Henry Hunt was a West Country man (by no means forgotten!) and a follower of the radical Sir Francis Burdett. The parliamentary reformer, Edmund Cartwright, toured the country in 1812-13, holding meetings north and south, including Stroud; who knows, perhaps Hunt visite read more

Laurie Lee and Lorca

Last night in Granada, Alice shouted out:
‘Dad, we’re going somewhere where Laurie Lee went!’
So today, high up near Orgiva’s Alpujarras crossroads,
In the thunderous heat haze of the Sierra Nevada,
Far from Granada’s streams and rivulets
(Lorca: ‘a wasteland populated by the worst bourgeoisie in Spain’),
With dry as dust river beds and hard as rock
Sunburn crags for company,
We sat beneath the lemon trees,
Olive, palm and bamboo screens
To shelter us from an unremitting sun blaze,
Thinking of Almunecar, to where Lee first walked out,
Roaming through a country on the edge of civil war,
He, sans hat, sans water, sans language,
With just a violin to chatter and converse;
How far-fetched Stroud’s green wooded spring lines
Must have been to a sun sick traveller,
Trudging through the arid, high heat of Great Depression Spain –
Cider, Rosie, Slad, Sheepscombe and Stroud,
A half-remembered dream,
Drifting through the swirling smoke of the pistols
Of Lorca’s fascist assassins.

Magna Carta, the PM, British Values and 1066 And All That

Radical Stroud - Stuart Butler - Heritage-1

Magna Carta, the PM, British Values and 1066 And All That

Here are a few of the comments of Sellar and Yeatman, from their 1930 classic, on Magna Charter (‘on account of the Latin Magna (great) and Charter (a Charter)’):

1. That no one was to be put to death, save for some reason – (except the Common People).
2. That everyone should be free – (except the Common People).
3. That everything should be of the same weight and measure throughout the Realm – (except the Common People).
4. That the Barons should not be tried except by a special group of other Barons who would understand.

Magna Charter was therefore the chief cause of Democracy in England, and thus a Good Thing for everyone (except the Common People).

Gentle readers, this inter-war parody should be dated, dry and dust. Did anyone imagine that it would become a satire on a prime minister in the 21st century?

UKIP and Cosmopolitanism

He, an Egyptian, an auxiliary;

She, secret- keeper for the Dobunni,

Had arranged to meet by the sacred oak,

Sheltered and hidden from keen Roman eyes

By dense, dark woods of smooth barked beech.

He, a skilled boatman from the River Nile,

And now, deserter from the garrison

At Kingsholm; beaten, whipped, lashed and abused

By officers for drunken amusement,

Found silent sympathy, trust and love

From this mute young woman at the wine shop;

She, like him, violated just for fun

And entertainment – forced to play the fool,

Was also a skilled, rehearsed dissembler,

For inside that apparently dumbstruck

Mind was mysterious Druidic lore,

Hidden safe within a tribal dreamscape.

She, beyond Roman suspicion and law,

Led him by the hand, as the red sun’s rays

Sank behind the high shrine to Mercury;

She, night-navigator of marshland paths,

She, sure-footed through the night-rustling forest;

They, sheltered and sleeping through the daylight hours,

They, slipping unseen past messenger posts,

Up the eastern scarp, then down to the river.

He, Nile-native, expert boatman, stared west

Across the Severn to the Silures –

Their boat eased its way with gentle paddle

Across that broad swathe of dangerous water,

Until exhausted, they breathed freedom.

Three centuries later, loyal-subjects,

Their children’s lineage, dark-skinned Britons,

Were destined to fight for Rome and Glevum

Against Anglo-Saxon invading migrants,

Who steadily renamed the landscape.

Stroud Cemetery

“Are there no workhouses?” asked Mr Scrooge,
(In a manner of speaking)
“Well, yes there are”, she politely replied,
(In a manor of speaking)
“Do you know Stone Manor on Bisley Road,
Near Stroud Cemetery’s Pauper’s Path?”
(Rattle his bones over the stones,
He’s only a pauper who nobody owns)
Here comes the creaking wheelbarrow,
With the open hinged, burnished coffin,
The shrouded corpse ready for the open pit,
An abrupt incarceration on the hard rock,
Without ceremony or by your leave,
Anonymous resting place for the restless dead,
Feeling gravity’s pull down the steep scarp,
And the noxious effects of the acid soil;
But with soil so thin, rock so hard, pits so shallow,
Cotswold storms raining in from the sea
Would disinter corpses, the slipping dead,
Strange meandering memento mori,
Gewgaws, bones, trinkets, keepsakes,
Grave work for Old Father Time in his sou-wester,
Leaching the dead down rain-washed rivulets,
Down to the Frome, thence the Severn and the sea,
While forget me nots waved goodbye in the wind.


Stroud and the Tolpuddle Martyrs

A draft, uncorrected piece written a few years ago but hastily pasted here in time for the play on Friday March 7th about the Tolpuddle Martyrs: ‘We Will Be Free’, at the Lansdowne Hall and Gallery.

