LRDG: Constructing a Culture: the poetic response to the environment of an early-nineteenth-century Cumbrian dry-stone-waller

Date: 23 October 2012 Time: 1 - 2 pm

Venue: C89, County South

The talk discusses the life of a Cumbrian artisan poet, Thomas Watson (1771-1860), as seen through a focused study of his verse. Making connections between Watson's poetry, regional and national publications, cultural movements, religious practices and ideas, it offers a case-study in the histories of literacy, reading, publishing, autodidacticism, education, religion and localities. A true artisan poet such as Thomas Watson - stone-waller and mason of north-east Cumberland - is a real rarity. Though scholarship has produced many autodidacts who wrote autobiography and others who became well-known poets moving far from their geographical and literary roots, this poet lived and died in the village of his birth, an active participant in the local economy. Unable to write until well into his twenties, and then only haltingly, he created oral verse for a rural audience to whom oral performance may have been a more important mode of transmission than formal publication. The talk explores who Watson's audience may have been, and his poetry's potential for oral dissemination at a time, and in a locality, which was not an oral society nor yet quite fully literate. The talk examines Watson's reasons for writing, his literary influences and his reading habits, noting that though his poetry may be used as an index of attitudes at a time of social transition, Watson was not merely a passive observer of his world. As a writer seeking to mould his experience within accepted poetic forms for the benefit of himself and his audience, Watson was an active agent involved in constructing his culture's sense of reality.

Event website:


Who can attend: Anyone


Further information

Associated staff: Karin Tusting (Linguistics and English Language)

Organising departments and research centres: Educational Research, Lancaster Literacy Research Centre, Linguistics and English Language

Keywords: Culture, Literacies, Literacy learning