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William Whittaker

This local writer,—best known, perhaps, by his pen-name, "Aker-Whitt,'' (a transposition of his surname, plus an extra "t ,")—was a native of Wiswell, near Whalley.

About 1882, he was re-siding at No. 40, Greaves-street, Blackburn; working at his trade as a painter; and contributing—as he had done for many years, even then—to the columns of the "Blackburn Times" and other Lancashire journals.

Considering his large literary output, and his long and intimate association with Billington, and other Blackburn poets, Whitaker appears to have written, or at any rate to have published, comparatively little verse.  Moreover, much of the verse which he did publish consisted of political and other satires, in the composition of which he excelled.  He wrote a fair amount of this kind of verse for the "Times" in the late sixties,—the years of Abram's most militant Radicalism, but, although those political pieces show great literary ability, they can scarcely be regarded as suitable for inclusion in such a work as the present.

This was one of his works, about walking home to Harwood through Rishton.


It was one February night,
When I fell in a woeful plight;
The social circle and the song
In Blackburn kept me far too long.
I needs must trudge a weary space,
For Harwood was my dwelling-place.
I took the way that homeward led,
When better folks were gone to bed.
The bell within St. Mary's tower,
Had chimed the solemn midnight hour,
Ere I had pass'd the borough's bound,
To find the darkness so profound.
The Whitebirk sentinel—the lamp—
The last light of the silent camp—
Threw me a friendly parting ray
To cheer me on my lonesome way.
O'er Rishton Moor the sleety blast
Full in my face blew fierce and fast;
Its fury vented round the form
Of this poor pilgrim of the storm.
.            .            .            .            .            .
I girt my loins—took heart of grace,
And plodded o'er the heath apace;
I knew the way that I must take
Was by the shore of Rishton Lake.
And when I trod its sedgy strand,
That sea in miniature was grand;
Its waters, storm lash'd into wrath,
Dash'd madly o'er my margin path;
The rolling waves and angry surf
Left their white foam upon the turf,
A moment there I chose to dwell,
And watch the sea-like billows swell.
Meanwhile the storm was o'er and past:
The moon peep'd through the clouds at last
Her silver crescent's tender beams
Fell on the lake in shimmering gleams.
Then Memory's retrospective eye
Reverted to the days gone by,
When as a boy I came to slide
When frost congealed these waters wide,
Until this mimic ocean main
Became a smooth and glassy plain.
Long has it been a choice resort
For skating and for curling sport.
'Twas here I first tried on my skates,
To test my skill and tempt the fates.
I thought then of that mournful day,
When youthful throngs—the fair and gay—
Careered upon its frozen deep,
With joy awake and care asleep.
But ah! Grim Death had laid a snare
To snatch his victims unaware.
A crash! a shriek!—let this suffice—
Four lives were quenched beneath the ice!
And two of them were lovers true,
Whose nuptial day was near in view!
Their loves and lives were so entwined
One could not well be left behind,
To part them, even Death was loth,
He sealed their bond and took them both,
In death unsevered, may they be
United in eternity.
Ah! who could contemplate that scene
With heart unmoved and mind serene?
Then wild Imagination wrought
A lurid spell upon my thought;
The white foam rolling at my feet
Became at once a winding sheet;
For ghostly Superstition threw
An eerie glamour o'er the view.
In that dread hour of solemn night,
Beneath the pale Moon's shadowy light,
I saw drowned corpses, and could trace
The features of an upturned face.
A waking dream it was indeed—
A nightmare of a hideous breed.
I left the solitary shore,
And trudged upon my way once more.
And halted not until I stood
Within the shades of Norden Wood.

In Norden Wood, as legends tell,
A hunchback hermit once did dwell:
A wizard he was said to be,
But none could tell his pedigree,
And none could tell his age or name,
Or when or whence to there he came.
All that was well and truly known
Was that he lived there all alone,
Secluded in the woody dell.
His hut was built beside a well;
But how he did himself maintain
Is what no mortal can explain,
Since from mankind he kept aloof,
And seldom left his lowly roof.
Belated travellers by night
Have seen the glimmer of his light.
But that was in the days of yore,
According to the country lore,
Which says the Devil did impart
To him some dark unholy art.
.            .            .            .            .            .
But while that theme was in my mind
I left old Norden Wood behind,
Then soon I mounted up the ridge
That brought me on to Lidget Bridge;
And then with joy did I espy
St. Hubert's spire against the sky.
I ceased o'er my sad state to brood,
I felt in no lugubrious mood,
I even could afford to smile,
So near my welcome domicile.

To have copied "Rishton Moor and Norden Wood" in full would have been to deprive ourselves of space for other examples of its author's work; but the complete poem is well worthy of perusal, if only for its account of old local customs and superstitions.  Most readers, however, will like best its pathetic lines on the sad drowning fatality which took place on that sorrowful Sunday afternoon in January, 1870.