It is Sam Fitton's illustrations which comprise the single greatest class of original material found here. Of these, the cartoons are the most prolific. However, there is little original material here which reflects Sam Fitton's published work, suggesting that these illustrations did not achieve that status. The newspaper cuttings do provide some complement to the original material which is present, particularly as an indicator of his output of cartoons about the cotton industry.
His literary and dramatic works are largely a miscellany of playlets, patter, verse, some dialect writing, more formal short plays, and a short novel. Many of these bear incidental drawings, as do some of the less numerous musical works. These texts and scores, as with the illustrations, no doubt only represent a proportion of Fitton's total output, which has yet to be fully assessed.
Jane Fitton's papers are sparse, as are the personal papers. Some few photographs, photographic copies of original works, printed material and ephemera are held.
This collection comprises material of a number of different and somewhat unclear provenances. The bulk is believed to have been deposited at Crompton Library by Annette Dawson, Sam Fitton's widow, in the late 1960s. Still there in 1977, it was later transferred at an unknown date, with other archival material, to Oldham Local Studies Library. It came under archival control there in 1991. That part of the collection has obviously been partially arranged and catalogued since its original deposit. Some items had been placed in modern envelopes, while much had been recorded on an incomplete set of catalogue cards. The through-numbering system adopted therein was also incomplete, and lacking any evidence or logical basis for the arrangement. It has therefore had to be abandoned. The catalogue cards have been retained on file.
A smaller amount of similar material was located at Crompton Library at a late stage in the present listing. This material had been deposited there in the late 1980s. It was reportedly given by Sam Fitton to Charles Fountain, a member of his small theatrical troupe. It passed through the family to the depositor, and contains some material which integrates directly with the bulk of the collection already held. Given the imprecise dates of deposit however, it is possible that these two deposits became intermixed to some degree whilst at Crompton Library. Both have been listed together, although the distinct provenance of the later deposit is indicated by the suffix (2nd deposit) after each item's given quantity.
Two other sets of material of distinctly differing provenances, some photographs, and a sketch-book, have also been listed here. These have been identified as "Additional deposits", at D-FIT 1/6 and 1/7. Some material by Jane, Sam Fitton's first wife, was found as part of the bulk of the collection. This has been listed at D-FIT 5.
These individual components of the collection have had some degree of public use before being brought together here. Some of the ephemeral and printed items have therefore been retained within the archive collection, to avoid the user confusion that their separation might create.
|Administrative / biographical background:
SAM FITTON (1868-1923)
Sam Fitton was a name synonymous in his time with the textile towns of early 20th-century Lancashire. He was dialect author, poet, painter, playwright, songwriter, actor, mimic, entertainer, and, most of all, cartoonist. Now largely forgotten, his work was once the public voice of the anonymous workers of the textile communities.
Despite such a strong Lancashire identity, Sam Fitton was born, in 1868, into the tiny agricultural community of Spen Green, south Cheshire. He was the second son of Sarah, and Samuel, a farm labourer. Whilst he was still an infant, the family migrated north, as had countless thousands of others, to the cotton districts of Lancashire. Initially the family settled at Balderstone, a still largely rural area to the south of Rochdale.
There, two further brothers were born, John William and Robert, to join Sam, Albert, and their sister Elizabeth. A younger sister, Mary, completed the family. Shortly after the death of their mother Sarah, the family moved a short distance to the expanding textile community of High Crompton, a village between Oldham and Rochdale. The name Fitton is well established in the district, but whether the move was prompted by wider family ties is unclear.
Sam Fitton was ten years old when the family moved into a cottage on Moss Gate, on the outskirts of High Crompton. It was in this community that he was to spend most of his life. His formal education was brief, and by the time he was eleven years old, Sam had followed his elder brother into the cotton mill. He began working in the spinning rooms as a half-timer, first as a doffer, then as a little piecer. With a weak constitution, Sam was to find the work particularly hard. Ill-health was to dog him throughout his life.
He started drawing from an early age, an inveterate doodler, with sketch-book always close to hand. Although given some encouragement by his employer to develop his artistic talents, Fitton did not set out to pursue them as a career. He left the family home in his mid-twenties, to marry Jane Cockayne. Janie, as she was known, had a keen interest in dialect poetry, recitations and the theatre. While supporting Sam's activities, Janie wrote her own dialect works, some under the pseudonym "Th'Owd Fossil".
Shortly after the marriage Sam's health broke down, and he was forced to give up factory work for a time. When he re-entered the industry it was to work in the weaving shed. He thus had experience of the two key sectors of the cotton industry - spinning and weaving.
Sam Fitton's upbringing and working experiences were much in common with thousands of other young men in the Lancashire cotton towns of the late nineteenth century. What distinguished him from his contemporaries, however, was his artistic ability, his passion for dialect writing, and his talent as a mimic. When, in 1903, ill-health forced him to give up factory work altogether, it was those abilities which Sam Fitton turned to and developed, to help him make a living. He had shown a strong interest in Lancashire dialect culture since his youth, in an era when it was flourishing. Sam had soon become involved in elocution classes and public recitation competitions, his abilities as a mimic bringing him success. He began to compose his own dialect verses, which appeared in local newspapers.
He eventually established himself as a regular contributor to the Cotton Factory Times, following the mixed fortunes of the cotton industry in his writings and drawings. Between 1907 and 1917 he contributed over 450 cartoons, and a regular column of comment and dialect writing, to the newspaper's Mirth in the Mill entertainment pages.
Although writing essentially for a small regional audience, this brought him to a much larger readership. His dialect columns produced characters such as Billy Blobb, Sally Butter'orth and Peter Pike, with their observations on society and the events of the day. His cartoons brought together his artistic skills, love of dialect verse, and humour. It was this combination which was to make him a household name in Lancashire's textile towns. His cartoons also appeared in other newspapers, including the Co-operative News and the Oldham Chronicle.
Sam Fitton was a prominent member of the small group of dialect writers whose work was also regularly published in annuals and magazines. Typically, a volume of the Lancashire Authors' Association Red Rose Leaves (1921) contained work by both Sam and his wife Janie. A few of Sam Fitton's illustrations appeared his short-lived periodical The Chanticleer, (1911) later re-named Sam Fitton's Humorous Monthly (1912). His Gradely Unofficial Guide to Shay (1913) provided a light-hearted guided tour of Shaw. Two other booklets were published before the First World War - Recitations in the Dialect & Out Of It and Recitations, Humorous, Ridiculous and Otherwise. He also illustrated other writers' work.
Fitton also had a keen interest in the theatre, and became a prominent figure in the amateur theatrical world of Crompton and Oldham, as director, actor and playwright. He developed as an entertainer, his stage act being made up of humorous stories, recitations and songs. His was a gentle, light-hearted and jolly humour, free, as his advertisements stated, from vulgarity.
Despite his success, Fitton probably only survived, rather than prospered, from the results of his work. He never aspired to more than a modest terraced house on the Rochdale Road, near to his family and the Moss Gate Cottage of his youth. Sam's wife Janie died in 1918, and he married Annette in 1921. Sam Fitton died of cancer in June 1923, a few weeks before his fifty-fifth birthday.