Harry Rutherford's
Festival of Britain Mural

Monday, 13 May 2013

Hydes Own Poet - John Critchley Prince

Below is a chapter on John Critchley Prince from Thomas Middleton's 'Annals of Hyde and District'.

 Critchley Prince was born on June 21st, 1808, at Wigan, in Lancashire. He was brought up amid the greatest poverty, and was never sent to school. His education was obtained solely from his mother and from the teachers of a Sunday School. The Princes eventually settled in Hyde, where the poet married in 1826, when under 19 years of age. His income at the time was very small, and when a young family appeared, it took the united efforts of both parents to procure even a bare subsistence. Misled by glowing accounts of the prospects of artisans in France, Prince at length left his family to seek his fortune abroad. Disappointment, however, met him on the Continent; the greatest distress prevailed, and unable to obtain work, he found himself a beggar in a strange country, possessing no knowledge of the language.

In the middle of the winter of 1831 Prince left Mühlhausen  to return to Hyde. He followed the romantic wanderings of the Rhine, exploring the ruined castles and visiting the principal scenes of legendary lore. Travelling through Strasbourg, Nancy, Rheims, Chalons, and most of the principal cities, he at length arrived in Calais, having subsisted on the charity of the few English residents he had met with on the way. A passage was procured for him by the British Consul at Calais, and he at length set foot again in England.

On his return Prince first applied for food and shelter at a workhouse in Kent, and was cast into a filthy garret with 12 other unfortunates, some of whom were in a high state of fever; indeed, the dawn of the next day found his bedfellow dead. From here he proceeded with bare feet to London, begging in the daytime and sleeping in the open fields at night. A portion of his clothing he sold at "Rag Fair" for 8 pence, which treasure he spent partly in allaying the dreadful cravings of hunger, and partly in the purchase of paper and writing materials. Entering a neighbouring tavern, he wrote as much of his own poetry as the paper would contain, and that task done he went round to a number of booksellers, hoping to dispose of the manuscript for a shilling or two. But disappointment again met him, and after staying in London a short time—lying on the stones of some gateway at night, he left the metropolis and set off northward. His biographer tells us that he slept in barns, vagrant offices, under hay–stacks, in the lowest of lodging–houses; one day he ground corn at Birmingham, another he sang ballads at Leicester, the cool night wind found him sleeping under the oaks of Sherwood Forest, and finally he rested his weary limbs in the " lock–up " at Bakewell. By perseverance, however, he at length reached Hyde, only to find that his wife, unable to sustain herself and children, had been obliged to apply for parish relief, and was then in the workhouse at Wigan. Prince hurried off to that town, removed his family to Manchester, where he took a bare garret, and without furniture of any sort, with a bundle of straw for a bed, the wretched family remained several months. The Princes subsequently returned to Hyde, where a fairer fortune smiled upon them than had been the case in former years.

It was not until 1841 that Prince published his first work, "Hours with the Muses." He contributed at different times to the Manchester periodicals, and to three now defunct local magazines, "Microscope," "Phoenix," and "Companion."

The publication of " Hours with the Muses " brought Prince numbers of friends, but unfortunately he became a prey to habits of intemperance. He seems to have fallen into an unsettled state, sometimes working at his old trade of reed–making, often hanging about the country, and chiefly depending for subsistence on the profits of the five successive volumes which issued from his pen. An attempt was made to secure for him a pension, which, although fruitless as far as its main effort was concerned, won for him a grant from the Royal Bounty. He died at Hyde in 1866, and was buried in St. George's Churchyard, where a head–stone commemorating his works has been erected over his grave by a few admiring friends.

  photo 81884f08-0514-4fb1-b287-10400a0da7cc.jpg

DIED 5TH MAY 1866.'
The photograph is reproduced with thanks to Dr Tony Shaw
Dr Tony Shaw


Tom said...

I've tried finding the grave but had no luck....

Dr Tony Shaw said...

I've just been to St George's Church looking for the grave of Joseph Johnston, which (from Thomas Middleton's quite precise description of its location in 1908) now seems to have disappeared beneath the playground. Johnston was a very minor poet from Hyde although a close (but teetotal) friend of Prince's, and if you've still not found Prince's grave, just walk through the church gates and straight on to the buddleia bush, look down and there it is! It's in an even bigger mess than before though, and on my next visit I think I'll go with rubber gloves and a rubber scraper to get rid of the moss: it's appalling that the grave of an important local poet should be left in such a state.

Hydonian said...

Dr Shaw
If I can manage to get by there I will do so and see what I can do.
I agree it is a disgrace... The last time I visited the graveyard I found the whole place very upsetting, there were piles of broken grave stones all over the place, it was unkempt and so disrespectful.