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Joseph Cooper, The Derbyshire Poet
Mr Joseph Cooper – “ The Derbyshire Bard”

Mr Joseph CooperMr. Coopers book


SUPPOSIN' one felt a desire for a stroll,
An' happened to wander as fur as Eaves Knowl,
Would he find an owd Bard ceawrin' quietly i' th' nook
Enjoyin' hissel wi' his poipe an' his book?
He's very weel known i' that quarter o' th' globe
As an ardent admirer o' th' Patriarch Job.
On th' owd veteran's virtues he glories to dwell,
Tho' its seldom he puts 'em i' practice hissel'.
He's a garden at th' front, an' another behind,
Wheer he reckons to ceawer a bit—when he's a mind;
While his friends are delighted to visit these beawers,
An' sniff the sweet fragrance 'at comes fro' his fleawers.
He's a widower—that is he hasn't a wife,
Nor no childer to harrass, or sweeten his loife.
He's a member o' th' School Board, a Guardian o' th' poor,
An' aw think he's some moor posts; but am no' quite sure.
He gets thro' his wark without mackin' mitch din;
He's a foine flowin' beard hangs at th' end ov his chin.
They coed him "Joe Cooper" when dabblin' i' th' drink,
But neaw he's teetotal, its "Joseph" aw think.
He's past middle age, walks abeawt rayther slow;
Some say he's some "brass," he's some heawses, aw know.
He's a horse, an' a trap 'at he rides in sometimes,
When he isn't in his cot manufacturin' rhymes.
Aw think he's a kind ov a "Ranter" bi trade;
But, of course, i' religion he's noan to a shade;
He's a chap at believes i' good livin', noa deawt,
But good deein' he never says nowt mitch abeawt.
It's, been said—tho' it hasn't been proved as a fact—
That he's loike other Bards—he's a little bit crackt.
If yo' meet wi' a chap wi' a slit in his yed,
'At's wider nor th' shop wheer he munches his bread—
An' yo' see there's some 'bacco abeawt it 'at's reechin'—
Send me word, if yo' pleos, for that's th' chap at awm seechin'

Joseph was born at Thornsett on the 9th of November 1810. He had a chequered life, at one point becoming an alcoholic, but recovered to become a stalwart of the Temperance movement and a poet and writer of some note. He spent his twilight years at Poets Cottage, which stood high on Eaves Knoll. In the last year of his life, he published a book “Helping God to make the Flowers Grow, with other original poems, Hymns, Songs, Dialogues, Recitation, Ect.” His love of family, gardens, flowers and of his home “Poets Cottage,” on Eaves Knoll is reflected in his writings, but the great volume of his works are on the temperance theme, of which he was the strongest advocate.

Fortunately, Having obtained a copy of his book I can allow Joseph to tell much of his story in his own words:-

“Fifty years ago my mother, while listening to a Teetotal lecture, saw the danger of her children playing with edged tools. The day following she got my brother to cut our beer barrel into two parts, and never brewed any more beer for the wakes, which was the custom in those dark ages.
Of seven children born in the village of Thornsett, one of the four hamlets that form the township of New Mills, nestling at the foot of the High Peak of Derbyshire, three still remain-Joseph, William, and Thomas. I was born in the second decade of the Nineteenth Century, and I am now 78 years of age, spending the twilight of my days in a flower-fringed cot, where the forget-me-not and sweet rose in bloom gives out rich perfume. The bright daffodil and light pimpernel make a paradise fit for a seraph to dwell in. Brother William aged 76, is domiciled in the valley of apples Glastonbury, Somerset, a superannuated Primitive Methodist preacher. His name is chronicled in the history of Primitive Methodism as one of its pioneers. He is spending the eventide of a chaste, virtuous, and upright life in a fruit and flower garden, a living illustration of the scripture's dowry: " Honour, riches and length of days."
Thomas, up to 73, went cheerily to his accustomed labour, with a well-furnished larder and a hunter's relish. He had a good appetite, and was happy when "tight.'' He tells an amusing story on this point having been told that it was beneficial for health to abstain from supper he tried the experiment; rolled and tossed, tossed and rolled but was unable to find the right side on which to sleep. So he got up and made a mess of porridge, put a poultice on his chest, and then slept like a top.
Thomas and I are members of the Rechabite and Sons of Temperance Orders, and have contributed, jointly, to the funds of these and other Societies for upwards of one hundred years and the months of our sick pay might be counted upon ten angers.
The trio may well praise the Giver of all good for a discreet and pious mother, who was left a widow with seven children four of whom have passed to the majority.
For them she worked and prayed, prayed and worked, her faith being kindred to the " Old Tar's''

'' Then old Tom Lostock he set to work,
He prayed like a Christian, and fought like a Turk."

