I’ve been very busy over the last few months on a new project. I’m writing three sagas for Arrow (Penguin Randomhouse) with the series title of The Mill Town Lasses. They will be published under the name Libby Ashworth, beginning with The Cotton Spinner in March 2020.
The books are all set in my hometown of Blackburn and I’ve drawn on the history of the town as well as my own family history as a source of inspiration. When I researched my family history it was interesting to see the movement of the generations – beginning in the village of Whalley and gradually moving through Billington and Langho until they were living in Blackburn itself.
As the Industrial Revolution took hold, the inventions of machines like the Spinning Jenny by Hargreaves and Crompton’s Mule resulted in the manufacture of cotton moving away from a home based industry into the factory system. Men and women who had previously worked for themselves as hand spinners and handloom weavers now began to work in the mills, where the days were long and the hours they worked were no longer within their control.
My great, great, great, great grandparents (that’s going back six generations) lived in Whalley at Cross House. Titus and Jennet and their family were home based cotton spinners and weavers. But a couple of generations later the family was living in Blackburn and working in the mills. My great, great grandfather William began as a millworker and then opened a grocers’ shop’. One of his sons, Robert Thomas Eastwood, became a mayor of the town.
Although a lot of money was made from cotton, the industry was fickle with boom and bust cycles. It was mostly the mill owners who profited during the good times and had enough to tide them over the bad times. For the workers, the good times were good, if hard, but the bad times, when there was no work, meant poverty and starvation.
It’s against the background of these changes that I’ve set my stories. I’ve used the recurring family names of Titus and Jennet for my characters and in The Cotton Spinner I show the challenges they face as they move into Paradise Lane in Blackburn, opposite the towering walls of the mill to begin work in a town.