Sam Fitton: Finding the Funny

Gallery Oldham’s latest exhibition Finding the Funny takes a look at the fun-loving and multi-talented Sam Fitton.

Portrait of Sam Fitton by artist George Wimpenny showcasing Sam in profile and painted in 1911.

Fitton’s originally worked in the local cotton mills in Crompton but he went on to make a living as a skilled illustrator, poet, dialect writer and performer.

In 1907, he began to contribute a weekly cartoon to the Cotton Factory Times, a newspaper for Lancashire millworkers.

Over the next twelve years he drew more than 400 cartoons for the newspaper, creating a unique visual record of the cotton industry, its workers and the communities in which they lived.

He captured the funny side of life but also touched on the struggles of workers whose lives were difficult, dirty and often short. As a writer, he wrote hilarious lines in the Lancashire dialect and a book of his works Gradely Lancashire was published after his death in 1923.

This exhibition explores Sam’s creative output, his sense of humour as well as his ability to adapt to earn a living. Through his eyes and using the collections of Gallery Oldham and Oldham Local Studies and Archives Centre we reflect on the experiences of millworkers during this time. His dialect writing also raises questions about our identity and the way we speak which are still important today.

Cartoon of men, women and children carrying dinner to the millworkers published in the Cotton Factory Times and drawn by Sam Fitton.
Dinner Carrier’s Parade

Councillor Elaine Taylor, Deputy Leader of Oldham Council and Cabinet Member for Culture and Leisure, said: “Oldham was built on cotton and Sam Fitton’s work gives a good insight into what it was like for workers more than a century ago.”

“Many Oldhamers will have relatives who worked in the mills so this exhibition is a good chance to see what they went through – including the good and bad times.”

Historians Alan Fowler and Terry Wyke have produced an accompanying booklet Spindleopolis Tickling Oldham’s Funny Bone, which looks in more detail at the themes within the exhibition. It is available from the Gallery Shop. The authors will be delivering a special galley talk on Wednesday 22 March from 2pm.

Cartoon showing crowds of Edwardian men, women and children getting on an overcrowded train. Published in the Cotton Factory Times and drawn by Sam Fitton.
Whit Week Whirl

Visitors can also find out more about Lancashire dialect writing and the Cotton Factory Times from Professor Mike Sanders of the University of Manchester on Wednesday 19 April at 2pm. Find out more about our programme of free monthly Gallery Talks .

Join Jennifer Reid to hear some of Sam Fitton’s verses performed as part of Festival Oldham on Saturday 3 June 2023. Families can also get creative with cartoons at a free Go Saturday drop-in workshop on 1 April, 1-3pm, with illustrator Dom Harbot funded by the SSLH (Society for the Study of Labour History). No need to book, just come along.

Sam Fitton: Finding the Funny runs from March 18 to June 17. 

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