Little Jim’s Cottage once stood along St Helena Road, Polesworth and was immortalised in Victorian poetry. It was once a typical thatched cottage of the English countryside, with a cottage garden of flowers and butterflies and oak beams decorated with brasses. However, the cottage fell into disrepair during the 1960s, prior to being lost to fire in 1971.
The cottage was remembered by English poet, Edward Farmer in his verse Little Jim (The Collier’s Dying Child). Not much is known of Farmer, other than he was the Chief Detective of the old Midland Railway and was a writer, famous for his tragic verses, which were published in 1846 in an anthology of his work called ‘Ned Farmer’s Scrapbook.
The inspiration for the poem Little Jim is said to have been a visit to the cottage by Farmer one stormy evening. Farmer is said to have sought shelter from the storm and was greeted by a praying mother next to her dying son’s bedside. Her son, Little Jim is said to have passed away that evening, upon the return of his father, a local miner. The full poem is below.
By Simon Rose
Chair Polesworth Parish Council
Little Jim (The Collier’s Dying Child)
The cottage was a thatch’d one,
The outside old and mean,
Yet everything within that cot
Was wondrous neat and clean.
The night was dark and stormy,
The wind was howling wild;
A patient mother knelt beside
The death bed of her child.
A little worn-out creature—
His once bright eyes grown dim,
It was a collier’s only child—
They called him Little Jim.
And, oh! to see the briny tears
Fast hurrying down her cheeks,
As she offer’d up a prayer in thought—
She was afraid to speak,
Lest she might waken one she loved
Far better than her life,
For there was all a mother’s love
In that poor collier’s wife.
With hands uplifted, see, she kneels
Beside the sufferer’s bed;
And prays that He will spare her boy,
And take herself instead.
She gets her answer from the child,
Soft fell these words from him—
“Mother, the angels do so smile,
And beckon Little Jim.
“I have no pain, dear mother, now,
But oh! I am so dry;
Just moisten poor Jim’s lips again,
And, mother, don’t you cry.”
With gentle, trembling haste she held
The tea-cup to his lips;
He smiled to thank her, as he took
Three tiny little sips.
“Tell father when he comes from work,
I said ‘goodnight’ to him,
And, mother, now I’ll go to sleep,”—
Alas, poor Little Jim.
She saw that he was dying—
The child she loved so dear
Had uttered the last words that she
Might ever hope to hear.
The cottage door was opened,
The collier’s step is heard,—
The father and the mother meet,
Yet neither speak a word.
He knew that all was over,
He knew his child was dead;
He took the candle in his hand,
And walked towards the bed.
His quivering lips gave token
Of the grief he’d fain conceal,
And, see, his wife has joined him—
The stricken couple kneel.
With hearts bowed down with sadness
They humbly ask of Him,
In heaven, once more to meet again,
Their own poor Little Jim.
By Edward Farmer
(1809 – 1876)