Brierley, Benjamin (DNB01)

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BRIERLEY, BENJAMIN (1825–1896), Lancashire dialect writer, son of James Brierley. handloom weaver, and his wife, Esther Whitehead, was born at Failsworth, near Manchester, on 26 June 1825. He learnt his letters at a village school, whence he was taken in his sixth year, when his parents, who were in very humble circumstances, removed to the neighbouring village of Hollinwood. He was then set to work as a bobbin-winder, and soon afterwards sent into a factory as a 'piecer.' As he grew up he became a handloom weaver, and ultimately a silk-warper. While yet a child he had a passion for reading, and made diligent use of such advantages as were supplied by the village Sunday and night schools. On returning to Failsworth, when he was only fifteen, he joined with some other youths in forming a mutual improvement society, which developed into the Failsworth Mechanics' Institution. In his study of the poets he was encouraged by an uncle, himself poor in means but with decided intellectual tastes. Some of his earliest efforts in original composition appeared in the 'Oddfellows' Magazine' and the 'Manchester Spectator.' In the latter journal in 1856 appeared his charming articles entitled 'A Day's Out,' which first brought his name before the public. They were separately published in 1857 with the original title, and in 1859 under the name of 'A Summer Day in Daisy Nook: a Sketch of Lancashire Life and Character.' In 1863 he abandoned silk-warping and took the position of sub-editor of the 'Oldham Times.' In the following year he spent six months in London on journalistic work. Returning to Manchester he completed his first long story, 'The Layrock of Langleyside' (1864), and joined with Edwin Waugh and other friends in founding the Manchester Literary Club. In 1863 he produced his 'Chronicles of Waverlow,' and two volumes of Tales and Sketches of Lancastrian Life.'

In April 1869 he began the publication of 'Ben Brierley's Journal,' first as a monthly and afterwards as a weekly magazine This he continued to edit until December 1891, when the 'Journal' ceased to appear.

Though not a ready speaker, Brierley was an effective reader from his own works, and his services at public entertainments were frequently called for. He dramatised several of his stories, and himself performed in their representation, notably in 'Layrock of Langleyside,' at the Manchester Theatre Royal.

In 1875 he was elected a member of the Manchester city council, and served six years. In 1880 he paid a short visit to America, and in 1884 a longer one, and embodied his impressions in his 'Ab-o'th'-Yate in America.' He had the misfortune in 1884 to lose a great part of his savings through the failure of a building society. A public subscription was raised for his relief, and on 16 March 1885 he was presented with 650l. A few years afterwards, when his health failed, a grant of 150l. from the royal bounty fund was obtained for him . A further testimonial and the sum of 356Z. was presented to him on 29 Oct. 1892.

Brierley was married, in 1855, to Esther Booth of Bowlee, and had an only child, a daughter, who died in 1875. He died at Harpurhey, Manchester, on 18 Jan. 1896, and was buried at Ilarpurhey cemetery. A portrait of Brierley, painted by George Perkins, is at the Failsworth Liberal Club. On 30 April 1898 a statue by John Cassidy, raised by public subscription, was unveiled at Queen's Park, Manchester, by George Milner, president of the Manchester Literary Club.

Besides the works mentioned above, Brierley published: 1. 'Irkdale,' 1865, 2 vols. 2. 'Marlocks of Merriton,' 1867. 3. 'Red Windows Hall,' 1867. 4. 'Ab-o'th'-Yate in London,' 1868. 5. 'Ab-o'th'- Yate on Times and Things,' 1868. 6. 'Cotters of Mossbum,' 1871. 7. 'Ab-o'th'- Yate's Dictionary,' 1881. 8. 'Home Memories' (an autobiography), 1886. 9. 'Cast upon the World,' 1887. 10. 'Spring Blossoms and Autumn Leaves' (poems), 1893. A collected edition of his works was published in eight volumes, 1882-6, and in 1896 his 'Ab-o'th'-Yate Sketches and other short Stories,' edited by James Dronsfield, were published at Oldham in three volumes, with illustrations by F. W. Jackson. Both author and editor died before the last work was completed.

Brierley's writings, in which he endeavoured 'to rescue the Lancashire character from the erroneous conceptions of Tim Bobbin,' retain their great popularity throughout the county. They are written largely in the dialect of the southern part of Lancashire, and are valuable as faithful pictures of the humour and social characteristics of the poorer classes of the district.

[Brierley's Home Memories; Ben Brierley's Journal, 28 Nov. 1874; Manchester City News, 21 March 1885, 20 Jan. 1896, 7 May 1898; Manchester Guardian, 29 Oct. 1892, 20 Jan. 1896, 2 May 1898; Manchester Courier, 20 Jan. 1896; Papers of the Manchester Literary Chib, 1896, p. 487.]

C. W. S.