Treasure of the Week no. 21. The Low Moor Iron Works – what poetry!

Low Moor Iron Works: a poem. By John Nicholson. 1829 (1856 reprint).

JND 187/1 (Please quote this number if requesting this item.)

Tres 21 John Nicholson

Image reproduced from ‘Poets of Keighley, Bingley, Haworth and District’ by Charles F Forshaw.

In common with other writers of the early nineteenth century, John Nicholson (1790-1843), ‘The Bard of Airedale’ found romance in the achievements of industry.  The coal-fired flares of the iron works at Low Moor were compared to the smoking volcanoes of Etna and Strombolo. Beyond romance though, were the utilitarian products that issued

When first the shapeless sable Ore
Is laid in heaps around Low Moor,
The roaring Blast, the quiv’ring Flame,
Give to the mass another name;
White as the Sun the Metal runs,
For Horse Shoe Nails, or thund’ring Guns;
The trembling hair-spring of a Watch,
An Anchor, or a Cottage latch –
Most implements the Farmers have,
And those of Steamers on the wave
The Tailor’s Needle, or the Shell
The levell’d once where Princes dwell;
The Engine, Boiler, Cobler’s awl,
The Carronade, the pond’rous ball;
The place where Steam first moved his wings,
The Nails in Beggars’ Shoes and Kings’;
The Anchor’s Chain, the Fisher’s Hook,
The Sword – the Hatchet – and the Crook,
The sounding Anvil, all the blades,
The cause of many thousand trades;
No pen can write, no mind can soar
To tell the Wonders of Low Moor.

The importance of the Low Moor Iron Works in the manufacture of weapons is noted:

Throughout the world thy heavy Guns are known:
From the Pacific to the Indian shore,
Nations have heard their dread tremendous roar.

And at the Woolwich arsenal:

There Pyramids of balls for battle form’d,
By which each fortress of our foes is storm’d,
The bursting bombs of every size are there,
To guard the land Britannia holds so dear.

But now

Silent the Cannon, peaceful all the host;

In particular, and prophetically, the coming of the railways is noted: the days of the Courier, the Pilot, and the Duke of Leeds, stage coaches all, are ending:

Ye panting horses, smoking on the road,
Mark’d with the whip, and struggling with your load;
Your race of cruelties will soon be done,
The mail without you soon will swiftly run.

Summing up, Nicholson tells how Low Moor helped make Bradford:

What millions sterling have been made,
What tens of thousands have been paid,
What thousands here has genius fed,
Since the first blast has rear’d its head,
Crown’d with flame that dar’d on high,
And cheer’d the midnight cloudy sky.
But for Low Moor, old Bradford Town,
Had never like a City grown.

This poem was first published in 1829 and reprinted in 1856 by J Dobson of the Market Place, Bingley.

Nicholson started his working life in the mills but aged 32 moved to Harden Beck and became an established poet. After success with works such as Airedale in Ancient Times and The Siege of Bradford, he tried his luck in London, but soon returned to Bingley. In the 1841 Census, John (aged 50) and his wife Martha (45) were living with their eight children, aged 6 through to Ann (22) and Sarah (20), both worsted warpers, and Thomas (20), a wool sorter. John Nicholson was drowned while trying to cross the River Aire on stepping stones on a stormy night.

Tres21 birthplace of Nicholson

Image reproduced from ‘Poets of Keighley, Bingley, Haworth and District’ by Charles F Forshaw.

The Low Moor Iron Works have long since gone, but the recent re-opening of Low Moor station would surely have pleased ‘The Bard of Airedale’!


National Poetry Day the Dewhirst Way!

A talk by Ian Dewhirst is always something to look forward to and, given Ian’s keen interest and admiration for Keighley’s Gordon Bottomley, writer, poet, playwright, art collector, I was particularly eager to hear this one. I was not disappointed.


Ian outlined Gordon Bottomley’s early life in Keighley and how local theatre trips with his gran, access to good libraries and his time at Keighley Boys’ Grammar School had all, Bottomley acknowledged, ultimately influenced his playwriting and poetry. Ian also noted the origins of Keighley Library’s unique archive collection of his original correspondence, deposited by Mrs Philip Lamb, a relative from Harrogate. You might have thought that a talk about a man so troubled by poor health would reflect some slow progress but Bottomley did travel at times and he certainly mingled in intellectually energetic company. Ian apprised us of his literary and artistic connections including Edward Thomas, renowned poet, John Masefield, Poet Laureate and Paul Nash, the famous artist. He also spoke of his influence in the Georgian Poetry Movement during the early 20th century, which included Rupert Brook and Siegfried Sassoon and significantly marks the major change in poetry from the romantic to the harsher realism of modern poetry, following the impact of WW1.

This talk could also have become one of simple name dropping of the artists and literati of the time but Ian Dewhirst MBE was never going to be so dull. The talk was well rounded, peppered with amusing anecdotes and brought to life the cultural times in which Gordon Bottomley lived, as well as Bottomley’s intelligent, witty and lively personality which so successfully managed to overshadow very serious ill health.


