Askham, John (DNB01)

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ASKHAM, JOHN (1825–1894), poet, was born at Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, in a cottage just off the Market Street, adjoining White Horse Yard, on 25 July 1825. His father, John Askham, a native of Raunds in the same county, was a shoemaker, and his mother came from Kimbolton. The poet, who was the youngest of seven, received very little education, but was at Wellingborough Free School for about a year. Before he was ten he was put to work at his father's trade. He worked some time for Messrs. Singer, but ultimately set up for himself. Amid incessant toil he found means to educate himself, and his earliest publications give evidence of a cultivation much beyond that of his class. He composed his first verses at the age of twenty-five, and later contributed poems to local newspapers. He acted as librarian of the newly formed Literary Institute at Wellingborough before 1871, when he was elected a member of the first school board of the town. In 1874 he became school attendance officer and sanitary inspector of the local board of health.

Askham published four volumes by subscription, and through one of his subscribers, George Ward Hunt [q. v.], he received a grant of 50l. from the queen's bounty fund. His publications were entitled: 1. 'Sonnets on the Months and other Poems,' 1863. 2. 'Descriptive Poems, Miscellaneous Pieces and Miscellaneous Sonnets,' 1866. 3. 'Judith and other Poems, and a (Centenary of Sonnets,' 1868. 4. 'Poems and Sonnets,' 1875. 5. 'Sketches in Prose and Verse,' 1893.

Askham is a good example of the uneducated poet. He was especially fond of the sonnet. The fidelity of his nature poetry was remarkable when it is considered that, unlike his predecessor, John Clare (1793–1864) [q. v.], he had rare opportunities of enjoying country life. In his later years he was rendered helpless by paralysis. He died at Clare Cottage, Wellingborough, on 28 Oct. 1894, and was buried on 1 Nov. in Wellingborough cemetery. He was twice married. By the first wife (born Bonham) he had three daughters; the second (born Cox) survived him.

[Biographical Sketch (with portrait) prefixed to Sketches in Prose and Verse; obituary notices in local papers (Wellingborough News, Northampton Mercury, &c., 2 Nov. 1894), and in Times, 29 Oct. 1894; Works (only 'Sonnets on the Months' is in the British Museum); private information. The Annual Register (obit.) misprints the name and gives wrong date of death.]

G. Le G. N.