Four Loom Weaver

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Four Loom Weaver (Roud 1460), probably derived from "The Poor Cotton Weaver" is a 19th-century English lament on starvation. One source also names it Jone o Grinfilt[1] though this title usually refers to different lyrics and score, which is about the naiveté of country folk. Actually, it is very similar to Jone o'Grinfilt Junior which can be found in John Harland's Ballads and Songs of Lancashire (1875 pp. 169–171). According to Axon website (Axon) Jone o Grinfilt was written by Joseph Lees of Glodwick, near Oldham in the 1790s.

The earlier version, the Poor Cotton Weaver, was probably written before 1800, after the Napoleonic wars it was revived or re-written, due to economic hard times, when weavers were reduced to eating nettles. This could refer to the war itself any of the periodic economic downturns in the cotton industry. It was featured in Mary Barton published in 1848, then later referred to the Lancashire Cotton Famine of 1862. It is found on broadsides in Manchester up to the 1880s, it did not survive into the 20th century. In the folk revival it reappeared. The version by Ewan MacColl probably influenced the version by Silly Sisters and by Unto Ashes. Jez Lowe wrote his song "Nearer to Nettles", after an old woman approached his band's vocalist, who'd just sung The "Four-Loom Weaver", remarking she'd never been nearer to eating nettles at that time (late 80s/early 90s) than during any other period of her life.

A Four Loom Weaver[edit]

A Four Loom weaver is power loom weaver using 4 Lancashire Looms in a Lancashire weaving shed. They probably would be Horrocks, or Howard & Bullough. The rewrite of four loom weaver refers to the years of the Lancashire Cotton Famine, when the weaver was totally dependent on his income from the millowner- unlike the handloom weaver who would probably have a vegetable patch and a few chickens. The Cotton Famine was caused by the cotton trade being interrupted by the American Civil War. The Lancashire man- three generations in the mill could not comprehend how the cotton stopped, and still had the quaint belief that the great man (PM perhaps) only needed to tell the shipowners to bring in some more cotton.

Many Lancashire folk, can give personal testimony of relative having worked in such a role.

My maternal grandmother was a four loom cotton weaver until the mill, where she worked, in Rawtenstall, Lancashire, was closed and relocated to India in the 1920s approx. Mill workers worked their way up to four looms which were rented from the mill. Four was the maximum so my nan told me, so a four loom weaver was an indication of the level of attainment in the industry. So I think the title is probably correct and not a corruption of a poor loom weaver.

Will Lever, Malpas, Cheshire

Power weavers would continue to tenter four looms until the mid-1930s operating at 220 picks a minute. The industry attempted to restructure using the 'more looms system' where the weavers were switched to tentering eight looms operating at 180 picks a minute. This caused industrial unrest,; and uneasy compromise of using six loom sets was reached. It was quietly put on hold, but with the Second World War curtailed freedoms most weaving sheds switched to eight. Queen Street Mill ran sets of eight, with a training alley of six and a pensioners alley of 12 loom sets for two elderly weavers to work together. Other mills such as Bancroft Shed ran ten-sets.[2]

Poor Cotton Weaver[edit]

The Norton version[3] gives an earlier set of words the Poor Cotton Weaver which refers to the hand loom weaving.

Old Billy O' Bent, he were telling us long
We mayn't had better times if I'd nobbut held m' tongue.
Well, I held m' tongue til I near lost m' breath,
And I feel in m' hear that I'II soon clem to death

Jone o'Grinfilt Junior[edit]

Aw'm a poor cotton-wayver as mony a one knaws
Aw've nowt t'ate in th' heawse, un' aw've worn eawt my cloas
yo'u hardly gie sixpence fur o' aw've got on
Meh clogs ur' booath baws'n un' stockins aw've none

There is also a version called the Oldham Weaver in Mary Barton, by Mrs Gaskell in 1848.[4]


  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ Graham 2008, p. 198.
  3. ^ Norton version
  4. ^ Gaskell, Elisabeth Cleghorn (2004) [first published 1848]. Mary Barton. Kessinger Publishing,. p. 408. ISBN 978-1-4191-3298-8. Retrieved 26 April 2015. 


  • Graham, Stanley (2008). Bancroft:The story of a Pennine weaving shed. ISBN 9 781409-255789. 

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