My mother, who first entertained the Primitive Methodist preachers in the New Mills and Glossop Circuits, toiled early and late to procure meal (flour, five shillings per dozen, being out of the question) to make porridge for seven hungry children. To economise time and save a farthing candle she dedicated the twilight of each day to praise and prayer, when, on bended knees, with the zeal of an apostle and the simplicity of a child, she laid all her perplexing troubles on Him who hath said,
" Fear not, My right hand shall uphold thee,'' then, with the stubborn grasp of the old Patriarch, exclaim, " I will not let Thee go, unless Thou bless me.' Thou hast promised to be a Father to the fatherless and a husband to the widow; I will trust Thee where I cannot trace Thee. Blessed be the name of the Lord." Then with a hallowed calm beaming on her placid brow, she would teach her children to read from the A B C to the New testament, which exhausted her stock of learning. Her pupils often nodded and gave graceful bows, being so drowsy and exhausted with ten to twelve hours hard labour for sixpence per day. When she had got the children to bed, covered and tucked, snug and warm, she would darn their stockings, patch their clothes, "Thank God, and rest in sweet repose."
Her severest and almost overwhelming trouble, told by her to the writer, was that two of my elder brothers were refused admittance as members in a sick and burial society with an insinuation that they might be a heavy burden to the society, as our father had died at the early age of 39 years.
My widowed mother could bear with Christian fortitude the iron hand of poverty, and sleep in peace upon a bed of straw after their feathery bridal bed had been sold to pay the rent; she could pinch and pine and ne'er repine; but the insinuation that the children were unsound was sharper than a serpent's tooth - it stung her to the heart. For well she knew that their father had sacrificed a strong, robust constitution while trying to mitigate the excruciating pangs of a worthy master, an esteemed friend, and death-struck neighbour, whose skull was fractured with a stone which a workman accidentally dropped from the scaffolding at Moseley's new house at Thornsett. There being no doctor in the neighbourhood in those days my father set off to Chapel-en-le-Frith for one, and he being away from home, he ran to Stockport, about twenty miles distant. On returning home, tired and weary, he sat down to rest by the wayside, fell into a deep sleep, and was drenched through in a thunderstorm, thus bringing on the rheumatism, which forced him for years to hobble on crutches.
Pecuniary circumstances subsequently failed, and ultimately the Parish Overseer conveyed my father and family in a cart to the Poorhouse at Sterender. My eyes are blinded with sympathetic tears when I think of my poor rheumatic father being driven in a common cart for sixteen miles along a rough and rugged road. Tom Hood might have read the heartless incident when be wrote the lines:

" Rattle his bones over the stones,
He's only a pauper whom nobody owns."

My elder brother was born in the poorhouse and lived to the ripe age of 74, thanking God for a good and pious mother, and he has been "safe in the arms of Jesus" five years.
Moseley and my father commenced the first Sunday-school in the district of New Mills about ninety-six years ago, in a house at the back of Top o' Thornsett, the fourth door from the present school. The first school was removed to New Mills (the Wesleyan); and our house being damaged with a large stone that rolled down from High Wall's Farm, crushing the roof in, my mother just escaping with her life, they removed to the empty School-house, where the brothers- Joseph, William, and Thomas were born. The writer recollects a second School being opened at Thornsett upwards of sixty years ago, where he earned his first sixpence for reciting the third chapter of Daniel. I had also a striking impression made upon my back for playing truant, I and other scholars having wasted School hours in burying a favourite donkey which had grown white with years, and was a pet of the lads for its humorous tricks, docility, and almost human reason. We lads dragged it to "Thornsett Hey old coal set," dug a deep grave, sung over it, and I wrote the following in chalk:

" Near this stone, Beneath this grass,
Lies old Joshua's favourite ass;
But though she's dead, she's left a foal.
On which old Joshua carries coal."

