Our fourth (and final) session is a Magazine Night. Hosted by Dr Lauren Weiss, this session explores the fascinating world of manuscript magazines produced by Mutual Improvement and Literary Societies. As a way of introducing you to this world, we’d like to invite you to take the following quiz:

We would also ask you to take a look at an example of a manuscript magazine produced by the St Stephen’s Literary Society, which you’ll find at this link:


Feel free to read as little, or as much, of the magazine as you like. We would like to draw your attention to the members’ criticisms which sometimes follow contributions to the magazine.

This session will be held on Tuesday 15 June (8pm UK time). For Zoom link, email pistonpenandpress@gmail.com

Our third Shoddy Court session, ‘Workers Reading Tennyson and Longfellow’, will be held on Tuesday 1 June (8pm UK time) and will be hosted by Kirstie Blair. The reading is below. For Zoom link, email pistonpenandpress@gmail.com

The Lowell Mill Girls & The Man With the Waterproof Cape

The second Shoddy Court session was held on Tuesday 18th May (8pm UK time). It was hosted by Professor Bridget Marshall and is on the topic of ‘The Lowell Mill Girls & the Man with the Waterproof Cape’. The Reading is available for download below.

Pit Brow Lassies in Victorian Fiction

Shoddy Court returned in May 2021 and below you’ll find the reading for the Tuesday May 4th Session of Shoddy Court, consisting of extracts from novels by Frances Hodgson Burnett & John Monk Foster – Enjoy!

After our lively and enjoyable discussions in spring 2020, we are delighted to announce the return of the second season of the ‘Shoddy Court’ mutual improvement reading group. This autumn and winter, in line with the usual practices of such Victorian societies, we are inviting guest speakers to lead discussions on topics relating to working-class writing and reading. We have an exciting international line-up and will be adding to last session’s discussions of poetry with conversations about Dickens and Gaskell.

Readings will be posted here in advance, with information about sessions advertised on Twitter (@PistonPen) and on our Facebook page. All are welcome, no prior knowledge necessary! Meetings take place on Zoom. For the link, please email pistonpenandpress@gmail.com.

Fifth meeting Tuesday 15 December: Dickens’s Railway Stories. Hosted by Dr Oli Betts, Railway Museum.

For our Christmas meeting we will focus on the inimitable Dickens and his railway stories. Some short extracts to focus on are below. If you feel inspired you can read the full text of Mugby Junction, including the famous story ‘The Signalman’, online.

‘The Boy at Mugby’, illustration by James Mahoney (1868)

Letter from Dickens held at the Railway Museum, and blog post ‘Charles Dickens’ Missing Christmas Parcel’.

Fourth meeting Tuesday 1 December: Robert Wedderburn’s ‘The Horrors of Slavery’. Hosted by Prof Linda Hughes.

Third meeting Tuesday 17 November: Mutual Improvement Societies in Nineteenth-Century South Africa, Hosted by Prof Archie Dick.

Mike and Archie discuss this week’s topic

For this week Prof Dick has supplied a short article of his discussing these societies and practices of reading in South Africa. We look forward to hearing more about his research and discussing it with him. All are welcome, email address above for link!

Second meeting Tuesday 3rd November: ‘The Bees of Carlisle: Workers’ Reading Rooms’. Hosted by Iona Craig.

Iona introduces the readings for 3 November

Readings for 3 November (selection of three periodical articles):

First meeting Tuesday 20th October, 8pm: ‘Masters and Men: Industrial Gaskell. Hosted by the Gaskell Society.

Readings for 20th October:

Shoddy Court – Spring 2020

Mike Sanders and Libby Tempest introduce this week’s readings

From April-June 2020, during the COVID-19 lockdown period, the ‘Piston, Pen & Press’ team hosted an online reading project featuring some of the poems and songs we’ve been working on recently, and in the spirit of the Literary and Mutual Improvement Societies we’ve been researching (our flyer references the ‘Shoddy Court Literary and Scientific’ in Benjamin Disraeli’s Sybil, and is modelled after the selection of flyers we studied in Keighley Library, Yorkshire). This and future sessions were advertised here and on Facebook, and you can catch up with our video intros and the texts we read below.

First Discussion: Tuesday 28th April, 8pm BST.

“Rights and Liberty”: John Stafford’s songs celebrating forty years of freedom struggles.

Despite being illiterate, John Stafford (1790-c.1840s) composed many songs celebrating and commemorating the radical causes in which he played an active role.  These songs were frequently sung at radical gatherings around the Ashton-under-Lyne area where Stafford lived and worked.  The selection of songs we’ve chosen deal with the most important working-class struggles of the first half of the Nineteenth Century – Luddism, Reform, Peterloo, the Factory Movement and Chartism.

Mike introduces John Stafford and his poems

Second Discussion: Tuesday 12th May, 8pm BST. [International participants, please note that Zoom is confused by British Summer Time, you may need to add an hour to its calculations for your time-zone]

“We work for our bread in the caverns below”: Poetry from the Pits.

Kirstie and Mike discuss their choices of miners’ poems and songs

Led by Mike and Kirstie and featuring mining songs and poems from Scotland and the North, this highlights the topics and themes of miner’s poetry in the long Victorian period. Mike has selected four Northern mining songs and poems from the 1840s. Kirstie has picked four Scottish poems: one each by miner-poets David Wingate (1828-1892) and Arthur Wilson (1864-1947) and two poems or songs by Sarah Moore (1873-1947) a Labour activist and councillor from West Lothian, whose poems are unpublished. Download a Word file containing the poems below (any access problems, email us!) Zoom meeting link same as before if you had it previously, if not email pistonpenandpress@gmail.com and we will supply it.

Third Discussion: Tuesday 26th May, 8pm BST.

“A factory girl can ne’er be free”: Songs from the Shuttles and Spindles.

For this week Mike and Kirstie focus on two late-century Lancashire poets, Sam Fitton and Sarah A. Robinson, and their writings in the Cotton Factory Times and Yorkshire Factory Times. Kirstie has written a short article on Robinson for History Workshop Online, which has some information about what we know so far about her life and works. You can download the poems for discussion below. Our project partner Jennifer Reid has also recorded two of Fitton’s songs for us, to accompany our discussion.

Jennifer sings Fitton’s ‘Shuttle-Kissin”
Jennifer sings Fitton’s ‘Mule-Gate Musing’ or ‘Paradise as Pictured by a Piecer’

Fourth Discussion: Tuesday 9th June, 8pm BST.

“The spring and ring of the bending rail”: Lines from the Railways.

Here Mike, Kirstie and Oli will consider some of the poems by railway poets we have been investigating, with a selection of poems about life in this new and growing industry, and its hazards and pleasures.

Kirstie introduces this week’s railway poets and poems