Thursday, August 04, 2011

Remembering Who We Are

EXECUTION of Jeremiah Brandreth, William Turner, and
Isaac Ludlam, for High Treason, at DERBY. The authorities were clearly taking no chances - the men were hanged, and then their heads cut off.

TWO things I've watched on TV that were interesting were an interview with Owen Jones on his book 'Chavs', concerned with working class identity and challenging middle-class types who like to think comic caricature Vicky Pollard is real and typical; and another episode of "Who Do You Think You Are?", in which we accompany often famous people as they delve into their ancestry.

I'd often thought geneology pretty boring, all those dusty records and complicated family trees, but in these programmes we go on journeys, and see how individual human beings were caught up in historic events as well as the emotion - pride, joy, sorrow - on the face of someone learning what an ancestor went through or achieved.

Maybe we can apply the concept of discovering who you really are collectively too, so the struggles and bravery of past generations of working people remind us not just what we owe, but that we bear a proud tradition and have a future for which to fight. We might educate the know-nowts and even give the know-alls something to think about.

So it's good to see the growing interest in events and commemorations of our history, and see the places to which they lead. In mid-July of course there was the TUC's annual Tolpuddle rally, commemorating the six Dorset agricultural workers transported for trying to form a union in 1834. Just in case anyone complacently thought the attitude that led to that sort of thing was all in the past, we have had Oliver Letwin, Tory MP for West Dorset, saying that the government wants to instil "discipline and fear" among public sector workers.

Pentrich, or as it was sometimes known, Pentridge, is a quiet village in Derbyshire where what has been called "England's Last Revolution" took place in 1817. On the night of June 8, a band of stocking frame knitters, iron workers, quarrymen and labourers, numbering up to 300, set off to march on Nottingham, where they were expecting to meet with support. All had been hit by bad economic circumstance, recession and bad harvest. They thought that if working people gained a say in politics, instead of leaving parliament in the hands of big landowners, they might get a government that would help. Thomas Bacon, a local stockinger involved in the uprising, said "the business for a parliamentary reform was the ultimate meaning of the affair on the principles of what is called universal suffrage and annual parliaments."

In January that year a huge petition of over half a million signatures calling for the reform of parliament had been rejected by the government. In the months that followed large numbers of reformers were arrested and political societies such as the Hampden Clubs and the Pentrich Political Society were outlawed. Then in March 1817 the authorities had broken up a large demonstration in Manchester called to see off the 'Blanketeers', weavers who intended marching to London with a petition to the Prince Regent.

Since the Spa Fields riots in London, in November 1816, the government had tooled up with legislation and troops to meet unrest or insurrection. Lord Sidmouth the Home Secretary had unleashed an army of spies around the country to report what was happening. Some were agent provocateurs, like the notorious William Richards, known as 'Oliver the Spy'. So the authorities were well aware of the plan for an uprising, and may well have encouraged premature local actions that they could easily crush. One of the rebels executed for his part in the rising, William Turner of South Wingfield, cried out from the scaffold, "This is the work of the Government and Oliver."

On May 29, the Sheffield magistrates raided a secret meeting in the town, which an informer claimed was planning an insurrection for June 10. Then on June 6 a meeting of delegates at Thornhill Lees near Dewsbury was betrayed by Oliver and the men were seized by troops. Oliver moved on to Nottingham on June 7 where he assured his contacts that all was ready for a rising on June 8 and that lavish promises of support from Birmingham and London had been made. But the men of Pentrich had no support, apart from a group of weavers from Holmfirth who set out for Huddersfield on the evening of June 8. After exchanging a few shots with the military, the men escaped into the night. Although two men were arrested and eventually tried, they were acquitted by the jury.

On the evening of June 8 between 50 and 300 stockingers, ironworkers and labourers from the villages of Ripley, Pentrich, Alfreton, and South Wingfield gathered and set out to march the fourteen miles to Nottingham, collecting more men and arms on the way. With poor communications, they did not know about the arrests with had broken support elsewhere. Their leader, 27-year old Jeremiah Brandreth assured his followers that Nottingham would already be secured, that 100,000 men from other towns would meet them, and that London would be the next objective. According to one of Brandreth's commanders, Brandreth "believed the day and hour were fixed when the whole nation was expected to rise; and before the middle of the week, he believed there would be hundreds of thousands in arms ... there were men appointed all over the nation."

When they arrived at Nottingham they found only a small number of supporters who fled into the forest on seeing troops. Waiting for them instead were mounted dragoons. The Pentrich men, armed only with home-made pikes and a few guns, were soon routed. Arrests were made over the next few days.