Nevertheless, a talk from Ian would not be complete without a relevant but hilarious personal story at the expense of Ian himself. This came in his very funny account of his attempts to get a clearer view of the much admired The Sheiling. From 1914, this was Bottomley’s home with his wife, Emily, in Silverdale, near Carnforth. Quite a few of the great and good visited the Bottomleys here and so there are some fine descriptions of a beautiful house and woodland surroundings, a “magic wood” even. Inspired by these descriptions, Ian had, on a few rambles, attempted to get a better view of the house over the limestone rise and one wet, windy day, romantically determined to get that view at last. Manfully he scaled the rocks, only to find himself suddenly wet nose to pane with the kitchen window. As he put it, soggy and bedraggled, he knew the washing powder of the latest occupants but still had no better idea of the building.

Everyone enjoyed the talk, from the local lady who wrote poetry herself to a member of Keighley’s Film Club who commented that it was inspiring to hear “the expert” speak on an entirely new topic, never tackled before in depth, and he looked forward, as I do, to repeats in the future. Radio Leeds, who had interviewed Ian before the talk, made plans for not one but two features on this national day of celebration.

Indeed, it was a great pleasure post talk, to once again marvel at this comparatively small town of Keighley which has made such a contribution to the nurturing of national and international cultural and artistic influences, not only Gordon Bottomley but the Brontës, Alexander Smith, pioneer of the pictorial movement in photography, and the late Lord Asa Briggs, renowned historian, to mention a few, and all this whilst standing in one of the earliest of the famous Carnegie public libraries. GRAND!

Gina Birdsall

Keighley’s Neglected Poet: a talk by Ian Dewhirst MBE

To celebrate National Poetry Day on October 6th, well-known author and historian Ian Dewhirst MBE will be giving a talk ‘Gordon Bottomley, Keighley’s neglected poet and playwright’ in Keighley Local Studies library.

Born in Keighley in 1874, Gordon Bottomley was an important figure in the poetry movement before and during the First World War and one of the most influential literary figures to have been born in Keighley.

Over the years, Mr Dewhirst has made a special study of Gordon Bottomley, for whom he has a great deal of admiration, and we are fortunate that this renowned raconteur has agreed to share his knowledge in this unique talk to be held at Keighley Library.

The talk starts at 11.00am. Admission is free and all are welcome.


Gordon Bottomley (1874-1948)
Keighley’s poet, writer, playwright, art collector

Gordon Bottomley is one of the most important literary figures to have been born in Keighley.  Despite the limitations he faced in society due to illness, his cultural reach extended into the national arts scene including drama, poetry and fine art.  As well as honorary degrees, Bottomley was a Fellow and Benson medallist of the Royal Society of Literature and Vice-president of the British Drama League.  In 1994, a blue plaque, similar to those for famous London landmarks, was put up to mark the site of his birth in Keighley.

Born in 1874, the only child of Alfred Bottomley, a Keighley accountant and his wife Maria, a Scot, he was initially educated by his mother. He then attended the Keighley Trade and Grammar School, part of the Mechanics’ Institute building which later became Keighley Boys’ Grammar School. Gordon Bottomley credits the school as a major influence on his literary development and Keighley Library holds the records of the school which reveal to some extent the kind of education and facilities available.

At the age of 16, he became a junior clerk at the Craven Bank in Keighley. In 1891 he was transferred to the Bradford branch but ill health (haemorrhaging of the lungs) left him an invalid for long periods of time. When he was 18 years old, the family moved to Cartmel area on the Cumbria-Lancashire border. Bottomley stayed in the area for the rest of his life, moving to The Sheiling, in Silverdale near Carnforth in 1914 with his wife Emily. Here they entertained friends such as Paul Nash, the artist, and Edward Thomas, the poet, and his correspondence with both these influential men has since been published.

Gordon Bottomley began writing poetry in earnest in the 1890s and became a leading figure in the Georgian Poetry movement before, and during, WW1. He had seven collections of poetry published and his works appeared in anthologies of the time.
He was also a playwright, mainly of one-act verse plays and he also championed the experimental theatre of the 1930s. He loved art, and became a dedicated collector. Greatly influenced by William Morris and the Pre-Raphaelites, he acquired a nationally important collection which also included the work of influential contemporary artists such as Paul Nash, Stanley Spencer, William Nicholson and Bradford’s own Sir William Rothenstein.  In 1949, he left over 600 paintings, drawings and prints to the Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery in Carlisle. Details of his collection are available in archive BK60.


Keighley Local Studies Library Resources

Gordon Bottomley’s works are out of print now but Keighley Library has an important collection of his publications, photographs and published and original correspondence housed in the Library’s Yorkshire Authors’ Collection and in the archive.

The library also holds news cuttings and biographical articles, including some written by local historian and former Keighley Reference Librarian, Ian Dewhirst MBE.

A leaflet has also been produced outlining Gordon Bottomley’s life, works and original archive resources stored in Keighley Local Studies Library.