Old Joshua was a poor old miser and helpless bachelor, '' so thin, lean, and leathery, that you would have expected his cheeks to crackle if he had laughed.'' He lay ill a long, long time; the family were so weary with attending to him, that I occasionally called at the house to assist them. On one occasion, I and Mrs. W. had placed him in what we considered an easy position, and had just washed our hands to have a cup of tea when the old man asked to be moved again. The good lady kindly replied '' we have just done that, do look to the Lord." Joshua in reply said, " I do look to the Lord, but I look to you to shift me; and if you dunno I will roll on the floor." I prevented him from doing so by pressing my foot against him. The last that I saw of old Joshua was his shank-bones, like thatch pegs, poking out of forgotten dust. The wall of the burial ground had fallen down, and left his bones exposed to the nipping winds and piercing cold. But I heard no moaning wail, " shift me." He was sleeping as cosily as Nelson under the dome of St. Paul's or Pharaoh embalmed in the Pyramids of Egypt.

" The glories of our birth and state
Are shadows, not substantial things;
There is no armour against fate;
Death lays his icy hand on kings.
Sceptre and crown must tumble down.
And in the dust be equal made
With the poor crooked scythe and spade.

Only the actions of the just
Smell sweet and blossom in the dust."

Michael Moseley came from Worksop to Thornsett, and  put out "handloom" weaving, and my father came from Arnold, in Nottinghamshire, as an apprentice, at the time when the Right Hon. John Bright's father was serving an apprenticeship at Low Leighton to the same business.
Michael Moseley was the father of the late Dr. J. M. Moseley, " a man of parts and principles.'' On his marriage he wanted our house for his sisters to live in, but he did not give mother notice to remove by a certain time.
No! He kindly asked her to oblige him by getting another house and gave her two pounds for expenses. Forty years after the death of his father, the remains of his dear wife were borne to his father's grave in Mellor Churchyard. On that occasion the doctor engaged my brother John to assist him in gathering the bones from his father's grave, and they succeeded in making almost a perfect skeleton. They reverently laid the mouldering frame with his sainted wife in a new tomb I wrote some lines on the death of Mrs. Moseley, which the Doctor tacked to his bed-post, and read both night and morning:

I knew her well, her name was dear:
Alike to all around;
I loved her, and I now revere
The sacred hallowed ground
Where now she sleeps in calm repose,
In her forefathers' tomb,
Pure emblem of the fallen rose,
Retaining its perfume.
I mourn with husband, children, friends,
Who cannot help but weep;
But cheering hope with sorrow blends,
For 'tis not death, but sleep.
She loved her Saviour, who hath said,
(And likewise drawn death's sting,)-
' I count the hairs upon your head,
And I'll the righteous bring
Forth from the cold and silent tomb,
To walk with Me in white;
In amaranthine bowers to bloom
And feast within My sight:
To bask in pure and heavenly beams,
Where God the Son doth shine;
Where love in hallelujah teems; '
May Catharine's death be mine!

Of his fall to drink and recovery Joseph wrote:-

My father dying when I was young, and leaving mother, with seven children, unprovided for, I was compelled to go to work before I had reached the age of seven years. Consequently my opportunity for learning was very limited.
Yet I thank Heaven for a good mother, who taught me lessons at night, after from ten and a-half to fourteen hours of hard toil, and sent me, in plain fustian to the Sabbath school where I remained as scholar, and teacher in the junior classes, and a comfort to my widowed mother, till above twenty years of age, when, sad to tells I was lured by custom, nay more, by example of many of the professed followers of Jesus to go occasionally to the bar-parlour of a public-house the landlady of which was a member of a Christian church. Never shall I forget the Sabbath evening when the hostess was reading-

