John Critchley Prince was born in Wigan, the son of a reedmaker for weavers, a profession he was obliged to follow himself to support the family as an apprentice to his father at the age of nine. Prior to that he had enjoyed a brief education at Baptist Sunday School from the age of four where he learned to read and write and developed a love of books. In 1821 the family moved to Manchester and two years later to Hyde in Cheshire in an attempt to improve their fortunes.
In 1826 at the age of eighteen he married Ann Orme and they had two daughters and a son within a short time frame.. He began to write poetry in 1827 in spite of his job entailing very long hours. In 1830, though, having heard that reed makers were in demand in France, he went there to seek work in St Quentin but he was out of luck as the recent revolution had depressed commercial activity. Finding that nothing was available, he departed for Mulhouse in Alsace in the hope of finding work there, but again he was unsuccessful. By this stage his meagre funds had run out and it was only thanks to the charity of the local mayor that he was able to survive. His experiences are captured in his poems To France and The Wanderer. Unable to afford any transport he actually walked back to England, arriving in Manchester several weeks later shoeless, destitute, dishevelled and half-starved, only to find his wife and family in the Wigan poorhouse. He brought them back to Manchester where they obtained lodgings in a dingy garret. His young son died not long after, and Prince’s grief is recorded in his poem A Father’s Lament.
He found factory work in Hyde and continued to write poetry, contributing his poems to Northern newspapers, often for paltry sums. In 1841 he brought out the collection Hours and Muses with the help of a patron and gave up his job to run a small shop in Manchester. He received a grant from the Royal Bounty, a government fund originally established by Edmund Burke to assist impecunious artists and writers and from 1845 to 1851 was the salaried editor of the Loyal Ancient Shepherd’s Quarterly. His wife died in 1858, possibly in a factory accident (she worked as a loom weaver) and four years later he married AnnTaylor. He died in 1866 in extreme poverty, his second wife and one daughter surviving him.
John Critchley Price published several volumes of poetry, including Dreams and Realities (1847), The Poetic Rosary (1850) which he dedicated to Charles Dickens with whom he corresponded and who encouraged him, Autumn Leaves (1856) and Miscellaneous Poems (1861). A collected edition was published posthumously in 1880. His poetry consists of lyrics on morality, religion and nature and is surprisingly optimistic considering the hardships he suffered during his life. During his lifetime he was known as “the Bard of Hyde”.