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Taken from Sir Lesley Stephen & Sir Sidney Lee (eds.), Dictionary of National Biography: from the earliest times to 1900 (London, Oxford University Press, 1949).
Samuel Bamford, a weaver and poet, was born at Middleton, Lancashire, on 28 February 1788. He was the son of an operative muslin weaver, afterwards governor of the Salford workhouse. He was sent to the Middleton and the Manchester grammar school. He learned weaving, and was subsequently occupied as a warehouseman in Manchester. While thus employed he made an accidental acquaintance with Homer's Iliad and with the poems of Milton, and his life was thenceforward marked with a passionate taste for poetry, which brought forth fruit in the shape of several crude productions of his own.
Bamford appears to have led a somewhat unsettled life in his youth. He was a sailor for a short time, in the employ of a collier trading between Shields and London; then resumed his place in the warehouse; and at length settled down as a weaver. It was about this time that his first poetry appeared in print, and he now became known in his district as one who had practical sympathy with the difficulties of his class. Mrs. Gaskell, in her novel Mary Barton, quotes a poem of his, beginning ‘God help the poor,’ to illustrate the popularity of his verses with the Lancashire labouring classes in their times of trial.
Resistance to trade oppression was the order of the day, and Bamford went about with the endeavour to discover the true means of relief. He had many of the peculiar talents necessary for the popular leader, while averse to violence in any shape. He was brought into great public notoriety on the occasion of that meeting of local clubs the dispersal of which became known as the Peterloo massacre. It was proved that Bamford's contingent to the meeting was peaceful and orderly, and that his speech was of the same tendency. Yet he suffered an imprisonment of twelve months on account of this affair. He subsequently, by his personal influence alone, hindered the operations of loom-breakers in South Lancashire. About 1826 he became correspondent of a London morning newspaper, and having ceased to be a weaver by employment, he incurred some dislike or distrust on the part of his old fellow-workmen. Yet he always pleaded their cause as opportunity served, even when, as a special constable during the Chartist agitation, he incurred the downright enmity of his own class.
In 1851 or thereabouts Bamford obtained a comfortable situation as a messenger in Somerset House. With almost a sinecure, however, and raised above the prospect of want, he became dissatisfied with London life and people, and pined for his native county; and after a few years of government employ he returned to his old trade of weaving. He died at Harpurhey, Lancashire, 13 April 1872, at a very advanced age, his last years having been provided for by the generosity of a few friends.
Bamford's publications include:
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