Cartooning King Cotton
Manchester Central Library
23 May – 28 June 2007
This new exhibition features cartoons relating to life in the Lancashire cotton towns in the early decades of the twentieth century. As representations of the everyday lives of its workers, the cartoons provide a unique and unusual insight into the cotton industry at this time. They refer to many of the cotton operatives' major workplace concerns in the period (such as bullying, fines, health and safety issues and the treatment of women workers), as well as to popular leisure activities such as the annual 'wakes' holiday in Blackpool. The cartoons provide a sharply satirical commentary on the culture and politics of the industry, and reveal some interesting parallels with problems that are associated with the modern workplace today.
The cartoons are the work of Sam Fitton, who is perhaps best known as a popular Lancashire dialect writer and comic entertainer. A number of his verses, including Eawr Sarah's Getten a Chap became standards in the dialect repertoire. However, Fitton was also a self-taught artist and one of the few working-class men to succeed as a cartoonist. From 1909 his work in this medium was published chiefly in the Cotton Factory Times, a weekly newspaper produced specifically for the textile workers of Manchester and the surrounding towns. During the following ten years Fitton contributed over 450 cartoons to the paper, and many of these are shown in the exhibition.
Researched and curated by Terry Wyke and Stephen Yates using source materials from MMU Special Collections and Oldham Local Studies Library and Archives, the exhibition has been produced with support from the Visual Resources Centre.