The Book of Books,
Best boon from Heaven,

how my blood curdled at the chilling speech of a liquor merchant who came in, and seeing her looking at the mirror of truth the Book of God, roared, in a brutish growl, '' Landlady, bring me a glass of brandy and water, as hot as hell, and as fiery as blazes." Little did I think then, that the like drink, that had so brutalised the spirit vendor, would be able to drag me from the respectable bar-parlour, interesting company, and sainted hostess, to herd with the ignorant lazy, filthy debauchees that loitered in the tap-room.
But this though imperceptible step by step, proved too be true. A craving, gnawing, burning appetite for strong drinks having been created in the bar, and knowing them to be cheaper in the tap, I became at first an occasional visitor to that volcano, whose burning lava blights, withers, scathes, nay, utterly destroys everything that is virtuous, holy, and God-like, and leaveth its victim a thing at which men might mourn, devils laugh, and angels weep. There, by degrees, I sunk down, down, till ultimately I became a stumbling- block in the way to Heaven, an overwhelming grief to my friends, a laughing stock for the ignorant and vicious, a nuisance to society, and almost brought my kind-hearted, Christian mother with sorrow to the grave. Scores of times have I heard her, with quivering lips, trembling limbs, and big scalding tears rolling from her sunken eyes down her wrinkled cheek exclaim, '' Oh! that it had pleased God to have taken me from her when an innocent child, as she saw nothing but ruin, utter ruin, for this world, and that which is to come! '' She reasoned, expostulated, prayed, and wept on her lonely pillow for her lost one, till hope seemed at times to be engulphed in rayless despair. At various times I was turned from my employment, and rambled as a fugitive and a vagabond, heedless of character, friends, body, or soul; drink, more drink being my one and only desire.
To satisfy the cravings of the drink fiend, I have sold the coat off my back, and boots from my feet. I have bought groceries at the shop where mother had credit, and exchanged them for liquid fire at a respectable public-house. I have carried water for the brewer, shovelled in coals, emptied ash-pits, etc., for sups of drink when I might easily have earned five shillings per day at my own trade, had I not been unfitted to do it by the debilitating effects of poisonous drugs whose deadly influence crept through every limb, unnerved my otherwise manly heart, and often made me wish that I had been sent into the world a beast, a brute, anything but the image of God, thus transformed into a withered, hopeless wreck of humanity. As the helpless fly caught in the web of the spider, so was I in the coils of the licensed snarers, who spread their meshes to catch the thoughtless and unwary, and feed and batten on the woes and wailings of ruined youths, blighted manhood broken-hearted parents, and squalid orphans.
After having, as before described, fallen from a respectable standard in the village where I was nursed on the lap of piety, and trained in the paths of virtue, instructed in the precepts of religion, well versed in the principal texts of the Bible - which I had read from Genesis to Revelation for five successive years, committed a deal of it to memory, along with Wesley's and Watt's hymns, which almost made up our library - joined in church fellowship, and even partaken of bread and wine at the communion table, I sometimes would, but scarcely durst, exclaim with Jonah when in the whale's belly, though " I am cast out of Thy sight, yet I will once more lift my eyes to the place where Thine honour dwelleth ;'' for a wounded guilty conscience, like the angel at the gates of Paradise with a flaming sword, seemed to frown forbiddance to my entrance. In this hopeless state, after repeated struggles, and failures, and miraculous escape from accidental and mediated death, thank heaven a ray of hope appeared in the shape of a Teetotal Life Boat, which I at last warmly grasped, and was safely boarded, and adopted as a brother of the Independent Order of Rechabites in the year 1844, from which time, through mercy, I have been a consistent abstainer.
I have travelled thousands of miles in all sorts of weather, but never felt the need of intoxicating drinks; have been able to work better, eat better, think better, and sleep better without them. In my calling as a traveller, I have sometimes met with great inconvenience, having often been compelled to lodge at a public-house, my means not being sufficient to pay at a first-class one. However, I never stop at one of them if I can get anything like comfortable accommodation at a temperance hotel; which places, I am glad to say, are becoming more numerous and respectable throughout the country. May they speedily be found in every town, hamlet, and rural village of this and every land.
I spend scores of happy nights in the country towns, amusing the people by reciting temperance tales, or singing some-thing like the following:

I first went a drinking, without ever thinking,
Of forging strong fetters to bind me a slave;
But soon moderation, did prove botheration,
A false, fatal light, that lured to the grave.

Mr. Joseph Cooper became a stalwart of the Temperance movement both in New Mills and in Manchester and wrote and handed out many poems, hymns and pamphlets on the theme, attended countless meetings and addressed many crowds:-

Open thy bag and lets get in.

