25 May 2015


"Elliott". That is the name inscribed on Ebenezer Elliott's statue in Weston Park, Sheffield. In the middle of the nineteenth century, the statue's sponsors must have imagined that his fame was such that his surname would be sufficient. This statue used to stand in the middle of the city's old marketplace near the remains of Sheffield Castle but twenty five years after its erection it was moved to Weston Park, opposite The Children's Hospital. This may have been due to redevelopment of the city centre though perhaps that theory is rather too convenient.

You have probably never heard of Ebenezer Elliott and indeed the guardians of British cultural history may have conspired to reduce him to a mere footnote. But in his day Ebenezer Elliott was a giant of the literary world and revered throughout the land as "The People's Poet" or "The Corn Law Rhymer". He was self-taught and at first his poetry focussed upon the natural world but he was born in a time of political turmoil as the working people of Great Britain began to turn against their masters and demand better working and living conditions. As a consequence his poetry began to follow that theme.

He spoke up for the downtrodden and lobbied for social change. And the working classes embraced his verse. It was recited in taverns and work places, pored over in candlelight. This was not the introspective verbal wordplay of an ivory tower poet, it was outgoing and connected to the communities he knew. It was about the repeal of unjust laws and it appealed to those in power to mend their ways. A rallying cry that was heard throughout the land and even further afield.. No wonder the burghers of Sheffield wanted to put him on a stone pedestal after he had passed away.

Born in Masbrough near Rotherham in 1781, he died on December 1st 1849 in his retirement cottage at Hargate Hill near Great Houghton which is a village to the south east of Barnsley.  He was buried in nearby Darfield All Saints churchyard which I visited last week. I would like to think that his funeral was well-attended but perhaps that winter the masses that he had spoken up for were unaware that he had been sidelined to Great Houghton where in his last years he mostly pottered about in his vegetable garden living a  humble country life that echoed his childhood.

The People's Anthem
by Ebenezer Elliott (1847)

When wilt thou save the people?
Oh, God of mercy! when?
Not kings and lords, but nations!
Not thrones and crowns, but men!
Flowers of thy heart, oh, God, are they!
Let them not pass, like weeds, away!
Their heritage a sunless day!
God! Save the people!

Shall crime bring crime for ever,
Strength aiding still the strong?
Is it thy will, oh, Father,
That man shall toil for wrong?
"No!" say thy mountains; "No!" thy skies
"Man's clouded sun shall brightly rise,
And songs be heard, instead of sighs."
God, save the people!

When wilt thou save the people?
Oh, God of Mercy! when?
The people, Lord, the people!
Not thrones and crowns, but men!
God! save the people! thine they are,
Thy children, as thy angels fair:
Save them from bondage, and despair!
God, save the people!

The poem parodies The National Anthem and quite a number of Elliott's poems were set to music. But as well as being blatantly political, he could also be sweet and domestic. Here's a sentimental poem he wrote about returning to the village of Masbrough after many years away. It reveals an interesting picture of early nineteenth century rural life before the cities and industry began their unstoppable march:-

Rural Rambles - The Village
by Ebenezer Elliott

Sweet village! where my early days were pass'd,
Though parted long, we meet, we meet at last!
Like friends, imbrown'd by many a sun and wind,
Much changed in mien, but more in heart and mind,
Fair, after many years, thy fields appear,
With joy beheld, but not without a tear.
I met thy little river miles before
I saw again my natal cottage door:
Unchanged as truth, the river welcomed home
The wanderer of the sea's heart-breaking foam;
But the changed cottage, like a time-tried friend,
Smote on my heart-strings, at my journey's end.
For now no lilies bloom the door beside!
The very house-leek on the roof hath died;
The window'd gable's ivy bower is gone,
The rose departed from the porch of stone;
The pink, the violet, have fled away,
The polyanthus and auricula!
And round my home, once bright with flowers, I found
Not one square yard, one foot of garden ground.
Path of the quiet fields! that oft of yore
Call'd me at morn on Shenstone's page to pore;
Oh! poor man's pathway! where, 'at evening's close,'
He stopp'd to pluck the woodbine and the rose,
Shaking the dew-drop from the wild-brier bowers,
That stoop'd beneath their load of summer flowers,
Then eyed the west, still bright with fading flame,
As whistling homeward by the wood he came;
Sweet, dewy, sunny, flowery footpath, thou
Art gone for ever, like the poor man's cow!
No more the wandering townsman's Sabbath smile,
No more the hedger, waiting on the stile
For tardy Jane; no more the muttering bard,
Startling the heifer near the lone farm-yard;
No more the pious youth, with book in hand,
Spelling the words he fain would understand,-
Shall bless thy mazes, when the village bell
Sounds o'er the river, soften'd up the dell.
Here youngling fishers, in the grassy lane,
Purloin'd their tackle from the brood-mare's mane;
And truant urchins, by the river's brink,
Caught the fledged throstle as it stoop'd to drink;
Or with the ramping colt, all joyous play'd,
Or scared the owlet in the blue-ball shade.
The grave of Ebenezer Elliott in Darfield churchyard
He is buried with his wife - Frances Gartside.

This post was written in honour of Ebenezer Elliott and in hope that he will still be remembered in years to come. His story, his legacy and his poetry deserve  more singing.


  1. I have seen that statue many times but never knew nor cared who he was. I wish now I'd enquired. His poetry is not to my taste but them I'm a philistine.
    I wonder why we call our anthem an anthem it is more like a dirge?

    1. I realise that you are a card carrying member of The Conservative Party Adrian so I understand why you might find it difficult to appreciate rebellious poems about social injustice.

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  3. Thank you for - as is so often the case on your blog - for letting me learn something new. I'd not heard of Ebenezer Elliott before, which is probably not surprising, since I am a) not much into poetry and b) the poets I was taught about at school were mostly German. But the story of his life and work sounds interesting and I think I want to know more.

    1. PS: Sophia johnson was at least polite enough to leave her name (assuming it is not real anyway). Most such comments I get are anonymous and never make it past the spam filter.

    2. I am pleased you found my Elliott post interesting Meike. Like Adrian, the majority of visitors to Sheffield pass Elliott's statue and have no idea who he was or what he did. It is very sad. As for Sophia Johnson, I hope my response wasn't too harsh.

    3. Sophia Johnson goes under other alias's. She seems to have suddenly entered 'our' blogland and, presumably on the basis of 'find one find all' commented on all out blogs.

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    1. Dear Law Anna
      So nice of you to drop by my blog and to leave such an unusual response to my post on Ebenezer Elliott. I have just one further thing to say to you - GET LOST!
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      (Blogosphere Vigilante)

  5. You seem to be suffering from a weirdo invasion YP. Don't understand why they bother ...or are they robots? They certainly talk like them!
    Interesting post on old Ebenezer ( such a strange name. Who looks at a little baby and says I think I'll call this little mite Ebenezer ??)

    1. ANSWER: Apart from Mr and Mrs Elliott, , I can only think of Mr and Mrs Scrooge! Ebenezer has a more individualistic ring to it than Tony! You could be renamed Patience!


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