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.

Now it is time for us to wave goodbye and say farewell to what was once Bar Nine in Union Street. Ever remember the memorial on the wall inside that states the following: IN GRATEFUL MEMORY OF THE BENEVOLENCE INTEGRITY AND PERSEVERANCE WITH WHICH THE LATE EDWARD PALLING CARUTHERS ASSISTED FOR THE LAST FIVE YEARS OF HIS LIFE AS CHAIRMAN OF THIS BOARD IN THE ADMINISTRATION OF THE AFFAIRS OF THE POOR. THIS TABLET IS INSCRIBED BY THE UNANIMOUS WISH OF THE GUARDIANS NOVR 1842.

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.

The Great Money Trick from ‘The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists’

To be performed by the illustrious Spaniel in the Works Theatre Company at the esteemed Prince Albert on the centenary of publication of ‘The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists’, April 26th 2014. There will also be, ladies and gentlemen, for your profit and pleasure, readings, more theatre, and a book sale, as well as Sam Clark-Stone’s disco- nickelodeon.
What more could you ask for?

“Money is the real cause of poverty,” said Owen.
“Prove it,” repeated Philpot.
“Money is the cause of poverty because it is the device by which those who are too lazy to work are enabled to rob the workers of the fruits of their labour.”
“Prove it,” said Philpot.
Owen slowly folded up the piece of newspaper he had been reading and put it in his pocket.
“All right,” he replied. “I’ll show you how the Great Money Trick is worked.”
Owen opened his dinner basket and took from it two slices of bread, but as these were not sufficient, he requested that anyone who had some bread left should give it to him. They gave him several pieces, which he placed in a heap on a clean piece of paper, and, having borrowed the pocket knives of Easton, Harlow and Philpot, he addressed them, as follows:
“These pieces of bread represent the raw materials which exist naturally in and on the earth for the use of mankind; they were not made by any human being, but were created for the benefit and sustenance of all, the same as were the air and the light of the sun.”
“Now,” continued Owen, “I am a capitalist; or rather I represent the landlord and capitalist class. That is to say, all these raw materials belong to me. It does not matter for our present argument how I obtained possession of them, the only thing that matters now is the admitted fact that all the raw materials which are necessary for the production of the necessaries of life are now the property of the landlord and capitalist class. I am that class; all these raw materials belong to me.”
“Now you three represent the working class. You have nothing, and, for my part, although I have these raw materials, they are of no use to me. What I need is the things that can be made out of these raw materials by work; but I am too lazy to work for me. But first I must explain that I possess something else beside the raw materials. These three knives represent all the machinery of production; the factories, tools, railways, and so forth, without which the necessaries of life cannot be produced in abundance. And these three coins” – taking three half pennies from his pocket – “represent my money, capital.” “But before we go any further,” said Owen, interrupting himself, “it is important to remember that I am not supposed to be merely a capitalist. I represent the whole capitalist class. You are not supposed to be just three workers, you represent the whole working class.”
Owen proceeded to cut up one of the slices of bread into a number of little square blocks.
“These represent the things which are produced by labour, aided by machinery, from the raw materials. We will suppose that three of these blocks represent a week’s work. We will suppose that a week’s work is worth one pound.”
Owen now addressed himself to the working class as represented by Philpot, Harlow and Easton.
“You say that you are all in need of employment, and as I am the kind-hearted capitalist class I am going to invest all my money in various industries, so as to give you plenty of work. I shall pay each of you one pound per week, and a week’s work is that you must each produce three of these square blocks. For doing this work you will each receive your wages; the money will be your own, to do as you like with, and the things you produce will of course be mine to do as I like with. You will each take one of these machines and as soon as you have done a week’s work, you shall have your money.”
The working classes accordingly set to work, and the capitalist class sat down and watched them. As soon as they had finished, they passed the nine little blocks to Owen, who placed them on a piece of paper by his side and paid the workers their wages.
“These blocks represent the necessaries of life. You can’t live without some of these things, but as they belong to me, you will have to buy them from me: my price for these blocks is, one pound each.”
As the working classes were in need of the necessaries of life and as they could not eat, drink or wear the useless money, they were compelled to agree to the capitalist’s terms. They each bought back, and at once consumed, one-third of the produce of their labour. The capitalist class also devoured two of the square blocks, and so the net result of the week’s work was that the kind capitalist had consumed two pounds worth of things produced by the labour of others, and reckoning the squares at their market value of one pound each, he had more than doubled his capital, for he still possessed the three pounds in money and in addition four pounds worth of goods. As for the working classes, Philpot, Harlow and Easton, having each consumed the pound’s worth of necessaries they had bought with their wages, they were again in precisely the same condition as when they had started work – they had nothing.
This process was repeated several times; for each week’s work the producers were paid their wages. They kept on working and spending all their earnings. The kind-hearted capitalist consumed twice as much as any one of them and his pool of wealth continually increased. In a little while, reckoning the little squares at their market value of one pound each, he was worth about one hundred pounds, and the working classes were still in the same condition as when they began, and were still tearing into their work as if their lives depended on it.
After a while the rest of the crowd began to laugh, and their merriment increased when the kind-hearted capitalist, just after having sold a pound’s worth of necessaries to each of his workers, suddenly took their tools, the machinery of production, the knives, away from them, and informed them that owing to over-production all his store-houses were glutted with the necessaries of life, he had decided to close down the works.
“Well, and wot the bloody ‘ell are we to do now?” demanded Philpot.
“That’s not my business,” replied the kind-hearted capitalist. “I’ve paid your wages, and provided you with plenty of work for a long time past. I have no more work for you to do at the present. Come round again in a few months time and I’ll see what I can do.”
“But what about the necessaries of life?” demanded Philpot. “we must have something to eat.”
“Of course you must,” replied the capitalist, affably; “and I shall be very pleased to sell you some.”
“But we ain’t got no bloody money!” said Philpot
“Well, you can’t expect me to give you my goods for nothing! You didn’t work for nothing, you know. I paid you for your work and you should have saved something: you should have been thrifty like me. Look how I have got on by being thrifty!”
The unemployed looked blankly at each other, but the rest of the crowd only laughed…