The Cotton Spinner (The Mill Town Lasses)

Written by Libby Ashworth
Review by Sally Zigmond

Lancashire, 1826. When mechanisation comes to the cotton industry, like so many others, Titus and Jennet Eastwood and their little daughter, Peggy, are forced to abandon their country cottage where he weaves and she spins cotton, in exchange for the cramped, dark and smoky terraces of Blackburn. Titus gets poorly-paid work in the local mill but very soon, like so many others, he is laid-off as supply outstrips demand. What with the restrictive Corn Laws that make bread too expensive, the poor are starving; discontent soon rumbles throughout Lancashire. Titus, is encouraged by George, his persuasive friend and neighbor, to attend a peaceful gathering to protest about this and against the total lack of parliamentary representation for the northern mill towns. The two men are separated in the crush, and although Titus believes in what was said, he soon wants to return home to his wife and child but is swept up in the downward rush of men determined to destroy the mill close by. Although totally innocent of the ensuing violence, he is arrested and committed to a long term of imprisonment.

Left alone, Jennet is comforted and supported by George and inevitably, one thing leads to another, which she bitterly regrets. When Titus is released and realises she is pregnant with another man’s child, he consoles himself in drink, so their marriage descends even further into misery and hardship, with Jennet working even harder to better life for herself and her daughters.

What makes this novel stand out from other enjoyable historical sagas is Libby Ashworth’s extensive knowledge of Lancashire, its geography, history, especially the cotton industry, and its people of which she is proud to belong. Her evocation of the sights and sounds of Lancashire is so evocative, I could even taste it. I have already ordered the second novel in the series and look forward to reading it.