We glimpse a foreshadowing in Stroud of the events that led to the Grand National Consolidated Trade Union and the Tolpuddle Martyrs at the end of the 1820s and start of the next decade. It might be a good moment now to stress the complete novelty and uniqueness of the industrial capitalism that was evolving in our country at this time. The United Kingdom had been catapulted from an agrarian economy based upon a paternalistic, aristocratic form of control to a laissez-faire world where the middle classes no longer knew their place. The novels of Charles Dickens (I am writing this on the 200th anniversary of his birth) relentlessly show this class confusion; contemporaries battled with economic confusion. They witnessed a country of constantly increasing wealth – and yet constantly increasing poverty. This phenomenon (that so many of us see around us today, nationally and internationally) was completely astonishing to social and economic observers then, and so, different explanations were duly put forward to unravel the seeming illogicality, paradox and contradiction. Some argued that profits were a deserved and justified reward whilst others presaged Marx by viewing profits as stolen wages; while some thought trade unions would disturb a laissez-faire natural harmony, others saw their existence as necessary to combat exploitation and disharmonious injustice.

Thus, there were several attempts to form a general trade union in the late twenties: a union that, by implication, would foreshadow syndicalist ideas of attempting to paralyse capitalism with a general strike; a union that would seek not sectional wage increases and an accommodation with capitalism but rather one that would seek to confront the intrinsic logic of the accumulation of capital; a combination that would be close, a posteriori, to a revolutionary ideology. No wonder then that 1830 saw the formation of the National Association of Labour; 1834 witnessed the Grand National Consolidated Trades Union and the victimisation of the Tolpuddle Martyrs. It is interesting to see how these seismic events were foreshadowed in Stroud in 1825 with strike activity across more than one trade; so having sketched out some national context, let us now return to the 1825 riots.

On the 10th of June, a person was arrested for selling a journal in the street, “The True British Weavers”; the ‘paper contained a description of the recent, local events and the poor man was put in prison. This propaganda war did not deter support for the weavers’ action, however; there were mass meetings at Break Heart Hill near Dursley and 3,000 gathered on Stinchcombe Hill, whilst Selsley topped that with an estimated gathering of 6,000. This is a quite staggering proportion of the population and indicates how far ordinary people were prepared to go to assert their rights in the face of such varied assertions of the power of law and order. This truly was a Stroud Spring, or Early Summer.
The strike lasted about three months; some strike-breakers were dealt with in a manner suggestive of “rough music”, whereby individuals who broke the code of a community were publically humiliated. This traditional form of community solidarity might involve transgressors being placed backwards on a horse and then led on a parade through a village whilst locals beat pots and pans to create the “rough music”. It was, as E.P. Thompson has shown, a pre-industrial form of action; it is interesting to see how it has been adapted to an industrial-capitalist context in Stroud, however. The practice of taking a beam from a strikebreaking weaver’s loom and then placing him astride it as if on a horse, and then ducking him in the nearest pond or canal is a fascinating example of change and continuity in action. This ritual was especially popular in Chalford. It is interesting to see how change and continuity still interplays in Chalford today; a feature on our area on Country File on BBC 1 two days ago (March 4th 2012) featured a resident whose lifestyle combines a Dickensian keeping of donkeys with a modernist devotion to croissants. Only in Chalford, I hear you say, but, once more, be that as it may, a troop of Horse was sent in in 1825 to read the Riot Act.
Trouble was also found up at t’mill in Wotton-under-Edge (the leader of the rioting weavers there was an ex-soldier nicknamed “General Wolfe”), Dursley and Minchinhampton, but almost our final word on these events comes from the quill of J.C. Wallington, Captain, Royal Hussars, Stroud, 8th June, 1825:

“I have the honour to inform you…that the squadron under my command was called out yesterday to disperse a mob collected in the town, which had proceeded to acts of violence. We accomplished this object with some trouble including the slash of sword only.” There was talk of sending another twenty men to Chalford and how “The Masons, Carpenters and Millwrights have also struck for more wages.”
Enough of the military, however, let us hear from the pulpit – and so we now conclude our record of these turbulent days with John Williams, D.D., Minister of Stroud, Gloucestershire, 31st. August, 1825: “On the Saturday preceding the arrival of the Cavalry, there were about 2,000 weavers assembled in the Town and a very large concourse of them before the door of the Clerk of the Magistrates, demanding the release of prisoners.” We might then mark these events by reflecting on the symbolism of the dipping in the waters of Stroud and Chalford – the Biblical cleansing of sins – with a coffee in Star Anise and a walk past the brook towards the “’bus station”, followed by a walk along the canal to Chalford and a dipping of the toes at Chalford Park. We will then be almost ready to follow in William Cobbett’s horse hooves.
But first we must make a detour to Wotton-Under-Edge and see how events transpired there, with “General Wolfe” directing affairs. A number of open air meetings were held and were also held at the Swann, before cloth and loom beams were set ablaze. Then property was attacked in North Nibley before an orderly march of some 300 weavers through Wotton led to further attacks on cloth and beams before Thomas Neale protected his mill with muskets against the stone-throwing rioting weavers. Thirteen were injured; the magistrates bailed the gunmen; the weavers smashed windows until special constables arrived; military force was then requested.

