Here are two poems from Sarah Simpson’s Story a narrative sequence which tells the story of a Victorian Sheffield girl who was taken to the USA by her father when he left to escape his creditors in Sheffield.
If you would like to read the whole sequence, email me and then if you send me £5, I can post a copy of the complete sequence which was produced as a programme when it was performed at Off the Shelf in 2015.
Elizabeth Allen, the Simpson’s Servant 1841
Well, I’m reight glad of t’ work for I’ve no folk of me own
and Missus is fair enough, but t’ girls are that untidy.
Then there’s t’ washing, three lots of monthly cloths
and Miss Sarah will no doubt be coming on soon.
And t’ puddings I’ve to bake, they like their puddings.
Little Edward, he’s my favourite. Miss Sarah’s that wild,
tha can’t tell her owt, she’s a reight answer-back child.
Not but what she’s not a great little piano- player.
Mister Simpson, he brings home a piano one day
and she’s off to Mr Leeson at number ninety seven.
He says she’s on t’ road to being a really celebrity.
Miss Eliza and Miss Hannah, they haven’t t’gift
like Miss Sarah. She touches tha heart strings, she does.
I’ve no time for t’ father, not to be trusted, I’d say.
though he’s never more than given me t’ odd wink.
But pawnbrokers are never to be trusted. They take
all they can and round here there’s a lot of talk
about Mr Simpson’s double-dealing, I’m glad to say
it’s Missus Simpson as pays me wages, she’s straight.
So I’d best stop complaining, there’s that much to do.
The Escape: Sarah Simpson 1846
Father says there is no time to lose.
He’s sent me to the parlour on my own,
the girls have gone with Mama to a friends.
He’s piled the sovereigns, on the table top,
Two hundred and seventy. I’ve got my stays,
needle, thread, now the sewing must begin.
But first I lift the piano lid and play –
scales and arpeggios, then Bach
to calm my spirit, give me strength.
“Enough of playing,” my Father shouts
and hammers on the parlour door.
And now to work. I pick the first coin up,
between finger and thumb, the coat of arms,
the Queen, scarcely older than me, I think.
I wonder if she sometimes feels the weight
that older folk oft use to test the young.
I fit the stays on Mama’s dummy, then stitch
a double ribbon round the bottom edge.
Slow work, the stays are stiff, the needle blunt.
At last I slide the sovereigns one by one.
The stays feel even heavier than I thought.
At eight o’clock the stays are on, my skirts
pulled wide to hide my father’s guilt and sin.
The paintings from the lantern room are packed.
We’re waiting for the carriage at the door.
Kisses for Mama, my sisters and our lad.
We rattle out of Sheffield in the dark,
the horses slow up on the turnpike road.
I hear the beat of music in their hooves,
the slide of iron on the downward slope.
The dawn creeps up behind us in the east.