Tag Archives: nineteenth century

Industrial Labour and Cultural Engagement in the Long Nineteenth Century

‘Piston, Pen & Press’ Project

Friends’ Meeting House, 6 Mount Street, Manchester / 18-19 August 2022

This conference is designed to expand on the remit of the ‘Piston, Pen & Press’ project and to discuss and reflect upon a wider range of cultural activities engaged in by industrial workers – for example, as dramatists and theatre-goers, as musicians and composers, as artists and visitors to exhibitions and galleries – as well as considering the state of critical work in this field and new directions for research. ‘Piston, Pen & Press’ focuses primarily on Scotland and the North of England: we are also interested in papers which consider literary and other productions in Britain more widely, and in papers which connect British cultural productions to those of international industrial workers, in order to make transnational or transcultural comparisons.

Given the project’s connections with industrial heritage museums and archives, we additionally seek to explore the ways in which creative, cultural and artistic activity by workers is, or could be, included in museum holdings, and used to engage twenty-first century audiences and communities. We therefore welcome proposals from museum, library and heritage professionals and from creative practitioners, as well as from academic and independent researchers.

The conference will have three main themes:

  • Reflection – we wish to reflect on the current state of the field and identifying future areas of research.
  • Expansion – we wish to explore working-class cultural production and engagement beyond the printed page e.g. art, music, photography, drama.
  • Engagement – we wish to explore the role of working-class cultural productions in the creative and heritage sectors.


This is a free event. To register for the in-person event in Manchester, click here. If you wish to attend remotely (via Zoom), you can register here.

Draft programme, June 2022

Note: For those arriving on Wednesday 17th August, there will be an optional afternoon tour of sites in Manchester, details tbc.

Thursday, 18th August

9.00 – 9.30 Registration & coffee

9.30 – 9.45 Welcome/housekeeping

9.45 – 11.15 Panel 1: Lancashire Working-Class Women Writers

  • Jack Southern/Andrew Hobbs (University Central Lancashire) – “I am a velvet weyver/An’ my heart is oft times sad”: The world-view of a velvet weaver in Edwardian Lancashire, through the poems of Kate Hall (1874-1947).
  • Chieko Ichikawa (Nara Women’s University) – Power of Imagination: Ethel Carnie Holdsworth and Working-Class Culture of Resistance.
  • Jenny Harper (University of Reading) – Out of the House of Bondage into the Field of Liberty- Ethel Carnie Holdsworth’s Red and the Green.

11.15 – 11.30 Break

11.30 – 12:30 Panel 2: Working-class Culture & the Industrial City: Forms of Improvement

  • Mie Othelie Berg (University of Birmingham) – ‘A Moral Weapon’ – Class Interaction, Social Control and the Victorian Town Hall Organ.
  • Gordon Tait (Independent Scholar) – ‘A worthwhile original thought’: Thomas Dixon and the creation of culture in a northern town.

12:30 – 1:15 Lunch

1:15 – 2:45 Panel 3: Mutual Improvement

  • Helen Williams (Edinburgh Napier University) – ‘Twelve hundred volumes grace our shelves’: printers and their libraries.
  • Cathy Charlwood (University of Exeter)– Ebbw Vale in context: A Welsh mutual improvement success story.
  • Iona Craig (University of Strathclyde)– Miners’ Reading Rooms.

2:45 – 3 Coffee break

3 – 4 Panel 4: City Living

  • Christopher Ferguson (Auburn University) – Narrating the Nineteenth Century’s “Other” Revolution: Working-Class Writers and the Challenge of the City.
  • Serkan Culik ( Tekirdag Namık Kemal University)– Working Class Recipes: Tracing the Class in the Cookbook.

4 – 4:10 Short break

4:10 – 5 Piston, Pen & Press: Database launch and discussion

5:30 – 6:30 Jennifer Reid – performance (venue tbc)

6:30 onwards dinner

Friday 19th Aug

9.30 – 11.00 Panel 5: Recent Discoveries and Future Directions?

  • Michelle Johansen (Bishopsgate Institute) – Preserving Working-class Cultures: Charles Goss at the Bishopsgate Institute.
  • Simon Rennie (University of Exeter) – Modern Musical Adaptations of Cotton Famine Poetry.
  • Lena Wanggren (University of Edinburgh) – New Women and New Unionism: Where are the writing working women?

11.00 – 11.15 Break

11.15 – 1.15 Cultural Institutions Session: Chair Oli Betts

  • Mark Watson, HES
  • Matthew Moran, HMS Unicorn
  • Miriam McDonald, HES
  • Tim Boon, Head of Research, SMG
  • Karen Baker, Railway Museum
  • Jo March, Northumberland Archives

1.15 – 2.15 Lunch

2.15 – 3.45 Panel 6: Industrial Workplaces and Literary Culture

  • Ronan McGreechin (University of Strathclyde) – Illustrations and Sketches as Workplace Expression in the Denny Brother’s Drawing Office Scrapbook.
  • Kirstie Blair (University of Stirling): The Crafty Cal and the Great N. B. R.: Scottish Railway Poets and Workplace Identities.
  • Oliver Betts (National Railway Museum): George Gresswell – Engine Driver Poet.
  • Mike Sanders (University of Manchester): From Coalface to Typeface: The Literary Career of John Monk Foster.

3.45 – 4 Break

4 – 5.00 Closing roundtable: Brian Maidment, Florence Boos, Simon Kövesi