Five years later came the agricultural riots nicknamed the “Captain Swing Riots”. There was a break down in law and order across the farming counties of the South, with machine breaking, the burning of hay ricks, other forms of arson, the sending of threatening letters to farmers etc. The riots were caused by low wages, high bread prices, poor relief and threshing machines that took away crucial winter work. The neighbouring county of Wiltshire with its arable farming was a key area. We have to imagine village labourers passing information and ideas across fields, through dark lanes and between parishes, knowing that Justices of the Peace were keen to transport to Van Diemen’s Land (in effect, a life sentence; Magwitch’s case in Great Expectations is unusual) or sentence workers to hang. Eastern Gloucestershire was affected by the riots, especially around Fairford. Our nearest site is at Horsley, where machine breaking took place on the 26th November, 1831. You could visit the community shop in Horsley on November 26th each year or lean on a five bar gate and reflect on the beneficence of Lord Sherborne and his fellow Cirencester J.P.s. A return to work would result in a “just” response to labourers’ complaints, they said. The eventual response? A wave of arrests, with nearly 100 peasants incarcerated in the Gloucester Prison.

The National Agricultural Labourers’ Union


     The End of the 19th Century

They called it ‘The Golden Age of Farming’:
The end of the Corn Laws, 1846,
Until Depression, 1873,
When foreign competition, the prairies,
Refrigeration and also steam ships,
Saw farm jobs drop by a third in our county,
With hardly a farm job left for a woman;
A 10 hour day with extra at harvest,
Shepherds and cowmen working the whole day,
Damp, cramped cottage for a home, no rights,
Children working long hours as well;
Some farm workers were content, I don’t deny,
But our children lacked an education,
And we had no vote – it was degrading,
We were backward and poverty stricken,
That’s why Joseph Arch’s union spread here,
The National Agricultural Labourers’ Union!
Imagine! A nine and a half hour day!
Thanks to William Yeats, the Stroud mechanic,
And Joseph Banks, the Slad Road chemist,
We had a lot of hot summer meetings
In Stroud and the Valley villages,
In 1872, I think it was,
With Mr Banks calling for an end to truck,
Calling for shorter hours and higher wages:
‘In sterling money, not fat bacon …or a couple of swedes,’
Is what I remember him eloquently saying
At the meeting in Stroud we all went to.
We went to another big meeting too,
All about emigration and empire,
Thomas Connolly, a London stonemason,
Talked about the wonders of Canada:
‘ Which could accept up to 100,000 people
Every year without causing a glut on the labour market.’
He said you could get three meals a day and good wages –
That’s why I am so lonely; all my boys have gone,
And my daughter is about to emigrate, too.
The joy has gone from my life,
An occasional letter ends up wet with tears,
And I don’t see how I can escape the workhouse,
Mr Hardy might write his novels about these things,
And the painters might paint their pictures,
But there is no romance in the story of my life

Randwick 1832

Randwick 1832 An earlier posting on this blog entitled ‘Weavers and Workhouse Walk’ contained a section on the scheme used to alleviate poverty in Randwick in the early 1830s. We thank the Stroud District (Cowle) Museum Service for giving us permission to make transcrip read more

Going on Strike

I hated the way they looked at me,
Back in 1973,
The day after our ASLEF strike:
There was hatred in their eyes as I trudged
Along the platform to the signal;
It was a long walk, I can tell you,
Me in me uniform, billy can in me hand,
Them in their suits, Telegraphs in their hands,
Watching me walk along that long platform,
Billy can in my hand.

After what seemed to be an hour or so,
I reached the security of the cab,
Where I wanted to turn and shout out loud:
“OK, Let’s start at the end of the last century,
With the Dock Workers’ Strike of 1889,
It showed that zero-hours unskilled workers
Could protect themselves against wage cuts,
And that manual labour did have dignity,
Like on the canals and wharves around Stroud.

And what of Nineteen-Hundred-Eleven?
The Triple Industrial Alliance!
Nostalgic name from Edwardian days,
Railway workers, dockers and miners,
Joined in union solidarity,
Protecting families, wages, lodgings and homes,
Before the Great War claimed them for its own.

The Triple Industrial Alliance!
Defender of the working class after the war,
Against wage cuts and longer working hours,
At the forefront in the General Strike,
In coalmine, railway station and dockland,
Thinking of others apart from themselves.

And what of the Welsh Hunger Marchers
In the Great Depression of the thirties –
Receiving help and succor as they walked
Through west-country working class towns,
On their poor, solemn, path to London;
This is all beyond your understanding,
And your capitalist consciousness.”

But the whistle blew:
The flag was green, not red,
And all of this was thought,
Not said.