10 Comments

Thanks for an excellent and thoughtful article.

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Feb 12, 2022Liked by The Mill

Lovely article, thanks you

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The section on Catherine anD rape statistics - plus ca change?

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I fell in love with the Wigan women at their Dinner Hour half a century ago. Anemoia is not my problem. Nor, I'm pleased to hope, is weaving fictions around scenes I never witnessed. If Eyre Crowe ever joined in conversation with Wigan mill workers, it is nothing I have ever seen reported. Maybe Thomas McGrath has first-hand sources I have never come across. I don't imagine the artist had much conversation with Slaves Waiting for Sale in Richmond Virginia a decade before he tipped up in Wigan. For any Royal Academician to paint antebellum slave women, and/or Wigan wage slaves is notable enough. Are his pictures idealised and romantic? Certainly. On the other hand, how easy is it to transpose ourselves into an earlier world? Did Mike Leigh, for instance, get the tone, atmosphere and depiction of working class deprivation any the more accurate in detail two hundred years after Peterloo? I don't think so. Does Mr Lowry leave us with nothing but an overwhelming sense of working class malnutrition in his emaciated crowds? Of course not. Any street photographer, sketcher or artist looking at cotton mill workers in Punjab today might find it difficult bringing forward the reality of profound poverty in amongst the tiffin cans, bright saris and chatter of their subject. I'm not apologising for Eyre Crowe, but the impact of his painting on childish me has never stopped me learning masses more about the condition of the working class in England, and the context in which the painting was made. And I have done so without the condescending black boards that currently clutter Manchester Art Gallery.

Thomas McGrath doesn't mention the only man in the picture (or maybe he did, and it was lost in the edit). He's right there in the centre of the composition, half turning away from our gaze. A helmeted copper, complete with his tunic and stick of office. A "Peeler" in the parlance of the day, Wigan having been the first authority outside London to set up a force in the model of Sir Robert Peel. The ladies of Wigan couldn't give a toss. I think Eyre Crowe got that bit right, at least.

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'The Victorian elites were essentially peeking through their fingers. They were aghast by the lack of femininity amongst these working-class women, but they also couldn’t get enough of it.'

A similar attitude to working class people [not just women] is still prevalent amongst the middle classes. It's called poverty porn, and its modern day version was captured in that notorious Channel 4 programme Benefit Street. There have been other documentaries and dramas of a similar ilk.

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I've always liked this painting even though it is romanticised somewhat. Women certainly had a hard life and they raised children too along with mill work. Endlessly grateful for my education and that our lives however hard these days at least are not as hard as in the past. More please from Thomas, I love his articles.

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Fascinating article but aside from the working conditions I’m not entirely certain there is much difference in the treatment and inequalities experienced by women today….

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One of my favourites Victorian painters. If you want to learn more about the Victorian view of working women ( & an early manifestation of The Blob’s views on The North), read up on the Pit Brow Lasses and photographer Arthur Munby.

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Fascinating article - thanks.

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