JOE Thirsty and Jack Ever-dry
Were fixtures at the Old White Hart,
Till they lost work and character,
And were compelled to roam apart.

One day Jack chanced to meet Old Joe.
When on the verge of hopeless ruin,
And said, " Old shopmate, let me know,
Whatever, ever are you doing? ''

Joe answered '' When I spent my brass,
For nights I had to pad the stones,
And now alas, I'm man and ass,
I pick and carry rags and bones."

Jack said, " Thee talk of walking th' stones,
And bare bones peeping through thy skin,
Just look, lad-I'm all rags and bones,
Open thy bag and let's get in."

Joseph was well known and much loved in the district, and a short piece in the local paper reflected this when he was taken ill whilst walking on Shaw Marsh.

Ashton Reporter Oct 6th, 1888
A few weeks ago Mr. Joseph Cooper of Eaves Knoll, New Mills was suddenly seized with an alarming illness and it was feared by the medical gentleman who was called in to attend to him that the veteran was about to succumb. The wonderful vitality of the constitution of which Mr. Cooper is possessed, aided by care, triumphed and within a few hours from the attack the patient had regained a good deal of his accustomed jocularity and he was enabled to partake of a whiff of his pipe.

Mr. Cooper was born five years before the Battle of Waterloo was fought, and consequently is 78 years of age. The Derbyshire poet has been selected as a fitting subject to adorn the pages of the latest number of "North Country Poets" which is edited by Mr. Samuel Andrews of Hull. A short sketch of the old poet is given in the number and three of Mr. Cooper's best poems are given, namely "The Owdham Melody", "Owd Bowzer" and "Helping God to make the flowers grow". Thousands and thousands of Mr. Cooper’s pieces have been circulated and at temperance gatherings especially his works were never in greater demand than at present.

Although bordering upon the age of four-score years, the old 'un is still wooing the muses, and during the past few days he has issued from the press two splendid pieces of composition and, with a pride that can be well understood he looks upon these as
among his best efforts. On Wednesday the grand old man left his cozy cot at Eaves Knoll and came to New Mills to console with a sick friend. May his cheery face long be in our midst to gaze upon.

Joseph wrote of the incident from his bed:-

Written in bed, 8th September, 1888.

Three weeks ago, the leveller grim death's
Cold, grisly fingers plugged the valves of breath.
Life's engine stopped, or pulseless was its stroke,
My guttural throat reverberated-choke.
Strong women wept, the doctor shook his head
And sighed, "Tis hopeless-he is almost dead! ''

Thanks be to Him who raised the widows son,
It may be my poor work is not all done;
But I am hopeful that my lengthened life
May end whilst battling in the holy strife:
I'll print my rhymes and humbly hope and trust,
That they may do my work when I am dust.
Lord, give me valour in the Christ-like strife,
To shy more after death than in my life.

Before his illness, Joseph had served on both the Local Board and the Board of Guardians. He had been a long time member of the Manchester Literary Club where he often entertained the members by reciting his poems. His readings were very popular in all quarters and his annual reading at Mrs Mackies Old Folks Christmas Party was a great highlight. Mrs Mackie did a great deal for local charity a fact much appreciated by Mr. Joseph Cooper.

The lady who so kindly sent a large bundle of woollen shawls and comforters, her own knitting, for distribution among the most worthy inmate of the workhorse, December 27th, 1875.

DEAR Madam, I present my thanks
In no cold formal way,
But in my inmost heart of hearts
With bended form I pray,
That God may crown your basket,
His angel guard your store,
And guild your path with sunshine
Until you reach fourscore.

You must have toiled when weary,
Through many a long, long day,
Knit, knitting these warm garments,
What for? to give away;
To give: - there lies the secret;
That was the magic charm
That moved your tired fingers,
And braced your aching arm.

To give to the lone widowed one
Cowering with chin on breast;
To give to orphans sighing
For a kind mother's breast:
To give to palsied, feeble, weak,
Maimed, deaf and dumb, and blind,
Is Christ-like, for He freely gave
His life, to save mankind.

