful looking mayor and mayoress, then head of Local-Histories dutifully and gracefully introduced both guest speakers, Paul Salveson and Shirley Mathews. Paul’s interests in both local-history and the railway led him, in 1993, to complete a PhD in Lancashire dialect literature and, more recently, in 2008 receive an MBE for services to the railway industry. Shirley Mathews is Allen Clarke/ Teddy Ashton’s granddaughter; perhaps better known as Windmill Lady. She has spent over twenty years fighting tirelessly to see her grandfather’s contributions to society elevated rightfully locally, regionally, nationally and internationally. Despite having died many years before, Allen Clarke/ Teddy Ashton seized this incredible opportunity to come to life and join the party today.
Paul channelled Allen Clarke’s cutting no-nonsense wit and sharp, distinct dialect to a surprised audience, the letter read: “Well, thanks for turning-out to talk about me, first in Bolton, now here in Blackpool. It can be a bit dull up here, being dead I mean. I am in good company though, we have our own Lancashire Association and we get together now and again to talk about the old days. Some of your questions still bother me though and now seems a good time to put this issue to rest, who was I? Most of my readers knew me as Teddy Ashton not as Allen Clarke. I daresay Teddy Ashton’s droll comic sketches did more to help bring about social reform than any of Allen Clarke’s more direct approaches could. It was the way they poked fun with their undermining sarcasm at the social injustices and iniquities of the day which had best effect on folk. If truth be known, I felt a bit disappointed that people were so greedy for Teddy’s frivolity and neglected Allen’s more direct and instructive articles. Yes, it was a bit short-sighted of me and now I realise that laughter is one of the best and most helpful things in the world…I lived to express myself, my thoughts, my fancies, my visions in words, poems, songs, tale-and-talk; to entertain, cheer and uplift my fellow beings, to help and better the lot of the afflicted and the unfortunate and to make the world better for all children. It’s good to have sampled this world, to have known and loved, to have fought against injustice and battled for righteousness, but I came to the conclusion long before I died, that we came into this world not to toil, but to play, mostly to play, and see and enjoy the show”.
Paul described Allen Clarke the man, much as he does in his book:
Like many writers and comedians- there was an outer and inner person, with the inner quite well hidden. He had a persona which thousands of people loved. The letters he published from his readers show the depth of feeling that he inspired, as their dearly beloved ‘Teddy’. He was a popular speaker, delighting audiences with his tales, sketches and observations on life. He was also a leader who could inspire people to join his various ventures, from ‘Daisy Colony’ and ‘Northern Weekly Picnics’ to ‘Speedwell Cycling Clubs and the Blackpool Ramble Club. He was something of a showman, putting on major events like the great Barrowbridge Northern Weekly Picnic of 1901, which attracted over 10,000 of his readers.
The audience erupted in applause as Paul began to close and Shirley took the microphone, (pre-ceded by a short poem from yours truly (see author’s note)). She seemed a little anxious at first, perhaps suddenly remembering that proceedings had almost halted before they had even begun. The jargon that is laptop-language did not easily translate into the jargon that is projector-speak and visa-versa. A predictable level of panic ensued before a new laptop was found which could speak fluent gobble-de-gook. Guests were sitting obliviously content, luckily and coincidently, only beginning to quieten when this major technical crisis became averted.
Shirley’s slide-show radiates Allen Clarke’s love for his family and fellow man. It is well researched, from Allen’s deeply personal diaries. Shirley clearly shares her grandfather’s determination and belief that, despite terrible hardships in life, compassion and love remain undiminished virtues. Shirley’s emotive insights and personal passion soaked through her delivery, especially when describing her grandfather’s wish; to know future generations will read stories about his Victorian childhood and adventures, set amongst the mills and outlining districts of his Bolton hometown. It is hard to argue that this era was unimportant in shaping lives in Britain. Knowing what life was like for both rich and poor in the 1800’s’, Shirley argues, is surely is a valuable resource for future generations.
The audience listened intently, relishing the poignancy, the humour, the information. They embraced each speaker, rewarding them with warmth, punctuated by retorts of genuine laughter. Later they enjoyed a cup of tea, a chat, a chuckle and a small square of birthday cake each. They went on-their-way happy at having turned-out for the occasion.
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