Earl Fitzwilliam, the Lord Lieutenant of Yorkshire, wrote to Sidmouth about the episode, blaming the spy 'Oliver' for what had happened. But the government was determined to make an example of the rebels.
Altogether, eighty five of the marchers were placed in Nottingham and Derby gaols, to be brought to trial at the County Hall in Derby, charged in the main of "maliciously and traitorously [endeavouring] . . . . . by force of arms, to subvert and destroy the Government and the Constitution." Twenty three were sentenced, three to transportation for fourteen years and eleven for life. Brandreth, Ludlam and Turner were convicted of high treason and sentenced to death. The prison chaplain who visited Brandreth found him remarkably calm and unafraid about his fate. The three were publicly hanged and beheaded at Nuns Green in front of Friar Gate Gaol in Derby.

The movement for reform did not die down. In August 1819, thousands gathered at St.Peters Fields in Manchester for a peaceful rally, only to be set upon by mounted troops in the infamous 'Peterloo Massacre'
Only a few years later, in 1824, trade unions were made legal. But it took more than a half century before working men got the vote. However cynical we get about parliament in these times ("if voting changed anything ..."), we should never forget that what rights we have, and our entitlement to have any say were never handed down to us on a plate from above, they were won by "ordinary" working people who were determined, and who paid a price in blood.

Notts TUC is commemorating the Pentrich uprising tomorrow, August 6 with a gathering at the Ashes, South Wingfield, DE 55 7LR, from 15:00 - 21:00. An afternoon of music and song with Nottingham Clarion Choir and Rosa's Lovely Daughters. There'll be a conducted walk of historic sights at 16.00.

Licensed bar - bring your own food or barbecue.

Incidentally.getting back to geneology, I read that entertainer and former Tory MP Giles Brandreth claimed descent from Jeremiah of that ilk, but the claim is doubted, and he does not appear on tomorrow's bill.


Where Manchester TUC's annual Peterloo Commemoration Concert will be remembering the ordinary men and women who were cut down in Manchester on August 16, 1819 in a demonstration asking for the right to vote for all.

The venue is to be the Barbirolli Suite, Radisson Edwardian Hotel Old Free Trade Hall, Peter Street. (Very appropriate, as the Free Trade Hall, venue for many a political and cultural event, stood more or less on the ground of St.Peter's Field, and used to have a mural of the Peterloo massacre in the bar, as I recall).

Performers this year include:

Claire Mooney - local singer/songwriter

Dave Puller - celebrated Wythenshawe poet

Rich Man's Ruin - acclaimed folk trio from Liverpool

Doors open - 7pm no dress code

Manchester TUC will be asking for a donation on the door to help pay for this event

Manchester TUC would like to acknowledge the support received from North West TUC and Radisson Edwardian Hotel for this event.

More information available from:

Kate Richardson 07984 870 602

Looking forward to next month

On Sunday, September 4, there will be the annual commemoration of the Burston school strike, when children walked out of their school in support of sacked socialist teachers Tom and Kitty Higden, in April 1914, and villagers decided to run their own "Strike School" with the Higdens, which lasted till 1939, winning wide national and even international support.

The rally with speakers and bands will be from 11 am to 4.30 at the Church Green, Burston, near Diss, in Norfolk. Speakers include Diana Holland from my union Unite, and entertainment includes Robb Johnson and the Irregulars. Plus there will stalls, food, and a beer tent. I expect there will be coaches from London and other places, find out from your union.

Lastly, while you have got your diary out make a note of this one:

Socialist History Society Public Meeting
This year’s annual A L Morton Memorial Lecture
7pm Wednesday September 28, 2011
Louise Raw on
“The Truth about the 1888 Match Girls’ Strike
and its Place in History”
Venue: Bishopsgate Institute, Liverpool St
The speaker is the author of the book, Striking a Light: The Bryant and May Match women and their Place in Labour History, copies of which will be available at the meeting.

Free entry, all welcome, retiring collection

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At 10:48 PM, Blogger M. H. Beals said...

Currently wading through Georgian newspaper in search of emigrant letters and came across "The following are extracts of a letter which has been received by the wife of Turner, from her husband, the brother of him who, with Ludlam and Brandruth, were executed at [unintelligible], about two years since, for High Treason. Turner, it will be remembered, with several others, were allowed to plead Guilty, and thus to save their forfeited lives." Without that crucial word, I could not locate the source of the reprint. Thanks to you I can now see that the word was clearly 'Derby'!


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