I have seen reference to his style of reciting as quaint, but it is also noted that there was more in the manner of the singing or reciting than in the words themselves, we can only guess what this implies. His temperance writings were published in huge numbers, but it was Joseph’s great ambition to see his works collected in a single volume, an ambition he achieved in his last days. To hold a book of his own works was described as Joseph’s proudest moment. Within his book are found references to many incidents that marked Joseph’s life. The most moving of which refer to his mother.
The death of Joseph’s mother Mary was a great sorrow to him and to many others. He wrote several poignant pieces on the subject including “On a lock of Mother’s Hair, Mother’s Room and Come see a Christian Die.”

“Come and see a Christian Die”
The above were almost the last words uttered by my mother, who was likewise Mother of the Primitive Methodists in New Mills and Glossop Circuits. She went to heaven on 29th of December, 1852, aged 75 years.
“Deep is the sleep of the dead, and low their pillow of dust, but their words are strong in battle.”

GLORY to God! Our mothers God!
He was her strength and joy;
He held her up in death’s cold flood,
When, with His aid, she smiling said,
“Come see a Christian die!”

Joseph died in June 1890, in the cottage at Eaves Knoll that he so loved. His body was conveyed by hearse to the house of his nephew on Union road, where his many friends had gathered. Preceding the hearse to the Wesleyan Chapel were Preceding the hearse were the Rev. J. Hancock, Mr. Mark Ingham, (member of the School Board), Mr. John Thomas Geo (chairman of the Board of Guardians), Mr. H. Barber (Union clerk). Messrs. William Sidebottom and Edwin. Arnfield (members of the Local Board), Mr. Samuel Laycock (Blackpool, the Lancashire Poet), Mr. Joseph Lomax, Mr. Thomas Ellison, Mr. Levi Wyatt, Mr. F. Briddon, Mr. Wood and Mr. Buckley (Glossop), Mr. William Parsons and Mr. Smith (of Manchester).
The bearers were Messrs. William Cooper, Frank Cooper, John Cooper, and Thomas Salisbury. Following the hearse were Mr. Thomas Cooper (brother to the deceased). Mr. Job Cooper of Buxton, and Mr. Benjamin Cooper (nephews).
The funeral service was conducted by Mr. Alfred Livesley.

At the conclusion of the service Mr. Parsons said: “My friends it is always a pleasing duty to carry out the wishes of our loved departed ones, and as I was so well acquainted with the wishes of our departed brother. I know his most cherished desire after the presence of his near personal friends at his graveside; his literary and temperance friends lay nearest to his heart. There is one present for whom he had a very deep regard and who has come here today at great inconvenience to pay his last tribute of respect, and likewise to read a few lines written for this occasion – I mean his old life-long friend Mr. Samuel Laycock, the Lancashire Poet, who will now read his poem.”

Mr Laycock then read the following poem in a very feeling manner -



TO-DAY, 'neath the clods of the green graveyard,
We lay the remains of an aged bard;
A bard we have known and have honoured long,
For the lessons he taught by his life and song;—

For the pleasures experienced by those who might roam,
To see the old man in his "flower-fringed home."
But those days are past, we shall meet no more,
Till we join the glad throng on a happier shore.

His well-known cot on the brow of the hill;
The garden and posies are all there still;
But he has departed who graced those bowers,
And others must watch o'er the plants and flowers.

The pen he long handled is now laid aside;
The pictures and books that he looked on with pride
Will be squandered and pass into other hands,
And admired by the dwellers in far-off lands.

His neighbours will miss his well-known face,
And the children who lisped his simple lays
Will go with sad hearts and with tearful eyes,
To look on the grave where the old man lies!

Though death hath silenced the throbbing brain,
The thoughts that were born there still remain,
And take—though it may be—a humble part,—
In cheering many a sorrowing heart.

What joys and sorrows, what hopes and fears
Must have crowded a life-time of fourscore years!
And he oft must have stood with uncovered brow,
And mourned o'er some lost one, as we do now.

What a spot is this for the grave of a bard!
For the hills all around us seem placed as a guard,
To assure the thousands of sleepers here
That their beds are protected, so need not fear.

Good-bye, brother-bard! we shall meet again,
When the world shall have listened to my last strain;
When—as Waugh says—"Death has ta'en his tow,"
And my lips silenced, as thine are now!

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